January 2007 Archives

Graduation (small) 06.7.6-9 066.jpgThe place where non-state, non-business public activities challenge the assumptions of wealthy organisations and the ruling classes or prevailing consensus is often referred to as ‘civil society’. A proposal that this place have its own university in the U.K., to scrutinise and develop the core skills and specialist knowledge base of the ‘third sector’ of the economy, is now being taken seriously.

PrimeTimers is a London-based social enterprise promoting cross-sector transfers of people, ideas and methods. In Autumn 2005 they held a conference, Agenda for Change, from which emerged the idea of a 'Civil Society University’. This idea is also a response to the UK Government's review of the Future Role of the Third Sector in Social and Economic Regeneration.

A key concept underlying the idea is that third sector values and practices should be submitted to rigorous testing in terms of intellectual integrity, reasoned debate and scientific research. Such an approach has welcome and important implications for how civil society might develop over the next few decades and beyond.

Multiple conceptualisation, multiple benefits
Like many other good ideas, the Civil Society University concept has also emerged in other places – for instance, at a Council of Europe conference in September 2005 and in a submission dated December 2005 to the Organisation of American States from the Permanent Forum of Civil Society Organisations.

Civil society is the arena where the right of free speech and association is exercised to promote many and diverse causes for what their proponents believe to be the greater good. Often these beliefs challenge the prevailing or most powerful consensus; yet rarely is attention given to the skills and knowledge which could best support such a challenge.

The benefits which might accrue from rigorous scrutiny by the academy, by those who practise their skills in higher education, are what make the idea of a Civil Society University appeal to many involved in widely diverse parts of the third sector.

Education, not 'just' training
There is a real need for parts of the third sector to move away from its historic philanthropic roots towards a sharper professional focus. Volunteers (nonetheless, preferably trained) will always be at the heart of at least some third sector activities; but they usually cannot provide the hard headedness which is required in running large-scale or complex modern organisations.

Indeed, thus far it would be difficult even to estimate what added value (or not?) would derive from a more fully functioning and defined third sector key skills 'toolbox'. And the same applies to issues around third sector career structure and professional development. This is where the Civil Society University fits in.

Challenge and opportunity
For some the proposal to subject the third sector and its operation could pose a perceived threat, but that does not do the idea justice.

Those who share a concern to 'make things better' will more likely welcome the chance to support a move to do exactly that, to 'make good things more effective still'.

What could be better than to subject our ideas and practices to a form of scrutiny - always itself open to scrutiny and challenge - intended to make the very best of the resources, people and commitment available to effect a more equitable and civil society?


The Civil Society University is proposed by Professor Martin Albrow, Dr Mary Chadwick and Brent Thomas, all of PrimeTimers.

They can be contacted at info@primetimers.org.uk.

Musicians (small).bmpIt's surprising that so little music happens in most European cities in August. Obviously some musicians take their holidays then, but others might be pleased to work during the holiday period. The scope for entertaining and engaging tourists and visitors during the high summer season is probably quite significant.

Whether one is in the U.K. or most other European cities, there are very few concerts - classical or indeed of other genres - in August. Yet the holiday high season is when most people have the time and inclination to relax and enjoy music.

How about forming groups of (willing) musicians from the major orchestras and ensembles - no need to audition, they're already in top bands! - and touring with them to bring good music of many sorts to people, young and older, in different and exciting contexts during the summer season?

Would it work? Would the idea get the sort of support from financiers and audiences alike that it would need? Would it reach people who might not otherwise attend such performances?

Tell us what you think, in the Comments box below...

See also: Orchestral Salaries In The U.K.

Life In A Professional Orchestra: A Sustainable Career?

The Healthy Orchestra Challenge

Musicians in Many Guises

British Orchestras On The Brink

Water, Water....

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Water & rushes (small) 85x103.jpgWill water be the next compelling commodity? It's one of the most fundamentally important things in life, yet the connections between water and 'sustainability' (economic, political or even simply physical) are rarely at the front of our minds. Perhaps 2007 will be the year when we begin to think more aquatically. But first, the political will to deliver must be helped to be there.

My conscience has been jolted.

For several months I've had a WaterAid leaflet on my desk, reminding me, horrifically, that a child somewhere in the world dies every 15 seconds from ghastly illnesses connected with contaminated water. And alongside this leaflet has lain an article by John Vidal of the Guardian, written on 17 August '06, reporting on assessments by forecasters from some of the world's leading corporate users of fresh water - which will, they predict, be the source of widespread conflict by 2015.

Neither of these publications makes easy reading.

Two personal tales to tell
This week my sister, a doctor, told me about a recent visit to India, when she had seen for herself the incredibly pressing need for clean water - both to drink, and to improve overall hygiene in some very challenging locations, where people are trying as hard as they possibly can to make decent lives for themselves and their families.

Then, yesterday, I heard the response from a colleague to the question: 'What has been your greatest personal achievement?'

Without hesitation he replied it was installing a clean water supply in a distant part of Africa where, until the tap of his engineering water-supply project was ceremonially turned on, and his glass filled crystal-clear with this precious commodity, there had never before been drinkable running water..... Well, as personal achievements go, that has to be pretty good.

The Great Stench
And I have also just read Larry Elliott's piece in the Guardian of 15 January '07, in which he refers to London's Great Stench of 1858 - the year Thames effluent so got up the noses of Parliamentarians that public health measures finally came into their own. Elliott then reminds us, as does my WaterAid leaflet, that poor sanitation still kills millions every year.

Perhaps we begin to see an emerging pattern here. Politicians can make a real difference, but they need a seriously heavy public nudge to feel they are politically safe to do so.

Action as well as words
Firstly, to avoid huge conflicts in the fairly near future, we need to think right now about conserving water and about climate change and its affects on water. David Milliband is obviously our man there, as Secretary of State for Defra; and the evidence is that he and his colleagues are working very hard on this.

Secondly, as Larry Elliott this week makes clear, water is simply not at the top of the aid agenda - but Chancellor Gordon Brown, a politician who really does try to make things better in the developing world , has said he would welcome more public pressure to do just that.

Making progress
So let's see if we can move things on. We can all talk about climate change, and 'save' water where we can in our own lives; but the facts as they stand for many people in parts of the developing world are too horrible for most of us even to contemplate. The future, however, could be so much better.

WaterAid works in 17 countries (Bangladesh, Burkina, Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Tanzania, Timor-Leste, Uganda and Zambia) providing water, sanitation and hygiene education to some of the world's poorest people. .....

Taking water to people who need it
If you can give a donation - however large or small (even £2 really helps) - to WaterAid, please click here.

And if you would like to expand on why the Chancellor and others should be supported 100% in telling us all how very important access for people everywhere to clean water is, the Comments box below is yours to write in.

All of us together can make it possible for our leaders to do what must be done to deliver clean water for everyone. Thank you!

See also: World Water Day (22 March 2007)

Liverpool Toxteth Chapel (small) 100x143.jpgOne of Liverpool's most significant and fascinating historic areas is barely known even by the city's own residents; so Monday Women arranged a visit. The area lies in the heart of Toxteth - Dingle, comprising four adjacent sites: the early seventeenth century Ancient Chapel of Toxteth (the original place of worship of astronomer Jeremiah Horrox or Horrocks), the Turner Nursing Home built by Alfred Waterhouse in 1882-5, Dingle Overhead Railway Station, constructed deep underground and opened in 1896, and the Dingle Gaumont Cinema, erected on the site of the old Picturedrome in 1937.

Liverpool Toxteth Chapel inside.jpg
The general perception is that Liverpool has few really serious historic sites. Interesting architecture, Yes, in abundance; 'old' buildings, No. On Saturday 16 November 2006 several dozen members, families and friends of Monday Women and CAMPAM set out on a beautifully sunny afternoon to discover why this perception is not always accurate.

The Ancient Chapel of Toxteth
Liverpool Toxteth Chapel inscription100x312.jpg

We congregated first in the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth, opened especially for us by its warden, Annette Butler. She and local historian Christina Clarke (to both of whom we owe enormous thanks) had a remarkable tale to tell about the history of this simple and appealing building, constructed variously at times between 1604 and 1618. The Chapel is now owned, and used, by the Unitarians, but was built and developed by Puritan dissenters from the Church of England.

The site of the Chapel is that of the thirteenth century royal hunting Park in Toxteth, sold late in the sixteenth century to the Earl of Derby. He in turn sold it to Puritan families from around the Lancashire towns of Bolton and Ormskirk who were seeking more freedom of conscience in their religious practices, using a place which had been Crown property and was thus not subject to parish law or to enforcement of regular attendance at the parish church. [See: The History of the Royal and Ancient Park of Toxteth, Lost Villages of Liverpool: Pt. 1, The Diaries of Edward Henry Stanley, 15th Earl of Derby 1826-93 and map Toxteth (Old O.)]

Liverpool Toxteth Chapel graveyard 180x225.jpgEven with sunshine outside, the inside of the Chapel feels dark and close (perhaps in part because the winters of the seventeenth century were bitter), the pews being closely placed, but with an appealing and open gallery area above them, and an impressively large pulpit at the centre of the south wall. Over the centuries the building itself has been considerably extended, not least to adapt the previous schoolhouse (built in 1611) into the access point for the organ loft.

In contrast to the closeness of Toxteth Chapel itself, our visit to the graveyard found it calm and airy, with dappled light through the mature trees, as we examined the columned arcade and headstones of such local luminaries as Richard Vaughan Yates , who devised Princes Park, and the cartographer Richard Horwood [A to Z of Regency London]. Many other well-known local family names, including the Mellors, are also to be found there.

Jeremiah Horrox or Horrocks (1618 or 1619 - 1641)
Liverpool Toxteth Chapel Horrox plaque-closeup.jpgAmongst other fascinating plaques inside the Chapel is one commemorating the brief life and momentous work of Jeremiah Horrox (as spelt on this plaque; or Horrocks as often spelt in the reference books). Horrocks was the youthful astronomer who first observed the transit of the planet Venus, on Sunday 4 December - 24 November by reference to the Julian Calendar then in use - 1639. (There is an anecdote, possibly apocryphal, that he calculated this rare occurrence and had to pre-empt much of the Curate's duties he may have performed in Hoole, Lancashire, that day, in order to observe the transit via a telescope he constructed himself, reflecting the sun's image onto a piece of card.) [Jeremiah Horrocks,Astonomer (1618? - 1641) and His Times: No.6 (Chorley Civic Society Occasional Papers)]

Dingle's Gaumont Cinema
Liverpool Toxteth Gaumont Cinema Dingle Lane & Park Lane160x216.jpgToxteth Chapel is on the north-western corner of Park Road (running parallel to the River Mersey) and Dingle Lane (which goes from Princes Park directly towards the river). On the south-western side of this junction is a cinema now unused for its original purpose, the Gaumont, designed by W. E. Trent FRIBA, FSI (Chief Architect of Gaumont-British) specifically to accommodate the large fan-shaped curve of the roads at this corner, and opened on 29 March 1937.

The Gaumont Cinema, an art deco building erected on the site of the old Dingle Picturedrome (photo in Edwardian A-Z and Directory of Liverpool and Bootle: South Liverpool Part 3; demolished 1931), must have been very impressive in its hey day - there are many features reminiscent of the famous Liverpool Philharmonic Hall on Hope Street. It has (or had?) an orchestra pit and Wurlitzer organ console (again, the Phil has a fine organ, almost unique in rising from the stage). The cinema seated 1,500 people, 615 of them in the balcony.

It is said that the projection room was the first in Britain to have the Gaumont 'projectomatic' system which automatically changed the reels during projection of films, as well as controlling the houselights and stage curtains. There was also a Western Electric Mirrorphonic sound system.

Sadly, the Gaumont lost its originally intended function in September 1966, to become a Top Rank Bingo Club which opened in January 1967. We were not therefore able to go into the building to see more as we passed on to the south-eastern corner of this 'site visit' and the next venue of our Monday Women trip in November.

The Turner Nursing (or Memorial) Home
Liverpool Toxteth Dingle Turner Nursing Home 140x211.jpgThe story behind the Turner Nursing Home is very sad, but the outcome is a testament to the positive thinking of Mrs Charles Turner, wife of the Liverpool Member of Parliament who was also first Chairman of the Liverpool Docks and Harbour Board - the tale of which Board we shall continue at the next and final stop of our Dingle-Toxteth 'tour'. The entire Turner Memorial Home project commemorates Anne Turner's husband Charles Turner MP (13 June 1803 - 15 October 1875) and their son Charles William (16 October 1845 - 13 September 1880), who died tragically.

Liverpool Toxteth Dingle Turner Nursing Home sculpture 40x100.jpgIn memory of her husband and son Mrs Turner commissioned the architect Alfred Whitehouse to build a strikingly asymmetric and strangely attractive 'home' for retired and 'distressed' gentlemen - a function which it still has. In the entrance lobby there is a lovely marble statue of the two male Turners, father and son, created for the opening of the Home in 1885 by the London-based sculptor Sir William Hamo Thorneycroft R.A. (1850 - 1925). This sculpture seemed to fascinate our younger companions on this visit, perhaps because it is actually so sympathetic and life-like.

Liverpool Toxteth Dingle Turner Nursing Home chapel 140x281.jpgLiverpool Dingle Toxteth Turner Nursing Home turret 140x53.jpgThe red ashlar, turreted Home has a chapel, almost church-sized, with an arcade of octagonal columns and stained glass windows (by Heaton, Butler and Bayne); and beyond the spacious communal living areas we saw wide lawns sweeping down towards the River Mersey. This is a gracious reminder of times gone by, still of great value to the community, which shows us just how elegant Dingle and Toxteth must have been a century or more ago.

Dingle Overhead Railway Station
Liverpool Toxteth Dingle Overhead Railway Station (looking down)160x168.jpg Finally on this special afternoon, as the light drew in, we retraced our steps to Kedlestone Street, the road opposite the Ancient Chapel of Toxteth, and to what appeared to be a short side-alley leading to a mechanics' garage. Few of us had any idea what would come next.... As we approached, the owner, Nigel, opened the doors and we were led down an alarmingly steep slope to another world - the world of the legendary Liverpool Overhead Railway designed by leading engineers of the time, Sir Douglas Fox and James Henry Greathead.... a return to the time of the 'Dockers' Umbrella' and Liverpool's great era of engineering and transport.

Liverpool Toxteth Dingle Overhead Station group 160x217.jpgThis was the site of Dingle Station, the final stop of the Overhead Railway route from Southport, Seaforth, Litherland and Aintree, via the city centre and the frantically busy docks, to the south end of the city. Interestingly, especially in the light of current-day debates elsewhere in Liverpool, the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board had on a number of occasions from 1852 onwards had travel route proposals rejected or returned for modification in the light of the increasing demands for public transport to and from the city centre.

Liverpool 'The Dockers' Umbrella' book by Paul Bolger 160x181.jpgEventually however, in 1888, a group of prominent businessmen formed the Liverpool Overheard Railway Company and obtained the powers of the Dock Board by an Act of Transfer. Work on the elevated railway therefore began in October 1889. [See: Seventeen Stations to Dingle: Liverpool Overhead Railway Remembered; Liverpool Overhead Railway.]

Dingle Station opened for passengers on 21 December 1896 and closed to the public fifty years ago, on 30 December 1956. The station platform (a full 170 feet by 28 feet) has now been demolished, but the tunnel and entrance subway remain in use as a car repair business, Roscoe Engineering. There is also an astonishing extension to the station - a kilometer long passage from this point to an opening on the Herculaneum Dock 'down by the river', and thence to the docks via the factory site of the Herculaneum Pottery which, though the company closed in1840, must have triggered a lot of local industry.

Some of us, hugely curious, then made our wary unlit way down to the Herculaneum tunnel entrance and Liverpool Toxteth Dingle Overhead Station Tunnel to Herculaneum Dock 160x232.jpgback, and others, less nimble, used the time to learn more from our host Nigel about the remaining features of the station (the red buffer Liverpool Toxteth Dingle Overhead Station buffer 100x98.jpg hidden behind mechanics' equipment; the sturdy hooks and notices...). And finally we returned to Park Road as the day ended, much enlighted by our visit and debating energetically how future generations would see the places we had visited - places which (as evidenced by the enormously ambitious commissions in Toxteth - Dingle a century or so ago, engaging the most prestigious architects, designers and engineers the nation had to offer) had in times past witnessed great wealth and opportunity and then, nearer to the present day, distressing poverty and huge challenges.

'Which way now?' was the question on everyone's lips as we hit the road for home.

See also: History of Liverpool

Sudley House: Victorian Home Of A Mayor Of Liverpool

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

HOTFOOT(small) orange 2005 027.jpgThe National Museum of the Performing Arts closed 'for good' yesterday. This is a disaster for London (where it has had its home, in Covent Garden) and for the whole of the U.K. If the Trustees of the Victoria and Albert Museum - in whose 'care' the Theatre Museum resides - cannot maintain the collection as an entity, perhaps the Theatre Museum should pass to those who can do better? The Chair of the V & A has close Merseyside connections; why not re-open the Theatre Museum in Liverpool?

No-one believed it could happen, but the announcement has been made - the National Museum of the Performing Arts in Covent Garden, London, closed yesterday (Sunday 7 January 2007) because the Trustees decided they couldn't commit further resources to the venue. This is despite the description of the Museum by its own Trustees, the Victoria and Albert Museum Board, as a 'world-class collection'.

The protests of people as diverse as Alan Ackbourne, Judi Dench (Guardians of the Theatre Museum) and Ken Livingstone have, it seems, had no effect. Somehow, the performing arts are not compelling to the Museum Trustees. Apparently there is to be a website and some collections are to be shown at the V & A in Kensington in 2009, but basically that's it. Just at the time when London is preparing to host the 2012 Olympics, and when Covent Garden can never have been a more popular visitor attraction, the doors have closed. Firmly.

Nonetheless, after the experience we as CAMPAM had in the late 1980s / 1990s of 'resurrecting' the Liverpool Everyman - which actually went dark - and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra (which just about clung on) I don't think anyone should give up all hope yet.

So come to Liverpool
I have already suggested that, if Londoners really don't want their Theatre Museum, it should come to Liverpool. Here, up North, we're preparing for an event even more imminent than the Olympics. 2007 is Liverpool's 800th Anniversary, and 2008, as everyone knows, will be our year as European Capital of Culture. The arguments for Liverpool taking this venture on have already been rehearsed; and I have been assured (though I await the evidence) that the City Council is considering things, as, one gathers from recent Minutes of the V & A Board, are the NWDA and Blackpool Council.

In the meantime, though, there is one other interesting aspect of this strange situation: The Chair of the V & A is Paula Ridley, a person with strong connections on Merseyside. It would be fascinating to know her view of the proposition that the Theatre Museum come to Liverpool.

Read more articles on the National Theatre Museum.

Telegrah wires (small).jpgE-technology may well be becoming more accessible, but it still has its problems if you're just the customer. These last few weeks have brought this message home for one aspiring e-user at least.

I'd be the very first to admit I'm totally below the horizon when it comes to things e-technical, but I do seem to know a bit about how to deal with emails, blogs and such like. A-level Physics was a very long time ago - no computers then, anyway - and my relationship with my e-suppliers is the same (in my mind) as that with my newspaper shop, car mechanic or whatever. They deliver the goods and I use them.

So in a vague sort of way I expect that my IT suppliers will look after the technicals, the supply chain and so forth, and I will give them money to deliver a service, before we reach the part of the process which I'm responsible for.

Unwelcome surprises
It was a surprise therefore when all things e-technical went quite seriously awry in this office a few weeks ago. My email went on strike and my data-save service stopped working, all at about the same time, so I couldn't access any back-ups, exactly when I also couldn't read or send any email. (And I couldn't just restart on Outlook 2003, before you ask, because it's sold out everywhere. Why? is a good question...)

It turns out that these things were both related and not related. It was bad timing, but also bad luck. My only good fortune was that the wonderful Nick Prior (and a few very e-technically-minded house guests over the festive season - thank you, Nick and all!) managed to work out what the problems were:

The problems diagnosed
Firstly, although Microsoft had updated my Office system rigorously, I turned out still to have an 'old' copy of Microsoft Outlook 2000. How was I to know, having used the system for some years, that as soon as a large number of attachments reached me just before Christmas, this file would hit 2 gigabytes and flatly refuse to respond at all?

There were no 'warnings', nothing to let me know things were about to go haywire, it just all STOPPED...... and took until early January to sort out.

Secondly, the very act of Microsoft's updating my system (they offered, I didn't ask them to) was also the cause of my BT DigitalVault going on strike, even before I'd managed to get it started. BT ran a Net service before this, and they - again not I - insisted on my updating and starting a new system. When I rang to ask why DigitalVault was failing to register my data I was met with a weary 'You haven't just updated to '7, have you Madam? Could you downgrade again?'

Well, no chance of that, so I still have a non-functioning 'service' whilst I await the basic courtesy of BT and Microsoft talking to each other on behalf of their (paying) customers.

Communication is the key
As on so many other occasions, more attention by the suppliers to communication might have resolved things even before I knew about them.

If Microsoft had enabled a notice to warn me about the 2 gigs limit, I would have ensured it wasn't reached - a much better solution that the e-surgery, random and necessarily brutal, which was eventually required to get the system going once more.

And if BT and Microsoft had talked to each other before the launch of DigitalVault (or, come to that, if BT had warned me not to permit the Microsoft upgrade, which happened just after I'd signed up for the data protection) I would not now be paying for a function which doesn't work.

Technical challenges or customers?
Like many other not-particularly-technically-engaged people I expect to be able to use my computer to do simply what it says on the can: in my case, essentially www searches, emails, documents, spreadsheets and weblogs. Not that difficult really.

There are many like me, I suspect ,who have a feeling that the challenges of advancing e-technology are more interesting to most IT people than are their humble customers.

So it's not surprising, is it, that not everyone wants to embrace the brave new e-world?

Sundrops (small) 60x64.jpgThe cynics will always be with us ;and they have a point. Nonetheless, for many people things are as good as, if not better than, they have ever been. We can - and should - take a responsible view of events, but without denying that in many ways 2007 could be very positive for almost all of us. Here are some reasons to be optimistic as we enter the new year.

The media, as ever, is full of reasons to be gloomy as we enter 2007. But in reality we all know that looking on the bright side at least some of the time is good for us.

So here are some reasons to be optimistic in 2007:

1. The Environment
Global warming and climate change are at last receiving the attention they should - and most commentators still reckon we have a good chance of doing something about it if we all make the effort, right now. [And in the meantime, the weather in Britain is being very kind at a time of year when freezing fog - 'pea-soupers', remember them? - used to be the norm.]

2. Health
Life expectancy (in the U.K.) is the highest it has ever been, and people are healthier than ever before. 60 is the new 40, so it is said; and you won't have to retire at a set age any more if you don't want to. [But if you do retire early, you'll still have lots to do, now that expectations have risen so much.]

3. The Economy
Inflation and interest rates are still relatively low (remember 18% mortgages?) and employment is still high, after a long period before the Millennium of horrendous worklessness for millions. [And wages are going up, or have been levelled out more fairly, for many 'ordinary' worlers now.]

4. Life-long Learning
Opportunities for education and training for everyone have never been more wide-open and accessible. [You may need to take a student loan, but in many countries that's how it's always been - and the loan interest rate is amazingly low, plus you don't have to pay at all if you don't earn a reasonable wage; and for many vocational courses there are no fees - so everyone can benefit.]

5. Housing
Houses are warmer, more energy-efficient and better designed than at any previous time. [And more people in the UK own their own homes than ever before.]

6. Open Society
If you need to find something out, the chances of doing so have improved greatly with Freedom of Information. [And the internet gives you a view of the world which can open doors on cultures, knowledge and ideas which previous generations couldn't even dare to dream about.]

7. Laughter
At long last, it is being recognised that it's OK to enjoy yourself - laughter and fun are now officially good for you!

The glass is half full
Yes, I know each of these points has downsides, and it's always easier (and less effort) to see the glass as half empty rather than half full. But I bet there are few people who recall life as it was many years ago who would actually choose to turn the clock back on a lot of things. And there remain, sadly, many people in other parts of the world than the West to whom our way of life seems to be unimaginably privileged.

Let's make 2007 a year when we explore how much better still things can be if we perceive what's good about our lives, as well as what's in need of improvement. Why not 'count our blessings', if we're lucky enough to be able to? Then we can concentrate on helping to make things good for other people too.

Maybe it's time to be brave, to stop the criticism from the sidelines and to start having the courage to take active responsibility for at least some of what happens. Let's try being positive, and see where it takes us.