Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2016: The good, the bad and the ugly

… or rather, the excellent, good, meh, bad and ugly. I’ve just had a very enjoyable week at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. As most of what I saw is on until around the 29th August, it seemed sensible to write a few words about the experience. Most of the shows we went to were pre-booked and definitely met expectations. Unfortunately a couple of the ones we went to after being handed a flyer in the street were firmly in the bad and ugly category.

The excellent

Samurai Drum IKKI – The Power of Japanese Drums. This was a performance that we booked the day before we went and was definitely one of the highlights of the week. The drummers were incredibly enthusiastic and must have been exhausted by the end – I certainly was. Don’t go if you have a headache however!

Rhapsodes. Improvised Shakespeare and more. Absolutely brilliant from the moment the doors opened, with one of the performers showing us to our seats while talking to us in iambic pentameter about Star Trek (he’d noticed Jane’s com badge).

Edinburgh – A Tale of Two Towns. A walking tour from the Greyfriars Bobby Bar, taking in the old and new towns, ending at Waverley Station. Peter was a great guide with an obvious passion for Edinburgh, past and present.

EdinburghThe good

Much that we did that fell into this category, including three things that are there all the time, namely the Cafe at the Hub (friendly service and good food), Camera Obscura (worth the £14.50 admission charge) and Holyrood Palace (even better value at £12).

Many of the fringe shows we saw were good or very good, especially Showstoppers. We were treated to “Boris Blows his Top” – an improvised musical set in a post-apocalypse London. I don’t fancy drinking frothy bilge to be honest (you had to be there), so let’s hope that Trump doesn’t win in November.

Paul Merton’s Improv Chums, Nicholas Parsons’ Happy Hour, Radio Active, The Improvised James Bond (“From Brexit with Love”) and Katherine Ryan’s stand up comedy were all great value too.

The meh

The Edinburgh weather 🙁

The bad and the ugly

Edinburgh traffic. With thousands of pedestrians and only a half-hearted attempt at temporary pedestrianisation outside St Giles Cathedral you had to have your wits about you constantly. The wait on most of the pedestrian lights also favours buses, taxis, cars and trams over people. Not a particularly good experience. It seems genuinely impossible to recycle glass bottles, at least in the part of Edinburgh we stayed in. A couple of the spur of the moment shows fell into the bad and ugly category. I won’t name either as I’m sure that the performers realise it too.

And while we’re talking ugly, here’s a caricature of me from one of the many fun exhibits at the Camera Obscura.

Caricature of meThis was my first experience of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – and I’m looking forward to returning again soon.


I’ve just got home from my watch and wait appointment at the hospital. I’m feeling somewhat nervous, as they’ve asked me to go for a PET/CT scan due to the visible increase in size of the lumps in my neck since the last time I was there. My blood tests are still ok even though I’ve felt increasingly more tired over the last few weeks (hayfever?) and I’ve also found it harder to concentrate for long periods (also hayfever?).

I’m under no illusions about how tough the Nordic Protocol (pdf) chemotherapy regime is. There are lots of reasons that I’d like the news from the scan to be that I don’t have to start on it soon – and preferably not for at least another year.

Fingers crossed!

Spondon in 1962: outside of the centre

As a follow-up to the 1962 Spondon village centre photographs I posted here last weekend, these are the remaining images from the same film that were taken elsewhere in the village.

The first is the junction of Willowcroft Road with South Avenue.

Willowcroft Road - South Avenue 1962Willowcroft Road sweeps round to the left. At the top of the hill is the junction with Sitwell Street. Two photographs were taken here, the first looking to the left. The spire of St Werburgh’s church is visible to the right of the large tree in the grounds of The Homestead.

Willowcroft Road - Sitwell Street away from centre 1962The second is taken from approximately the same place, but looking to the right of the junction. The Co-op (which I remember as a supermarket from my childhood, but is now a funeral parlour) is visible in the background.

Willowcroft Road - Sitwell Street to centre 1962The next photograph is taken slightly further along Sitwell Street. The building immediately on the left is still there today. However, the buildings next to it have been replaced by houses and, I think, Spondon Village Hall.

Sitwell Street 1962Turning right here leads onto a lane that brings you to Moult Avenue. The houses shown in this photograph are there today, but the surrounding area on South Avenue was later developed for housing, so it all looks rather different now.

Moult Avenue 1962I assume that the next photograph is looking back towards Sitwell Street from this lane, but confirmation would be welcome!

Unknown Spondon 1962The final photograph is of Potter Street. This is facing away from Hall Dyke, with the Malt Shovel Inn just out of sight on the right. The houses in the background were demolished and replaced some years ago.

Potter Street 1962

Spondon village centre in 1962

These photographs of Spondon were taken by my father in 1962. Most of the village centre remains recognisable today, albeit that the businesses have mostly changed.

The first photograph is a view of the village centre looking towards Chapel Street. The edge of the White Swan pub is just visible on the right hand side. The halt markings have long since gone, replaced today by a mini-roundabout.

Spondon Centre towards Chapel Street 1962The second photograph is another view of the centre, looking directly towards the White Swan. The House Agent is now a fish and chip shop (and has been so for as long as I can remember). The zebra crossing and its Belisha beacons belongs to a bygone age, replaced by a pelican crossing more suited to today’s traffic conditions.

Spondon Centre towards White Swan 1962While the first two photographs remain largely recognisable today, the next shows significantly greater change. This is Chapel Street, looking towards the location that the first photograph was taken from. The buildings on the left hand side were demolished and replaced with a shopping precinct sometime during the late 1960s or early 1970s. The buildings near the lamp-post and bus stop on the right hand side have been replaced by Chapel Street Medical Centre, a chemist and other shops.

Chapel Street Spondon 1962The final photograph is of Moor Street and Spondon Liberal Club. The Liberal Club is still flourishing today. However the buildings to the side of it were demolished to make way for a car park and extension.

Moor Street and Spondon Liberal Club 1962

Pauline Latham MP was seduced by Leave’s propaganda

Pauline Latham, my MP in Mid Derbyshire, wrote an article for the Derby Telegraph just a few hours before the EU referendum. In it she finally came out for Leave, stating that she’d carefully studied the pros and cons of membership. However, it would appear that even a professional was seduced by Leave’s propaganda, which if nothing else shows why no-one should blame the electorate for coming to their decision based on the series of half-truths they spread. Some of these, including the claim that the EU has never signed off their accounts, are naturally repeated in her article.

Leaving the half-truths aside, it’s the conclusions she makes that call her judgement into question most. Here’s an example:

One of the strongest arguments for remaining in the EU is that it provides economic security and offers the UK stability and a strong position in the world as part of a powerful trading and diplomatic bloc.


Ultimately I think such arguments undersell the strong position of the UK in the world and the clear power and potential we have to remain in this position. With more heat than light being generated in the debate about our place in the EU has everyone forgotten that 170 countries exist outside it? To say we cannot succeed on our own is wrong.

I’m not sure that any sane person would suggest that the run on the pound, the turmoil in the stock markets, the flight of capital from the UK economy and the downgrading of our credit rating that has resulted since Thursday is success. Maybe she’s hoping that things will get better? But hope is not a strategy.

She also claimed that one of the reasons for leaving would be to take back control over immigration. Her fellow Leave campaigners have been furiously rowing back from that assertion of course, and I wonder if she had realised that residual migration in Derby (of which her constituency covers part) meant that the population declined by 200 in 2013/14?

I’ve met a lot of shell-shocked people in Oakwood and around the city since the result was announced. People are naturally concerned about their prospects, pensions and livelihoods.

Now that Leave have won the debate, I think she owes it to her constituents to explain in clear terms what the plan is to restore prosperity. If she is unable to do that then she should apologise now and make way for someone who can.

Two thoughts following the referendum result – and what to do next

This is a quickly written post as I really need to get on with my dissertation today. However, here are two thoughts about what not to do, and what to do following the EU referendum ‘leave’ result.

First – the what not to do. Don’t sign the petition arguing for a second referendum on the same question immediately. We may not like the result (that’s possibly the biggest understatement I’ve ever made), but a second referendum isn’t the answer. At best it would be a sticking plaster that fails to address the underlying causes of the dissatisfaction that many people feel about their situation. At worst, it looks like sour grapes. In fact, I’m in full agreement with the good Lord Bonkers (a.k.a. Jonathan Calder) on this – referendums on anything are a really bad idea in a parliamentary democracy. Read his piece published before the results were known to understand why.

Secondly – the what to do. With the Conservative and Labour parties ripping apart at the seams, an early General Election seems like a real possibility, even with the fixed-term parliaments act in place. If you think that the UK should remain in (or rejoin) the EU, I hope that you’ll join the Liberal Democrats. Come and work with us to create an optimistic, liberal and positive vision for the future, that addresses the underlying problems in our country with real solutions, not just cheap slogans.

Bloggers and friends for Remain

I’m all out of inspiration at the moment. It’s been sucked into a black hole known as my dissertation and hopefully will reappear at some point after September. But it is really important to vote – and vote Remain on Thursday. So in lieu of me being able to write something sensible about the referendum, can I heartily recommend these two posts written by fellow bloggers – and friends – instead.

I want my country back – fellow post40blogger Tattooed Mummy writes about her reasons for voting Remain and what she hopes the UK can regain:

I want my friendly country back, the one that can laugh at itself when we meet a foreigner who speaks perfect English while we wallow in shouting and pointing. I want the country back, the one that welcomes the lost and the scared.

Europe, you’ve got my vote – written by a good friend of our family (often referred to as our third daughter).

… in spite of arguments about trade and economy, it needs to be said that it is okay to reason from an ethical position. I support the remain campaign because the EU keeps us together in spite of our differences; it says that we stand together instead of standing apart.

However you come to your decision, I hope that you’ll vote Remain too. Whether you believe the reason to vote Remain is the peace we have enjoyed in Europe since the end of the second world war, the benefits of trading in a single market, EU environmental protections, support for workers’ rights, the freedom to travel within the EU without visas, carnets and other red tape while retaining control of our borders, the security provided by working together to defeat criminals and terrorists, or something else, we have a lot to lose if we fail to vote Remain this Thursday.

Why #RemaIN may be failing the “pink tuna” test

The current batch of opinion polls make worrying reading for those of us backing the remain camp in the forthcoming EU referendum. It’s not lost yet of course – far from it – and I remain convinced of the good sense of my fellow citizens. However, some of the remain tactics do seem to be somewhat less than optimal. I feel that a bit of “pink tuna” may help.

One feature of the campaign that is obviously gratifying to the remain campaign, but has perhaps been a little overplayed, is the welcome endorsement of our continuing EU membership by vast numbers of European and world leaders. However, on reflection, I don’t think that these endorsements are necessarily working in favour of a positive vote to remain in, as they seem to me to fail the pink tuna test.

Let me explain. When my youngest daughter was very much younger, she refused to eat salmon. Nothing we or our family did would convince her that salmon was delicious. But she did like tuna. One of us (almost certainly not me) came up with the idea of re-branding salmon as pink tuna and suggesting that she wouldn’t like it. It worked like a charm and woe-betide anyone who came between her and her pink tuna.

Perhaps if all of these European and world leaders had instead told us that they wanted us to leave, it might have had a positive impact on the remain campaign, by convincing undecided voters that the only reason anyone would want us to leave is that they wanted to keep all of the good stuff that the EU brings to themselves – the pink tuna. Of course, such a ploy would have had no impact on those of us wanting to remain (as we know that salmon and pink tuna are one and the same, and is delicious). But for the tuna eating waverers, it may just have helped them to take a few mouthfuls and discover what the convinced know already.

Undecided voters – pink tuna is delicious, so I really don’t want you to have any of mine.

Featured on Liberal Democrat Voice

Customer service at the US and UK borders

I never thought I’d say that customer service is better at the U.S. border than the UK border. Until now.

I’ve recently returned from a trip to Costa Rica, which required connecting flights through Miami. I can’t say that I was looking forward to experiencing U.S. immigration based on past experiences, but this time I was pleasantly surprised. If you travel on certain types of visas or are on the visa waiver scheme with a valid ESTA, your initial clearance is now carried out using automated passport control (APC) self-service kiosks. Get this process right (which I didn’t the first time I used it as one of my fingers slipped off the biometric reader) and you can pass through immigration in a few minutes. Get it wrong (indicated by an “X” on your receipt) and it means that you have to wait in line, but not for too long as the pressure seems to have been taken off the officials by the kiosks.

On both occasions the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) personnel I met were unfailingly professional and polite, combined with good humour. After I’d failed to use the APC kiosk correctly on my first encounter with it, the CBP officer explained to me what I’d got wrong while sharing a joke with my wife (who’d got through APC at the first time of asking). Second time through, on our way back from Costa Rica after both of us had received a clear automated check, the CBP officer who collected our receipts looked at our passports, grinned and alerted his colleagues that the “British were coming (!)”.

Such a contrast to arriving back on Bank Holiday Monday at the UK Border at Heathrow Terminal 3. All of the automated passport gates were out of use as they were being “upgraded”, with a long line of EU nationals waiting to be checked through just two open desks. I’m glad that we were near the front of the queue. Worse, it looked as if all of the UK Border staff had been sent through the Theresa May school of “how to make your face look as if you’re sucking a wasp”. (I remember watching her present medals at the Paralympic swimming in 2012 and she couldn’t have looked more miserable if she’d tried). No smiles, no pleasantries and no obvious humanity present, making the experience a terrible advertisement for visitors to the UK and an unpleasant one for returning UK nationals. Customer service is important – and first impressions are everything.

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