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Wigan Pier canal historic statue of woman miller It's International Women's Day, an occasion for looking both back and forward. We have here some photos and text reminding us gently how grim life was for working class women and children in the mills (and often for their mining menfolk too) a mere century ago. Happily, Wigan Pier and the canals are now a tourist destination alongside a modern Investment Centre; but around 1910 a different story - not least about the uses of water - was being told. The challenge remains to secure the same progress as we've seen here, in ensuring healthy and constructive lives for women and their families everywhere, in the UK and across the globe.

Gender & Women, Sustainability As If People Mattered and Water.

Wigan Pier canal Trencherfield Mill historic notice

Here's the text of this notice, displayed by the towpath at Wigan Pier:

When cotton was king
as told by a cotton worker circa 1910

It's hot int' mill wi' lots o' noise. On a nice day, we'll take our lunch ont' towpath an' eat snaps* from't snaps tins.
It's a 5-and-a-half day week for us cotton workers, that's 12 hours a day and half a day on Saturday.
We've all got nimble fingers , especially the Piecers'. They're mainly children, who nip under the spinning machines to tie the broken cotton back together again.
Some of us work on the spinning machines and some on the carding machines. The mill takes a raw bale of cotton, cleans it, twists it and spins it into fine yarn.
The humidity in the mill keeps the cotton damp so it's easier to spin without snapping.
There are five floors of machinery - all powered by the Trencherfield Mill Engine.
The noise is deafening - we stuff cotton from the floor in our ears to protect them. We communicate using 'Me-Mawing' - a mixture of sign language and lip reading.
We work in our bare feet because our clogs could spark on the concrete floor and set the cotton bales alight.
We wake early doors to the sound of the Trencherfield steam whistle summonin' us t'mill for another day. But as they say - England's bread hangs on Lancashire's thread.

[* a snack favoured also by the men of Wigan, many of them miners, usually bread-and-dripping, with cold tea, carried in a flat tin called a snap-can - see George Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier]

And here is the towpath which a century ago provided fresh air and respite for those mill workers as they ate their lunch-time snaps:

09.03.06 Wigan Pier canal & towpath

Wigan Pier Quarter & canals notice
[Public display boards by Wigan Heritage Services]

The power of water
And so, strangely, we come full-circle.

Water - the canals, the steam - was the power behind the early production of textiles, employing many women and children in horrendous conditions, as the full logic of the Industrial Revolution took its vice-like grip on the emerging economies of what we have come to know as the 'developed world'; but even now in other parts of the globe water remains both a critical force potentially for good, and often an almost unattainable resource.

Women as water workers
Vast numbers of women and children in the developing world continue to toil many hours a day just to obtain water to sustain their very existence.

Life in places like Wigan was harsh and short for women and men, alike, a century ago. It remains, as Oxfam tells us in the topical context of International Women's Day, particularly harsh even now for women in places such as Iraq, where water continues to be inaccessible for many.

The gendered meanings of sustainability
This is where we begin to understand what 'sustainability' is really about.... the just and equitable distribution of basic physical resources and accessible socio-economic opportunities, for everyone, women as much as men, the world over.

In terms of future global sustainability and equity, as the Gender and Water Alliance also reminds us, water remains a critically gendered issue.

Read more about Gender & Women and about Sustainability As If People Mattered and Water; and see more photographs of around Liverpool & Merseyside.

Athens Lykavitos (Lycabettus) Hill, Chapel of Agios Georgios at sunset Tonight is the full moon in Athens, Greece, when by tradition everyone attends free events till late on the archeological sites; and this year there's also a partial lunar eclipse over the city. But for this feral kitten, silently padding the very highest point of Athens in search of scraps from restaurant diners atop Lycabettus Hill, it will be business as usual.

Athens Feral kitten stalks the wall around St George's Chapel and the restaurant at the top of Lycabettus Hill

Every year since 1953, the August Moon Festival in Athens on the night of the full moon - believed to be the most beautiful such event of the year - has been a celebration open to everyone, with free performances of opera, traditional dance and classical music on the Acropolis and Roman Agora, as well as events located in other unique and incomparable historic sites of Athens such as the Odeion of Herodus Attikus .

This is truly an occasion, if you are in Athens at the right time, not to be missed! (And if you're somewhere else in Greece, you may still be lucky anyway - consult the Greek Ministry of Culture for possible events in other locations.)

See more of Hilary's photographs: Camera & Calendar
and read more about Travel & Tourism and Athens Music

More info on Athens, the August Moon Festival and
Mount Lycabettus / Lycavitos Hill, the Lycavitos Restaurant, St George's / Agios Georgios Chapel and access via the Funicular/ Cablecar
; and read more about Athens Beyond the Acropolis.

Athens Music

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Athens Music Old gramphone and brass instruments in market stall Music in Athens, Greece, comes in all sizes and modes - from ancient instruments through traditional music, jazz and classical concerts and back to simple melody and rhythm. This is a city comfortable with accomplishment of all kinds and in many genres, with events listed and unlisted. In the Summer, when formal venues are closed, the streets become a natural location for the more adventurous performer.

This informal piece looks at some Summer musical offerings in Athens. It includes (below) a list of links to and phone numbers for events which I discovered, though not necessarily attended or checked out. If you know more about these or other events which readers might find of interest, please tell us via the Comments box at the end of this article. Thank you!

Athens Music Street cafe accordion player

The range of 'street music' in the capital city of Greece, Athens, is an eye-opener to those of us from colder climes. Athens is a city where the traditions of ancient and non-Western people meet those of us accustomed to the folk music and formal classical music modes of Northern and Central Europe. Here is a place where the cembalon of Eastern Europe is heard alongside African percussion, the bouzoukis of the Mediterranean (and later Ireland) and the brass instruments of every part of the world.

So there's plenty of music, much of it very relaxed and informal, for visitors in Athens - and if you know of other events not mentioned below, please do tell us about them via the Comments box at the end of this page.

Athens Music Cembalon player & girl watching

Whatever your preference, there will be something to enjoy - and to engage your interest and imagination. One of the great things about 'street music' is that it's for everyone, young and old alike. Just as we have found when occasionally we can perform in public spaces in Liverpool, it's the children who stop and listen and watch, often keen that they should not be moved on by parents or carers until they have heard their fill.

Athens Music Bouzouki shop Athens Music Barrel organ man

Athens Music African musicians with drums, guitar and CDs

For some musicians however this is serious stuff. They have instruments and recordings of their work to sell, music to make to earn a crust. For others perhaps it's a bit of fun, a way of passing time during the Summer months. It's not difficult as a listener to tell who has which intention; but only rarely is there simply no evidence of skill when the performance, however fleeting perhaps as players stroll between cafe venues, begins.

Athens Music Accordion player walking to work Athens Music Not-very-serious banjo duo

But not all music is performed on the street. Athens has the attributes of all great capital cities - concert halls, an opera house (even if it does perhaps require relocation and an upgrade) and museums such as that for Maria Callas dedicated with whatever degree of enthusiasm to Greek classical music performers and composers of Greece - some of whom are listed (along with the main cultural venues around Athens) below, drawing for composers' names on the cataloguing work done during the Athens Cultural Olympiad of 2004.

Athens Music Megaron Musikis Concert Hall Athens Music Greek classical chamber music composers of the C19th & 20th Athens Music Maria Callas pic Athens Music Opera poster

Nonetheless, there are forms of music which occur throughout the year in any city. Jazz bands and stringed instrument performers can play wherever they can find a space, and in almost any combination of instruments and performers; just as traditional dancers can congregate and entertain wherever numbers can be mustered - though certainly this is not how things happen at the treasure which is the Dora Stratou Theatre, a national institution to encourage traditional dance forms, offering performances throughout the Summer.

Athens Music Strolling jazz trio

Athens Music Statue with lyre Athens Music Shop guitars etc Athens Music Dora Stratou poster

The choice is the listener's. Formal or informal entertainment? Go for something new, or stick with the tried and tested? In Athens it's best to have one's listening mode in gear, ready for the next experience. It could even be during an unsheduled coffee stop. And who knows, you could even end up buying an instrument all of your own...

Athens Music Young man buying a saxophone in the market

See more of Hilary's photographs: Camera & Calendar
and read more about Music, Musicians & Orchestras, Travel & Tourism and Cities in Transition.

If you have recommendations for, or if you promote, musical events and venues in and around the Athens area, please post details (with contact information, indicating whether the occasion is regular, or one-off) in the Comments box below.

Some Greek music composers:
Yannis Andreou Papaioannou (1901-1989), Dimitris Dragatakis (1914-2001), Nikolaos Halikiopoulos-Mantzaros (1795-1872), Manolis Kalomiris (1883-1962), Alekos Kontis (1899-1965), Georgios Lambelet (1875-1945), Loris Margaritis (1895-1953), Dimitri Milropoulos (1896-1962), Andreas Nezeritis (1897-1980), Georgios Poniridis (1887-1982), Mikis Theodorakis (1925-), Marios Varvoglis (1885-1967), Alekos Xenos (1912-1995)

More information on events:
Athens Concert Hall (Megaro Mousikis), Vas. Sofias & Petrou Kikkali Street, tel: (from UK) (0030) 210 728 2333
Athinais Cultural Centre, Kastorias 34-36, Votanikos, tel: (00 30) 210 348 0000
August Moon Festival (free, on the night of the full moon, at a variety of ancient historic sites in Athens))
Dora Stratou Dance Theatre, 8 Stouliou Street, Plaka (offices) and Philopappou Hill (theatre), tel: (00 30) 210 324 4395 / (0030) 210 324 6188
Hellenic Festival, various venues, tel: (0030) 210 327 2000
"Melina" - Municipality of Athens Cultural Centre, Herakliedon 66, Thissio, tel: (00 30) 210 345 2150
Municipality of Athens Cultural Centre, Akadimias 50, tel: (00 30) 210 362 1601
National Opera, Akadimias 59, tel: (00 30) 210 364 3725
Technopolis (and the Maria Callas Museum), Pireos 100, Gazi, tel: (00 30) 210 346 1589
Vyronas Music Festival, tel: (00 30) 210 766 2066 or (0030) 210 765 5748
Aegina International (Summer) Music Festival [Tickets available at the "Eleni" shop next to the Aegina Port Authority building, tel: (0030) 22970 25593, & on the door.]
And more Festivals and events...

Liverpool At Christmas

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Liverpool Nativity 220x125 07.12.16 009a.jpg The few weeks as 2007 ended and became 2008 saw much festive activity in Liverpool. Here, the set for the BBC's special production of the 'Liverpool Nativity' was surrounded by excited onlookers well before the performance started, but alongside all the high technology Saint George's Hall stood serene, just as it has for the past 150 years.

St George's Hall Liverpool, Christmas 2007 495x467 017a.jpg

The Liverpool Nativity was a live performance commissioned by the BBC to celebrate the Christmas story in a contemporary context, as Liverpool prepared to become European Capital of Culture 2008. The set for the performance was in the open, at the bottom of William Brown Street.

Liverpool's St George's Hall, constructed between 1838 and 1854 (original architect Harvey Lonsdale Elmes), is regarded as one of the finest examples of civic neoclassical architecture. Details of Hall opening times, features and events are available here.

For more photographs please see also Camera & Calendar

Sudley House, Liverpool 29 Oct. 2007 Aigburth is a long-established residential area within sight of Liverpool Cathedral. Amongst the many surprises in this enduring part of the city is the National Museum Liverpool's newly refurbished Sudley House, tucked away behind Rose Lane, Carnatic Halls and Mossley Hill Church. Bequeathed to the City by Emma Holt, daughter of a Victorian merchant, it offers a major art collection.

Mossley Hill Church, Liverpool, 1 Dec. 2007

Sudley House, Liverpool, 29 Oct. 2007

Sudley House veranda & conservatory, Liverpool, 29 Oct. 2007

Sudley House, Liverpool, view to the River Mersey, the Wirral & Moel Famau, 1 Dec. 2007

Sudley House, Liverpool, wall & stables , 29 Oct. 2007

Sudley House & Holt Field , Liverpool, 29 Oct. 2007Sudley House Hillsborough Memorial Garden, Liverpool 29 Oct. 2007Sudley House wallside walk, Liverpool, 29 Oct. 2007Sudley House conservatory, Liverpool,  29 Oct. 2007

North Sudley Road looking to Liverpool Cathedral (below Sudley House & Holt Field), Liverpool, 20 Jan. 2007

Sudley House contains works by artists such as Gainsborough, Reynolds, Landseer and Turner. This is the only surviving Victorian merchant art collection in Britain still hanging in its original location.

The earliest resident of the house was Nicholas Robinson, a rich corn merchant, who bought the land and built the original house somewhere between 1811 and 1823. The architect may have been Thomas Harrison. Robinson was Mayor of Liverpool in 1828-9. He lived in the house until his death in 1854, and his two daughters continued to live there until their own deaths in 1883.

Sudley was then sold to George Holt, a ship owner and merchant, who made many alterations to the property. He acquired the art collection which remains in the house, which, with its contents, was in 1944 bequeathed to the City of Liverpool by his daughter Emma.

See also: History of Liverpool

Carols Round The Christmas Tree At Sudley House

Liverpool's Ancient Chapel Of Toxteth, Dingle Gaumont Cinema, The Turner Nursing Home & Dingle Overhead Railway Station

Autumn Glory In Sefton Park

Sefton Park, Liverpool: Winter Solstice 2006

Please see additional photographs at Camera & Calendar

More information on Sudley House and visitor arrangements is available here.

Santa & 'sleigh' 151x92 2693a.jpg Amongst the more interesting modes of transport in Liverpool city centre last Christmas (2006) was this traditional vehicle, with its delighted passengers and good humoured driver. People waiting at the bus stop must have felt that somehow they were missing something rather special.

Santa & his horse-drawn carriage 'sleigh' in Liverpool 495x512  06.12 2690aaaa.jpg

For more photographs please see also Camera & Calendar

For information on things to do in Liverpool click here.

Euston departure board north (small) 115x146.jpg Is large-scale sustainable transport possible? Should we welcome Britain's fastest-ever domestic train, which has arrived in Southampton this week? The UK's North- South economic divide brings these questions into sharp focus. The further one is from London, the more important connectivity can become. So is carbon footprint a critical issue only after the economics have been taken care of?

Economics and environment don't always mix. For some the pressing need is to reduce travel. For others, it is vital to improve physical connection. These complicated issues have come up the agenda again this week, with the news that the Go-Ahead Group has arranged imminent delivery of 29 high-speed Hitachi trains from Japan, which will operate from 2009 on the South Eastern network.

Low expectations?
Whilst commuters in the South are getting excited about travel times and accessibility to the Capital, those in more northerly parts of the UK are likely to be less enthused. For many the expectation of poor transport is a way of life, and there is a feeling - perhaps unjustly in respect of some local northern operators - that nothing is going to happen to change this. For others, the temptation is to believe that yet again the South is benefiting and the rest are not. Few Northerners are as yet willing to ditch their cars.

Will the new fast trains effect a change of heart? The optimists for train travel think that signs we are catching up with the Europeans will focus a national clamour for this form of transport. More dour observers suggest that because of potential damage to the environment we should not be encouraging travel anyway.

Sustainable transport, sustainable economies
I'm generally on the side of the optimists here. There's little chance of sustainable living across Britain whilst inequalities (not just North-South, but certainly including that) are so great. I'd like to see more trains, and faster ones, right across the country. This is one area of environmental concern where we really can ask the technical people to work on the 'clean and green' agenda.

Science can't solve all eco- problems, but in terms of transport and communications, we shouldn't write technology off yet. The challenge now is for the politicians to come up with proposals which will match economic balance across the North and South with the possibilities opening up in transport.

Nothing in life stays still. Sustainability in communities of whatever size must start from the 'can do', the will to be positive and fair, because any other starting point is doomed in the long-run to failure.

Child & fountains Somerset House 104x80 6691aa.jpg Somerset House in London is rightly famous for its Winter skating rink, an imaginative and welcome attraction in the city. High Summer, however, permits another simple way to enjoy this historic venue's versatile water feature, as the little person here discovered.

Somerset House fountains & child, London 495x366 6692a.jpg

See also Camera & Calendar

More information on Somerset House here.

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

Impressions Of Prague

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Prague arch (small).jpgPrague is much more than a 'great city'; it is testament to a people who have within easy living memory overcome enormous odds. When this is combined with the depth of history and the spectacular cultural vistas of the city, Prague becomes irresistible. Yet, to thrive in the twenty-first century Prague must also take in its stride challenges of a very contemporary kind - the influx of a myriad visitors and of modern investment capital. Perhaps lessons might be learnt from experience elsewhere.

I've been to Prague quite a few times in the past decade or so.

Prague Our Lady of Tyn.jpgMy first few visits were in the company of musicians in the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, who have a very real relationship with that city - the Orchestra's Conductor Laureate is Libor Pesek KBE, the feted international maestro who over the years has done such great things with his Liverpool colleagues. The RLPO, with Pesek, was the first-ever non-Czech orchestra to open the famous Prague Spring Festival.

And then, more recently, I have visited Prague on my own as part of my work with European Renaissance, which of course brought a whole new perspective to my experience. So I've now seen a little of Prague through the eyes both of artists and of business people. What good fortune.

So much to see and learn
Prague at night 28.9-3.10.2005 012.jpgThis is a city I could never tire of. As I've learned to navigate Prague's historic heart I've realised you could explore forever - always the mark of a great capital city. First, one finds the physical place, where things lie; and then the depth of history and culture starts slowly to unfold. Why is that statue there? Why did that building survive, but not the one next to it? What's the story behind this type of trade or that kind of cultural offering?

There are things which will always stay in one's mind: The enormity of Staromestske Nam, the beautiful cobbled old town square, which has seen such extrordinary events over the centruries. The dramatic beauty of adjoining Tynsky Chram, the Church of Our Lady before Tyn, backed by its intimate piazza cafes and boutiques. The fact that Vaclavske Namesti, Wencelas Square, scene of the Velvet Revolution, is in reality a central shopping boulevard with Narodni Muzeum, the striking National Museum, towering above that boulevard at its furthest point from the river.

Then there's the majesty of Katedrala Sv. Vita, St. Vitus' Cathedral, and the attached area of Prazsky Hrad, the Castle, approached from the old town via the Vltava River (Moldau) over Karlov Most, Charles Bridge. How could one not be eternally taken with all this?

Living heritage
Prague Dvorak Hall.jpgAll these splendours unfold before you even get to the ancient Josafov (Jewish Quarter), huddled, heart-achingly small, down near the river and the Rudulfinum with its Dvorakova Sin, the Dvorak Concert Hall, home of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra.

Nor, on this 'virtual tour', have you yet seen the great triangular Obecni Dum (Municipal House, with its concert halls, including the Smetana Hall, home of the Prague Symphony Orchestra), at the other end of the historic quarter.

Nor indeed, until you have crossed back across Charles Bridge with its painters and jewellers, then travelling on high up to the Castle once more, have you viewed the contrast from the mighty symphonic halls which is found in the tiny, ancient, craft workshops of Zlata Ulicka (Golden Lane).

All these venues are alive with artists and artisans exercising their skills much as they might have done some centuries ago.

Big changes
Prague street art - ceramic.jpgPrague street art - horses.jpgPrague is nonetheless a modern city, changing all the time. It has lost its grey, concrete sadness, imposed for so long by the Soviet authorities, in favour of a cosmopolitan , almost festive, demeanour. Now the city centre is bedecked by art works of all sorts, some of them huge and eye-catching if not always demure.

Nothing illustrates these changes better than Duta Hlava, the Architects' Club situated by Betlemska Kaple in Betlemska Nam (Bethlehem Chapel and Square) in the Stare Mesto, the Old Town. The first time I encountered this underground cafe-restaurant was a decade or more ago; the best way to descibe it then would have been 'bohemian'.

When we last dined there, fairly recently, it could have been described, instead, as suffering from its own success: it was much smarter, heaving with well-heeled people (the students seemed to have migrated elsewehere) and the serving staff were stretched to the limit.

Commercial vs. nostalgia?
And much the same applies to the commecial and retail centre of Prague, based around Wenceslas Square. More cyncially savvy commentators may deplore the arrival in the Czech Republic of Marks and Spencer, Debenhams and Tesco, but these surely are seen by others as indicators of the business coming-of-age of this extraordinary country.

To compete and develop in the international market Prague needs these stores, as indeed they need Prague. There is no doubt that the citizens of Prague will need to keep their wits about them as they emerge even more into the gaze of international capital and all that comes with it. But the costs of not doing so, especially in a state where until so recently the autonomy of the market did not (officially) exist, would be unthinkable to most.

Here is a city on the move but with its heritage very largely still intact. Long may it stay so.

Challenges and opportunities
Prague cranes.jpgMuch of what Prague offers is priceless. With care, even more of it could be. As in other cities - Liverpool in the U.K. amongst them - there are opportunities which as yet have not been fully grasped. These include a reliably consistent level of delivery, especially in some public services.

But Prague has the huge advantage of having seen how other European cities have dealt (or not) with such challenges. No two situations are identical, but there is enough commonality in the scenarios to learn the lessons, one city from another.

The uniqueness of Prague lies elsewhere, in the very heart of this capital city. That is what Prague must defend and develop for itself.

This article is also published (as 'Prague: The Must-See Western European City') on the European Renaissance website.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Free Enterprise Moves East: Doing Business from Prague to Vladivostok

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