Preview of English Lib Dem Executive – 24th Jan 2015

A belated report but it’s been a slightly manic week.  Tomorrow it’s time for the first English Liberal Democrats Executive (ECE) of 2015, and perhaps unsurprisingly with the general election around the corner there are few major new projects underway but instead it’s largely about updates on ongoing day to day stuff.  As with all party committees this doesn’t of course mean that the meeting will move rapidly through the agenda finishing early.  One thing that is both a positive and a negative with ECE is that it spends a lot of time discussing each issue, but also in its role as a collective voice for the English regional parties, other issues will always be raised by regional chairs that everyone will want to discuss.

Chair’s report

This meeting is also the first with its new chair Steve Jarvis at the head of the table.  One thing that has particularly pleased me from his first report is that he will be making full contact details for the members of ECE along with agendas and a summary of decisions available in the members’ area of the party website.  So no sooner do I start blogging each meeting then perhaps my reports will become superfluous.  Otherwise his report is largely about the committee’s work programme for the year, with the tasks before the election being about getting people elected in May and the second half about the inevitable post-election review which increasingly seems as though it will include a review of the party’s structure and governance. (more…)

Yorkshire Sculpture Park

Perhaps choosing one of the windiest and wettest days of the winter wasn’t the best idea for a visit to Yorkshire Sculpture Park near Wakefield.  But having collected a bookshelf from Heckmondwike that I’d bought online, I wanted to go somewhere on the way back.  Having not been to the Yorkshire Sculpture Park for some time, it seemed like a good place to go and it has the advantage of being an opportunity for fresh air and no need to use my brainpower at all.

Yorkshire Sculpture ParkAlthough I enjoy art galleries, if I’m honest I’ve tended to side with the person (which appears to be either Ad Reinhardt or Barnett Newman, depending on what you read) who dismissed sculpture as “What you bump in to when you back up to see a painting.”  But Yorkshire Sculpture Park is pretty unique and seeing many of these sculptures in the outdoors where the space allows you to see them more easily than in a cramped art gallery, and from different perspectives and types of setting around the varied landscape, really makes it an amazing place to visit.  As well as the outdoors there are also a number of indoor galleries, although sadly two of them were in the process of changing over exhibitions on my visit and so there wasn’t anything on show.

The most famous sculptures at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park are those of Henry Moore and Barbara Hepworth, who both came from nearby towns, and who both personally supported the Yorkshire Sculpture Park during their lives.  Sculptors whose works you can’t help but touch and stroke when you see them with their smooth surfaces that are far more tactile than most that you see even if you don’t understand what they mean.  But there’s so much more than just Hepworth and Moore, and it’s quite interesting just to wander around and see what you bump in to.

What stood out to me most on my visit was the audio-visual piece Song for Coal by Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson.  This was a piece of music in the form of a plain song describing the origins and use of coal with images they recorded along the same lines that went to make up a constantly changing and evolving cathedral rose window.  My description doesn’t do it justice, but it’s worth seeing and was very appropriately on display in the Chapel.

Eddy, Yorkshire Sculpture ParkOne sculpture that I’d seen on their website before visiting is also very unlike what you expect to see at Yorkshire Sculpture Park and was tucked away in a former boathouse in a remote part of the park.  It was Eddy by three person collective JocJonJosch.  The sculpture was a very simple but attractive round wooden boat designed with three oars, with the idea that it would be utterly useless if all three oars were used at once, which was further emphasised by the boathouse now being stranded away from the lake.  It felt somehow quite relaxing and soothing and I think I loved that aspect of it as much of the sculpture itself.

I also discovered on my walk around the Deer Shelter Skyspace by James Turrell.  This uses an existing part of the park, (which was originally the grounds of Bretton Hall, a large country house which is currently empty following the University of Leeds’ decision to move their art school elsewhere), to create a place specifically designed for reflection and contemplation.  Turrell has created these skyspaces in a variety of locations around the world and they are simply large chambers with a hole in the roof which seems to bring the sky closer to you somehow.  Presumably regular visitors get a sense of the changing colours that you see, but on my day it was given a different perspective by the howling wind you could hear outside whilst I was sat in shelter looking up at the sky.

Molecule Man 1+1+1There are around 60 sculptures on view at any one time, and there was so much I never saw, that I wish I had, but I feel that after yesterday’s visit I may well become a regular.  It also has, as you would expect somewhere like this, a nice cafe and shop as well.  Entry is free, but you do have to pay to park, which comes in at quite a hefty £8 if you are there for more than two hours.

I took loads of photographs, which you can see here, many of which again didn’t quite turn out the way I’d hoped when I could see the picture in my mind, but they give an idea of the variety of sculptures on view.

This week

Some things I’ve been in to this week:

A word: Thanks to a work colleague this week I discovered the Japanese word tsundoku which is the act of buying books and then leaving them piled up to read later.  It pretty much describes my flat and my life more generally.  At the same time I discovered the French word l’esprit d’escalier which is to think what you should have said during a conversation when it’s too late. Another common occurrence. This website provided me with a few more, although not all may be that useful.

A blog: I’ve been a fan of the Diamond Geezer blog for some years and I’m firmly of the view that what he has dubbed his ‘pointless London quests’ are the highlights of his writing, and he is just starting a new one.  DG writes a well written post every single day, which I’d love to emulate here but just know I never will, usually on interesting little known places in London, transport stories (with a particular interest in his own area of Bow and the Emirates ‘dangleway’) and really anything that he thinks is interesting.  It’s fascinating, albeit in quite a geeky way.  His new pointless London quest is to visit London’s unlost rivers over 2015 i.e. the many rivers within London that are still there but overshadowed by the Thames, rather than the now ubiquitous lost rivers.  His first is the River Shuttle.

A TED talk: This is just quite a nice talk by Daniele Quercia about the dangers of mapping apps just sending us on the fastest route, when what we need is an app that can also send us on the most beautiful, or the quietest or use some other characteristic.  As someone who loves to spend his time just wandering streets exploring this really appeals to me, although personally my answer is to use a printed map and just see where I end up.

A TV series: OK, so it’s had enough attention already but the first episode of Broadchurch was very good. Whilst I did really enjoy the first series of the much praised programme, I was never convinced it was quite as deserving of the massive amount of hype that it got.  This first episode of this new series though dispelled any doubts that the second series wouldn’t be up to the mark. The secrecy with which the producers and writers go about making and releasing details of the series also means it’ll be full of unexpected twists and it includes some interesting new characters.

A blog post: Everyone loves a list these days, and Caron Lindsay has produced a brilliant list on Lib Dem Voice of ‘48 good things Nick Clegg has done.’  It’s an interesting list as it picks out not only the achievements that the Lib Dems will want to trumpet, but also many smaller more subtle things.  Given the flack Nick gets it’s nice to see something positive for a change that is quite good at showing the real Nick, that many of us who’ve known him for years have always liked.

An article: Admittedly I initially read this article as I know Laura Willoughby who gets a mention, but I found its discussion on groups trying to reduce alcohol consumption among people who perhaps aren’t alcoholics but do still drink more than they should.  Whilst it’s focused largely on women, the issue it raises is universal, and one I certainly can relate to. I’ve been determined to drink less in this year which is both about saving money and improving health, which is largely about dealing with regular low level drinking rather than occasional excessive nights out that don’t occur that often. So far it’s gone well.

Another TV series: Silent Witness is back and it’s another of my favourite regular series on the BBC. The stories are well written and the lead characters are good despite occasional changes over the years it’s been running. For a series that was dominated by Amanda Burton when it began it’s impressive how much Emilia Fox has made it her own. I accept that a pathologist wouldn’t get involved in all the things they do in the series, but if it was that realistic no one would probably watch it.

Another article: The former Labour MP Tony Wright has written an interesting article on the LSE politics and policy blog about ‘The problem of politics as a game‘.  The issue he raises is something that has become increasingly of concern to me and I think is partly what has led to the rise of some of the fringe parties along with an undeserved general contempt for politicians. What I think the article doesn’t do is mention that this is an issue that not only politicians need to address but the media, campaign groups and even voters too. It is much wider and politicians cannot do it on their own as the first to ‘say it as it is’ will probably be destroyed.

My 2014 in books

2014 was a real year of books for me.  Through the course of the year I read 79 of them, which compared to the previous year’s 45 was good going, and it also prompted one person I know to ask me how I found the time.  The simple answer to that is that I spend nearly two hours a day commuting to and from work by train, a period which is spent almost entirely by me reading.  However, I’ve also read far more at home this year as it’s proved quite a good means of escape on the days where I’ve not wanted to go out and so have instead languished at home drinking coffee thinking I really should be somewhere else, but instead I have read and read.  The full list of what I read in 2014 can be found here on the excellent Goodreads website, which I used for the first time this year and has been great at not only keeping a record of which books I’ve read, but also what friends have read, what I thought of the books and then finding recommendations for other similar books.

My favourite book of 2014 was Capital by John Lanchester.  This highly praised novel set on one street in south London was about how unexpected events can change people’s lives completely.  It had some great characters and I was fascinated by it and missed it when I’d finished it.  This was the only book I rated as 5/5 this year, although a few of the 4/5 books came pretty close and I’ll pick out the top ones of those.  Early in the year I read the first of David Kynaston’s Tales of a New Jerusalem history series – Austerity Britain 1945-1951, which was the sort of great long tome that I’d normally be put off but it was fascinating, easy to read and really brought to life those times and I can’t wait to read more of them.  Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov was heartwarming and fun, yet also a well written satirical mystery, and the wonderful Misha the Penguin (as opposed to Misha non-penguin) can’t entirely escape my mind now.  The Wasp Factory helped to confirm my love for Iain Banks and in particular his style of writing, and was surprisingly a book I had yet to read, and although I loved this bizarre, violent and yet at times oddly humane story, I couldn’t help but feel a little disappointed with the twist at the end which is what knocked it down from a five.

One thing that changed last year, apart from the amount I read, was the types of books I read.  Traditionally I’ve always read a lot of crime fiction, and I still did in 2014, but I read much more widely.  I read a lot more general fiction, especially that written in the last few years such as Christos Tsiolkas, Zadie Smith, Julian Barnes, Edward St Aubyn, Muriel Barbery and Naomi Alderman, but I’ve also read more classics both modern and older by writers such as Muriel Spark, Ivan Turgenev, Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, Iris Murdoch and Joseph Heller.  Whilst there continue to be many of the great writers who I’ve read nothing or next to nothing of, it’s been interesting to add some more of the names that I really should have read before.

If there’s one genre I’ve always struggled with it’s historical fiction, with Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall being a particular disappointment, but last year I seemed to have added another – post-modernist fiction.  Whilst I can’t say I really understand what it is, many of the books I’ve not been getting on with seem to be described as part of the genre, such as in 2014 The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon, Catch 22 by Joseph Heller, London Fields by Martin Amis and The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster.  The last of which was a particular shame as I’ve loved some of his other books.

So to sum up 2014:

  • Capital by John Lanchester was my best overall and best general fiction
  • Austerity Britain 1945-1951 by David Kynaston was my favourite history book
  • Let’s Hear it for the Deaf Man by Ed McBain was my favourite crime fiction (and another writer who I’ve newly discovered and loved and wrote about here)
  • Fire & Ashes by Michael Ignatieff was my favourite political book of the year and a really good insight in to life at the top of politics (thanks to Ruth Bright for the recommendation on Lib Dem Voice)
  • The Element by Ken Robinson was the best non-fiction, as he helped me to really think through what I want from life.
  • This year I started using Sheffield’s Central Library again and I’ve been both impressed and disappointed by what’s on offer.  Impressed as I’ve found books I wanted to read that I never thought they’d have and I’ve discovered books I never knew about otherwise that I could take a punt on as it’s free, but disappointed where I’ve found a book by a writer I like but for some reason they don’t have the first in the series.  However, I’ve nearly always had books on loan since early in the year when I started making regular trips.
  • I’ve discovered the glories of Waterstones on Deansgate in Manchester, which is apparently the largest bookshop in the north of England, and a great place to while away my lunch hour.

So we’re now in to 2015 and whilst I am determined to carry on reading, it also feels like a good year to start writing my book.  The one that I’ve had in my mind for years, and which I want to finally put down on paper.  Let’s see if I do.

This week

Some things I’ve been in to this week:

A food and drink place:  I’d say cafe, but it’s not really that, nor is it a bar nor a restaurant.  Craft & Dough in Kelham Island, Sheffield is a bit of all of those.  It sells some amazing looking pizzas, great coffee, cocktails, craft beers, ice cream and general brunchy type stuff, and is open from 9am in to the evening.  It opened a couple of weeks ago but the advantage of a week off work is that I could pop in for the first time and it’s already doing well.  A great addition to Kelham Island and as it’s owned by the Milestone down the road it has a good pedigree.

A TV series:  As my previous posts will confirm I love the ‘behind the scenes at…’ type programmes and so Posh People: Inside Tatler on BBC2 was one I wanted to watch despite me thinking the people in it would just annoy people.  Well they didn’t annoy me, but it did make me realise how little I have in common with these people and how their world and mine are so utterly different, although I confess to having met one of the people in the programme (the Earl of Glasgow who is a Lib Dem peer and a genuinely lovely man).  It’s interesting to see though quite how this world functions and how removed it is from ordinary life.

An exhibition:  The other week I finally visited an exhibition I’ve been looking forward to and it was wealth worth the wait – Constructing Worlds at the Barbican in London.  It brought together two things I’ve always found fascinating – architecture and photography, and includes some photographers whose work I enjoy such as Bernd & Hilla Becher, Stephen Shore, Walker Evans and Ed Ruscha, but also introduced me to some other great photographers such as Bas Princen and Hiroshi Sugimoto,  The Barbican’s photography exhibitions are always very well done and this one was no exception.

A song:  This isn’t a new song but one I’ve listened to a lot this year and having heard it twice playing in the background in the last week I felt I should include it.  The Mother We Share by Chvrches is a catchy indypop type song and a great singer and one that definitely sticks in your mind.

A TV programme: Billion Pound Base: Dismantling Camp Bastion was a one-0ff programme on Channel 4 showing the lead up to the departure of UK troops from Camp Bastion in Afghanistan.  What strikes you is the scale of the place (the same size as Reading!) and the careful and methodical way the base has to be deconstructed  whilst still ensuring troops are safe from Taliban attacks.  You also can’t help but feel that the Afghan troops are woefully under-prepared for what they’re taking on and yet also how ungrateful they are for the equipment the UK troops are leaving them.  Worth a watch just to shed a light on something we generally know so little about.

Preview of English Lib Dem Executive – 13th Dec 2014

One commitment I made when I stood for election to the English Liberal Democrats Executive (ECE) was that I’d write on this blog about what was coming up at each meeting, and then do a post summarising what was discussed or decided after the event.  I was pleased to be elected back on to ECE for 2015 (I currently sit on it as Chair of Yorkshire and the Humber Lib Dems) and so here’s my first of these posts.  I warn people who have no interest in internal committees of political parties, especially those that deal with internal issues, that this will be very long and very dull and that is largely why I’ve inserted a ‘read more’ tag to the article!  I will endeavour to be much shorter in future, but as this is the first one I need to explain the background to more things.

This is the last meeting of ECE of 2014 and is taking place a few weeks later than usual to allow the newly elected regional chairs and directly-elected committee members to attend, along with the existing members from 2014.  If the meeting had taken place on the usual date the election results wouldn’t have been announced in time for that to be possible.  The benefit of this is to allow elections for those positions that are elected by the other members of the ECE to be held before the New Year and to take office alongside the new chair (Steve Jarvis) on 1st January.  The full set of positions to be elected are – treasurer, vice-chair, four members of the Finance and Administration Committee (EFAC), four members of the Regional Parties’ Committee (RPC), a rep to the International Relations Committee and the English Diversity Champion.


This week

Some things I’ve been in to this week:

A TED talk:  This recent talk by Kare Anderson is an inspiring encouragement to us all to try and get people together who have the same enthusiasms and who can make an idea they have a success if they just worked together on it.  The term she uses is ‘opportunity makers’ which I think is quite nice.  What I also like is her acknowledgment how difficult this can be for people who are shy.

A TV series:  This is an old one, so a bit different from usual.  I discovered Building Sights by chance on iPlayer and it’s a series from the late 1980s and 1990s of personal thoughts on  some of the most important British architecture of the twentieth century.  The presenters are a diverse group of people including architects such as Zaha Hadid and Richard Rogers, to musicians, presents and artists such as Jools Holland, Janet Street-Porter and Bea Campbell.

Another TV series:  I loved the first series of Liberty of London on Channel 4 and this new series has got off to a really good start.  Although I enjoy this time of programme anyway I particularly enjoy this one because it gives you a better idea of how they operate and some of the people who work there than most.  The first episode of this second series is a really promising start as well giving a more wide ranging idea of how the shop is run as well as some of the day to day tensions and issues.  My experience of working in a customer-facing industry is that it can be pressured and difficult but hugely satisfying when things work well and this shows that.

An event:  Pecha Kucha is something I find most people have never heard of, but those who have are usually evangelists.  It started in Japan and involves invited speakers to talk about something they care about or have done to a set of prepared Powerpoint slides.  The skill is that they have 20 slides and each appears on screen for just 20 seconds and so once they’ve started they have to keep going.  I’ve been to a few Pecha Kucha Sheffield events now and I always learn something new and discover some interesting people doing interesting things.  Well worth going to and the next one is on next week.

And another TV series: Alan Yentob’s BBC culture series Imagine… is always worth watching, but his two part programme ‘The Art that Hitler Hated‘ about the suppression of modern art by the Nazis and those who profited from forced sales of Jewish art is particularly good.  Since the programme was produced the story has moved on a little, but it’s an interesting aspect of European cultural history.  It’s on iPlayer for another couple of weeks.