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.

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 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 accountable 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.