Saturday, March 31, 2007

Fly the Flag

For a variety of reasons we haven't ventured to Old Trafford today - though we will be there in two weeks time for the semi-final against Chelsea.

Also there will be this blog's flag, which was delivered during the week. Parading it in the garden is Joseph, with aching limbs from a nail biting 2-1 win over Stockport Vikings.

Friday, March 30, 2007

John Givens 1963-2007

It's been a sad couple of weeks since I learned of the death of John Givens, a former editor of Yorkshire Business Insider magazine.

John, who before coming to Insider had worked for the Yorkshire Post, had gone on to work at Citywire and more recently at the press office of the Nationwide Building Society in Swindon.

A lifelong Sunderland AFC supporter, he will be missed by many in the media and professional sector in Yorkshire, not least for the football tours he regularly used to organise.

I wasn't that close to "Givo" but we kept in touch. If he ever thought of something that might help someone else he was always kind enough to pass it on. His service was an emotional occasion, well attended by lots of mates and sadly, the children who are now without their father. His family have asked people to donate to Sight Savers, John’s favourite charity, in his memory.

A gush of PR people

Nigel Hughes posts at Ear I Am about what certain PR people of this parish think. I still haven't worked out whether it's a spoof or not, or a joke at my expense.

The journalist most respected by Jo Leah is Michael Taylor.

I was therefore minded of this.

Ten thoughts on....the best parties in the world

My old friend Stuart McGavin always used to say - "we're not here for a long time, but we are here for a good time." It was a full-of-life, very Australian attitude that he embraced right up until he was knocked down and killed in Melbourne after a rugby international in 1997. I miss Stu a lot, he was a proper bloke with a nailed on view of everything. Honest, loyal and kind.

One of our drunken ideas for the future used to be a TV programme on the ten best parties on the world. He went to more of them than I ever did...

The running of the bulls in Pampalona (July)
Never has being chased by crazed animals been so much fun

Hogmany, New year's Eve, Edinburgh
The best way to see in the new year, even when it's chucking it down

Glastonbury (June, but not always annual)
The mud and music

Mardi Gras in Sydney (February/March)
Best party in Australia and a tribute to Aussie machismo

Oktoberfest, Munich (September/October)
Swilling lager and oompah singing

St Patrick's Day in Dublin (March)
A close call, with New York and Boston throwing decent parades, but the original is the best

Beer can regatta, Darwin, Australia (July)
Tins of bear and mad boats in the harbour

Full Moon Party, Haad Rin, Koh Phangan, Thailand (every month)
Druggies on the beach going mental

Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (February/March)
The party city lets its hair down even more than usual

Trinidad Carnival (February/March)
A two day festival of rum and drums. The biggest in the Carribean

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Oh my Lord

So Blackpool gets to fight another day. The BBC reports, here, on the close vote in the House of Lords which has failed to rubber stamp the decision of the Casino Advisory Panel to locate a new supercasino in Manchester.

Blackpool got it badly wrong by not bidding for any of the other casinos. Manchester put together a good bid, the panel just made the "wrong" decision. Our prediction: they'll give everybody one, that'll keep them quiet. What a fiasco.

Support your local team

An unashamed sales pitch now for one of the great successes in our local community over recent years: the growth of Marple Athletic Junior Football Club.

With teams starting from Under 7s up to Under 16s the club is gaining a reputation throughout the North West as one of the best run and most successful set ups in junior football. Some age groups even have two teams, A and B, with most if not all currently topping their current leagues and set to perform well in tournaments through the summer months.

The club is run by a mixture of public spirited volunteers and enthusiastic parents but there is also a great opportunity for local businesses to become involved in order for the teams to have kit, trophies and half time oranges!

The club works closely with another successful business in Marple, Footy4kidz, which runs sports courses for children in the area with F.A.Qualified coaches who comply with all safety and statutory police checks, trained in First Aid and with a caring and supportive environment.
The advantages to local businesses include:
- Community involvement in a positive and successful sporting club

- Advertising your business through a popular sports club

- PR opportunities through sponsorship of the club

- Advertising on the club's soon to be revamped website

- Promotion of the business through parents and players bulletins

- Networking opportunities with parents and other club sponsors

There are a range of sponsorship opportunities in each age group. The season tarriff is also follows

Kit sponsor £500

Jacket sponsor £250

Trophy sponsor £100

The club is a great success and we would be proud to support local businesses who support the club.

Manchester, London of the North

By 'eck, I get comments on my blog from all sorts now.

Someone called called "anonymous" was just plain abusive (how brave) and someone called "Armley" (a pseudonym), bizarrely, also got personal. Whatever. He/she took issue with the comment I reported from my presentation to a forum of marketing and PR people from the professional services sector that Manchester is becoming a "London of the North".

Armley spent a good 500 words dissecting a short remark about Manchester's relationship with other cities in the North. Like this, with a reference to what the BBC staff think about Manchester:

"You may have bought into the Manchester regionalist propaganda machine's line that Manchester is a northern Shangri La, a booming cosmpolitan city of international importance that outclasses everywhere in England besides London. They don't; they still think it's a grim, crime-filled milltown shithole."

Who says I have "bought into" that hype? A common theme of this blog is that Manchester is not living up to the story in the glossy brochure. But to not also see the success that is around us is just stupid. Temper that instead with what you hear, as I do, when you go to Carnforth, Blackpool, Burnley and Barrow and hear what people think about the fact that Manchester has won the casino bid, or the Commonwealth Games, or the BBC relocation, or is launching the Manchester Festival, and you hear the resentment in their voices. It's not unjustified either. Blackpool is well hacked off with Manchester. They think Manchester is taking everything. They think Manchester is sucking investment and glory from them and from the rest of the North. It's "the big smoke" with all its airs, graces and pretentions.

Mention Manchester during MIPIM, the international property exhibition, in the company of people from Bradford, Birmingham, Leeds, even Liverpool, and they grind their teeth in frustration.

Then, in the context of professional services, look at how the professional service firms, the private equity houses and the banks have shifted their Northern regional offices to Manchester and closed down in Leeds. Listen to how Leeds complains about the lack of a concert arena and a much smaller Harvey Nichols. It's not me talking, it's the truth.

No, Manchester is NOT London in the sense that London is a massive international capital city of a major economy. Or the sense that London is culturally, economically, politically, physically at the centre of this nation's decision making.

For those reasons - and many more - London is not held in great affection by the rest of the UK. To most people in the UK it's actually a dangerous, expensive and crowded mess that has too much power over the rest of the country. And that same type of resentment is beginning to be directed towards Manchester. That's all.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Ten thoughts on.... PRs and press

I did a meet the editors event last night at the plush HQ of PR company MC2. I was alongside a top chap called Tony McDonough from the Liverpool Daily Post. These were 10 of the questions we were asked and my attempts to answer them.

1 Liverpool and Manchester have a history of being in stiff competition, do you think this is still the case now or is it getting better?
It's getting much better. Liverpool and Manchester peacefully co-exist. I'm always amazed at how very different they are. I think Manchester is becoming the London of the North, however. Investement is therefore being sucked out of Blackpool, Lancashire and Leeds towards this incredible success story.

2 We work for a number of small clients and always put them forward for features. We’ve noticed that although our comments are submitted in plenty of time and are of excellent quality, they usually get bumped out of the feature in favour for the bigger competitors. Can you explain why this happens and also, how to avoid it in the future?
We don't bump out small companies because they're small, but small companies can be cautious.

3 What sort of stories do you get really excited about?
Frauds, overnights successes, political intrigue, hostile takeovers.

4 What makes a good interviewee?
Someone who is prepared to say the unothodox, or the different.

5 Have you ever considered turning to the ‘dark side’ and becoming a PR?
No. But I do PR for Insider all the time.

6 What are your pet hates?
I don't hate anything, I'm a Christian. But London PRs asking if we cover Middlesbrough in North West Business Insider are a little bit irritating.

7 Will the BBC move to Manchester be great news for the media in the region?
I hope so, but I fear not. They are not moving any centres of commissioing power and only one network - Radio 5 - which is the most regionally friendly of them all. I think financial services is a much more important economic success for Manchester.

8 What is the one thing that a PR can do to immediately grab your attention?
Say they've got an exclusive story with unique access just for us.

9 What are the things they do that immediately put you off using their clients?
I never blank a PR company, but you detect trends. Missed opportunities frustrate. We constantly seek stories from successful businesses - metal bashers from Bacup - who only seem to want to talk about what they did on Red Nose Day.

10 Who is the most interesting person you have ever interviewed and why?
In the last year the most interesting people I interviewed were Terry Matthews and Brian Kennedy. They just don't seem to want to stop, and I wanted to find out why.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Dead man's corner

Commuters are facing a dance with death at the blind spot in the tram tracks as you approach Piccadilly station from Canal Street or the courts. This picture here shows a tram having narrowly missed a punter who didn't see the tram coming. Trouble is, you have to stand on the tracks to look around the corner in both directions if you're heading from Piccadilly station. Even when City Inn has been built I can't see the pathway being any safer.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Was lost, but now am found

As well as having a lovely Mother's Day with my Mom and with Rachel, this has been a great weekend. I was confirmed today. I took holy communion at Holy Spirit Church in Marple for the first time. It's been a meandering journey, but I think I belong. All the boys are being brought up Catholic and I thought it was about time to make good my core Christian beliefs and to make complete my own path to peace.

I've been helped along the way by Rachel, a cradle Catholic, and by Stuart Adlington, our Deacon and my sponsor Trevor Martin, a fellow Marple Athletic touchline Dad. I've also been helped enormously over the years by two very wonderful people in the parish; Margery and Peter Mount, who are not only incredible Grandparents to two of my sons, but have been amazingly supportive friends.

The last hymn today was Amazing Grace, one of my favourites.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Where the one-eyed man is king

I bought a magazine last week called Monocle. The breadth of features were incredible, on Chile's economy, German wine, an Afghan radio station, cashmere jumpers, Japan's navy. The Economist in Prada, I suppose.

Is this true, or an urban myth?

A bloke came up to me in Albert Square a few months ago with a long winded story about an argument with his wife, lost his phone, she drove off with his wallet. He needed some money to get to Chester. Get on a train I told him, and tell that to the ticket collector, he'll issue you with a ticket, take your name and you can pay later. He was begging. Just like the bloke with the petrol can that runs around Manchester with his daft story. Ingenious, but he's begging. You either give, or you don't. Personally, I don't.

Then there's this story doing the rounds on email that has also been reported on the BBC's site.
The 32-year-old victim was walking on King Street at about 1800 GMT on Friday when she was approached by a woman. She gave her some change but the offender then grabbed her arm and scratched it with an unknown implement.

The story is harrowing and the implications that there are seemingly civilised, well-dressed muggers with sedatives and syringes is horrific. Two people I know claim they know the woman concerned. Yet I'm still inclined to think it's another urban myth.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Ten them all

This list thing is getting quite hard now. I'm not going to be doing European airports, pretentious magazines or international trade exhibitions. But one of the delights of international travel is the chance to read. Here are ten fiction authors I've read everything by.

Martin Amis - always surprises.

Guy Bellamy - hugely underrated and under valued comic novelist

Julie Burchill - read one you've read them both. Good laugh and a bit smutty.

Mark Timlin - south London private eye who got progressively darker with each book, very influenced by...

James Crumley - Amercian private eye who gets darker still.

John Grisham - because it's easy.

Bret Easton Ellis - Lunar Park is terrific, and I've nearlly finished.

Donna Tartt - Secret History was better than that other one she wrote. Is she Ellis in disguise?

James Hawes - films have been awful, but his books are good fun.

George Orwell - all his stories, like his journalism, are top drawer.

Book review in a lift - Tom Bower's book about Conrad Black

Tom Bower, the master assassin of the rich and famous turns his pen on the former owner of the Daily Telegraph and his wife. Conrad Black, who comes across as self-important and pompous, is on trial for ripping off his shareholders in order to fund a lavish lifestyle. He craved power and influence and a seat in the House of Lords. His five-times married wife, Barbara Amiel craved status and wealth beyond their means. She doesn't sound like a very nice person at all. He just comes across as deluded. Either way Bower doesn't cut either of them much slack. They're suing him now.

The Russians

Reflecting on the international property event I've just been to, MIPIM, the most striking presence was from Russian cities promoting themselves as a destination. There were places I never knew existed, claiming to be Russia's third city. It could almost get as tetchy as the spat to be England's number two.

There, we saw Manchester flag waving with a banner draped over the main exhibition entrance and a large space at the very front. Birmingham fought back with a hamster. Indeed, it's surprising which cities roll out which celebs. Apparently the Brummies had a banging event with Richard Hammond from Top Gear. Bradford were tempting property investors with the chance of a chat to Linda Barker. Liverpool had a Beatles cover band wandering about and Taguey even had a chat to Sir Terry Leahy yesterday afternoon.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Poolside despatches

From technological muppet to a fully paid-up member of the Monacle generation. I'm tapping away at the poolside of the Martinez Hotel in Cannes after flying down last night from Manchester via Munich. I've sorted out wireless and everything.

The only problem is I can't think of anything to say (never stopped me before, I know).

We're hosting a couple of events today. One on investment opportunities in the UK regions, the other on New Towns (like Telford). Wish me luck. Au revoir.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Blue Doom

My football predictions are rubbish, always have been, probably always will be. With one exception that will always be true: Manchester City will never be more than a season away from a crisis.

If you reflect back 7 years to the first time this decade that Manchester City visited Ewood you enter a dark part of my soul and one of the lowest in my life as a Blackburn Rovers supporter. We lost 4-1 in a gutless second half collapse, chaotic ticketing meant our ground was overrun by boozy ecstatic Mancs and the pitch was invaded by them. All that our manager could do was rant as we finished the campaign rooted in mid-table. To make matters worse, Burnley were on the rise again. Everything about our club seemed rotten.

There is no way I could have predicted then any of what has since followed: promotion by an exciting footballing side, three European campaigns, Corrado Grabbi, the Worthington Cup, learning to love Andy Cole, two top six finishes, Tugay, Graeme Souness leaving a club in a better state than what he inherited, another top manager, a team of bully boys, Robbie Savage, Benni McCarthy and a second FA Cup semi-final in three years.

I wasn't reared on thrills and spills but mind numbing mid-table mediocrity, occasional play-off defeats. And Simon Garner.

Even the most optimistic City fans that day knew they were heading back down again in a short space of time. Crisis is in the DNA of the club. Even the windfall of a new stadium paid for by the council and Sport England and the greatest boom in football history has been left in tatters by Kevin Keegan's spending spree. The last two years have been marked by dreary drift. But as David Conn reported in his Wednesday column in the Guardian, something else has gone from City, a part of the soul of the club has gone too.

Once a byword for English fans' bloody-minded loyalty, Manchester City now embody the paradox at the heart of a booming game. While the Premier League's £2.7bn TV deal and exploding interest around the world thrill US investors, at home, in the blue moon heartlands, resentment at the game's direction is turning lifelong supporters away.
The rest is here.

On Sunday the travelling support gave a glimpse of the pride and the passion of the club and its perennially frustrated potential. But without sounding like I'm gloating there was only ever one team going to win. The moment that summed up City's season came ten minutes before the end. Tugay, starved of his enforcer - Aaron Mokeona - won the ball in the centre circle then had time to roll the ball around before he chose which one of three thirty-yard passes to make.

Living in Marple and working in Manchester means I come across a load of City fans who are good friends. After yesterday I genuinely fear the worst. City look like a doomed team while Charlton have hit form. I hope I'm wrong about this, and right about my other prediction that Rovers will lift the FA Cup at the new Wembley having swept past...Middlesbrough.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

This sporting life

We've got a problem at Marple Athletic Junior Football Club. We could have worse problems, to be honest, but it's one created by having a successful set up. As most the teams (under 10s, 9s, 8s and 7s) are at the top, or thereabouts, this has caught the eye of scouts. One of the teams is faced with a situation where six of the kids are likely to be recruited by either Stockport County, Oldham Athletic, United or City. This is 7-a-side football by the way and once a kid is signed on for a professional set up they're not permitted to play for their old club with all their old pals.

At a meeting on Thursday night the wonderful people who give up their time to run the set up and the coaching sessions through Footy4Kids - Jason Isaacs, Shirley Booth and Charlie - spelt out the scale of the issues for parents: ferrying around, dealing with disappointment, not playing as many matches, missing friends and the odds of this leading to a football career are still absolutely tiny. On the other hand it's an opportunity to learn skills from a professional set up.

This is going to run and run and I don't quite know what we are being asked to make a collective decision about, or whether we were just being informed of the bigger picture. Meanwhile, my personal interest in the club, Joe and the Under 8s B team, won 6-0 on Saturday and are still unbeaten with just a few games to go.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Ten thoughts on...profound thoughts

Ten Friday thoughts today concern just that. Thoughts.

Many of them I've picked up this week at the wonderful Tom Peters and Charles Handy conference. Some are older than that.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” —Charles Darwin

"Given that we only have one life we can neither compare it to our previous lives, nor perfect it in our lives to come." - Milan Kundera

“One woman can make you fly like an eagle. Another can give you the strength of a lion. But only one in a cycle of lives can fill you with gladness and the wisdom that you have known a singular joy." Deputy Hawk, Twin Peaks

“Nothing is so contagious as enthusiasm.” —Samuel Taylor Coleridge

"If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life. And how do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul in the process? Is anything worth more than your soul?" - Matthew 16:25-26

"Imagine. What would you do if you knew you couldn't possibly fail?" Michael Finnigan

"The greatest dangerfor most of us is not that our aim is too highand we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it." Michelangelo

"Ready. Fire! Aim. If it ain’t broke ... Break it! Hire crazies. Ask dumb questions. Pursue failure. Lead, follow ... or get out of the way! Spread confusion. Ditch your office. Read odd stuff. Avoid moderation!" Kevin Roberts' credo

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life." John 3:16

"To thine own self be f***ing true, son" - Bernard Manning, quoting William f***ing Shakespeare

Thursday, March 08, 2007

We are the quarry

When we were unruly teenagers we used to spend summers afternoons at Jackdaw quarry. It was great for diving in and swimming, though I suppose it was very dangrous. It's now a film location and has been used for Emmerdale and a recent TV drama.
A disused quarry near Carnforth – complete with submerged helicopter, boat and oil rig – was chosen as the Lancashire Film Office’s location of the month recently. Based at Jackdaw Quarry, in Over Kellet, near Carnforth, the Capernwray Dive Centre was chosen after Lancashire Film Officer Lynda Banister visited the 11-acre freshwater lake and was mesmerized by the crystal clear water and the beautiful rural setting.

An absence of logic

Most of the time, reporting on business is quite straightforward. A business makes a profit, creates jobs, does well. This a good story. If a business loses money, closes down, lays off staff, then it’s not so good. None of this suggests that running a business is easy, or dealing with customers, banks, suppliers or staff is straightforward. It isn’t. But when a decision goes against a company there’s usually a reason or an explanation; even applying for planning permission is transparent, if slow.
But there are two instances, currently at the forefront of all of our concerns, where business logic is trumped entirely. One is anything at all to do with the business of football, where the heart so often rules the head; the second is where the government, or one of its regulators, issues a licence for anything, be it a supercasino, or a licence to operate a radio franchise.
Dealing with the last one first, as we are defying common sense, the media regulator Ofcom has issued a licence to Guardian Media Group (GMG) to run a new FM radio licence in Manchester, RockTalk. That will be in addition to GMG’s ownership of Smooth FM, Century FM, the Manchester Evening News, several weekly newspapers, a fledgling TV station, sponsorship of the largest concert venue in the north and a national newspaper, The Guardian, which I won’t assume many of you are terribly familiar with.
Take my word for it, over the years several million acres of forest have been felled in order to fill pages of that paper with stories regarding the evil empire of Rupert Murdoch and the pernicious influence of the Daily Mail. Imagine, if you will, the howls of outrage that would be heard across Hampstead Heath and around the dinner tables of Highgate if Associated Newspapers, publisher of the London Evening Standard, were able to own such a similarly large slice of London’s media.
I have yet to hear Mr Angry of Hyde, Heywood or Hazel Grove on this subject, because there’s no-one stoking the fires of outrage and they probably don’t care. Yet what we have here in Manchester is a rapidly expanding media monopoly, offering advertisers and consumers little choice.
It is the other logic-defining sector that really has got them talking. Assuming the GMG isn’t also tabling a bid for Manchester City, the debt-ridden football club could soon follow two other bigger regional red teams into American ownership, and also see a big shiny casino opening up next door. Will that regenerate East Manchester? Maybe. Will hoards of people flock to this bright new leisure temple? No, they won’t. And perhaps, out of this other farcical bidding process, Blackpool can move on and forget this folly once and for all.
(Lead article, North West Business Insider, March 2007).

Transforming experience

To the Hilton Hotel, Manchester for a full day business conference starring two of the world's leading business gurus - Charles Handy and Tom Peters. The pair complement each other very well, but have never been on the same bill before.

It was a wonderful experience and I can heartily recommend it. Peters was like an adrenline shot. Much of what he said, by his own admission, is common sense. Sometimes you need that. His slides from the day are here. Best quote: If you bang your head against a brick wall and then walk away, you're a quitter. Do it ten times and you're an idiot.

Charles Handy was different. I've read his book The Empty Raincoat and probably forgotten most of it, but his delivery was quieter than Peters, but no less thoughtful. His gentle social philosophy was a wonder to share. Best quote: "Do your best at whatever you are best at."

PS Thanks to the Northwest Regional Development Agency for organising my place at the conference. Lunch with the bossman has been regarranged to next week.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Attack dogs

During a tidy up of the blog late last night I came upon a rant I'd not seen before buried in the recesses of a tale of a day trip to Crosby. It wasn't just the untended dogs of Crosby beach that soiled my boots, anonymous of Liverpool also wrote:

Or the one that a wearingly predictable anti-Liverpool Manchester bigot manages to "see" more crime and disorder in a single daytrip to Liverpool from his home in North West crime capital, Manchester than I have seen in years in the city? You visited Crosby for pity's sake - it's not the inner city. Nevertheless that someone who is the editor of his purported "North West region" is so ignorant and prejudiced about one of the two biggest cities in the "region" his magazine is meant to cover - it confirms yet again the insanity of Liverpool ever being reported by Manchester-based media operations.

Blah, blah, blah. The full unexpunged rant is at the end of this posting here.

I do rather tire of anonymous postings on blogs. Norman Geras has simply given up allowing people to post on his site, so weary did he become of uncivilised outpourings. I don't get as much abuse as Norman, but all I do is tell it like I see it. We had a crappy day made crappier by scallies. Our car was atacked. I got shite on my boots. The statues were awesome, the beach was full of rubbish. The pies were superb. Fact. Facts. Facts. Get over it. Two weeks later I came to a similar conclusion about scrotes in Manchester city centre.

The main point though is that what I say about one place on one day therefore has any bearing on what I think about the city in which I work, or an innate superiority that city has over Liverpool. Can I expect a rant from annoyed of Preston about my tale of woe following the accident on the M6, pointing out that we have traffic jams in Marple as well?

No, it appears that someone just doesn't like me very much. Doesn't like my magazine, doesn't like Manchester and can't get past the bitterness that seems to infect so many people in this country, whether they post anonymously, or not. I can live with that, whoever you are.

Monday, March 05, 2007

The river that changed the world

There's a marvellous book being produced by the lovely people at the Mersey Basin Campaign. It's called The Mersey: The River That Changed The World. There's a thread on the campaign's blog, here, which is getting giddy about how the book is coming together.

Why should I care? I've contributed a chapter on the docks. It's going to be extracted in the next issue of the campaign's excellent Source magazine. The river begins near Marple, where the Goyt meets the Etherow.

Some good news:
The statues of Another Place are a step closer to a permanent home on Crosby beach after council planners decided to overturn their own previous ruling. A new report from Sefton council comes out in clear support for granting planning permission for the installation by artist Antony Gormley.

You can read the full story, here.

You can read about our day out, Once More Unto the Beach, here.

Badder than you think - cable is rubbish

For the best part of three years I earned a poor living working in the cable TV industry. It was rubbish. It really was. First of all I worked in TV production for an appalling TV station called Wire TV. After I was sacked I got a job as international editor of a US based news magazine called Cable World, which was a quality publication for a mega industry in the US, but I was our man covering the sticks, frankly. At the time the streets of the UK were being dug up by gangs of men subcontracted by middle managers from American phone companies eager to know how they could sell cable AND phone services to the masses. This was before the Internet, by the way.

The trouble was, as still is, that there is a far superior way of getting more TV channels; it's called Sky TV. And in securing Premiership football and some half decent imports cable was completely dependent on Sky for supply of TV channels.

The corporate game of chess that I followed so keenly involved various combinations of cable operator merging, acquiring and borrowing in order to stem the huge debts they built up in the cause of killing trees, ripping up pavements and offering a mind bogglingly bad record of dealing with the public. After being a customer of United Artists Communications in Bristol (who gave me everything for free, forever), when I moved I then subscribed to Cable London (pants), then finally NTL (which managed to be even worse). I had a minor dispute over the notice I had to give them, which I was unable to win because they sent debt collectors after me which put a black mark on my credit file. I have pledged never to subscribe to cable ever again.

I am not alone, the shocking service culture and dreadful marketing makes you gasp. Even as I type this there is an invitation coming at me for an event to celebrate the coming together of NTL and Telewest and their deal with Virgin as "bigger than you think". Though that process has finally come to the inevitable conclusion that a large single brand with good customer service could compete with Sky and BT, the fact is they've botched that too. Cable subscribers have now lost some Sky channels due to a row over how much they pay their biggest competitor for supply of their core product.

Richard Branson is doing what he always does. He's muscled in on the cable industry for not much money. Used his brand as leverage and is now bellyaching over being bullied by the market leader because they won't roll over give him the privilege of doing business. Tom Bower, an author I'm enjoying reading on Conrad Black right now, has written about Branson before, he has also has a very telling piece here.

Cable is doomed in this country. It has been completely trumped by Sky, and now broadband. Sky has problems of its own - and we won't have that in the house either - but a threat from Beardie Cable is not one of them.

Tea at the Three Fishes

The first person who ever alerted me to the best pub in the world ever, The Three Fishes was my pal Alec Craig, who was trying to sort out lunch and beers before the hair raising trip to Burnley in February 2005. It's owned by fellow Rovers fans Craig Bancroft and Nigel Haworth, who also do the excellent corporate facilities at Ewood Park. That day we ended up going to the Fence Gate, and Alec still hasn't made it.

We had a family outing visiting family in East Lancs yesterday, topped off with tea at God's own pub. Once again it was a triumph. The best thing about it is the attitude to kids. Not only are they welcome, which to be fair, we are in most places these days, but the belief that kids can love proper food, not just sweet mush. There's a zeal about the place that isn't just a good place to be, but represents something positive and proud about Lancashire and about quality food. Also lunching with his family yesterday was Carl Fogarty.

Nigel wasn't on site yesterday, he was at the Reebok Stadium watching Rovers win 2-1, report here, with his mate Paul Heathcote, a fan of the losing side. I know this because just as we were sitting down to order, coincidentally, Alec phoned with a report on the game. Superb. And just the best place to toast such a sweet victory.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Food for thought

What's going on in Manchester restaurant land?

Establishment and Le Mont were ambitious if flawed attempts at fine dining. Both have now closed. I'll be honest, I could never get excited about either. The last time we went to Establishment was a lovely evening with great service and superb food. I've heard horror stories about the service and attitude at Le Mont, I thought the main flaw was a chilly atmosphere.

Lounge Ten is a huge favourite of Patrick Loftus, who I had lunch with yesterday (at the distinctly average Olive Press). He likes Lounge Ten's character. I've not been for so long I can't remember. But it's despised in equal measure by Wolfie and Jason, two good pals of mine who know a thing or two about good manners and customer service.

Add to this the heavy atmosphere of moody intimidation in the so-called designer bars with gangsters, wannabee celebs and pseudo WAGs, read about that here. The crime is a worry - San Carlo got robbed last month. We're left with pretty poor scene, frankly. Plenty of upmarket average, as I've said before.

Manchester Confidential has a sparky debate about it, here, with an insightful - if slightly pompous - intervention by "Ray", who is almost certainly Ray King the former columnist from the Manchester Evening News.

I think there may be an opening in one of the new hotels that are planned, and the River Room at the Lowry Hotel has the potential, especially now they have wisely erased the name Marco Pierre White from the menu. He came here once, what a prat. Anyway, I'm off to the Lowry on Thursday for a catch up with Steve Broomhead. I'll let you know.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Ten thoughts on crappy days

Like I said I've had better weeks. I fell over at Manchester Airport on Tuesday and my elbow still hurts. Not only that but I didn't end up going to where I was hoping to due to airline incompetence. I did a talk to a very unresponsive audience later that evening, had all sorts of things cancelled during the week, missed the Rovers match on Wednesday, including this goal, here, got stuck in traffic yesterday, missed a meeting in Liverpool, then the rest with that comedian chap, see below.

You have to laugh. You really do. And I know I will look back on this and laugh. It could be worse, I could be a Virgin Cable subscriber who filled his car with Tesco petrol. Anyway ten shitey annoying things that have happened, over 15 years ago, that I can laugh about now.

* Got my first car vandalised by a National Front psycho in Lancaster city centre. Had to drive round with NF scratched on the roof of my Mini until I could afford to get it resprayed.
* First week of the second year at University, walked into a wall in my student house in Manchester cutting my head open. Still got the scar.
* Missed my Second year Sociology of Something Tedious exam because I got the day wrong.
* Got on a train to Leeds by mistake, instead of Lancaster, had to change at Miles Platting, took an hour to get back to Victoria
* Jibbed the train all the way to Blackburn, 1986, for a crucial relegation match V Grimsby, only to find it was off.
* Got the bus back - it took two hours. Missed the start of a big night out.
* Went to the rematch, ripped my jacket climbing over a fence at the end.
* Got shells stuck in the car engine on a beach in Western Australia, had to get help. Got rescued by a family of racist Londoners "still bad with the blacks back home?" "Can you let us out here next to this arid desert please, we'd rather walk."
* When working at EMAP 1990 ish - had a few quiet beers after football, followed by several noisy ones - fell asleep on the last tube to Clapham, woke up in Morden. Left kit, filofax, keys, money, everything, on the tube. Got a taxi - had to wake up flat mates to pay. Awful.
* Due to an appalling mishap in the EMAP admin department had no hotel in Las Vegas during NAB convention week, had to stay in Econo Inn at the arse end of the Strip. Rooms by the hour or the week.

One of those nights

I can't believe I've failed to blog all week. I guess it's been one of those weeks. We held our Merseyside Property Gala Dinner event last night at St George's Hall in Liverpool. Dougal Paver has reviewed it from the perspective of a paying punter.

To St. George’s Hall for the fabulous insider property gala dinner. Star turn was Warren Bradley, leader of Liverpool City Council and self-styled ‘business champion’. Before him lay an open goal: 520 leading property types with a combined borrowing capacity running in to the billions. And he didn’t miss.

You can read the rest here.

As the event host and compere, my own personal recollection will be forever tainted by the memory of introducing the final part of the night, the comedian Jason Manford (pictured). As the crowd politely applauded in anticipation I looked in horror at the place next to the stage where Jason had been stood five minutes before. He wasn't there. I had to fill for what seemed like hours - though it was more like a minute. I froze. The horror, the horror. Jason did appear, he'd been to the toilet, and thankfully he was very good. He even told a few gags I'd never heard before (joke).