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Politics without Cameron (not to mention Clegg) – reaction to the BBC challengers debate

17 April, 2015 0 Comments

Labour’s Ed Miliband rises to the challenge when grilled by possible post election partners. UKIP’s Nigel Farage slips further

In a bizarre courtship ritual, the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon, Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood and Green leader Natalie Bennett attacked Ed Miliband on Labour’s performance and policies while pleading with him to bring them into a post-election anti-Tory embrace …Read more at The News Hub…

Candidates in marginal Oxford West and Abingdon feel the heat in Chamber of Commerce business hustings

16 April, 2015 0 Comments

Five out of seven candidates for the May 2015 UK general election answer questions from the local business community in Abingdon’s ancient Roysse Room

The radiators remained on in Abingdon Guildhall’s Roysse Room for the whole of this warm spring evening as candidates for the 10th most marginal seat in the May 2015 UK general election presented themselves to a poorly attended business focused hustings …Read more at The News Hub…


9 April, 2015 0 Comments

David Buckle, the Acting Returning Officer for the Oxford West and Abingdon parliamentary constituency, today published the official list of those nominated to stand in May’s general election. Nominations closed at 4pm today so if you were thinking of getting the required 10 supporters together and throwing your hat into the ring you’ve missed the boat but saved yourself the £500 deposit!
There are seven nominations and they are listed as BLACKWOOD Nicola Claire (The Conservative Party), COPLEY Sally Louise (Labour Party), FOSTER Mike (The Socialist Party of Great Britain), HARRIS Alan (UKIP), MORAN Layla Michelle (Liberal Democrat), SALISBURY Helen Rachel (National Health Action Party), SANDERS Larry (Green Party).statement of persons nominated

UKIP biggest losers in latest Ashcroft poll

9 April, 2015 0 Comments

Is the ride over for UKIP?

UKIP lose out to the big two, Labour are on the up and nothing to cheer the Lib Dems in poll of Conservative marginals

Is the ride over for UKIP? Voters in Blackpool have certainly been having second thoughts. Just six months ago Nigel Farage’s party were riding high, polling 24% but… See the full article at The News Hub.

Benedict Cumberbatch Profile

1 April, 2015 0 Comments

Man of the Moment – Benedict Cumberbatch profiled in

My profile of Benedict Cumberbatch appears in the April 2015 edition of Spotlight magazine. The first two pages can be seen at


Abbey Brass at the Brass Band Championships 2015

27 March, 2015 0 Comments

Shaky start from Abbey but recovers well and soon settles nicely. Slow movements flow nicely with good cornet and euphonium sounds. Strong start to the last movement with a well chosen tempo and good build up to the close. Another brave effort.


stevenage2015_1On Sunday 22nd March Abbey Brass went to the Gordon Craig Theatre in Stevenage Arts and Leisure Centre to contest against 21 other 4th Section bands in the London and Southern Counties Region National Brass Band Championships of Great Britain.

The coach contingent set off early from Rye Farm car park on an ever brightening Spring morning, arriving shortly before 10. According to my iPhone app, the coach hummed at a fairly steady G (that’s C for the B flats!) for much of the journey.

The draw for the order of play took place shortly after we arrived. We were drawn 8th which meant we wouldn’t be required to play the national anthem (a requirement of the whichever band is drawn first) and would be on stage at around 1pm.

stevenage2015_2Shortly before 12.30pm we checked we all had our music, mouthpieces, registration cards  etc and had a final blow through the instruments to get them warmed up.

After a final nerve-settling pep talk from Rob, our conductor, it was our turn to play. The percussion team went on stage first to set up and then we were on.

Before a fairly spartan lunchtime audience we performed the 4th Section test piece An English Pastorale by Dean Jones. The piece begins with a 15 bar fanfare ‘Heralding the dawn’ that leads us into four movements evoking the English seasons. A spirited and playful ‘Autumn on the Plains’ is followed by a desolate ‘Winter in the Dales’. The mood cheers up a little in the third movement when we enter ‘Spring on the Lakes’ and we finish with a burst of hustle, bustle and sunshine with ‘Summer on the Quays’.

The general feeling on leaving the stage was that it had gone well and we had put our best into it. There were moments of hesitancy but it was a generally settled performance from all with some beautiful sounds. We had  a few hours to kill while the remaining bands did their pieces and after lunch some us went to hear the Championship bands performing on a different stage with much better acoustics and comfier seats.

We finished a creditable 15th in our section and here is the full table of results with the other Oxfordshire bands highlighted in green.

Fourth Section
Test Piece: ‘An English Pastorale’- Dean Jones
Sunday 22nd March

Adjudicators: Nick Garman & David Hirst

1. City of Norwich (Aandrew Craze)*
2. Castleton Brass (Peter Ryan)*
3. East Coast Brass (Paul Speed)*
4. Watford Band (Ian Graves)
5. North London Brass (Patrick Dodds)
6. Tadley Concert Brass (Paul Chapman)
7. Letchworth Garden City (Tim Welch)
8. Woodbridge Excelsior (Chris Lewis-Garnham)
9. Brighton & Hove City (Matthew Hackett)
10. Crystal Palace (Michael Gray)
11. Bradwell Silver (Brian Keech)
12. Snowdown Colliery (Christer Aberg)
13. Wantage Academy (Nikki Jones)
14. Godalming (James Haigh)
15. Abbey Brass (Abingdon) (Rob Tompkins)
16. Cottenham Brass (P. Mackley)
17. Witney Town (Rhys Owens)
18. Hadstock Silver (Lisa Jardine-Wright)
19. Royston Townd (Steve Earley)
20. Bletchington Silver (S. Barwick)
21. Ampthill Town (Chris Benger)
22. Marsh Gibbon Silver (Andrew Allcock)


20 March, 2015 0 Comments

eclipse7There was a very good turnout this morning for Abingdon Astronomical Society’s assisted viewing of the partial solar eclipse in the Abbey Meadows.

eclipse3Overcast skies threatened to put the dampers on the event but the clouds thinned out and even a little bit of blue came our way.

The crowd swelled as the 9.30am maximum coverage approached and the Society ran out of the safety spectacles they had been lending out. This didn’t seem to dampen spirits and the glasses were happily shared.

eclipse2The Society had brought along a range of telescopes including a fitted with one metalised glass filter that reduced the intensity of the sun’s rays by one hundred thousand and a portable solar projection device for people to get a better or different view of the eclipse.

Lots of press were in attendance, including a film crew from ITV, BBC Radio Oxford, the Oxfordshire Guardian and the Abingdon Blog

The Oxfordshire Guardian have produced an excellent video of the occasion.

You can an ITV Meridian news report on the event here.

Losing The Buzz

15 March, 2015 0 Comments

There’s a regular buzz against my thigh from the phone in my trouser pocket. Maybe it’s a text or maybe or a tweet or perhaps I’ve got a message on Skype. It’s hard not to check them all. Sometimes it’ worth fishing the phone out to check but mostly it isn’t. Sometimes there’s nothing there – no text, no tweet, no message. And sometimes there’s a buzz against my thigh and my phone isn’t even in my pocket. It’s like the ants that I spot but which aren’t when we have a summer of ant invasions. They’re the same as the real ants except that when I look more closely, they simply aren’t there. It’s just that my brain has become so obsessed with spotting ants that it jumps the gun at every crumb or speck of dirt. And now my brain is detecting buzzes against my thigh are simply phantoms, like an amputee feeling pain in a missing limb.

After a period of driving with my SatNav I find I continue to check the empty space in the centre of the dashboard where the SatNav even after I have stowed it away in the glove compartment. My brain has become used to this additional source of information and is still seeking it out even when it’s not there.

I can’t remember the name of the first video game that I played obsessively but it was something very similar to space invaders. An armada of alien ships descending from above. They had to be zapped fast before they blasted away my three lives or reached the earth. At night, the aliens descended still, in a never ending stream, blasting away at my attempts to get to sleep. Tracking screen aliens had let them into my head and my drowsing brain wouldn’t let them out again.

I’m not troubled by aliens these days but that reverse screen burn still eats into my head. Checking for the last email, tweet, news update before going to sleep has proved just as disturbing as the aliens. Sometimes I’ll be checking again if awake in the night. Inevitably I reach out for my phone first thing in the morning.

There’s a dark side to digital. It sucks at the soul like Faust’s devil. So much is offered, so much is given. But there’s always a price, there’s a price for everything. Maybe we are all beginning to understand this now, but it’s an industry that makes such riches and provides such wondrous tools that nobody is keen to examine the dark side too closely. Like not thinking hard about the environmental and human costs of assembling our devices, we don’t want to consider too carefully what digital tech could be doing to us mentally and socially.

I now leave my phone downstairs to charge overnight. It’s a wrench, but only by putting it well beyond reach can I make it let go of me. I’ve begun to think about the possibility of moving to something a little less smart. I really don’t know if I can do that, whether I can really lose the buzz. And what about the Apple Watch? That scares me indeed.

The Westminster Poverty Trap?

6 March, 2015 0 Comments

The Palace of Westminister

This is my first article proposal for the May edition of Contributoria. It has now been commissioned. It will be in production throughout April. If you are a member of Contributoria, you will be able to take part in the editorial process of this article once the first draft has been submitted.

According to MPs, £67,000 just isn’t a living wage – for an MP. It’s time then, that we took a look at how they earned a crust before they were elected. What did they do for a living? What would it have brought in and was entering Parliament really a step down into relative poverty?

This article will present information on the past and present careers of our MPs so that we can discover just how much of a lifestyle step down or a step up it has been to become a Member of Parliament. What have they sacrificed or gained?

With more than one MP announcing that they are stepping down as a result of poor pay, the article will also look at what happens when the years of public service are over. What can our MPs expect to earn once they or we bring their parliamentary careers to an end? The article will examine the earning potential of former Members of Parliament and see how much of a career boost it is to have ‘MP’ on your CV.

The Government Inspector – Cornerstone, Didcot

2 March, 2015 0 Comments

On Saturday we spent a very enjoyable evening being entertained by Flintlock Theatre’s production of Nikolai Gogol’s The Government Inspector at Cornerstone in Didcot.

The Government Inspector

The Government Inspector

When the mayor and other local dignitaries of a small town in Russia learn that an inspector from the government is due to pay them a visit, they are thrown into a state of panic, fearful that their bribery, corruption and misuse of government funds are about to be exposed. On learning that there is young gentleman of extravagant tastes and strange habits staying in the town hotel, they mistakenly jump to the conclusion that this must be the inspector travelling incognito. The attempts by the mayor and his cronies to win over the young man (in reality, a penniless wastrel who cannot pay his hotel bill) become increasingly absurd while he, once he realises that they are not about to throw him in jail, can’t believe believe his good fortune.

The four players tell the tale with manic exuberance, taking every opportunity to get a laugh. It’s a very physical performance, bordering on the acrobatic – very Basil Fawlty and Manuel (particularly reminiscent of the Hotel Inspectors episode). With very few props, several quick changes of costume and some ad hoc assistance from members of the audience, the almost bare stage is filled with action, absurdity and laughter.

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