Monthly Archives: October 2010

Seeing North Wales in a New Light

A few weeks ago I blogged about the forthcoming public-art event to mark 200 years of the Jubilee Tower in the Clwydian Range AONB.

Normally I just get to go to an event before it happens to write a preview to appear in one of the newspapers on the day itself.

This time – given that it’s close to home – I got to back and actually see it happen. In fact, we made a dads-and-daughters day out of it for half term.

You can read my story from the Independent here (it was published the day of the event) and check out images from the event at the BBC Wales website here.

More about the artist Chris Oakley, who designed the artwork, from his website.

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Filed under Travel writing, Wales

Waxing lyrical with Simon Armitage at Chester Lit

This week I Twittered:

I used to go see The Fall & cool bands. Now waiting for Simon Armitage to come on stage at Chester Lit Festival. #somiddleclass

How things have changed. With the university autumn term moving into top gear, I sat amongst the grey hair and North Face jackets at the University of Chester this week, reflecting how – 20 years ago – a university gig would have been about mainlining snakebite and black, and pogo-ing down the front.

For the first night of the Chester Literature Festival, it was a quiet pint of Guinness while reading the Guardian.

Inspired lyrics

Still, at least the headline act tonight, the poet and writer Simon Armitage, still has a whiff of rock n’ roll about him. And his words are worthy of comparisons with the lyrics of Nick Cave or Morrissey, both much loved by my undergraduate self.

You can listen to an Audioboo of Simon reading his poem, The Delegates, here.

But the night itself felt rather too low key. Perhaps the polite murmurings of the crowd and their stoic refusal to applaud until the very last reading, subduing the headliner into a far more downbeat reading than his usual turn on BBC Radio’s Radcliffe and Maconie show.

The only frisson of the night was a deflected question about the recent Armitage-meets-Morrissey interview, now ostensibly mired in legal issues.

Learning points

Still, I’ve got a lot of time for Simon Armitage and his use of language. So what did I learn?

  • To invest in some sperm-whale music asap
  • Love at first sight is just another form of mistaken identity
  • Halifax + Huddersfield + Oldham + Bury  = the northern punk belt

I also discovered that, not only does Chester have a High Sheriff, but the current incumbent appears dressed like a 18th-century dandy.

Somebody won £2,000 for a poem about pumpkins. The softy spoken Armitage offered the mandatory hand shake and grimaced through a reading of the winning stanzas.

The festival continues this week with Mark Kermode and Alastair Campbell amongst the headline names looking to shift product in the obligatory post-appearance signing session.

But I’ll probably give it a miss. I’ll be too busy dusting off my old vinyl and rediscovering the lyrics of The Good Son.

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Coronation Street celebrates 50 years of Mancunian kitchen-sink dramas

To Manchester. Not for sparkling urban regeneration, nor pop-culture heritage, but a lowly street with a corner shop, a local pub and a cast of everyday folk.

Coronation Street celebrates its 50th birthday on December 9 and ITV will mark the big day with what is alleged to be the most expensive shoot in soap history.

Urban renewal

Me? I’m a lapsed Corrie viewer. Lapsed since I was a teenager in the Eighties, to be honest, although I do remember coming to the now-defunct Granada TV Studios tour as a child.

But I’ve come to Manchester to see how – or if – the story reflects the way Manchester has changed since the gritty, monochrome days of industrial decline in the early Sixties.

Manchester is a pretty different place to the city where three TV producers gathered in 1960 to work on ideas for a new programme called Florizel Street, just commissioned for a 13-week run.

The Beetham Tower is Europe’s tallest residential building, MediaCityUK will come alive at Salford Quays in May next year when the BBC moves into its new premises and the Manchester International Festival returns in 2011, attracting European visitors to its high-profile cultural events.

Walking tour

But does Corrie accurately reflect Manchester life on the screen? To find out, I joined a walking tour this week led by Ed Glinert of New Manchester Walks.

His Corrie anniversary tour is a two-hour spin around the city, revealing Corrie-fan anecdotes and uncovering nuggets of showbiz gossip at each location we visit.

“It’s still compulsive viewing but I yearn for the great characters,” says Ed, who loves what he calls “the golden age of Coronation Street” – that’s 1975 to ’85.

Read more

Where did we go? What happens behind the Checkpoint Charlie facade of the studios? And what inside gossip do I know about the storyline this December?

You can read more in my stories over the next couple of months. I’ll be posting links up here and to my Twitter account.

Meanwhile, how do you feel Manchester is portrayed by Coronation Street? Post your thoughts below.

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Filed under Manchester, Northwest, Travel writing

Arriva: the response

The answer arrived on Friday. After blogging last week about a recent journey on Arriva Trains, I contacted the press office for a response.

The short statement came by email and I’m quoting from it here:

Carriages used on the Arriva Trains Wales mainline service are currently in the process of being upgraded thanks to Welsh Assembly Government and ATW funding. £7.5 million will be invested in the programme over the next 18 months, with the Arriva Class 153, 158 and 175 fleet all undergoing an upgrade program.

The Class 158 re-furbishment will include new seating, a state of the art Passenger Information System and improved luggage storage facilities, additional space for wheelchairs, as well as a full refurbishment of toilets. Power sockets will also be fitted at some tables.

Some – why not all will have power sockets?

And what about the 153 and 175 class?

At a time when we are being encouraged to leave our cars at home and use the trains, what do other Arriva passengers think about the response?

Virgin Trains and Wrexham & Shropshire all have a decent business service. Is Arriva doing enough to stay on track?

Please post your comments below.

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Why isn’t Arriva Trains Wales getting there?

I was back on the trains this week. On Friday, I went down to an event at the NEC in Birmingham and travelled with Arriva Trains, the main operator from my local station, Chester.

I know the NEC is a Seventies throwback (there’s a project in progress to update it), but the train journey also felt liked a step back in time to Life on Mars.

Business travellers

I travel with Arriva Trains a lot: down to Cardiff, to Birmingham and to Crewe for connections to London with Virgin Trains.

Every time it is for business and I’m going by train specifically to work on my way to a meeting, exhibition, interview etc. I imagine I’m not alone in this.

But the 17.09 from Birmingham International to Chester on Friday, October 1st was a pretty poor effort. It was on time, but the catering and toilet facilities were, at best, poor, it was over-crowded and had no working facilities, such as power points or wi-fi.

Compared to other train operators, the trains look tired, outdated and stuck in the past.

Freshen up

Arriva needs to make some major changes over the next year to retain business. An alternative operator, Wrexham and Shropshire, are already winning over my business with some the innovations on their route.

For Arriva to drag itself out of the Seventies, it needs to implement some changes. Yes, I know that costs money, but that’s business. I’d like to see:

  • Power sockets at all seats
  • A dining car with hot food and decent coffee
  • Improved toilet facilities
  • The option of wi-fi access

Your shout

Have you had a good or bad experience with Arriva Trains? Post up your comments here.

I’m going to ask Arriva to respond to this post, too, and hopefully get some answers about their future plans.

That’s if I can ever find a press contact on their website.

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Filed under Travel writing, Uncategorized, Wales