A better Kelham Island?

Ball Street Kelham IslandThe day after Sheffield City Council approved an application for another 89 properties on the old Richardson’s site between Alma Street and Russell Street seems apt for a meeting of Kelham Island residents organised by our local councillors.  But when our councillors met up with the 50 or so local residents, organisations and business owners in the classroom at Kelham Island Museum, they didn’t quite get what they had anticipated from their careful planning.

The meeting was designed to be a way of capturing people’s concerns and ideas with the intention of seeing what could be done to try and resolve them.  To achieve this, they’d brought in a facilitator who asked people to go to the middle of the circle of people, write on a bit of paper an issue they wanted discussed, honk a horn (which in my view was perhaps one of the worst things he could have suggested if wanted to avoid us thinking it was all a bit ludicrous) and then stick it on to a board.  From my point of view, and apart from the horn, all well and good.  The idea being then to break in to corners of the room allocated to each issue and we could move round and talk about them in groups.  Again, all well and good.  However, the meeting soon degenerated in to a way of having a go at the councillors and expecting the councillors to simply tell everyone what they were doing already to resolve issues that we had yet to discuss.  This perhaps wasn’t helped by one of the councillors admitting that she had never attended anything with residents in the area and so giving the impression that she didn’t know the local issues, but I also felt that blaming the councillors for them when our specific councillors aren’t in charge of the council and cannot resolve every problem was a little unfair.

However, order soon returned and apart from the odd moan about councillors, it then turned in to a positive group discussion about what we all wanted thanks to strict time keeping on each issue.  Generally there were a number of issues on which everyone was agreed – parking, crime, street cleaning, street lighting, and developments happening that perhaps don’t fit with what people now want from the area.  But what struck me was that the discussions that got people most animated apart from perhaps parking was when we veered off in to ideas for what the vision for the area should be.  Many of the ideas were great, like more trees and open space, better signage for visitors, something for the families that will start to move in, more community shops (as opposed to big chains), and how we bring the community together more.  It was all good stuff, and although perhaps not all of it was consistent or realistic, what it served to do was highlight what really needs to change about Kelham Island.  It’s a great area and each individual block of flats has a decent community spirit, certainly mine does, but we haven’t really come together as a wider area to discuss what we want.  We were demanding that our councillors make the area better, but we couldn’t really tell them what we were demanding as we hadn’t ever discussed it.

Kelham Weir, Kelham Island, SheffieldWhat I did feel uncomfortable with however was the idea that we should just expect the council to make Kelham Island better.  Some of the basic council services like street cleaning and broken street lights, are things that a council should just do as a minimum, but bigger more visionary types things, can’t just be done immediately, will involve lots of groups, organisations, businesses and people, and in my view certainly can’t just be put in to practice by individual councillors who represent around 13,000 electors each (and in the case of Central Ward, more like 28,000), have other demands on their time, and crucially may not actually have the same vision for the area especially given that they don’t live in it.  We should want the support of councillors and want them to help facilitate and break through the blockages in the council – as a former councillor myself that’s what I think the role is – but on the bigger issues they really need to be guided by what the community wants.  If we continue to discuss this we will no doubt establish that we can’t all agree on what we want the community to be, but so far we haven’t even drawn up a list.  One thing I noticed is that there may once have been those kinds of discussions when the residential developments first started to appear, such as Cornish Place, but they haven’t been had in the nearly three years I’ve lived here now, and what has changed in the meantime is that we’re now probably at more of a critical mass of people to make us a more viable community that can demand recognition for its own ideas.

I hope tonight’s meeting is the start of something positive for the future.  I’ve loved Kelham Island since I moved in and hope to be living here for some time.  I can give you many different reasons for that, but one is that it is something pretty unique in Sheffield, and hopefully the enthusiasm and ideas from people tonight can be harnessed to make it even better.  But what we need to do is push it forwards and help make it happen ourselves rather than just expecting someone else to sort it out for us.

Peter Dench at FORMAT Photoforum, Derby

I realised by the end of tonight’s FORMAT Photoforum with Peter Dench at Derby QUAD how much I’ve been criss-crossing his career. Whilst I knew I’d seen his photographs previously, hence my reason for going along tonight, I hadn’t realised how many times I had in recent years. I though I’d first seen an exhibition of his at the Dog Eared Gallery in 2012 during the sadly now defunct London Festival of Street Photography which left an impression as I liked his take on what being British is about.  But I realised that I’d also seen some of his photographs during my first FORMAT Festival in 2011 which concentrated on street photography, which his photographs most definitely are although I’m not sure whether he’s what many people would describe as such. The next link with Peter Dench was an unexpected one which was his involvement with White Cloth Gallery where I saw his exhibition although I didn’t know he was also actively involved in the gallery.  A gallery that I like although I always seem to turn up there when there’s a function on these days so rarely get to see an exhibition.

So back to tonight. I’ve kept saying to myself that I must do more exhibitions and learn more on photography, so when I had an email from Format Festival it seemed like a good opportunity to go along to my first Photoforum, and I’m glad I did. When I lived in Derby about 15 years ago now, QUAD didn’t exist, but one of its predecessor organisations was Q Arts of which I was briefly a council-appointed member of its management committee. I only wish I’d had my passion for photography then and that QUAD had existed in its current form as I think I’d have been there a lot.

What was particularly fascinating about today’s Photoforum was that it not only consisted of Peter Dench doing a run through and talking extensively about some of his photo projects – largely A&E (Alcohol & England) and England Uncensored – but also about how his career has worked. His discussion on his photographs went in to details about how they were put together, the background as to how the commission happened, who the people were, what led up to that specific picture and also taking on the issue of whether they are exploitative or not. Despite being a fan of his photographs and so consequently this being a great opportunity to hear him talk about them, it was his thoughts on how he sustains (or doesn’t) life as a professional photographer and how he got his commissions that I found most interesting. His reflections on how life has changed in the photographic world and how to succeed in the business must, I imagine, have really struck a chord with the many photography students in the room. Another striking part of tonight was Peter Dench’s interesting and plain speaking style and his sense of humour. He wasn’t afraid to disagree with other people’s opinions and he was particularly critical about his former lecturers at the University of Derby although the place has clearly improved since. It was all very interesting and I think the first of many Photoforums that I’ll attend.

Just to give a flabour here are a few of my favourite Peter Dench photographs, although there’s so many to choose from:
from England Uncensored there’s this, thisthis and this
from A&E there’s thisthis, this and this
I also love his project The Zabaleen of Garbage City

Finally, a note on Derby. Every so often I happen to be in Derby for one reason or another, and it really stands out how much the city has changed. When I lived in Derby it felt like a large town pretending to be a city. These days it really feels like a city. Some people I’m sure won’t like how it’s altered but the redevelopment of the old Eagle Centre (now Intu Derby) and the bus station, along with QUAD makes the city feel a lot more impressive and substantial. It’s also been interesting tonight to see how the Castleward area is being redeveloped with housing which will hopefully give Derby the more attractive gateway from the station that it has long needed. Derby has always had its attractive areas and it was quite a nice place to live but it never really stood out as offering what other cities had. These days it’s really beginning to.

This week

Some things I’ve been in to this week:

A TV programme: After last week’s completely unsurprising enthusiasm for Alex Polizzi, this week it’s the return of Dragons’ Den on BBC Two.  The current series suddenly stopped halfway through several months ago but has now resumed.  Always entertaining but also always quite inspiring when you see someone has come up with a really clever but quite simple business idea that the dragons’ love.

A pub: The Windsor Castle on Francis Street in Victoria in London is a beautiful pub that has become a bit of a regular haunt for me after Lib Dem meetings.  Although I’m not much of a fan of Samuel Smith’s beer, (apart from its price) this is an amazingly grand Victorian pub with lots of glass and brass and with big comfortable chairs in its back room and lots of room (including an upstairs room that most people don’t realise is there).

A hotel chain: Although I often stay with friends when I’m in London I’ve increasingly stayed in a cheap hotel so I’ve got that bit more independence and don’t need to worry about rolling in drunk late at night.  After trying out some quite frankly appalling hovels of hotels I finally discovered easyHotel.  These are part of the same brand as easyJet and so whilst basic are at least of a decent standard and very orange.  They’re clean, fully en suite and comfortable, but don’t expect much room or any facilities beyond a bed, towels, toilet and shower.  That’s it, but given I rarely spend much time in a hotel room it’s perfect and my favourite one on Old Street nearly always has rooms.  The prices range from £35 up to about £80, although usually I’ve paid somewhere in the middle which I think is very good for something you know is going to be of an OK standard in central London.

A guided walk: Last weekend was the first time I’ve done a London Walk in ages, which have traditionally always been a staple of my London trips.  This one was called Mayflower to Brunel’s Tunnel and explored Bermondsey and Rotherhithe both of which were areas I didn’t know at all, but now I wonder how I could have gone without for so long.  It was a fascinating walk with a great guide, some amazing views along the river, great history and buildings.  Definitely recommended, and one I’d been planning to do for ages.

A song:  OK, this isn’t what you’d expect me to pick given my previous choices, although I suppose it was in Eurovision.  As part of the monthly vortex we do in Listening Club, I had to find a song that was two minutes or less, which is pretty hard to find in my collection.  But I stumbled on this which whilst not my usual choice of music sounds surprisingly fresh even though very much of its time and is annoyingly catchy –  Sing, Little Birdie by Pearl Carr and Teddy Johnson.

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.