Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Happy day

I don't put too many announcements on here, but this seems to be a bit of a day for such things. Congratulations to my great friend Andy Coyne on the birth of his first child. Madeline came into the world yesterday. Her and Sharon are both doing well. Given his footballing leanings I'm surprised she wasn't named Alison Vanessa Fay Coyne (AVFC).

And a very happy birthday to my Dad.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

All the young dudes

I was disappointed to hear that Jay McEveley has been sold by Rovers to Derby County. I love it when home grown players burst into the first team and always see it as failure when they leave and do well somewhere else. There was a time when the backbone of Birmingham City's team was three ex-Rovers players, Dunnie, Damien Johnson and Tiny Taylor, that Graeme Souness had discarded or fallen out with.

Jay was a decent enough player who had suffered through some unlucky injuries. I remember him knocking David Beckham into the stand in a semi-final at Old Trafford, then getting injured and going on loan to, ahem, Burnley and Ipswich.

The best Rovers teams all had a talisman - a player who connects with the fans, either because he was one himself, or he's done well when the club have given him a chance - Simon Garner, Colin Hendry, David Dunn spring to mind. For all his badge kissing, Savage doesn't quite do it.

That said, Matt Derbyshire is doing ever so well. Hope springs for him.

Marple Bridge man wins casino bid

No, this is not a spoof. Manchester's surprise win of the first supercasino licence (news of it is here) was the result of hard work and perseverance from the city council and their property development partners. Foremost amongst these is Marple Bridge resident Ken Knott, the K in ASK Developments, who partnered with fellow developer Artisan, Kerzner (a major casino operator) and the city council in drafting the plan for a casino at the City of Manchester stadium. officially ASK now has to tender to develop the site, but I would be amazed if anyone else got the job. The full bid is here.

Genuinely, I thought the government would be brass necked enough to give it to the Dome. But the body set up to scrutinise the bids looked at delivery, regeneration and the business case - I never thought Blackpool would be able to make that stack up. Manchester is top draw on putting together winning bids - Sports events, political conferences and trade exhibitions.

But a cautionary thought: having joined new Manchester 235 casino just before Christmas I was absolutely stunned at the scale of the place, but aghast at the emptiness of it. It was soulless and lifeless and bore no relation to the shiny images on the brochures. I just don't think they'll catch on.

Anyway, good luck to Ken Knott and his pals. Please knock down that awful embarrassing spiky statue before it kills someone.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Marrakech - a fine time

Normal service is henceforth resumed. We had a terrific time in Marrakech. I'm no travel writer, so can only refer readers looking for a practical travel guide to ones like this. It isn't entirely random as the reviewer stayed at the same place we did. This is a coincidence, by the way; I've never been recommended anything by Kate Thornton in my life.

For all the marvels of Marrakech, the house we stayed in, Riad Farnatchi was the absolute highlight of the trip. I heartily recommend it to anyone. The website itself is worth a visit to give you a taste.

Sunday was the Marrakech marathon (no, we didn't take part). The route cut across the main road from the city to the airport causing an enormous and impatient traffic jam. While we waited, twenty minutes, tops, some people got out of their taxis and walked the rest of the way. Eventually the stewards and police let the traffic through and so the tailenders of the race then had to do what we did in the souks of the Medina - dodge the chaos of the Morroccan traffic while going about their business. Maybe all marathons should theme themselves in such a way.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Ten thoughts on great cities for a break

We're off to Marrakech tomorrow for a weekend break. Very excited. Normal patchy service will be resumed as soon as possible. It's the first time we've ever been there. Here are ten cities I've either never been to, or have just been to for work and would like to go to very soon.


Toodle pip

Monday, January 22, 2007

The last laugh

Rachel's colleague Janet Slee was married for many years to the Guardian cartoonist David Austin, and sadly David died last year. This afternoon she had the great privilege of naming a train after him (pictured). Next week an exhibition of David’s work opens in London.

Hooligans and gentlemen

I went to an all boys rugby playing school and my loathing of the egg chasing fraternity knew no bounds. Us footballers were chastised as "hooligans playing a gentlemans game", while they of course were gentlemen...

Aussie legend Laurie Daley described it thus: “Rugby league is a simple game played by simple people. Rugby union is a complex game played by wankers.”

I don't forget, but I can forgive. With that in mind I took Rachel and all five boys to Sale Sharks v Ospreys on Saturday, for a proper report look here.

It was an exciting game watched by a noisier and more partisan crowd than I expected. I liked the fact I could have drunk beer all through the game, which I can't do at football. We may go back, but we still have a lot of football grounds to go to yet. And the kids are just itching to get to Ewen Fields and Moss Lane.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Left out

From Norman Geras: Nick Cohen's What's Left? is published on 5 February. There's an extract in today's Observer. And Christopher Hitchens reviews the book in the Sunday Times:

Cohen has no problem with those who are upset about state-sponsored exaggerations of the causes of war, or furious about the bungled occupation of Iraq that has ensued. People who think this is the problem are not his problem.
Here's his problem: the people who would die before they would applaud the squaddies and grunts who removed hideous regimes from Afghanistan and Iraq, yet who happily describe Islamist video-butchers and suicide-murderers as a "resistance". Those who do this are not "anti-war" at all, but are shadily taking the other side in a conflict where the moral and civilisational stakes are extremely high.
There are two possible sorts of "left" reaction to a dilemma like this. One is to seek out the democratic and secular forces in the Muslim world - the Kurdish revolutionaries in Iraq, say, or the Afghan women's movement - and to offer them your solidarity whether Bush or Blair will do so or not. (Some things, as Orwell wrote, are true even if The Daily Telegraph says they are true.) The other is to say that globalisation is the main enemy, and that, therefore, any enemy of that enemy is a friend. In this twisted mental universe, even a medievalist jihad is better than no struggle at all. Cohen has decided to adopt the first position, and to anatomise and ridicule the second one. The result is an exemplary piece of political satire, in which the generally amusing and ironic tone should not lull you into ignoring the deadly
seriousness of the argument.

(See also here.)

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Ruth+Turner at Google dot com

Apparently if you type Ruth Turner into the 4th link is to a profile from our magazine. It's first if you do it at There has been heavy lifting from the interview from 2002 in the papers today. Good. Because it's a really good interview by Rachel Bristowe, one she won an award for. It tells people Ruth's alright and I'm proud to call her a friend. Ruth is a genuine good egg and the more people who know this the better. It must be a time of unimaginable pressure for her and I'm convinced it will all blow over.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Ten thoughts and lists

The best ever book of music lists is This is Uncool, the 500 greatest singles since punk and disco by Garry Mulholland. Great because it's so personal and so partial. It helps that the author is about my age and shares my tastes. He got more into rap than I ever did, but the rest is pretty close to what I like. It's also helped me experiment with music that passed me by at the time.

His new book Fear Of Music, the sequel of 261 albums chosen with total prejudice is now being talked about in these parts. He was roughed up on Terry Christian's BBC Manchester programme yesterday for ignoring the Stone Roses.

The full lists are here, but these are my ten favourite albums that aren't in his book, in no particular order.

Stiff Little Fingers – Nobody’s Heroes
Dead Kennedy’s – Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables
Blue Nile – A Walk Across the Rooftops
The The – Infected
R.E.M. – Monster
Aztec Camera - Love
Nirvana – Never Mind
Oasis – What’s the Story
Stone Roses – Stone Roses
Manic Street Preachers – Everything Must Go

But this is my truth, tell me yours?


For all the kind things people say about the visionary leadership of Manchester City Council, they seem to be on something of a collision course with retailers and restaurants owners over new parking proposals in the city centre. the council's argument is that people having a night out should park in a long stay car park, while street parking will now be short stay in the evenings, as it is in the day.

Gordo at Manchester Confidential has this to say:

Take many hundreds of people coming to the theatre. Currently they can find parking in and around, say, St Ann’s Square. Within site of the theatre. No more. They will have to go to, say, the Arndale car park and dodge the skateboarders all the way up Cross Street, without a policeman in sight. It’s hard enough supporting theatres in the first place these days, but this silly money grabbing idea will kill them off.
The full rant is here.

However, this is a democracy and this link here is to the consulation page on the council's site.

I think Gordo goes over the top, but that's what he's about. There is a sense behind the scheme, but like the arguments over public transport, there is a lag behind the provision of a decent alternative; thus pleasing no-one. If the car parks at Great Northern, Kendals and the Arndale were safer and better we'd be happier using them. If the trams, taxis and trains were better we'd use them too.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Spirit of the Blitz

A 60-year old woman in Marple has been killed after a wall on Fern Close collapsed on her. Awful business this. The wind today made our building shake. Slates were blown off the roof and put out two car windows. Cranes are swaying in the wind. We had a fire alarm at midday, unfortunately our rendevouz point is outside Yates's - the entrance to the Chorlton Street wind tunnel. Some of my guys were blown off their feet and one lad lost his specs.

Now Piccadilly station is closed, the M60 is in chaos and we've sent everyone home. Outside the office it's gridlock.

Grim times. Stay safe.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Greatest fans in the world - yeah right

I've grown to quite like Birmingham City and their honest bloke manager Steve Bruce. I hope they come back up, not least as I enjoyed last season's pre-match light ales in the St Andrews Tavern with the old school Blues fans. The team that won 5-1 at Newcastle tonight, report here, had three ex-Rovers in it. One of them wasn't even David Dunn, who is coming home to Ewood. But where were the legions of football mad Geordies who supposedly stand by their team through thin and thin? By full time there were only a few hundred left in the ground booing their hapless team. Clearly as fickle as the rest of us, deluded into thinking that they're a big club and that the FA Cup doesn't matter. Fools.

Lost weekends

Nigel Hughes at Ear I Am talks about groundhopping. Ticking off football grounds is a pastime of the truly obsessive. So wonderfully English. The old 92 club rules were that if a club moved you had to revisit the club at a new ground, only the present home counted.

It got me thinking. *Dons anorak, wipes mouth*.

I've watched top class football at 94 grounds in England and Wales. My official 92 club tally is 66 as I lose a couple every season, I've lost Bristol Rovers twice!

In Scotland I've done Rangers, Celtic, Hearts, Ayr, Airdrie and Hamilton Accies. The last two are old grounds.

In the Conference I've done the current homes of Altrincham, Morecambe, York and Cambridge. I've also been once to the nearest football ground to my home, Ewen Fields, home of Hyde United.

Abroad I've done Ajax, PSG, Lyon, CSKA Sofia, Shelbourne, Nuremberg, Kuala Lumpur, Perth Italia, another in Perth, one in Melbourne (can't remember).

I've also played at Lancaster City, Marine, Exeter City, Brixham Town, Morecambe, Cheadle Town and Leyton.

Is it child cruelty to say that when the kids are older I'm going to embark on some lost weekends to complete the set?

High Street Blues

My ever observant informant Guy Ainsworth tells me that BBC Breakfast TV are running a "High Street Blues" slot everyday this week where they talk about the decline of the traditional UK high street, and hunt for the ideal High Street, which they will visit and film from this Friday. Marple is getting some positive mentions apparently and I think it makes for a perfect case study of the problems that high streets face, but more impotantly what a co-ordinated and focused strategy can do to arrest decline. Click here and nominate Marple.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Trains from Marple to go to Victoria

I did some digging about whether there were dark plans afoot to close Rose Hill station. There don't appear to be; but there are well thought out plans for some peak time Marple and Rose Hill trains to terminate at Victoria instead. More people work over that side of town, so it makes sense.

You can read about it on page 81 of this very detailed document, here.

The joy of text

I had to gasp at the news today where the chief executive of the Northwest Regional Development Agency has admitted to sending a racist joke in a text message to his driver. Steve Broomhead is a pleasant enough bloke, he's even referred to me as a "critical friend". What's surprising is I find it hard enough to imagine him telling a joke, let alone a racist one.

PS I've now been told the joke and it's not that offensive. Weak, but hardly a hate crime.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Ten thoughts on being an English bloke

I found this "How to be an English Bloke" on a techy blog, here, but wanted to share it with you.

CALLING SOMEONE 'SON' - Especially policeman but even saying it to kids makes you the man.
DRINKING UP - Specifically, rising from the table, slinging your coat on and downing two thirds of a pint in one fluid movement. Then nodding towards the door, saying, "Let's go" and striding out while everyone else struggles to catch up with you. God, you're hard.
NODDING AT COPPERS - A moments eye contact is all it takes for you to share the unspoken bond. "We've not seen eye to eye in the past", it says, "but someone's got to keep the little scrotes in line".
ARRIVING IN A PUB LATE... and everyone cheers you. It doesn't mean you're popular, it just means your mates are pissed. However, the rest of the pub doesn't know that.
NOT WATCHING YOUR WEIGHT - fat is a feminist issue, apparently. Brilliant. Pass the pork scratchings.
CARVING THE ROAST - and saying "are you a leg or breast man" to the blokes and "do you want stuffing" to the women. Congratulations, you are now your dad.
TEST SWINGING HAMMERS - ideally, B&Q would have little changing rooms with mirrors so you could see how rugged you look with any DIY item. Until then, we'll make do with the aisles.
PHONE CALLS THAT LAST LESS THAN A MINUTE - unlike birds, we get straight to the point. "alright? Yep. Drink? Red lion? George, it is then. Seven. Seeya."
HAVING SOMETHING PROPERLY WRONG WITH YOU - especially if you didn't make a fuss. "Why was I off, nothing much, just a brain haemorrhage".
CALLING YOUR MATE A C_*T - and punching him on the shoulder. Just a man's way of saying "you're a good mate; I missed you while you were in hospital".

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Petty parking practice

I arrived at Stockport station in a foul mood this morning. Appalling traffic through Offerton and Marple. Why is there no train from Marple to Stockport?
One of the car parks at Stockport train station has a ticketing system that requires you to key in the registration number of your car. I can only guess that this is to prevent people from handing over tickets with time to spare to other people. This is appalling. Surely the net effect of such a random act of kindness adds up to so much more than the few quid the car park operator will ever make from stamping this practice out. I think it's absolutely hateful.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Upmarket average

When I enjoyed a slap up dinner and piss up at Establishment restaurant in December I didn't expect it would be the last time I'd go there. I knew the business was in administration, but thought someone else would come in and have a go. Now it's gone bust and won't be opening again, so Manchester Confidential reports.
I think it's further evidence of the trend in Manchester restaurants for "upmarket average". Punters are happy with brasserie food and Pinot Grigio by the bucketful. Nothing really special stands out anymore and I'm as guilty as anyone for putting atmosphere and speed over gourmet food.

Commuting tales

Couple of observations on the Rose Hill to Piccadilly train this morning, inspired by Boz, the blogging commuting cat. First, a hippy couple loaded their muddy bikes onto the train. They were coated in crap as well, so when the bloke brushed past me I got a veneer of mud on my overcoat. Then, at Guide Bridge, one of their bikes fell over, which they didn't hear or see. Someone pointed this out to them and they failed to apologise, or question whether anyone had been hurt. Just moved the bike.
Secondly, a woman sat next to me and began to apply her make up. She dropped bits occasionally. I didn't like the constant movement, especially when I'm trying to multitask. I was reading a book review about Richard Dawkins in Third Way (a surprisingly good magazine I was sent) and listening to something calming by Nick Drake.
The good news is the train was on time.

Monday, January 08, 2007

The. Magic. Of. The. Cup.

Went to watch the Rovers win 4-1 at Everton yesterday. Absolutely superb performance from every player on the pitch. I was especially chuffed for Paul Gallagher (scores, left) who looks tougher for his loan spell at Stoke. Lee Grooby has filed another excellent match report on the Rovers website here.

I went with a trio of Evertonians and so was politely restrained in victory. Huge thanks to Frank McKenna for the invite and to Derek Hatton for letting us join him on the front row of the main stand.

We're away for the next round on our honeymoon (we've done everything the wrong way round). We would have rearranged if we drew Burnley again, but we didn't; QPR or Luton away.

Friday, January 05, 2007

What really makes Britain rich?

Caught a bit of Peter Snow's programme What Makes Britain Rich on BBC2 last night. At first I thought this was a rare show of understanding from the BBC, but it missed the mark, partly because of the examples they used. I've worked in TV so I know how difficult it can be to get people to give up their time to be interviewed, but there was a gaping hole in the middle of the programme called Britain's entrepreneurs. While they did well to get people from Viyella talking about IP and industrial decline, the choice of millionaires were too obvious (Caudwell, Stelios, Felix Dennis). Using Chelsea FC as an example of the knowledge economy was poor. To then leap from a warehouse in the Midlands to hedge funds in Mayfair and City traders also failed to get across the pace of change in our economy. There are fortunes being made and they're not all in hedge funds.

Ten thoughts on...fanzines

There are terrible fanzines out there. And some absolute belters. Sometimes they really capture a moment, sometimes you wonder why they bother. Here are my ten Friday thoughts for this week on the brighter sides of fanzines.
  • Best song with fanzines mentioned - Billy Bragg's Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards
  • Best football fanzine of its time - Fortunes Always Hiding (West Ham), circa 1989-1990
  • Best fanzine capturing a mood of a city - The End, Liverpool mid-1980s
  • Best fanzine edited by a future lads mag editor - Attack on Bzag, James Brown, circa 1983
  • Best fanzine in Lancaster - Positive Feedback, circa 1983
  • Best general North West football fanzine - Hit The Bar, circa 1988
  • Best Blackburn Rovers fanzine - Many Miles From Home, circa 1991
  • Best day out selling a fanzine - selling MMFH, Grimsby, January 1991
  • Best national football fanzine - Off The Ball, mid - 1980s
  • Nastiest humour in a fanzine - Scouser and Man City baiting in Red Issue, circa 2002

Little Chef - what a waste

The last time I went to a Little Chef I vowed never ever to return. We were treated so badly at the branch in Penrith that I decided that was it.

It doesn't fill me with any kind of nostalgic sadness that it may now fold.

There's a good feature on the BBC magazine site about the demise of Little Chef. The picture used is of the branch on the A6 near Scorton where I used to live. Happier memories of plaice and chips at that one.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Christmas cheer for Marple traders

This from local PR chap Guy Ainsworth who works with the local organisation Marple Business Forum.

Marple traders reported their busiest Christmas ever as shoppers spurned out-of-town retail centres and decided to shop locally.

Marple Business Forum, which represents the leading retailers in the town, says its members were delighted that so many people decided to do their Christmas shopping locally.

It’s a real vote of confidence in the town,” said Marple Business Forum chairman Paul Whatmough, who runs a menswear shop on Market Street.

“We increased our sales significantly over the Christmas period. In fact in the week before Christmas our sales were up 30 per cent compared to the same period the previous year. Many of our retail members have been reporting similar sales success stories.”

The ambitious Christmas lights pulled in more shoppers to Marple this year, but Paul believes it was the convenient car parking and the wide range of shops that were the main factors in the upturn in Christmas trade.

“Shoppers decided to avoid the hassle of queues and crowds at out-of-town centres and opted instead for the convenience of shopping locally,” he said. “Thanks to the wide range of shops, including high street names and specialist shops, people found they could do all their Christmas shopping right here in Marple. There was a real buzz on Market Street and Stockport Road all through the festive period.”

I'm pleased about this, there are plenty of really good shops in the centre now and the atmosphere before Christmas was superb. I particularly enjoyed a cake and hot chocolate, with all the kids, in Toast deli on Market Street.

Business failure

Back at work and two of our lead stories on the first Insider Weekly email alert of the year are bad news stories for the North West.

Music Zone, based in Stockport, has gone into administration. I know a few of the people involved on all sides and whatever the detail or the manner of the demise is, the bottom line remains: selling cheap CDs is a tough trade. I'm gutted for Steve Oliver, the MD, who struck me as a sound bloke.

TVR in Blackpool has quite clearly been ransacked by a Russian oligarch. Appalling.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Tintin on BBC4

A documentary about Tintin on BBC4 left some unanswered questions. Who is Nick Rodwell, the top man of the Herge Foundation, who is now married to Herge's widow?

Well deserved CBE for Peter Mount

Congratulations to my friend Peter Mount, who has been awarded a CBE for services to the NHS. For the last ten years he has put his considerable business nous to work in the NHS, first at Hope Hospital at Salford, more recently at Central Manchester, where he is chairman.

I am full of admiration for successful business people who put something back. Peter has also set up HUGS, Helping Uganda Schools, a charity to help kids in Uganda. You can find out more about it here. Please support it.


As a general rule I don't talk to footballers. Nothing personal, but the support I give them on the pitch doesn't confer any higher status on them as human beings. Grown men of my age fawning over inarticulate lads in their 20s is slightly embarrassing. I have nothing to say and nothing to offer except politeness. But then I'm not 7, or 6, or 2.

David Bentley couldn't do enough for Louis and Joe on Saturday (right). Andre Oojer, man of the match, was lovely to Elliot (left). And I was reminded that Robbie Savage got a room full of people singing Happy Birthday to Joe last May.
As for the Middlesbrough match, it wasn't a classic, but it's the kind of game that under Mark Hughes we tend to win through sheer graft and persistence. We also showed we've got more intelligent as well as opportunistic. Brett Emerton is a far better left back than an attacking midlfield player, for example.