Christmas & New Year Message

IT'S A PACKED UPDATE THIS WEEK - so much has been going on! And I have two extra items for you - the MEN article on me from two weeks ago, and a Manchester People feature about Stephen Gibbons, (right) the film director from Oldham. Also have a look at the latest pictures in the Image Collection. But without any further ado, let's launch into this week's news stories, starting with showbiz...

THE 17TH MEN THEATRE AWARDS took place on Tuesday night at the Midland Crowne Plaza. Comedian Steve Coogan, from Middleton, received MEN readers award for Performance of the year. Coronation St actor Roy Barraclough received two awards: for Best Actor and Best Actor in a Soap. I've spotted another appearance by our home city on TV this week - BBC news 24 viewers may have noticed a trailer with people, traffic and trams - it's Manchester. On Thursday night, BBC2's Close Up North featured a fact-finding visit by NW textile bosses to Italy.

PRINCE EDWARD WAS IN ATTENDANCE AT A STAR-STUDDED gala night on Saturday to mark the re-opening of the Royal Exchange Theatre. Also present were "Keeping Up Appearances" actress Patricia Routledge and Tom Courtenay, who declared the theatre open.

PERFORMANCES IN MANCHESTER THIS WEEK HAVE INCLUDED So Special at the Royal Exchange Studio, the group Massive Attack at the MEN Arena which also saw concerts by James, the Manic Street Preachers and Catatonia , as well as an 80's extravaganza featuring Culture Club, the Human League and ABC. Oliver continues at the Opera House and Cinderella at the Palace. At the Bridgewater Hall, there were concerts by the BBC Philharmonic and the Halle Orchestra, conducted by Paavo Järvi. At the same venue this evening, Suzannah Clarke is one of a number of performers at a Christmas concert, and at Elemental, Oxford St, there's a special Factory Records night, featuring Grimace and others. In Stockport, children have been giving performances at an unusual venue - the Air Raid Shelters. And there's a possiblity the nearby Plaza Cinema in Mersey Square may be converted back into a theatre.

TITANIC IS NEVER OUT OFF TV SCREENS - the blockbuster video edition is a Christmas hot-seller, Leonardo de Caprio is the latest female heart-throb, and Kate Winslet was recently voted best figure - I can agree with that - but "Titanic City" is another matter. Last week, Salford given this name due to the number of people abandoning it, was debated in the House of Commons and local MP Hazel Blears said the "Titanic" image is being thrown overboard. Encouraging signs include regeneration proposals for Seedley and Langworthy, the Old Trafford to Eccles Metrolink line, which is taking shape in Salford Quays, the Lowry arts centre, nearing completion on its waterside setting, a 5 star hotel to be built next to the River Irwell, and many others...

MANCHESTER UNITED PLAYED BAYERN on Wednesday night, watched by over 54,000 people - the result was United...1 Bayern...1. And in the match with Tottenham Hotspur, the result was Spurs 2 Man United 2. Only 3007 people turned up to watch Manchester City play Mansfield on Tuesday night.

NATIONAL HEALTH SERVICE LEAGUE TABLES came out last week, and show increases in waiting times in some areas. But as with schools league tables, health bosses say the figures aren't fair. What's undeniable is that hospitals are battling to cope with increasing patient numbers - thanks to a better diet, more exercise and less cigarettes, people are living longer and looking younger but they still require medical treatment. There was a heart-rending story and picture on page 3 of Wednesday's MEN: Douglas Allen and his two sons Melanie and Cristopher are pictured with a photo of their mother Gillian - she died of breast cancer after a wrong diagnosis by Bury consultant David Baumber. This is one of many cases of medical negligence apparing currently in the media. There was better news from Stockport, where the Manchester Assisted Conceptions unit this evening celebrated the birth of hundreds of babies since its launch.

PASSERS-BY ON KING STREET MAY BE WONDERING what's going on behind the orange panelling by the entrance to St Ann's Passage. This shop used to be a boulangerie selling baguettes, croissants and brioches. Another proprietor selling French-style goods is about to open up here - none other than Hermès, the distinguished 160-year-old supplier of the Queen's headscarves and Grace Kelly's handbags. The interior decor is going to be superb, I'm told. The prices will be as you'd expect from a boutique as prestigious as this, so I think I'll be sticking to Grey Mare Lane market or Dunne's Stores in Heywood for my current clothing requirements.

PAINTINGS BY TURNER PRIZE-WINNER CHRIS OFILI, COMPLETE WITH CAMEL-DUNG, are on show at the Whitworth Art Gallery - I dropped in for a look - the paintings in themselves are stunning, but I'm not comfortable with the animal faeces, which are coated in resin and stuck onto the canvas. I think the paintings would be great without the dung, but I think most people will agree, if he hadn't used dung, he wouldn't have received the Turner Prize. And Saturday's teletext reported a farmer from Cheadle in Staffordshire who gave vent to his feelings about modern art by emptying a trailer of dung outside the Tate Gallery, in London. Personally I can't wait for the City Art Gallery Pre-Raphaelite collection to re-open at the City Art Gallery in 2000.

A BABYSITTER WAS ARRESTED ON THURSDAY after the death of a baby in her care. There was concern that the 12 year old girl, unnamed for legal reasons, was left alone in a police station cell. But it later turned out the mother of the baby said the child had previously had an accident, and the babysitter wasn't responsible. The NSPCC advises babysitters should be sixteen or over, but there's no law that enforces this.

ON FRIDAY AT MANCHESTER CROWN COURT, PAUL STOWERS ADMITTED TO murdering Liane Singleton and then cutting up her body. The murder took place in Oldham last May. He was jailed for life. And Christine Bone, of Oldham has been in Morocco trying to find the remains of her daughter Sara, who died of an ear infection after her father Zaid Barhandi snatched her and took her to Morocco.

REAL-LIFE CRIMINALS ARE TAKING OVER FROM ACTORS in TV entertainment, it seems. More and more programmes such as ITV's "Britain's Most Wanted", Granada's local programme "Crimefile" and BBC1's Crimewatch, plus many others, feature blurry images of assaults, car-chases and raids, many of them in Manchester. But a mother and father in Sale were horrified when they realised the assailant on screen was their own son. Eddie and Janet McGinty had no hesitation in immediately taking their son Michael to the police. But since then the couple have been victimised by local gangs for "grassing" and are currently living at a secret address.

A PILE-UP HAPPENED ON THE EAST BOUND CARRIAGEWAY of the M62 this afternoon, causing 17 mile traffic jams after a lorry crash. Two injured lorry drivers had to be cut out of the wreckage by emergency services. Yes, traffic just gets heavier and heavier - things will be better when the "missing link" of the M60 is ready next year: And future development plans for the motorway include widening the secion between Princess Parkway and the Carrington Spur - but not until 2003. And the Mottram and Tintwistle bypass has been given the go-ahead.

THERE HAVE BEEN ALLEGATIONS OF CORRUPTION among members of the International Olympic Committee. In 1993 they rejected Manchester for the 2000 Olypmic Games and chose Sydney instead. The allegations have been made by Marc Hodler, an IOC executive member. He says that large sums of money may have been paie out by some cities in order to influence the selection, not just of Sydney but many other Olypmic Games cities. It's a serious allegation but if even if it's true, decisions already made won't be changed. Swimmer Sharon Davis has been trying to persuade Olympic Games officials to change a 1980 result, and award her a gold medal. She came second to East German Petra Schneider, from Manchester's twin city of Chemnitz. Schneider, like other GDR athletes, was weaned on large doses of performance-enhancing drugs.

"IT'S IN THE GREATER MANCHESTER AREA where more young men kill themselves more than anywhere else" - I've just transcribed the words of Juliet Morris during a BBC 1 Panorama special about suicides, being shown as I write - her own brother committed suicide four years ago. Case studies featured in the programme are from the Manchester area. Local people who are feeling depressed can call CALM - the Campaign Against Living Miserably on 0800 585858 or the Samaritans 0800 909090. I hope you're feeling OK, wherever you are.

MANCHESTER-BORN BUSINESSMAN GEORGE ATKINSON has been given a six-year jail sentence and fined £1.3m for corruption in the United Arab Emirates, ITV teletext announced earlier this evening. He had been held without charge in Dubai for a long time.

A ROW OVER ALLAGED RACIAL STEREOTYPING erupted on Friday after a new black character in Coronation Street was seen burgling a house, stirring up lots of debate on radio and tv, and also plenty of publicity to the controversial soap opera. Some condemned it as yet another case of black people being portrayed as criminals. But others thought this was a case of over-reaction MEN readers voted by 83% to 17% to say they didn't think it was unfair to black people. Others, including black people themselves, may beg to differ. All that's certain is that the issue of racism is as sensitive as ever.

CONVICTED RAPIST MICHAEL GORDON has been released from prison and is reported to be back on the streets of Manchester - in my local area of Rusholme to be exact. But police have applied for powers to stop him from going out between 10pm and 7am, under brand new legislation. This story made the national news this evening. Let's hope he stays out of trouble.

WOULDN'T IT BE NICE TO GET ON A TRAIN AT PICCADILLY and get off the same train at Paris Gare du Nord - this was originally the plan - I even saw the words "Le Eurotrain habite ici" on a railway shed in Longsight, but last week a consortium of decision-makers decided that running cross-Channel trains north of Watford is commercially unviable. Instead, rail travellers from here to Paris will have to "change at Watford". Richard Branson is very keen to operate a twice-daily Manchester to Paris service. This would be great, even though Branson's company Virgin Trains continues to attract adverse criticism on account of sub-standard trains and punctuality. But the long-awaited "light at the end of the tunnel" will be arriving in 2000 in the shape of a new fleet of tilting trains, costing £1.85bn. Talking of Europe, the MEN readership definitely aren't in love with the Euro - they voted 92% against joining it!

A CONVERTED HANGAR MAY BECOME THE FOURTH TERMINAL AT MANCHESTER AIRPORT - hardly what you'd expect from one of the world's best airports, but this low-price facility may be the way that cut-price operators such as Ryanair and EasyJet will be able to fly out of Manchester. And today, a British Airways jet on its way from Copenhagen to Birmingham made an emergency landing at Manchester Airport - alarms had indicated smoke in the hold, but according to later reports, the alarm may have been caused by stray signals from a passenger's mobile phone. Thank goodness it didn't end up like Friday's horrific crash in Thailand.

RENOVATION WORK ON OXFORD ROAD STATION ROOF IS COMPLETE - picture coming soon. It cost £3m and should hopefully last longer than the original structure, built in 1960 - you'll see a bird's eye view of it in "Hell is a City" starring Stanley Baker. It's possible to travel by train from Manchester Victoria to London - sounds like something from 50 years ago, but without the steam - the fare I believe is £25 return, cheaper if you book in advance. Now there's a nice bit of steam (picture above), operated by the East Lancs Railway - I'd love to travel from Manchester to London on one of these, and it might arrive before the one operated by Virgin Trains!

AND YOU CAN TAKE YOUR CHILDREN ON A FLYING SANTA SPECIAL on a British Airways plane from Manchester Airport - Presents, entertainment and refreshments are included in the £67 fare. The flight lasts 50 minutes.

THE LOCAL CLIMATE IS GOING TO GET WARMER - SO MAYBE IN FUTURE you'll be spending your hols on the "Costa del Ship Canal" - a superb photo-montage by Ben Hughes on page 9 of Friday's MEN shows the Town Hall reflected in several feet of water, with palm tree and gondola.

Coming back to reality, would you believe that there's a ski slope (picture above) and alpine village on Albert Square. Many wouldn't but it's true. Well, they call it a ski slope, but I haven't seen anyone with skis. Saturday lunchtime I got off the 50 to find ubiquitous Cllr Pat Karney about to open it, along with Lord Mayor Gordon Conquest who cut the ribbon.

It was cold and clear towards the beginning of last week, but currently it's a very mild 55/13 degrees outside - I don't like it - December is supposed to be cold! Roll on heavy snow!



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