A fresh start to my blogging

It had always been my plan that once I retired as a councillor I would get this blog up and running again.  Well here I am trying to make it happen and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that it lasts.

I always enjoyed blogging, but after a steady decline in the frequency of posts through 2009 and first half of 2010, it just ground to a halt completely with only intermittent posts up to a final one in August 2012.  It isn’t a coincidence that it ground to a halt when I became a councillor.  I tried to keep up a MyCouncillor site instead about what I was doing as a councillor, but I found that difficult to keep going as well.  Perhaps I was too busy and too tired.  Perhaps I just lost the enthusiasm for constant writing.  Perhaps I was too wary of writing stuff when everything I said would be scrutinised by the opposition.  Whatever the reason, I had stopped doing something that I had previously really enjoyed and which I know some other people quite enjoyed reading too.  After all, there were nearly 27,000 views in 2009 and so I must have been doing something right.

Dawning realisation

Over the last 18 months to two years it’s become increasingly clear to me how much my life has become pretty one-dimensional.  My day job is in politics.  In my spare time I do politics.  Plus I was a councillor, which is of course politics.  I’m still passionate about politics but it’s not all there is to my life.  In fact for ages I’ve been moaning that I don’t have time for my other hobbies and interests.  If you combine this with the thought that I’ll soon be 40 and a growing sense that I am spending most of my non-work time fulfilling other people’s expectations and demands on my time rather than doing what I want, I decided it was time for a change.  It’s one reason I decided not to restand for council, it’s why I’m beginning (slowly) to rediscover some of my old interests and it’s also why I’m sort of trying to do something about the interests that I’ve always had but never done much about.

There’s a saying “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear” and in my case it was stumbling on the inspirational book The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin.  It’s not overstating things to say that I’ve become slightly obsessed with this book, and I decided that I needed to start to change things.  A part of that change is to try and live a more wholehearted life and do more of the many things that I enjoy.  It’s time to try and rediscover me.  Hopefully restarting this blog will be one small part of that.

Refreshing the blog

One of the things I’ve always enjoyed is writing, in fact unusually the first job I ever said I wanted as a child was to be a writer, (actually, I said I wanted to be a bookmaker but fortunately my parents knew what I meant).  Well blogging isn’t quite the same as being a writer, but it’s a start.

So now I’m writing again, it’s felt like a good time for a refresh of the look of the blog, especially as I have some new ideas for things I want to write about.  I’ve picked a new ‘theme’ – this one’s called Suits – which replaces Vigilance.  I’ve also created new categories and tags for my new posts, and deleted some old ones to make this a clear break from what’s come before but without deleting the old posts that I’ve written as some of it I thought was quite good and I’m someone who likes to keep things for history’s sake.  I want to spend more time writing about the whole range of stuff I’m interested in rather than just concentrating on a small set of things, usually politics, and so it should feel quite different.

Now I just need to stick with it and make sure this blog works.  I’m going to start off slowly and gradually with some regular and perhaps more low key posts and hope it then becomes a habit.  One of which will be a (hopefully) weekly summing up of things I’ve liked and been in to, rather than struggling to write a whole post for every thing that I find interesting.  I’ll also start to publish some things I wrote ages ago but then never actually posted.  Fingers crossed it works.

This week

Some things I’ve been in to this week:

A song:  I discovered Paul Thomas Saunders through an iTunes free song a few months ago, but this was another one from the same album and straight away I loved it.  Good Women is relaxing and calm and great to just chill to.

An article:  I travelled on the Caledonian Sleeper on a round trip from London Euston to Edinburgh Waverley about 15 years and it was a great experience.  This article from the BBC explains why it’s wonderful and why it’s great that it’s being invested in, even if as the article says it can be difficult to sleep on on your first journey and why the bar is a little retro.

Another article:  I’m convinced that one reason I struggle to sleep as well as I used to is that my blinds aren’t dark enough.  It could of course just be a result of getting older – I need to get up and go to the toilet in the night more than I used to – but this article also from the brilliant BBC Magazine shows it’s not just me that’s not sleeping.

A photographer:  This is another brilliant Russian photographer but one I’ve only just discovered.  Alexey Bogolepov‘s photographs show scenes of ordinary buildings and landscapes.  If you’re a fan of brutalist architecture then it’s definitely for you.  For photographers who enjoy Bernd and Hilla Becher then his project Bloc is reminiscent and many of his other photographs would also fit neatly in to the New Topographics.

And yet another article:  Dan Hodges has rapidly become every Lib Dem’s favourite Labourite, but this article is great if you want to know what MPs are really like.  It’s a very true article about why most MPs are actually what most of the public ask for – fairly ordinary and with a long history of service and with work experience far removed from the Westminster bubble.  And I’m proud that the MP he’s used to represent this is the lovely Annette Brooke.

A video:  Jay Foreman has added another episode to his great series of videos about Unfinished London, this time a video about the capital’s airports.  A must watch for fans of London, history and transport and done in his customary quirky and funny style.

This week

Some things I’ve been in to this week:

A painting:  I briefly called in to the Leeds Art Gallery when I was in the city last Sunday and this painting on the staircase stopped me in my tracks.  It’s called The Day of Atonement by Jacob Kramer and at full scale feels powerful and creates a drama, a mystery and a feeling of contemplation which I enjoy.

An art exhibition: One of the current temporary exhibitions at Leeds Art Gallery is Nocturne.  This exhibition shows a collection of paintings and photographs of places set in moonlight, including some by one of my favourite artists John Atkinson Grimshaw.  Powerful, dramatic and melancholic.

A TV programme and a building:  As someone who is fascinated by architecture and who would love to build his own home one day it’s no great surprise that I also love Channel 4’s Grand Designs.  More4 recently repeated a programme about a largely subterranean house squeezed on to a tiny plot of round surrounded by other houses in North London.  It shows what you can do even in a crowded city and manages to be an absolutely stunning place to live.  Sadly the programme has already disappeared from 4OD, but this clip gives you a flavour although only by seeing the building in its final form do you really appreciate it.

A blog post:  There’s been a lot of Lib Dems understandably wanting to voice their opinion on the future direction of the party following this year’s Local and European Elections.  Some have followed the predictable ‘let’s bin Clegg’ line, but Lib Dem Voice have run a number of other quite thoughtful articles.  This first one from Elwyn Watkins is good at bringing a bit of the real world to the story of what goes on in some of the more difficult areas where we’re finding it hard to reach at present.

Another blog post:  Adam Killeya’s article about us resdiscovering Our Radical Edge is the other blog post I’ve picked out from Lib Dem Voice.  This one shows that whilst the party has done some great things in government, what is there for younger people?  This particularly stands out as Adam is almost (albeit slightly younger) a contemporary of mine and so the big issues when he joined the Lib Dems were similar to when I did.

A place to visit:  The day after the European Election count (a very late night was spent being utterly bored and depressed in Leeds) I wanted a day out somewhere I’d not been to before.  That place was the nearest National Trust property to where I live that I’d not been to  – The Workhouse Southwell in Nottinghamshire.  It may seem appropriate that I visited a workhouse just after a load of Lib Dem MEPs and staff lost their jobs, but I can recommend this as a fascinating place to visit.  Informative and educational, and a place that gives more than just one dimension to the story, and most significantly a guide who was remarkable in bringing the place to life.

This week

Some things I’ve been in to this week:

A set of photos:  This impressive set of photographs from the Telegraph are aerial shots of roof gardens and terraces around central London by Jason Hawkes.  I love how it reveals these places you probably wouldn’t be aware are there otherwise and I’m pleasantly surprised that I’ve been to four of them – OXO Tower, Kensington, One Bishops Square and One New Change.

A blog post:  This post from Carl Minns has generated some controversy by the impression that its title says that people who lost didn’t work hard enough.  An impression that some of the party’s official comment has also given, although in both cases I’m sure were unintended.  Why I like this post though is partly because it’s well written (Carl is a good writer) but also because it explains some of the reasons for Hull’s success over recent years, it points out that winning is not just about the leader and also why those plotting to oust the leader should perhaps wait and reflect a bit first.

A photograph:  I spent some of this last week in Prestwich helping my boss to win his council election (which he did).  It was only afterwards, although I suspected during the day, that I realised we were just round the corner to the former Agecroft Power Station.  Instantly this reminds me of the well known and amazing photograph by landscape photographer John Davies.  John’s photographs show the drama and beauty that industry can create that is every bit as stunning as rural landscapes.  I’ve seen this photograph on many occasions on the internet and in photobooks but I would love to see an exhibition with it in large format to get the full effect and really see the detail properly.  John Davies’ photographs are an inspiration to me.

Agecroft Power Station by John Davies

An article:  Have Generation X (people born between the mid 60s and mid 80s, and therefore me!) already had their time in the spotlight?  This short article from The Sydney Morning Herald asks the question and thinks that Baby Boomers stayed on too long, and too much has moved on in the short time that Generation X has been in charge, and it’s already moved to the new generation.  Not sure if I agree, but it’s a thought worth considering.

Another article:  This week’s elections may mean time has moved on since this article from The Guardian was written, but given the success that Ukip have had in traditional Labour areas, and not just against the Tories as was once assumed would be the case, makes this especially relevant.  Do traditional Labour voters feel Ukip’s economic message is closer to their opinions than those of Ed Miliband’s Labour party?

A song:  And in a depressing week for those who hate Ukip, something upbeat feels like a good way to end this.  In the week that Belinda Carlisle has been touring the UK this song is a good panacea.  She’s not everyone’s cup of tea but (We Want) The Same Thing reminds me of my teenage years and it’s a fun song:

This week

Some things I’ve been in to this week:

A TV series: I’ve always liked the ‘behind the scenes’ type programmes but Liberty of London, which was shown at the end of last year (it’s still available on 4OD), is one I’ve become a little obsessed by.  It’s not just the personalities shown, but it reminds me why I have loved working in customer-facing businesses.  I think it’s something to do with the unpredictability, the daily sense of achievement and the camaraderie with colleagues, that makes it work.

A blog post: I’ve been a fan of the ‘Round the North We Go‘ blog since Scott Willison (AKA The Merseytart) was blogging about Merseyrail.  It sounds very nerdy, but then when it comes to trains I suppose I am anyway, but what I mainly love is his writing.  It’s funny, it’s brilliant in its observation of daily life, it’s sarcastic and it is informative about places you’ve never been.  This week’s p0st about First Class on First Transpennine Express trains is a perfect example of his abilities.

A TED talk: This is a powerful and emotional talk, yet also (and it seems weird to say this given the subject matter) also fascinating.  It’s by Kevin Briggs, a former patrol officer on the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.  In this talk he deals with the issue of suicide.  It’s a story of both hope and tragedy.

An article:  This article from BBC News tells a story that’s all too common.  It’s the story of political activists who no longer want to be active.  I don’t agree with everything in the article, but I’ve seen what it talks about on many occasions and it explains the issue that I’ve only come to understand over the four years the Lib Dems have been in government.  Parties in power lose seats not so much because voters are angry and stop voting for a party, but it’s because the activists get demoralised and find other things to do rather than campaigning.  That leads to there being fewer people knocking on doors, delivering leaflets and generally persuading people to vote for a party.  It’s a downward spiral that is instigated by unhappy voters, but exacerbated by dispirited campaigners.

A TV drama:  Starting again tonight on BBC4 was the final series of the Swedish language version of Wallander with Krister Henriksson.  Henriksson has for me always been the best Wallander as he is much more like the Wallander I imagined from the books.

Another TV drama:  From Nordic Noir to Celtic Noir.  Hinterland is a brilliant crime series set in and around Aberystwyth and is now showing on BBC4.  Dark, mysterious and troubling, with a side to Wales you may never have seen before and is certainly not flattering.  It’s also the drama I wish I’d written as I’ve always had something similar in my mind as the book I’ve wanted to write ever since I lived in the area, but the BBC and S4C got there first.

A song:  I suppose I couldn’t do this week’s This Week without mentioning Eurovision.  My Twitter feed from last Saturday evening probably says it all, but I’m going to finish with the song that I feel was understandably overlooked, but was actually a decent song, well sung (although somehow I don’t think they’re really playing those guitars!), with a bit of novelty, a great performance in the live final that is perhaps better than the official video and might have done better in different political circumstances.  It’s Russia’s Tolmachevy Twins singing Shine.

This week

Some things I’ve been in to this week:

A shop: Ever since Simmonite decided to move to Division Street they’ve been a hit with a lot of people, like me, who might not have ventured in to their old home in the Castle Market.  They just get what works well with customers in the area – long hours, open 7 days a week, good prices (I got 11 chicken breasts for £10 the other week) and a choice between a fresh butchers/fishmongers counter and pre-packaged.  I always used to buy from supermarkets, but not anymore.

A song: Last night I saw Delays perform live at The Ruby Lounge in Manchester.  I’ve never worked out why the band hasn’t been more of a success and I’ve loved every album they’ve done in their 10 years and this is my third time seeing them live.  This song Nearer Than Heaven is the one that made me discover them:

A TV drama: A Very British Coup is a 1980s classic written originally by Chris Mullin as a book it was then turned in to a film and is currently available to watch for free on 4OD (you need to register with them first).  Great to see Labour politics of its time, and to see how Sheffield was in the 1980s.  Many things have changed.  Some things haven’t.  This is the original, that I’ve somehow not watched until now, but the recent series Secret State is based on it.

A photograph:  I saw photographs from Evgenia Arbugaeva’s project Tiksi exhibited at the Calumet store on Drummond Street in London during the 2012 London Festival of Photography, and they’ve stuck in my mind ever since.  Tiksi is a collection of stunning photographs of the melancholic and serenely beautiful Arctic town where the Russian photographer was born.  This photograph called ‘In the Backyard’ is for me the most memorable.

A blog post:  The Election Data blog has an interesting post looking at how you can use different types of demographic and political data to target specific policy campaigns on an area, in this case taking Labour’s discussions on reforming the railways and how this could be used in one constituency Reading West.  Food for thought, and an example of what we should (and to some extent already) do in finessing political campaigning.

A quotation:  I recently read Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, and although quoting from the eponymous character may not always be the best idea given her eccentric and at time fascist opinions, I did like one line in particular as it sums up a little of what I believe education should do:

The word “education” comes from the root e from ex, out, and duco, I lead.  It means a leading out.  To me education is a leading out of what is already there in the pupil’s soul.  To Miss Mackay it is a putting in of something that is not there, and that is not what I call education.

This week

Some things from this week:

A TV series:  Continuing with what BBC4 does so well (pick foreign dramas and show them with subtitles on UK television) we now have the German series Generation War: Our Mothers, Our Fathers.  Whilst there have been some criticisms of how realistic it is, it does that rare thing – show ordinary Germans in the Second World War.  Worth watching for a different perspective, although the first episode only has one day left on iPlayer.

Another TV series: This is a repeat but it’s been worth watching again and fits neatly in my obsession with Turkey that I mentioned last week.  Byzantium: A Tale of Three Cities on BBC4 shows us the history of Istanbul from Byzantium via Constantinople.

A blog post:  Jennie Rigg has written a very good post called ‘A Stream of Consciousness on Class Warfare‘ about how people don’t fit in to neat little boxes and so we shouldn’t be labelling people and how political parties shouldn’t use this to make unfair characterisations.  It’s a short post that sums up some of the reasons why I feel thoroughly depressed with the current political discourse in this country.  In my view by using these labels in politics we are damaging attempts at diversity not helping it as we drive out people who don’t feel comfortable with that approach.

A song:  This happened to appear in my iTunes playlist this week and it’s been a while since I listened to it.  The song Cheaper Than Free by Stevie Nicks featuring Dave Stewart will now forever be associated in my mind with Andrew Reeves as it was played at his memorial celebration and felt particularly emotional at the time, and for that reason it still does to this day:

A coffee shop:  I’ve been meaning to visit Couch on Campo Lane in Sheffield since it opened earlier this year.  I now have and it’s great.  Comfortable seats, lots of space, big windows to watch the world go by (something that I think is much underestimated in a food or drink establishment), long opening hours, nice coffee and a simple but appealing menu.

Another blog post:  UKIP has garnered much of of the political attention lately and so Stephen Tall’s post “UKIP examined: who they are, what they stand for, and what it all mean for British politics” is very relevant, the title of which pretty much explains the content.  It’s largely his take on the recent book Revolt on the Right, and it has prompted a lot of debate (71 comments at the time of writing), but it’s worth reading to get an understanding on what this potential revolution in British politics is about.

A TED talk:  Unsurprisingly Mary Roach’s talk ’10 things you didn’t know about orgasm’ is one of the most viewed talks on the TED website.  Although people are of course drawn in by the risqué subject matter this talk is fascinating, surprising and unexpected, which as someone who isn’t much of a scientist is what science should be about: