Pound for Pound, we’re better off out of the Euro

The terrible violence in Greece brings home to us, if anyone was in any doubt, just how serious the global economic problems are.

Coupled with yet more bad news from the High Street in the UK – where more big names are facing oblivion – it makes for a pretty bleak outlook.

Some people may take the Little Islander view of ‘oh well, I’ll avoid Greece when choosing my holiday, then.’

But the fact is that the repercussions of allowing Greece to effectively go bust would be felt across the whole of Europe.

Thus, decisions taken in the coming days will affect us here in the UK – whether we like it or not.

By the same token, however, I’d rather be a UK citizen right now than a German national, for example.

The simple fact that we are not part of the ‘Euro-zone’ affords Britain a measure of protection from this perfect storm of economic chaos.

I’ve never been a fan of the Euro or the fundamentally-flawed attempt to suck all the countries of the continent into one amorphous blob – thereby diluting our heritage and afflicting us with the many disadvantages of other countries.

Let’s face it: As my late colleague John Abberley was oft known to state – the EU is corrupt and unaccountable.

We, here in Britain, get far less out of it than we actually put in.

It’s no wonder all those Euro-sceptics who fought so hard against the creation of a single European currency, are now saying ‘I told you so’.

Pound for Pound, we are certainly better off out of the Euro.

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A tribute to Gareth: One of ours

Private Gareth Bellingham.

Private Gareth Bellingham.

For a couple of months now I’ve been wearing one of those rubber wristbands.

It carries the words: ‘Supporting 3 MERCIAN (Staffords) in Afghanistan’.

Through my job I’ve been lucky enough to get to know some serving soldiers and their COs and I’m immensely proud of the work they do.

This weekend we lost one of our own.

Private Gareth Bellingham, of Clayton, was shot while on duty in Helmand on Saturday. He was 22.

Having witnessed the humbling sight of the bodies of our servicemen being repatriated through the little town of Wooton Bassett, the news brought it all back to me.

My heart goes out to Gareth’s family and friends.

There will be some who will say ‘we shouldn’t even be there. Nobody has to die if we bring the troops home now’.

I’m afraid it isn’t quite as simple as that.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the war in Afghanistan, our boys and girls are there NOW and we should be supporting them.

Every day as we go to work, sit at home watching the telly, walk the dog, take the children out or go to Vale or Stoke, they are in the heat and the dust risking their lives for freedom and democracy.

I, for one, am in awe of the job they do.

These people don’t do politics. They do duty.

I will continue to wear my wristband with pride until every last one of the Staffords is home safe.

Panto critics should be careful what they wish for

Two years ago I had the privilege of appearing in The Regent Theatre’s pantomime – Dick Whittington.

It was a fantastic experience during which I made many friends and gained something of an insight into the world of musical theatre.

Cast members included the supremely-talented Sheila Ferguson, Christian Patterson and Steve Serlin as well as my mate Jonathan Wilkes.

I can tell you that not only was Jonny the lead in the production, he also played a major role in script editing and directing the show.

I’m reliably informed that this is not the norm and I know that Jonny went that extra mile day after day because he was performing in his home city.

There’s no doubt that having this home-grown performer in the panto has put bums on seats year after year.

However, you can’t please everyone – which is why The Sentinel would receive a couple of dozen letters annually which basically said ‘Oh no, not him again’.

Well, these critics have got their wish and for the first time in six years Jonny won’t be appearing at The Regent this Christmas.

I’ll be there, as usual, on opening night – doing my level best not to compare this year’s offering with what has gone before.

I wish Joe Swash and the rest of the cast of Aladdin all the best for their tenure at what is a superb venue with wonderful audiences.

Meanwhile our Jonny will be doing his thing at the Aylesbury Waterside Theatre and I can’t resist making the trip to see what we are missing.

It will be interesting to see if, by the end of December, theatre-goers in the Potteries are calling for Jonny’s return. Oh yes it will.

Ian’s proud as punch of his megastar nephew

Slash's uncle Ian Hudson at home.

Slash’s uncle Ian Hudson at home.

When Tony Hudson told his family he was emigrating to America, his younger brother Ian was understandably upset – not least because it meant saying goodbye to his nephew Saul.

Ian took a lock of the lad’s hair, placed it in a photo album and shaped it into a number six – the age Saul was when he left the Potteries to start a new life overseas.

The year was 1971 and the States may as well have been another planet as far as your average Stokie was concerned.

Little did Ian know that the next time he would hear about the scruffy boy with a penchant for sticklebricks and drawing dinosaurs was through a book review in The Sentinel.

The book in question – Low Life In The Fast Lane – told the story of the biggest rock band in the world and there, on the cover, was the lad who had once turned little girls’ heads in Blurton.

The band was Guns N’ Roses, Saul had become its legendary lead guitarist Slash, and it dawned on Ian that his nephew was a megastar.

Ian, who works as a warehouse operative for DHL in Stoke, said: “I honestly couldn’t believe it. We were all absolutely thrilled to bits.

“You see, I remember Saul – as he was then – as this boisterous little guy who lived with my mum and dad, Cybil and Charles, in Consett Road, Blurton, and went to the local primary school.

“Saul was very close to his dad, adored his auntie Mabel and loved drawing. He was a very gentle boy really, and there was certainly nothing to indicate that he would become a hard rock musician or join a band.”

Ian said: “When we found out Guns were touring the UK in 1991 we managed to get in touch with the band’s PR company and asked Slash if he minded the Hudson family going along to the gig at Wembley and he said: ‘Great!’.

“The first time I saw him with Guns, strutting around with his guitar and flying across the stage with Axl it was just awesome.

“It was hard to believe it was the same little boy I knew from all those years ago.”

I took it as a good omen as I drove through Tunstall on my way to interview Ian and spotted a bloke wearing a faded Guns N’ Roses t-shirt.

You know the one – the classic, circular gold band logo with the two pistols and red roses.
It took me back…

Back to 1988, in fact – my final year at Holden Lane High – when an earthquake had transformed the music scene.

A certain American band had brought hard rock music to the masses with their multi-platinum album Appetite For Destruction.

Even the girls in my class, used to bopping around to the Theme From S-Express, were hooked.

“Slash’s from Stoke, you know,” I recall one of them saying – which, of course, made the lead guitarist even cooler. If that was possible.

Guns ’n Roses went on to become the biggest band in the world before drugs, touring and egos led to the implosion of the original line-up.

More than three decades later and the boy from Stoke – AKA Slash – is scheduled to play his first gig in the city where he spent the early years of his life.

Tickets sold out in under two hours – much to the delight of his uncle Ian who will be at a packed Victoria Hall in Hanley on July 24 along with his family and some lucky pals.

You wouldn’t know Ian had a famous relative. Not unless you get invited round to the home of his partner Jean Booth in Sandyford, that is.

In the cosy living room you’ll find framed pictures and magazine covers signed by Slash himself, along with back stage passes from past tours which are the equivalent of rocking horse poo to your average rock fan.

Ian, now 64 and living in Tunstall, has got used to having a famous nephew.

So used to it, in fact, that he can now look back and laugh at the time when he met a man in a pub in Fenton who claimed to be Slash’s uncle.

“I didn’t argue with him,” said Ian. “But it did make me smile to think that there was some bloke going around pretending to be me. I guess it just shows you how big Guns were.”

The living room at Jean’s house is where Slash’s father Tony spent two weeks sleeping on a camp bed in July last year when he stayed over in order to spend a little time with the brother he hadn’t seen for nearly 40 years.

Since that first Wembley concert experience, Ian has met up with his famous nephew several times – during UK gigs with his post-Guns ’n Roses outfits Slash’s Snakepit, supergroup Velvet Revolver and on his solo tour.

But when he heard that Blurton’s finest would actually be playing live here in the Potteries, Ian was understandably over the moon.

He said: “Slash had just got off stage from a gig in South America and he texted me. It said: ‘See you in Stoke on July 24’.

“I thought: ‘Stoke? Where on earth would he play in Stoke?’.

“When I found out it was the Victoria Hall I was thrilled because I’ve seen a few decent concerts there myself – people like Eric Clapton and ELO back in the Sixties.

“It’s a great venue and it will be brilliant to see Slash back here in Stoke and not have to travel so far. I could even use my bus pass.”

Looking back, Ian fully understands why his older brother wanted to move away from the Potteries.

Tony, who will be 70 in August, was a gifted artist who went on to create album covers for musicians such as Neil Young and Joni Mitchell.

Meanwhile, Slash’s mother Ola was an African-American costume designer whose clients included David Bowie.

Needless to say there wasn’t much in the way of work for them in the Potteries.

Tony moved his family to the Laurel Canyon neighbourhood of Lose Angeles which, during the 1960s, became famous as a home to many of the Big Apple’s rock musicians, such as Frank Zappa, Jim Morrison of The Doors and The Byrds.

Ian said: “I think Tony just felt that he could offer his family a better life over in America.
“Obviously, back then none of us had any idea what would happen to Slash.

“When they first moved to the States we would get letters and Tony would send pictures of album sleeves he had been working on.

“Then, over time, the correspondence dried and up and we just lost touch.

“The success of Slash’s career has brought us back together really and I couldn’t be more proud.”

Ian rang The Sentinel after reading my column about Slash’s homecoming gig and the campaign to have a statue erected in his honour here in the Potteries.

He said: “I don’t think Slash really understands just how many fans he has here back here in Stoke-on-Trent.

“But I’m sure the crowd will let him know and make him feel welcome. It will be a very special night for all of us.”

So: The Cup Final… did I miss anything?

I’m old enough to recall the good old days when teams like Everton and Watford contested the FA Cup Final.
I distinctly remember one year when the loyalties on the playground at Holden Lane First and Middle School were split quite evenly between the glamorous Spurs and the less fashionable Manchester City.
As a youngster, on the day of the big game itself I’d be glued to the telly early doors, lapping up all the guff – like the atmosphere on the team coaches and interviews with the star players.
I would even adopt a team for the day. Didn’t we all?
The FA Cup Final was a rare treat – a look at how the other half lived. It was a national celebration.
It had nowt to do with me or Stoke-on-Trent and so I could just enjoy the spectacle.
I’m sad to say, the hype surrounding the Premier League and the monstrosity that is the Champions League have all but killed off my interest in the pinnacle of club football success.
Beyond hoping that Vale can scrape into the third round and get a money-spinning tie against a top flight club, the truth is it barely registers with me these days.
In fact, I think the last Final I actually sat and watched was Manchester United’s drubbing of Millwall in 2004. Even that was by accident.
On Saturday, however, all that changed. The FA Cup Final got personal.
I knew it was going to be bad when the phone rang two days after the semi-final.
It was my auntie Rose who has lived in New Zealand for more than 30 years. She and her husband John (an irrepressible Stoke fan) had decided to fly over for the Cup Final.
I couldn’t believe it. Not much can persuade John to leave Auckland these days – let alone pay for Cup Final tickets which I’m told cost more than the air fare.
You see, if you’re a Vale fan and you’ve just experienced our annus horribilis, seeing Stoke City make it to Wembley is the footballing equivalent of a kick in the you-know-whats: The dictionary definition of salt in the wounds.
There is literally nowhere to hide. You can’t go anywhere within a 15-mile radius of Hanley without being confronted by people wearing Stoke tops.
Bandwagon-jumpers who have never taken an interest in football before are now declaring their undying loyalty to the Potters. Anything to bask in the reflected glow of success.
I know exactly what such people can do with their souvenir red and white foam hands.
Yes, it’s grim up north (of the city) right now and all I can do is remind myself that football is cyclical.
I wished my Stoke fan mates all the best before the game then did what any self-respecting Vale fan would do: I avoided the TV and radio all day and spent the day with my children.
Did I miss anything?

Gagging councillors? You’ve got to be joking…

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at the story tucked away on page 19 of today’s editions of The Sentinel.
It seems the city council has done a u-turn and ditched plans for a so-called ‘media protocol’ which would have limited elected members as to what they could say to the media.
The gagging policy – because, dress it up however you like, that’s what it was – was aimed at preventing councillors speaking independently to the likes of The Sentinel and BBC Radio Stoke.
Laughably, details of this nonsensical document were leaked to the newspaper for which I work from the colander that is the Civic Centre.
Clearly many councillors were unhappy with the idea and so they should be.
This kind of draconian measure, drawn up by someone who believes it is possible to have 44 elected members ‘speaking with one voice’ and never criticising the local authority, is an embarrassing attempt to somehow dictate what the media can and cannot report on.
Let me say this to whoever came up with this bright idea: It’s never going to happen and you need to do your homework.
The fact is, despite what certain people may think, the vast majority – around 75 per cent of the stories relating to, for example, the city council – which are published in The Sentinel – are either positive or neutral.
Thus this idea that the council only ever gets negative publicity is just plain wrong.
More to the point, surely it is in the best interests of council taxpayers for elected members to be able to speak their minds.
I’m not surprised the council refused to discuss the reasons for the withdrawal of the ‘media protocol’. Whoever came up with the idea ought to hang his or her head in shame.

Back to the future for city politics

Judging by the city council election results some people in Stoke-on-Trent have obviously got short memories.
Presumably they have forgiven Labour for the excesses of Worldgate and the Cultural Quarter which confirmed Stoke-on-Trent’s status as a political basket case – a city incapable of governing itself.
Yet here we are in 2011 and familiar faces are returning to haunt us.
The old adage that you could put a monkey in a suit and stick a red rosette on it and it would be voted into power in the Potteries still rings true.
To be fair, I’d prefer one party to have overall control rather than have some sort of coalition of convenience where nowt gets done.
The problem is that, without an effective opposition, there is nothing to prevent the self-interest and internal party politics which was the hallmark of previous Labour administrations from returning.
Make no bones about it: This latest election landslide – which leaves Labour with 34 of the 44 seats on the city council – is a reflection of people’s dissatisfaction with the coalition government’s national cuts.
It is also a result of your average Stokie (who can be bothered to vote) reverting to type.
Someone once asked me if I would be prepared to stand for election as a city councillor.
“God no,” I replied. “I can make more of a difference working for The Sentinel.”
Nothing has changed.