Wednesday, 5 December 2018

90% of growth is outside the EU

It's a quote that Brexiters are fond of repeating. That most GDP growth is outside of the EU. And of course they are right, some countries are growing faster that EU members, but as with all statistics the devil is in the detail.

Ethiopia 🇪🇹
The worlds fastest growing economy is Ethiopia. Over the last decade it has seen GDP growth of circa 8% per annum. This is to be welcomed, but it does not make it a rich country

If Ethiopia became part of the EU, it would be the largest member state, both physically (4 times the size of the UK) and by population (102m). It would also be the poorest. Its per capita GDP is less than 3% that of Ireland's.

So who should we trade with, Ethiopia or Ireland? The answer is of course both. But do we?

China is of course Ethiopia's largest trading partner, as they are leading foreign investment into the country. But if we look at the top 20 exporters into Ethiopia we see 7 EU members - Italy, Sweden, Germany, France, Belgium, the UK and the Netherlands in that order. EU membership obviously doesn't stop us trading with Ethiopia, nor does it stop Italy doing so by 3 times as much as we do. And of course the EU and Ethiopia trade under the auspices of an EBA (Everything But Arms) agreement which gives Ethiopia duty and quota free access to European markets.

By contrast our exports to Ireland (£34bn) are massive compared to Ethiopia (£200m).  Indeed Ireland imports 10 times as much from the UK than Ethiopia does from the entire world. So while there is plenty of opportunity to increase trade with the latter, only a fool would risk our trade with the former in order to do so. Unfortunately in the shape of Rees-Mogg, Johnson, Fox, Farage etc one thing we are not short of is fools.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Liverpool Cruise Terminal - 2018 Album

Another busy year has come to an end at Liverpool Cruise Terminal, which saw 57 ships calling during the season, bringing over 100,000 passengers and crew to the city. 

Included in this year's schedule were five ships - AidaAura, Berlin, Ocean Dream, Seabourn Ovation and Viking Sun - sailing into the Mersey for the first time.

This selection of just some of our beautiful visitors starts in May with the morning arrival of the German ship AidaVita
Aida Cruises "AidaVita" 20th May

AidaVita guests setting off on a cycling excursion around the city

The following week it was a step back in time to the days of sail, for the Tall Ships Regatta
Tall Ships in the Mersey 27th May

on board "Belem"

From sail to one of the most modern, and largest, ships in the cruising fleet, Princess Cruises, "Royal Princess" on the first of her four visits in 2018.
Cruise Ambassador Frank offers guidance to our visitors on board Royal Princess

Liverpool Waterfront from Deck 17, Royal Princess

on board Royal Princess

Celebrity Cruises "Celebrity Eclipse" 13th June

CMV's "Magellan" 1st July

our Stevedores securing Magellan alongside the berth

"Prinsendam" arrived on 8th July on what will be her final call under the Holland America Cruises flag, she has now been sold to Phoenix Reisen, although I'm sure she'll return in her new colours as "Amera" since Phoenix are regular visitors.

Prinsendam 8th July

Princess Cruises "Royal Princess" was back on the Mersey on 28th July, at the same time as the returning Clipper Round the World Yacht Race.  Swinging a 142,000 tonne, 330m long ship in the fast flowing Mersey amid a yacht race is just one of the challenges faced by our highly skilled river pilots, and of course successfully completed without so much as a ripple on the coffee cups of her breakfasting passengers.
Princess Cruises "Royal Princess"

After a day in the city, Royal Princess departs for Dublin

Oceania Cruises "Marina" visited on 4th August

One of our Pilot Launches, the "Razorbill" heads off for another assignment

Hapag-Lloyd Cruises "Europa" one of the most luxurious ships at sea visited on 18th August.  Europa was built in 1999 and for twelve years in a row was awarded the title "best cruise ship in the world" by the Berlitz Guide to Cruising & Cruise Ships
Hapag-Lloyd's "Europa"

Hapag Lloyd's "Europa"
One of our maiden callers to Liverpool in 2018 was Viking Ocean Cruises "Viking Sun"
"Viking Sun" 19th August

"Viking Sun" 19th August

Aida Cruises "AidaAura" 2nd September

Earlier, I mentioned that Hapag-Lloyd's "Europa" was "best cruise ship in the world" for 12 years, she eventually lost that crown to her younger fleetmate, the equally luxurious, albeit more relaxed and casual ship "Europa 2" which called at Liverpool on 9th September
Hapag-Lloyd's "Europa 2"

Hapag-Lloyd's "Europa 2"

Another Maiden caller this year was Seabourn Cruises "Seabourn Ovation" on her first year in service.  She called at Liverpool on 19th September
"Seabourn Ovation"

An unusual visitor on 16th October was "Ocean Dream".  She operates for the Japanese organisation Peace Boat, a non-profit organisation which works to promote peace, human rights, equal and sustainable development and respect for the environment.
"Ocean Dream"

The 2018 season closed on 10th November with the departure of Fred Olsen Cruise Lines "Black Watch".  She not only opened the season back in April, but was our most frequent visitor with 17 calls during the year.

I hope you've enjoyed this brief look at the some of the ships that graced the Mersey this year.  2019 is expected to be the busiest year yet for the Cruise Terminal, with 82 ships scheduled including 12 maiden calls including Costa Mediterranea, Celebrity Reflection, Viking Jupiter, AidaBella, Norwegian Spirit, Spirit of Discovery and Mein Schiff 5.  Plus construction work will begin on the new terminal and hotel. Busy, busy, busy!

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Pokerstars Rally 2018

One word can sum up this year's PokerStars Rally - WET!

Thankfully the Irish Sea gods were kind to me as the 02:15 sailing on the Ben My Chree from Heysham on Thursday morning was quite comfortable, although I think I'm getting too old for these through the night sailings, I was shattered for the entire day afterwards. Anyway, down to the Grandstand on Thursday evening to pick up my Manx radio kit and document pack, by this time the forecast rain had arrived and heading back north over the mountain was a tad wild, I would have said horrendous, but that adjective will be needed for another paragraph.

I already knew that I was rostered to do start line radio for Stages 1 & 4 on Friday night, and for three runs of Orrisdale, Stages 9, 12 & 15 on Saturday. But my plans to go and watch the Friday lunchtime Shakedown were scuppered as I was needed for Stop line radio duty on that too.

Friday - Shakedown 

A familiar Stop line position behind the Creg Ny Baa pub with a view over Douglas Bay, and it was clear to see why the morning ferry had been cancelled, it also allowed me to see the rain clouds rapidly approaching. Nothing really to note, everyone who had signed up for Shakedown got their laps in, and no dramas, those who left it late had some very wet roads to contend with, good practice for later in the day.  A few mechanics, friends and family turned out to watch and get feedback from the drivers and I had a quick chat with Jason Pritchard, who was having a weekend out of the driving seat as his dad was piloting the NRG sponsored Focus WRC for this event.

Friday - SS1 & SS4  - Little London
With the weather forecast looking foul for the evening, it was off to the Druidale Road above Ballaugh for the opening stage. Its a great position for the Start Line with a spacious gravel bed to accommodate everyone who needs to be there. I've done mid point and Finish on this stage before but not Start, so as it turned out I was the only radio car to see the entire entry list roll up. 

I was asked by the Clerk of the Course, via Bill Wilmer in Radio Control to issue an official instruction concerning standing water on the lower end of the stage, and knowing that bit of road I knew it would be flooding. The gravel bed where we parked was rapidly turning into a flowing river too.
Safety calls started coming in from Terry Holmes (Manx 10) as reports of cars being stranded, but thankfully crews OK, reached him on the Finish Line 


I can now use the term horrendous, and it was, our timekeepers were having a miserable evening as they were battered by torrential rain and gale force wind at our exposed spot at Druidale so it was with some relief that they greeted the news that the 3 evening stages would only be run once, as the second run through to form Stages 4, 5 & 6 had been wisely cancelled.

As the back markers headed into the darkness it was time for our recovery team to get to work extracting a sizable number of stricken cars from ditches and verges. I stayed at the Start until my sister who was on Post 4 made it safely back down the stage and we headed home in convoy to Ramsey. I've never seen the main TT course so flooded, areas of it were completely under water, indeed the corner at Ginger Hall had become a flowing ford.

Saturday - SS9, SS12, SS15 - Orrisdale
Waking up to blue skies the next morning was a welcome sight, although the debris in the garden and on the roads was evidence of the wild night the island had slept through. 

Most of the flooding had receded as I made my way towards Kirkmichael and the Start Line of the 3 runs of the Orrisdale stage. Two handy driveways either side of the Start gave good accommodation to myself and the Rescue and Recovery vehicles, this stage was being run by the experienced Buccaneer Motor Club team, and my good friends Karen Spencer and Jon Binns were out in stage replacing stage signage that had succumbed to the overnight storm, but they were back in position ready for Stage 9 to begin and I was asked by Bill to remind them that we were running on 30 second starts, an instruction which was to prove aspirational at times. 


Listening to the radio traffic on the other stages, I heard the unwelcome call to "stop the stage" from Stage 8 (Dog Mills) as the rescue team headed off to an incident. Cars that hadn't started that stage were redirected straight to us at, although with the inevitable delay in getting cars to us using alternative instructions we had a 13 minute gap without any cars, this gap has to be monitored as if it goes past the 20 minute mark, then safety cars have to be put back through the stage before competitors are allowed their run through. However we got all the remaining cars through and away to their first service break.
David Mylchreest's beautiful MG

With the emergency services still dealing with the aftermath of the incident on Stage 8, it was decided that the second running of that stage (SS11) would be cancelled, so once cars had tackled Stage 10 (The Lhen) they would be coming straight to us Orrisdale, now running as Stage 12. By now the rain had also returned, although thankfully without the gales this time. Stage 10 duly recorded the only "same number out as they put in" of the entire event, and apart from a couple of mechanical retirements our stage also ran smoothly. Competing cars then headed to Jurby for their second service interval, and we tucked into our lunch bags kindly provided by Manx Auto Sport.

So with service completed it was time for the final set of stages of this year's PokerStars Rally, The Lhen now running as Stage 13, and Orrisdale as Stage 15 (Dog Mills was still out of action so Stage 14 was unfortunately cancelled). 

We hadn't been running for long when I heard another unwelcome "stop" call from Stage 13, with the accompanying dispatch of the rescue cavalry to assist. Remaining cars were instructed to bypass that stage and head to us. 
Car 42, after an altercation with the scenery

With a eye on the time, and wanting to ensure we didn't get a long gap in our stage, we lengthened the start interval to 2 minutes, then 3, then 5 as we desperately looked to our arrivals area for sight of the diverted cars. We had just one driver awaiting his final start of the day when suddenly the lane started to fill up with the welcome sight and sound of rally prepped cars. At last we could go back to 30 second starts. The Buccaneer team ran the timing post, like, well like clockwork, as my control sheet filled up rapidly. The next half hour flew by until there in front of me was the Saab, number 104, the sweeper. 

And that was that, goodbye hugs all round on the start line, and it was my turn to head to Jurby to return my borrowed equipment. Alas the champagne had been sprayed and applause duly given by the time I got there, so I headed home for tea.

Sunday - Ferry home
With the 8am ferry to Birkenhead beckoning, it was an early wake up and a still dark drive over the mountain to Douglas. The wild weather hadn't quite finished with me though, as I got to the Verandah the fog descended, then rain started as I cleared the Bungalow, by the time I got to Kepple Gate I was driving through hailstone, this persisted until Hillberry when it turned back to rain.  I was pleased to see a relatively calm sea though as I joined to queue to check in at the sea terminal and was soon back onboard the Ben My Chree and sailing away from the island for the last time this year. As we reached Liverpool Bay, the clouds cleared and we had welcome sunshine for the rest of the crossing and our arrival into a busy River Mersey.
Liverpool Skyline from Ben My Chree as we arrived at Birkenhead

Thanks to all fellow radio operators, timekeepers and marshals. To the officials and organisers. And of course to the Drivers and Navigators. That's my marshalling finished for 2018. After 35 days spent in orange this year, including the Isle of Man TT, Manx Grand Prix, Wales Rally GB, not to mention some 2,000 cars lined up on the start of Liverpool Motor Club's Aintree Sprints, I think it's time for a little holiday, so my next blog will be aboard the good ship Columbus on a short cruise to the Netherlands and Germany next month

Monday, 15 October 2018

Wales Rally GB 2018



Although I've marshalled on Wales Rally GB before, a very low slung sports car confined me to the Service Park and ceremonial finish, so now with a 4x4 and a bit of ground clearance I was able to venture into the forest stages on radio duty. 

Friday
After finding my accommodation on Thursday afternoon, a converted loft in Penmachno, it was an early night ready for a 4am departure to head up onto the Denbigh Moors to SS3/8 Brenig. 

I was warned at sign in that there were some very slippy stretches en-route to my post, but it wasn’t too bad and an interesting mixture of surfaces around the stage, one minute driving on rock, then through mud, then smooth concrete.  I arrived at Post 19, still in dark and parked up quietly so as not to wake the marshals who were still sleeping in their car having arrived the night before.  Steve and Tim from Birmingham were good company through the day, the only things they had to deal with were reattaching direction arrows. 

We had a few spectators all friendly and playing by the rules.  I initially parked just behind the box junction, but once Neuville blasted though and showered by car with mud, and some stones landed alarmingly close I decided to reverse a bit further back to attain some protection from the bushes, although that made identification a bit tricky on the second run as mud was obscuring the numbers and I had a narrower field of vision to try and see them, so my checklist had a few question marks on it. 

The drive out of stage was in daylight and thankfully I picked up less mud on the way out then I had on the way in, with the WRC guys having sent most of it into the trees.

Saturday
Day 2 was a comparative lie in with a 6am departure for the drive south to Dyfnant.  The day dawned as I made my way down towards Dolgellau, and with light traffic a most pleasant drive through the heart of Wales on very good roads. 

The stage start on SS14 was a long way from the main road but eventually I arrived at the control point to be met my another marshal who was interested to have a look at my Subaru XV (think I should get a sales commission from Subaru).  Then it was a short drive to my post at 6C, on the entrance to Irish Corner.  We had a quite a few marshals at this point as it was a good spectator area. 

A good run through for both the WRC and National crews, we had one car go AWOL just after our post but he was soon located and found to be OK, well the crew were, the car had a broken suspension.  The only other incident to report was that I needed to apply sun cream to my neck, yes sun cream, on WRGB!

A good drive back north with the late afternoon sun making some dramatic lighting to the mountains as I got towards Blaenau Ffestiniog, I diverted into Betws-y-Coed for some hot food, then it was back to my loft to pack away ready for another early start.

Sunday
Leaving Penmachno at 4am, and having used sun cream the day before, it was now time to get the de-icer out to clear the windscreen before I could leave.  No traffic to speak of but as I approached Llanrwst I had a feeling our friends in blue would be out so made sure I was keeping to the speed limits.  Sure enough about half a mile into a 40 limit there was one of North Wales Constabulary checking my, of course lawful, progress.

Into Llandudno and eventually found the road leading to the Great Orme and checked in with the Buccaneer Crew who were running SS21/23.  It was still pitch dark, but a wrong direction drive around the Orme was exciting, before coming out onto the roads in Llandudno town which had been transformed, it was actually quite tricky to drive around as you were driving “wrong direction” so although the signage had been altered, your natural instincts to enter a roundabout and go left had to be fought against. 

I found my post at the Gloddaeth St roundabout, or Dayinsure Donut as the sponsors wanted it referred to, and I was met with a sea of very familiar faces, it was the Manx Auto Sport team who I‘ve worked with for a few years now on the Manx National and Pokerstars Rallies.  We sorted out a few issues at our post, some additional crowd control barriers were needed and as dawn broke the spectators started to arrive.  By the time safety cars started to come around we had a full grandstand and crowds 4 or 5 deep the full length of the road. 

The WRC drivers where obviously still battling for a podium position so there was some committed driving around the “donut”, it took about an hour and a half to get the field through the stage and then we had a gap to visit the loo and have some lunch, before Paul Swift entered the stage in his stunt cars to keep everyone entertained, and the Everything Supermoto UK Display team lads went down to the jump and flying finish to show off their skills. 

Unfortunately two of the bikes had a collision which left 7 year old Riley Dexter in a very bad way and needing to be airlifted to hospital in Liverpool, his team mates looked very shaken as they made their way back to the van behind me, but I heard from the team manager that Riley had made it to hospital and was “awake”, the news the following day was that he was in an induced coma to enable his injuries to be treated, so fingers crossed that he makes a full recovery.

The incident led to a delay starting SS23 and the atmosphere certainly took a hit.  But we kept our spectators informed as best we could and full marks go to the local Rally Makers who were doing a fantastic job keeping the crowd animated and in cheering spirit.

Due to the police needing to keep the flying finish and stop area as an investigation scene, the Buccaneer crew did a sterling effort to reconfigure the stage so the flying finish was moved to immediately after the donut, and signage repositioned accordingly.  As time ticked on the decision was made to just send the top 14 drivers through the shortened stage and everyone else headed back to Deeside, so at 2pm the WRC crews entered the stage and gave the waiting spectators a spectacular end to the rally with a double fling around the roundabout before launching themselves across the flying finish.

With La Marseillaise ringing out across the streets to celebrate Seb Ogier winning WRGB for the 5th time, the crowds started to head home and I decided to give the stage team a hand dismantling signage and banners rather than sit in a traffic jam.  Then as the daylight stared to fade it was time to fire Scooby up and head for home.

Thanks Wales Rally GB, you were amazing.  Diolch Rali GB Cymru.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

TT 2018 via Liverpool


Hi, I’m Sean Robertson, Deputy Sector Marshal at Mountain Box (Sector 9) on the TT course, and a volunteer Cruise Ambassador at Liverpool Cruise Terminal.
Every year we welcome thousands of bikers through Liverpool on their way to the greatest road races in the world and I thought it would be good idea to jot down a few notes about Liverpool and the embarkation process to help your journey to the Isle of Man go smoothly and safely.
I’ve written this as a blog, so if you spot any errors, or you’re able to add to any of the points please let me know and I’ll keep this post updated.
Location
The Liverpool terminal is situated at the Pier Head, next to the Royal Liver Building and the Cruise Terminal.  Address is St Nicholas Place, L3 1DL
Access
From M62, M57, M58 follow signs for “Waterfront” not for the docks.  As you approach the tall waterfront buildings the Royal Liver Building is recognisable by the 8m high Liver Birds on top of the towers, head for this building.  The slip road into check-in is between the Liver Building and the Crown Plaza Hotel.
From the M53, go through the Wallasey Tunnel, when leaving the tunnel keep right and follow for the Waterfront - be aware the tunnel exit is a favourite place for the police to do speed checks so keep it to 30.
If coming up the A41 through Cheshire head for the Birkenhead tunnel. Keep in the left hand lane as you enter the tunnel, the tunnel is 2 miles long, but towards the end there is a left turn, when you emerge from the tunnel you’ll be directly opposite the Liver Building.  If you miss the left turn in the tunnel, don’t worry, simply continue to the end and then turn immediately left, this will take you down Dale Street towards the Waterfront.
Tunnel tolls - Bikes are free, there is a  free m/c lane on the left side of the row of toll booths (also on the right side of the Birkenhead Tunnel booths - towards Liverpool only). Cars are £1.80 and you pay in cash at the booths (Wirral side only - both directions) but they are rolling out contactless payment, for now use the “manned booths” to pay by card.
If you’re coming from the M56 and over the Runcorn Bridge, the old bridge is closed until later in the year, the new bridge is open, but is a toll bridge, it is free for motorbikes but if you’re in a car or van you need to pay (£2 for cars), there are no toll booths you need to log onto “Merseyflow” and pay, you have until midnight the day after you cross the bridge, but you can log on and pay in advance and the toll will be taken when you cross.
If you’re coming in on the M62 the speed limit reduces to 50 about a mile from the end (with a very profitable speed camera).
If you’re using the A41 and heading for the Birkenhead Tunnel note the Rock Ferry Bypass now has average speed cameras operating (50 mph)
Security
As with any large city, Liverpool has its share of crime, although statistically, and despite the stereotype, it has one of the lowest levels of vehicle crime of any large UK city.  However if yours is the bike that gets stolen statistics are meaningless. Opportunistic and organised thieves will always help themselves to easy pickings and thousands of bikers who don’t know the area are an all too easy target. Never leave your bike or belongings unattended.
If you need to head off for food or the shops and cannot leave someone looking after your bike put it into one of the nearby manned car parks.  A few pounds is a small price to pay for peace of mind.
These three are open and staffed 24/7.
Liverpool Waters - Princes Dock - along from the Crown Plaza Hotel.
Q Park - Liverpool One - enter/exit via The Strand
Capital Building - enter/exit via Rumford Place behind the Mercure Atlantic Tower Hotel.
Terminal
The passenger terminal is on the floating stage, and marshalling area for bikes/cars has no facilities apart from the check in booth although a fast food van is situated here during TT Fortnight. Merseyside Police often set up shop there too checking datatags for stolen bikes
Foot Passengers
You should head for the grey bridge linking the car check-in area to the floating stage, there is a pedestrian walkway on the left side of the bridge which takes you to the passenger terminal and check in.
Check In (bikes and cars)
Once through the pair of check in booths you’ll be directed round to the holding area, then down the grey bridge onto the floating stage - halfway down the bridge to the stage your boarding pass will be collected so keep it handy - Once on the stage you’ll be parked up in rows to wait your turn to board the ship. Bikes are sorted into “skinny” and “fat”, it’s not a comment on your waist, just whether you’ve got panniers fitted or not. Bikes normally go on first, then foot passengers, with cars put on last.  If you’re on a bike and put onto the mezzanine deck, you’ll be first on but last off as the cars have to be moved from the bow before you can move.
Toilets
In the passenger terminal on the floating stage, or in the hotels over the road - Crown Plaza or Mercure Atlantic Tower. Toilets also in the Museum of Liverpool.  
Food
McDonalds* and KFC* are on the Strand and are 24/7, but if you are here during the day, consider heading to the Baltic Triangle area.  
Thursday to Sunday I recommend the Baltic Market at Cains Brewery on Stanhope Street.
A good place during the day is Brasco Lounge near to Liverpool Museum on the waterfront, just a few minutes’ walk from the terminal. If you want something more substantial head to Liverpool One or Castle Street.
* warning - a couple of bikes were stolen from McDonalds last year - don’t leave your bike unattended here!
Nearest Services and Facilities
Police - St Anne Street L3 3HJ or Admiral Street L8 8JN - Mon to Sat 8am to 10pm, Sun 8am to 5pm
Hospital - A&E - Royal Liverpool, Prescot Street, L7 8XP
Chemist - Boots, Church Street, L1 1DA Mon to Fri 8:30am to 8pm, Sat 8:30am to 7pm, Sun 11am to 5pm
Supermarkets
Tesco - Strand L2 0PP - Daily 6am to 11pm
Tesco - Old Hall Street L3 9RQ - Daily 6am to 11pm (Sainsburys opposite)
Cashpoints - at the above supermarkets or on Castle Street opposite the Town Hall
Hotels - many in the city centre, the nearest are:
Crown Plaza (opposite the terminal)
Mercure Atlantic Tower
Malmaison
Ibis (opposite Albert Dock)
Jury’s Inn (Kings Dock)
Shops - the open air Liverpool One Shopping area with 170+ shops is opposite the Albert Dock and is open 24/7. The shops themselves are open Mon to Fri 9:30am to 8pm; Sat 9am to 7pm; Sun 11am to 5pm
Fuel
Nearest petrol stations are:
Costco - Cardholders only - Waterloo Road L3 7HY - Store hours
BP - Great Howard Street  L3 7AT - 7am to 10pm
BP - Sefton Street L8 6UD - 7am to 10pm
Shell - Scotland Road L5 5AQ - 24 hours
Shell - Derby Road L20 1AD - 24 hours
Shell - Edge Lane L7 9LD - 24 hours
Cruise Terminal
The cruise terminal is next to the Isle of Man terminal, and the ships berth on the same floating stage.  Take care when cruise ships are in port, passengers are mostly American or continental European, who won’t be used to hundreds of bikes going past, and on, in their minds, the wrong side of the road.  The larger ships can carry over 3,000 passengers and we can have up to 40 coaches heading to the terminal from shore excursions, plus hundreds of passengers walking back into the terminal especially in the late afternoon when our busy time is between 3pm and 6pm.
During TT 2018, the following ships are scheduled:
Fri 1 June Saga Sapphire
Sun 3 June Black Watch
Mon 4 June Artania
Wed 6 June Seven Seas Voyager
Sun 10 June Royal Princess
Mon 11 June Black Watch
Tue 12 June Celebrity Eclipse
Note, during cruise ship operations the section of Princes Parade adjacent to the cruise terminal is closed to traffic and pedestrians, but there is a road around the back of the terminal.  
Tall Ships Regatta
The 2018 Tall Ships Regatta starts in Liverpool over the late May Bank Holiday, ships will be berthed at the cruise terminal and in Albert and Canning Docks and open to the public from Friday 25th to Sunday 27th May and the Parade of Sail takes place on the River Mersey on Monday 28th May. The whole weekend will be extremely busy, the last time the Regatta was held in Liverpool ten years ago it attracted over ONE MILLION visitors and spectators over the weekend!  So give yourself plenty of time to get to the terminal and be aware of crowds of people wandering around the waterfront.
Going Home
When disembarking from Manannan on the way home (Boo!), you’ll leave the stage via the shorter of the bridges, this can be VERY steep at low tide (1 in 4), so take care.  When you get to the top and into St Nicholas Place lots of bikes will pull over to group together, so it can get very congested here, especially with taxis and cruise ship traffic, if you are going to wait to group up, try riding around the back of the cruise terminal where there is much more space on Princes Parade.
I hope the information above has been useful.  If you spot anything that needs correcting, amending or adding to, please leave a comment of tweet me @seanlxiv and I’ll try to keep this updated all the way through the TT and Manx Grand Prix.
Ride safely. Look after yourself, your bike and belongings.
Have a great TT.

Updates:
23/04 clarification on position of free m/c lane at tunnels
27/05 removed Marathon info as event has passed

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Hull 2017

One of the great things about the City of Culture programme is it gives you a reason, not that you should need one, to visit places you’ve never been before.  So on Saturday 10th April I headed across the Pennines to Hull.  I’d booked the train weeks ago and the weather was going to be the luck of the draw, thankfully lady luck saw that I arrived in East Yorkshire to a perfect spring day of unbroken sunshine.

As this was my first visit my immediate call was to the Hull 2017 welcome desk on the station concourse where I was greeted by the volunteers who were friendly and informative about what was on, and who devised a route I should follow to make the most of my day and advised where to get lunch.  Armed with my information leaflets and a map I headed off towards the heart of the city centre.  

My first stop was to see the poppies “Weeping Window”, I’d volunteered as one of the Culture Ambassador team when the poppies were at St George’s Hall in Liverpool last year, so was interested to see how they compared.  The Hull Maritime Museum is a smaller building and at the end of the main shopping street so the location is busier and has lots of people just walking past, whereas in Liverpool people had made a conscious decision to go towards the installation.  It felt less sombre that in Liverpool, although the sunny day atmosphere also contrasted with the Remembrance Day and winter period that St George’s Hall hosted them.
Weeping Window - Paul Cummins and Tom Piper
I then went into the Maritime Museum which has some interesting material telling the story of the port and especially the Whaling and Fishing industries.  The Court Room is a very impressive room which echoed to the wealthy merchants and ship owners who once here to watch their ships and cargo sailing past the windows.  Across the road stands the Ferens Art Gallery.  The first work you see looks like a mound of pebbles and stones relocated from the shoreline, but are in fact all pieces of plastic and polyurethane which have been moulded and transformed by the actions of the sea.  It fills the centre of the entrance foyer very well.  
Cove - Alexander Duncan
Moving into the galleries there is a good selection of nautical paintings but my eye was particularly taken by large black boards with chalk drawings by Tacita Dean "Roaring Forties: Seven Boards in Seven Days, 1997".
Roaring Forties, Tacita Dean
Down to the Old Town, like many maritime cities there is grandeur and wealth in the architecture lining the streets,  I enjoyed the sights and smells of Trinity Market – a proper market with atmosphere (take note Liverpool's St Johns Market!).
Over the road to the Fruit Market in search of lunch.  As I turned into Humber Street I was stopped by one of the Culture Volunteers and told I'd enjoy the gallery but I'd need to discover what it was myself.  So I entered Kingston Art Galley to discover... a lot of urinals! Fountain 17 turned out to be one of the highlights of the day.  It was quirky and fun, I loved it so much I bought the book..


My lovely volunteer was pleased that I had enjoyed her recommendation for art, and now pointed me in the right direction for lunch at Thieving Harrys at the end of the street, and I had a very good burger, chips and a grapefruit juice for £9.  Before I left Humber Street the end of the building opposite was a fun colourful addition to the landscape
I walked along the waterfront towards The Deep on the other side of the River Hull – although I didn’t go in as aquariums aren't high on my list of places to visit and I wanted to stay out in the fresh spring sunshine.
Back to the boardwalk alongside the River Hull the traditional trawler Arctic Corsair is moored outside the transport museum but my next call was the William Wilberforce House, this was interesting to see both the 17th century house, and the slavery exhibition.  It really reminds you of the cruelty of the human race, but also it's humanity, even if the latter doesn't always outweigh the former.
The Streetlife Transport Museum was next with a good collection of trams, buses and mock-up shops with an extensive carriage collection on the 1st floor.
After this I traced my steps back to the Fruit Market as I wanted to see the difference to the river scene as the tide had now come in, so I grabbed an ice cream and watched some yachts entering the marina basin.
As the galleries were now closing, and the shops winding down, my day was drawing to a close so I had a walk around Queens Dock Gardens before heading back to the station.  

Luckily the volunteer information was still open so I made a point of stopping to thank them for their help and to say how much I had enjoyed the day.  The Hull 2017 programme is unfolding and changing throughout the year so there remains plenty to go back for, and I'm already planning my next visit for a couple of months time.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Article 50

Tuesday 29th March 2017 was a rather insignificant day in the grand scheme of things, but it marked a further milestone in the history of the United Kingdom.

As the US Secretary of State Dean Acheson put it in 1962, “Great Britain has lost an Empire and has not yet found a role”

In 1973 we found a role, of joining with our European neighbours, which had for too long been our enemies, to become a modern European nation and to help, and indeed lead the way, in rebuilding and reshaping Europe for the fast changing world we were witnessing.  And we did, the single market which you hear so much about was a British idea, ironically led by Margaret Thatcher who was a European, pragmatically if not culturally.

The world changed faster than we foresaw, and perhaps faster than we as human beings with complex emotions could deal with.  Certainties around our world, our homes, our jobs and our families were upended and many people struggled with the change, and struggled to see how they fitted into it.

The EEC, later the EU was often blamed for things over which it had no control.  People in my part of the country blamed the EU for the loss of trade on the docks, but it was the automation of containerisation and handling of bulk commodities which changed the workforce on the docks, indeed trade is higher now than in the so called boom years of the 1950s, albeit serviced by a workforce of 400 instead of 6000.

The EU is blamed for making cosmetic improvements, for instance funding an artwork, rather than building a new place of work.  But remember ‘what’ the funding is spent on is decided locally not by a civil servant in Brussels.  It is someone in your town hall who wanted the artwork, not a “eurocrat”.

It is very true that areas of the UK have been left behind, if a large factory closes in your town, its effects are devastating to the whole community, and whilst the EU can fund a replacement building, and train our young people in the new skills needed, it cannot bring back the quantity of jobs lost.

Of course I’m writing this from a city which has benefitted enormously from EU funding, and the voters here could see how much we gain from co-operation with our European neighbours, but equally I can see how if you are from a former industrial town which has declined, and continues to do so, no matter how many fancy new buildings and artworks have been put up, the option in the referendum to carry on as we have was hardly a tempting offer.  Who can blame them therefore for accepting the offer from the Leave side who offered them something different, even though the offer was false at worst, exaggerated at best.

The 44 years we have so far been in the EU have seen enormous advances on our continent.  Who looking forward from 1973 could have seen the fall of the Berlin Wall; the collapse of the Soviet Union; the amazingly smooth transition of former Soviet states to proud independent European nations; peace and cross-community governance,  albeit still fragile, in Northern Ireland.  And although we all, worldwide, live in uncertain and indeed dangerous times, we are much more prosperous than our parents and grandparents were, even if for some, that prosperity is unequal and unfairly distributed.

So the leaving process has begun.  The focus now falls on the teams put in place to deliver the negotiated settlement.  No longer can David Davies, Liam Fox, Boris Johnson and Theresa May smile and just say everything will be fine, or tell us how excited they are for the future.  They need to now explain how and when things will change.  What the people of the country need to do to be ready for that change.  And what will happen if the change isn’t for the better.

We cannot accept a situation where we leave the EU whatever the conditions, whatever the damage to our country, whatever the cost.  As an elected politician and as a duly appointed Prime Minister, Theresa May’s overriding duty is to protect the country.  If at the end of the two year negotiation period it is shown to her that leaving the EU is wrong for the country, then she must stop the process.  To do otherwise is to knowingly cause damage to her own nation and the electorate will be her judge.

Nine months have passed since the referendum and I have yet to hear a single reason why this country will be better off, economically, politically or culturally outside the EU.  I have heard abstract concepts about democracy and sovereignty, and of course plenty of comments about immigration, both reasoned and downright racially prejudiced.  But I have not heard anyone explain what we will be able to do in March 2019 that we cannot do now, which will make this country better.

To name four key areas:
Sovereignty – we have it, never lost it, otherwise how are we doing what we are doing now.

Immigration – the UK Government has the power to limit immigration from other EU countries – Directive 2004/38/EC of 2004 – but chooses, except in limited special cases, not to utilise it.

Democracy – the European Parliament is elected, and on a proportional basis.  I find it amusing that UKIP, unable to have a single MP* elected to Westminster, has 20 MEPs (making them the joint largest UK representative party) yet continues to accuse the EU of being undemocratic!
*Douglas Carswell being a special case in that he was already an MP.

Trade – We can and do trade with the rest of the world.  But why does Germany trade more with our commonwealth partners, India, Australia, and New Zealand than we do?  Being EU members isn’t holding Germany back, so why do we believe it does so to the UK?  We are told that the Commonwealth, quite stupidly referred to as "Empire 2.0" will ride to the rescue as if those nations have been sitting there for 44 years just waiting for our return - what nonsense. One leave voter even said Britain will be OK because "everywhere in the world loves us" conveniently ignoring who those countries celebrate their independence from.

I remain fundamentally opposed to the UK leaving the EU.  I have always agreed that the EU is not perfect and sometimes needs a kick up the backside, but that equally applies to our government whether Westminster or local town hall.

Brexit can be stopped, I believe it should, but I think it’s unlikely to be.  What happens in the future nobody knows, will there even be a United Kingdom in 10 years?  If Scotland is offered accelerated membership of the EU it may well vote to leave.  Northern Ireland is at a crossroads and if the government in Dublin play this cleverly and with more emphasis on the future than the past it may well lead to a United Ireland in my lifetime.

What will happen to the EU?  The more excitable Brexiters not only expect a breakup of the EU, they positively froth at the mouth at the very thought of it.  They are mistaken.  The history of the continent is not the same as the England’s.  Despite all the nonsense about the EU being a dictatorship, a lot of Europeans have actually lived in a dictatorship, they have seen what happens when you divide a continent and will never go back to those divisions.  The EU may well change, I expect that it will.  Perhaps to a less controlling, but more defined federal structure, a sort of United State of Europe Lite.

The world has changed, and is still changing.  I believe the superpower of the next generation will be China.  Europe will need to be strong and united to face China across the negotiation table, already Germany trades with China at 4 times greater levels than the UK.  When China wants to talk to Europe they will do so through Brussels or Berlin.  They’ll speak to London too of course, but we won’t be first on their list.

London, Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Belfast – these are modern European cities, whose citizens think of travelling, trading and working in Paris, Berlin, Madrid and Rome as no different to doing so in the their sister UK cities.  These modern British Europeans may understand but do not share their fellow citizens opposition to the EU.  And no doubt those who so fervently voted to leave cannot understand our support for it.

Mrs May speaks of wanting the United Kingdom to be fairer and more united than ever before. Unfortunately the country is far too divided for that to happen any time soon.  Whilst any discussion about Brexit is accompanied by talk of Remoaners and Quitlers, whilst both sides refuse to budge in their beliefs, whilst even the Commons chamber echoes to triumphalism and rancour, her wish will lie unfulfilled.  Both sides in this debate are convinced that they are right.  Some will quieten down over the coming weeks and months; some will never accept they are wrong; most will wait and see what happens.