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.

Image credit: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-1027216/Loving-Alien-Never-seen-pictures-David-Bowie.html
Image credit: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-1027216/Loving-Alien-Never-seen-pictures-David-Bowie.html

Hello 2016

Yesterday was my birthday. One consequence of having a birthday relatively early in January is that it tends to merge in with Christmas and the New Year celebrations. Now it’s over, it’s time to face the reality of a new year and all that it entails.

Last week was quiet at work, and I managed to catch up with marking etc that wasn’t finished before Christmas. The next two weeks are exam weeks at Keele, and I will have three papers to mark. Then teaching kicks off again on 25 January with my X-ray diffraction lectures, amazingly in their third year of being delivered.

Apart from that, it will be a restrained start to 2016. I have no conferences or meetings planned for some time, although I have to submit abstracts for a conference in July by the end of the month.

In terms of music, two of my orchestras are doing programmes that don’t need trombones. That leaves the Keele Orchestra, and I will be rehearsing with them in a few weeks time.

I’ll no doubt post an update in a few weeks once things are properly under way.

Review of ‘Prelude to Dystopia’ by John Lyman

This is the sixth book by John Lyman that I have read. His earlier books include four in the ‘God’s Lions’ series (The Secret Chapel, The Dark Ruin, House of Acerbi and Realm of Evil), and ‘The Deep Green’. I have enjoyed all these books and recommend them. ‘God’s Lions: The Secret Chapel’ is also being made into a film in 2016.

‘Prelude to Dystopia’ describes how a young writer/reporter, Ben Swain, is assigned to interview a leading expert on cyber terrorism, who turns out to be far more than that. In fact he represents an organisation concerned with pollution of the planet Earth (the 2050 Group), and he is a US Army General as well. He persuades Ben to sign a non-disclosure agreement and arranges to meet him again. Ben learns more about the concerns of the group that the General belongs to, and decides to try to find out more about him and the organisation he works for. His efforts to do this lead to him going on the run, accompanied by his agent’s assistant, Emily. He eventually tracks down the General and learns what the 2050 group’s aims really are. He has to make an important decision: whether to join them or not? The book describes the consequences of his decision, and what happens to the planet as a result of the 2050 Group’s actions.

I read this book in a few days and found it hard to put down. It is both exciting and spine chillingly predictive in its discussion of what might happen to our planet if the use of fossil fuels continues unchecked. Also, reading it shortly after the UN Conference on Climate Change had taken place meant that the ideas discussed in the book were very much in my mind. In short, I recommend it, and gave it 5 stars on Amazon and GoodReads.

Books and authors in 2015

2015 has been something of a record year for reading for me. I’ve completed 40 books; mainly of the fiction genre, but I’ve included 1 non-fiction book at the end of the list. My discovery of 2015 was Patrick Gale, thanks to a magazine that my wife Angela purchased to read on a train journey to London in April. It had an article on his latest book, A Place Called Winter, and once I had read that I was addicted, as you can see from the list below! Another author I discovered was Sibel Hodge, who appears three times. I enjoyed Robert Goddards’s Wide World trilogy, which I saw advertised at the NEC on a visit there. John Lyman features twice on the list, as does James Craig and Sophie McKenzie. I was saddened by the death of Ruth Rendell, and two of her books appear on the list, including her very last book, Dark Corners, as well as The Chimney Sweeper’s Boy, an earlier book published under her alternative name, Barbara Vine. I also enjoyed Val McDermid’s latest Tony Hill/Carol Jordan book, Splinter the Silence, which ended on a positive note (but which as Val commented in a response to my Tweet, won’t last!).

Here’s a list of the books I have read:

The Templar Cross – Paul Christopher
Runaway – Peter May
Sins of the Fathers – James Craig
The Stand – Stephen King
The Deep Green – John Lyman
Black Wood – S J I Holliday
A Place Called Winter – Patrick Gale
Time of Death – Mark Billingham
You are Dead – Peter James
Rough Music – Patrick Gale
Notes from an Exhibition – Patrick Gale
A Perfectly Good Man – Patrick Gale
Friendly Fire – Patrick Gale
A Sweet Obscurity – Patrick Gale
The Whole Day Through – Patrick Gale
The Chimney Sweeper’s Boy – Barbara Vine
The Murder Road – Stephen Booth
The Ways of the World – Robert Goddard
The Corners of the Globe – Robert Goddard
The Ends of the Earth – Robert Goddard
The Madagaskar Plan – Guy Saville
Nobody’s Hero – James Craig
The Bordeaux Connection – John Paul Davis
The Good Girl – Fiona Neill
Solomon Creed – Simon Toyne
Here we Lie – Sophie McKenzie
The Outsider – My Life in Intrigue – Frederick Forsyth
The House on Cold Hill – Peter James
Social Engineer – Ian Sutherland
Dark Corners – Ruth Rendell
Invasion of Privacy – Ian Sutherland
Where the Memories Lie – Sibel Hodge
Look behind You – Sibel Hodge
Even Dogs in the Wild – Ian Rankin
Trust in Me – Sophie McKenzie
Splinter the Silence – Val McDermid
The See-through Leopard – Sibel Hodge
Prelude to Dystopia – John Lyman
Sunfail – Steven Savile

Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need To Know About The World – Tim Marshall

All in all, it was a great reading year. Let’s see if I can beat it next year!

Chemistry, Academia, Travel, Technology, Politics and Music

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