Friday, 31 July 2015

Next North West Literary Salon features Carol Birch and Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi
August's North West Literary Salon at Lancaster Library offers an evening of free stories, conversation, food and music.

The event will features dramatic readings from celebrated authors Carol Birch and Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi. Both dramatic readings will be followed by a discussion chaired by Yvonne and Naomi, locally catered food, and music by local artist, Joe Gardiner.

Lancaster-based Carol Birch is the author of several novels, the including Jamrach's Menagerie. She also reviews for the Guardian and Independent.

Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi is a Ugandan novelist and short story writer. Her doctoral novel, The Kintu Saga, was shortlisted, and won the Kwani Manuscript Project in 2013 and was was published by Kwani Trust in 2014 under the title, Kintu. She is the winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize 2014.

• North West Literary Salon, 7.00pm - 8.00pm, Friday 7th August Lancaster Central Library, Market Square LA1 1HY. Tickets available via eventbrite

Woman, 67, attacked and burgled in Morecambe

Police are appealing for information after a 67-year-old woman was attacked and burgled at her home in Morecambe.

The incident happened at around 11.45 pm on Tuesday 28th July, when a man broke into the woman’s house on Regent Road. The victim was confronted and assaulted by the man, who demanded money from her before leaving the house with a small amount of cash.

He is described as white, approximately 40 years old with dark stubble and dark hair and an unkempt, scruffy appearance. He is believed to have been wearing dark clothing and was possibly carrying an army-style rucksack and had a bandage on one arm.

DC Tris Hardwick of Morecambe Police said: “The victim has been left extremely shaken as a result of what happened and has also suffered some nasty facial injuries. I would appeal to anyone who may have seen anyone acting suspiciously in the area or with any information that could assist with our investigation to come forward.”

•  Anyone with information can contact police on 101 quoting crime reference number WB1505995 or alternatively Crimestoppers can be contacted anonymously on 0800 555 111 or online at

Local Group Spotlight: The Hornby Occasionals

A scene from HMS Pinafore, performed by the Hornby Occasionals

The Hornby Occasionals are a 32-year old operatic society which performs a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta each year in the Spring at Hornby Institute, Hornby, Lancaster, where they also meet and rehearse. Their next show will be Iolanthe, which will be performed in mid-March, just before Easter.

Their  2014 production HMS Pinafore and Trial By Jury was awarded the winner of the Best G&S Production in the North West. More recently, their 2015 production of The Mikado played to a full house and received superb reviews.

The Hornby Occasionals perform with an orchestra which is very popular with our audiences and greatly enhances the sense of occasion and drama. They perform with attractive sets, lighting and fully costumed, to create a rich theatrical effect!

The Hornby Occasionals rehearse on Friday nights from mid-September and Saturday mornings nearer to the show dates. They welcome energetic new members who are interested in singing, acting, set building, prompting, props and front of house.

• Rehearsals for Iolanthe start on 18th September 2015. Find out more about the group by visiting their web site:

• Do you run a local group? Why not let us know about it via Simply send us a little bit of information about your group, plus contact details, including a web site and will profile you here on virtual-lancaster as soon as we can

• Run local events? Why not add them to our events calendar? Visit our What's On page for our full events guide, and find out more about how to add your events here

New Freemen and Freewomen Celebrated in Lancaster

The mayor of Lancaster, Coun Jon Barry, and chief executive of Lancaster City Council, Mark Cullinan, with the city's new Freemen

One of Lancaster’s most historic traditions was celebrated last Saturday (25th July) when nine people were admitted as Freemen of the City.

Dating back to 1688, traditionally the honour of becoming a Freeman carried a number of privileges including the right to ‘pasture a limited number of beasts’ on the Marsh and to enter the city free from the payment of tolls.

Nowadays the role carries few rights, but remains popular amongst those who are proud of their heritage.

The Freeman’s Court was presided over by the Mayor of Lancaster, Coun Jon Barry, who said: “Traditions like the Freeman’s Court are part and parcel of what makes Lancaster special. I enjoyed presiding over this historic ceremony.”

Both men and women are eligible to apply to become a Freeman if they meet one of the following criteria:

• To be the son or daughter of a Freeman or Freewoman
• To have served an apprenticeship to a Freeman or Freewoman of the City for a period of seven years
• To have been born within the old city boundaries
• To have lived within the old city boundaries for a period of seven consecutive years

In each case, the applicant has to be at least 16 years of age.

The new recipients could, in time, also be eligible for their share of an annual payment known as ‘Marsh Grass’. This stems from 1900 when the Lancaster Corporation secured Parliamentary powers under which the Freemen's rights in the Marsh were extinguished subject to the payment by the Corporation of £13 per annum.  Each year the 80 senior Freemen (or their widows) resident within the old city boundaries are entitled to claim the payment.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Lancaster's Spotlight writers group Arts Council funding axed

Flashback: James Wood on stage at a Spotlight event at the Yorkshire House in March 2005

The team behind Lancaster's popular writing and performance group, Spotlight, have been left reeling by Arts Council England's decision to withdraw funding, instead apparently choosing to focus backing for writers in the North West only on projects in Liverpool and Manchester.

Spotlight has been running for 20 years. springing from an open mic event to promote new writers - authors and poets - run by Lancaster LitFest.

Over many years the regular Spotlight Club events - first run at the Yorkshire House but these days at the Storey - have successfully given a a platform to a huge range of talent with its mix of open mic and booked 'acts', that have included the occasional comedian and a diverse selection of music performers, most based in the local area. Some who debuted at the event, such as author Ian Marchant and Kim Moore, have gone on to national success.

Poet Kim Moore debuted at Spotlight and
has since gone on to win a New Writing
North Award, who told Spotlight she
was sorry to hear of its funding plight.
In recent years, they have diversified, offering a huge range of workshops in a variety of venues to help writers hone their craft.

"We are shell-shocked that Arts Council England have turned down Spotlight's bid for renewed two-year funding," says co-cordinator Ron Baker. "Despite meeting all five requirements the reason given was 'comparitively weaker artistic quality' in relation to other funding bids.

"“There is nothing like Spotlight in the region," says Ron, who runs the organisation with fellow writer Sarah Fiske. "When LitFest lost its funding, we were led to believe that Spotlight was a priority, and in recent years we have worked hard - often unpaid - to promote projects targeted at younger and older writers.

“I know the situation is tough due to austerity and cuts, but they have funded us for 15 years."

The team have been told Spotlight's failure to secure renewed funding is down to the high level of competition for increasingly low available funds.

"We are looking at other avenues of funding but will be reapplying to ACE immediately," says Ron. "We are very keen to try to reinstate funding but as we know, there are no guarantees.

"It's hard to know exactly what 'weaker artistic quality' means," commented local writer Basil Ransome-davies on the group's Facebook page, "but to me it half-suggests a bias against cultural interventions that bring on fresh, sometimes raw talent (which the Spotlight has successfully done) rather than relying exclusively on 'names'."

"The decision panel decided that the artistic outcomes of the activity were less strong than other applications that were received and considered," Fiona Davidson from Arts Council England told the Lancaster Guardian this week.

Although ACE has awarded grants totalling £47,605 to literature specific applicants across the UK, its funding announcements for 2015 - 2018 would seem to suggest (only a poorly operating 'interactive map' is any guide on their web site) that literature funding in the North West is solely focused on supporting writing projects in Liverpool and Manchester.

Challenged on this on Twitter, ACE responded:

• If you'd like to help Spotlight in their bid to re-instate funding, please write a short email statement about what Spotlight means or has meant to you as a writer/musican, performer or as audience and mail it to spotlightclub AT

• There will be no Spotlight event at The Storey in August as the team are taking a planned break after which they have sufficient funding reserves to continue the event at The Storey until December - which, with cheerful irony, will be the 20th anniversary of the first ever Spotlight.

• Check out the Spotlight web site, where details of many of its past events are featured:

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Local Cinema Round-Up for the 29th July to 6th August 2015

For up to date local cinema links and day-by-day  listings of what's showing on local screens every week visit the Virtual-Lancaster Cinema Page. Read on for the weekly round-up, and reviews.

This week Lancaster sees seven new film releases. There are two documentaries, one on life of Amy Winehouse with Amy (15), the other the life of Dr Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson with The Ecstasy of Wilko Johnson (15). There is family comedy with Doctor Proctor's Fart Powder (PG) and family drama with The Choir (PG). Finally there is drama with Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation (12A);  Paper Towns (12) and superhero action with Fantastic Four.

In addition to the above, we see the return of the suspense drama Child 44, and the animation Moomins on the Riviera.

This is an excellent time for science fiction adventure with screenings of Ant-ManJurassic WorldSelf/LessTerminator Genesis and Fantastic Four. In addition there is the horror movie The Gallows. Adult drama is represented with Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation and Southpaw while family drama is available with Mr. Holmes and  The Choir.

For family comedy there is Inside OutMinions and the recent Dr Proctor's Fart Powder. More adult comedy is available with Magic Mike XXL and Ted 2. The only weakness in the movie schedules this week is high culture where there is nothing being screened.


Director: Peyton Reed
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Paul Rudd, Evangeline Lilly, Hayley Atwell, Michael Douglas, Corey Stoll
Ant-Man is the latest super-hero in the Marvel pantheon to make it to the screen. Scott Lang (Rudd) used be a systems engineer but is now a petty criminal, trying to go straight. He acquires a suit developed by Dr. Hank Pym (Douglas) and Dr Pym becomes something of his mentor. The suit allows Lang to become ant man as he shrink in size, increase his strength and has the power of communicating with insects. Together Pym and ant-man must overcome the ambitions of Darren Cross (Stoll) who has a militarised version of the suit. Ant man was only a minor Marvel super-hero but nonetheless this is an entertaining movie. The characters are given chance to develop and the film provides both wit and plenty of gags. An entertaining movie.

Child 44
Director: Daniel Espinosa
Certificate: 15
Cast includes: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, Gary Oldman
The film is based on Tom Rob Smiths novel of 2008 and is set in Soviet Russia in the 1950s. Leo Demidov (Hardy) is an agent of the secret police. However he refuses to denounce his wife Raisa (Rapace) as a traitor when in Moscow he and his wife are exiled to Volsk, a provincial Russian outpost. Here Demidov, with his superior General Mikhail Nesterov (Oldman), work to track down a serial killer who is attacking young boys. However the investigation is hampered by the official position that within the Soviet Union there are no such things as murderers. The film could have been a very decent thriller and it benefits from strong action. However it is let down somewhat by the thick Russian accents adopted by the actors and lack of development of some of the characters. The movie was banned within Russia for portraying the county as Mordor.

Jurassic World
Director: Colin Trevorrow
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Bryce Dallas Howard, Irrfan Khan, B.D. Wong, Chris Pratt
This is the fourth instalment in the Jurassic Park series and the best of the sequels. Jurassic World is a theme park in Costa Rica that has been open for some two decades. However visitors are starting to get bored with the sight of tame dinosaurs. Hence, their lab has been using genetic techniques to create a real monster dinosaur, Indominus Rex, to rekindle interest. The park is managed by Claire Dearing (Howard) and Owen Grady (Pratt) is an animal behaviourist working with the Dinosaurs. On the day that Claire brings her two nephews to the park the Indominus Rex escapes. She must work with Owen to save her nephews and save the day. The movie has number of fine action pieces though the action gets in the way of character development. Also there is a romance element between Claire and Owen. The dialogue in not always believable, but there are jokes and the film pays homage to the original Jurassic Park. For an audience not yet jaded by dinosaurs, this is an entertaining action film.

Director: Pierre Coffin, Kyle Balda
Certificate: U
Cast Includes: Sandra Bullock, Michael Keaton, Steve Coogan, Jennifer Saunders.
The film is both a spin off and a prequel to the Despicable Me franchise. The Minions have always existed on earth and the movie begins by tracing their evolution. They have the purpose of serving the most despicable of masters though not very successfully. The race finally retired to the Antarctic where they fare badly. Hence Minions Kevin, Stuart and Bob decide to seek a new master for their race to work for. In a villain convention in Orlando they decide to serve the supervillain Scarlet Overkill (Bullock) who is planning to overthrow the Queen of England. The film, using skits and Musical numbers expands on this plot. The Minions were the best part of the Despicable Me franchise and so it is fitting that they have their own film. The movie is very entertaining, inoffensive and funny and will delight all ages. However this reviewer would have liked more minions and fewer supervillains.

Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
Director: Christopher McQuarrie
Certificate: 12A
Cast includes: Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson
This is the fifth in the Mission Impossible series. The Impossible Mission Force (IMF) has been disbanded. Ethan Hunt (Cruse) must assemble a team and join forces with an ex British agent Iisa Faust (Ferguson) in order to fight 'The Syndicate', a group who are mounting terrorist attacks in order to bring about a new world order. This is arguably the best action film of the year with plenty of excitement, special effects and some violence. However the whole has a light hearted tone and contains a good deal of humour. A witty and very entertaining movie.

Mr Holmes
Director: Bill Condon
Certificate: PC
Cast includes: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker.
Director: Bill Condon
Certificate: PC
Cast includes: Ian McKellen, Laura Linney, Milo Parker.
A Sherlock Holmes film that is loosely based on Mitch Cullin's 2005 novel 'A slight trick of the Mind'. Holmes is aged 93 and has retired to the Devon coast where he lives with a housekeeper Mrs Munro (Linney) and her son Roger (Parker). His passion is now bee keeping. His memory is fading and Holmes suspects he is succumbing to dementia. He is unhappy with the way he has been portrayed in Watson's accounts of his famous adventures and wishes to address this by writing his own account of one of his cases. The film is much slower than the portrayal of Holmes in recent TV series and Holmes himself has a more fragile and human character. Much of the sequences in the film are flashbacks and McKellen makes a superb Sherlock Holmes. An excellent film.

Director: Antoine Fuqua
Certificate: 15
Cast Includes: Jake Gyllenhaal, 50 Cents, Forest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams
Billy "The Great" Hope (Gyllenhaal) was the reigning middle weight champion but a tragic incident causes his life to fall apart. He loses his family, title, house and manager. In addition, his daughter is taken into care. To rebuild his life he restarts fighting, with Tick Willis (Whitaker) a retired fighter at a run down gym, acting as his coach. The movie is thus a classic underdog story. However strong acting (particularly Gyllenhaal) and convincing sets make for a gripping movie.

Ted 2
Director: Seth MacFarlane
Certificate: 15
Cast Includes: Seth MacFarlane, Jessica Barth, Morgan Freeman, Mark Wahlberg
The movie is a sequel to the highly successful 2012 original. Ted is a teddybear with human actions and emotions who has married his (human) girlfriend Tami-Lynn (Barth). Yet the marriage is having problems so Ted and Tami-Lynn decide to have a child to save their relationship. They try to adopt, but this leads to their marriage being annulled and Ted ruled as property and not a person. To resolve this Ted must go to court to prove he is human. The film provides adult humour in abundance and makes a worthy sequel the original. See it if you are not easily offended.

Terminator Genisys
Director: Alan Taylor
Certificate: 12A
Cast Includes: Jason Clarke, Emilia Clarke, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jai Courtney
The movie is an attempt to recover from the less that impressive sequel 'Salvation' and it strives to capture the appeal of the original. Again machines rule the future and they are trying to kill Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke) before she can give birth to John Connor (Jason Clarke). Again a future John Connor sends Kyle Reese (Courtney) back to 1984 to protect his mother. However Reese finds the time line has become altered. Now there is a Guardian cyborg (Schwarzenegger) who becomes Reese's ally. The plot provides a heroic effort to breath some life into the terminator franchise and to maintain what made the first movie such a classic. However the 12A certificate means the battle scenes are not as impressive and in parts the movie seems more of a parody of the original. A watchable film, but not a classic.

The Gallows
Director: Travis Cluff, Chris Lofing
Cast Includes: Ryan Shoos, Pfeifer Brown, Cassidy Gifford, Reese Mishler
Twenty years ago, students at Beatrice High School Nebraska performed a play called The Gallows set in the puritan era. However a malfunction with the stage gallows caused the death of an actor. Now the school wants to re-stage the play, but four students decide to stop it by destroying the set. Hence they break into the school at night. Here they become trapped and subject to a psychic attack. This is a low budget film of the of the so-called found footage genre, and the action is mainly seen through the eyes of a jock Ryan (Shoos). The movie has attracted poor reviews and a reasonable beginning descends into a rather lacklustre end.

Bees under threat as Government relaxes pesticide ban

Photo: John Freeman
Just as Lancaster's Beekeepers were getting deserved media attention for introducing newcomers to their craft, celebrating their much-admired work, came wider news interest in our best-known pollinators. And it wasn't good.

Perhaps hoping no-one would notice, the government recently allowed bee-killing pesticides to again be unleashed across Britain's farms, threatening bees, butterflies and bugs we rely on to grow our food.

Scientists' warnings got these pesticides banned across the European Union, but the government appears to have caved in to the powerful pesticide industry and the National Farmers Union to let them be used here again.

Campaigners, including Friends of the Earth and the others are both bemused and angry, after the government not only authorised the pesticide use, but also tried to silence experts cautioning against them.

"It's up to us to stop this madness -- if we continue to poison our pollinators, the hedgerows, fields and fruit trees of this country will end up silent," says campaign group Avaaz, one of several groups who have launched online petitions to raise awareness of the government's actions.

"Overturning a decision like this is going to take an unprecedented number of us speaking up. But we can do it... Sharing the petition online could have the ripple effect we need.

"While the rest of Europe has backed a ban and seen their bee numbers are continuing to recover, the farming lobby in Britain has always preferred an industrialised chemical-powered approach to agriculture and with an attitude which says 'as long as the yields are good, to hell with the consequences!'

"It's true that some reports show that neonicotinoids can deliver a short-term improvement on harvests," Avaaz acknowledges, "yet if we carry on using these pesticides the wider impact on critical pollinators will be catastrophic.

"Last Parliament, we saw how frustrated the government can get when presented with evidence-based science, doing all it could to block Europe bee-saving moratorium for pesticide use. Now it wants to go it alone across our green and pleasant lands.

"But we know they are nervous -- gagging scientists from speaking out and burying notes from previous meetings. We have also seen how u-turns are possible, with the fox hunting vote killed off -- but that was only possible because a petition went completely viral with thousands of people sharing with their friends and family. Let's do it this time for the bees. Sign the petition and share it now everywhere you can think."

"The huge public interest in bee decline and pesticide use contrasts with the Government’s excessive secrecy and handling of this decision to let bee-harming pesticides back into our fields this autumn.," says Paul de Zylva of Friends of the Earth, who are also campaigning hard against the decision. "We have now sent a legal letter because of the lack of information, raising concerns about the decision-making process and the lawfulness of the decision."

Two years ago, Avaaz members across Europe came together to introduce the first continent wide-ban on neonicotinoids. The hope is that they can succeed again

Sign the Avaaz petition here

• Friends of the Earth suggest you can ask the Government to come clean.  Tweet to the Environment Secretary Liz Truss MP (@trussliz) today

Local Links

Lancaster Beekeepers

More information:

Pesticide experts silenced by UK Government as it looks to bring back bee-killing neonicotinoids (The Independent)

UK government gags advisers in bees and pesticides row (The Guardian)

NFU attempt to dodge pesticides ban: Bee Coalition reaction

Independent research supporting the continued ban

Friends of the Earth briefing: Neonicotinoids & bees: Scientificstudies increase the case for apermanent ban (PDF)