Friday, May 13, 2022

A ray of light in the Dark Peak

Pic: Freshwalks Fresh Futures on Kinder in April this year

Over the last three years I’ve developed a deep spiritual connection with a mountain.

Kinder Scout, the plateau that dominates the Dark Peak to the east of Greater Manchester represents so much of what I have come to believe in; connecting with and respecting nature, the universal opportunity we all have to explore the challenges of the great outdoors, and something uniquely connected to the traditions of the place I call home.

One of my sons lives over the hill in Raworth and when I drive over to see him - or he drives me - we get an incredible view of the plateau in all kinds of light. It’s like being able to view one of your favourite paintings again and again. Even when storm clouds loom over it, or it is enveloped in darkness.

For me, Kinder is also the spiritual home of Freshwalks, the walking community that I was loosely involved in setting up in 2013 and which my friend Michael Di Paola has established as simply the best networking community I’ve ever had the privilege to be involved in.

I adore the Lake District, I am awestruck by the Cairgorms in Scotland, Snowdonia has a magical magnetism. But Kinder and the Dark Peak feel like they are ours. It’s a different emotional connection. 

When walking up it, I love its unpredictability. My friend John and I set off one sunny August morning last year from the car park at Hayfield quarry where there stands a plaque to the heroes of the Kinder trespass in 1932. We were booted up and ready for anything in our walking shorts and also slapped on the factor 30 as the sun shone, imagining a still stroll around its eerie lunar edges. An hour later we were planning a hasty retreat down Williams Clough, soaked to the bone, as lightning crackled in a dark sky and the rains lashed down on us.

By the time we got back to Hayfield it was cracking the flags again, humbled that Kinder had once again laughed at our plans and reminded us how futile it is to speak of ‘conquering’ mountains and hills.

I was at a low ebb at the time. That challenge, the conversations we had up there that day have sustained me for a long time. I think of so many other days, other friends, other conversations, that have had a similar effect. Sometimes about music, by the way.

Shortly after my jaunt with John, my wife Rachel joined a sunset walk which properly gave her the confidence to make profound lifestyle and fitness choices. She’s now edging ahead of me on the leaderboard for miles walked on Freshwalks this year. 

And so to our latest initiative. I volunteered to be a mentor on the Freshwalks Fresh Futures initiative with Manchester City Council’s Our Year programme, to help young people see what I’ve experienced.

As potential mentors we just brought our open hearts, a curiosity and our passion for the outdoors. The young people brought ideas and energy, but also bonded with each other. It’s taken me a lifetime to find this way of recharging and connecting. Hopefully this day has made an early impact on these guys, though some are already well on their way to their Duke of Edinburgh Awards.

So here's to Kinder, whether in the morning sunrise, through hail and wind, or as the sun sets on another day, it truly was worth fighting for.

Saturday, April 09, 2022

Another disappointing day at Ewood as play off hopes drift away

It was one of those days where the weather couldn’t make it’s mind up, but neither was it clear which Blackburn Rovers would turn up. 

The first half version from Coventry, or the battling second half edition, or the ultimate bottlers. 

As it happened it was the frustrating, nervy, disjointed, diving Rovers. Picking up stupid bookings, over hitting passes, getting in the way, losing shape and failing to hit cow’s arses with banjos, rarely troubling the Blackpool keeper.

For fans of most teams who fancy an end of season flourish, it’s the hope that kills you. I think today that’s gone. I write this before even looking at the other results, but this just doesn’t look like a side with enough belief to secure a top-six finish let alone step up to the occasion of the playoffs.

The team has missed the enterprise and guile of John Buckley in that in-between slot, not least when John Buckley himself has fallen so short of those giddy heights his performances offered. The same too could be said of thrusting Joe Rothwell and busy Lewis Travis. Instead, Rothwell looked disconnected and indifferent today while Travis just seemed to get in the way. 

On the positives, it was good to be reminded how good it feels to have Dack on the pitch. He got the ball in the net but the pass from Lenihan bobbled and slowed on its way which may have bought the advancing defenders a split second worth of reprieve. He offers something exciting, and he should play from the start. 

Another gripe while I’m in a low mood; I want the scoreboard to tell me how long there is to go, not that we’re playing Stoke City on Easter Monday. Or that we’re HOME and playing BLA. These are basic little things, but then so is passing to your own side. And as we know, getting those basics right are the foundations of all good things. 

It’s not over, there are 15 points still to play for. I want to believe, I truly do, and there are better teams than Blackpool in the way, but on a bad show like that my main worry is there aren’t many capable of being as limp and listless as we saw today. 

Music Therapy - top tunes and great jackets

Since me and Neil started doing Music Therapy back in 2020, just as we thought we were emerging out of lockdown, we’ve really discovered a lot about ourselves, but also about our listeners.

Confession time, we only managed to record one show from the studio before another lockdown sent us all home again. For an absolute age we were recording from home. Blissfully, thanks to the ingenuity of the station controller Andy Hoyle and the wonders of modern technology, by some minor miracle, we managed to get a show out every week.

Honestly though, since we returned to the studio, it’s been a proper gamechanger. We get to twiddle nobs a bit more (fnarr, fnarr) get a few tips from Alex Cann, the most prolific man in commercial radio, and take over curated pictures of ourselves wearing a variety of much admired jackets.

One of Neil’s oldest mates said to him that he’d heard the show and that we sound like actual real radio DJs now. I think he meant it as a compliment, we’re certainly taking it as one.

You can’t beat being in the same space and having the right technology. The sound is crisper, we’re not likely to get bounced out by a dodgy WIFI connection, but it’s given us time to think and appreciate the music we play on the show.

We’re both hustling freelancers, looking for new opportunities, more often than not working from home, so the chance to do what human beings should be doing is an important part of our weekly structure. Although we haven’t been headhunted by BBC 6 Music (yet) every person I’ve done work for has found it fascinating that I do this. Neil has made films about the music and fashion scenes in Manchester and Sheffield for the fashion brand Pretty Green, which have been informed by having a focus on music. 

But the main delight has been our interactions with you, the listeners. We have no idea on the numbers of people, but through social media we get lots of love and comments. We don’t do requests, but we do take suggestions from people who get the show and what we’re about.

Some of our listeners aren’t even in Tameside and the High Peak. They use modern technology such as Tune In and Radio Player, or the station’s superb app, to listen to the show from anywhere in the world, at a time of their choosing.

One of those conversations sparked an idea to do a slot called Original Spin. We pick a song that you will be familiar with, but probably didn’t realise was a cover version. A few times these have been Prince songs, I Feel For You, covered by Chaka Khan, and Nothing Compares 2 U which Sinead O’Connor rescued from being an unperformed album track.

It takes us on a journey into different styles, plays to our ethos of there being no such thing as a guilty pleasure and hopefully opens up music that will be new to people.

I also don’t think I’ve been as switched on to new music as I am now. So thanks for the opportunity and keep on listening. Drop us a message if you fancy a chat about what you’d like us to do next.    

Monday, April 04, 2022

Lunch of the month for March - and the winner is ... in Stockport


I've been very pleased with the variety of quick lunches I've managed to have through the month of March. Definitely a Greater Manchester theme this time around as there's a good variety of locations too that are all noteworthy. 

Starting from the top left, going clockwise, is Athena, a very tasty Greek joint on St Petersgate in Stockport, where I spend a lot of time these days. The chicken gyro was very juicy and the sauces added a real kick.

Along the top was a return to Society food hall in Manchester, this time for a katsu curry and dumplings from Manzoku which went down very well and was significantly better than the one I had at Wagamama recently. 

In the top right is crispy beef at Stockport's Kambuja, the Cambodian stall in the Produce Hall. Sensational. 

Then there's a hearty wrap at All Things Nice in Marple where I watched my pal Alex order a cheese and avocado toastie and I suffered a bit of food envy. 

I've included my mum's chicken sandwiches, not because they qualify for this competition, but because 8 pictures look crap and they are truly amazing.

Next was a trip to Oldham with the Professor of kebabs himself, Andy Westwood. Amazing bread, but the salad was hard going. We'll just have to have another one soon to continue our quest. 

In the centre is a succulent burger and fries from The Butcher in the unlikely setting of Manchester Arndale. The company was good too, great to break burgers and bread with Gemma Krysko and her husband Matthew (DJ Radiator, warms up rooms). We were treated too, so thank you. 

Finally, the winner, Stockport Produce Hall is the place, the jerk halloumi wrap from Mamma G's Caribbean Soul Food was the choice and it blew my socks off. Fresh, tangy and very wholesome. 

Saturday, April 02, 2022

Autism acceptance - something for us all

This paper lands on your doormat in the middle of Autism Acceptance Week, as promoted by the charity the National Autistic Society, writes Michael Taylor.

(Tameside Reporter column, 1 April 2022).

Without going into details, I think I’m fairly aware of autism and what it means for how someone with that diagnosis lives their life, battles the education system and locates support.

The mission statement of the charity points out that there are currently around 700,000 autistic people in the UK. Their work seeks to create and contribute to a more inclusive world: a world where autistic people are accepted in society and able to live a life of choice and opportunity. During the week the charity has been sharing lots of information and ideas on how everyone can play their part in making this happen.

Crudely, we are all on a spectrum of how our brains are wired and how our senses interpret, communicate and signal to us how we respond. People on the autism spectrum find many of these processes challenging.

When it comes to encouraging acceptance, TV can play a huge part in doing the heavy lifting for us all. 

There’s a great video on the NAS website by Alan Garner who presents a series called The Autistic Gardner on Channel 4. He makes the point not just that people on the autism spectrum face their own challenges, but that they are so frequently misunderstood and therefore unable to live a life where they reach their full potential.

One of the best TV drama series I have seen is the BBC’s The A Word. It brings to life the complexities of a family challenged by the sinking realism that their beautiful son Joe has autism. His Dad encourages Joe’s love of great music which forms a vital part of the soundtrack, but for me the best part of the series was the rest of the annoying and complex characters around him. Life is like that, and if these lot can accept Joe and all his differences, then so can you.

I didn’t need a TV drama to know what effect a child with profound special educational and emotional needs has on a family. It's uncomfortable, the shock, the stages of comprehension and the allowances you make are all there.

I read somewhere that the series didn't speak a truth about one reviewer's autistic brother. Maybe so, but that's not the point. It didn't try to be the last word on autism any more than it is about the tensions of succession in family businesses.

It can be annoying telling people that autism doesn’t mean maths genius, card counter, or music obsessive. Each person is unique, but several core communications challenges require the rest of us to be more understanding.

Which brings me to the main thrust of this week, awareness, yes, but also acceptance and appreciation of people on the autism spectrum.

Having worked in a university, a media company and been part of social activities around music, football, politics and the outdoors and I can tell you firmly that I meet people all the time who have a way of communicating that others bristle at, because they don't understand the other person's wiring. 

I am not qualified to diagnose, and I don’t claim to have any kind of super power, but I find myself identifying behaviours that if that is a possibility that someone is on the autism spectrum then maybe those of us who are neuro typical have to meet others half way.

We say it at the end of each show, look after each other out there. 

Saturday, March 12, 2022

It was meant to be Roy of the Rovers, but we got same old Rovers instead


It was meant to be Roy of the Rovers stuff, in the end it was just same old Rovers.

It was written that a full year after a horrible injury, Dack returns, comes on as sub, scores the winner. But with a penalty as weak as Kehdra’s at Sheffield United. Quite why Dack took such a feeble shot is a mystery. It sucked the life out of what should have been a turning point in this disappointing phase of the season.

Even getting a penalty award from Gavin Ward was counter to everything you would ever expect from an official who has enraged this fan base more than George Courtney. 

In the first half, to be fair, Ward’s handling of a dismal encounter was probably the only competent performance out there. It couldn’t last.

Either Ward is a shrewd observer of the worst aspects of gamesmanship (cheating) or he just can’t accept that skilful players like Dolan and Khadra ever get legitimately fouled.

There was some good football played in that second half. Van Hecke was masterful. Rothwell menacing, a beautiful shot from Khadra bounced off the bar. Dack had another chance that fell to his sweet right foot. Gallagher, oh dear. He seems to make his best interventions in defensive positions; headed clearances, blocks and tackles. But he’s no striker. Not on recent showings. 

In the end even Bristol City upset their own game plan of following up Millwall’s slow grind of coming for a 0-0 draw. It was a very good goal of which Blackburn Rovers fans used to celebrate quite a few. 

This is my 500 words straight after the final whistle, usually I have a drive home to stew on it, but tonight I’m sat in the back and ignoring my driver.

I feel sad, slightly foolish and not for the first time in the last few years so bitterly disappointed for Dacky. 

Thursday, March 03, 2022

Lunch of the month for February - the winner

The month was cut a little short for me due to having Covid. So these are slightly slimmer pickings than I hoped for. And not many trips into Manchester or Stockport. That will change. 

Full marks to the steak and ale pie at the Wheatsheaf in Old Glossop, it took me back to the very first Freshwalks when this was the final destination. Superb piece of work.

No complaints about Nandos in Stockport either. But it's just a Nando's, right?

Antonios in Ashton was a real surprise. No disrespect to Ashton town centre, but this was a quality Italian and a cut above what I expected. I anticipated Pellicci and got a neighbourhood Piccolino. My canneloni was rich in tomato flavour, the garlic bread of similarly high quality to Rudi's Pizza, and it was a lovely friendly atmosphere. It stood up nicely next to actual Piccolino, where I was delighted to be asked back and I hope we can do some business with my host after our excellent calamari, followed by chicken and gnocci. It's slightly busting the budget rules though.

Also in the foody hot spot of Ashton was the absolute beast of a Morroccan / Lebanese mezze platter from Mozaic.  On any other month it would absolutely smash this competition out of the park. But it was a cold draughty day and though the food warmed us up, it wasn't as transformational as this month's close run winner.

The lunch of the month was actually an all day full Derbyshire breakfast from the Old Hall Hotel in Hope at the end of a glorious Freshwalks sunrise walk. 20 of us arrived and were served promptly, efficiently and with great humour. The bacon was thick and cured, just as I like it, the eggs done to perfection with deep pools of warm yoke to dip the sausage and black pudding into. The oatcake was a curve ball, if I'm honest, but gave it that point of difference for the local twist.

Maybe I'm also slightly biased, because I've had breakfast on my mind this week as Dave Angel reminds us all that pancakes are on Shrove Tuesday, with lemon, and sugar. And that a full English is the one thing at which we rule the world.

Well done everyone.  

Saturday, February 26, 2022

The sweetest victory of all - Rovers v QPR

That was the sweetest victory of all. A victory for the true believers. For all those who kept the faith through the toughest of times.

For the best of times this season previous wins have been grafted on that defence, granted, but it has been the intelligence of John Buckley, Joe Rothwell’s ability to spring a surprise, and of course the goals of Ben Brereton Diaz that have propelled this side to the unimaginable heights. A recent barren patch has missed, in particular, those goals of Diaz, though frankly a bounce off Scott Wharton’s backside would suffice.

So to win against a fellow contender with those key elements missing, on the back of a head messing week for Reda Khadra, is what had me reaching for my professional lexicon of memorable great political acceptance speeches of the twentieth century, and why it was so so sweet.

Not only did Khadra have better chances to score today, he won’t have needed reminding by Sky TV, but he was anyway, that he’d also missed a penalty in front of their cursed cameras on Wednesday night at Bramhall Lane; whilst only picking himself out of the blood and spit of a potential career-ending assault from a flashing Blade.

I can't claim to understand the psychology of a substitution, but when I saw Ryan Hedges stripping off I assumed that was the Brighton loanee done for the day. I suspect, so did he. When he saw Sam Gallagher's number up, he must have thought, cheers gaffer, I won't let you down. 

Given my early judgements on players in this squad, after Fulham I said Jean Paul van Hecke should be sent straight back to Brighton, what I have to say about the two new Ryans probably doesn't count for much. It's not their fault that they bring to my mind a couple of tricky players in the first team of a post-92 university, with distracting thoughts of a stretched deadline on an economics essay.  

On 55 minutes, with Ryan Nyambe on a stretcher, I thought it was another curse of our club. A season going to pot. We all hope it isn't as serious as it looks. 

It seems trite, with careers at stake, to think so immediately of the qualities of his replacement, but I may have to admit I was as wrong about Zeefuik as I was about our other flying Dutchman. He plays like one of life's true eccentrics, a tackling style and a quickness of thought that must make him a nightmare to play against.

Which brings me to the one player in this side who I would absolutely despise if he played for any other team. Lewis Travis brings true grit and devilment. I have zero confidence in his ability to not get that painful ninth booking which will trigger a ban but his pulling of the strings today was a thing to behold. 

Finally, a word on the deserved Man of the Match. I don't know what it is about this kid, but Tyrhys Dolan brings a lump to my throat. His pointing to the sky for his friend, his willingness to get stuck in, his bag of tricks, his zest to play. We are very lucky to have him.  

I said on Twitter on Wednesday after the lamentation at the lane that I hate football. There are other things going on in the world right now more worthy of such emotions, so I was so quickly over it. But for everything Tony Mowbray has been saying about this rather special set of players, I fell right back in love. Fickle, I know, but how sweet it is.