Friday, December 29, 2006

Rovers at Christmas

Ours is a house divided when it comes to football. Most of us support Blackburn Rovers. Rachel holds out for, er, Burnley, while one of her two lads is loyal to his father and supports Spurs. We're working on those two, as all 7 of us are going to Ewood Park tomorrow to see Rovers v Middlesbrough.

Five of us, including first visits for the youngest two, plus a contingent from Lancaster, saw the momentus 1-0 victory over Liverpool. Which I enjoyed reading about here.

Above is Elliot celebrating Benni McCarthy's second half strike, while Rachel enjoys the view from the upper tier of the Blackburn End.
And then here is Matt predicting 3 points for the Rovers.

Ten thoughts on...books


A new bookcase and several new tomes to get through, courtesy of Santa and Rachel.

Here are ten books that have been important to me.

King Ottakar's Sceptre by Herge, a Tintin political drama
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by CS Lewis, magical and never disappoints a revisit
To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee, O level set text, but awesome
Enemy of the People by Henrik Ibsen, burning sense of individual rights
1984 by George Orwell, read everything, but this is the one
Alma Cogan by Gordon Burn, the most shocking novel ever
Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby, first bloke memoir and about so much more than football
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, just superb
No one Left to Lie To by Christopher Hitchens, devastating account of the Clinton presidency, Hitch at his very best
Cocky by Peter Walsh et al, dense but gripping account of Liverpool drug baron Curtis Warren

Friday, December 22, 2006

Ten thoughts on...Christmas

Ten thoughts on why this Christmas is going to be the greatest ever

The kids, they just love it

The kids Christmas shows and nativity plays - the heart just pounds with pride, three down one to go

My first with Rachel, who just loves Christmas

A dirty great roast dinner, with stuffing (and I'm cooking it on the Aga)

Loads of football, usually a good thing, bring on the Scousers, then Middlesbrough

Christmas day mass at Holy Spirit Church, Marple - remember that Jesus Christ was born. Think, contemplate, celebrate, pray. Hope.

The best type of weather - bright and cold

Going to Lancaster, wonderful place to visit

A walk in Williamson's Park, Lancaster

Boxing day buffet

Happy Christmas to you all!

Monday, December 18, 2006

Tis the season to be Halle

Is it possible to have too much fun? No. Rachel and I went to the Halle Christmas carol concert at the Bridgewater Hall last night. It was wonderful. Conductor James Burton was a true showman. Throats are a tad sore this morning, but it was a very uplifting night. Thanks to Richard and Katrina Topliss for great company and hospitality.

When I arrived at Insider in 2000 I was told the magazine needed to broaden its appeal and tap into the New Manchester Establishment, music promoters and property developers, I suppose. We were too closely identified with the Bridgewater Hall set, apparently. I think I quite like that, to be honest.

Perspex pyramids


Boris Johnson in The Spectator this week makes a sprited case for a crucial part of my business - award dinners.

He even makes a very familiar reference which I can wholly endorse.

"I defend these awards ceremonies for the simple happiness they bring to all. Before we sneer, we should remember the joy it can bring to someone in a not especially glamorous line of work to be called on stage and receive a manly handshake from Andrew Neil or a broad wink from Floella Benjamin (or possibly the other way round) and be told they have excelled."

A link to my manly handshake is here.


A picture of me with my awards is here, it's the only way I can get it on the site. I didn't really want to include it here.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Heaton, more!

We went to see The Beautiful South last night at the MEN Arena (a huge thanks to my old pal John Knight). Magnificent. Great mixture of new material and catchy tracks off the new album Superbi.

The support was Badly Drawn Boy, who can play well enough but can't write songs to save his life. "Give him a chorus and that bit at the end, where he wails on and on about the loss of a friend, etc".

Marple pies - more grey mush intruders

A chain called Greenhalgh's has opened a bakery and pie shop in Marple. It's only a few doors from Greggs but is unwelcome competition for the two excellent local bakeries Archers and Grenaby Farm. Anyway, I tried a steak pie on Wednesday and the pastry was dry and the filling was tasteless. Elliot, 2, said this about his sausage roll: "no like it".
We returned to Grenaby Farm today. Still the king of Marple piemakers.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Ten thoughts on...being wrong

Everyone's banging on about the cricket in the office. How Duncan Fletcher should have picked Monty Panesar and that he got it wrong. It's hard to admit you're wrong. There's nothing more nauseating than hearing a "told you so". There have also been calls for people who supported the Iraq war, like Norman Geras and Christopher Hitchens, to admit they were wrong for doing so. They won't, and I agree with them.
Here are ten things I went into print about, or committed myself to, and was completely wrong.

* Joined Labour when they still had clause 4 of the Labour Party constitution - it was nonsense - I was wrong.

* Unilateral nuclear disarmament - as a teenager I was in CND - I was wrong.

* "Blackburn Rovers will never be a big spending club" - When Saturday Comes magazine 1990 - clearly wrong, never saw Jack Walker coming. But I'd say it now and be right.

* "It is unlikely that anyone could now afford to repeat what Jack Walker did and ensure the Premiership title. The entry ticket is too high." - Quoted in The Club That Jack Built by Charles Lambert (Milo Books). Never saw the Russian oligarchs coming. Wrongish.

* "HTV will lose their licence to C3W," - Television Week magazine 1993. Nope, they won it. Press office in Bristol asked me if I wanted the recipe for humble pie. Wrong again.

* I left EMAP to go and work in TV; I thought I'd like it. Wrong move. Awful experience.

* "Quantel's days are numbered, open systems will conquer the world," - Post Update magazine 1997 - still going strong, I was wrong.

* I supported calls for a directly elected regional assembly for the North West. A stupid idea and it was very wrong headed of me to back it.

* "GUS will break up this year and Matalan, JJB and JD Sports will go private in 2005." Wrong, Matalan managed it this year though. GUS left it for another year.

* "And the winner for the North West top technology company of 2003, as chosen by Deloitte and Insider, is...iSoft." Fast 50 technology awards 2003. Strangely, all mention of it has been erased from the Deloitte site. We weren't the only ones, here are iSoft's other awards. Oh dear, that was wrong of us, wasn't it? Didn't see that coming.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The simple solution never is

As the website Eye on Manchester has done a wonderful plug for the end of year edition of North West Business Insider magazine, it seemed odd that the Marple Leaf should avoid the subject.
Here is my lead article on the subject of the big issues of 2006, headlined, The simple solution never is.

There is a simple and easy solution to the current hysteria about how to reduce carbon emissions in this country. Shut down heavy industry altogether and let the future of the planet sit heavily on the conscience of the Chinese, the Russians and the Indians.

All this obsession with sneering at car drivers, dreaming up new taxes and wittering on about windmills screams of gesture politics. It appears to be the product of an urgent desire to be seen to be doing something, rather than stepping back and understanding how much the global economy is changing and securing a future for our children.

Imagine if you will a North West region that follows the logical conclusion of Gordon Brown’s tax-crazy Stern report on climate change and some of the “green sky” thinking by David Cameron’s New Conservatives. As you do so, you run through a list of the region’s greatest industrial assets and one by one you wipe them out. Aviation: tax it out of existence. Motor car production: regulate it to the point of decimation. Nuclear industry: write it off as a dangerous relic. Chemicals: more regulation and tax.

I come to this subject because I am trying to summarise what the biggest story of this year has been for business in the North West, and what the challenge of 2007 may be. To cut to the chase, the biggest story of the North West in the last year has been the future tenure of its defence industry in Lancashire and in Cumbria. It may carry with it an uncomfortable truth that many of you don’t like to talk about at parties, but we live in a world that has walls and those walls have to be defended by men with £1bn air defence systems.

The biggest challenge of the next year will be to shift the political debate away from the current slide towards madness and accentuate the complexity of the climate change issue, rather than simplify it to feel better today. At one of our recent forums Harry Knowles, the chief executive of Furness Enterprise, a man who knows a thing or two about economic development, drew our attention to the dependence for the UK's energy supply on the gas suppliers of the Middle East and the former Soviet Union. “And that should frighten the life out of you,” he said.

Reducing energy use is good business sense. There are businesses developing solid state lighting, which uses less energy. There are businesses within the boundaries of Manchester, the nuclear free city, researching the possibilities of a bright nuclear future. There have been major advances in hydrogen fuel cell technologies and fusion technology.

This is the future, embrace it. A very merry Christmas and a prosperous new year to you all.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Whatever happened to...

To the Bull's Head next to Stockport market for a punk Christmas fair. Didn't find much to decorate the new tree, but I only really went to say hello to Alex Ogg, author of this magnificent history book about punk, which you can buy here.

Musical retrospectives often miss the point of a movement. This really captures the DIY nature of punk, as well as the authentic attitude, warts and all.

I used to work with Alex a bit in London, me a writer, him a sub. Creation magazine (b. 1997) is peppered with headlines drawn from song titles and catchy lyrics from days gone by. He's also done the sleeve notes for my undisputed favourite American punk album of all time Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables by the Dead Kennedys.

And though fatherhood has made us grow up a bit, my brood includes a Joe; Alex has a son called Hugh.

Friday, December 08, 2006

"Political correctness gone mad" gone mad

Very smart piece in the Guardian today, which you can link to here.

The current moral panic about "politically correct" liberals trying to ban Christmas is a story conjured out of nothing.

Oliver Burkeman says: "...a few awkward facts. Luton does not have a festival called Luminos. It does not use any alternative name for Christmas. When it did, once, five years ago, hold something called Luminos one weekend in late November, the event didn't even replace the council's own Christmas celebrations, let alone forbid anyone else from doing anything. Similarly, Christmas is not called Winterval in Birmingham. The Royal Edinburgh Hospital for Sick Children never banned a Christmas CD for mentioning Jesus. And Chester council's "un-Christian" Christmas card says - as cards have done for decades - "Season's Greetings"."

The survey by Peninsula, a business advisory company of this parish, suggesting that 74% of British employers have banned Christmas decorations for fear of offending non-Christians, just looked wrong to me. I don't know anyone at all who has done this.

Happy Christmas.

Ten thoughts on...comedy

I'm in a good mood today. So as this Friday list thing goes on, here are ten random thoughts on...comedy. Partly inspired it should be said, after watching a clip of Russell Brand, currently the darling of the media biz, who is, alright, but nothing special.

Best TV sketch ever - first time I saw History Today, David Baddiel and Robert Newman 1992
Best spoof TV character interview ever - Ali G and the mayor of Belfast 1999
Best stand-up in a London comedy club - Mickey Hutton 1990
Best live act ever - Bernard Manning at his Embassy Club in 1988
Best comic at an after-dinner business event - Vince Earl aka Ron Dixon from Brookside 2001
Funniest after dinner politician - William Hague 2005
Hilarious website - TVgohome, Charlie Booker's creation of Daily Mail island and Nathan Barley are astoundingly good 1999
Worst stand-up performance of someone who used to be good - Robert Newman 1999
Best guest presenter on HIGNFY - Charlotte Church 2004
And the best comedy TV series ever - The Office 2001

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Common people

Having a name like "Michael" "Hughes" "Taylor" or "Nigel" doesn't make it easy to locate though a Google search, see below.

Try being Neil Tague, one of the top chaps I work with. Type that into Google and his whole life was laid before me. All his features for Insider, all his awards, his generous donation to Charlotte Bacci's New York marathon sponsorship, a hostile review of one of his features by someone who misses the point, all his musings on various websites about Oldham, Everton, cricket and Grange Hill trivia. Even his court case in Pennsylvania, er, that might not be him.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Do you mean me?

Nigel Hughes over at Ear I Am has an amusing tale about searching. He's also done a terrific piece about a PR industry round table discussion which strayed into the land of blog.

Here's my version:

Talking to other bloggers, I have been made aware of all kinds of add-ons that make this blogging business even more fun. Blogjuice, technorati, Google analytics - there are all kinds of gimmicks out there that help you track where your readers come from, what they are interested in and even who they are.It seems that The Marple Leaf's paltry readership is drawn from mentions and links on other blogs and from people who seem to know my blog address so type it in directly.

Bizarrely there are also a handful of people who have searched for "Michael Taylor" on Google.What? Why the hell would anybody be searching for me on the Internet?A quick Google search makes it pretty evident they're not. Type in "Michael Taylor" and it's clear that the ramblings of a dullard northern business journo pale into insignificance next to the day-to-day lives of other people stuck with the same name.

Ten other people called Michael Taylor include:
  1. A solicitor in Burton on Trent
  2. A solicitor in Manchester
  3. The leader of the Lib Dems on Calderdale Council
  4. The chief executive of Business Liverpool
  5. A romantic novelist
  6. A contemporary British artist
  7. A Missouri prison inmate on death row
  8. The professor of Geography at Birmingham University
  9. A bloke with a recipe for beef casserole
  10. A footballer for Halifax Town
To all those Michaels out there, I can only apologise if potential readers of your sites end up at The Marple Leaf by mistake. In return, if you get anybody asking if you're the Michael Taylor with the big nose then point them this way.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

A Sam's steak pud - conquered

I managed to eat a whole steak and kidney pudding at Sam's Chop House today. A first.
It was washed down with a chunky glass of Merlot. The chips were crisp, the peas fresh and it was topped off by a jug of the tastiest gravy ever.

A huge hat tip, while I'm on, for the best front of house restaurant guvnor in town: Steve Pilling (below, right).


Another enigma - Terry Christian

To BBC Radio Manchester for a very early start. For a few years I've been asked to come on the breakfast programme a couple of times a month to fill a slot called Manchester Money. It's at the painfully early time of 06:45, which means a 05:30 alarm call. And so after Friday's sternish defence of one unpopular broadcaster who divides opinion - Andrew Neil - I was going to wade in on behalf of Terry Christian, the breakfast presenter on BBC Radio Manchester.

The breakfast programme is an important part of the overhaul of the station. It has sought to be more urban and Manchester, rather than suburban and Bury, presumably. Getting the original gobby Manc to present the breakfast show is key to this. He now has a cult following. The ratings initially bombed, apparently. Now they've climbed back up again.

So, you get to the studio, the producers look stressed and look at you hopefully that you've come up with something to talk to Terry about. I look through the proper business stories I've got and it dawns on you that a discussion about the corporate strategy of United Utilities just won't work on a two way with Terry at all. In the car I've already heard him trailing a story about tall buildings in Manchester, so that's got to be worth a natter. While Terry presses buttons and tells musical anecdotes about some of the middle of the road music he's forced to play he tells you he doesn't even like the skyscrapers story and doesn't want to do it. Yes, he does, he's changed his mind.

In the end we talk about the takeover talks for Dubai International to buy Liverpool Football Club. He loves that. And can't resist mentioning the criminal classes in Liverpool. I talk about why foreign owners want a piece of the action. I mention that the sale of internet video rights could be a licence to print money if clubs do this themselves, rather than sell collectively. Terry likes this, he even manages to get in a sly reference to how this will expose "ickle city".

The tall buildings story had me describing how the city has changed. I can't think for the life of me what the trigger is, but I like these chances to talk up Manchester. Terry wants to know what this building will mean to someone in a council house in Beswick. Jobs, jobs, jobs I say and time is up.

This was a safe day. It played to his strengths as a broadcaster and the relief on the producers' faces was very evident.

Terry's appeal is the enormous chip on his shoulder. His hidden talent is his incredible retention for detail about culture, music and sport. Sometimes I've seen him check himself, worry that he's come across as vaguely intellectual for a moment and so reverted to "default Terry" and slagged off Scousers instead. It makes him edgier than a normal BBC broadcaster. But he's one of those people that if he ain't your cup of tea, then he just ain't.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Enigma variations - Andrew Neil


Any journalist working in Britain today will have an opinion about Andrew Neil. Mine, for what it's worth is as follows.

He was an outstanding editor of the Sunday Times, which was his heyday. He probably overstated the anti-establishment basis of the paper, but it represented a brassy wave of enthusiasm for a Thatcherite land of opportunity.

He is not a natural for television, but he seems to have craved a TV career for years and years. This betrays a certain vanity about him. However, the BBC show he does with Diane Abbott and Michael Portillo is really quite good.

His judgement regading the Barclays Brothers investment in The Business has been to throw good money after bad. I think the magazine is dooomed.

His political and economic analysis and his media commentary is first rate. His ability to put people on the spot is peerless. Take this question of The Guardian - "we know what you are against, but what are you for?". It is piercing.

Anyway, I met him at the NBJA event in Leeds on Wednesday, where he was the host, and we had a good natter. I told him all of the above, so I'm not two faced or unkind. He was a good speaker and the fact that he came round for a chat showed that actually he's a really decent bloke. We all enjoyed his company. Don't believe all you read about people. Take as you find.

Ten thoughts on...business journalism

This Friday series of Ten thoughts on... turns to business journalism. I have had only a fleeting experience of consumer press, but I'm convinced the move to business was right for me and I have no regrets. I can't abide "celebrities" and this shallow obsession with nonentities. After talking to the MA (Magazine Journalism) students at the University of Central Lancashire on Tuesday, this is why business journalism is a good career move.

* No-one has yet written a savage portrait of working in the business press in the way that Toby Young portrayed life at Vanity Fair under editor Graydon Carter. How to Lose Friends and Alienate People is a brilliant tale of rampant egos and preposterous pomposity. I don't think my magnum opus (The Devil Wears Ciro Citterio) about Emap Media under Jon Thater, Steve Buckley and Richard Gold would be quite the rip roaring page turner.

* The power of business trumps state power. Covering that and being close to that matters more than ever. Corporations are accounatble to their markets and so they guard their reputations with care. They take journalists seriously.

* You serve a community. People are defined much more these days by where they work and what they do in their working lives. A magazine that addresses their identity will do well.

* You have access to powerful people. I started in the business press on a niche IT title called IBM System User. It was hard work, not many laughs, but the readers really valued the magazine. Board directors of major multinationals would return calls.

* You have access to impressive people. People who are changing the world with their courage, investment and innovation.

* You can change things. Business magazines can campaign for change and win. The Publican, Retail Week and Computer Weekly have some of the finest examples of campaigning and investigative journalism.

* It's a good career. The money is alright; certainly better than regional press. Prospects are good. There are great opportunities in the Far East, Middle East and America to jog your career along.

* In business magazines, the balance of power with PR people is tipped in favour of the press. They need you more than you need them, in most cases.

* International travel. You may only go to product launches and press trips but I've been all over Europe and North America. A small matter, but it's the only time I've ever travelled posh class.

* You could get your magazine featured on the guest publication slot at Have I Got News For You (full list here). Who can forget the chortling as excerts were read out from Global Slag magazine and Batteries International.

Triple crown



Our magazine, North West Business Insider, won some awards on Wednesday.

For the second year running we got the award for Magazine Team of the Year.
Pictured above are two chaps from Yorkshire Bank, me, Neil Tague, Jo Birtwistle and Lisa Miles.

Earlier in the day our guys dominated the shortlist in the regional category at the BVCA Venture Capital Journalist of the Year awards with me, Lisa Miles and Wyn Jenkins having our names read out. The winning article was a piece I wrote earlier in the year What If...Manchester Airport was privatised.

I then hot footed it to Leeds where the team got the award and I won Journalist of the Year too. So chuffed and very proud to work for such a great magazine where journalism is valued.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

You are what you hear

On Monday I noted that Amazon were predicting what I may buy. Now iTunes is doing it to me as well. In a fit of nostalgia for 1970s punky politico agit pop I downloaded a selection of tracks from the Tom Robinson Band. One of them was, er, Glad to be Gay. I now get suggestions that I may want to buy some Jimmy Summerville, Dusty Springfield and Erasure.

Monday, November 27, 2006

You are what you read

I get regular emails from Amazon, which I do genuinely like. Trouble is, they send me recommendations based on things I've bought before (sometimes as presents).

Top of the list is a book by a football hooligan from Glasgow Rangers, followed by a DVD Something the Lord Made, starring Alan Rickman and some cuttings job about Paul Weller. Anyway, see the full list below. I have no intention of buying any of these:

Rangers I.C.F.
Something The Lord Made [2004]
Spin Doctor's Diary
Death Warrant: Kenneth Noye, the Brink's-Mat Robbery And The Gold
Crusader's Cross
Celtic Soccer Crew
Highway Companion
Shout to the Top: The "Jam" and Paul Weller

This is clearly a ploy by Amazon to make me so self conscious that I will buy some more cookbooks from them, instead of from Borders or the Marple Bookshop. And to redress the balance of dross I will then buy Terry Eagleton's collected essays, the new Christopher Hitchens book on Tom Paine and a Merchant Ivory DVD boxed set.

The Queen, Duke of Lancaster

Today is Lancashire Day. A celebration of God's own English county.

I could put a load of tributes up here about our heritage, etc. But I'll leave that to the Friends of Real Lancashire to explain, here.

There's also a nice piece in the Liverpool Daily Post today, which you can link to here.

We'll be toasting at 9pm tonight.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Martin Georgiev

Who he? You might well ask. He's the Bulgarian who was attacked with a paving slab by so-called Liverpool fans before the European Cup Final last year.

He hasn't had such a great time of it lately. Does anyone know where you can make a donation to him, or to his family? No, thought not.

Ten thoughts on... magazines

I work in the world of magazines and have always absorbed the look and feel of the glossy printed word. More enduring than a newspaper and more lovingly produced, they reflect such a vibrant world and aim squarely at a reader's prime passion.

At various stages of my life there has been a magazine that has defined and shaped my world. Times move on, I change, the title changes, the world changes. My passion for magazines never does. This list even has some terrible ommissions. But as with so many other things, this is my truth, tell me yours...

Shoot - Mid to late 1970s - There was NEVER anything about Blackburn Rovers, but I was utterly absorbed by Shoot, pre-match meals, Kevin Keegan's column, Focus On... is still a great device in a profile.

Just Seventeen - My younger sister used to get this, but I read it cover to cover. Great celeb interviews, problem pages, crosswords and a busy layout on the early pages. My excuse is I went to an all boys school so this helped me to understand women. Yeah, right.

NME - For me it had two genuinely golden eras, 1984 and 1989. The first was all about music after the arse had fallen out of my world when The Jam split up: Smiths, U2 and Billy Bragg. The second was how pop met dance music. Electric stuff. Stuart Maconie, we salute you (still).

Off the Ball - I believed in this pioneering football fanzine so much I used to sell it around the campus at Manchester University. It was funny, punchy and more than anything else it was about football when the game was at its lowest ebb. I think it had the edge over When Saturday Comes at the time, but the guys behind it had other fish to fry. Always brings a smile to my face when I hear Adrian Goldberg on the radio. Top chap.

Arena - When Arena launched in 1986 we were students who dressed like Italian football hooligans, but we were growing up as well and realising that the big wide world was waiting. Cover stars were blokes too. It's launch formed the basis for my final year dissertation which missed getting a first because my approach was "journalistic". Thanks for the career tip. It's absolute rubbish now. Never buy it.

Mondo 2000 - An obscure American technology magazine that was way ahead of its time. In 1989 it contained some awesome writing about media, technology and popular culture. Wired, which followed, was tired in comparison. A mention of it in a job interview got me a job and kept me excited about writing on technology for ten years.

90 Minutes - The post-fanzine football magazine written by cheery music journalists in their 20s. Brilliant and irreverant, but good with the news too. From 1993 to 1995 Rovers featured rather a lot. Since folded.

Loaded - Never has a magazine captured the zeitgeist like the first two years of Loaded under James Brown, Tim Southwell and Martin Deeson. You felt like you were part of the gang that were having the best time of their lives. It's absolute rubbish now. Never buy it.

Brill's Content - Another obscure American title that rekindled my faith in journalism and debates about accuracy and fairness. Terrific design, great paper stock, non-standard size, powerful interviews. Since folded.

Private Eye - I have never missed an issue in 17 years. Absolutely love it and look forward to it every fortnight. Schoolboy humour, dense investigative journalism, vicious satire. Superb.

Rubbish snacks - takes one to know one


Holland's Pies are assaulting us with some kind of marketing blitz at the moment.

"We're pie-jacking rubbish snacks - Grab some proper food," they say.

This was what greeted me at Piccadilly station this morning (trains all running well, thanks).
Oh dear.

Holland's are to pies what McDonalds are to fillet steak. They have a following amongst sentimental Lancastrians who think it earns them some homespun street cred. They even suggest you eat one cold. Noooooooo! And I really don't like the fact they're now at the Rovers, either.

But sit down with a Levers' meat and potato, or a Fraser's meat, a Satterthwaites pork, an Archers steak, or a Grenaby farm potato pie and do a taste challenge with some of Hollands salty mush. There's your answer.
Rubbish snacks? - that's you that is.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Man Who Made Accidents Happen

In the not too distant past Insider magazine has earned some points of distinction covering the rise and fall of The Accident Group (TAG), a Manchester-based company that would process trips and slips. It went into administration on 30 May 2003, but was the market leader in the ‘after the event’ insurance business, providing legal expense insurance services to individuals who had suffered a personal injury and who wished to recover damaged from a third party.

The BBC did an excellent documentary on the subject called The Man Who Made Accidents Happen about Mark Langford, the controversial founder of the business.

The directors of TAG had made a lot of money in the past and liquidators have since sought to find out the cause of the collapse of the business with a view to asset recovery.

A court in Jersey will this week rule on the distribution of assets in an offshore trust earmarked for millionaire co-founder Mark Langford and his wife Debbie. Begbies Traynor, one of the firm's liquidators, has been delving deeper into the mysterious offshore trust, which was frozen in June 2004 after Langford attempted to sack the trustee and move cash to a company on the Isle of Man.

Insider Weekly, our email business news service, has this week reported that the Langford's house in Congleton has been put on the market for £3.75 million.

One day, when people are willing to talk without fear of perverting the course of justice, I'd like to write a book on this whole episode and some of the characters thrown up by this whole pantomime. Whether anyone would buy it is another matter, but it's a salutory tale for our times.

No surrender to the SRA

I've been contacted by other Marple commuters who share my concern about the poor service from Rose Hill station. It's been a write off four mornings out of four this week. I must admit I took the train from Marple station this morning. I've been in touch with Passenger Focus who are a consumer rights organisation for rail users. There may well have been a campaign on this issue before, when the threat came from the Strategic Rail Authority.

4000 fans from Blackburn, Lancashire

Once again I'm not following Blackburn Rovers in Europe, I regret to say. Tonight's match against Feyenoord in Rotterdam may see us through, but it will be tough. Key men will be Savage and Tugay again.

The occasion may also see Rovers with their biggest ever away following in Europe, beating the 3,500 we took to Celtic Park in 2002. The question is with so many of the chaps camping in Amsterdam last night, what will so many stoned Lancastrians look like? And what will they sing? No Nay Whenever, perhaps?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Farewell my sweet northern Rose Hill?


I am worried I may no longer be able to rely on the train service from Rose Hill to Manchester Piccadilly (pictured above). This morning's 08:13 train was cancelled, which left me no other option but to drive to work. I'm cross about this, though not as cross as I would have been if I'd walked to the station.
This is also compounded because the Marple train yesterday was dreadfully late because of overcrowding, which then sparked a revolt at Romiley when passengers refused to get off the train.
Northern Rail do have a website which is now reporting no problems on the Rose Hill line. GMPTE also have a service where you ring 0161 228 0322, then key in 2873 for information about trains from Rose Hill, or 2830 for Marple. I'm going to test this tomorrow and let you know if it's working properly.
My major worry is that passengers will get out of the habit of using the service because it is so unreliable. The operator will then decide it's not worth running and shut Rose Hill altogether. This gloomy conspiracy theory is not an uncommon topic of conversation amongst commuters and I'm not minded to let this lie.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Sensible discussions about Islam

Something I'm quite interested in here. Not exactly standard Marple Leaf fare, but Oliver Kamm writes explosively about the links between self-appointed "leaders" of the UK's muslims and cryto-fascists who peddle falsehoods about the holocaust.

I was delighted to hear on Radio Five Live this morning a mature and honest discussion about Islam from some reasonable people. The idea to do a week of programmes like this followed an email from Altrincham dentist Khalid Anis who wrote to the BBC to express his horror that nutters were being given airtime. More of this please.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Blogging and Journalism

The wonderful thing about this land of blog is the passing on of ideas and the sharing of opinion. The links I've provided to the other blogs aren't here because I've joined a clique, far from it, they're the blogs I visit from time to time and come from people with whom I share interests. I still haven't found a Blackburn Rovers blogger, anyone out there?

On the downside, I do think many blogs are full of self regarding, irrelevant nonsense. A gobshites paradise. I've heard some crap about how blogging will sweep away journalism. But someone has to sharpen a pencil, ask questions and know where to look for facts and opinions that aren't obvious or apparent.

I got into all of this because I want to see where it's all going from the inside; how people relate to what goes on here and why they come to the site. I'm a journalist and have made a living all of my working life from selling the words I write and the way in which they are presented. I value and respect good journalism above all else. It is such a powerful force for good and it is so important to a healthy functioning community. Be that a local community, within a business community. Blogging, I reckoned, was of a different order.

I didn't think, for instance, that tapping out a few opinions on my laptop at the weekend would in any way have an impact like some of the journalism we produce. Yet my comments about the new bridge from Piccadilly to our part of town have resulted in it being closed down until the scaffolding has been taken down and the pathway completed. It was one of those stories that as a journalist you literally stumble across from time to time and wonder why no-one else has noticed. The blog gives me the ability to talk instantly about the subject. My monthly magazine gives me the chance to debate the issue and present the balanced picture. That's a luxury many others don't have, but it's starting to help me understand how the existing media can subtly embrace blogging.

It's also drawn attention to two local stories in the last week that contained a mixture of good old fashioned digging and community campaigning, with some strident opinionating. Hat tip therefore to the following:

Manchizzle for drawing attention to the Salford Star and its sterling work on the Lowry Centre and Urban Splash and for some harsh words about the dreadful Moving Manchester magazine.
The Manchester City Supporters Trust, who followed up our exclusive on their imminent launch, and fair play to Chris Bailey at the Manchester Evening News for following it up in such a fair, detailed and honest way.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Ten thoughts on... Lunch in Manchester city centre

Seeing as I've been given Paddington Bear stares from people for telling the truth about Manchester, here are ten thoughts on eating lunch in Manchester city centre.

Best place for a rubber necking business lunch: Piccolino (ooh, look who he's with)

Best dish: Steak and Kidney pudding, Sam's Chop House (still never finished one)

Best Chinese: Yang Sing (don't believe the snipes)

Best Italian: Harpers (simplicity is best)

Best chippy: Portland Plaice (more tea, vicar)

Best fast casual: Barburrito (sooo tasty)

Best place to take five hungry kids: Wagamama

Really good sandwiches: There isn't anything better than Pret, but you feel there should be

Best Northern Quarter curry: Kabana (grilled lamb chops)

Best private dining in a hotel: The Lowry (nobody does it better)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

What’s so great about local democracy?

I saw my local councillor the other day. She’s a very pleasant and committed person who chooses to give up her time for the good people of Marple.

Faced with an opportunity to articulate to a local politician the issue of whether Greater Manchester should have a mayoral figure, like Ken Livingstone in London, I did not. Instead I chose to vent my spleen about a parade of drunks that spill out of a local night club.

That I did is indicative of a wider crisis in politics and local government in the regions of England.

At its best local politicians keep an eye on whether the officials do the small stuff well; such as whether there is somewhere to take your recycling and that the bins get collected on time.

At its worst they get in the way of progress and sensible economic decision making. They have no real say over education, health, transport or policing. That is dictated by national policy.

I have come to this decision reluctantly, but believe it with all the zeal of a new convert. Local government, as it is constructed, should be scrapped entirely. It would free up local councillors to be proper local champions who rattle cages and name and shame the incompetent.

The lives of the people of every borough in the North West can be improved by the confidence of businesses to invest in them and for more people to visit them. It’s that simple. Everything else is meddling.

Example: Having been mugged by Tesco into building a store bigger than the one they had planning permission for, Stockport Borough Council had an application to attract Ikea to a neighbouring site turned down. They should never have even been entertaining the idea. It has ended up four miles up the M60 in Ashton, part of neighbouring Tameside, on a vacant site with better access. Good.

Another example: Following the letter of the planning system led officials in Sefton to decline planning permission to the Gormley statues, Another Place. This is meant to be a borough that is part of the Capital of Culture 2008. The decision has been stalled as the sensible politicians, under the weight of a public campaign, to try and find a way to override the concerns of illegal poachers and moronic tourists. Good.

Some people in Liverpool think their city needs an elected mayor to catch up with the pace of change in rival cities like Manchester and Newcastle. No it doesn’t. Manchester is one of the most undemocratic cities in the country. It is ruled effectively and marketed attractively in the manner of a one party fiefdom. And that is the secret of its success. The politicians know when to shut up and get out of the way.

(As featured in the November issue of

Monday, November 13, 2006

Spooked

Wow. And so Spooks ends another blistering series.

The safety of the capital city is threatened by the maverick actions of a deranged and confused lunatic. Yep, Adam finally lost the plot in the middle of a sensitive operation.

Clever last plot leaves me gagging for more.

But hold an a mo: the deputy PM couldn't act and the special effects waves at the end were rubbish.

How long before the boxed set comes out?

A bridge too far


It appears that the bridge from Piccadilly station to our part of town has been closed already. The perilous lack of a pedestrian crossing - where the walkway from the bridge leaves you to cross the tram tracks at a blind spot - must have been a factor.

And while I spoke of Manchester business locations last week, this weekend I experienced the great city centre retail experience. Bear in mind we had three kids with us, and it was chucking down with rain, that at times I wanted to be here but nevertheless we wanted to put a dent in our Christmas shopping lists. Anyway, the following thoughts sprang to mind.

The Arndale is much, much better since the refit.

Wagamama at Spinningfields is excellent. The staff really know how to make families welcome and to get kids excited about fresh food. Brilliant. I chose the wrong thing, but that was my lookout.

Daisy and Tom is great. Give kids a colouring competition and they're happy to see you buy a bag of toys for nephews and nieces.

The deluxe gift packing of the staff in Selfridges is laughable and shambolic. Our two year-old has in fact proved he can do better with a soggy discarded copy of the Manchester Evening News and some of Grandad's bale string.

One of the shops on Market Street was playing music so loud (and employing Max and Paddy on the door), that they clearly didn't want any customers. They didn't have any.

The hordes of hoodies and scallies are still quite frightening, especially when they press their groins up at the window of Wagamama.

These two seemingly different threads are linked by the common theme of Manchester not quite living up to its billing. The little things matter and I'm sure other cities have these annoying instances of innate crapness and poor service too, but then they don't aspire to be the Original Modern city. More later, thoughts please...

Friday, November 10, 2006

Just married!


We got married today!
We tied the knot at Stockport town hall at 11am. Then we went to The Oddfellows in Mellor for lunch.
All very low key, no guests or anything, just the way we wanted it.
Life is so good, I can taste it in my spit.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Ten thoughts on...football fans

A new list for the end of the week. I did one on films, which you can see here. But this is the one to start us off.

For me, how the crowd contributes to the occasion of a football match is of paramount importance and interest. My first ever game was Lancaster City v Barrow and me and my Dad cheered for the wrong team. My first league match in 1972, Preston North End v Burnley, was made memorable for several pitch invasions (and me getting a bobble hat stolen). When I first started going to Rovers in the 1970s Kevin Bradley grassed on me to the other lads that he'd spotted me crowd watching (It was Mansfield!). No wonder I ended up studying sociology and became a journalist.

I think the whole experience is more sterile and lifeless these days. I miss the edge and I miss the banter, the songs and the clothes. If you like this terrace retro sort of thing, look here and here.

Here are my ten thoughts on... football fans

* The football fans with the wittiest banner - Liverpool v Galatasary, 2002, "Hell - My Arse, You've never been to the Grafton on a Friday Night"

* The most pretentious banners - Liverpool, 2004 "What we achieve in life, echoes through eternity" (my arse)

* Biggest annoying boasters/unsporting whingers on radio phone in - Spurs (before/after the 2002 Worthington Cup Final, after we won 2-1)

* The best dressed - Liverpool 1984 (trainers and tweed)

* The worst bullies - Newcastle 1981 (I was only 15...)

* The most racist - Chelsea 1983 (shamefully booed every touch of their own player, Paul Cannoville)

* The most stupid - Burnley 2000 (smashed up their own town centre, after we won 2-0)

* The most loyal - Manchester City 1999 (Third Division season, crowds went up)

* The most carried away with their own self-importance - Manchester City 2000 (there weren't THAT many of you at Ewood Park)

* The most polite - Fulham (for as long as I can remember)

Danger alert - and how to make business in Manchester more interesting

Right, I've sorted the commute thing out. Trains from Marple are bit quicker, but trains from Rose Hill are empty (it's at the end of a branch line, little Thomas). Getting a seat trumps the tiniest minor inconvenience of stopping at lots of stations like Hyde, Woodley and Guide Bridge.

Arriving at Piccadilly today I was greeted by hip young things handing out leaflets. Often, these are vouchers for some trendy cafe or sarnie shop, so I make a point of taking one. They were actually for the opening of the new footbridge, which is a tidy little short cut to the office.

Here's the view back towards Piccadilly, with a few of the lads who are still polishing it.



However, it's still a bit of a hazard when you get to the end of the ramp as the path seems to take you right onto a blind spot where the tram track curves towards the station. I'm sure the new piazza and the new hotel, when they are finished, will give this section more logic. But it's pretty hairy and a straw poll in the office found 100 per cent agreement. Taguey is going to a dinner to launch this tonight (he needs to eat), so we'll ask him to point this out.

This is the thing with the new Manchester. The centre of gravity is constantly changing. Clusters are emerging in unlikely places. A pal of mine is starting a new business and said his preferred location was just over the Irwell, as it's close to loads of the top finance guys in town. Fourways House, the eco-central, in the Northern Quarter is full of greeny like-minds. PR companies and design agencies abound on Jordan Street in Knott Mill. Personally, I think people should mix it up a bit more. The Mersey Basin Campaign could move into the spare floor in City Wharf, home of Ford Campbell "as imaginative as it is persistent, as assertive as it is credible", while the new Zeus Partners team could find an opening on Canal Street. They may even learn to like it.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Spooks - what's going on?

The beauty of Spooks is the constant threat in the air that the unexpected will happen. Lisa Faulkner being dunked in a fat fryer in the second episode set the tone. The constant churn of characters means no-one is indispensible. Tom, Danny, Zoe, Ruth - where did the Scottish one go? I missed that.

I think the current plot twist with Adam isn't that he's losing it and will be put out to seed, but the opposite. He'll stay and we'll see the rest of the grid dealing with his issues. And there's so much more to come from Zaf.

A couple of recent debates have focused on the Mossad conspiracies in the last three episodes. Was this a sop to Islamic viewers who were cross at having their brothers portrayed as violent terrorists every week? Was it tantamount to a rehashing of lunatic 9/11 theories?

For me, the most ludicrous aspect of the second storyline (the Christian nutters) wasn't that a highly trained hit squad of Mossad's finest would take a building in central London and kill a Christian terrorist, after being tipped off by a rogue civil servant, but that they would be battered senseless by the posh bird out of Cold Feet.

Last night's Serbian twister was a corker, spoiled by a typo in the last scene's on-screen caption. I won't spoil the plot in deference to my colleague Lisa Miles, a fellow Spooks addict who missed it, but she will be reaching for the screen with her pot of Tippex.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Build a bonfire, build a bonfire

You can tell a lot about the health of a community by the conduct on bonfire night. Like most people we've long forgotten the anti-Catholic trappings of November 5. Just as well, as our house is fervently leftfooted, but hungry in pursuit of a treat like this on our doorstep.

Marple Scouts had theirs in Brabyns Park last night and it was magnificent. I reckon there must have been 3000 people enjoying a great communal atmosphere. The still, clear night helped, but the fireworks were awesome. Brabyns is a perfect location, almost a stadium bowl with the fire at the Marple Bridge end, with the fireworks further down towards the football pitches.

It's the turn of Hawk Green tonight.

The Fantastic Five

We had a magnificent trip to London with all five boys on Friday. The family railcard made it all very affordable. The spirit and endurance of the boys made it a joy.
A travellers tale would bore the arse of you all, but we took in:
The Tower of London
River cruise to Westminster
Walk along the Embankment and up to Covent Garden
Cookies and ice cream in Covent Garden
The Tintin shop
Dinner at Giraffe on Essex Road with John and Rachel Dixon, godparents of the oldest, first meeting with the twins and the youngest.

I can't believe how much Islington has changed. Even in 1999 (my era) there were more places to buy a candlestick than anything useful. Now it's changing again. Even Tesco has had to shut a petrol station to make way for apartments, All Bar One has gone, Clone Zone can't even make a fist of it (fnarr, fnarr) and the bookshop on Camden Passage has long since vanished. Alfredo's cafe on Essex Road had given up in about 1998, it's now open again as a slightly inauthentic sausage and mash gaff.

Still busy, still buzzy and high in my affections.

They boys loved Giraffe, even if the fish fingers were a bit of a surprise (salmon). Can't wait for that one to come to Manchester. They even coped admirably with Islington at mad hour and the cancellation of the train coming back.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Halloween

Halloween went down a storm in our house. Face paints, costumes, elaborate food and drink, games in the garden, a carved out pumpkin, loads of sweets, games in the conservatory. One of the boys won a prize at holiday club for his superb Frankenstein costume - his idea, Rachel's execution (scuse the pun). All five boys went to bed happy and exhausted from so much fun.
And we didn't go trick or treating, or encourage anyone else's children by answering the door.
Sorry. Call it a guilty conscience, but I am veteran of several tours of duty of various parts of Lancaster in the much more sinister Lancastrian ritual of Mischief Night every 4 November. Even now I barely dare to confront the horror and inconvenience we must have brought to so many households.

Student Daze - whatever became of Viraj Mendis?

Over a pint of vegan beer me and Steve Connor reflected on some of the characters involved in student politics at Manchester University in our years, 1985-1988 in my case, dragging on for a year or two more for Comrade Connor.

Derek Draper is perhaps the most high profile Labour hack from that era. Following his showbiz marriage to Kate Gerraway of GMTV no more needs to be said. And no more can be said that would be digestable to readers of OK Magazine.

David Pannell veered from Tory student, through Labour, to the SWP and was nearly thrown out for trying to land one on a Tory minister. He was last spotted as an investment banker with Durlacher predicting the house price crash of 2005. Yes, that one.

But what ever happened to Viraj Mendis? I was told in Fresher’s Week by a leading lefty thug that this Sri Lankan communist was under no real threat of deportation, but was being used by this nasty little sect – The Revolutionary Communist Group – to wave a fist at the establishment.

Poor Viraj even had a stammer, prompting some graffiti in the library “V V V Viraj, F F F off”

He eventually took refuge in Hulme Church and as he became a rallying call for the ragbag army of crusties in pre-regenerated Hulme, the cops eventually stormed the church and sent him back to Sri Lanka. One of his supporters reflects on that here.

Some of my friends speculated that he’d be running his Dad’s tea plantation by now. He isn’t. He did go back, he wasn’t killed, but now lives in Germany. He’s even been back to Hulme. Which you can read about here.

Monday, October 30, 2006

The Royle we

It's been frequently said that anyone who has been a manager in an office, or has even just worked in one, will watch scenes in The Office in a state of a permanent wince.

It was the same on several occasions last night watching the The Royle Family special on BBC1. This is when I did, anyway:

- Getting your kids to perform Armarillo, or do Peter Kay impersonations
- Up above, down below
- Getting your kids to do martial arts demos
- Playing on the goodwill of grandparents
- "I'm getting laminated"
- Not being able to finish the laminating
- Johnny Cash

Overall, the return was a cosy tying up of loose ends, and more of a sympathetic and sentimental dropping in on the Royles than the individual shorter episodes ever were. The appeal, like many situation comedies, is that the dialogue follows a theme, jogs along to some vanishing point at which you realise that nothing actually happens.

Yet as well as Nana's death, there was the birth of a second new baby, which is twice as much as what happened in the rest of the previous series put together.

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Manchester Lord's Prayer

Norman Geras got me started on this one. Wolfie and Neil have tweaked it a bit, but it is a work in progress.

Our Father, which art in Heaton,
Fallowfield be thy Name.
Thy Kingsway come.
Thy Withington.
In Irlam as it is in Heavily.
Give us this day our Lower Bredbury.
And forgive us our Reddishes,
As we forgive them that Prestwich against us.
And lead us not into Timperly;
But deliver us from Cheadle:
For thine is the Swinton, the Crumpsall, and the Gorton,
For Eccles and Eccles. Hough End.

Ten thoughts on...films

A new end of week series starts here. Ten thoughts on...

I don't get to the cinema as much as I used to, but there have been golden eras when I'd go all the time. As a yoof in Lancaster, or when I was paid to review films in Perth and Melbourne, or when in Bristol in the 1990s an 8 screen cinema opened five minutes from my home/office, which was perfect for task avoidance.

In 1998, at a charity bash, I foolishly bid £250 for a cinema pass and a Warner Village leather jacket. Never fancied the George Bush look, but the pass was well-used. Read on...

* First film ever seen at Lancaster Odeon: Gold, with Roger Moore

* Best film ever seen at Lancaster Odeon in the 1970s: Star Wars

* Best British gangster film of the 1970s: Long Good Friday

* Best British gangster film of the last ten years: Layer Cake

* The worst: The Business

* Best British film of last ten years: The English Patient

* Best American thriller: Heat

* Best scene to quote when pissed: Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men
"Son, we live in a world that has walls..."

* Second best: Michael Gambon in Layer Cake
"You're born, you take shit, get out in the world you take more shit, climb a little higher take less shit until one day you're up in the rarified atmosphere and you've forgotten what shit even looks like; welcome to the layer cake, son."

* Best kids films: Cars and Finding Nemo (can't decide)

What is it all for?

Since I started this blog in July I've been delighted with the response. Friends who I don't see very much have said lovely things like - "I feel like we're in touch again".

But this week I've been throwing some ideas around for Insider magazine in a feature about blogging. I had the pleasure of a warm and courteous exchange on the phone with the wonderful Norman Geras, though I was a little intimidated by such an intellect. He also offered The Marple Leaf a few tips - such as including a blog roll (see right) of other blogs I like. The trouble is, while Norm's is vast, the limited blogs I visit are few in number.

It's made me a little more self-conscious and I've paused before posting today, but this has also been a very busy week. I was in London yesterday to interview a top chap called Sir Terry Matthews for Wales Business Insider before heading off to the Magazine Journalism Awards. I didn't win, but felt very honoured to be named in despatches.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Assorted lists (a bloke thing)

Currently reading: Love, Poverty and War by Christopher Hitchens

Most recent "lost gem" addition to iPod playlist: The British Way of Life by The Chords (1979)

Best thing on TV: Spooks (just gets better)

Morning radio: Today on BBC Radio 4 (posh London FM)

Drivetime radio: Peter Allen and Jane Garvie on Radio Five Live
(the voice of intolerant liberal Britain - "ban it! tax it!")

Best music magazine: Word

Best current affairs magazine: Spectator

Best other blogs - Harry's Place and Dougal

Favourite current Blackburn Rovers player: Benni McCarthy

Save the Gormleys



The Gormleys at Crosby are going after a totally unacceptable and
appalling decision by a planning committee. If you want to join me
in protesting at this nonsense, here are a couple of email addresses:
ian.moncur@sefton.gov.uk (chair of planning committee)
lorna.lander@planning.sefton.gov.uk (contact person for Sefton
Coastal Partnership)

Given the time taken for appeals, I doubt if anything can be done,
but it would be awful if this decision went by without some kind of
protest.
The pic above appears in The Guardian today in an excellent piece by David Ward.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

What a crock

I was at an awards do last night - one of ours, as it goes. Neil Tague - raised in Wilmslow, lives in Cheadle - has kindly reviewed the new Channel 4 series Goldplated.

"The blingo cards were at the ready and Channel 4 didn’t disappoint. Sports cars crunching over the gravel outside big house? Check? Gaudy jewellery? Check. Cocaine being snorted off expensive-looking furniture? Check.

"The first episode of Goldplated, Channel 4’s new drama set among North Cheshire’s nouveau riche was everything predicted by the sort of cynics who predicted “a Hollyoaks with Botox” earlier this year.

"In tellyland, Northerners either live in scummy tower block hell or something approaching the Palace of Versailles with no in between. The self-delusions and self-hatred of those who cross the divide is a story already told many times, all better than this. It was pitiful – Footballers Wives without the humour, appealing characters and action. 0/10."

Monday, October 16, 2006

The joy of golf


I really struggle with golf. Great game, but I just don't seem to get any better.

In fact, if it wasn't for the Manchester Rabble Golf Tour I'd probably give up entirely. We returned last night after four days in Lagos, Portugal (see pic, above).
Top trip, and a major hat tip to Andrew Page and Steve James for organising everything.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

That London

I grew to be weary of London when I lived there from 1989 until 2000, with a two year stint in Bristol. I like going back though. I love the energy and the scale of it.

Then there's the taxi drivers. In the short trip from my hotel at Marble Arch to Euston I was treated to the following: "Buses are a pain in the arse, the Olympics in 2012 will be a total disaster, there are too many mosques, Ken Livingstone is an idiot, the congestion charge is killing businesses, Tony Blair is an idiot, this isn't our country anymore, the hotel I'd stayed in is the biggest knocking shop in London (????), red routes are stupid, Enoch Powell was right. I won't have that lot in the back of my cab." Phew.

You couldn't make it up.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Once more unto the beach

The first hint that our planned perfect day out at Crosby may not go to plan was the large apple that was thrown at the windscreen of the Taylor-Gee bus (our 7 seater) from the side of the M57 by a tracksuited child. The old bill were informed, they knew all about this idea for Saturday afternoon fun, and were on their way.

At a roundabout near the entrance to the docks was a posse of hoody youths flicking Vs at passing cars. We told our lads that they were waving to welcome us to Liverpool. Which in a way I suppose they were.

Following the signs to Antony Gormley's statues we parked up at the far side of Crosby Marina (as it turned out) and the kids played in a park for a bit. The hike to the dunes took a while, with most of us suffering from one ailment or another - I've got a gammy eye, Rachel's got the twins' party to worry about. Then there are the kids: one has a cold, two have a disorder called LOF (Lack of Football) which means they can't cope without a ball to kick around, and the hike made all of them tired.

The statues were great, and it was worth the trip to see them and to spark the kids fascination, even on a cold day. But the beach was effectively the municipal tip. Rubbish everywhere. Including syringes and broken bottles. Nice.

The dunes provided a more fertile space for imagination and play. But most of us seemed to have at least one close encounter with dog poo. And as much as I love my Timberland boots, getting it out with a lolly stick and a packet of wet wipes was a struggle.

Hungry kids need food by 4pm and Satterthwaites came to rescue. Even gently microwaved sausage rolls were crisp and tasty. Best I've ever had, said both Rachel and the senior lad. Too small, said one twin. The pork pies, as recommended by Dougal Paver, were warmed at home in the Aga and eaten with Marrowfat peas. I think we have another winner.

I'm reluctant to take cheap digs at Liverpool and draw conclusions about the European Capital of Culture 2008. But some of our memories of this day out consist of all of the above, plus more scally kids, a surly youth in a paper shop, a feral biker doing wheelies up Crosby's main drag on an off road trials bike, and the veneer of dog mess on the park. But this was my truth; tell me yours...

Friday, October 06, 2006

Politics is rubbish

A new book - I want to make a difference, but I don't like politics - claims business people are not engaged with politics and public life.

It's true, they think it's a waste of time and the culture of politics and the public sector runs contrary to a "can-do" business ethos.

I'd go further and argue that when you make choices in life you follow the people that are like you and that you like being with. I think I'm pretty normal and while I've tinkered with political activity from time to time, I find most political people to be odd. Some of the real creeps I've met in my life have got wrapped up in political parties of all colours. It's just not for me.

The author of the book is John Redwood MP, by the way.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Bangalore Express

In due deference to my sustainable yoghurt weaving chum Steve Connor, with whom I will be breaking vegan bread later, I left the tractor in the yard this morning and took the train.

Too crowded, too damp and a little bit late. Standing room only from Marple. And my pal Wolfie, who did get a seat at New Mills, had already moved to avoid a public sector harpie yakking on about a spatial awareness workshop.

I was far too afraid that I would inflict the tinny invasion of my iPod's carefully composed commuter playlist on the rest of the crowded carriage, so that pleasure was also denied. Spatial awareness, see.

I now have a sore back, a distaste of grumpy students and a burning sense of frustration that the people of the Peak District, the Hope Valley and Marple are poorly served by this service.

Friday, September 29, 2006

This week

Another mad one and so rather than trying to be erudite here's another "best of" list.

Best Blackburn Rovers performance in Europe ever
Last night v Red Bull Salzburg, 2-0

Biggest sigh of disappointment of the week
1. Levers was closed (see below)
2. Satterthwaites was closed

Best tour of a working port
Yesterday's awesome tour of Mersey Docks, thank you Mr Leatherbarrow

Best TV series ever
Spooks

Most appalling sense of doom as a friend is hung out to dry
Ruth Turner has been questioned under caution

Best golf course in the North West
Dunham Forest, thank you, Mr Dwek

Best unexpected piece of post
Two slabs of Walkers Nonsuch toffee, thank you, Mr Tighe

Currently reading
The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman

Currently listening to
Blue Nile, A Walk Across the Rooftops

Quote of the day
"We can go to the moon, but we can't get a decent pork pie up there. They don't travel,"
Roger Wilson, Satterthwaites, Crosby

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Labouring the point

As a fan of BBC's Spooks I find it quite exciting having all these robocops around Manchester city centre this week to guard the Labour conference. And there seem to be more road sweepers and traffic wardens than ever before. Mmmmm?

But are people enjoying the experience of being the centre of the world? I asked a couple of pals what they thought, which will appear in the next issue of my magazine.

Paul Horrocks, who edits the Manchester Evening News says: "Money can't buy the global exposure Manchester received from hosting this conference. It was good news all round for the city."

Mike Reeves, who plays rhythm guitar and works for Clearwater Corporate Finance, says: "It's simply snarled up an already exhausted transport network, taken up police time when they could have been doing something more productive, used up hotel space that could have been taken by people spending their own money in the region rather than taxpayers money, and filled the area with sinister looking bodyguards to raise the fear level. Other than that, it's been great."

What do you think?

Monday, September 25, 2006

Her other bloke

It's not easy seeing your beloved leave the house in order to go and see another man she makes no secret of loving. But when that bloke is Tony Blair, there is a context.

With Labour in town this week there are opportunities aplenty to meet the top brass of the ruling party. But on Sunday we were both invited to see the PM meet readers of the Manchester Evening News at a special *secret* location (the new HQ). Baby sitting issues meant we ended up having to flip a coin for the golden ticket. It worked out right, and as it was Rachel's birthday, it meant more to her than it did to me.

The highlights are as follows. Blair is an accomplished conversationalist. He comes across as polite, passionate and engaging. He was thrown an intelligent curve ball on Kyoto by my old pal, comrade Steve Connor. A garbled question on regeneration was dealt with politely, though his special adviser Ruth Turner, once of this parish, looked suitably confused. There was only one question from a woman, Manchester's fiestiest - Angie Robinson- who put her hand up for the beleagured business owner.

There were no questions about his succession, having pointedly declined to endorse Gordon Brown earlier that day. Good. I've long maintained that there's little wrong with Tony Blair. He's an honest and courageous conviction politician. The problem is his party. Just watch them implode in an orgy of indulgent infighting this week in the manner they honed during years of opposition.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Pie charts

A great Saturday tradition has always been a cheeky pie. In London the best quick food treat was a salt beef bagel from the Brick Lane Bagel Bakery with mustard to make your eyes water. It was just the job to get you in the mood before shouting obscenities at the nazi paper sellers across the road.

The only street seller paper in Marple is a lovely Romanian lad who flogs the Big Issue outside Iceland. God bless you too, my friend.

So, to pies. Ian Wolfendale, the undisputed arbiter of common sense pie consumption, is of no doubt. The best pies in Marple are the steak ones from Archers on Hollins Lane. But on Saturday, you can wait half an hour while old ladies collect their bread orders, Wolfie says with not a little irritation.

I'm equally convinced that Grenaby Farm steak pies take some beating and the service is super effecient. It needs to be with a large queue out of the shop. The first one I ever had in May this year led to me going back to the shop to demand to speak to the manager in order to congratulate him on a work of rare beauty. Not too salty, not too hot. The pastry contains the chunks of meat in a rich sauce and doesn't crumble in the tray. They have failed to disappoint ever since.

For the ultimate pie test we whittled it down to the above two, added potato and meat from each place and a lamb pie from Archers. The kids - all five - opted for Archers sausage rolls.

The verdicts: Eamon Curran, father of the love of my life, and a man who knows his way around a plate of food said the pies were alright, but the sausage rolls were peerless. Some of the best he's had.

Margaret, mother of the same, thought there was little to choose between the two potato and meat. A tie for first place. But that the Grenaby steak was too salty.

Rachel agrees with me. Mmmm.

And me, stubborn bugger that I am, still think Grenaby's steak pie is the king of Marple Pies. The next test is to put it up against a Levers' steak offering from their flagship superstore on Bolton Road, Blackburn, opposite t'Roverrrrs. I might need extra help from Wolfie on that one.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Why football saddens me

Through the eyes of a 7 year old the football bungs "scandal" makes no sense at all.

"The Bolton manager was on the news. He was going to be manager of England. And he's done something bad, what has he done Daddy?"

I tried to explain, but couldn't. But then the wider world of professional football doesn't make much sense any more. The lads have Top Trumps cards with transfer fees on.

You try and encourage a basic sense of fair play. Don't cheat, don't gloat, don't foul, enjoy success, live with defeat, I say. It is good to be loyal to your mates and support your team. I'm glad they seem to be coping with this.

I can explain to a tearful 5 year old why Craig "I love this place and owe everything to Mark Hughes" Bellamy has left Blackburn Rovers for Liverpool. We understand that although I have a rude name for Lucas Neill "football genius" - irony intended - I don't want him to leave. They know too that Shefki Kuqi was a blunt instrument, but he never stopped trying.

Football has always been like this, players coming and going; we get over it, but there's something deeply wrong and missing from the soul of the game these days.

At an under 7's football tournament this summer there were parents from other schools screaming and shouting like they were Stuart Pearce, or Sam Allardyce. All the usual Andy Grayisms "drop deep", "hit him", "switch it". It was horrible. Our lot - St Mary's Marple Bridge - were much more sedate. Our number even included an ex-pro footballer and a national martial arts coach (so I fancied our chances if it kicked off). But they know about enjoyment and sport and exercise and encouragement so we just tried to cheer with moderate enthusiasm. They didn't concede a goal all day, and won the cup. The losing team's kids were in tears. No kid should feel that sense of failure. It's meant to be enjoyable.

I've no real conclusion to these unrelated tales, just a sense of sadness. I long for tales of heroism and examples of skill. Who are Hyde United playing this weekend?

Monday, September 18, 2006

Tintin

My fascination and deep love of Tintin has been tested this weekend.

The antics of the tufty haired reporter (did he ever file a story?) have been embraced by my brood who love the boxed set of DVDs. Explorers on the Moon seems to be a favourite of the boys. I still love the simplicity of The Castafiore Emerald. Some of the boys have been caught reading the books by torchlight. Bravo. Tintin is a remarkable superhero. His virtues of loyalty, kindness and courage are the foundation of the very values we encourage at every opportunity.

So why so tested? I read for the first time the English translation of Tintin in the Congo. Even the disclaimer attached by the publisher warning of "outdated colonial attitudes" can't prepare you for the appalling drawings of Africans. The violent treatment of animals is sickening. And the story is rubbish. I only bought it to complete the set. I wish I hadn't bothered.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Marple

When I started this blogging lark I'd no idea how it would pan out. I'll admit that the name doesn't really do justice to where we live. And even though the good people at the Marple official site have put up a link - thank you! - I'm hardly embedded in the community. I live here, I go to work in the city and have posted all manner of stuff that doesn't have much to do with this smashing little place I live.

Not having all the lads with us this weekend has left us with a lethargy we can rarely dare to contemplate. That and the preparations for a third consecutive night out.

It did however give me a small amount of time to look around Marple centre this morning without having bored and hungry children to satisfy.

The suburbs of big cities have started to morph into clones - estate agents, poncey restaurants and designer kids clothes shops. Not Marple. OK so there are plenty of estate agents, but a Saturday is a real treat popping into different butchers and grocers for various bits for the Sunday roast. There are even a couple of trendy delis which were packed out this morning.

I don't believe any shop or product ever deserves special status for being local, or British, or independent. But the shops in Marple are a pleasure partly because of those characteristics. They understand service, choice and quality. There's a site for Marple Traders which encourages people to use local services and promotes local businesses, there also seems to be a commitment to quality underpinning it.

And if the refurbed Dolce Vita can do as good a pizza for the kids as Pizza Express, then we'll be back again and again. Watch this space.

Next week: The great pie debate

Thursday, September 14, 2006

European Tour

My football club is like a three pin plug - useless in Europe. The only team Blackburn Rovers has ever managed to defeat in European competition has been Rosenberg of Norway in 1995. That game saw the first and fastest ever Champions League hat trick by Mike Newell as Rovers clawed back three points and hardly any dignity after humblings in Trondheim, Warsaw and Moscow.

Since then a brave display away at Lyon counted for nothing, we were 1-0 down anyway. Even the giddy defeat over CSKA Sofia was over 2 legs as we turned a 3-0 lead into a scary draw. Don't even get me started on Celtic.

But the best thing about the European adventures are the trips. But not this year. As I speak some of my pals are having slightly more fun than I am as they sample the delights of the cultural quarter of Salzburg (probably taking in an afternoon Mozart concert).

Hopefully Mark Hughes can draw something from his treasure chest of European adventures to prepare the team better than Harford, Hodgson and Sourness.

Passage to the next round would mean the group stage and all manner of possibilities.

C'mon you blues.

Monday, September 11, 2006

A day to reflect

What have you done so far today? Dropped the kids off? Arrived at work, probably anxious about what the week has in store?

Just take a moment today to reflect on what happened 5 years ago. People like you and me didn't make it home that day.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Random thoughts on a mad day

Mad day today, so here are a few things to chew on:

Best chewy liquorice toffees ever
Walkers Nonsuch

Best treacle toffee
Penrith Toffee Shop

Best coffee
Cafe Direct, the 5 strength one in a red packet

Best kebabs ever
Platos, Lancaster 1980s

Best fish and chips ever
Station chippy (RIP), Piccadilly bus station, Manchester

Current kids fave song for playing loud in the car
Ring of Fire - Johnny Cash

My current album for playing in car
Streets of New York - Willie Nile

Best support band ever
Flaming Lips, Old Trafford 2003

Band I wish I'd seen live, and in their prime
Stiff Little Fingers

Best hotel in Manchester
Lowry

Best place to eat anywhere at all
Three Fishes, Whalley, Lancashire

Best gig for atmosphere
Oasis, supported by Manic Street Preachers at Cardiff International Arena 1996

Best Blackburn Rovers player of all time
Alan Shearer

Most loved Blackburn Rovers player of all time
Simon Garner

Best trainers ever
Adidas Samba

One last thought: European football returns to Manchester next week. United host Scottish champions Celtic. I for one will not be comfortable in Manchester city centre next week. I remember invasions by Celtic fans as predictably hostile occasions. I also consider it in the height of poor taste that a pre-match rally at a local Irish Centre will feature a flute band named after an IRA man killed while planting land mines. And this in a city that has suffered a bombing by his "comrades" 10 years ago.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Marple's most famous son

I was chuffed to bits to be invited onto Talk of the Town on BBC Radio Manchester on Saturday. But less chuffed that I can't seem to be able to post a picture of us larking about.

The presenter - Anthony Wilson, the former altar boy from St Mary's, Marple Bridge - introduces me as one of his best friends, which is lovely of him. I've never been called that by someone who's had a film made of his life. Tony and Yvette, his partner (Ant and Vet) also got me Terry Eagleton's After Theory for my 40th, judging that I'm now mature enough to read it. Which I'm clearly not.

Anyway, the programme format is one that Wilson does so well from the days when he hosted the wonderful After Dark on Channel 4 in the 1980s.

Along with Angie Robinson from Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce and Stephen Miles of the Radisson Edwardian Hotel we talked as we would if we were just some regular punters in the Cornerhouse cafe. Tony had to temper his langauge for broadcast purposes, which he managed with one exception, when he told the story about how Manchester gangsters have "shit" guns.

Topics ranged from Manchester's "offer", Is Manchester still cool?, the English language, Blair, Thatcher, Taser Guns, Birmingham, lap dancing bars, the rain, the rain, the rain, China, hotels, Peter Saville, London, Wembley, Manchester United.

Anyway, you can listen to it if you have the technology, at the link at the top.

Friday, September 01, 2006

A New England


When I was born, the world was a far simpler place. As kids we went on holiday in this country. I can remember a caravan in the Lakes, a B&B in Southport, various Butlins camps and my Great Uncle's farm in North Wales. Our greatest extravagance was a trip to Cornwall in my Dad's Cortina. We stopped off in Weston-super-Mare on the way down, Shrewsbury on the way back. A week in the Trelawney Hotel in Newquay felt like the apex of luxury.
My Dad's mate Ralph had been to Spain and said we weren't missing much - "Hest Bank with sunshine," he reported. I was 13 when I went abroad for the first time, 15 for the second time but it's been foreign climes at all points of the globe over the last 25 years. I've loved everywhere I've been, even Geraldton, Western Australia.
But with the five kids in tow and the amount of fun we need to spread around, I'm up for Cornwall all the way now after a wonderful week away. We did the lot - Eden Project, Newquay, Padstow, Truro, a different beach every day - wonderful food, great people. We had some good weather every day, even if it wasn't all day. It's been the best break I've had this year, nudging a tiring weekend hiking around (the shops in) Keswick into second place and relegating a weekend in Marbella down to third.
The point of all of this is that the British holiday industry is catching up with the 21st century. Apart from the Light Ale quarter of Newquay the Cornish experience has made it comfortable for nice people to enjoy England. And while Blackpool looks like it's gambling everything on getting a monster casino, this may present an opportunity for Morecambe. Bill Bryson had the vision in his book Notes From A Small Island where he suggested Morecambe could offer short breaks for the middle class of the North of England, offering art, Lancashire food and a hop to the Lake District.
There are plans floating around for Morecambe and I hope they succeed. Cornwall tells me they can.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Can't Pay, Won't Pay

I’m a great fan of a character called Martin Lewis, the self-styled Money Saving Expert of radio, TV and the net. He knows how to play the financial services system to find good deals for clued-up punters.
He also urges people to be responsible and prudent in getting out of debt and living within their means.
But I believe he might be missing a trick. He has yet to spot the bargain of the century for people with a wardrobe full of designer clothes they can’t really afford, the memories of a holiday in Las Vegas and brand new replica England kits for the kids.
And the bargain is this. You don’t have to pay for it all. For the "spend generation", where you get what you want and don’t live with the consequences, the panacea to the mounting bills is simply to become insolvent - through something called an individual voluntary arrangement (IVA).
All it takes is a session on the internet filling in details about personal circumstances, then a consultation with an insolvency specialist and then filing through the court to stop those nasty credit card companies from sending any more bills. The clothes still fit, the car still runs well and the house isn’t going to be repossessed - and the bank are willing to let the punter pay about 40p for every £1 they owe.
It might be a tall order to expect someone who has displayed very little personal responsibility to knuckle under a more rigorous financial regime, but that’s one of the requirements of a system run by qualified and regulated insolvency practitioners, as opposed to, say, a loan shark.
Close watchers of the Alternative Investment Market (AIM) cannot have failed to notice the prevalence of companies in this parish offering personal insolvency services and joining AIM. Investors love the success of Chorley-based Debt Free Direct, which floated at the back end of 2002, while others have followed the stampede to the stock market and seen their share prices soar - Accuma, Debtmatters, Clear Debt. Companies offering loans to people the banks won’t touch - like Bury-based Compass Finance - have expanded to offer IVAs to people who think "one last loan might just do it".
So, just as your insurance premiums go up because insurance companies settle bulk claims, however spurious they know them to be; and as you pay off your credit card every month and live within your means, but wonder why you need the help of Martin Lewis to avoid creeping charges - there’s why. Enjoy the summer.
(Lead article, Insider, August 2006)

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

I fought the law


Andy and Christine Wyeth have produced an absoutely amazing medley of images and sounds from my birthday party.

Not least the picture, above, of me belting out one of the four numbers we perfomed on the night.

I'll try and get some out to people and post a few more on this blog.

Fighting the landbankers in Marple

From time to time this blog will look at a few local issues.

One at the moment regards a property company selling plots in Marple to investors in the hope they will one day get permission for residential development. Very unlikely.

See link on Marple News opposite for more on this.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Nursery

One of my boys finished nursery last week. He's now ready for school in September. At the end of his personal yearbook was this lovely piece adapted from the original by Robert Fulghum. So true...

Most of what I really need to know about how to live, and what to do, and how to be, I learned in nursery. Wisdom was not at the top of the University mountain, but there in the sandbox at nursery school.These are the things I learned..

Share everything. Play fair. Don't hit people. Put things back where you found them. Clean up your own mess. Don't take things that aren't yours. Say sorry when you hurt somebody. Wash your hands before you eat. Flush. Warm biscuits and cold milk are good for you. Live a balanced life. Learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.

Take a nap every afternoon. When you go out into the world, watch for traffic, hold hands, and stick together. Be aware of wonder. Remember the little seed in the plastic cup? The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.
Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the plastic cup - they all die. So do we.

And then remember the book about Dick and Jane and the first word you learned, the biggest word of all: LOOK. Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and sane living.

Think of what a better world it would be if we all - the whole world had biscuits and milk about 3 o'clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankets for a nap. Or if we had a basic policy in our nation and other nations to always put things back where we found them and cleaned up our own messes. And it is still true, no matter how old you are, when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

State control of the population

Sustainable development and environmentally-friendly living have become the twin mantras of the modern age. Only this morning as I drove my BMW 4X4 the short distance from home to work I was treated to more water torture of controlling drivel on Radio 5 Live. Some toss about how single men are a threat to the planet, because they leave the Sky Plus box on standby.
There was even a suggestion that communal living was a better way. That single households were to blame....for what?
It's summer and there's sod all to talk about on the news, apart from Lebanon, so this may be throw away chit chat. But be aware that some policy wonk or other will begin seriously suggesting tax breaks for communes. A new tax on fridges. A levy on DVD players. A fine if you don't take your plastic bottles to the tip (I do, by the way, but then I drive a car with plenty of room).
The solution to the greenhouse effect, if it exists, does not lie in peddling guilt and micro-management of people's lives. It lies in developing better and more effecient energy resources. But this doesn't interest the busybodies, quangos and self appointed environmental do gooders. This all comfortably satisfies a need to control, legislate and nanny, because underpinning it is a world view that says people cannot be trusted to control their own lives so we must do it for them.