Sunday, 2 November 2008

GB's top team sold to highest bidder

All over the world cyclists out training are shouting at their mates: “Slow down! What do you think I am – a Mancunian!”
Manchester has become to track cycling what Kenya is to distance running.
The spiritual home. The setter of standards.
The cycling world cup gave GB’s phenomenally successful Olympic team the chance to show off their skills in their home velodrome.
Next to Asda, in Manchester’s Sports City.
The medallists were competing together but they weren’t Great Britain. They were team Sky HD.
When they won – which they usually did – God Save The Queen was played.
Surely it should have been the theme from The Simpsons.
Flags and patriotism could have turned the event into a sporting Nuremburg rally.
But thankfully cycling fans don’t sing the national anthem. They must be bored with it.
And when the Germans won the 40km tag race – called, confusingly, the madison – their flag was treated with as much respect as it used to be when Uwe Rosler played for Manchester City.
The music was good. Nena’s cold war anthem 99 Red Balloons greeting that German victory.
The Skids’ The Saints are Coming, Rolling Stones’ Start Me Up, The Vapours Turning Japanese, and the Speedy Gonzales music backed some of the heats in the keiran
That’s the race where a man on a little moped leads the bikes round for three laps before they fly past him and race to the finsh.
It’s exciting – but it’s contrived.
And that’s the problem with track cycling. Many races are a bit too complicated.
This was a great three-day event. Sold out with a friendly atmosphere.
But world beating athletes, pulling in new crowds, need a world championship standard tannoy to explain what’s going on. Not a bloke who sounds like he’s shouting across a field on a windy day.
UCI Cycling World Cup Classics, Manchester Velodrome, Stuart Street. Weekend ticket £35.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Cromwell signs up for civil liberties

In 1825 the most famous of all home secretaries issued a call for information to help catch a group of wanted criminals.
Robert Peel – founder of the police - offered a £100 reward for each conviction secured.
The full force of the state had been unleashed on a group of seafarers from Sunderland who dared to demonstrate for better pay and conditions.
A copy’s of Peel’s proclamation – designed to be posted on Weirside – is part of a thought-provoking new exhibition at the British Library.
Taking Liberties tells of a 900 year struggle for human rights in Britain.
The actual Magna Carta starts the show.
And we see other ancient documents like the Laws of the Forest.
Democracy campaigner Oliver Cromwell’s signature is clear to see on the death warrant of Charles I – along with 58 others as they spread the blame.
There’s a drawing of an Irish Home Rule protest from 1893 with a banner reading “Let Tories Quake”, and video from the 1990s depicting devolution in Scotland and Wales.
Visitors are given a wrist-band with a bar code which enables them to use interactive displays and vote on constitutional questions like the future of democracy.
"Citzen 148250 logged in" says the chilling Orwellian acknowledgment.
The message of this exhibition is that people have died for our rights – so we should use them.
The last wall carries a Thomas Paine quote from 1771: “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it.”
Taking Liberties: The struggle for Britain’s Freedoms and Rights is at The British Library, Euston Road, London, from October 31 2008 to March 1 2009. Opening hours 9.30am to 6pm, admission is free.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

The history of the photo opportunity

A hundred years ago loyalist photographers in Northern Ireland took pictures at a well-appointed UVF hospital.
The message was clear. We are ready for a bloody struggle against home rule.
So begins both this excellent photographic exhibition and the century of spin it documents.
It turns out that Shackelton - the polar explorer - was a Beckhamesque self-publicist who financed his trips to the frozen wastes with product placement.
Here he is, pictured, sitting on a big baked beans tin in the Antarctic, feeding Golden Syrup to penguins, and dressed head-to-toe in Burberry in 1910.
Using examples from Northern Ireland, the UK, and the United States, viewers are taken through the history of the PR picture.
Al Jolson supporting Coolidge, the United Fruit Company exaggerating communist influence in Guatemala, and an elephant signing a Hollywood contract.
By 1939 the image was enough to create the story on its own.
The American radio host who took a bull into a china shop, and hid a needle in a haystack was the master.
Throughout The Troubles all sides exploited the photo opportunity in the battle for hearts and minds.
The most chilling picture is from 1970. It shows two little boys who won a Belfast Telegraph competition to go on patrol in the city with the British army.
There they are - with two real squaddies - in their replica unifroms and carrying replica guns.
Like African boy soldiers on the streets of Britain. Collateral damage in a propaganda war.
A Century of Spin is at the Belfast Exposed gallery, Donegall Street, until November 28. Admission is free.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Personal, political, plenty of punch lines

Mid-life crises came mob-handed at comic Mark Steel.
Suddenly young people spoke another language, his own children needed constant looking after, his relationship with their mother collapsed, and his thirty year affair with the Socialist Workers Party ended in tears.
Like all good artists Steel used adversity for inspiration – turning his troubles into a book and a stand-up routine.
At Salford’s Lowry Centre on Sunday night he hit just the right note for an audience who – like him – were too old to rap but too young to lose the will to live just yet.
Steel’s highly personal show touched on everything from being banished to the sofa to his love of Test Match Special.
His impersonations of figures from Tony Benn, through Geoffrey Boycott, to a forgetful Ian Paisley were funny and well observed caricatures.
Probably the weakest part of the show was when Steel talked of his disenchantment with the disorganised organised left.
It will have confused the non-activists in the crowd.
And he didn’t have the heart to really go for his former comrades.
Many of the key players behind last month’s Convention of the Left were in the audience – no doubt desperate to read the nuances.
They will probably have liked the way his skit on the soul-destroying number of questions customers are asked while ordering a Subway sandwich, was used to introduce Marx’s theory of alienation.
The bravest moment was when Steel launched a blitz on educators for being boring.
Everyone in the house knew the formula for working out how many teachers and academics would be in an audience of lefties at the Lowry on a Sunday night. And we all knew the answer would be big.
Taking on your core audience – is that a sign of a mid-life crisis?
Mark Steel, Lowry centre, Salford - £14. Mark is on tour until Christmas.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

A photographer's tale of two cities

Photographer Jan Chlebik lives in Manchester and loves New York.
His exhibition of black and white pictures puts both cities in the same - slightly dreamy - world.
His aim is to make us think about the millions of normal things going on in the great buildings.
The 21 photos on show in Artland - Manchester's newest gallery - use light, focussing tricks, and natural mist to give us an unexpected view.
Manchester's gothic town hall looks great from these angles - a gem most citizens take for granted.
New York's moody riverscapes tell us that the Hudson is foggier than the Irwell.
And the motorways and jammed-in buildings bring home the similarities of city life.
Setting up the shot is a key skill - and Jan has climbed high and lay low to enhance the experience of the viewer.
The exhibition is well worth a look - a reminder that photography is more than a zillion identical snaps on Facebook or Myspace.
Manchester & New York is the first show at the Artland Gallery, Friends Meeting House, Bootle Street entrance, Manchester, from October 6 to December 13 2008. Opening times 11am to 4pm Monday to Friday, 1pm to 4pm Saturday.

Monday, 29 September 2008

The beginning of Absolute

Segueing Paul Weller into Phil Collins is a criminal offence. Tell Culture Squad detectives it happened at 10.35am this morning – three hours into the life of Absolute Radio.
The new name on the dial has replaced Virgin.
But the travel is still sponsored by Renault, and they still have the ‘eighties hour.
Over the weekend the station played tracks in reverse alphabetical order from V to A.
The last record on Virgin was American Pie. We all knew the first song on Absolute at 7.45am would begin with an A.
I’ll be back in a couple of minutes with Agadoo quipped star DJ Christian O’Connell.
The new era began with the Beatles’ A Day In The Life from Sergeant Pepper. Good choice.
On Thursday, said Christian, the show will come from somewhere associated with that song.
Wow – a national radio station bringing its breakfast show to Blackburn. In fact he meant Abbey Road studios in, er, London.
Listener John rang to say he liked the new station so much he was speechless.
And then it was on to Absolute Beginners by Bowie.
Elvis Costello, The Who, the Bunnymen, and the Rolling Stones kept things going nicely.
Whoever picked the new stuff loved alliteration - Kaiser Chiefs, Kooks, Killers, and Kings of Leon.
Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head made a brave change of pace to commemorate Paul Newman and Hendrix’s Voodoo Child was built up as radio rebellion.
In fact it's four minutes of mumbling and showing off.
The promise was “real music” but at ten Absolute changed to Radio Hairdresser.
Van Halen, Kim Wylde, Springsteen, Duran Duran (music by and for accountants from Solihull), and Hall and Oates - before the Style Council’s Walls Come Tumbling Down was merged into Genesis.
Time for the off button.
Absolute Radio is on 1215AM – 1242AM in Staffordshire.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

A wonderful week in Weatherfield

Coronation Street is at its best when there is humour, compassion, and a terrifying psycho.
So this last week has been a Weatherfield classic.
Harry’s humiliation – ending with a walk-of-shame through the pub could have happened to Stan Ogden or Jack Duckworth in an earlier era.
Bookies have replaced window-cleaners as the Street’s would-be Romeos.
The history of the show is dominated by strong and emotional female characters.
But last week it was the men who bonded, hugged, and shed a tear.
Vernon the drummer began his time on the show as a work-shy scoundrel.
He left – still without a day’s proper graft on his cv – but also without a dry eye in the house. His goodbye scenes with flat mate Lloyd were heart-rending.
Well done writers. Liz and Vern were never going to work again.
Humiliated Harry hurried up and left – but not before saying a really touching farewell to son Dan. These northern blokes are suddenly in touch with their emotions.
Capitalist wanna-bes don’t do well on the Street. They are always outsiders.
Baldwin the Cockney was often unpleasant. But Tony the Scottish rags and property magnate is a serial killer waiting to happen.
He is so single-minded he can’t even be diverted by sex – as teenage temptress Rosie found to her cost.
Now he’s on the warpath – with fiancée Carla, her lover Liam, Rosie, Kevin, Sally, Tyrone, and sundry innocent bystanders all liable to hit the mortuary slab.
This man is a proper villain. David Platt should watch and learn.
Oddly for a soap we even have character in New York on business. Everyone else works within five minutes walk – making Coronation Street the world’s most sustainable community.
Coronation Street, ITV1, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The episodes mentioned can be scene on the catch up service.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Sketch: Convention of the Left

The star turn was absent but more than 200 people turned out for Left Question Time - the finale of the Convention of the Left, which ran alongside the Labour Party conference.
Perhaps Big Brother and Talk Radio’s George Galloway would have felt uncomfortable down amongst the common people. Because the convention had no platforms.
Well-known panellists - like would-be Labour leader John McDonnell and trade union baron Mark Serwotka – sat at ground level with the audience around them.
Galloway was replaced by Manchester Respect Renewal activist Clive Searle who held his own with the revolutionary elite - despite never having been the victim of a tabloid sting.
Derek Wall of the bourgeois Green Party was easily the most left wing.
He repeatedly called himself a Marxist and gave a clenched fist salute as he left the hall to catch his train to leafy London.
Lindsey German was easily the most reformist – despite representing the Socialist Workers Party, the most prominent far left group in England.
After other panellists had been applauded for demanding free public transport Lindsey struck a blow for moderation by calling for a £15 train fare between London and Manchester.
Robert Griffiths, from the Communist Party of Britain, made everyone laugh with a story about trying to sell Geoff Hoon the Morning Star.
But the anarchists from Ashton howled with derision as he denounced repressive state machinery.
The wounds of the Spanish Civil War are still raw in Tameside.
Red Peppers Hilary Wainwright - a ‘60s-style spaced-out academic – won the prize for practicality by saying the movement should stop making unreasonable demands on people’s time.
And Colin Fox, from the Scottish Socialist Party, sent everyone home inspired when he recounted just how successful his organisation had been. Before the split.
Getting these people in the same room was a massive achievement.
The recall conference is on November 29.
Left Question Time, Friends Meeting House, Manchester, admission £5.

Monday, 22 September 2008

The Glee Club, Manchester Library Theatre

The gasping of middle aged ladies filled the theatre as the first male character walked naked out of the shower and onto the stage.
Pulses raced as gradually every cast member (six men) stripped down to full frontal nudity.
The casual nakedness of the pitheads baths is a vital symbol of the intimacy of these characters.
The six - five miners and a mining engineer - perform together as a popular amateur singing group called The Glee Club.
Their humour can be brutal.
But their love is strong too. They talk intimately about relationships, health, and money problems.
Underground they rely on each other for safety. And everyday after work they get naked together.
But their traditional way of life is under threat. Billy Fury is knocking Mario Lanza off the top of the charts.
And attitudes to homosexuality, women, and abortion are changing.
The union is a constant - but can't always help.
Despite the comradeship they all face lonely choices.
This production is funny, moving, well-performed social history.
The Glee Club, Library Theatre, St Peter's Square, Manchester, until October 18. Adult ticket £7.50.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Danny Baker's triumphant return to Radio Five

This is going to be a hilarious season.
BBC Radio Five Live has re-engaged Danny Baker to host 606 – the football phone-in he pioneered.
For 38 Tuesday evenings Baker will entertain us without reference to four-four-two formations or any of the rest of the game’s anorak minutiae.
In his comeback programme Danny was looking for positive stories about Dennis Wise and crazy reason for games to be held up.
After a top tale about a hand grenade on the pitch, we heard how Wise had once been a true gent to someone’s granny.
That prompted Baker to ask for other stories of saintly footballers who had gone beyond the call of duty for fans – and he struck gold.
A caller told of an away game at Bristol Rovers. Burnley’s Jamie Hoyland was warming up when a fan called out and asked the player to visit a van at the far end and buy him a local pasty.
St Jamie took the cash, ran to the far end, climbed over the fence, queued up, bought the food, and ran back with the grub and the change.
We learned that the fan concerned was Selwyn – an ice cream man from Todmorden.
Normally this would be THE call of any show.
But before the hour ended we heard of former Oldham player Alan Groves who returned for a game at a former club. As he stepped off the bus a woman handed him a baby and said: “You have him.”
According to Groves’s cousin, a couple of travelling fans minded the child during the game before Alan took him back on the coach.
Baker’s wit, enthusiasm, and selection of talking-points makes this a uniquely entertaining sports show.
This is our culture. The one thing the moneymen can't take away from us.
Danny Baker, BBC Radio Five Live, Tuedays from 10.06pm and 11pm. Podcast here.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

The Duchess - saucy and modern

Sumptuous costumes and extravagant hairdos are the stars of this film – just like an Adam Ant video.
But it poses modern questions about the role of celebrity in politics and in fashionable society.
The drama comes out of the sad, loveless marriage between the eighteenth century Duke and Duchess of Devonshire.
Keira Knightley shines in the title role.
She is saucier than usual – an early glimpse of Knightley naked is followed by a girl-on-girl love scene, and a domestic ménage à trois when the Duke moves his mistress in.
The real Duchess was a Spencer – and comparisons with Lady Di, Prince Charles, and Queen Camilla are obvious.
The playwright Sheriden is portrayed as the Andrew Morton of his day.
And the Duke even has his own take on Charles’s famous “whatever love is” line.
Women are depicted as clothes horses and broodmares. Their importance and standing rely on their ability to produce a male heir.
The Duchess debates the nature of freedom with the leader of the reformist Whigs. She argues it is an absolute, and this is tested when she has to choose between her children and her personal fulfilment.
The Duke appears to have it all but even he is trapped by duty.
The film is beautifully shot. Odeon Merry Hill - adult ticket £6.20.

Canadian blogger cannot be serious

Is it an art project, is it a sophisticated advert, or is it really an attempt to become the world’s fastest swimmer?
A recently-started blog called Chasing Michael Phelps is certainly intriguing.
The writer claims to be Cedric, a 24-year-old volleyball player from Canada.
Inspired by the performances of Phelps at the Olympics, Cedric has decided to dedicate the next four years to training for swimming glory.
On the blog our new hero discusses his training, asks for tips, and posts videos of his progress.
It’s well done – but can it possibly be serious.
Does Cedric really believe he can start from scratch and rival Phelps?
How is he going to support himself?
Are his friends and family on board?
He needs to find an appropriate training regime. In one video he is trying to swim against a fast flowing river.
In the time he takes to set himself up Phelps would have done half a dozen lengths. And viewers wince as Cedric is dashed against the rocks.
These are rubbish training methods. But good pictures. Is Cedric an art student pulling us in to his performance?
The blogger goes into great detail about his equipment – special suit, training videos, and underwater camera.
Maybe it’s an advert.
If Cedric is serious he has bought big-style into the strange modern desire to give up your privacy and live life in a goldfish bowl.
If this is art how do we describe it? Blogtertainment, reality blogging, blog drama?
Perhaps it’s a multi-media novel.
London 2012 would make a good finale.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Everyone's a swimmer baby

Fulwood Leisure Centre is astonishingly busy.
At sixish on weekday evenings the swimming pool resembles a scene from a Where's Wally book.
Preston City Council should run seminars on increasing sports participation. Or maybe they should build more swimming pools.
In the early evening at Fulwood it is impossible to swim a length without a collision or a near miss.
Crowds of people gather in the shallow end – like participants in a union meeting for centre users.
More hang off the wall at the deep end –watching their friends dive and jump into the melee.
Swimmers of all ages, sexes, shapes, speeds, and races pick their way from end to end.
Bandits appear from below and all sides. Occasionally they swim over the top of you.
And – in the middle of it all – a suicidal lunatic starts to swim backstroke.
But, surprisingly, none of this is off-putting.
Most punters do their best to avoid each other with good grace.
And it’s possible to adapt to the conditions.
Don’t pick a line on the floor of the pool and swim up and down it. There’s no chance.
Stay alert. Drift around the obstacles, and straighten up when you can – like a rugby union three quarter.
This workout builds endurance – but also flexibility, as swimmers slalom down the pool, darting through gaps, adapting strokes and inventing new ones.
It’s swimming as a martial art. Unarmed combat in an atmosphere of respect.
An adult swim costs £2.50, lockers take a refundable pound coin, changing is in a unisex area with individual cabins. The leisure centre has a gym, a sports hall, and a licensed bar that serves food.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Sea, sand, spotlights, and a free party

At 8pm when the lights come on it’s a magical moment.
But Blackpool Illuminations isn’t just about bulbs – it’s a celebration of community.
The other people; on the prom, driving by, or in brightly lit trams are part of the show.
Other towns – like Walsall – have illuminations in the park.
But these are the baddest and the best.
Look one way and there’s the cold, brooding northern sea. Turn around and there’s the warmth of the lights, the chip shops, and the children’s smiles.
It’s like a dayglo Dickens.
Everything is normal on the prom. People carry big pink sharks and inflatable aliens – won on the arcades – without a second glance.
The downside is the gradually developing drunkenness. The hens add to the spectacle in their sparkly deely-boppers. But the stags are more intimidation than illumination.
So it’s a sensible move to put all the kids’ displays – Noddy, Treasure Island, haunted houses and the like – half way to Fleetwood and away from all the karaoke bars.
This year there’s an interactive Warholean touch – with some lights made out of pictures of ordinary folk
The illuminations include more than a million lamps, more than 500 floodlights, and spotlights that stretch nearly six miles.
And it’s all free – though there is a non-pushy collection if you want to donate towards the cost.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Babylon AD - a good night out

Maybe Vin Diesel's acting would be taken more seriously if his name didn't sound like a cleaning product.
It's a shame because in this film he more than competently pulls-off the role of a merciless, combat-numbed killer with a hidden heart of gold.
His mission is to escort a virgin who knows everything across an apocalyptic continent. With the help of a ninja nun.
If you enter the cinema with appropriate expectations you can’t fail to be entertained.
Director Mathieu Kassovitz is best known for the critically acclaimed French social commentary La Haine.
And Babylon AD has plenty of observations on the world’s frightening future.
Advertising is everywhere, and the multi-screen multimedia living room console can’t be turned off.
Religions are competing with each other for business and will do anything to win converts.
In post-Soviet eastern Europe ruthless gangsters rule and life and death are entertainment.
Even Canada shoots illegal immigrants on site.
And Mark Strong has hair.
It’s an action movie that can start a conversation.
Odeon Printworks, Manchester - adults £7.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Mixing blogs and politics

Political blogging is a worldwide phenomenon.
Does it mean democratic participation is on the up?
Or are anorak activists just talking to themselves?
Dave’s Part is one of the most influential blogs on the British left. It takes its name from a fictional character in the satirical magazine Private Eye and is written by professional journalist David Osler.
Recently Dave asked for comments about the blog.
It’s All Culture sought out opinions from two perspectives:

A male Labour Party member and trade union activist says:
I check Dave’s Part most days. I love it when I find there’s a new post.
Dave is a bit too pessimistic – but his analysis is usually spot on and remarkably well-informed.
I like the variety of comments – though it can descend into sniping from rival branches of the Judean People’s Front.
It’s a clever blog but not scared to include jokes and jibes.
And as a left-Labour syndicalist it re-inforces my opinions – which is always nice.
My one criticism is that there aren’t enough calls to participate or links to campaigns and events.
But I guess other blogs do that.

A female non-activist trade union member, reading Dave’s Part for the first time says:
The blog is written by someone who, I suspect, has been sitting alone in their room reading political pamphlets and texts for far too long. All this, without taking a moment to lift their political snout up from their work and take a long, hard, and realistic look out of the window and study life outside.
At the moment I am concerned by the huge gas bills which come through the letterbox. An increase of 26% eats into a budget. When I’m in the supermarket I am always amazed at how much a loaf has gone up in a week – how much everything has gone up. I won’t mention petrol.
My point is that I can’t see how showing off you are an expert on Galbraith or Keynes can be of much practical use to the common man.
I’m not inspired.

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Top Lebanese food in Manchester

The Bawadi Café, just a couple of minutes walk down Cheetham Hill Road from the MEN Arena, is one of Manchester’s hidden culinary gems.
It serves Lebanese and Mediterranean delights in a pleasant contemporary wood-panelled environment.
Hot and cold starters in decent portions are good for sharing.
The humus (£3.80) is particularly tasty – creamy, not too bitter or too sweet, and served with warm flat bread.
The falafel (£3.80) is a little dry but accompanied by a minty dip and salad.
Old-fashioned iceberg makes a delightful change from the plate of weeds served up in most restaurants as lettuce.
Main courses come with rice and a spicy tomato-based sauce.
The cubed chicken (£7.95) is extraordinary. Tender and flavoursome it really does melt in your mouth.
Za’atar is the secret ingredient.
The mixed grill (£9.50) features the remarkable cubed chicken, well-done lamb chops, and lamb kebab.
The Bawadi is not licensed – but there is an off-license less than 50 yards away.
From next week it will open at lunchtime as well as in the evening – but with a different menu.
The only bad thing is that they take ages to greet customers on entry. It’s annoying – but worth the wait.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Mamma Mia - how can you resist it?

When serious actors with serious reputations sing Abba songs on a beach they deserve the benefit of the doubt.
If serious film watchers get seriously shirty about a former James Bond's vocal range they deserve nothing but contempt.
Mamma Mia is a magnificent romp. Silly story, great songs, beautiful scenery, and a happy ending.
If any of that puts you off don't go. Stay at home and amuse yourself with your intellectual wit.
Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Julie Walters and the enthusiastic cast hit exactly the right note throughout.
A joy from start to finish.
Odeon Merry Hill - adults £6.20.

California uber alles

The coast road which winds from misty San Francisco is one of the most spectacular drives that you could possibly make. The scenery is wild and rugged and certainly dramatic.
It can change within seconds. One minute you are in the highlands of Scotland and then in a few moments the sea is azure blue and purple.
This is due to what the Americans call the marine layer, a blip in the bay weather conditions which can render it nippy to say the least. It catches most people out. Take a jumper.
Plan the drive to Monterey - home of the renowned jazz festival – to include many stops to catch the breathtaking views.
Monterey itself is a white clapperboard town, with a marina full of fishing boats and a bucket full of history. It is also renowned for a world class fun-and-interactive aquarium which does much to promote environmental issues.
From there, on to Paso Robles - a town away from the coast and in the heart of cattle country. This really felt like being an extra in a western. How the early settlers battled to scratch out a living is hard to appreciate.
One who succeeded more than most was William Hearst, the media mogul who built the grand and so ostentatious Hearst Castle. One visit was really not enough. It was a beautiful monstrosity.
The long drive further inland along the never ending straight interstates which led to Yosemite was worth the nine-hour journey. Ansel Adams’ famous black and white photographs captured some of the power and delicate beauty of Yosemite but the stature of el Capitan, the power of Bridal veil Falls, the colour of the wildflower meadows and the sequoias take the breath away. It’s a must see.
Fifteen nights in California – flights, car hire, and hotels - £1,500 per person with Virgin.

Shakespeare's day out in Blackpool

Blackpool prom's a stage,
And all the hens and stags are merely players;
They have their hotels and their B and Bs;
And one man in his time drinks many pints,
His limit being closing time. Just like the infant,
Mewling and puking in the best man’s arms.
And the whining school-boy, with his bucket,
Spade, and weather beaten face, dragged from beach
Unwillingly to bed. And then the lover,
Drunk with Guinness, buys a new tattoo to
Match his partner’s pierced eyebrow. Squaddies,
Full of oaths, and bearded like the Taliban,
Guard drinks and girls, swift and quick in quarrel,
Look for trouble and a reputation
Even in the p’liceman’s face. The pregnant teen,
In fair round belly. Primark crop top lin'd,
With eyes severe and hair of Spice Girl cut,
Full of cold sores and modern e-numbers;
And so they play their part. The sixth pint spills
Onto the floor and soiled pantaloons.
With spectacles askew, throws up outside;
His youthful hopes, to cross, a road too wide
For his drunk shanks; and his big manly voice,
Turns back to order treble vodka, pies,
And whiskies in his round. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Go home by coach to mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.