Friday, 10 October 2008

Spotlight Shines on Local Writers

There’s a powerful line-up of poetry and music on offer at next week's Spotlight Club, with some of the area’s top-notch writer’s and performers.

This month’s Writing Line-up at Lancaster's Yorkshire House next Friday night (17th October) includes poetry from Mark Mace Smith, poetry and puppetry from Sarah Hymas and music from Paddy Garrigan and Harvey Lord.

Mark Mace Smith is an itinerant poet currently living in Preston. A professional actor, percussionist, photographer and journalist Mark's poetry has been conversely described as 'Pop Poetry' and 'Dub Poetry' and his body of work is considered to be '...the zeitgeist of social commentary.' That is according to Mark who was born in Lambeth, south-west London (sometime in the 1970s). He studied politics and philosophy and, later, post-graduate journalism at the University of Central Lancashire. He was accidentally elected as Students Union president in 1999 much to his distress.

Mark's first book of poems, A Head Full Of Green, was published in 2006 by Ptooie Press. His second book, Moist Shenanigans, and his first prose volume, Jobseekers Annoyance & Other True Stories, were scheduled to be published in September 2007. He was the Glastonbury Festival Slam Winner 2008. More info at:

Sarah Hymas is currently Publishing Development Manager for litfest, editing Flax Books and organising professional development sessions for writers throughout the North West. A poet and short story writer, Closet Collection was her debut short story collection, back in 1994. Since then her work has appeared in anthologies, magazines, pamphlets, websites, dance videos, brochures, and multimedia exhibits around the UK. Publications include The Rialto, Agenda, British Council's New Writing14, Smith's Knoll, Magma, Orbis, The Slab & Tadeeb.

'Just this past year I have rediscovered a love for puppets and script and perform puppet shows at any occasion that'll indulge me," says Sarah. "These are re-tellings of the classic fairy tales.'

Sarah will be performing poems about the Kraken’s brother and other creatures seen and imagined around Morecambe Bay. More info:

Garstang poet Ron Scowcroft's work has been published by Poetry Nottingham, listed for the Bridport and City of Derby poetry prizes and featured on the Guardian Books website. He is currently working on an exciting new project in collaboration with artist Jayne Simpson.

Faster than a sleeping bullet, more powerful than a ukulele, capable of drinking warm beverages in a single bound: Paddy 'Wainscot' Garrigan is a singer, musician, writer and exceedingly amateurish cyclist. Best known for playing guitar and singing in The Pier Group and The Wierdstring Band (and for doing anything but play guitar in The Wisemen), Paddy has contributed a myriad of instruments to ensembles such as Dan Haywood's New Hawks, Moonstone, The Gokarnas, The Puma Sutras, Colonel Blimp & The Amazing Exploding Bananas, and Sonic Tradition. He also performs as a solo artist, and occasionally as a solo group. More info:

Singer, guitarist and artist Harvey Lord says he lives mostly in a caravan has two albums to his name so far: Weighted Down, a collection of acoustic songs and Static which he describes as "a 60 minute experimental piece of music that drones and twists between my ears." Both are available on the Reverb Worship label. More info:

• Spotlight is compered by Simon Baker. The literary parade kicks off at 8.30pm at The Yorkshire House, Parliament St. Lancaster with an Open Mic 8.45 - 9.15pm, at which anyone can perform (contact Spotlight to book a place: Admission: £3/£2 (Conc.).


Councils' Iceland Investments Threatened?

Both Lancaster City and Lancashire County Council had investments in crisis-hit Icelandic banks - along with Lancashire Police. Lancaster Council has moved swiftly to reassure the public that in the short term, the council does not face any financial difficulties from the investments.

Lancaster City Council has £6 million saved with three Icelandic banks - Landsbanki, Glitnir and Kaupthing - and Lancashire County Council has £10 million with Landsbanki.

The Councils are now seeking urgent assurances about the investments after Iceland's Prime Minister closed the stock market, sought a bailout from Russia and said the country is on the verge of "national bankruptcy."

Lancaster and Lancashire Councils are among an estimated 45 local authorities in England and Wales with taxpayers' cash invested in stricken Icelandic-owned banks. The Local Government Association has called on the UK Government to guarantee councils' savings in the same way it has guaranteed those of individuals who have cash with Icesave, an online British arm of Landsbanki.

In a statement, Lancaster City Council Chief Executive Mark Cullinan said £6million of the Council's current portfolio is invested in three banks in Iceland, although he did not expect the Council would suffer financial difficulties.

Mr Cullinan said at the time of making the investments, the banks concerned were reputable institutions with high credit ratings.

Explaining the situation with regards to Lancaster City Council's investments in Icelandic banks, its chief executive, Mark Cullinan, said: "As part of its investment strategy Lancaster City Council currently has a portfolio totalling £24million spread across a number of financial institutions.

"The amount invested can vary daily, given that the Council can reasonably expect between £200 to £250million passing through its bank accounts in any one year. The Council uses the investment income generated to help fund its annual budget in providing services.

"Around £6million of the current portfolio is invested in three Icelandic banks.

"At the time of making these investments, the banks concerned were reputable institutions with high credit ratings.

"These investments are not due to mature until 2009 and so, in the short term, the council does not face any financial difficulties or expect any impact on service delivery.

"We are monitoring the situation very closely and will be working with other councils and the Local Government Association to seek protection for our investments and prevent any loss to council taxpayers.

"Although all the institutions the council has invested in are rigorously scrutinised prior to being chosen, given the current unprecedented crisis in the global banking market, interim measures have now been put into place to give even greater protection to our cash balances.

"These measures include keeping any future investments with highly rated institutions based in the UK or Ireland, where Government has now given guarantees for any such investments made."

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has issued a public threat to Iceland, demanding the return of up to £20 billion belonging to British savers, companies and local councils.

The Prime Minister said Britain would seize the assets of Icelandic companies using anti terrorism legislation to do it, and take “further action against the authorities” over the collapse of the island’s banks.

The Daily Telegraph reports that the diplomatic row, which has echoes of the Cod Wars of the 1970s, erupted after it emerged that more than 100 local authorities have deposits in Iceland. The paper claimed councils stand to lose a total of more than £1 billion.

British companies are said to have as much as £12 billion in the failed banks -- and individual savers more than £6 billion.

This morning, the pound fell to $1.68 before the London stock market opened, the lowest since November 2003, and at present the weekly drop will be the biggest since 1992.

Lancashire Police Authority says they had invested less than £1m via Lancashire County Council for three months with the Landisbanki Islands bank.

"This represents less than two per cent of the Police Authority's total investments," the authority said in a statement. "The investment reflected the high rating given to this bank by an Independent rating agency.

"It is important not be alarmist about this situation. This is an unprecedented event due to the current worldwide circumstances.

"The deposit is not due for repayment until December 2, 2008, and at this stage the bank has not indicated that it will default on the repayment."

Iconic Roman tombstone unveiled at Lancaster City Museum

An iconic Roman cavalry tombstone will be returned to Lancaster and officially unveiled by Lancashire County Council and the Lancashire Museums Service at Lancaster City Museum on Wednesday 15 October 2008.

The long awaited unveiling will be attended by a number of county councillors and partner agencies to witness this special event in celebration of its return to Lancaster.

The impressive tombstone, dating back to 100 AD, was discovered in Lancaster in November 2005 during an excavation in Aldcliffe Road by the Greater Manchester Archaeology Unit which is based at the University of Manchester.

Described by a number of scholars as 'unique' and of 'significant archaeological importance', the massive stone - almost six feet in height and approximately 1500lbs in weight, depicts a quarter master or junior officer of the ala Augusta riding with the severed head of a barbarian enemy in his hand.

Since its discovery, Lancashire County Council and the Museums Service together with Lancaster City Council secured funding from the Museums, Libraries and Archives (MLA) Purchase Grant Fund, Haverfield Bequest (supporting research on Roman Britain), and the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Specialist staff at the county council’s conservation studio in Preston have since worked to conserve the tombstone so it is suitable for permanent public display in Lancaster, where it will be placed in its most fitting setting at Lancaster City Museum, not far from the site where it has lain for almost 2000 years.

"It's fantastic that we have been able to save this important piece and keep it here in Lancaster for the people of Lancashire to learn from and enjoy," said County Councillor Anne Brown, cabinet member for adult and community services. "This is a great example of how Lancashire County Council along with the city council and other public bodies and agencies have worked in partnership together to preserve part of Lancashire's heritage and continue to offer interesting and exciting exhibitions through our Museum's to local people."

"I am extremely pleased that the tombstone has become part of the local collection in Lancaster," Stephen Bull, curator of Military History and Archaeology for Lancashire Museums, added, "and will now be on permanent display after a lot of hard work and effort from all involved with the project.

"This stone provides a crucial insight into the history of the county, and an iconic piece of Lancaster's dramatic past."

Visitors to Lancaster City Museum will be able to see this remarkable piece from Wednesday 15 October at 11.00am with more exciting displays to come later in the year.

The museum is open Monday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm and entry is free to all visitors. Please be aware that on Wednesday, 15 October, the museum will not be open to the public until 11.00am.

• For further information please contact Lancaster City Museum on 01524 64637 or visit

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Go Aerial in the Half Term!

Lancaster City Council is offering a variety of sports and arts activities during the October half term holidays (Monday, October 27 - Friday, October 31) for children aged between 4 and 16 years old. But you’ll have to be quick - places fill up very quickly for these popular activities.

Exciting workshops include mountain boarding at Sedgwick, Kayaking on Lake Windermere or, if you have a head for heights, try Knowsley Safari Park’s Aerial Extreme, the adventure ropes course.

You might also like to try the council's new workshop Film in Action at Regent Park Studios and create your own cinematic fight sequence (just kike Star Wars' like Obi–Wan Kenobi and Darth Maul, perhaps?) using digital film and movement.

Other favourites on offer are karate, archery, fencing, tri-golf, multi skills and trampolining or for the more adventurous try the indoor climbing/abseiling, skiing, bellboating and mountain bike workshops.

For those looking for something with a difference why not go along to the Junior Ranger Workshop: The Great Nocturnal Walk and find out what creatures can be seen and heard in Happy Mount Park after closing time using specialist sound monitoring equipment.

All sessions are in a fun and safe environment by experienced coaches with full day and half day activities available.

Equipment is provided for all workshops and transport is on offer for some of the sessions. Different age groups apply to certain activity workshops. Places on all the activities offered are strictly limited to ensure a high quality coaching session.

A copy of the activities programme and booking form is available on Lancaster City Council's website – or from Salt Ayre Sports Centre, Lancaster and Morecambe Town Halls, Lancaster and Morecambe Tourist Information Centres and the council's community pools at Hornby, Carnforth and Heysham.

• Places can be booked and paid for at Salt Ayre Sports Centre, Monday to Friday from 10am to 4pm (from 10am to 7pm on Wednesday) or by contacting the booking information line on (01524) 842493, between the same times.

Doctor Who Stand-Up Returns to the Dukes

Top comedian and actor Toby Hadoke returns to the Dukes this month with his hilarious hit show, Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf.

This razor sharp comic odyssey, at The Dukes on Saturday 18 October, charts the rise, fall and rise again of the TV legend. A must for anyone who has ever had a passion for anything, this critically acclaimed show has delighted even those who've never seen Doctor Who.

Eagle eyed audiences may remember Toby from his performance at The Dukes in The Talented Mr Ripley four years ago.

"Last time I came to The Dukes I died on stage," Toby recalls. "I hope not to repeat that experience!

"To be fair though, I was supposed to, stabbed to death by an extremely talented Mr Ripley: as fat Freddie Miles, I had to wear significant amounts of padding, to bulk out my girth. Time has not been particularly kind though, and nowadays such padding would be unnecessary.

"I loved being in Lancaster and thoroughly enjoyed my stint at The Dukes, so I look forward to getting the audience aboard my time machine of mirth."

Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf was a complete sell out at Edinburgh festivals in 2006 and 2007 gaining five star reviews from all press, leading to a recent acclaimed West End run.

Toby is an actor, writer and stand-up comedian. As a stand-up, he has been resident compere of the multi award winning XS Malarkey Comedy Club in Manchester for over a decade. His television acting credits include The Forsythe Saga and Phoenix Nights and he also has made many appearances on stage around the country.

• The complete list of tour dates is below

Midland Hotel Development Celebrated

English Heritage has championed The Midland Hotel in Morecambe as one of England's 20 best development schemes in historic places.

A new English Heritage book, Constructive Conservation in Practice, available for free, reveals the excellent schemes that demonstrate "Constructive Conservation": a new way of rescuing heritage as part of regeneration.

Constructive Conservation involves heritage and development professionals working as a team and using English Heritage's newly-published Conservation Principles as a guide. These Principles have become the key to working out which parts of a historic site must be kept and which less-important parts could be changed in order to find the best way to save the heritage. In this way, buildings are now being saved that would previously have found no future,
development can be more creative and ambitious, and the importance of a historic site can be better identified and protected.

"Both architects and developers at The Midland Hotel showed they understood the value of this heritage site," comented Henry Owen-John, North West Regional Director for English Heritage. "The rest of the country can learn from this exemplary scheme in Lancashire.

"The 20 examples of Constructive Conservation we identified today are not just commercially successful, they add distinctiveness and meaning to the places in which we live.

"Heritage is a non-renewable resource, once it's gone, you can't get it back," he continues. "That's why decisions about what needs to be kept and what can be changed and adapted must be as accurate and as well-informed as possible. This is what English Heritage offers through its Conservation Principles. Many historic buildings that would have perished will now go on into the next century."

Morecambe's grade II* listed Midland Hotel is one of the most important 20th-century buildings on the English west coast. Early modernist architect Oliver Hill was commissioned to build the structure in 1932; the resulting striking design has lavish interiors, ornamented by sculptors and artists such as Eric Gill and Eric Ravilious. The building's elegant curved form follows the line of the promenade facing the sea, ensuring sea views from every room.

From the 1970s onwards the hotel fell into decline, as holidaymakers deserted British seaside resorts for guaranteed sunshine overseas. In January 2003 it was taken on by Urban Splash, who spent nearly two years undertaking research, securing resources - largely from the Northwest Regional Development Agency and Heritage Lottery Fund - and putting plans into place to reopen the hotel.

English Heritage was involved from the earliest stages, working with Lancaster City Council to help Urban Splash to make major changes to the layout. Access and safety arrangements had to be addressed, without damaging the historic significance of the hotel. English Heritage was able to enrich the architects' good understanding of the building's history and advise on the most effective ways of integrating new features with the old.

"With support and advice from English Heritage, the architects and the construction team were able to overcome a wide range of highly complex conservation challenges," says Jonathan Falkingham, chief executive of Urban Splash. We're delighted to have retained the spirit and integrity of the original architecture whilst ensuring that new services and major alterations have been successfully integrated within the framework of the building."

The praise is bound to be good news for Urban Splash, who are feeling the pinch in the face of current economic turmoil and have already announced redundancies elsewhere in its organisation, but say the running of the Midland will be unaffected.

The company's Flacq-designed Morecambe Central Promenade scheme around the Midland Hotel is not now expected to go to planning committee until early next year.

Other North West schemes listed amongst the 20 best were Gorton Monastery in Manchester, Blencowe Hall near Penrith, and The Bluecoat in Liverpool.

• The publication Constructive Conservation in Practice can be seen on and is available free from English Heritage Customer Services on 0870 333 1181.
Visit the Midland Hotel Official Site
Lancaster City Council Midland Hotel project page

Lancaster Under Surveillance

In recent months, many people have been shocked to discover that Local Authorities including Lancaster City and Lancashire County Council have spy powers. But for years now, hundreds of bodies have been able to authorise themselves to examine any of your phone, e-mail, text and web-browsing histories that have been held by phone and internet companies.

Now, there are determined efforts to make that easier. The Home Office is seeking to build a massive database of all communications data, at an estimated cost £12 billion, which will monitor and store Briton’s e-mails, texts and calls.

ITPro reports this week that the Government’s Communication Headquarters (GCHQ) programme has already received £1 billion in funding to begin the project under the banner of the Interception Modernisation Programme (IMP), which will involve the installation of hundreds of probes to monitor customers.

In August, IT web site The Register reported how sources told them secret briefings had revealed the cost of the database would run to nine figures and has already been factored into government spending plans. The IMP budget was part of the intelligence agencies' undisclosed funding bid to the Comprehensive Spending Review last year.

In an answer to a parliamentary question on 8 July 2008, the Home Office refused to provide any budgetary details, citing national security concerns.

MI5 already has a similar system to the proposed IMP extension, but can only proceed with surveillance if it has been approved by the home secretary. The Home Office says ministers are considering what legislation is needed to ensure safeguards are in place to protect the privacy of the public.

More details are expected to be released in the Queen’s speech next month.

IT PRO reported earlier this year on the possibility of the database, with the main concern among citizens being privacy.

Michael Parker, of campaign group NO2ID, told ITPro the project would be a waste of money and has called for a national debate on the matter. The group is highlighting this and several other steps being taken by Whitehall to extend its snooping on every citizen.

The NO2ID web site has been reporting on how long term plans to monitor your movements and communications for some time and notes plans have moved on significantly in recent months, speeding up moves to ensure your personal details could soon be trafficked ever more widely among officials and to foreign powers.

Concerns about data security, highlighted this year, appear to be being studiously ignored as is the huge cost of the "science fiction" project to keep records of every UK citizen's phone calls, texts and emails for up to two years at a time of monumental economic uncertainty.

The Daily Telegraph reported recently how Home Secretary has been hyping "biometrics" at Manchester airport - a trial of 'facial recognition'. But in reality it is just an excuse to get your passport electronically scanned. "e-Borders" is about collecting massive amounts of detailed information on every traveller's journey for official use. The spin is all about 'foreigners' but the system applies with even greater force to UK citizens.

The spectre of road-pricing through a 'spy in the sky' technology, agaqin highlighted in the Telegraph has also reappeared. Following everyone everywhere is the government's way of dealing with road problems.

Read the Register's full report on the IMP extension plans
Visit the NO2ID web site

Monday, 6 October 2008

The Sacred Thread at The Dukes

Celebrity TV actress Shobna Gulati, well known for her role in Coronation Street, stars in a bold new theatre work, The Sacred Thread at The Dukes this month (21 October).

Shobna Gulati has teamed up with the acclaimed classical Indian Kathak dance artist and choreographer Sujata Banerjee in a dance/theatre production directed by the award-winning Nona Shepphard.

This thought provoking work incorporates drama, dance, movement, music and storytelling, set in the throbbing desert of Rajasthan, in which Shobna plays a British film-journalist, fed up with “superficial journalism that makes no real difference”. Breaking away from her production crew while on location in Rajasthan, she finds herself in the desert wilderness. Encountering two women, she finds the inspiration to make meaningful work again.

“The Sacred Thread is about the belief that as humans we find joy, meaning and purpose in our lives through our interconnectedness with the lives of others," Sujata Banerjee explains, "and with our surroundings - even across space and time”.

The Sacred Thread features five other performers and live vocalists/musicians playing a range of Indian and African percussion instruments. Renowned Indian musician Debojyoti Bose has created an original score for this production.

To undertake research for the show, Sujata stayed in the village of Khejri, outside Jodhpur, Rajasthan with the environmentally-conscious descendants of the 18th-century tree-lover Amrita Devi.

• Sujata Banerjee Dance Company presents The Sacred Thread on Tuesday 21 October at The Dukes. Box Office: 01524 62166

LitFest Line Up Announced

Lancaster's LitFest celebrates its 30th year this festival with a jam-packed four days of poetry, novels and short fiction.

The festival, at The Dukes from 29 October to 1st November, features a wide range of work, from British novels to international poetry.

Tickets for all events are available from the Dukes Box Office on 0845 344 0642.

To get hold of a full programme, call the litfest office on 01524 62166, or visit the website at to download an e-programme.

Highlights of the event include a launch event from Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, who gets the festival started with a Wednesday evening performance on October 29 at 7.30pm.

Andrew Motion, a previous guest at litfest back in the 1990s, was appointed as Poet Laureate in May 1999. Since becoming the UK's official royal poet, he has worked to give the role more general public relevance, writing verse to mark events and causes of more personal public concern, such as the Paddington rail disaster and the charity Childline. He has also embarked on a series of visits to schools and colleges to spread his enthusiasm for poetry to the younger generation.

Andrew Motion’s work has received the Arvon/Observer Prize, the John Llewelyn Rhys Prize, the De Moffart Art Prize (2006) and the Dylan Thomas Prize. In 1994 his biography of Philip Larkin was awarded the Whitbread Prize for Biography, and shortlisted for the NCR Award. The Lamberts won the Somerset Maugham Award.

His new collection of essays, Ways of Life: Places, Painters and Poets is "a book full of pleasures", according to the Daily Telegraph, while his 2007 book In The Blood A Memoir of my Childhood is described as "a strikingly good book, framed by tragedy but full of intense life" by novelist Helen Dunmore.

Fiction, Poetry and More

If you like novels, litfest also has plenty to offer - the Orange Prize shortlisted author Anne Donovan will be talking about her latest novel, Being Emily, which follows a Glasgow girl with a fascination for the Brontes as she tries to find her place in the world after a family tragedy.

Lancaster-based novelist Jo Baker brings us more about her book, The Telling, a grown-up ghost story based in modern and 19th century Lancashire, while Anna Ralph will be in Lancaster to discuss her novel Before I Knew Him, released in July, which uncovers childhood secrets buried so deep they are concealed from a man's fiance.

Stella Duffy is also a guest, talking about her novel Room of Lost Things in which her characters find hidden mysteries in the pockets of customers at their drycleaning shop.

Once again litfest offers a strong programme of short fiction. A Hallowe'en night of horror sees Booker-shortlisted novelist Gerard Woodward (author of I'll Go To Bed At Noon) joining novelist Nicholas Royle and Perrier Comedy Award-winner Matthew Holness for a night of stories from Manchester-based Comma Press's new book of horror stories, The New Uncanny.

Jackie Kay joins new short fiction writer Clare Wigfall, and there is also short fiction from the Booker-shortlisted Bernard MacLaverty, whose collection Matters of Life and Death is "bursting with reasons for praise." according to New Statesman.

For those interested in poetry, there are some fascinating events lined up, including a special afternoon of poetry in translation brought to litfest by the Poetry Translation Centre in London. This event features poets from Tajikistan, Kurdistan, Somaliland, Sudan and Pakistan reading with their UK poet-translators (Jo Shapcott, W N Herbert and Sarah Maguire) and gives audiences a chance to see behind the stereotypes to the rich poetic traditions of cultures we only hear about through dismal and tragic news reports.

There's more poetry on offer when David Morley, Michelene Wandor and Soleïman Adel Guémar give perspectives from Romany, Algerian and Jewish experiences of transcience, political exile and forced migration from history to the present day.

The festival rounds off with an exciting event created specially for litfest. Four writers chosen for their diverse approaches to poetry will spend two days in the Lanternhouse, Ulverston, working on a performance on Saturday at 7.45pm. A downloadable album will also be available from the litfest website after the festival.

For people who want to come to lots of events, litfest is repeating its popular three for the price of two events offer (cheapest ticket free) for tickets booked up to a week in advance.

This year litfest aqlso has plenty going on online at its website at, as its publishing imprint Flax books experiments with audio, film and online work as part of this year’s celebration.

There will be short films showing around the Lancaster University campus, and a fictional blog created by two writers, who will construct a character from existing blogs, take you through the quirks and obsessions of their life, introduce you to new virtual friends, and unravel a fascinating tale of identity theft.

• Visit the LitFest web site:
Download the LitFest 2008 Programme

Register to speak on Centros applications

A special meeting of Lancaster City Council's planning committee will take place on Monday and Tuesday of next week (October 13 and 14) to discuss the plans for the redevelopment of the Canal Corridor site in Lancaster by Centros.

Anyone wishing to speak at the meeting, either in support or opposition, can register with the council by telephoning 01524 582903 or emailing

The deadline for registering to speak is noon on Friday October 10.

The planning meeting will take place at Lancaster Town Hall and will start at 10am on each day. Members of the public are welcome to attend.

It's Our City, who are campaigning against the centors development in its current form, are holding a workshop 8.00pm on Wednesday 8th October at the Gregson Centre. The workshop is for people who have registered to speak/ or are thinking of speaking at Planning Committee. More info from