Thursday, 31 December 2009

Elliot Smith barbers: A new shrine for Brighton's boutique zone

My page three feature in the Argus December 29, 2009. The story started as a brief email, handed to me by the charismatic Asst. News Ed during my week of work experience on the Argus news desk. I made the story below. He artfully created the layout to left.

A barber shop dedicated to tragic musician Elliott Smith has opened in Brighton's North Laine. Owner Ali Campbell hopes it will become one of the landmarks in the city's individualistic boutique zone.

The new shop features a wavy red, white and black graphic from the cover of Smith's 2000 album Figure Eight.

“I wanted the shop to reflect the the things I like. Hopefully, it will become a Brighton feature,” Mr Campbell said.

The quirky individualism of North Laine shops has become one of Brighton's main tourist attractions, with 300 shops, 37 cafes, 22 pubs, 4 theatres, 2 museums, and an award winning library, but little sign of the retail chains that dominate Britain's high streets.

Dirty Harry, Mods, Punk, Goth, Buddha were early themes in the North Laine. They have been joined by animal themed and eco-friendly gifts, and animal-free footwear. Specialist shops offer beads, bonsai, tattoo and piercing, guitars, frozen yoghurt and herbal supplements. Several hairdressers already serve the area, including pop-art styled The Bomb.

Mr Campbell, 27, was originally from Brighton and lives in Foundry Road, but trained as a barber in Tunbridge Wells barber shop Camden Road Barbers which has a 1950's theme. After four years experience cutting hair, he opened his shop in Brighton, Gloucester Road Barbers, on 18 September 2009. He has been a fan of Smith since 1998, and made his shop into a tribute to the man and his music.

Elliott Smith was a talented musician who had problems, and died of stab wounds in 2003 in an apparent suicide. The Figure Eight graphic originally appeared on a wall on Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles. The Los Angeles wall has been turned into a memorial.

Mr Campbell said he recently found a ticket tied to his own shop sign, saying: “We miss you Elliott Smith. While Elliott Smith was quite an alcoholic, six months before the end, he cleaned himself up. It is said that his depression stemmed from child abuse.”

Inside the shop an original promotional print for the Figure Eight album is on display. The large double sided display board was printed in the USA in a run of 2,000 copies. On the reverse there is a photograph of Elliott Smith and tour dates. Mr Campbell said he was offered £400 for the print.

Elliot Smith played Brighton Concorde II as part of his 2001 tour.

Ali Campbell's top tunes from Elliott Smith:
1. No Name #2
2. Roman Candle
3. No Name #3

Gloucester Road Barbers, 98 Gloucester Road, BN14AP. Phone 01273 675956

ENDS 431 words

UK's first Cycle Counter Displays to be installed in Brighton

The Argus used my story on December 30 (left). I found this story on the Council website when researching the story about Old Shoreham Road Cycle Route scheme being stalled. My original version is below.

The UK's first Cycle Counter Displays will be installed in Brighton and Hove in 2010.

At the Environment Cabinet meeting on Thursday November 17, Brighton and Hove City Council approved the installation of the three Cycle Display Counters in prominent positions around the city. These are units that count the numbers of cyclists passing by, and display the results in large format.

Director of Environment, Veronika Moore, in her report to the Council, said: “The aim of the display is to encourage cycling by demonstrating that it is already a popular activity carried out as part of people’s daily routine. By seeing that large numbers of people are cycling it is hoped that potential cyclists will gain confidence from ‘safety in numbers’ and take up cycling themselves.”

Cycle counter displays have been successfully used in several European countries, but this will be the first time in the UK.

Statistical information gathered by the counters will also be used to inform future cycling policy.

A Cycle Counter Display uses a loop in the ground to count the number of cyclists passing a particular point and then prominently displays this information above the cycle path. The display can be configured to show several totals, for instance daily bicycle traffic and annual bicycle traffic.

CIVITAS Archimedes Project will provide funding of £52k for Cycle Counter Displays with a further £10k from Cycling England.

The European Union CIVITAS project was approved in October 2008, and provides Council with a £2.2 million grant to research and implement innovative small-scale transport projects over a four-year period.

Ms Moore said: “Involvement in the CIVITAS process provides an excellent opportunity for the council to undertake additional investment in the City’s transport infrastructure and services. The aim is to position the Council as a leader in offering sustainable transport opportunities and giving people the choice to determine what is best for them.”

The counters will be located in three prominent positions:
Seafront cycle lane, opposite the Grand Hotel.
East side of A23, edge of Surrenden Park or East side of A23, opposite Leahurst Court Road
East side of A270, opposite Moulsecomb Library

The counters will be installed at the A23 and A270 locations by March 2010 and on the seafront in early summer 2010.

Words 337
23 December 2009

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

Measles: the epidemic that never happened? Or final warning

What happened to the measles epidemic that the NHS has been warning us about since 2008? We were warned of thousands of cases, because of reduced numbers of vaccinations. An outbreak started. But only 69 cases were confirmed. The outbreak happened just as levels of vaccination were increasing. Surely that's wrong? Shouldn't measles cases go down as vaccination goes up? Probably just coincidence, but I wanted to know what was going on.

Which people developed measles? Does vaccination guarantee immunity? The NHS press office avoided my questons for months, so I made a freedom of information request, and when I got the results, wrote the article below.

I submitted my story to the Argus, hoping we might work together to get comment from NHS and alternate health practitioners, and maybe develop the story into a bigger feature along the lines of "Measles - the epidemic that never happened? Or final warning?" Then the Argus published a related article following the NHS line. I was disappointed that we didn't work together on the story to get alternate views. But I'm now looking at measles outbreaks in other countries where some parts of the population don't vaccinate, such as The Netherlands. More to come!

4-Dec-2009. A child with full MMR vaccination developed measles in the outbreak in Brighton and Hove earlier this year.

Brighton and Hove PCT statistics show the measles outbreak is over, for the time being. Measles was confirmed in 69 cases by end of July, and there have been no further cases since then.

Eighty percent (56 cases) of the 69 measles cases had no record of vaccination. Seven percent had only one of the two recommended vaccination doses, and the vaccination status of the others was not known. Twenty percent of the 69 cases required hospitalisation.

One child who developed measles had received both the recommended two doses of the MMR vaccination by the fifth birthday. A Brighton parent said: “It may not be a surprise to the experts, but if you take your kid to be vaccinated I don't remember anybody saying it might not work.”

The NHS immunisation website says about MMR vaccination: “After the first dose, between 5% and 10% of children are not protected against the diseases. After two doses of MMR, less than 1% are left unprotected.”

In August this year, the Department of Health launched the MMR catch-up campaign, and Brighton health officials said thousands were at risk from a measles epidemic. They said one out of ten cases required hospitalisation, and that one in 5,000 cases could be fatal.

There were no confirmed measles cases in Brighton and Hove in 2008, before this year’s outbreak.

The low take up of MMR vaccine was blamed for the outbreak in measles cases. MMR vaccination cover fell after the MMR-autism link scare of 1998. In 2004-2005, only 56% of children in Brighton and Hove had received the double dose of MMR vaccine by their fifth birthday, compared with 73% nationally. Although the numbers of measles cases remained low, the Department of Health said that an epidemic might occur. By 2007-2008, the number in Brighton and Hove with double dose MMR had risen to 62%. Following the launch last year of the MMR catch-up campaign, the 2008-2009 figures for five year olds with double dose vaccination rose to 69%. This compares with 78% nationally.

Opinion: Cycle Rage

I submitted this article to the Argus as an opinion piece to follow up on my Cycle Injuries story. The Argus demurred, inviting Adam Trimingham to comment instead. Here's my point of view:

Cyclists are a target of road rage in Brighton. I know, because I was on the receiving end of a bit of rage the other day as I cycled home. In my opinion, the conflict is due to unclear council policy, at least in part.

Reader comments on my article "Cycle Injuries" (Argus, story below) reveal the anger that people are feeling about road use in Brighton.

The issue of cycle injuries is a growing and important one. The council is asking cyclists to be responsible citizens, and cycle to work and school, to reduce traffic and improve their health. If more cyclists are on the roads, motorists find their traditional rights are reduced. Conflict between motorists and cyclists is bound to increase, as more people are encouraged to cycle. There is a natural tendency to anger when these groups compete for the same road space.

My experience of anti-cyclist road rage happened as I cycled home on Friday, 4 December 2009, at one pm in the afternoon. The weather was fine, and road conditions good. I cycled down the Old Steine, onto the roundabout opposite the Brighton Pier. A transit style van lurched forward out of Madeira Drive, seeming to aim at a cyclist on the roundabout ahead of me. At first I thought the van had lurched in error, but I was astonished to see the driver of the van yelling at the cyclist, apparently aware of what he was doing. The cyclist seemed not to notice and continued cycling around the round about. I looked at the van driver as I cycled past. The driver, now stopped, turned his attention toward me, pulling his finger up at me, and yelling through the glass of his cab. I was shocked, since I had the right of way. Why the fury, I thought? Now I thought he had deliberately lurched forward. This all took place in the second or so that it took me to cycle past the front of the van. I pulled my bike onto the pavement just past the intersection with Madeira Drive, and stared at the driver, who continued gesticulating at me aggressively. As soon as he could, he pulled out and then stopped next to me.
He was in a rage and shouted through his window: 'Why are you not on the cycle track?"
He kept repeating this, leaning forward aggressively and shouting, while I attempted to explain that there is no cycle track around the round about, and that in any event I had a right to be on the road.
I told him that he seemed very angry, and then he lurched toward me, inside his cab, with a grim expression and bulging eyes.
I thought he wanted to attack me, so I said: "I'm just trying to find out why you are so angry, mate."
That seemed to calm him down slightly. But he continued shouting without pause, now asking me where my cycle helmet was, saying: "You are supposed to be wearing a cycle helmet, cyclists take no interest in their own safety, you are supposed to wear a florescent jacket."
Well, that's not a requirement for daytime cycling, but he was angry so I said nothing.
The rant went on. He said aggressively: "You take no interest in your own safety. Do you?"
Then he started repeating, "Do you?" each time more angrily, until I said, "I can see no point in continuing with this conversation."
He indicated his satisfaction with a grunt of dismissive words. He drove off. I was shocked. Too late, I looked for his licence number, but he was gone in the traffic.

I wondered whether to report this since I did not have a license number. I thought, if he is like this on Friday afternoon, what is he like on Saturday night? He may be a danger, and at least needs to be talked to, if not asked to take a rest from driving. So I made a police report. I phoned Sussex Police, and found that there is a website where all incidents of antisocial driving (and presumably, antisocial cycling) can be reported. I made my report, and copy the address here:

If we intend to promote cycling, we must by necessity reduce the road space and priority given to motorists. If Brighton and Hove intends to be a "Cycling City", the council needs to explain what they are doing, using publicity, so that motorists understand. They may not agree, but at least they will understand that the council is intentionally giving more space to cyclists, and it is not the wicked cyclists who are stealing the traditional right to be “king of the road” from the motorist.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Cycle injuries rise in Brighton

My story on cycle injuries (above) as published in the Argus on November 30, and (below) as I wrote it. The national stats were published on November 5, and a 19% increase in fatalities among cyclists caused consternation. I thought it would be interesting to see how Brighton compared, since we're supposed to be a "Cycling City".

Cycle casualties on the roads of Brighton and Hove increased by 6.8% this spring, but the increase was below the national average of 9%.

During the second quarter (April-June) of 2009, compared with the same period last year, cycle casualties in Brighton and Hove rose from 44 to 47, an increase of 6.8%. Department for Transport statistics for the same period showed a national increase in cycle casualties of 9% to 4,806. The total casualties for all road users fell by 2% to 55,480.

There were no fatalities among cyclists in Brighton and Hove during these two quarters, but, in the rest of the UK, the number of cyclists killed or seriously injured increased by 19% to 820.

A spokesman for Brighton and Hove Council supplied the data, and said: “At the moment we do not have data to indicate if there has been a proportionate increase in the use of cycles, which we believe to be the case.”

An increase in the numbers of cyclists on the road might be expected due to the promotion of sustainable transport within the City, and lower costs of cycling during the economic recession.

The spokesman said: “The Council works tirelessly and closely with other agencies and partners to reduce casualties on the City's streets, an example being the recent 'Brighten Up' campaign, jointly run by the Council and Sussex Police to target cyclists riding at night without lights. The enforcement side led to 116 fixed penalty notices being issued by the police and those stopped were given vouchers to collect free cycle lights from the Council.

“The responsibility for making the City's streets safer to use rests with all road user types. It is a shared responsibility and until everybody accepts that and does their bit to address road safety, instead of blaming everybody else, we will never be able to significantly impact on the unacceptable carnage on our roads.”
ENDS 318 words
26 November 2009

THE ONLINE version of this story has readers comments attached, which give a vivid picture of the growing conflict between motorists and cyclists in the UK. More people are cycling. It enrages motorists. See what I mean by taking at a look at the comments on my online story:
Cycle Casualties link.