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

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


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


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

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.