Friday, May 25, 2007

The fields of Athens, cry

I was going to bottle out of blogging about the European Cup Final and its aftermath.

The Liverpool Echo has splashed on the tear gas attack by Greek police on innocent women and children, which is shameful. You can even see the video of it here.

Nigel Hughes has bravely had his say here. This is a flavour.

As usual the travelling football fans have tried to absolve themselves of any responsibility for the chaos that ensued outside the ground. Also as usual though, the truth will be that some football fans behave like absolute idiots once they get more than a mile from home.
Last night's incident is even more galling in that it involved Liverpool supporters. Some of the culprits last night will be among those who hold a vigil for the 96 every April. Most of them will still refuse to buy The Sun. Most of them will claim that they will not rest until every employee of South Yorkshire Police has been hung, drawn and quartered.
The hypocrisy of this is quite staggering.

English football fans seem to have shorter memories than the police forces of Europe. The days of widespread violence weren't that long ago - no one is even mentioning Heysel - and mobs of beery lads chanting songs all day long is quite alien to the rest of Europe. I have no doubt in my mind the same chaos would have blighted the event had Chelsea or Man Yoo got to the final. Blame whoever you want, the Greeks, Rick Parry, the police, UEFA, none of it hides the fact that the stadium was full and people didn't see the game, because some fans "stole" the places of others.

Athens was a poor choice of venue. Next year's final is in Moscow.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Book review in a lift - The Modfather

I've just finished reading The Modfather - My Life with Paul Weller by David Lines.

Here's my book review in a lift.
Just as Nick Hornby had Arsenal, so this bloke has The Jam. He didn't actually know Paul Weller, he grew up in Leeds as a Jam fan. As he's the same age as me I thought I'd like it for the Jam stuff. I did, but liked the "growing up" bits too. He sounds like a self-centred, cowardly, pretentious tit as he recounts his teens, but then we probably all were. I know I was.

6 out of 10.

Reporting live from Manchester (or not)

I went to see John Simpson last night, the BBC Foreign Correspondent, speaking at the Pro -dot - Manchester annual dinner at the Midland Hotel. However, though I was invited (and accepted), there was no seat for me. Apparently I was to be sat with company "B", or was it company "E"? Despite being invited by company "M" on behalf of organisation "P". And having turned down a further invite from company H.

I was offered a seat by someone who would then have had to sit on the floor and eat stale loaves, which was kind, but I'm not the sort of person to come over all Russell Crowe.

When I heard the traditional buck passers answer of "there's been a breakdown in communication" I suddenly saw a vision of a nice comfortable sofa with my beautiful wife and a cheeky glass of Pinot Grigio.

Here's a report:

"John had some amusing anecdotes and spoke quite openly about his experiences and answered questions well, even the more stupid ones! He even went into discussing how he has recently had a baby thanks to the box of Viagra sat on his bedroom table!"

Monday, May 21, 2007

Form is temporary, arrogance is permanent

No group of football supporters in the world can beat Liverpool for sheer pomposity.

What's better? This?

There's a link to more of this sort of thing here.

Or do you prefer this?

I don't think our much more basic "C'MON ROVERRRS" banner will echo in eternity, but I like it.

Also for your amusement is a link here to You Tube featuring David Bentley and David Dunn in a dance off in a Preston night club following the players awards do last week.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Ten thoughts on modern architecture

The People's Property Award concluded last night. Here are ten of my thoughts on the buildings that made the final shortlist.

City of Manchester Stadium - One of the better new stadiums. Lacks atmosphere on match days.

Hilton Tower - A grand structure, but possibly a missed opportunity.

Imperial War Museum North - Awesome, but pretentious.

The Jerwood Centre Grasmere, for the Wordsworth Trust - Beautiful. I love slate.

Blackburn Station and Transport Interchange - It's a roof.

National Football Museum, Preston - externally horrible, but the venue is a treasure.

Aintree - Breathtaking from all angles. A worthy winner.

Jaguar House, Chester Zoo - Lovely building, but still just an animal house,

Kingsmead School - never seen it.

FACT Centre - Great building, great asset to Liverpool

And the winners are...

There were double celebrations all over the North West last night. Our People's Property Award has gone down a storm with over 30,000 votes cast in the competition to find the public's favourite modern building across the region.

The winner was Aintree Racecourse. Collecting the award was the architect, Gavin Elliot from BDP.

But I'm also excited about a double win for Insider last night at the Merseyside Media Network Awards. My lads Neil Tague and Damien Wiehl won in the best business writer and best designer categories. David Casey even won the raffle!

Damien is a really imaginative designer. He can produce magazine covers of incredible complexity as well as others with breathtaking simplicity. What they all have in common is a refreshing originality. I'm so pleased his talent has been recognised in such a way.

This is his masterpiece of the last year:

Taguey is on a stag do in Spain somewhere so wasn't even there to get his award. Here's a picture taken last year of him contemplating his next exciting news scoop.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Waste disposal

I hosted the North West Business Environment Awards at the Bridgewater Hall last night, full list of winners can be found here. It was a good event, we kicked off with a chat show discussion about how businesses can meet the challenge of climate change and good waste management. Joe Dwek and Paul Monaghan even disagreed on a couple of things about energy which made for good entertainment.

I enjoy doing these kind of things but every now and again I have to read something off a script that makes me want to gag. One award for environmental good practice in the public sector went to the most useless organisation in Christendom - the North West Regional Assembly - a quango with neither point nor purpose. It seems they won the award for ordering lots of fair trade tea and coffee and occasionally emptying their waste bins and recycling paper. They would make an even greater contribution the environment if they simply stopped producing irrelevant reports and nonsense press releases altogether.

The people have spoken

Voting has now closed in our People's Property Award which we've been working on with the BBC North West Tonight. We had over 20,000 votes for the final run off, absolutely incredible. We've all been bowled over by how much it's captured people's imagination.

I know who's won, but I can't tell you. The winner will be revealed at our awards do tonight at Manchester Central. There will also be a whole load of other awards handed out tonight as well. Should be a good night.

Who let the dog out?

Although I have no interest in the FA Cup I was mightily amused that a proposed tune from within the ranks of the red menace has been winging its way around our office today.

"JOSE, wherever you may be
Ji Sung Park ate your dog for tea
you won f*ck all and your dog is dead
why don't you get a cat instead?"

Aside from the puerile and dodgy nature of this, the giddy popularity of this ditty shows just how much Jose Mourinho has fallen out of favour with the public. There's a good piece in the paper about this today. You can link to it here.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

And the winner is...Blackburn Rovers

It was the Blackburn Rovers player of the year dinner at Ewood last night, the first of three awards events I've got on this week - environment awards tomorrow, which I'm hosting, then the enormous Insider Property Awards North West on Thursday at Manchester Central.

It was a great do with a wonderful buzz around the room and a great togetherness between the players themselves and with the fans who were there. The awards were compered by another milkman's son from Lancaster - Graham Liver, currently talking for a living on BBC Radio Leeds - and the whole show was very slickly put together. After a fairly sour experience at the event four years ago when the manager didn't even turn up to what was a glorified pub quiz I was initially reluctant to bother. But my pal Stephen Ashworth told me it would be worth a trip out and that this was one of the many things have changed under Mark Hughes, who he knows well.

ALL the players were there, all the directors, all the coaching staff and no-one was showing any attitude or swaggering about like Charlie Big Potatoes. They seem a very close group. The awards went to David Bentley (fans player of the year), Benni McCarthy (players player and goal of the season), Christopher Samba (new lad), Matt Derbyshire (young player), Brett Emerton (contributor), Brad Friedel (performance) and to accompany news of his new contract extension - Tugay (most man of the match awards).

We had a good chat to the gaffer. The Intertoto holds no fear for him, it's part of the pre-season preparations.

There's talk around the room of new investors coming in. The Walker Trust can't keep a hand in forever, though I sort of thought that's what Jack Walker wanted. There are high hopes that a proper local consortium would be formed to buy the club, but while there is foreign interest in football the trustees will talk to willing buyers. It can be an exciting future, there is something special and refreshing about the club again.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Thick as thieves us, we'll stick together for all time

We went to see From The Jam last night in Preston and it was a superb experience. I initially thought it was going to be awful, as I said here, but was persuaded to give it a go.

The first obvious point to make is that the lead singer was Russell Hastings and not Paul Weller. I tell you what, he definitely knows his Jam tracks. I've never been one for these tribute bands, but this was a proper blasting out of all the old favourites.

The passion of the crowd - of which I was probably in the younger half - brought back so many happy adolescent memories. I was looking around for old faces from concerts I went to across the North of England, but we all look fatter and balder, though I'm sure I'd recognise Lancaster's very own David Watts - Gary "Swaz" Swarbrick.

The Jam were an unbelievable phenomena that appealed to young men like no other band has in my lifetime. Oasis came close. They also bridged a number of youth cults - like punk, mod and the early casuals. The sentiment in raw, knowing tunes like When You're Young and Town Called Malice really cut it with what it was like growing up in a very uncertain world, but without the ready made rebellion of hippy dom or overtly left wing political protest. Thick as Thieves - an album track from Setting Sons really got me thinking about the power of nostalgia for our generation and the awesome treasure chest of memories we have and the solid bond that our gang had from the love of this amazing band that touched our lives.

So, although Weller wasn't there, the whole night was worth it for the smile on Bruce Foxton's face. His bassline makes Eton Rifles, one of the best songs on the night. They even played my personal Jam favourite - To Be Someone Must Be a Wonderful Thing. It really must have been.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

European tour starts in July

With Bolton qualifying for the UEFA Cup, it seems our 3-3 draw with Reading now means we are the highest placed applicant for the Intertoto Cup (current holders Newcastle United). Our season will start in the 21/22 of July, with the second leg a week after.

We will be visiting a former communist stronghold now heavily subsidised by EU money.

That is: Llanelli from South Wales V Lithuanian side Vetra Vilnius in June. The winners of that will then play a team from Poland (mid-table to top is wide open). We won't know where we'll be until the 14th of July. But either way it's a trip we're quite up for going on.

This was gleaned from the BBC Wales football site and from the UEFA website, Intertoto section.

Disappointed that West Ham survived. The Tevez thing stinks. Then there's Lucas Neill.

Go Go Go Joseph

We all piled in the bus and headed off to Blackpool yesterday to see Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat at the Grand Theatre. On the surface we were doing it as a treat for our Joseph's 8th birthday, but the truth is we would have gone anyway.

It was a superb performance which had the kids engrossed. Like a lot of places in Blackpool there's a faded glory about the Grand Theatre, but the staff had a real dignity about them and cared about the experience we had there. Their website is here.

The touring performance - linked here - is well worth catching and I'm sure the cast we saw would be more than capable of holding their own on a West End stage; thus completely ruling out the need for the current snotfest on BBC 1 which we refer to as Any Queen Will Do. I watched it at Center Parcs by mistake and decided the main purpose of it was to provide sexual bait for that bloke out of Torchwood or Denise van Outen. On a casual revisit two weeks ago not much has changed.

But poor old Blackpool. We couldn't get away quick enough and no matter how hungry we all were at 7pm we wouldn't have contemplated having tea in a cafe or restaurant in the town centre due to the number of yobs roaming the streets. The shopping centre is being rebuilt, which is a good start, but there is so much to be done. The prom, the tower and the theatre we went to all have a magic about them that makes the rest of the seediness all the more tragic.

PS And the reason I'm sat here on Sunday afternoon typing away with Radio 5 on in the background and getting text alerts from Ewood Park is because this is a brief rest period. Joe had his first holy communion this morning, he's at the pictures this afternoon watching Spiderman 3 with his mates while me and Rachel are off to see The Jam (no Paul Weller, mind) in Preston tonight. Review tomorrow if I get a chance.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Ten thoughts on top Marple Traders

Rachel reminded me that the Marple Leaf hasn't been about Marple much lately. Ten thoughts therefore on my favourite ten shops and traders in Marple.

M & Co - change their stock regularly, cheap and good quality kids and casual clothes.

Grenaby Farm - this must be where steak pies go when they die. The best by a mile.

Deli Select - a treasure trove of cheese, snacks and treats.

Toast - cosy and friendly place for a cake and a coffee.

The Co-op - when you just need something when the cupboard is bare.

Harrods - for his impudence and knowledge of car parts

Dolce Vita - Wolfie warned me this was rubbish. I take his word for it, but the refurb and the new menu have created a buzzy happy place. No need for a Piccolino here.

Marple Wine bar - Murillos tapas bar is great for a table full of tapas and a bottle of rose wine on a hot day. Choose carefully, mind.

White's Butchers - Some great cuts and always with a smile

Controversially, Greenhalgh's - I don't usually like bakery chains, but they're lovely people and the sausage rolls are very good.

Kids and football

With having so many of us we're never far away from a birthday in this household. Yesterday Joe was 8. He wanted the Blackburn Rovers away kit more than anything else. I'm so amazed at his resilience and loyalty at sticking with Rovers. Most of his mates at school support Man Yoo with some boys sticking with City and Everton. Getting to go to matches helps and so does a relatively good season. Meeting a few of the players like Savage, Oojer and Bentley also made it harder to waver. Though I suspect Bellamy might have put him off for life. Obviously I'd love them whoever they supported - I'm married to a Burnley fan, afterall - but just how proud I am was summed up by a tale I heard this week.

Mark Webb and Steve Wilson, two of our guys in the Leeds office, and long-suffering Newcastle United supporters, met a certain high profile Newcastle player who used to play for Rovers. Steve has had a bit of bother with one of his brood deciding to support Man Yoo. Our star - let's call him "Alan" (his real name) sympathised. One of his boys likes to wear an Arsenal shirt. Just goes to show.

I started going to Rovers in 1977 because I could. But one of the many complexities of the football industry at the moment is that I think loyalty only goes so far these days if commitment stretches to watching your team on Sky and wearing a replica shirt. I'm so pleased that my nephew Ben has really got into watching Blackpool with his step Dad, and my brother-in-law, Dave Tinkler. It's been an exciting season for them and it might just stick with him.

As for kits we only have a strict policy in our house. You can have any kit you like, as long as it's Rovers, Burnley, Spurs or foreign (see above).
Also on the football front, Max and Louis are making their debut this morning for what will be the Marple Athletic Under 7's next season.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Let the people speak

We've been working with the BBC on a brilliant new TV feature to promote the People's Property Award. We wanted to add something to our own Insider Property Awards that engaged the public.

What we came up with is a series of programmes featuring modern architecture around the North West and inviting viewers of BBC North West Tonight to vote on their favourite modern building in the region.

You can vote for your favourite and view any of the programmes here.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Where's the "service" in NHS?

I had the misfortune to waste this morning in Stepping Hill Hospital with Joe and his small fracture on his left arm. We had a good laugh last Saturday when he was looked at, x-rayed, put in a cast and sent away in quick order. Everyone was lovely. But this morning we returned for a check up and the morning was dreadful. We arrived really early for his 10.30 appointment, but they were running late. I asked how late and they said they didn't have to tell me until they were running half an hour late. So tell me anyway. No. Computer says no. By half past they could say it was now half an hour late.

By 11.00 they announced they were running an hour late. Which was too late for us, we both had things to do. The attitude of the staff was dreadful. Their body language suggested that they were the victims in all of this, not the people with broken bones. There was no apology, just a grimace and a weak attempt to blame the doctors. Joe didn't get seen, we'll have to try again next week and book out an entire day just in case.

Just not good enough.

So farewell then, Tony Blair

Those in the Labour Party baying for Tony Blair to quit over the last year will have seen what a statesman he was today with an honest account of a decade as prime minister, and a stark message about Iraq.

He leaves office with his head held high - not following a shock resignation or a palace coup. But I think he leaves with a heavy heart because he knows he wasn't able to really tackle those parts of the welfare state that needed even harder reform than just chucking money at the staff.

If he has a particular failing it is that he was sometimes too tolerant of weak and incompetant government departments. DEFRA and the DTI are a joke. The Home Office and the Civil Justice departments have swung from crisis to crisis. Don't get me started on the NHS. He has also allowed Gordon Brown too much power to increase the tax burden.

We have had a real leader for the last 10 years that has made the country stronger and more confident. It is also more tolerant. I think the country would have been even more successful had he really been able to govern as he wanted to, not within the limits of an ideologically shackled party and a nanny state machinery.

We'll all miss him when he's gone.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Look out for red five

I've never had the slightest interest in motor racing. The whole circus around Formula One has always passed me by. I don't think I even know anyone who has been to Silverstone for a F1 race, let alone where me and Matt found ourselves yesterday, watching a FIA GT race day at Silverstone.

It was very very noisy and very very exciting. Matt really enjoyed himself. Truth is, I did too. As we were hanging out with the Porsche racing team we were in a great box at the finish line and saw plenty of action. Jonny Lang, an up and coming young blade on the racing scene, took us around the car in the paddock and explained how it all works. Great experience. As you can see, Matt got to sit in the seat of Jonny's car.

We were lucky, great location, great bunch of people to be with from Aston Ventures in Manchester, but I still don't see the appeal of sitting on a grandstand at a far flung corner of the circuit. Like golf, it's one of those sporting events that TV actually enhances the experience.

Still, I think I better get used to it, I think Matt's hooked.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Look into my eyes, look into my eyes

We went to see Derren Brown on Thursday at the Lowry Centre in Salford Quays. I was mesmerised. I didn't really know what to expect having never watched his show on TV but he was a great showman.

The mind reading sessions were the highlight. Working out what people were thinking. Some of it was spooky - I hope Sean with the three knee operations doesn't have to change his locks - but people were shaking. How he does it, I don't know. There has to be an element of luck and sleight of hand, but it's great entertainment.

Watched his TV show last night as well. Amazing.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Kevin Roberts is blogging

I've added a link to the blog of Kevin Roberts, here. He went to the same school as me (many years earlier, I hasten to add) and has done incredibly well for himself as the chief executive of Saatchi & Saatchi Worldwide. He is also the best speaker I've ever booked for an event. Link to some thoughts on that is here.

He is an incredible bundle of ideas and energy. He's not short on confidence. But I find his enthusiasm infectious and his hybrid Lancaster/New York/New Zealand accent fascinating.

He also likes Monocle magazine. But while I enjoy reading about business trips to Seoul and Santiago, he lives it. Link to Monocle is here.

Ten thoughts on great speeches

The Guardian is currently running a series of great speeches of the 20th century. They haven't finished yet, but I've thought of ten that I think HAVE to be on any list, regardless of the century. I can't read the words of Churchill without a lump in my throat. My Grandfathers both gave their lives to the fight against Hitler. One in the RAF, who died in 1943, and the other as a Commando in Norway, Burma and North Africa who lived for another 40 years with the memories, the horrors but also the dignity of service as a Commando.

- the Sermon on the mount, as set out in Matthew 5 "Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you."

- Winston Churchill, May 1940 - “blood toil sweat and tears.”

- Winston Churchill, June 1940 - “We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender."

- Winston Churchill, June 1940 - Later that month he once again reminded the country of the magnitude of the threat: “But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, "This was their finest hour."

- Winston Churchill, August 1940 - In August following the defeat of the German Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain his tribute to the Royal Air Force was: “Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.”

- John F Kennedy – January 1961 - "In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility -- I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it -- and the glow from that fire can truly light the world. And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country."

- Martin Luther King, 1964 - "I say to you today, my friends, that in spite of the difficulties and frustrations of the moment, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."

- Nelson Mandela, 1964 - Facing charges of sabotage, high treason and conspiracy to overthrow the government he spoke powerfully (and at great length) from the dock. This is how it ends. "During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die."

Ronald Reagan – tear down this wall, Berlin 1987. President Ronald Raegan has been widely derided as an actor at the helm of an aggressive conservative administration and a cold war warrior intent to imperil the world with nuclear Armageddon. I've had the privilege of seeing him speak at a convention in Las Vegas in 1991 and he was a great orator. I think history will he kind to Reagan. His nerve never faltered and his strong messages to the reforming Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev hastened the demise of communism. He said in Berlin in 1987: “If you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”
The speech ended: “As I looked out a moment ago from the Reichstag, that embodiment of German unity, I noticed words crudely spray-painted upon the wall, perhaps by a young Berliner: 'This wall will fall. Beliefs become reality.' Yes, across Europe, this wall will fall. For it cannot withstand faith; it cannot withstand truth. The wall cannot withstand freedom. "

Col Tim Collins, Iraq, 2003 - "We go to liberate not to conquer. We will not fly our flags in their country. We are entering Iraq to free a people and the only flag which will be flown in that ancient land is their own. Show respect for them. There are some who are alive at this moment who will not be alive shortly. Those who do not wish to go on that journey, we will not send. As for the others I expect you to rock their world. Wipe them out if that is what they choose. But if you are ferocious in battle remember to be magnanimous in victory."
The fact our troops are still in Iraq and are hated by so many Iraqis is such a sad betrayal of an honourable and laudible ideal.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

We'll support you evermore

There's a lot of talk around at the moment about who you should "support" in Europe when English clubs reach finals. I don't care. I'll be pleased if Liverpool win, just as I was pleased at their incredible fightback in 2005. I was impressed when Manchester United won in 1999 with the dramatic late goals, but I didn't leap off the sofa.

But equally, as those games unfolded I wasn't crestfallen that the game was being won by a foreign team. I won't be gutted if Liverpool lose in anything like the way it took me a week to get over Rovers losing to Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final, or lost the ability to speak for three hours when Liverpool equalised in the last minute in a cup tie in 1990.

I feel the same about England now as well. I want them to win, I just don't care that much if they don't. This thought came to me in Nuremberg during the World Cup as I watched England's underperforming galacticos stumble around against Trinidad and Tobago. I couldn't find it in me to utter "c'mon Becksy", "nice one Ashley Cole", or to sing some ditty about Peter Crouch. I'm glad I went to the World Cup, but would probably have enjoyed a spectacle like Australia v Brazil more than the general feeling of being slightly embarrassed in the company of the "no surrender" and "10 German bombers" brigade.

I'll say this as well, I'm slightly relieved that Manchester United won't be playing Liverpool in Athens in the final. It would have been horrible.

Here's a sympathetic picture to capture the sombre mood of the day.

Book review in a lift - Opus Dei by John Allen

As a recently confirmed Catholic I wanted to have a delve into this most controversial part of the Church. As a well respected journalist covering Vatican matters John Allen's book is a well written account. It scotches a number of myths and confirms a few truths. Is the Da Vinci Code (which I haven't read) correct? No, it's wrong. Do they wear a cilice? Yes. Do they whip? Yes. Until they bleed? No. Is Opus Dei a sinister and powerful force? No. In Britain? Ruth Kelly is one of 500 members of a heavily indebted organisation, out of 5 million Catholics in the UK. Did Josemaria Escriva, the father of the Work, support Franco? Well, yes, but so did the Catholic Church, they were scared of communism. It's a fair and balanced account that ultimately paints a far less exciting picture of Opus Dei than the conspiracy theories about them. As a result the book tails off a bit.
Overall: 7/10.


Irish joke of the year 2006

A teacher asks her class to use the word "contagious". Roland the teacher's pet, gets up and says, "Last year I got the measles and my mum said it was contagious.""Well done, Roland," says the teacher."
Can anyone else try?" Katie, a sweet little girl with pigtails, says,"My grandma says there's a bug going round, and it's contagious."
"Well done, Katie," says the teacher. "Anyone else?"
Little Irish Sean jumps up and says in a broad Dublin accent, "Our next door neighbour is painting his house with a 2 inch brush, and my dad says it will take the contagious."

Hat tip: Brian Curran (b-i-l)

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Charge of the light brigade

Plotting a route into Manchester from Marple sometimes feels a bit like organising the charge of the light brigade. You have to weigh up the path of least resistance, taking into account all likely obstacles. This is made all the more harder depending on which children need to be dropped off at which nursery, school, carer etc. It also depends hugely on which day it is and whether either of us needs to be in Manchester city centre, on a train, at Manchester Airport, at Rachel's place of work, in Cardiff, London, Birmingham or Dublin.

We were warned that Marple has one road in and one road out. Which is factually untrue. There are two and they're both horrific from 7.45 onwards. Tuesday is the busiest day of the week by far, then it gets gradually easier.

I'm about to make this even harder for myself and give my car back to the leasing company in two weeks time, without another car arranged. I'm going to see how long I last before sorting out a short term hire until my new one is delivered sometime in the summer. Which means relying on the train to get to work. I don't reckon I can do it, but I'm going to try.

I have been getting the train this week and it's been a mixed bag. Trains from Marple are reliable but crowded. Trains from Rose Hill are empty but slow and unpredictable. You can hedge both these options and park at Romiley, but the station car park is now being used by contractors, reducing the free places to about ten. It then costs £1.50.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Ten years on

It is ten years since I last cared about the outcome of an election. Any election. May the 1st 1997 was a great night. There was a great sense of optimism that the exhausted Conservative government was being swept away by a fresh broom.

It is also just over 15 years ago since I was genuinely disappointed over the outcome of an election. I was gutted that Labour lost the 1992 general election. The next day a colleague - Vince Stevenson, an anarchist - said that in my lifetime Labour would win an election, Blackburn Rovers would get promoted and that none of this really mattered.

He's right, and the main difference now is that being a high profile journalist means it's no longer practical to support a political party in the way that I support a football team.

I vote in every election, I think it is my duty to do so. Even when the stakes aren't anywhere near as high as they are in some places in the world today. When I see the lines and lines of people waiting to vote in Iraq and South Africa then I am reminded of that important obligation.

I'll be voting Labour in the Marple South election for Stockport council. On the face of it the Liberal Democrats do a decent job of running the council. The local councillors, all Liberals, seem to be the only ones making any kind of effort to ask people what they think or keep the voters informed. And they don't seem to be suggesting that we're going to have to have fortnightly rubbish collections.