Banging on about HS2: how can we help them prevent a PR disaster?

The HS2 team held a PR event in Liverpool recently where assembled movers, shakers and hangers on were invited to hear the latest news on the HS2 developments. About 50 of us gathered expectantly to hear what it’s really all about Alfie, and to get it straight from the horses mouth.

To say it was a non event would be kind to non events. There were a couple of short introductory speeches – the first of which apologised for the name of the project – HS2 – and made it clear that there would be nothing particularly HS about HS2 as it was much more about moving freight off the roads, on to the rails and down the current West Coast line. The need for the new line was as much about providing capacity for passengers to travel at speeds greater than 15mph – the average speed they would be travelling if they were stuck behind a mile long freight train carrying glass from St Helens to the city of London.

The second contributor marvelled at the current 15 apprentices who are currently were working on the designs of the line. He pointed out, this project could last their life time and it would be more than likely that they would be grandparents by the time the line was operational.

That fact sobered many of us in the room as it became clear that we were being asked to endorse a project which would outlive us, and perhaps even our children. The project will be alive and kicking when many of us in the room will be consigned to our graves, ashes urns or deep at the bottom of the sea – or even under the rails at Rainford for the enthusiasts amongst us.

The final contribution to the non-event was a glossy promotional video which showed a lighting fast cartoon train whizzing through an empty countryside in all its shiny happy people mode. The absence of people in the video emphasised one of the core problems to the HS2 marketing campaign. It doesn’t have any people in it who will be alive when the line supposedly opens. It’s emphasising its audiences mortality with a ya boo sucks approach – this project is more important than you here and now, and more important too than your children and grandchildren in the there and then.

What’s it all about Alfie is freight, freight and yet more freight trundling through the countryside at the dead of night, rattling by the graveyards of the movers, shakers and hangers on who are currently being asked to cough up in TB type spasmodic fits for its ever spiralling costs.

One way to prevent a PR disaster would be for the team to be honest about the purpose of HS2 and acknowledge that not many of us are going to be around to see the first train leave the new Manchester station which will be built just outside Skelmersdale some time in 2033.

The disappearing knowledge of the Hyperloop passenger: schools beware! Number 6 in the series: Knowledge, traffic and arts based research.

The hyperloop has hit the news again with dreams of tubing it from San Francisco to Los Angeles in less than 10 minutes. Everyone around the world will have their equivalent journeys and will marvel at the apparent ease at which such previously long journeys have been reduced to bats of eyelashes. In the UK, we will wonder how a hyperloop journey could take us from London to Liverpool in just under 30 seconds: although given the magnetic pull London has on all things economic, political and social in the UK, it is a wonder that anything ever leaves London at all, never mind in a hyperloop tube.

But the greater significance of the hyperloop proposal is on how we understand knowledge of traffic flow and our place in the civilised world and how we engage with passengers, train spotters and irate cows on the line.

Because make no mistake, in hyperloop world there will be no room for any of these travel distractions. In a hyperloop tube, you will be strapped to your seat, asked to brace yourself and before you know it you will have been shot across the planet with the equivalent of a ton of TNT shoved under your backside. You will know nothing of the experience and your sum knowledge of the world and all its wondrous creations will not have improved a jot.

This is why we should worry – and worry hard – about the proposed hyperloop project. No longer will students be able to revise on trains before exams; no longer will commuters be able to improve their literary knowledge and no longer will we see people frowning over Sudoku puzzles and other complex numerical machinations. The nation’s literacy, numeracy and emotional intelligences will all suffer enormously.

Where arts based research can help however will be on the hyperloop platforms, both pre and post-TNT backside kick. Artist researchers will offer passengers new ways of consolidating their knowledge before they take the fatal kick up the backside. These researchers will remind commuters of their 12 times table through pretty graphics; confirm proper grammatical construction of sentences and offer new ways of reminding ourselves of our Shakespearian heritage. Whilst the journey will be over in a bat of an eye, our memories shot to pieces, the learning will continue for ever: and for that, Michael Gove will be proud.

More travel knowledge here.

Farewell then, the Matthew Street Festival: you will not be missed it seems…

So, Liverpool’s MSF has finally been axed in an torrent of righteous civic reasoning: its cost, its burden on the rate payer, the fact that it didn’t give Liverpool good marketing head, the dire quality of its lookalikee, soundalottee-like the Beatles bands and the staple rhetorical ingredient that has everyone nodding vigorously: the plethora of out of control drunken youth and elders who should know better who spitted and slavered and vomited their way through days of debauchery, inchoate vileness and early morning urban horror when you forgot where you parked your car and which hedge you left that stash of Special Brew under. Oh sorry, where they forgot to park their car and forgot the hedge that they left that stash of Special Brew under.

The inability to find anyone who will speak up for the MSF is curious. Is there no-one out there who admits to having affectionate memories of its tawdriness? I for one will remember it fondly; the afternoons of hanging out with the squash team and assorted wives, girl friends and partners, strolling through the deserted commercial district, bereft of business purpose for a few short hours, as we guzzled down can upon can, stuffed kebabs into our faces and generally appreciated the diabolical renderings of songs we knew, loved and now felt sorry for as they were being mutilated by bands of cough cough aged hairy blokes thrashing at their guitars in misguided attempts to recreate Woodstock in the back alleys off Duke Street.

For all the mess and spit and spew, many of us did have some good times during those August afternoons and whilst the booking of the RLPO in Sefton Park might be useful in civilising us all a tad more, and those family friendly days will bring out the tots with their previously scared mums and dads, nothing will quite beat the experience of listening, astonished, to those assorted ‘tribute’ bands with hackneyed names and shocking hair styles.

No doubt within a couple of years, though, the call will go out for a city centre music festival that can capture the mess, sound and incoherent fury that all good rock and pop encapsulates. Until then, we’ll sit around Sefton Park lake like the good modern citizens we are, and applaud the endeavours of our city fathers in helping make the city a reasonable, polite place to live in.

An Open Letter to Roy Hodgson: please prove the English FA wrong and fail gloriously

Dear Roy Hodgson,

I’ve got nothing against you and happen to think you were on a losing to nothing when you came to Liverpool last year.  We all know the results of that story and there’s not much to add to it now.

The new story you’re now part of though is alarming in the way its already being constructed: you’ve ‘steered West Brom to mid-table safety’; you’re a blazer man who ticks all the boxes; an FA man for the FA.  Well, lets hope your appointment doesn’t’ lead to sweet FA, or that if it does, you fail spectacularly and come crashing out of the football heavens burning on all cylinders.

Because Roy, your appointment has all the hall marks of what is tired and miserable about English sporting culture and indeed our public life in general.

Steering your team to mid-table respectability has an air of desperation about it, its risk averseness wearing its heart on its sleeve or on another respectable part of your anatomy.  Respectability?  So that we can look forward to saying things like “unfortunately we just missed out on scraping into the quarter finals but second place in the qualifying qualifying group stage is no mean achievement?’ Is that the extent of the endorsement we can expect from your boys at the FA after the summer?

Because those boys at the FA, Roy, are trying to anoint you as one in the image of themselves: Blazer Men, the stalwarts of the English sporting club tradition. We all know a Blazer Man. He’s the bloke on Saturday afternoon who kicks you off the tennis court cos you’ve not got your membership card with you. The bloke in the bar holding forth on all things, unctuously and loudly. The bloke in the car park who has driven his Jag up the back side of your Ford Orion and driven away, oblivious to the trail of damage behind him cos he’s as pissed as a Friday afternoon lunch time fart. The bloke who will lead us to mid table security making sure his blazer elbow patches don’t rip and tear at the strain of it all.  The Blazer Man. As exemplified by Trevor Brooking and his collection of gold plated carriage clocks. Cuck-bloody-oo.

Beware all those carriage clocks Roy! It’s no wonder you’re in danger of ticking all the boxes. All of them. Hoo bloody ray. A box ticker! We’re all living with box tickers every day Roy, they make up almost every department of every large organisation everywhere in England at the moment; they sit there in the neat and tidy offices, underlining things in red, covering their audit trail arses and ticking their boxes with a rapidity which puts the fastest PC to shame.

We don’t need box tickers Roy in our public life Roy,  we need our sports heroes to tear up the boxes and start again. We need our public figures to show us there’s life after the box, the target, the service level agreement.

We don’t need you to tick the FA’s boxes for them., Roy. We need you to win convincingly, after much struggle, heart break and living on the edge of our collective nerves; but failing that, please fail gloriously and utterly.  Please prove once and for all that the FA Blazer Men and their ticking clocks and ticking boxes should be thrown into a container and carted off to the South China Seas for them to live the rest of their lives in Rousserian decadence.  For Gods sake, for all our English public lives’ sake Roy, go and fail properly: disasterously,  noisily, embarrassingly.

However you do it, just do it with conviction.  We may not like the results but it will be infinitely better than being steered to mid-table respectability. No one wants that in their lives, never mind in their football team.