Sunday, 31 July 2011

Aurora Southampton

Boring day on Edward Stalk today as its change over day and they are in Southampton

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Edward Watch Saturday 30th July

The boy is spending the day at sea cruising homeward to Southampton. That means "Aurora Cam" shows quite a boring view.
However, never one to miss an opprtunity to cyber stalk my son and heir I've been reading the general bumff about the ship he is on. Aurora is a mid-sized cruise ship, apparently instantly recognisable thanks to her elegant tiered stern. Aurora is designed as a classic ocean going vessel and is therefore ideally suited to world cruising. At her heart is a Lalique-inspired waterfall which forms the centrepiece of her atrium – one of her signature features.
When it comes to bars she offers a variety to suit every mood including her Crow’s Nest bar, which offers a great view of every port along the way (and the oceans in between), Champions sports bar and adjacent casino, and Anderson’s with its rather sophisticated wood panelled walls. Entertainment wise there’s the Playhouse cinema which shows recently released films, a show lounge and theatre.

Her dining options include her two main restaurants, as well as a bistro by Marco Pierre White and an al fresco grill restaurant.

P&O Cruises Aurora is designed for walking or jogging with the opportunity to do just that around her circumference thanks to the broad teak promenade deck. She also welcomes families with children’s clubs and a dedicated family pool. She even has one pool which can be covered by a sky dome.

Friday, 29 July 2011

Save the Prom!

I’ve joined a FACE BOOK Group entitled Stop the Heart from being ripped out of Hartlepool which has been set up to highlight the risk to the sea defences around the headland. The group is very well meaning and enthusiastic but they do not seem to appreciate how na├»ve their stance is and that if option 4 is actually ever under serious consideration then they have probably lost the fight before it starts.

The group are probably destined to succeed because Option 4 is only there as a sacrificial lamb to make the option the council really want appear more palatable. Standard tactics, propose something so bad that everyone will oppose it, then when the second worst option is actually implemented everyone is grateful and claim a victory. If Option 4 was really the aim of the powers-that-be then the group will fail because they are determined to be pure and above it all by keeping the fight NONE POLITICAL. This means they are relying on the good will of the Hartlepool Councillors and the Hartlepool MP to see that the best option is not the cheapest one! Of course when option 4 is dropped then the group will claim victory, the council will claim it listened to the people and then do what they wanted to do anyway! Cynical, not really, just know how politics works! In fact not politics, just any negotiation. Always start from a position you are willing to concede and fall back to the position you really wanted in the first place. By doing this you appear to be compromising and giving up something, in reality you get exactly what you always wanted AND appear to be reasonable and willing to compromise.

The group are making the same terrible mistake as the “Save our Hospital Group” back in 2004. The SOH Group had the political establishment in Hartlepool TERRIFIED but they then threw away their biggest weapon by deciding not to be POLITICAL. At a stroke the political class in Hartlepool realised these people could effectively be ignored because they were not a threat!

What people have to realize is that the ONLY thing most party politicians really care about is their political career which means they need to keep getting re-elected. Losing their seat is the death knell for an ambitious party politician trying to build a career in politics or who wants to make a good living out of it. If something does not threaten their votes or their career in their chosen party then they simply do not care!

By announcing they are none political the Prom Group have told the party politicians that they don't need to worry. If the Prom group announced NOW that they would be standing candidates in every ward in May 2012 fighting on a manifesto to “Stop the Heart Being Ripped out of Hartlepool” then just look how fast the current councilors would come on board, provided their national party allowed them to! which of course they wouldn't! They would be between a rick and a hard place.

If the Save out Hospital Group has stood a candidate in the 2004 by-election then they would have won and the town would have had a save our hospital MP. If they had stood council candidates then they would have won those seats as well. The Labour party would have been desperate to get the town back and the Save our Hospital Group would have been able to demand anything they wanted. Of course, the SOH group would have had to stand as a group, not just a collection of independents. That is something else people fail to appreciate. Politics is about numbers and about working together. You have to have numbers.

I have joined the group, but am not taking an active part because if I do then there are people in the group who will immediately go onto the attack and accuse me of using the issue as a political football. Therefore, I will support the group from the sidelines but sadly I think the Prom group will ultimately fail and will never achieve anything UNLESS they get political.

Thursday, 28 July 2011


Continuing my Male Menopause and Male Empty Nest Stalk of son and hier. He is today sailing through Norway's beautiful Sognefjord, the worlds longest and deepest fjord. This is one of the world's most memorable cruise experiences. Overlooked by snow-capped peaks and surrounded by cascading waterfalls, this is a sensational approach to the tiny village of Flamm, which nestles in the innermost part of Sognefjord.

But the fjord is not Flamms only claim to fame, it also has the extraordinary Flamm Railway. A masterpiece of engineering, this rises more than 2,845ft above sea level in just 12 miles and the views are just as dramatic as the journey. There are a variety of other boat and road trips which promise more fantastic scenery along with visits to farms, mines, villages and isolated mountain lodges

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

Statistics recently came my way on the use of Criminal Record Bureau (CRB) checks by local authorities. The figures, released under a Freedom of Information request, showed Hartlepool was the 91st highest user of CRB Checks in 2010/11 out of 628 local authorities asked.

On Teesside, the highest user was Stockton who carried out 4,220 CRB. Hartlepool reported carrying out 3,716. However, Hartlepool "Public Protection" lists their CRB checks separately to the council and they carried out 266 checks. Therefore, Hartlepool's total is actually 3,982. This puts them on par with Cumbria County Council.

The only other Teesside Council who split their CRB's is Redcar and Cleveland; they list their "Development Department" separately. Their 183 checks in 2010/11 give Redcar and Cleveland an overall total of 3,168. Still considerably lower than Hartlepool.

The lowest user of CRB Checks on Teesside is Middlesbrough Council. They checked 1,057 people in 2010/11, less than one third of the people checked by Hartlepool. Does this mean Middlesbrough is less concerned with public safety? Alternatively, could it just mean they manage their CRB Process more effectively? It might be interesting to find out how much these CRB Checks are costing Hartlepool Council, not just in the fees payable to the Criminal Records Bureau but also the internal costs of administration within the council? If they cost just £100 each and the Council could reduce their use to the level of Middlesbrough, which is a much larger local authority, then there are potential savings of almost £300,000.

/628 Council CRB Checks 2010 / 11

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Found my Penguins!

Found my Penguins!

Edward Watch

Today's cyberstalk of son and heir reveals he is in the peaceful Norwegian village of Olden. The perfect Fjordland cruise setting - nestling at the southern end of one branch of the beautiful Nordfjord and at the entrance to the gorgeous Oldedalen Valley.

A lake in the valley has been turned a rich, deep green by the river pouring down the mountains from the vast, million-years-old Briksdal Glacier. Giant waterfalls also cascade down making the views even more spectacular as you travel through the valley to the foot of the glacier - one of the offshoots of the vast Jostedal Glacier now designated as a national park.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Plastic Penguins

I was brought up in a household where we played boardgames. Classics like Monopoly and Cluedo were regularly out of the box and the family sat round the table and fought it out.

Other games have come and gone. Railroader, and Escape From Colditz are still in the top cupboard in my room at my parent's house. Now a days we are more likely to be playing RISK, although a friend of mine from University who was visiting a while ago was horrified by how cut throat the game was! "You couldn't play this if you were not a close family" was his comment "Your relationship would never survive!"

Recent games that have arrived are Carcassonne, and the current favourite, until this week, was Ticket to Ride. However, there is a new kid on the block North Pole - A penguin vacation .

Very simple game. Your penguin wants to leave the North Pole and go on holiday. He (or she) has the travel across the pack ice. You can waddle (the slowest method), use snow shoes or a sled. If you are really going for it then the Dog Sled is the fastest way to move. You have to watch out for holes in the ice though. They can block your progress. The only gripe I have with the game is the penguin playing pieces! Flimsy cards on cheap plastic stands. OK they look cute but I would have preferred something a bit more substantial.
So I trotted off today to Toys-R-Us to buy some cheap plastic penguins. Its the first time I've been in this shop for several years. Just about every toy in the place seemed to be linked to a film, TV Show or other "integrated marketing strategy" Kids these days apparently don't play with anything that doesn't have a theme or a TV Show behind it. I did eventually find a plastic penguin. In a small section of farm animals. However, they were £4.95 EACH. That would be £30 for playing pieces for a game that cost me £10. I didn't buy them but the search continues!

Elected Mayors and local Media

Traditional local government in the UK has been carried out by the election of councilors to represent a number of residents in a ward. These councilors then chose from amongst themselves a Mayor who served as Chair of the Council and undertook the civic duties associated with the post. Normally the tenure of a mayor was 12 months. The actual power associated with the Mayor’s office being almost entirely ceremonial. Real influence lay with the chairs of the various committees.

The short duration of the period any individual spent in the Mayor’s office usually meant that the individual occupying the post was rarely well known in his or her own town. Profile amongst your fellow councilors, or leadership of the largest political group on the council, not public recognition, being the criteria for wearing the robes and chains of office. This anonymity was felt to be one of the reasons that there was a general drop in the turn out for local elections. The councilors elected to serve in the town halls being seen as mainly faceless and not really accountable to the electorate.

To address this anonymity and other perceived deficiencies in local government organisation, the post of elected mayor was created by the Blair government in the Local Government Act 2000. The role of the councilors in choosing who would be mayor was to be removed and instead the Mayor would be an individual who would be elected by the residents of a town and who would serve for four years.
The intention was that this would provide a name and a face for residents to identify with and provide a vehicle to re-engage the public with local authority decision making. It was also hoped that the executive powers granted to a mayor would reduce the amount of time necessary for decisions to be made.

The aim of this paper is therefore to examine the success, or otherwise, of the introduction of elected mayors in achieving a higher recognition of the mayor’s office through the medium of the local media, in particular local newspapers.

Outside of London, there are currently eight directly elected mayors. The Mayor of London is elected under different primary legislation and is not included in this study as the huge media profile of Boris Johnson (and before him Ken Livingston) would totally overshadow all other Mayors. The plans by the new Tory-LibDem coalition to introduce elected mayors into major cities, such as Birmingham, may see the emergence of a mayor with a large enough mandate and a platform to match the Mayor of London. However, the people of Birmingham will still need to vote in favour of an elected mayor in the forthcoming referendum to introduce the mayor system.

The eight elected mayors currently in post have a range of local newspapers covering their constituencies. Some compete for coverage in what is a predominately regional newspaper; others have much more locally focused publications with restricted circulations.

The publication frequency also varies with both daily and weekly publications covering the different elected mayors.

All eight of the elected Mayors were contacted to ask if they would participate in this study and the editors of the appropriate local newspapers were also invited to take part.

Four Mayors, Torquay, Mansfield, Bedford and Watford agreed to be interviewed. The Editors of the Watford Observer and the Mansfield Chad also agreed to take part. The two pairs of interviews in Mansfield and Watford have therefore formed the bulk of the conclusions and discussion in this study. Where appropriate supporting remarks from the interviews with the Mayors of Torquay and Bedford have also been included.

There was universal agreement amongst all participants that the role of elected mayor had markedly increased to visibility of the local decision maker within the local town Hall.

There was also agreement amongst the elected Mayors that the local journalists did not fully understand the role of the elected Mayor and so sometimes, the coverage in the local newspapers was not as clear or as comprehensive as it could be. The Mayor for example has no direct control over the planning process and yet this is often one of the most contentious issues in any local authority. This has sometimes led to dissatisfaction with the mayor where it was not really valid.

The Editors of the Watford Observer and Mansfield Chad did on the whole agree with this view. The lack of in depth training for journalists in the elected mayor role was given as one of the possible reasons for this.

This lack of awareness for journalists on the role of elected Mayors has been addressed in the NCTJ recommended textbook for the public affairs for journalists syllabus. However, as the number of elected mayors is still only a tiny fraction of the number of local authorities most journalists working on provincial news papers are still highly unlikely to ever come across an elected mayor. The alternative local government structure of a council leader and executive cabinet exists in the majority of local authorities and they are given even less mention than elected mayors in the NCTJ recommended textbook for the public affairs for journalists syllabus

The other finding of the study was that the newspaper editors and reporters saw the role of elected mayor as being much more newsworthy when it was linked to a clash with the local Member of Parliament over an issue. This was an interesting example of the news value of a story being linked to the perceived value of the source and gave support to the theories of news values that dictate the prominence or otherwise of a particular story.

The conclusions of the study are of course highly subjective as they are based on qualitative interviews that do not readily lend themselves to quantitative analysis.

However, the conclusion is inescapable that the introduction of elected mayors has raised the profile of the local decision makers in the areas of Mansfield and Watford .

As the Mayor of Watford, Dorothy Thornhill, said in an interview for this study;

“I was stopped the other day by one of my residents who said, “I know who you are, I know what you are doing, I don’t always agree with what you do but I know why you are doing it” I liked that. I told him I would put it on my gravestone.”