June 2006 Archives

Sefton Park 06.7.24 & 25  Grebe splashing (small pic 2) 003.jpg Sefton Park is as inner-city as it gets, but it's large enough to be home to an amazing range of birdlife - swans, herons and grebes amongst them. So are we doing enough to ensure that these treasures are appreciated by the human beings who co-exist with them in this fascinating super-urban environment?

Once again Liverpool's Sefton Park has come into its own.

This is an inner-city green space, with all the usual problems and challenges, but it's nonetheless a wonderful place to be [*]. Even we, old hands at taking a stroll in our local oasis of calm, were thrilled by what we saw today.

The heron
Sefton Park Heron (b) 06.6.30 013.jpg First, in the early morning light, we again encountered the young heron which we first spotted in the rushes last week and which we think has just returned to its childhood haunts. On the previous occasion this bird had been close to invisible, silent and almost eerily still on the shaded bank of the island in the top lake. Now, just a few yards across the water from our path, it perched loftily, white feathers dramatically eye-catching in the sunlight, on the branch protruding from the middle lake which the terrapins usually claim as their own.

A family of grebes
Sefton Park Grebes 06.6.30 005.jpg Later in the day, as afternoon turned to evening, we returned to see a small group of quietly excited people with binoculars and cameras focused on the island at the top of the big lake - giving confirmation, by a nest with three very new babies (two of them actually sitting on their mother's back) that we had indeed caught a glimpse of a grebe earlier in the week. This time there were two adult birds. One was sitting on the nest with the babies. The other was diving for fish before returning, his captive minnow held high, and trying (with only limited sucess - the babies were oh-so-tiny) to get his new family to feed from his beak.

Swans and cygnets
Sefton Park 06.6.26 Swans & Cygnets 002.jpg Sefton Park 06.5.12 003 Cygnet feed(long)jpg.jpg Adding to this our delight that the pair of nesting swans still have their seven cygnets several weeks after hatching - one mode of feeding in the initial weeks being the parents grasping upwards with their long necks literally to tear leaves from the central island's bushes, before thrusting the mulched veggie delight (perhaps with attendant gnawed insects?) into their juniors' open beaks - and it made for a pasturally perfect day.

One swallow does not a summer make; and nor does sighting one heron, two grebes and a family of swans consitute a full visit to countryside and woodland. But I can get to my local park any time, and it never ceases to fascinate, engage and refresh.

I just wish that others (in my more selfish moments, not too many others) would value it as do those of us 'in the know'. Perhaps we could start by more (there is some) active involvement with local schools. If you don't know that swans, herons and grebes are special, you can't be excited by seeing them, can you?

[* For a detailed City of Liverpool colour leaflet click here.]


See also:
Sefton Park, Liverpool (collection of web postings)

Sefton Park's Grebes And Swans

Sefton Park, Liverpool: Winter Solstice 2006

Cherry Blossom For May Day In Sefton Park, Liverpool

Friends Of Sefton Park

What Now For Liverpool's Sefton Park?

Cherry Picking Liverpool's Sefton Park Agenda

Liverpool's Sefton Park Trees Under Threat - Unnecessarily?

Solar Lighting Could Solve The Parks Problem

Friends Of Sefton Park

Minako & Ian Jackson's Wedding 06.6.(23&)24 050.jpg All societies celebrate marriage and acknowledge it officially in one way or another. But how many acknowledge equally officially the coming of age of their young people? Conversation with young Japanese guests at a wedding today has set me thinking....

Minako & Ian Jackson's Wedding 06.6.24 026.jpg We had a very happy time today. A lovely friend from Japan, Minako (who is our HOPES volunteer) married her art-enthusiast Ian right here in Liverpool. Rarely have I seen a more cosmpolitan and relaxed gathering, as we all celebrated with the beaming couple. There were friends and family from Japan, Hong Kong, Spain, Italy, Canada, Romania, Turkey, Malaysia, Germany and many other places, alongside an impressive diversity of home-grown Scousers and other Brits.

It was a great day for us all to share - the sort of occasion where one makes new friends with amazing ease - and, as always at such celebrations, there were plenty of nice surprises as well as the treats we had hoped for and looked forward to.

Chatting with young visitors
Minako & Ian Jackson's Wedding 06.6.(23&)24 042.jpg For me one of these treats was the opportunity to talk with young guests from several corners of the globe, amongst them a Japanese student who told me about the ceremony she next hoped to be part of - the Seijin Shiki or Japanese Coming of Age ceremony.

This was a surprise, the first I'd ever heard of such an event. I gather it is eagerly anticipated by the participants, all young people in each town who will reach the age of twenty in the current school year (April - March). The date used always to be 15 January, but since 1999 it has been on the second Monday of January. Twenty was set as the age of adulthood in 1948; before that age young people may not now smoke, drink or vote.

A civic event
Seijin Shiki is an event organised by the officials of each town. All eligible young people are invited to a morning ceremony where they are welcomed to adulthood and reminded of their new rights and responsibilities.

Many young men I gather now wear 'normal' day suits, but the women still often choose traditional dress for the occasion, the furisode, which is a style of kimono, sometimes passed from mother to daughter and often worn only for this event and on their wedding day (as Minako did today, looking wonderful).

Siejin Shiki is a special day and is marked by most young people as just that, before finishing in celebrations of a less civic sort, in the style of young people at a party the world over.

Different meanings for different people
Like every other formally marked celebration anywhere, I gather this event has different meanings for different people. For some it is simply a way to have a good chat, all dressed up, with old school friends; for others it apparently sometimes offers an opportunity to make a point about how they think the new voters should position themselves politically; and no doubt for another group it's just an excuse for a party, regardless.

Whatever, and of course with safeguards, it's in principle a very positive idea.

Perhaps few of us in Britain do enough to make young people feel they are partners in our social fabric, people with an entitlement and an obligation to take a stakehold in society. We criticise and carp, but do we welcome young people as they enter adulthood? I think we could, and very probably should, do better.

Celebrating people
Sefton Park 06.7.26 009 Boys on bikes.jpg The way I found out about this was that I went to a lovely wedding and thoroughly enjoyed myself. It was really nice to share the celebration with so many and varied friends old and new, and we all wish Minako and Ian the very best for their future together in Liverpool.

In Britain we do seem to know how to acknowledge and celebrate marriage, and I hope that our visitors from Japan and elsewhere would agree about that, though our style may be very different from how it's done in their own countries.

But what I'm far less sure about is that we know as a society how to celebrate young people and the meanings attached to their coming of age. As families and friends of course we do it well; as a civic and democratic society we perhaps have a lot we could learn from our friends in Japan.

Motives for dialogue between people of hugely different perspectives may be complex, but the need maintain communication is reiterated across at least modern history. Politicians as disparate as Winston Churchill, Condoleeza Rice and Hillary Clinton have all maintained this view at various times.

'To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war', in U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill's famous line at an American White House luncheon in 1954, is consistently good advice.

Churchill, as is well acknowledged, was not averse to drama alongside dialogue - he actually won the 1953 Nobel Prize for literature for his 'mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values'. But he knew the talking was always at least as important as the posturing.

Consensus across the divides
It's interesting to see this position reflected half a century or more later in the position of two modern American politicians who stand both apart from Churchill and from each other.

First, we had right-wing U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice visitng the U.K.'s then-Foreign Secretary, the centre left-wing Jack Straw in North West England, and proclaiming herself comfortable with the protests which greeted her at some events. "Oh, it’s OK, people have a right to protest and a right to make their views known," she is reported to have said.

And then we learn that Senator Hillary Clinton has kind things to say about the 'charm and charisma' of President George Bush, the Republican who followed her Democrat husband into the White House. Senator Clinton said of the President that she had been "very grateful to him for his support for New York" after the attacks on September 11 2001. Though the two had had "many disagreements" he had been "very willing to talk".

Mixed motives, but still sensible?
We can all of course guess that things are not really as proclaimed, when politicians of different hues profess a keeness for dialogue between themselves. Condoleeza Rice very probably wanted to make things a little easier for her host, Jack Straw. Hillary Clinton was, it is thought, attending to the need to 'woo the right' in her bid to secure the next Presidential election.

But mixed motives don't necessarily make for bad action. Given a bottom line, almost every one of us would prefer that people keep talking, to the alternative. Better to keep the lines open, than to close them, wherever and whenever we can.

Love Parks Week!

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Sefton Park 06.3.4 (snow) 034.jpg This week sees the first Love Parks Week, each day with a theme to encourage everyone to think about their parks and green spaces. So how will this excellent idea be followed up in each town and city, and by whom? Here's something really worth sustaining all year round!

Sefton Park 06.7.26 008 Couple in sunset.jpg This week, with the Summer Solstice, sees the first ever Love Parks Week. It's been organised by Greenspace, the charity (formerly known as the Urban Parks Forum) dedicated to planning, maintaining and the use of parks.

One very good idea about the Love Parks Week event is that each day after Sunday 18th (the Launch, with a huge picnic in Manchester's Platt Fields Park) to Sunday 25th has been allocated a different theme. Monday is Skills and education, Tuesday, Climate change, then follow Culture and community, Children and young people, Sport and recreation, Health and wellbeing and, finally on Sunday 25th, The nature of parks and green spaces.

An ambitious agenda
Sefton Park 06.7.24 & 25  Child feeding swan 004.jpg This is an ambitious and timely agenda. Many parks and open spaces across the country are involved (including Liverpool's own Sefton Park, with Africa Oye, and Calderstones, with its International Tennis Tournament, as well as a Summer Solstice evening at our historic Otterspool Promenade and Park).

Perhaps an initiative like this will see more families enjoying our parks, come the Summer break. Making our parks more visible in this image-led age can only be a good thing for everyone.

So the next question has to be, how will Love Parks Week be followed up, and by whom, in each town and city? Here is an opportunity to promote the use and enjoyment of our essential green spaces for the whole year which should be grasped with both hands, not just by Greenspace but by all of us.

See also: Sefton Park's Grebes And Swans

Liverpool's Sefton Park, Swans, Herons And Grebes

Sefton Park, Liverpool: Winter Solstice 2006

Cherry Blossom For May Day In Sefton Park, Liverpool

What Now For Liverpool's Sefton Park?

Cherry Picking Liverpool's Sefton Park Agenda

Liverpool's Sefton Park Trees Under Threat - Unnecessarily?

Solar Lighting Could Solve The Parks Problem

Friends Of Sefton Park

Historic coins (small) 85x112.jpg The Magna Carta story of 1215 is dramatic, with its dissenting Barons, overbearing Pope, double-dealing King and, finally, wise boy Monarch. Good really does win out in this one. So why not indeed have June 15, the actual date of the signing of the Charter, as a Bank Holiday to celebrate 'Britishness'? Inviting everyone to remember how their liberty was first won - whilst also enjoying a 'free' day - could do a lot for democratic involvement in these apparently non-political times.

Today is Magna Carta Day. On June 15th 1215, the Magna Carta was signed by King John as a way of resolving a dispute between his Barons and himself.

I'm no historian, but I think we can all grasp the essentials of this occasion, why it was so momentous. For the first time ever (in English history at least?) a limit was put on the power of the King. At that time, when the authority of the Monarch was perceived as absolute and God-given, this must have seemed an outrageously daring, if not downright dangerous, thing to do. (What if God had objected?)

Indeed, the Pope (Innocent III) - who had actually also been in dispute with John about who could tell whom what to do - was deeply affronted by the idea of regal power being limited (except by the Pope himself as God's representative on earth) and immediately 'released' John from his agreement with the Barons, saying that the deal was 'shaming and demeaning'. This suited John very well, as he had had no intention of observing the agreement, especially as it had been forced upon him by the Barons - who, as relative moderates not wishing to embark on civil war, had taken London by force on June 10th in order to ensure that John had no option but to sign.

Clause 61
Like some public documents in our much more immediate past, the real devil was in the detail of particular clauses of the Magna Carta. One really big issue was Clause 61, in which the concept of distraint was for the first time applied to the King.

The 'agreement' was that if 25 Barons, having renewed their oath of fealty, later decided it was imperative to overrule the King, they could do so if necessary by force, seizing his castles and possessions if need be. Distraint was not a new idea, but applying it to the King certainly was!

Clause 39
Another Clause, 39, was also a breakthrough for the idea that the law stood above anyone's individual authority, even the King's. It required that No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.

With rules like this, it was little wonder that John felt no compunction about renouncing the Magna Carta as soon as his Barons had left London. And thus commenced the First Barons' War. But for once in those troubled times things worked out for the better. Just a year later John was unfortunate enough to die, on 18 October 1216, in the middle of his war, simply from dysentery.

Henry III takes over at age nine
Thus it came about that John's son Henry was crowned King, aged just nine. The royalists believed correctly that Henry, still a child, would be a more acceptable as Monarch than had his father, and that the war would then cease.

Once Henry had been crowned a weakened version of the Magna Carta was re-issued by his regent, minus Clause 61 and some others; and in 1225, as soon as he came of age, Henry himself reissued it in a generally similar abbreviated form.

And finally, in another stroke of good fortune for those who followed, Henry was the longest-serving English Monarch of the Mediaeval period, so that by the time he died, in 1272, the Magna Carta had become firmly established in legal precedent.

A great story
Here is by any standards a dramatic tale - a staged challenge to the highest authority in the land, and indeed to that of the Pope himself; a kidnapping and enforced treaty; immediate reneging on the deal; and salvation through the crowning of a boy king, who in his adulthood shows himself to be fair and strategically wise in his judgement. All with a bit, but not by the standards of the day really an excess, of swashbuckling action and contest.

What more could any History, Politics or Civics teacher ask for?

A Bank Holiday on 15 June?
A recent survey showed that large numbers of people think we in Britain should have an extra Bank Holiday - and that the best day to have it would be Magna Carta Day, 15 June. This perhaps indicates a greater degree of political consciousness than some give us all credit for, and it would, it has been suggested, provide us an excellent opportunity to celebrate 'Britishness'.

That date's pretty close to our last Bank Holiday, at the end of May (and it still leaves a yawning gap in the grim stretch between September and Christmas), but this suggestion has a point. The story of King John the Bad, the Good Barons and the Wise Boy Monarch is stirring stuff, and if it could capture the imagination of British citizens of all ages and beliefs, that's a big plus.

The more we can celebrate sound politics, democracy and fairness as the overt hallmarks of our nation, the better.

Leaves (five points) 06.7.30.jpgThe Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has been going now for full five years, and it's showing an impressively modern approach to public engagement, with its very own personal Blog, inviting public involvement, by the new Defra Secretary of State, David Miliband.

I was really pleased when, a few months ago, I heard that I was to be appointed Lay Member of the Defra Science Advisory Council , which is the scientific advisory body to Ministers in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

I can't think of much which is more important than trying to get environment and food right. I have a lot to learn as yet about the inner-workings of a large Government Department, but I certainly found my first meeting, in April, quite fascinating. Here is a group of people, the actual Members of SAC and the secretariat and advisers within Defra itself who have hugely impressive credentials and take environment and all that goes with it very seriously indeed.

New Secretary of State, new Blog
Defra is quite a new Department, with an even newer Secretary of State, David Miliband, who was appointed just five weeks ago. The Department came into being on 8 May 2001, very soon after the 2001 General Election, in response to a recognised need to bring together various aspects of what is now its remit. That makes it five years old today.

So Defra may be just a youngster, but it's a youngster with admirable attitude: the new Secretary of State has begun his very own Blog, under strict non-partisan rules, which is his attempt to reach out to more people and to encourage them to engage in the issues around environment and government.

David Miliband's blog is being evaluated by the independent parliamentary body, The Hansard Society, to see how his attempt to 'reach out' is working. I very much hope that well before Defra is ten all Government Departments will have been following the Defra Secretary of State's example for some time.

Allotments (Sudley) 06.7.15 004.jpg Sustainability is a huge challenge. Solutions won't come cheap, but come they must. The imperative for meeting the huge challenge of global warming is now recognised by people across the economic and political spectrum, from Al Gore to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

A66 road (dramatic clouds) 06.1.5  044.jpg Sometimes there is a commonality of interest between sectors of the economy which is probably larger than the differences. The active involvement of no less a person than former US Vice President Al Gore at the 2006 Cannes film festival suggests that one place where this commonality now applies is sustainability. An Inconvenient Truth in some ways says it all.

It seems now everyone is agreed that sustainability is The Issue, and that Something Must Be Done. From the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) to the various 'Green' not-for-profits, via vast organisations such as the National Health Service (NHS), there is a determination to address the issues - or at least some of them.

Same problem, different perspectives
There's certainly no denying that the issue is pressing. Politicians of all the major parties have been keen to present their green credentials, and they even sometimes offer similar 'solutions'; and the same applies across the private - public sectos of the economy. Everyone knows they must conserve energy, look for more sustainable ways to travel, reduce manufacturing and distribution transport requirements, save water and the like.

But there's another way too in which these problems are often shared. To paraphrase a poltician who was recently challenged about his local authoritiy's poor record on sustainabilty, that's OK as long as no-one has to put up the rates or local taxes. Just as it does for commercial business people, increased expenditure frightens the politicos.

Where business meets politics
So here's the crux of the matter. We know we need to change, as even some politicians such as Arnold Schwarzenegger who are far to the right the politics of Al Gore acknowledge, but for some the change may happen only if there are few or no costs involved. The temptation to ignore the longer term is sometimes great. It won't be the same people in charge then; it will be someone else's problem.

But we also all know in our hearts that's balony. Sustainability and environmental challenges are increasing by the day. Tomorrow will be here all too soon.

And that's where business comes in. Large amounts of money will accrue to anyone who can crack these enormous challenges in commercially and / or publicly 'acceptable' ways, so there's a great deal of interest now in energy futures and sustainabilty. The nuclear energy debate continues, but there's gold in them there tidal waves, wind turbines, biomasses and all the rest, if they can be exploited quickly enough.

Sometimes Adam Smith's invisible hand is hovering right where it needs to be, ready to guide the market as soon as the political and public climate makes this possible. Sustainability is an issue bigger than any special interest or perspective.

Baby (small).jpg Critics of Sure Start, the U.K. government's early years programme, have been vocal of late. Yes, there is evidence that benefit has not always as yet reached those small children and families who need it most. But this is work in progress, and it must be continued.

Children & parent 06.7.2-5 023.jpg Sure Start, the huge government-led programme for 0 - 4 year olds, has been subject to quite a lot of criticism of late. It's understandable that senior polticians, the Prime Minister himself amongst them, should want to see progress before the next general election. The problem however is that small children don't become achieving teenagers in the same time-span.

This was never going to be easy. Sure Start is at present specifically focused on the least advantaged families, where take-up, especially for those parents who find themselves most challenged, is variable. But it's essential that those with the governmental cheque book hold their nerve.

Evidence that it works
One thing which stands out in the Sure Start programme is its emphasis on activities such as reading aloud for parents (and that includes fathers) and children to share. There is a dedicated theme in all this about bedtime stories, and indeed about just simple conversation between little ones and their carers. This is a difficult activity to measure with any degree of accuracy, but we know from longitudinal studies that, over years rather than just months, it works.

Sure Start is not the first programme of this sort. There's plenty of evidence from previous programmes here and in the U.S.A. that early intervention is really beneficial for those who become involved. But we're still learning how to reach the least advantaged and those who feel most marginalised.

Adapt, perhaps; abandon? No
Dad & two lboys  06.5.28 001.jpg Workers in Sure Start have had to find the way forward for themselves. Inevitably in such a situation some have had more success than others - not least because some local contexts provide greater challenges or fewer already established resources than do areas elsewhere.

The move towards Children's Centres, whilst unsettling for many of the professionals concerned, is if handled sensitively probably the right way to go. It would be a tragedy if critics determinedly take a short-term view which makes it difficult for the Government to continue with this work.

Dismissing the idea behind the initiative would result in damage to the futures of many thousands of children who deserve the better start in life.