Manchester congestion charge: bus company gags council

Bus shelters all over the area are carrying pictures of strangely dull-witted looking people who, we are invited to believe, will be voting in favour of the charge because they won’t have to pay. In a case of ‘tail wags dog’ one of the privately-run bus operators in Greater Manchester has decided that (the elected) Stockport council may not put its case against the congestion charge on the sides of buses.

This anti-democratic move is clearly motivated by the pursuit of profit. Stagecoach shareholders would love it if cars were banned altogether, and it is very much in their interests to see this costly intrusive scheme brought in at our expense.

Martin Mere Wetland Centre

I visited this centre near Southport for the first time yesterday. It’s divided into two parts; beautifully landscaped waterfowl gardens where they have over a hundred species of ducks, geese, swans and flamingos (and beavers!), and a 150 hectare mere.

At dusk, lines and lines of noisy geese return from the day’s foraging. After wheeling around in great circles a few times, they land on the water for the night. It’s a spectacular sight and despite the noise and apparent chaos it felt quite peaceful too.

I had mixed feelings about the landscaped gardens, however. Continue reading

Felix Dennis poetry reading

Against my better judgment, I went to see Felix Dennis last night in Manchester, where he gave a poetry reading with free wine and canapés. Who is he? Well, Felix Dennis is to poetry what Jeffrey Archer is to literature. Except Archer doesn’t need to offer the free wine.

His poems are just awful. He reads them in a ridiculous gravelly voice which you normally only ever hear in movie trailers. And whereas I’ve heard that Archer is charming, Dennis is hard to like. He is pompous, opinionated about matters of little importance and self regarding. He likes to tell his paid audience how wealthy he is, and is a bit too frank with his sexual reminiscences. Pass the wine? No – pass the sick bags please!

Place of Execution

A three-part television thriller from ITV which fails to satisfy on so many levels. There are no appealing characters with whom to identify. Heck, there are no plausible characters for that matter. Cliché and exaggeration abound. The props department has bulk-ordered Brylcreem and cigarettes for everyone in the 1960’s scenes. They have even given Phil Whitchurch a pair of crutches to hobble around on (What, no parrot?) as his character conflicts with the subordinate detective at the centre of the murder investigation.

Juliet Stevenson’s present-day character is making a documentary about the case. She too has an unsympathetic manager (of course) and is a harrassed single mum with a truculent teenage daughter. Her boss is particularly mis-cast, looking like a suave boardroom type or head of a glamorous secret government spying operation. But top marks for cool suaveness have to go to Greg Wise playing the toff suspect who punctuates withering retorts to police questions with dramatic cigarette-lighting.

The camera work is clumsy in parts. Backlit wisps of cigarette smoke serves to create atmosphere wherever possible. Outside shots where one character walks towards another one closer to the camera are focussed on the wrong actor. Scenes in cars are filmed so it’s obvious they are using a low-loader, or the tax disc on the windscreen is just a little obtrusive.

These artifacts wouldn’t matter if the whole thing hung together and made a compelling drama. Sadly, it doesn’t and the whole thing is an expensively-produced waste of time.