Tuesday, November 24, 2020

The way we wore - thinking a bit more about fashion

There's a certain ugliness to Black Friday. I never want to be that person attacking businesses for making a living, but there's something grotesque about this recent import. Impulse shopping driven by excessive discounting.

I hope it's a chance to think a bit about where stuff comes from. It's also maybe an opportunity for homespun brands that properly get provenance and building a decent partnership with suppliers. I was pleased to see that one of my favourite brands Haglofs are doing an anti-Black Friday campaign and urging people to recycle instead with the launch of Haglofs Restored. It's not something I'll have call for just yet, as I'm a recent convert and it seems remarkably resilient technical clothing that's also really well made and very smart too.  

I've been reading Patagonia founder Yves Chouinard's book about the evolution of the outdoor brand and the risks he's taken and the decisions he made early on. Not only is it really smart gear, it's rooted in excellent values. I love how he declared his Manchester shop as a gift to the people of the city and the area. I want to believe that. I also find myself wondering why everyone doesn't do this. Not only is it good, it's good business. As a mate who knows far more about this sort of stuff than me pointed out, Kantar research reveals that brands with a clear commitment to purpose outperformed others massively. 

Patrick Grant, founder of Community Clothing has issued a bit of a plea for the fashion industry in this country. He's passionate about a revival and urges us to support social enterprises that support skilled jobs. I don't see a problem with that. I've bought loads of pieces from CC over the last few years, basic, well made, hard wearing staple items. I don't see the point of a massive mark up on well marketed brands that I won't name, but the lambswool jumper I'm wearing today is from a quality mill in Scotland and produced through CC, just as the Peacoat (pictured) was made in Blackburn using Hainsworth milled wool. 

Avid readers of this blog will note too that the picture is cropped to edit the trouser troubles I talked about last week. 

Monday, November 23, 2020

A bit of a lockdown telly catch up

Here are a few things we're watched on telly over the last few months, no spoilers.

I've already posted up reviews of The Crown, Somebody Feed Phil and the feature length documentary The Three Kings, which merited direct and immediate attention, but here's the rest in descending quality order.

Fargo (Netflix) - we're up to series two and three back to back and it was right up there amongst the best telly we've seen during lockdown. The whole Fargo universe is eccentric genius, brilliantly acted and with characters like you've never seen before, even if the one constant is a sympathetic and under resourced  police officer doing his or her best. I really enjoyed the whole brutal gang war in series two, with the outstanding character Hanzee Dent sporting a fantastic green combat jacket. Series three took things up another notch on the bad guy front, with the modern take on global crime in the persona of David Thewlis' enigmatic and verbose V.M. Varga. 

Mystery Road (BBC) - The second series of this Australian outback detective drama contained most of the boilerplate features of Down Under noir, corrupt cops and darkly cruel bad guys. It was a good story with few surprises and twists and turns. Lead actor Aaron Pedersen as Jay Swan does understated very well, but as with so many other Aussie series it's always the women that shine brightest, especially Tasma Walton as Jay's estranged wife Mary.

Hanna (Prime) - I enjoyed the first season where we saw feral child assassin on a string of adventures, and searching for the sinister truth. Series two was a bit like High Street Musical mashed up with Jason Bourne, in rural England. Preposterous nonsense really, but strangely enjoyable.

Roadkill (BBC) - Much like The Crown, Roadkill was brilliantly acted - especially by Hugh Laurie - but was pretty dismal. I'm always a bit surprised at the cartoon portrayal of politicians, their officials and the deep state. I know we have new levels of venal reality to draw from, but they never seem to have anything other than dark motives. But my main problem with it was that nothing that happened to anyone seemed to have any meaning, and so many of the characters had no purpose, a very strange mix. 

Sunday, November 22, 2020

The footballification of politics and scandal

Sorry, not sorry

Usually, when an organisation launches an enquiry, it is to have an independent person reach a just and fair conclusion about something that has gone wrong. In a just and fair world, those who are investigated and found to have trangressed, misbehaved and simply made a mistake, are supposed to take responsibility for that. This of course was designed to provide accountability and trigger change in an imperfect world.

Let's just have a think about what's been happening. Well, you all see the news and frankly I haven't the words any more. People seem to disregard these simple and thoughtful attempts to regulate our society as a trigger to double down. 

I haven't read it yet, but I believe the writer and broadcaster James O'Brien is developing this theory in his new book: 

We’re completely immersed in the “footballification” of politics. Actions are judged not by an objective assessment of their content but by the perceived allegiances of protagonists. We tackle it by publicly owning our mistakes, praising opposing ‘teams’ & criticising our own. 

So, call me a dreary centrist if you like, but Priti Patel, Cardinal Vincent Nichols and Jeremy Corbyn need to own their errors, show some contrition, and their supporters need to think of the consequences of on people affected by their failures of leadership, not doubling down. There's something worse about a non-apology apology. "I'm sorry if you were offended by my unintentional bullying of you" or frankly,  "I oppose anti-semitism and all forms of racism", is the left wing version of "don't all lives matter?"

Down with this sort of thing. Careful now.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

iFollow is horrible, I can't be bothered with it

In the last two seasons the fixture I had my eye on more than any other was Luton Town away. Sad isn't it? To actually want to go to ickle racist Stephen's team. But I've never been to Kenilworth Road, the only stadium in the Championship I've not seen my Blackburn Rovers at. There's Brentford's new home, I suppose, but no-one's been there yet. I'm collecting my totals and once this lockdown ends, I'm going to swiftly complete the remaining 12 of the 92.

Just as I posted that I haven't been to a live event since the end of February, the last Rovers match was on the same day. I do miss everything about going to the match, but as followers of this blog will recall, it's a lot to do with spending time with the two of my lads who support Rovers. I really cherish it.

We're instead are offered the opportunity to watch the matches on TV. That means paying £10 per game for something called iFollow. In principle it's a good idea. But I'm going to be as tactful as I can when I say this: it's rubbish. Today's game at Luton was probably the worst of the lot, and in truth I'm not going to bother again. Bad production, terrible lighting, dreadful directing, the commentary I manage to zone out of, but it's not a patch on BBC local radio. The still picture at the top is the precise moment the screen froze for one fan.  The club guilt trip the fans with a message about pirate streams, but I'll say this now - what we saw today wasn't worth £10 for a headache and sea sickness. 

As for the game, it was there for the taking and I'm disappointed. Two shocking refereeing decisions at the end from Gavin Ward of Surrey, not the only person in Luton today stealing a living. Bitter? Grumpy? Fed up with football? You bet. 


Friday, November 20, 2020

The Crown - is it me, or is it now a sitcom?

I think most of the acting, set design and period setting in the Netflix series The Crown is as good as anything I've seen. Not only are really good actors cast perfectly, they carry off their roles with studied perfection and attention to detail. Most of the time.

The stories take some liberties. On balance I see how the writer takes a number of known established facts and builds a narrative around presenting them as they may have been discussed and talked about at the time. There probably was no letter from Lord Mountbatten to Charles telling him to stop carrying on with Camilla, but there is supposedly enough evidence to make it a plot device to carry through that tension. Some are inexcusable and exist to simplify, rather than amplify and exaggerate - plenty of critics have piled in on the chronic inconsistencies around Mark Thatcher going missing in the Sahara and the start of the Falklands War. 

There are two emotionally manipulative narratives underpinning the whole exercise. One is the moral collapse of the House of Windsor and the sense that a distracted, hapless but well meaning Queen holds together a rag bag of spoilt brats, bullies and spiteful egos. It's the Princess Diana vs the Windsor being played out and it's clear which side The Crown is on. Seeds are sewn too for what we now believe about Prince Andrew. It all feels like it's building up to a terrible reckoning. The future is not yet written, but then clearly the past isn't either.

The other underlying pitch for 80s at history is what I can only describe as the Brassed Off view of life. Not even a Boys from the Blackstuff view, but a simplified and romantic paternalism. Maybe that's how we're supposed to see the world through the Queen's eyes. Some of it though is so obviously geared to that version of truth that it's almost like a parody. It even reminded me of the Comic Strip presents classic Strike, where Peter Richardson played Al Pacino playing Arthur Scargill.

So we're halfway through season 4 now and are cracking on with it. Season 5 though. Oooooh,

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Events dear boy, events

For the best part of 20 years, a huge part of my working life has pivoted around live events. As a business journalist the annual editorial calendar would be oriented towards trade shows and conferences. It's given me a good life, all told. I wouldn't have got to travel the world and learn as much without them. In my second act, from 2000, I found myself hosting business breakfasts, lunches and dinners pretty much every week. From 2012 I tried to build a client base as an events host and producer and to create a brand around live debates. Even at the University, building a regional network - and internal communications - has often involved the old fashioned tricks of filling a room full of the right people and engaging in meaningful conversations. 

About a year ago, I really enjoyed interviewing Andy Burnham on stage at a business event for my old client the ICAEW in Manchester in front of a live audience (pictured, above). The occasion was great, and it was the bits around it, the people, the conversations and the laughs over drinks that made it an evening to remember.  

COVID has clearly changed everything. I dare not even imagine the horrors of trying to earn a living doing all of these things in a time when events aren't allowed. The last live event I went to was TEDx Manchester at the Bridgewater Hall at the end of February. One by one, March's dates got cancelled including those run by good friends of mine.

Over time the attempts to do something different have been a real credit to the creativity of the events professionals I've got to know over time. I still get asked to chair sessions, introduce speakers and even speak at events and it's been a genuine lifeline since March. During lockdown, I've also been to lots of events on Zoom, and I was at one today about cities that was organised by the outrageously good new media outlet, Tortoise. New techniques, rhythms and disciplines have been established in that relatively short space of time. Technology can't make a boring speaker better, and sadly it can't light up a Zoom call in the way a great speaker can electrify a live audience. 

It's also required events themselves to be better structured and sharper. Given most of us get drained by the performative demands of Zoom calls and Teams meetings, the stage management of an event demands that something has to be better paced, scripted and prepped. 

I'm in that process at the moment, thinking through some internal projects, but also how we project externally and being part of the constant conversation. I've been grateful to Quest Media, Bird Consultancy, Downtown, the Growth Company, Labour Economics Society and Manchester Digital for opportunities to take a virtual stage over this time. Tomorrow I'm involved in two sessions at the iNetwork annual conference for public sector leaders. Next week, I'm hosting some freestyle pitches at the People's Powerhouse event. We should have been in Blackpool. Maybe next year.

Soon hopefully, we're hatching plans for a hybrid event schedule which I'm starting to get excited about. It will be a way to get back together in some form, when this cursed lockdown and social distancing is over. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Stockport should support Greater Manchester's plan for jobs and homes

Unlike most people I follow some of the twists and turns of local politics. The latest row is an attempt by the Liberal Democrats on Stockport Council to take our local area out of something called the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework. I wrote on this blog almost two years ago that it could well come a cropper in this very ward, as the Labour group on the council don't have the numbers without Conservative support. So, unless there are assurances on the zoning of house building land in High Lane, then I can't see our local Tory councillor backing it. Similarly, Heald Green don't seem to want any more houses either.

I hear the argument trotted out that it should be brownfield first. That's both a neat way of saying building should be of houses where no-one currently wants to live, and that there is a vast amount of former industrial land that no-one has thought of remediating and developing. It's not true. Brownfield costs a lot to develop, and even if all the sites are built, it only gets us so far. Also, this is a long term plan for a lot of houses over a long period of time, and priority is given to building around infrastructure. The new link road to the airport is hard infrastructure. It is meant to be built around.

A young person I know pointed out to me that those posters in High Lane with the slogan NO TO MASS DEVELOPMENT, and accompanied by a picture of a gas mask, are often at the end of driveways with two or three cars, sometimes 4x4 diesels. It's where irony parks his car. 

When I wrote about this in 2018 the trigger was a planning application in the centre of Marple to develop an old school building. People lost their heads about it, and said it shouldn't be developed because, er, they used to go to school there and it should be a community hub. I have lost count of the number of underused 'community hubs' and cafes in Marple. There was also an assumption it was going to look terrible. I walked past the building site yesterday and saw the apartments and a new Co-op store taking shape and frankly it's a massive improvement aesthetically. In time, it will be somewhere for people to live and add to the community in the centre of Marple, boosting the economy of the neighbourhood. 

It's an emotive issue and one I run the risk of being called out for. I'm involved in a controversial project at work, but I do so with a fervent belief in the need to build more homes. I was once asked HOW WOULD YOU LIKE IT? if someone wanted to take land and build houses ON YOUR ROAD. My answer is simple, I did actively oppose Marple College selling land to a supermarket ON MY ROAD, but instead I equally actively supported housing on the site instead. I genuinely don't think my life, or that of my neighbours, has been worse as a result of the new estate being built.

It's easy to always be against stuff, the big challenge, the brave thing, is to say what you are for. Usually I'm for progress. Stockport should support Greater Manchester's plan for jobs and homes.