LibDem Spring Conference 2016: reflections

This was not just my first LibDem conference, but my first political conference. Hence I approached it with some anticipation and some nerves, if I’m honest! It was held in York, and I hadn’t been there for a few years, so I looked forward to renewing my acquaintance with a lovely city which had suffered badly in flooding earlier this year.

I stayed in the Hilton Hotel, partly because the fringe session I was helping to run was to be held there, but also because of getting a good rate by advance booking. It was as comfortable as expected, and located 10 minutes or so from the York Barbican, where the main sessions were to be held.

My feelings on arrival at the conference on the Friday night for the opening events can be summed up by confusion and being somewhat lost. I knew no-one, and at that point I hadn’t even met my session co-organiser! So I waited, had a glass of questionable white wine in the welcome reception, and eventually got a text from my session co-organiser to say he had arrived and was leafletting for our event outside. So I went outside and joined him, and was handing out leaflets within an hour of arrival! A baptism of fire, but I was glad to be doing something useful. There was plenty of interest in our event, which was a good sign.

When the time came for the Opening Rally, I went back into the convention centre and took my seat. It was good to hear Catherine Bearder speak on the INtogether campaign, and to hear Tim Farron’s passionate speech. I was less impressed by the inclusion of a junior hospital doctor who had just joined the party. OK, she made a good speech, championing her cause, but I did feel as if it was slightly a case of the LibDems jumping on the band wagon here. But overall the rally was a good way to get the conference ‘warmed up’, and I left on a positive note.

The following morning, Saturday, I made an early start to get to the convention centre to do more leafletting for our event, due to be held at lunchtime. I tweeted that there was some irony in that my fellow ‘leafleteers’ were from Friends of the Earth (anti-fracking), and Republic! (See

However we continued to get plenty of interest in our event, and when we stopped at about 11:00, we felt that we had certainly publicised the event as much as we could. After a much-needed coffee, it was time to go to the Hilton to set up for our event. The room we had been allocated was small and cosy, but we felt that a small full room would be preferable to a larger one with spaces!

Our event went well. After an introduction from Julie Smith, Roger Liddle started proceedings. He is a Labour Lord, but originally an SDP member. He was followed by Vince Cable, who has in his time been a Labour, SDP and Liberal Democrat member, and held an influential ministerial role in the coalition government of 2010-2015. I won’t attempt to discuss the content of their speeches, but they both talked about what was necessary for the centre-left to regain influence, and their talks were both interesting and inspiring. You can hear them both here.

Following our event, we had our first Social Democrat Group committee meeting, which was useful, mainly to meet people and find out their views of what the group should do in future.

After a brief trip to the Exhibition, which was busy and rather cramped, I returned to the hotel, and in the evening visited some interesting hostelries in York City Centre (as mentioned on Twitter and Facebook at the time).

On Sunday morning after breakfast I had a final trip to the York Barbican, and then headed back to the station and home. It had been an interesting experience, and probably certainly not my last LibDem party conference!

Mame recollections: Jan-Feb 2016

Playing in Mame was such an extraordinary experience, for so many reasons, that I decided to write a blog post about it.

I hadn’t played for Stephen Hearson in one of his shows for many years. I thought it was 20 (maybe it was 15) but it was certainly a long time. He had asked me a few times in the intervening years, but I was never able to commit to the time required.

On 20th January in the morning I received a FB message from Stephen asking me if I could play in his forthcoming production of Mame at the Stoke Repertory Theatre. I was immediately tempted because my recent orchestral playing had been unfulfilling, and both my regular orchestras didn’t need me for their spring concerts. And, wonder of wonders, I was free for all the dates! So I agreed, and arranged to collect the music on 25 January.

I was seriously out of practice, so I immediately started a regime, with mouthpiece buzzing, long notes, scales and, eventually, looking at the music itself. I was able to practise using my Silent Brass system (which developed a fault towards the start of the shows, but that’s another story). By the time of the first band call, on the Thursday before the show started (18th February), I was in reasonable shape, playing wise. But the music was hard and the first trombone part very high! So at the band call I alternated between the first and third parts, and since there seemed to be a need for more bass, in the performances I mainly played the third part. The real challenge was playing loud enough for a section of 3. However even if other players had been available, they wouldn’t have fitted into the pit! I must also pay tribute to our conductor, Joe Hearson, who did a fantastic job, not helped by not having a full score to conduct from.

But how do you survive a normal week of work, with a show every evening? It was gruelling to say the least. Fortunately the weather held, so my drives to the theatre (a bit further than Stoke station/Staffordshire University, 6 miles or so each way) were relatively easy, although as the week went by I found myself getting there earlier each day! The show started at 7:15 pm and finished at 10:15 pm, and I was getting home at about 10:45 pm most days. I can’t eat much before playing, so I would typically have a protein bar before the show, a coke zero or diet coke in the interval, and a late dinner when I got home. This seemed to work well, and I’m very grateful to Angela for coping admirable with my strange eating schedule!

On the Saturday of the week the shows were running (23-27 February), we did a matinee as well as an evening show. For a physically demanding instrument like the trombone, that was quite an ordeal. But I got through it somehow.

Playing in Mame had the effect of getting me back into regular playing, and also thanks to someone who was at one of the performances, I was asked to join the North Staffs Symphony Orchestra, which I’ve been trying to join for nearly 30 years!

Contrasting political experiences

Since joining the LibDems in July 2015, I’ve got involved in two distinct but very contrasting activities.

One activity I’ve posted quite a lot about is my helping to set up the Social Democrat Group, with George Kendall. This is really beginning to develop some momentum (a rather politically loaded word at the moment!), with a fringe meeting scheduled at the Spring Conference which has the possibility of some high-level speakers (although none are confirmed yet).

The second activity is my post as Social Media Officer for my local party in Newcastle, Staffs. This is exposing me to local politics, which is something new to me. In my Labour years I concentrated on national politics but took little notice of the local scene. That has all changed now, with the local council having to make difficult decisions, and local elections only three months away. I have a steep learning curve to climb. With the local print media and radio ignoring us, making an impact on Social Media is very important. Probably the most challenging part of the job is accessing the information in the first place! But our Twitter and Facebook followers are steadily increasing, so hopefully I’m doing something right!

January 2016

OK, that’s not a very imaginative title, but although it’s hard to believe, we are almost at the end of the first month of 2016. Time perhaps to reflect on what has been achieved (or not) so far this year!

As far as my work is concerned, we had two weeks of exams starting 11 January, and our second semester is now a week old. I’ve taught nearly half of my X-ray diffraction course and got my projects up and running again. Next week sees the conclusion of the XRD lectures, final year project presentations and, for good measure, an MPhil viva!

Musical activities didn’t look promising at the start of the year , with two of my orchestras not requiring heavy brass, but then my old friend Stephen Hearson asked me to play for him in his forthcoming production of Mame. I’m really excited about that; it will be challenging but a lot of fun.

Politics has been up and down. I’m going to the LibDem spring conference, where the Social Democrat Group is organising a meeting, which will be our first. Locally things don’t look good for the LibDems, following a controversial and (in my opinion) misguided vote in favour of selling the Keele golf course. It won’t endear us to local voters, and pretty much ends our chances of regaining a council seat in May.

Today I’m at the Odeon Cinema in Festival Park, Hanley, to see The Fifth Wave. We are regarding this as a belated birthday film for me, and I’m hoping it will be good!

Waxing lyrical (or not)

I’ve been going through a deaf period for some months now. I know what the problem is, a build up of wax in both ears that is not responsive to ear drops. My local health centre are unwilling to syringe ears unless they are convinced that every other option has been tried. However finally they are on the case, and after three visits one ear is clear. So currently I have perfect hearing on one side, and am semi-deaf on the other. Hopefully my next appointment will resolve this! In the meantime I’m audiologically one-sided:-)

RIP David Bowie (1947-2016)

(This is a slightly longer version of the tribute I put on Facebook earlier this morning.)

Today is a sad day. I was 12 when David Bowie released the album containing my favourite Bowie track, Space Oddity, in 1969. I had a very conservative, classical musical upbringing (the Beatles were tolerated at home, but not much else!) Bowie’s music had an immediate impact, even on the mind of an immature pre-teen! Since then, his music has always been somewhere in my conscience, and although it is a cliche, I can truly say Bowie’s music has been part of the soundtrack of my life. RIP friend, and thanks for your amazing and innovative music.

I will also add that David (born David Robert Jones) was almost exactly 10 years older than me, being born on 8 January 1947. He died 2 days after his 69th birthday.  I have many favourite Bowie tracks, but the one I put on Facebook was Space Oddity, which remember playing that in a School Assembly, probably around 1974.

It is a sad day indeed.

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