January 2006 Archives

The debate about social exclusion and e-technology continues. But there's one issue which is rarely addressed: Is there an emerging protocol for when some people in a social or work grouping have email, and some don't? And is the onus always on the email users to contact the rest? Or does it depend on who the people are and on the specific situation?

Have we become a 'society' completely dependent on e-technology? And are those who don't have it 'excluded'?

This isn't a new question - it's even cropped up on this very website before now - but it's still a difficult one to crack. How, for instance, can geographically spread groups of people operate effectively, when some of them have email and some don't?

There is more than one way to see this question; and maybe the hardest part of the problem is unpicking the 'reasons' people may or may not use e-technology. Have we reached the point where it's as reasonable to expect people to have access to email, as it is to expect them to have access to a telephone?

Techno-avoidance, lack of skills, or lack of resources?
Does it 'matter' why a person won't / can't use email? Does protocol dictate a different response (from an email user) to the person who just doesn't want email, than from the one who genuinely can't easily obtain or use it?

Is it equitable to expect email users to telephone people who don't use it, or should non-email people (generally, and assuming they are comfortably able) be expected to phone those who do use it? And how will they kow when to do so?

Email is so much more precise, and usually less obtrusive. Telephone conversations demand real-time connection and permit greater immediate flexibility, but are much more expensive (per item of contact) and intrusive.

Developing the protocol
I suspect that a protocol is beginning to emerge on these matters. But it is situation-specific.

In essence, the consensus seems to be that younger, and professional, people will use the www and email, or they won't even be eligible to apply for jobs. Likewise, they use texting.

Others however still expect, and to some extent are expected, to use the telephone or 'proper letters'.

Democracy and inclusion in action?
The problem arises when people in either 'grouping' want to be sure to include those in the other. Does anyone have good examples of how it's done?

From where I sit, it looks like nearly all the work has to be done by the email users - printing out hard paper copies to post, phoning other people to tell them that emails are being circulated etc.

No doubt like many co-users of the internet, I got email to save time, energy and trouble. When I seek to be socially inclusive as a member of a group where most use email and a few don't, it actually makes me into an unpaid secretary in the name of democracy. But I'm not sure everyone finds the energy to do the same.

Maybe the next big thing will be a technology which 'translates' emails and the like to voicemail - at the receiving end?

Music scores & instrument case 068 (116x106).jpg The Association of British Orchestras today overtly acknowledged the health risks of orchestra playing. But for many orchestral musicians the reality of every day life is sparse professional support, low esteem, low pay and no say - exactly the conditions in which ill-health, stress and worry thrive.

It's a puzzle that so many Association of British Orchestras, at their Annual Meeting in Newcastle, have today launched their Healthy Orchestra Charter. Now at last we see a formal acknowledgement by the organisations which employ them, that orchestral musicians experience significant health risks in the course of their professional work.

The list of risks is long - physical problems such as deafness and repetitive strain injury, bullying, burn-out and stage fright amongst them. Is it any wonder, with this level of risk, that so few players who enter orchestras - some of the best classical musicians we have - actually stay in that employment for the entirety of their professional lives?

Well-established research findings
Of course, it isn't news that these significant risks occur. I attended the International Conference on Health and the Musician at York University in 1997, and even then the research literature was compelling. But it is encouraging that now the focus has moved from others pressing the point 'in defence' of the players, to the current position where, perhaps belatedly, employers themselves are addressing the problem directly.

From a formal health and safety perspective there's no way round this in a modern employment situation, except to face the issues squarely; and the additional impetus of formal acknowledgement may also help the individuals at risk to feel more comfortable about coping. The problems have now been articulated where they need to be; which means those who experience them are more likely to get the proper support they require in the context of their employment instead of, as previously, only through informal arrangements such as the BAPAM scheme - life-saver though this can be, and hopefully will remain, for players with particular personal problems which they may not wish to share with their employers.

BAPAM is an excellent resource for musicians in genres across the board, but it can only address some of the issues for professional orchestral musicians. Orchestra players need (but usually don't get) continuing professional development (CPD), at least outside 'community education' programmes. Occasional employer-sponsored consultation in instrumental technique from a really top-flight teacher would come in handy over the decades - as younger players slowly and often sadly discover. But this is rarely on offer. CPD of musician employees is a responsibility of orchestra managements, not of BAPAM doctors.

Isn't it obvious that properly embedded individual instrumental technique support for orchestral musicians reduces the inevitable risk of small 'bad habits'? And that in turn individual performance support increases personal confidence, and reduces the need for absence and / or medical intervention - thereby also reducing the overall costs, short and long term, both to the employer and to the individual? A virtuous circle indeed.

Continuing individual professional development for performers, supported by a serious orchestral management cheque book, is well overdue. 'Our people,' as every management everywhere insists, 'are our prime resource...'

Other stress factors
Excellent though the Healthy Orchestras initiative is, it does then seem on first reading that not all the issues identified formally and informally at the 1997 York conference are being equally acknowledged. Stress factors which many musicians themselves identified included not only the obvious physical and psychological strains of the job, but also extraordinarily low pay and a sense in which they felt as though they were still 'at school' - you can be in an orchestra for many years and still have no acknowledgement of seniority of any kind, invisible in the scheme of things with not even your own place in the actual seating arrangements.

And that's before we get to the issues (above) around keeping up personal performance skills - probably the most anxiety-making part of any professional musician's day-to-day existence.

Plus, in some orchestras the managerial urge to present a youthful image has overtaken any respect for experience and what that brings to the particular 'sound' for which a given ensemble is known. Not only could this be a threat to the individuality of the great orchestras, but it's personally distressing for those have who carried the tradition of their orchestra over the years.

Add to this the ingrained belief of many players that 'you're only as good as your last performance' (no latitude for being human there), and the conviction that it's possible for any player to be destroyed by constant criticism (Will I be the next to be bullied?) and the situation becomes a personal time bomb, buried deep in the collective psyche of the musicians on stage.

Music is good for you - mostly
So perhaps here's the rub. Classical music offers those who listen to it enjoyment, solace and stimulation. And so in comfortable circumstances it does to those who perform it. I doubt any orchestral player enters a major symphony orchestra expecting less. This is a vocation which demands and promises much of and for those who aspire to it.

But, at least for all except the most highly ranked members (and perhaps for them too?), there's something quite disturbing in more than one sense about the contexts of orchestral life.

Maybe it's this:

You sit on whatever platform you've been dispatched to, a performer at the top of your profession under the relentless public scrutiny of the punters, your employers and (hardest of all) your equally stressed peers, without any discernible artistic or personal say in what happens - and dressed in a 'uniform' which your (often socially well-advantaged) audience understands to represent wealth and authority.... but you know differently. A silent cognitive dissonance abounds.

And you worry - about your playing, about your pay, about how you will fit your family and other external commitments into your irregular and unsocial performance schedule, about what could happen next.

No-one now disputes that stress affects most severely those who have least power and influence. Here's a textbook 'classical' case of that happening.

See also: Orchestral Salaries In The U.K.

Life In A Professional Orchestra: A Sustainable Career?

Musicians in Many Guises

British Orchestras On The Brink

Where's The Classical Music In The Summer? An Idea...

The strongly held views on Liverpool's World Heritage Site and the Museum of Liverpool proposals have something to tell us about how we sometimes need to look beyond our own patch, to see what could or should be done. Perhaps 'cultural exchange' programmes within our own shores might be a start, so helping citizens to know each other's towns and cities across the nation?

Lots of debate as usual about architecture and design, following the Heritage Lottery decision not to fund the Museum of Liverpool.... The views about the World Heritage Site and so forth have been interesting - as ever!

The last few days I've been in London with my family and, as it happens, doing the 'visitor' bit around the Tate Modern, the City, Covent Garden and Westminster. What strikes me so strongly is that most people in London don't seem to have a huge problem about Big Buildings and Little Buildings, old ones and new.

The mix of old and new
Of course, 'new' buildings adjacent to 'old' ones (and they don't get much more historic than some in the parts of London I was seeing) are often designed very well in a style which merges... but then you get the Gherkin. What an amazing construction! There's St. Paul's being done up, and behind it what you can only term a huge conical mirror. But I really don't think it looks 'wrong'.

In fact, one of the things that strikes me is how vibrant this miscellany of buildings, mile upon mile of them, is. Some young people I know who have moved to the Capital have actually chosen large drawings and (v dramatic) photographs of the Foster building and similar as the artwork for their own home.... and they're exactly the sort of young professionals Liverpool would dearly have liked to keep here. But London offers so much more.

I definitely don't think that all 'modern' architecture is appropriate wherever it's put. It has to be excellent and well-positioned to earn its footprint. But I'd guess the folk in London are lucky in being (literally) more cosmopolitan in their approach; they've seen more of the world - in general, not all of them of course - than folk in Liverpool (again, in general). Expecting exciting and perhaps controversial architecture alongside a proper respect for the historic, and off-set by wide-open green spaces, probably goes with that wider mindset.

Where's the wider experience and context?
When are we going to start to try to ensure that as many Liverpool people as possible have a wider context in which to judge their city? Isn't it time actively to encourage people, young and older, to visit other places and experience (not just 'look at') other contexts, so that they can have a more broadly informed view of what goes on here, as well? It's difficult to have a positive, balanced position when the basis of it is often so narrow, even perhaps parochial.

And is there something here for everyone? Would it be a good thing if we all tried to experience parts of the country outside our own patch? Never mind 'foreign' exchanges, worthy though these can be. What about learning more about where we actually live, as well?

Monday January 23rd has been declared the Worst Day of this Year; last year Miserable Monday was on the 24th January. But that's a date I always look forward to. It's the annual event in my personal calendar when convention decrees I get to choose a treat with family and friends. In other words, my birthday. (Let's forget the age aspect here, surely it's the company which counts?!) Which all goes to show that there's only a Worst Day of the Year if we elect to see it that way. Or, as the gurus and psychologists all tell us, most of us most of the time can choose if we wish to be happy....

Apparently Monday 23rd January this year is the 'worst' day of the year.

Well, last year Miserable Monday was the 24th, so for me it certainly wasn't the Worst Day; and nor, she assures me, was it some while ago for my mum and dad.... that date is my birthday, and I was their no. 1 arrival. Which goes to prove that what's best, or indeed worst, is in the eye of the beholder. We might all be getting longer in the tooth, but my guess is few of us lose that little tingle of anticipation when it comes to the one day in the year when convention proclaims we're Special.

So my year sometimes has no Worst Day. For lucky me 24 January is always a day for indulgence (if I can get away with it) and definitely for fun with family and friends.

Happiness is where you find it
I can be as sad or stressed as the next person - believe me - but my odd personal coincidence of dates has set me thinking. The declaration about Miserable Monday only reached me recently. For many years I've innocently looked forward to that date, for the opportunities / excuse it brought to meet up with people I really want to see, and, where posible, to escape the humdrum. And now here we are being told it's the ultimate in dark and dismal days.

So there you go, or rather perhaps there I go in this case.... another year older but still hoping for a pleasant celebratory diversion, keeping my fingers crossed it'll be OK even if it's on the newly-proclaimed Worst Day of the Year.

How to be happy
Of course there are folk whose situations mean that, or any other day, can only be no fun at all. But most of us, fortunately, are less burdened. There are lots of findings and hints on how to be happy. There's really not much excuse for not trying, at least if we're moderately blessed in what life offers.

The good news appears to be that we can actually decide for ourselves to look on the bright side. There's even a website called Authentic Happiness which says it aims to help you stay positive!

But if you'd rather stick with a few general hints than use interactive IT to take you to contentment, here are some of the ideas I've gleaned which seem to shine through:

** Forget about money; it only matters if you truly don't have enough.

** Look after yourself physically and emotionally; you have value. (If you have a health or other problem, or are concerned you may have, get it sorted. Real problems require real resolutions, sometimes with the help of others. That's part of looking after yourself.)

** You already know what not to do if you want to stay well. Now add the positives - take exercise, eat a 'rainbow' (lots of different fruit and veg., plus any supplements such as omega 3 which you need) and - hypocrite though I am - get enough sleep.

** Don't dwell on what went 'wrong', instead concentrate fully on the good things, even the very small good things.... in the words of one commentator, 'Thank your lucky stars about what goes right on a daily basis.' (They mean it: every single day, not just when the whim takes you.)

** Immerse yourself in the moment, working, at leisure or however else. Don't be distracted from the activity, enjoy or appreciate it fully.

** Seek out and share experiences with other positive people. (Could this be a special challenge for those of us born on Miserable Monday? I'm up for it, it's not hard... everyone I know enjoys our excuse for a Bit Of A Do on that particular date!)

** Smile.

And finally, as a very wise person (I don't know who, do you?) said, 'If you can't be happy, be useful.' Which will probably have the same effect in many ways as all the other advice we've seen above.

So who cares what the date is? .... Worst Day or not, have a very good day!

Women & child in pushchair (small) 80x61.jpg Becoming a parent is something uniquely rewarding and unlike any other life experience. But does this mean that the parent who almost always shoulders the main day-to-day responsibility for family care should routinely also experience low pay and significant risk of chronic stress?

'Even when their children have left home, the average hourly wage of their mothers remained at 72% of the male average,' we are told today in The Guardian.

I imagine that no-one who's actually considered this will be surprised. It's part of the findings of a new large-scale research report, Newborns and New Schools (Brewer and Paull, Jan. 2006, Institute of Fiscal Studies / Department of Work and Pensions).

Having, and sharing life with, our own children is probably the most amazing and rewarding experiences most of us, men and women alike, can choose to have. But it's not an equitable choice.

Stress is inequitable too
On another page of today's Guardian we read that research on civil servants shows women are five times more likely than men to have the risk factors linked with stress in the office - and it's most apparent in the lower-paid levels of employment. This study (Tarani Chandola, UCL), like the DWP one, was very large, so we probably need to take it seriously.

And my point is... the stressors identified in chronic stress, a condition which can damage the metabolism of sufferers in very significant ways, are gender-related, aren't they? Lower employment status equals more stress; and motherhood, sadly, is linked with lower status at work.

The conditions which bring about these gender-related outcomes may be complicated, but we need to acknowledge and explore them more directly. For whatever reasons many people, women sometimes as much as men, are uncomfortable with the 'gender agenda'. Maybe it's threatening?

But ignoring patently significant work-related health risks is silly - and a lot more than just silly - by anyone's standards.

06.11.19 St James Cemetery passage 161x121 2439a.jpg The Friends of St James', who are restoring the historic cemetery and park next to Liverpool Cathedral, have achieved much in the few years of their formal existence. The inner city becomes, by the hard work of volunteer environmentalists and gardeners, joining with equally committed volunteer lobbyists, a place where green space can thrive to encourage the naturalist in us all.

04.06.06a Planting a tree in St James's Gardens, Liverpool  Robin Riley & Tony Bradshaw & Ann Wolff 480x269.jpg

The Friends of St James Cemetery And Gardens held its third AGM this evening. Reports from the Chair, local resident and sculptor Robin Riley, and the Vice-Chair, Prof. Tony Bradshaw, a noted emeritus researcher from the University of Liverpool, were incredibly encouraging - programmes of volunteer engagement, plans for children's educational activities, accounts of excellent public engagement events during the past year ... all warmed the heart and gave us hope for the future of this unique inner-city environmental resource.

St James' is a space dug out by the masons of yesteryear (I suspect that blocks of its red stone comprise the wall at the back of my house), and situated right next to Liverpool's Anglican Cathedral. It holds about eighty thousand graves, relating in their stony way the history of the city for many decades up to the 1930s.

The cemetery, now also a park or 'gardens', hosts the Huskisson Memorial and much other testimony to Liverpool's history. Amongst the other very interesting things to be found in this hollow scooped from the innrer city are a natural well and many exciting nooks and crannies. But until recently it was a no-go area, somewhere that most of us were rather afraid to explore at any time of day.

06.11.19 St James Gardens & Huskisson Memorial, with lower Hope Street & Gamber Terrace above  480x360 2402a.jpg

Pulling together to reclaim the space
The opportunity to reclaim this large space arose at least in part from the Bishops' Conference on Social Responsibility which was held at Liverpool Cathedral in 2001. The environmentally aware theme of this conference resonated with the ambitions of many of us at the Cathedral and in HOPES: The Hope Street Association to develop the St. James' site (which runs along the southern part of Hope Street) as part of our long-awaited Hope Street Millennium Public Realm proposals. In this ambition we found sterling support from David Shreeve of the national organisation the Conservation Foundation, a keen environmentalist who was much involved with Liverpool Cathedral and in this conference.

David worked with HOPES and others to encourage the City Council to see the value of developing the historic site right on our doorstep, and so the Friends of St James was formed. Here is an example of how having someone beyond the local scene to act as a champion can work wonders. What is declared by influential people beyond the locality to be precious may well be similarly perceived also by local decision-makers before too long.

Building for the future
So now we have a very active organisation for St James' which will soon be a registered charity, and we also have buy-in from the City Council and Liverpool Vision, as well as from many 'ordinary' citizens of the city.

We also have big plans, including the imaginative Bridge of Hope, a project for a glass bridge which is intended to take people on a walkway at street level, high above the cemetery, straight into the Cathedral - thereby at last realising a dream which has been part of the Hope Street ambition for many decades.

What prospects for green space in the city?
Liverpool has been very slow to treasure its parks and green space. Sefton Park, for instance, has been left quietly to 'naturalise' for many years until very recently; but the Friends of Sefton Park, like those of St James', have campaigned long and hard to develop these parks a sensibly managed public space once more... And it's happened, because citizens of the city living around and enjoying these green spaces, cared enough to make a fuss and involve other, generously helpful people.

Let's hope the same success can now be achieved by people who are campaigning for improvements to Newsham Park and other superb parks and green spaces in Liverpool. Newsham Park, for instance, has hard-working Friends as well. They need support!

The critical thing is, unless people can enjoy green space for themselves, they probably won't be able to value it as they could, indeed should. It's become a generational thing. If you haven't seen it, you probably won't want it, whether its allotments, parks or simply somewhere nice to walk.

Liverpool Anglican Cathedral St James Gardens map 480x325 2376a 06.11.19.jpg

Inevitably we must accept that Liverpool's parks and open spaces cannot all, and unreservedly, be 'set in aspic' (to use a naturalistic metaphor); but I applaud wholeheartedly those who fight to ensure that the children of today have the opportunity, by example of fellow local citizens, to become be the enthusiastic users, and indeed guardians, of inner-city green space in the future.

See also
Liverpool's Two Cathedrals
Hope Street Quarter, Liverpool and
Camera & Calendar.

Front door (small).jpgThe city centres of England, we are told, are populated mainly by young singles; but at the same time there is an increase in the number of older people who have supported independent living. So how do these two facets of modern life fit together?

The 'conveyor belt effect' is a new one on me. Apparently it refers to the idea that city centres tend to be populated by single 18-34's, who then move out to the suburbs.

A new report by the Institute of Public Policy Research (IPPR) City People: City Centre Living in the UK tells us that as many as two thirds of the population of some city centres is aged 18 - 34; and they are twice as likely to be single as the average Briton. But then they move out - hence the conveyor...

But where do older people live?
It's an interesting contrast that, in the same Guardian reporting column (11 January 2006) that I read about the IPPR study, there's a piece on independent living for older people.

Apparently there has been a rise in the proportion of older people in England who live independently at home, rather than in residential care (30.1% in 2003/4; 32% in 2004-5); but it's uneven by region. The Health and Social Care Information Centre (report, PP 6 10) found wide regional variations, with 44.7% for inner London and only 27.7% in unitary authorities.

It would be interesting to know more about where these older, independently housed people live. Are some of them in the city centres too? Or are they on they periphery, having 'moved out' when they had their families? Or were housing patterns when they were young quite different anyway, with the 'extended family' arrangements reported for instance in London's Bethnal Green, by Willmott and Young all those years ago?

Do housing plans actually meet need?
In an earlier piece I suggested that there's a need to incorporate accommodation in small blocks in all sorts of housing areas. City centres must be made much more friendly for families and older people; and the suburbs (and that strange 'donut' around city centres) needs to have much more flexible and helpful housing units too. And this applies to towns and villages at least as much as it does to cities, as perhaps the NHS / HSCIC data indicate.

When there's a real mix, there's more chance of support for everyone, and a real community - and that's where I'd love the planners and builders really to get a grip.

Read the discussion of this article which follows the book E-store....

The RENEW Northwest Intelligence Report just published (January 2006) on 'Making a difference: Participation and wellbeing' marks an important step forward in our notions of volunteering and its outcomes. Professor Carolyn Kagan suggests that community activists often find their 'work' stressful and unrewarding. It is indeed time we re-examined the notion of 'putting something back'; but we shouldn't assume that only those who live in difficult circumstances can share common cause in regeneration and renewal. People with professional skills who themselves become involved as volunteers can also find the going very hard - as any regeneration professionals taking Prof. Kagan's advice to 'practise what they preach' might well discover.

Given that work-related stress has long been known to be related to powerlessness and / or impossible demands, I'm surprised it's taken so long... but now we have the official acknowledgement that community engagement by volunteers can be as stressful as it can be rewarding.

In her report Making a difference: Participation and wellbeing (Renew Northwest, 2006) Professor Carolyn Kagan from Manchester Metropolitan University suggests that, 'far from being a source of wellbeing, participation can actually increase stress.' Community activists, she has found, work 'under unrelenting pressure: isolated, without supervision, coping with local conflict, without time off - and without pay.'

'Consulting residents about a regeneration project,' we are told, 'is a top-down system which can often result in local needs being defined by the professionals, with little 'ownership' by residents.' (This worries me a bit; isn't it helpful that there be professionally experienced people genuinely embedded in all communities, so that issues wider than the parocial are also 'stakeheld' by all concerned?)

Who are the 'community activists'?
Nonetheless, Prof. Kagan has a very valid point. You only have to become a little involved to see that the people who are most active in 'communities' are also often those who are least impressed by what is being achieved around them, and that despondency is often the name of the game.

And you can also fairly quickly see that the powers-that-be, probably without conscious intent, often play their own games in this, favouring some groups and individuals against others, hoovering up ideas and regurgitating them as 'policy' to be 'explained' to the hapless people who first thought of it, and generally bureaucratising whatever they touch. (Of course some degree of bureaucracy is essential; but some of it is also rather convenient in terms of how officialdom chooses to engage with the punter.)

But there is another question too: why should be assumed that 'community activists' are necessarily 'tenants' or 'residents' or always themselves live in a 'community' (whatever that means) which itself struggles? Sometimes this specific sort of engagement is the only legitimate way forward, but many other issues which need addressing are wider than that.

'Activists' come in all shapes and sizes
Is there no commonality between all the sorts of people who work voluntarily to gain benefit for different 'communities'? Aren't local political parties and, say, religious leaders and charitable organisations all run on the basis of very little financial reward for a lot of hard slog?

The people involved in these organisations may well be articulate, easily able to make their case and very committed to involving everyone - but they are often just as stressed by the response of officialdom as anyone else. In fact, it could be thought that they are even less well received by regeneration bureacrats than are those with fewer recognised and assets, precisely because they are seen by the powers-that-be as more of a challenge or 'threat'.

Engagement by professionals is a difficult issue
The un-welcome which articulate and professionally qualified people sometimes experience when they try to work as volunteeers for the larger community interest is very significant. Prof. Kagan suggests that if regeneration professionals are serious about accepting and supporting the role of 'community activists', they should take on this role in their 'own home and work communities'... or presumably anywhere where they feel there is - and here perhaps we get to the real underlying issue - legitimate common cause?

If my observations are anything to go by, the regeneration professionals are in for a shock if they actually follow Prof. Kagan's advice. They could find that they are vulnerable on all fronts... the 'community' wonders what they're up to, their co-professionals feel uncomfortable, and the powers-that-be actively resist their involvement.

It takes forward looking, positive and confident practitioners to accept their peers as 'volunteer' stakeholders with legitimate engagement in the regeneration and renewal process; and confident practitioners, happy and able to share, and comfortable in their skins, are sadly not exactly what's to be found in some of these programmes.

Group of Women (small) 90x110.jpg The English language is rich in many respects; but it's inadequate, perhaps for very important reasons, when it comes to naming and addressing mature female people. For the foreseeable future polite society will probably continue to constrain women by the words we may properly use here. Men can also be 'Chaps' and 'Guys', whilst for women until now there's been no equivalent set of terms.... which may explain why younger people of both sexes, often themselves more consciously gender-equal, have begun to claim these names, Guys and Chaps, as inclusive terms for everyone.

Names meaning everything and nothing. The old adage about 'sticks and stones' but 'names can hurt me never...' has some truth, but it's not the whole story.

So here's a question: how does one properly address a group of mature female people whom one may not know well?

Women, Ladies of Girls?
Is there any other term than these which one can use for such a group as the one above?

* 'Women' is a strange form of spoken or formal address; the word refers to a type of person, but it's not really a collective noun in the formal naming sense;
* 'Ladies' is a term which offends some because of its patriarchal and other class overtones (though the Concise Oxford notes it is a "courteous or formal synonym for 'women'"); and
* 'Girls' is obviously not appropriate as a formal term for any group of female people over the age of about 16.

So what are we women to be addressed as? Frankly, I don't know.

Forms of address for men
This is easier! Men can be 'Gentlemen' (formal); 'Chaps' (the friendly noun for a group of posibly more mature men), 'Guys' (friendly, for younger men, or for Chaps with a more modern outlook?) or even 'Boys' (though usually only as a form of gentle teasing between peers, or in families).

Rarely do we hear complaint about any of these collective nouns. There's something for everyone - at least as long as you're male. But then of course men don't feel marginalised or at risk of being demeaned by terms of reference in the same way as some women may, not infrequently with reason.

The new Chaps 'n' Guys
Talking with younger women and men, there seems to be a move towards an understanding that Chaps and Guys can be male or female. 'Okay you guys..' is the start of a sentence which can be addressed to anyone (collectively) by anyone, male or female, in informal situations. And 'Chaps' has become a term which, again informally, refers to any group of people.

Perhaps this is the way forward. In formal situations there seems little option but to use the 'polite' forms 'Ladies and Gentlemen...'; this doesn't always sound good, but how else does one start? At least it's equally constraining for both men and women.

Hermaphrodising the naming
Informally perhaps we women can move towards a more hermaphrodite nomenclature. We're 'Guys' and 'Chaps' when it suts. This doesn't, to me at least, feel like the awful legal precedent of announcing that 'all references to 'he' shall also apply to 'she'...' and so on. That legal precedent was made by men. We, women, are choosing to be, and to call ourselves, 'You Guys' in a rather different way.

The ultimate test for person-to-person, face-to-face, naming has to be that person's choice, and the type of context in which the choice is made. We can decide in the general sense to use what collective nouns we like, but respect for the individual and his / her ease should take prioity over our own preference when we address another.

If we want real communication, putting the other at ease is important; and if that includes using formal terms because these are the only ones we have, in my book, so be it. Convention, however inperfect, help us here.

Hallo people!
Nonetheless, the English language does leave us a bit high and dry, with 'he' and 'she' as the third person nouns, and no ungendered noun for individuals except for the words 'person' and 'people'. Maybe we women willl have arrived when the formal way to address groups of either / mixed gender is to begin, 'Good morning people...'.

But that may take a while, Guys.

2007-8 graphic 119x109 001aa.jpg The 800th Anniversary of Liverpool in 2007, and the Liverpool European Capital of Culture Year in 2008, are hugely important milestones for the city. So how are we, citizens of the city or of Europe and the world, going to measure the success of these years, once we reach 2009?
Your suggested responses and answers to this question are most welcome....

Much has already been written, on this weblog and elsewhere, about Liverpool's 800th Anniversary in 2007, and the 2008 European Capital of Culture Year.

I don't intend just now to extend that debate - it seems to be developing all on its own... and please do continue to add your contributions on this weblog. But I would like to ask one special question, to which I would also really appreciate answers (please use the Response space below):

By what criteria will, or should, we be able to evaluate the success of Liverpool 2007 / 8?

I'm sure many people will have many ideas on the criteria we should use - or perhaps are already using?

Indeed, it would be helpful to know whether there actually are already sol

Despite the reluctance of voters to accept that 'the new localism' also means significant change, English devolution is almost certainly upon us; but it's unlikely to surface in the ways some imagine. Rather, the likelihood is that it will slowly become a part of the wider political landscape, as people seek ways to address specific problems.

Call it what you will - devolution, regionalism / decentralisation, 'the new localism', 'the trend towards 'city-regions' or whatever - there is a strongly discernable move towards debate about empowering communities locally as such, and away from national 'handed down' political decision-making. Thus, for instance, we can expect the Lyons report on the future of local government cum the Summer.

This has been going on for quite a while now and is, we are told, the basis on which policy and delivery for schools, hospitals and many other organisations such as the intended children's centres are to be determined. So far, so good.... but maybe, just maybe, we're also learning a few wider political lessons along the way.

Voters want everything!
It's interesting that at last modes of delivery are being examined before, not simply after, decisions about big changes are to be made.

According to this week's New Start magazine there are now various warnings that speedy implementation of devolvement could produce perhaps as many problems as it 'solves'. This is unsurprising to those of us who watched the orginal proposals for regional government go up in smoke for exactly the same reasons that the new localism will have to ease itself in.. the power and fears of county councils.

Voters may indeed want local powers (though there is always a danger that 'power' can mean 'comfort zone' if nobody is vigilant....) but many of them also like the established ways of doing things. They want: change without cost; no reduction in the structures already in place; less 'red tape'; and a fully localised version of services and provision. In other words, they have hopelessly unrealistic expectations.

Sometimes, it can seem, politicians are perceived to be not only 'power-mad', and 'in for what they can get', but also miracle workers on behalf of their constituents.

Getting real
This is the fundamental dilemma of any politicians who seeks to bring about change. If it's going to take a long time it won't happen before they are up for re-election - with the risk of accusations of breaking promises - and if it will be a significant change it will upset people who may want 'improvements', but also like the status quo.

This is where responsible journalism (yes, yes) and proper, carefully thought out political education come in. Perhaps there's a case for a sort-of Sim City game which requires young students of politics and government to make decisions as though a politician against a backdrop, not of physical regeneration and development, but of constant hypothetical re-election.

Such a 'game' might help us all to realise there's no such thing as a free lunch, even in the singular role of voter. What's the point of demanding the politically impossible, when the real question for voters should be, what is possible, and at what opportunity-cost?

Things happen
There again, perhaps much of the devolution which we are undoubtedly going to see will occur almost invisibly. Politicians may be unable to deliver as they wish - or may indeed be working actively to stop things happening - but often it's 'needs must' which brings change about. There's no non-collaborative way to secure plans and funding for a major piece of infrastucture, massive funding in a science park or research programme, or a strategy for foreign industrial investment.

As the members of the Northern Way, amongst others, have seen, only joint effort will achieve changes having any significant impact on an area. And it's these incremental alliances, I suspect, which will in the end bring about the more difficult-to-deliver underlying devolutionary shifts in the political landscape.

Time scales are another problem
The judgement that overt English devolution will have to move fairly slowly if it is to be implemented effectively is probably sound. The only problem is... if a week is a long time in politics, however long in political terms is a decade? Suffice to say that the drive to devolution will need to be really well grounded if it is to survive and have impact on the extended time-scale (a decade or two?) now by some envisaged.

There are plenty of ideas which have taken centuries rather than decades to come to fruition; maybe with modern, technological ways of sharing ideas and cultural shifts we shan't have to wait that long. But my bet is still that, whatever we see in the end, it won't be exactly what we think we're looking at now.

Going round in circles 90x113  020aa.jpg Liverpool as a city is claiming much for the forthcoming celebratory years of 2007 and 2008, but concerns exist on many fronts about the present. There is more to serious development of cultural involvement than simply 'community programmes', admirable though that is. So what sorts of models of citizen and 'stakeholder' integration are being developed, building on the experience of other cities which have managed to engage people at all levels? And will these work?

Oh dear. We don't seem to have got off to a very good start in Liverpool this year.

The end of 2005 saw the demise of several large-scale Liverpool projects, such as the trams project, and before that, in 2004, the embarrassment of the so-called 'Fourth Grace' (possibly a vainglorious misnomer? nobody I know thought there were even three 'Graces' until someone made that name up, not long ago). And in the Summer we had the debacle of the Mersey River Festival, only now being reported...

Then, to round off 2005, there was the extraordinary fuss over the shifts at the top of our political and administrative power base.

Capital of Culture 2008 now under scrutiny
And now questions are being asked about our preparations for Liverpool's European Capital of Culture celebrations in 2008. These have been becoming more urgent over the past few weeks - there were concerns expressed when Liam Fogarty decided to raise the issue of an elected mayor once more - but since the New Year the story hasn't really been off the front page.

Well, that there are questions is unsurprising, both for particular reasons and because there is always a period before these huge events, as far as I can see, when Questions Are Asked. What is more worrying, however, is the difficulty some actual citizens and 'stakeholders' have experienced in learning what's happening and / or in getting answers.

Who takes day-to-day responsibilty for 'stakeholders'?
I leave it to others to pursue the specifics of this alarming situation; my own concerns are quite complex, though I do have to say it would be helpful if they were being addressed at the practical day-to-day level... one problem seems to be identifying anyone who can take on issues of normal operational accountability. But there you go.

For me, and I suspect numbers of others, the real issue is, where do we go from here? As a long-time resident of Liverpool with strong roots in the city I know it's really important that we make a big success of 2007 and 2008, the 800th anniversary of our City Charter, and then our European Capital of Culture Year.

What some people haven't the foggiest inkling about, however, even after serious attempts to find out, is how they can bring their ideas to bear to help this to happen. And that perhaps has occured also in other European Capital of Culture locations, which begs a question about what models of social and artistic inclusion work best, and where.

The 'Tesco effect' is a matter of serious concern for everyone, from the All-Party Parliamentary Small Shops Group to people on abandoned and insular housing estates. What is needed now is more thought for how the future could look, and what can best be done to serve the interests of consumers - and businesses and employees - across the board.

The MPs looking at supermarket dominance have, we gather, been quite clear that the future does not bode well. Leaks from the High Street Britain 2015 report suggest that food wholesalers and independent newsagents may soon be freezed out by supermarkets.

This debate is on-going, on this site and in many other places and is significant for us all - hence my returning to the theme yet again.

Contexts change over time
I do understand why people are concerned about supermarkets. There is a fear that supply chains will be / are being distorted, and that suppliers, especially small suppliers, will be squeezed out in favour of the big boys. Such concerns are both real and legitimate; though we must wait until the Office of Fair Trading reports back on its current enquiries before we come to clear conclusions about the current state of things.

And I'm sure, too, that the all-party parliamentary small shops group, which will issue its formal report on High Street Britain 2015 soon, is thinking hard about the future as well as the present and the past. Nonetheless, I am surprised at the apparent lack of debate (at least as reported in the press) in terms of some of the fundamentals of the issue.

Some basic questions for the future
Amongst the questions which come to my mind every time the 'Tesco effect' comes up as a topic are these:

1. Is it the role of local planning officers to offer 'protection' to small shop-keepers? And, if so, under what rationale, and do they have a framework in which to do it? (They may well have, but I'd be astonished if I'm the only person who doesn't know what it is.)

2. Is it reasonable to suppose that supply chains are strengthened when suppliers, especially small ones, collaborate - in of course legal ways? What work has been undertaken to establish vulnerabilities and strengths here?

3. What do we know about the ways that local independent traders can work together to protect their patch, and to offer a quality, forward-looking employment experience to local people?

4. Are there ways in which the energy and other resources put into transporting and other handling of goods - especially foodstuffs? - can be shared more overtly with the customer, so that the purchaser can choose 'environmentally friendly' products, as they might well prefer to in local markets?

5. Why is there so little debate about the socio-economic contexts of supermarkets? One size may well not fit all, despite the strength of e.g. the 'Clone Town' arguments coming from the new economics foundation and others. In run-down places supermarkets may well be the only employer in the whole area which is big enough to provide stable employment and proper training. In wealthier localtions there may be many other employers who can provide training and career routes for everyone who seeks these. Surely this context makes a difference to 'value-added' in terms of supermarkets? So what do we know about the 'career progressions' of supermarket workers in various contexts?

6. And finally, who is thinking about the appalling service provision gaps in housing estates throughout the country? In terms of supermarkets they may well be 'food deserts', but aren't there niches here for (social?) enterprises such as farmers' shops, local bread shops and all sorts? These are not necessarily day-dreams, they could with the right support (and security measures) actually happen; and they could also offer training in trades and retail to local people. So, again, what research has been done to test feasibility, and what work has been done to encourage such efforts?

The questions continue...
We could ask a lot more questions like this. There are indeed many issues about which we need to know more as the 'Tesco effect' is debated; but it would be good if such questions could be asked in the context of changes for the future, and of small trader / supplier empowerment, rather than sometimes simply because of nostalgia or of fear of the big supermarkets, whatever.

Newcastle 06.1.4 018a (small) 80x88.jpg The renaissance of Britain's northern cities is a strong feature of our contemporary society. Nowhere is this more evident than in Newcastle on Tyne, where the new reality is reflected physically in the emergent profile of the Gateshead - Newcastle riversides.

Newcastle 06.1.3&4 480x341.jpg

This is the beginning of the working year - and the one hundredth entry which Hilary has written on her weblog. It's been an exciting adventure for this weblogger so far; and hopefully there are more topics to come....

It somehow feels right that this is the first working day of the new year - and also the one hundredth item I've written for my weblog. After a very hesitant start I actually got going in October, and here I am, still enjoying it all enormously.

And slowly the 'rules' I want to work to are becoming clearer: I try to keep things 'even' and I certainly don't want to be personal about individuals; I tend to steer clear of specifically party politics unless I can find no other way to say something (Yes, I am a seasoned honorary officer of the Liverpool Labour Party, just to be sure to declare my interest here); and I seek to share information and views across a wide range of topics, because I feel very strongly that we should all try to connect up ideas and views where we can.

Learning from your comments
I'm very grateful to all those who have taken the time and trouble to respond to various things I've written. It's interesting that the topic which has attracted both the most hits (about 5% of them all) and the most comments is in fact Liverpool's Sefton Park and the proposals for restoring it to its former glory.

Sefton Park could seem a strange topic for hot debate, but actually that's just what we're having about the Park right now - there are people out there who feel very strongly about the whole thing, one way and the other. So perhaps one element of a weblog which attracts active debate is the possibility on a ',a type="amzn">human scale ' of influencing outcomes?

Well-visited topics
But there are also a lot more issues which attract interest, to judge from hits on this website - amongst them, elected mayors (or not), Liverpool's Hope Street, regionalism and Tesco! And that's before we get to women's groups, orchestras, science and medicine, eco-issues and the surprisingly well-visited entries on allotments and art and health.

The weblog continues to take shape
I am of course very aware that my long-suffering website designer, the estimable Nick Prior, has set me quite a few tasks for the next few months to take this weblog forward. There will be re-designs to whatever extent, and I am going to have to make some hard-headed decisions about Categories and the like.... and that's where the feedback I get from you, our readers, comes in so useful. Please keep it coming!

And for 2006...?
Who knows what will crop up next by way of hot debate? We all have our pressing interests and concerns, and we all have lots to do, so the scope is enormous. But for me I guess and hope there will be some very interesting experiences in 2006. All the things I currently do are fascinating and there's more for me to add in the months to come - particularly my new role as a Member of the Defra (Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) Science Advisory Council, about which I shall start to learn more very soon.

So I hope it will be a very good year for us all; and that I shall continue to be able to share some of my ideas with you, and you will do the same for me.

The teaching of History is a critical part of children's early experience. As such, this curriculum must be determined by education professionals who can bridge the gap between the stories of the past and the immediate background to our contemporary lives.

The turn of the year is an interesting time to look at History, and that's just what some reports which came out last few weeks have done.

The Labour MP Gordon Marsden, a former History teacher, argues in a Fabian Society leaflet that the 'Hitlerisation of History' has resulted in disconnectivity, a lack of joined-up thinking in regard to our understanding of Britishness and of our European neighbours.

And now the Guardian reports that the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has suggested ways in which teachers should cover the Hitler and post-World War II years in early secondary schooling, to support a more balanced view of 20th-century Germany.

Even History has a history
'Until now,', says the QCA, 'an in-depth look at late 20th-century German history has not been a common focus of study .... As a result, there are few commercially produced classroom resources for many aspects of this study...'.

As a very active member in the mid- to late-1980s of the Forum of Academic and Teaching Associations in the Social Sciences (FACTASS) this revelation holds few suprises for me. At that time the (Conservative) Government was intent on removing almost every aspect of social, cultural and contemporary experience from the school curriculum.

One part of this intent was the 'advice' that History teaching was to stop at the end of World War II. There was on no account to be mention of the post-war period and the introduction, for instance, of the Welfare State.

The current lack of teaching about contemporary European affairs is probably an unintentional but directly connected result of this directive; for it became a cornerstone of the introduction of the National Curriculum.

Only connect
Of course there's more to the content of History and other aspects of the modern curriculum than simply the input of unimaginative and short-sighted people who are antagonistic to parts of modern life. The QCA and Gordon Marsden are quite right to point to the need to turn History around to ensure it's never again just meaningless lists of names and wars, of whatever era.

But in the end the only way we as citizens can obtain real insights into our modern-day lives is to know the full range of events and circumstances which lead up to the present day. That's a task beyond any single discipline, historical or otherwise, but a complete and coherent History curriculum is a very good start.

Read more articles on Social Science

Fingers crossed (small).jpg Everyone takes time as the New Year arrives to do some mental spring cleaning. This list offers ideas for reflection and perhaps as New Year Resolutions. It's about how individuals approach their lives and leisure time. I hope it's useful.

Here's an alphabet of resolutions and reflections for the New Year. It's a mix, match or amend menu, so take it where you will. Good Luck!

A Join an Athletics Club, learn Archery, visit an Art Gallery – Anything new. You choose; but just see if you can get a different Angle on life.

B Look on the Bright side wherever you can; remember to make time to Bond with family, friends, neighbours, colleagues…

C Concentrate your mind on something different. Find a Community Choir, go to a ‘proper, sit and listen’ Concert, be a member of a Chess Club (on-line if you like), play Croquet, whatever.

D Is there enough Drama in your life? Find ways to chill if there’s too much. Develop a tast for exciting sports events, politics or live theatre / opera if there’s not enough.

E Increase your Energy: Exercise! Every day.

F Grow your own Food and Flowers sometimes, even if only in window boxes – ‘green’ is good for you in many ways.

G How’s your Girth? If you’re not pleased with your measurements, Get it sorted. Gently.

H Try to stay Happy; think back, every evening, to what’s gone right that day.

I Take In a panto / ballet and let your Imagination run wild; or learn to play a musical Instrument – In a group or with the kids…

J Do a personal Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats (SWOT) analysis of your Job or other main activity. What does it tell you?

K Perform a random act of Kindness, every day; something you really didn’t have to do, but which makes someone else smile (you’ll smile too).

L Learn about your carbon footprint. And Learn to Listen.

M Make a wish, a promise to yourself which Means something to you as a person. How will you Manage to achieve it?

N Avoid Negatives; don’t be cynical. Life’s too short.

O Organise a visit to somewhere you’ve always dreamed of going; just do it.

P Buy a Pedometer and wear it. When last did you Pound the Pavements or simply stroll in your local Park?

Q We all need Quality time.

R Find time too for Reflection. Life is not a Rehearsal.

S Sort a Same Sex night out – Somewhere you can hear each other Speak.

T Have a TV-free day every week. Go on, give it a Try!

U Understand other people’s perspectives where you can.

V Could you go Vegetarian? It’s eco-friendly and it costs less.

W Sustain and enjoy Wildlife – even if it’s only the ‘diners’ fluttering around your Window Bird Feeder.

X EXplore somewhere new, however locally or far-flung. Search and marvel on the internet if you can’t physically get there.

Y Stay Young at heart ( but appreciate the advantages of experience). So....

Z Take the kids (yours / some hard-pressed mum’s..) to, say, the Zoo; join in gladly as they have fun!

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Perhaps I'm being hopelessly optimistic in my reading of the scientific facts, but here's a New Year Resolution I'm sure we'd all actually enjoy sticking to.. ...if only we had the time...

I've been saving this one up, as the ultimate bit of cheer for everyone who maybe forgot the diet over Christmas... I read in a Guardian article by Joanna Hall last month that, I quote,

"Lack of sleep reduces the amount of human growth hormone responsible for the body's fat-to-muscle ratio."

And she adds that lack of sleep can therefore in part explain older people's weight gain. Well, here's the news we've all be waiting for.

Of course, Joanna also says that sensible eating and adequate exercise are essential for weight maintenance (you have been taking your brisk-ish turns round the park during the holiday, haven't you?), but the good news could seem to be, 'Sleep more, weigh less'.... and lest we forget, isn't it true that our mums used to tell us we had to have a decent bedtime if we wanted to grow big and strong? (More muscle, less fat?)

So there we go. The must-have New Year Resolution: I really will try to get more sleep.

Wonderful in theory; and maybe just as hard as dieting and keeping the accounts straight in practise? But, unlike diets and accounts, at least it has a feel-good about it.

And a Very Happy New Year to you alll!