Michael Dobson’s talk on ‘Spaces for Shakespeare’ in Zaporizhzhia, south east Ukraine.

A review for Shakespeare Magazine of Professor Michael Dobson’s lecture in the ‘Shakespeare Days in Ukraine’ series, and as part of his tour of Ukraine, in April and May this year. This is on the Shakespeare Magazine website. The review includes the link for the Shakespeare Days in Ukraine festival from this Spring. A very impressive programme of events coordinated by Professor Nataliya Torkut and members and friends of the Ukrainian Shakespeare Centre. It is worth noting that Zaporizhzhia is in the region next to the War. It is a completely peaceful city despite a war in parts of two regions of the country 100 miles away. There are more shopping malls than Liverpool and more sushi restaurants than Manchester (pity, I don’t like sushi). I would have said more coffee shops also but the UK has had a further explosion of coffee shops in the last 18 months so we’re probably equal to this large city in SE Ukraine, bigger than Liverpool, that nearly no one in the UK has heard of. Great support for the people there that an intrepid Shakespeare public scholar from Birmingham has been to visit. (There are many alternate spellings, Zaporizhia from Russian, is more common still online, and you see Zaporozhye also). There are many great things about the city – Russian, Soviet, Ukrainian, industrial, post-industrial, concrete, green and nature; but the roads and pavements are terrible except in some public areas, and the driving catastrophic.


The Ukrainian Shakespeare Centre website:

Mostly in Ukrainian (a few links in English).

How many British citizens have applied for passports of other EU countries because of the Brexit vote and how many have moved to other EU countries?

I asked “What monitoring is the UK Government doing to find out how many UK citizens have applied for passports of other EU countries since the referendum .. how many UK citizens have .. moved to other EU member states”
“The Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) does not hold information in the scope of your request” Our Govt really is clueless about the effect on British people. This from a Government that bangs on about immigration but UK Government has no records of UK migrants.
National Statistics, the official UK Government statistics body, do not keep any record of British citizens leaving the UK. I travel abroad between one and six times a year and never once, ONCE, have I ever been asked whether I am leaving and coming back.

Another request via whatdotheyknow.com

Policies for dealing with buddleia.

For some time I’ve been very concerned about the damage caused by the pretty, bee friendly but highly invasive plant, buddleia. I was going to ask my City Council if they had policies on this topic but decided to start with the national authorities I thought might be responsible.
Here are links to my questions and answers. The Environment Agency does not deal with these plants unless they are causing a blockage within a watercourse.
“Invasive and injurious plants are not reportable to the Environment
Only if weeds are causing a blockage within a watercourse and flooding is
imminent would be reportable to our incident communication service on 0800 807060.”
They then posted useful information on harmful weeds and invasive non-native plants.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) does not have the information at present because “Defra is currently developing a rapid risk assessment for Buddleia which will assess the associated risks and impacts of the species to GB.” So it looks like they are taking this problem seriously, which is good.
https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/policies_for_dealing_with_buddle#incoming-1252253 (a couple of the initial acknowledgements were obviously meant for someone else and attached to my request by mistake).

Thanks to the WhatDoTheyKnow site for making it easy to submit public Freedom of Information requests.

Buddleia-DEFRA-FOI2018-18546-Response.pdf (194 downloads)

A remarkable Shrewsbury woman in historic Monastir / Bitola.

Here is the story, in 7 photos taken from a display in Shrewsbury, of a British woman who led a team of nurses and was killed in shelling there. Katherine Harley was a prominent suffragette. The city was called Monastir then (its Ottoman name). I recommend a visit to Bitola and the guides don’t mention these stories. They do tell you about the Serbian and French and German war graves, plus historic Ottoman and Jewish cemeteries. Those are the next photos. Shrewsbury display from the Bear Steps gallery. Larger images in gallery at the end.

The story of Katherine Harley from Shrewsbury who came to be nursing in the Balkans in WWI. (1).
The story of Katherine Harley from Shrewsbury who came to be nursing in the Balkans in WWI. (2).
The story of Katherine Harley from Shrewsbury who came to be nursing in the Balkans in WWI. (3).
The story of Katherine Harley from Shrewsbury who came to be nursing in the Balkans in WWI. (4).
The story of Katherine Harley from Shrewsbury who came to be nursing in the Balkans in WWI. (5).
The story of Katherine Harley from Shrewsbury who came to be nursing in the Balkans in WWI. (7).
The story of Katherine Harley from Shrewsbury who came to be nursing in the Balkans in WWI. (8).

Good luck to all my friends in Macedonia for the referendum on Sunday.

Good luck to all my friends in Macedonia for the referendum tomorrow. I really hope that voters vote positively for the Republic of North Macedonia and defeat the extreme nationalists on both sides who want to keep hostility between people alive. This vote is a fantastic opportunity for a country that I love to put people who want neighbours to work together first, for the benefit of all the people of the countries in the region.
Britain has longstanding historical links with Macedonia, mostly forgotten. Here is the first British consulate in Bitola, and site of the one closed a few years ago. Now the town is renowned for its cafe culture. That historic southern city was also on the frontline in World War I (the ‘Salonica front’) of British, French, Serbs and allies against the Austro-Hungarians.

Sefton Coast & Wirral more WW2 heritage neglect.

Cycling several times this Summer along the coast between Crosby and Hightown has reinforced how Sefton Council really is terrible at marking and commemorating World War II history and heritage. You can pass within yards of the gun emplacements defending the mouth of the River Mersey and have no idea that they are there. Fields just inland retain pill boxes but there is no effort to work with farmers to give access to these or mark them, explain what they were for. Nothing to see but they are actual physical reminders of that most terrible conflict and the direct effect that it had on every part of our country as well as the rest of the World. Sefton is also pretty bad on countryside access, maybe because the borough is artificially cut off from its rural West Lancashire hinterland. Hightown, a large commuter settlement in the middle of the borough is totally cut off inland from any on foot or safe cycling access to the countryside.

In Bootle (also Sefton borough) along the Leeds Liverpool canal there are some signs indicating engineering to stop flooding being caused by bomb damage during the War. These look like they were put up by British Waterways / the canal authorities, or a local regeneration initiative rather than directly by the Council. Is Sefton however worse than other boroughs in the Liverpool City Region? From cycling and walking on the Wirral it looks like Wirral is nearly as bad. There is some commemoration done by local public spirited citizens, especially the posters remembering ships bombed in the river Mersey pinned up along the Seacombe, Wallasey, New Brighton promenade. Elsewhere on the Wirral there is the same startling ignoring of World War 2 physical history. There are pill boxes guarding a key strategic bridge near the chemical works at Port Sunlight, between historic Port Sunlight and Bromborough. They are there but nothing is done to explain their significance. Surely those younger than us who were brought up on War films in the 1970s may not appreciate this. There is a prestige housing development next door, has the Wirral Council (Wirral MBC) asked if they would contribute to some upkeep and explanation? A very small but extra historic feature for visitors to Lord Lever’s model workers’ village to see.

It is only once you cross the modern administrative boundary from the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral into the South Wirral district of Neston (under the modern Cheshire West and Chester Council) that there is one really clever, innovative and welcome initiative. A war time pill box turned into a bat box. I first saw a neglected looking pill box crossing the road between Neston and Parkgate on a short walk on the Wirral Way. Turn your head to the right, towards the car park (if heading south) and there it is. I’d cycled past it several times before over some years without ever noticing the structure. A closer look – at this pill box in the actual car park – reveals that it is not neglected at all. It has been turned into a home for bats. A fantastic local environmental initiative that also both utilises and recognises one of our important parts of Second World War infrastructure. Well done to those involved.

Explanation for cyclist at pill box photo. Cycling with my friend Dr Jon Clarkson (a World War 2 enthusiast and expert) by chance I saw for the first time this pill box slightly inland of the A565 at Formby. Local GP Jon also pointed out the dragons teeth anti-tank obstacles along the former railway line and drainage ditch at key choke points on Downholland Moss. There are a few still in place of the Quality Street like triangular concrete blocks. These sites are just over the administrative boundary of Sefton MBC into West Lancashire Council. There is no interpretation or information about the features visible.


Parkgate Bat Box. See also about the significance of the pill box location on Station Road explained on the Parkgate Heritage Trail site: http://www.parkgateheritagetrail.org/home/locations/stationroad/


For those interested there is detail on different types of anti-tank obstacle on the Pillbox Study Group site. http://www.pillbox-study-group.org.uk/other-wwii-defensive-structures/anti-tank-obstacles/

The site is a mine (no pun intended) of useful and interesting information.


The real test for Corbyn and the Labour Left is applying the same standard to dodgy regimes that they like.

Surely the test for Corbyn and the Labour ‘Left’ is not whether they compare Israel the same as South Africa, the UK, USA, France, China or Saudi Arabia, but whether Corbyn and the Labour ‘Left’ compare Israel to Putin’s Russia, Saddam’s Iraq, Gaddafi’s Libya, Assad’s Syria, Zimbabwe, Serbia (under Milosevic), Iran, the IRA terrorists and other ideological regimes and groups that they appear to condemn less than any brutal state policies that are White capitalist State or Arab Monarchy led. Despite the Israeli State’s brutal, violent, racist, land stealing policies comparisons with Nazi Germany, or the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin, are simply ridiculous – those regimes and their Leaders and minions are off the scale for evil. But Jeremy Corbyn and many on the Labour authoritarian Left seem unwilling to compare their favourite repressive leaders, dictators and violent groups to the same standards that they rightly apply to the Israeli government and its actions.

I disagree that this is anti-semitism:
“• Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.” I agree with the right of the State of Israel to exist but it can be a valid political position to disagree with a Jewish State established by force in Palestine (just as it is historically fair to point out that the United States of America stole Texas from Mexico after a colonial war). I disagree in general with changing international borders by force because of all the problems that that brings, even though usually arbitrary borders as accidents of history bring themselves many problems. I am not a great fan of the nation state, however denying a right for people who want to be Israelis a state in Israel (excluding the settlements, occupied territories and East Jerusalem) when that state has existed for seventy years is ridiculous.

To my mind it is these points from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism and examples that the British political far Left have a problem with
• Applying double standards by requiring of it a behavior not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation.
• Holding Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel.
The latter often by language and tone if not directly or even deliberately.

Ironically on the latter they are in company – along a spectrum of extremism – with so-called ‘Islamic’ extremists, and so-called ‘Christian’ far right racists in the US and Europe, and Russia. One thing that separates many US far right from the Russian state backed racist Eastern and Western European far right is that the US ‘evangelical’ ‘Christian’ far right is often very pro the brutal Israeli government. The Russian backed narrative is the same as the racist blame messages rife in the former Russian Empire and Soviet Union and across much of Eastern Europe “Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.” A view shared by many ‘Muslim’ racists. Just as the people of different neighbouring countries with political or popular antagonism often have very much in common, authoritarian, religious and ideological extremists do too. It is a reminder to the peace loving, friendly, tolerant majority to stand up to them all the time.

The IHRA definition of antisemitism found here
https://www.holocaustremembrance.com/sites/default/files/press_release_document_antisemitism.pdf via this page

As at 7 September 2018.


It is worth Jewish fanatics, those who steal and occupy land with settlements, those who defend the brutal reaction of the Israeli military to peaceful protests & their use of extreme lethal force against peaceful and non-lethal assaults alike, to remember that it was a Jewish fanatic who destroyed the best chance of peace that existed with the two State initiative supported by President Yitzhak Rabin. Here was a genuine Israeli hero, a soldier and a brave politician, a Statesman, murdered by a cowardly extremist. One of the worst political crimes of our era and one that has held Israelis and Palestinians alike in hostage to violence. We should remember the courage of Yitzhak Rabin and the ability of politicians and leaders to talk to enemies and make compromises for the sake of peace.

If you’re in Zaporizhia South East Ukraine there is a great beer scene growing.

This is a review of AmBar beer bar in Zaporizhia / Zaporizhzhia, a major city in south east Ukraine. The review compares briefly with a few micro-brewery / ‘craft’ beer and brewery bars, and is the original I posted on TripAdvisor. It turns out that TripAdvisor policy is that you cannot compare places with each other, so the review must only be about the particular place. That doesn’t do justice to why I thought AmBar is the best bar in the city to try out a range of Ukrainian beers with food, so I’m posting an expanded version of the original review here.

Out of an increasing choice, this is probably the best bar in the city to try a range of mainstream and speciality Ukrainian beers, along with food. While Beer Book, recommended by American travel writer Meghan Fox and locals, is the only US/AUS/UK style craft beer bar I have found (a small three room basement bar), the beers there tend to be more extreme craft beers. The excessively hoppy or strong types favoured by ‘craft beer’ fans. On the other hand the excellent Tirlo, which does beer and food (and other drinks), has mainly mainstream national and ‘international’ branded beer, and the smart brew pub / craft brewery restaurants Pinta and out of centre Kronsbeer, do their own beer. Kronsbeer has an excellent range in its unlikely setting on a main road next to a car wash. I like bar restaurant AmBar, at Oleksandrivska, 88, behind the Palmyra mall complex, which serves probably the best range of Ukrainian styles of beer, and food that accompanies them (unlike the new small German style Limbier brewery, between the Theatre and Dubovka park, not limited to the dried fish and ‘chips’ – crisps & beer snacks). AmBar is a typical restaurant type ‘bar’ so best visited with friends. https://ambar.net.ua/ Opposite an apparently long established upmarket fish restaurant, Beluga, I’ve never noticed before. My friend and colleague Alesia introduced me to this bar, we visited twice, coming back with another University friend, and I will certainly visit again when I am next in town. The beer bars listed in my review are all expensive for Ukraine but high quality.

Locations. Pinta (traditional theme downstairs, modern glass and metal upstairs), Tirlo (beer hall size basement, sleek and modern) and Beer Book are fairly near each other to the north west (river direction) and a mile away in the centre of the main avenue. AmBar is a few miles away south east end of the Avenue near the University / Cathedral district not far from the Aurora shopping mall. Limbier (small modern brewery with a little bar where you can have a freshly poured pint or get takeaway) is about fifteen or twenty minutes walk from there, on the south west end of Troitska Street, over the tram tracks. Kronsbeer is south, on the edge of the outer Pivdenny District, about a mile from the main railway station. The best way to get between the three areas is to get someone to call a reputable taxi.

Note. Other choices are available. There are many trendy bars and restaurants – especially it seems in the Summer – along Mayakovskogo and surrounding streets but in my experience Ukrainian bars, restaurants and hotels want to sell ‘international’ branded drinks not good Ukrainian beer and wine. (An exception is the cheap and cheerful and good Puzata Khata traditional Ukrainian theme self service restaurant chain). You can also get very cheap takeaway beer – mass produced national and local and some increasingly tasty regional brews – from the numerous beer kiosks, some of which have been smartened up like those in the bigger neighbouring city of Dnipro. Or drink cheap local mass produced beer in some of the dingiest dives you’ve ever seen. Locals can tell you about those; the bars I describe are comparable to good beer bars in Western and Eastern Europe. Bastion should also get a mention here, as the first international type beer bar I found, though I don’t recommend the Carling and you will probably have to reserve a table as it is quite a small cellar when the outdoor seating is not in use, and you have to have a table. It took me several times to find it again after visiting first with a Polish and Belorussian colleagues.

Culture days in Britain Summer 2018. Long report.

Culture days in Britain Summer 2018.


I don’t usually write about culture on this website. But this Summer in Britain I’ve visited by chance or design several exhibitions that have been really impressive. The Grayson Perry exhibition in Bristol, Tolkien in Oxford, the Singh Twins in Wolverhampton, and Japanese culture in Cardiff have been highlights. I didn’t think I would enjoy the Grayson Perry but I really did. It is very impressive. And very similar but very different was the Singh Twins’ banners that I saw in Wolverhampton. Highly important series of works by the three artists. While the Kizuna (friendship) exhibition in Wales and the Chinese warriors in Liverpool brought these sometimes very familiar seeming Eastern cultures closer to us. Well done to all involved. And if you have a day off, or a free afternoon think about going to one of your local galleries or museums or take a bus or a train to the next town or city and you will usually find something that interests you.


Longer musings follow but that short review is what I really wanted to say.


Culture days in Britain Summer 2018. Long report.


Long report.


I don’t usually write about culture. It is only as an advancing adult that I’ve made much of an effort when holidaying or working abroad to see at least one or two cultural things. A museum or two, a gallery, maybe two; I’ve quite gone off castles due to too much tragic or pathetic history but often a castle or two as well as they happen to be there. Normally I still love my European (city) breaks where you just soak up the atmosphere of the wonderful Hapsburg historic squares and the cityscapes. In Porto, Dnipro, Zaporizhzhya / Zaporizhia, Vasilivka (Ukraine – definitely not Hapsburg), Alicante, Villajoyosa I’ve visited various great museums or displays in the first half of this year and seen some impressive cultural celebrations. In Britain I’ve made a little bit of effort when in a new town or city, or on a short trip, to see some cultural sites. It took me a few years to realise this was a good way to make sure when you went somewhere you actually saw some of the town, and got a break from the bubble of political conferences, which I never did at political or academic conferences when I was younger and concentrated on being seen and drinking in the bar(s). Also a useful break from the drinking.


This Summer, 2018, I happen more by chance than design to have called in to several excellent exhibitions in Britain. In late June in Bristol I decided to call in to the Grayson Perry exhibition at the City Art Gallery, largely because I thought I should. I didn’t think I would enjoy it and I really did. I was very glad I walked in and paid the reasonable fee. One large busy room with fantastic banners. Insightful, full of imagery of modern Britain. Very deservedly highly important art of modern times. A week later in Oxford it was the small packed Tolkien exhibition at the Weston wing of the Bodleian library. Lots of interesting detail that I didn’t know, and classic illustrations. Next door in the ‘Treasures’ collection or ‘Treasury’ room I was able to see a copy of the Georgian epic tale ‘the Knight in the Panther’s Skin’ by Shota Rustaveli. Plus some of the translation notes by Marjory Wardrop – this remarkable woman being why the illustrated manuscript was placed in a celebration of remarkable women. Back in Liverpool, it was the Terracotta warriors. An incredibly packed exhibition (packed with people), a dozen figures – enough to make an impact – many artefacts, animation (by my friends at Draw and Code) and useful illustration and interpretation. Unlike most historical displays I see there was enough detail and factual information, although much of course was speculation. Grayson Perry (‘the Vanity of Small Differences’ tapestries), Tolkien, the Knight in the Panther’s Skin, Chinese men. This write up was going to end there but since then I’ve been for the first time to Wolverhampton. I stopped in Wolverhampton specifically to see the Singh Twins exhibition ‘Slaves of Fashion’ that I missed in Liverpool. I was very glad I did. The exhibition – large banners like the Grayson Perry – is like the Grayson Perry rich in colour, interesting details, thought provoking (I can also use the over used word challenging), and has impact. One large room with the electronic hangings and two side rooms with connected exhibits from the Wolverhampton Gallery and from National Museums Liverpool, and the story of how the artworks are made. That shows the work and thinking that has gone in to create these pieces which like the Perry are of great importance for 21Century art in Britain, and a real contribution of British (and Indian) art to the World.


I stopped in Wolverhampton en route to Cardiff where I found a city hosting a National Eisteddfod. (A celebration of the culture and language in Wales). With my father-in-law, bookseller Nick, we took in some of the atmosphere of the stands and exhibitions there and then went to see the Kizuna exhibition on Japanese culture and Wales. There are banners proclaiming KIZUNA all around the city centre but I had no idea what this meant. It means bonds of friendship, and the interesting display, two parts in one long room, charts the history of connections between Japan and Wales which is longer than you might think. 50 Japanese companies employ over 5,000 people in Wales. Many antique, some very historic, and modern pieces of Japanese culture, design and technology are on display. A Japanese lacquered coffer (chest) has been at Chirk Castle on the North Welsh border for four hundred years, while 50 Japanese companies employ over 5,000 people in Wales today. Another first for me on this trip was a first actual day out in Swansea. On probably the wettest day of the Summer I had an interesting walk through the different ages of town centre and dock / river front regeneration, and got to the Egypt Centre at Swansea University (a couple of miles from the city centre) this time. So several other cultural locations to see on a future visit.


There is so much on in Britain each Summer now that you can experience high quality culture everywhere. You could watch theatre, outdoor and amateur Shakespeare every night and multiple times at the weekends. As I’ve spent much of the Summer at home I’ve enjoyed seeing the great numbers of tourists. Foreign visitors from all around the World taking advantage of the weak pound perhaps to enjoy a trip to Britain. It’s great to see them here. As local residents in a town we often don’t see the things the tourists do, this is a reminder to also be a tourist in your own town from time to time. Or visit the next one.


I went to the Tolkien and the Terracotta Warriors with Frances and Judy respectively, and the Japanese displays with Nick. These are my views but they were also very impressed by these exhibitions. My father was fascinated with China (and ancient Egypt). My sister has awed us with her story of seeing the Terracotta Warriors at Xian in China in 2000. And she brought back mini clay figures for each of us that were a rare site in Britain then. Seeing the figures in my home city was a nice way to see a small party of the immense culture of China.


The Japan (Kizuna) exhibition in Cardiff is on until 9 September.

The China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors in Liverpool until 28 October.

The Singh Twins’ Slaves of Fashion at Wolverhampton until 16 September.