Friday, 19 December 2008

West Coast Upgrade Claims Challenged

Lancaster's local Rail User Group has challenged the claims made in recent announcements about completion of the West Coast mainline, as line closures continue in the area at weekends and changes to local train services which are causing problems for local commuters.

Last month, virtual-lancaster reported how the Secretary of State for the Department for Transport Geoff Hoon had agreed to meet with Morecambe and Lunesdale MP Geraldine Smith to discuss changes to local train times which could see commuters forced back onto Lancaster's already congested network.

"Only today I have been speaking to TransPennine Express trying to get some truth about the upgrade," Mike Machin tells virtual-lancaster. "Whilst we as a Rail User Group very much welcome the improved journey times, we locally cannot accept that the upgrade is complete.

"Only six weeks back I was at a meeting where Network Rail told us that from December we would have a six & a half day railway," he expanded. "However, looking at the new timetables, from 31 January until 16 May at week-ends we see that between Preston and Glasgow or Edinburgh we have buses operating between some stations. For instance from 31 January to 21 March buses will convey passengers between Lancaster and Lockerbie."

Machin is concerned the race to publicise completion of the upgrade has gotten ahead of reality. "In interviews over the past week Network Rail have given the impression that the upgrade is complete, and that the line will only be closed for routine maintenance. However, in this area we have had this sort of week end disruption for over five years now. If the upgrade is complete, why is it necessary to have blockades at weekends so soon?

"I have done interviews for Radio Lancashire and the local press and they also obtained interviews with Network Rail who are still saying the upgrade is complete. I am therefore doing my utmost to publicise this situation for the benefit of the public travelling at weekends.

Local timetable changes also seem to be having the feared affect on passenger numbers previously reported, which local MP Geraldine Smith raised in Parliament in November.

"Concerning the local issue of trains between Morecambe and Lancaster in the morning commuter period, I did a passenger count on Wednesday on the one train arriving in Lancaster between 8 and 9.00 am," Machin says. "The one leaving Morecambe at 08-11 and had 10 more passengers on as opposed to the old 08-05 departure, begging the question -- where have the 70 to 80 passengers gone who used to catch the 08-33 departure? Are they now catching the train arriving in Lancaster at 09-03 or have they moved to using cars and thereby creating more traffic in Lancaster?

"Unfortunately it will now be January before I am able to do a passenger count on both trains to get a more realistic view of the situation."

virtual-lancaster will bring you thr results of Michael's counts as we get them and any conclusions the Rail Users Group can draw from them when they have taken place. He is also hopeing to meet with the Department for Transport soon to discuss the situation.

• For more information about Lancaster & Morecambe Rail User Group contact Michael via

Flu Warning issued

With flu rates increasing across the region the Health Protection Agency (HPA) North West is advising people on what they can do to protect themselves and others from infection on the run up to Christmas.

“We’re seeing increases in flu in most parts of the region, but particularly in Liverpool, Wirral and parts of Cheshire," warns Dr. Catherine Quigley, Regional Epidemiologist with HPA North West.

“This is a highly infectious viral illness for which there is no treatment, other than rest and the replacement of fluids. Most people who are otherwise fit and healthy will recover quite naturally from a bout of flu.

“However, flu can be serious for older people and for those whose immune systems are suppressed by illness or treatment. I can’t stress enough how important it is for these vulnerable patients to protect themselves by having a flu jab. If they haven’t been vaccinated already, it’s not too late.”

Dr. Quigley stressed that healthcare workers should be vaccinated against flu.

“The advice to people suffering from flu, heavy colds or other viral infections is to rest at home and take lots of drinks. Flu is spread by droplets in the air and on surfaces, so care should be taken to cover the mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing and hands must be washed thoroughly after contact with mucus, after going to the toilet and before eating,” Dr. Quigley said.

“There is no benefit in people with flu, flu-like symptoms or heavy colds visiting their GP surgeries or hospital Accident and Emergency Units where they might pass on infection to other more vulnerable patients. If in doubt they should arrange a telephone consultation with the family doctor or phone NHS Direct, the 24-hour health information service.”

The warning about flu comes hot on the heels of requests from North West Ambulance Services to think twice about using emergency call numbers if your situation is not life threatening as staff are performing 'near miracles' to keep the service going. The Telegraph reports pressure has been particularly bad in London, the North West and the West Midlands but the whole of the NHS in England is under pressure according to experts.

• The NHS Direct number is 0845 4647.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Christmas Concert at Morecambe Parish Church

The Morecambe & District Philharmonic Choir Christmas Concert takes place on Saturday 20th December at Morecambe Parish Church.

The programme includes Schubert’s Mass in G and Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols, with traditional carols for choir and audience. Conducted by Stephen Boyd, with organist Andy Plowman and accompanist Jocelyn Hipple.

Starting at 7.30pm, tickets £6, including refreshments (mulled wine and mince pies), available on the door or from 01524 68244. Net proceeds will go to the CancerCare Silver Jubilee Appeal.

More info from

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Christmas Classic at The Dukes

If you’re still trying to find the spirit of Christmas, head down to The Dukes this week and have your heart warmed by the greatest festive film of all time, It’s A Wonderful Life.

Christmas just wouldn’t be Christmas without a screening of this classic film and the Lancaster cinema is offering mince pies and mulled wine to add an extra dose of seasonal cheer.

It’s impossible not to be charmed by this deceptively simple tale of redemption and hope. When George Bailey contemplates suicide one Christmas Eve, it’s up to apprentice angel Clarence to show him what life would have been like had he not lived.

"Although it earned several Oscar nominations, despite our high hopes it won nothing," star James Stewart recalled in 1977. "Best picture for 1946" went to The Best Years of Our Lives. By the end of 1947 the film was quietly put on the shelf.

"But a curious thing happened. The movie simply refused to stay on the shelf. Those who loved it loved it a lot, and they must have told others. They wouldn't let it die any more than the angel Clarence would let George Bailey die. When it began to be shown on televison, a whole new audience fell in love with it.

"Today I've heard the filmed called 'an American cultural phenomenon'. Well, maybe so, but it seems to me there is nothing phenomenal about the movie itself. It's simply about an ordinary man who discovers that living each ordinary day honorably, with faith in God and selfless concern for others, can make for a truly wonderful life."

• Screenings take place on Friday 19 December at 2.00pm and Wednesday 24 December at 6.00pm. Tickets cost £5 (£4 concessions) and are available from The Dukes Box Office on 01524 598500.

Jimmy Stewart Remembers "It's a Wonderful Life"
More on the Making of the film on this Frank Capra site
Official website run by Karolyn Grimes, who played 'Zuzu' in the film

Citizen Binned

(Updated 17/12/08): The closure of the Lancaster Citizen office in November has sadly proved to be the first stage in a slow death for the City's once most read free newspaper. virtual-lancaster now has confirmation that, as suggested last week, the paper is one of several North West freesheets that is soon to close, despite claims that a consultation on the viability of the title would not be completed until 7 January.

virtual-lancaster sources tell us the last publication is planned for next week (24 December) but there is no guarantee that will happen.

Any staff still working on the paper are apparently being expected to either work in Blackburn or accept an offer of redundancy.

The national Guardian reported on Monday that up to 11 editorial jobs are under threat if proposals to close its Citizen series of free weekly papers in Blackpool, Preston and Lancaster and move the operation of its Chorley edition to Blackburn go ahead. A number of non-editorial roles, including jobs in the ad sales team, are also understood to be at risk as the papers close.

The closures, which have been met with anger from NewsQuest employees across the North Wets already riled by high-handed claims of 'sacrfice' by Newsquest's US directors, Gannett, are part of a plan announced last week to make drastic cutbacks to its regional newspaper publishing operation in the North West, including closing 11 newspapers.

It seems strange to us here at virtual-lancaster that this decision has been taken so suddenly after the closure of the Lancaster office (see earlier news story). Strangely, checking this year's Hollings, the Citizen address is given as Blackburn rather than Lancaster, which runs counter to Newsquest management claims this summer that they were looking for new office premises for the Lancaster paper.

While Newsquest has yet to comment on the closure claims -- as indicated, its consultation process based on the Guardian's earlier report on the group's woes was supposed to be completed in January -- a Newsquest north-west staff member told "there is real anger and it comes from abandonment of communities like Blackpool and Preston.

"It has given [Lancaster Guardian and Morecambe Visitor owners] Johnston Press a monopoly in these towns. We're all shell-shocked good journalists are being put on the scrapheap".

We're told there's huge anger among NewsQuest employees at their treatment by their bosses and Gannett, which owns newspapers such as USA Today. In November,, a website for journalists and journalism students, reported that an e-mail championing the "deep sacrifices" being made by Craig Dubow, chairman and president of Newsquest's American parent company Gannett, caused anger among employees.

The email reported Dubow had taken a $200,000 (17pc) pay cut from 1 November, continuing through 2009, reducing his salary to around $1million per annum.

Despite the problems facing the Citizen group, Gannett would actually seem to be doing rather well from the credit crunch. reports the media company is using the turmoil in the debt markets to retire debt and save money, and has just bought almost $100 million of floating rate notes at a 5 percent discount enabled by the shaky debt market.

• As reported this week in The Independent, US newspapers companies and individual titles are suffering badly, facing already declining print sales as younger readers migrate to the Internet, reduced classified adveritising revenues with the popularity of net-based services such as Craiglist, and the huge hit they have taken to display advertising revenues as the credit crunch has hit property and other sales, reducing property agents demands for ad space.

The Chicago Tribune Company recently filed for bankruptcy and The New York Times is deep in debt. Across the country's 1,400 titles, 15,000 jobs have been lost this year, according to Paper Cuts, a website monitoring lay-offs – more than one out of every eight. The Christian Science Monitor will become the first national newspaper to drop its daily print edition next year and focus on publishing online.

Regional newspapers' Washington and overseas bureaux are being shuttered, as the US industry's resources – still rich by international standards – become stretched. As in the UK, the blame for the crisis is being put at the door of the newspaper's owners and managers, with a cadre of past and present Los Angeles Times journalists now launching a lawsuit against billionaire property tycoon Sam Zell over his leadership of their parent company.

Monday, 15 December 2008

Student Drama at the Dukes

University of Cumbria third year Drama students will be producing and performing two popular family based comedies at The Dukes, Lancaster in January. Keith Waterhouse and Willis Hall's Billy Liar runs from 14 to 17 January and Laura Wade's Colder Than Here runs from 21 to 24 January.

This is the 14th year that drama students from the Lancaster Campus have staged productions at the Dukes, building upon a broad range of very popular and successful student productions at the theatre over the years.

Billy Liar tells the story of Billy Fisher, a bored undertakers' clerk in post-war Britain, who spends his spare time indulging in Walter Mitty like fantasies and dreams of life as a comedy writer in the 'big city'. However, with three girlfriends on the go, his flights of fancy come at a cost.

Based on the 1959 Keith Waterhouse novel, Billy Liar was first adapted for the stage by Waterhouse and Willis Hall in 1960. It was later made into a popular film, musical and TV series and the play has since been produced all over the world.

Colder Than Here, Laura Wade's beautifully poised family drama, was first produced at the Soho Theatre, London in 2005 and won Wade the Critics' Circle Award for Most Promising Playwright, and an Olivier nomination for Outstanding Achievement in 2006. As Myra researches burial spots and biodegradable coffins, her emotionally repressed husband and their two grown-up daughters are forced to communicate with her, and each other, as they face up to an unpredictable future.

Colder than Here is an astute and darkly humorous portrayal of a family pulling together in the face of impending grief and was described as a masterpiece by the Sunday Times. Laura Wade is currently adapting 'Colder Than Here' for television with Hat Trick Productions.

• All performances begin at 8pm and tickets are £8 full price/£6 concessions. To book tickets, contact the Dukes box office on 01524 598500 or email For more information, visit their website at

• If you're interested in studying drama at the University of Cumbria, visit the website at or call 08080 024 024.

Festive fun at West End children’s party

Winning Back Morecambe’s West End held a Christmas party for more than 150 local children last weekend.

The party took place at The Carleton on Sunday and was free to children and their families living in Morecambe’s West End.

A fantastic time was had by all the children with dancing, magic shows, competitions and a visit from a very special guest – Father Christmas.

Every child received a present from Father Christmas and there were lots of prizes awarded during party games and for dancing. There was a buffet provided for all the children and a raffle for the parents.

The party was organised by Winning Back Morecambe’s West End, a Lancaster City Council regeneration project, and a group of local volunteers, with generous support from local businesses.

Alan Winters, community development officer, said: “It was a fantastic party and the kids loved it. The highlight was definitely the special visit from Father Christmas himself.

"I would like to offer a huge thank you to the parents and local residents who have helped to organise the party. They have put in a huge amount of hard work that I’m sure the children appreciated.

"I’d like to offer another thank you to the local businesses that have been so generous in their support for the children’s party. It really is the season of goodwill."