Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy new year from us all!

A very happy New Year to everyone. May the wind be always at your back, may you and your family have a safe, happy and prosperous 2008.

Lots of love,

(l-r) Louis, Rachel, Matt, Joe, Max, Elliot and Michael.
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Friday, December 28, 2007

Half way report - predictions reviewed

At the start of the season I predicted this league table for the end of the season. Here's how I'm doing so far.

Man U (spot on)
Liverpool (nearly)
Chelsea (spot on)
Spurs (overestimated)
Arse (underestimated)
Villa (nearly)
Rovers (nearly)
Everton (underestimated)
Sunderland (overestimated)
Newcastle (spot on)
Reading (spot on)
West Ham (nearly)
Portsmouth (underestimated)
Birmingham (nearly)
Man City (way out)
Bolton (nearly)
Middlesbrough (nearly)
And for the drop...
Derby (spot on)
Fulham (spot on)
Wigan (nearly)

Quite pleased with that. I'll go so far as to say that Man Utd will still win it. Spurs will get into the top eight. Sunderland will stay up and I'm sticking to that bottom 3. Man City will finish 4th.

Rovers steal a point at Man City

Much as I love the company of all our children, and much as I love Christmas, we really enjoyed a grown-up night out last night at the City of Manchester stadium. Lee Grooby's excellent report is here. We went in the posh seat with our friends Juliet and Mark Cort and sat on our hands as Rovers achieved what no other side has managed and took points off City at their ground.

It's strange watching your own team amidst the mutterings and analysis of home fans, especially when we equalised in such controversial circumstances. I think City made Rovers look like mugs in the first half. Our conclusion was that we were stuffed unless Brett Emerton was restored to right back, and that Morten Gamst Pedersen was replaced by Jason Roberts.

So, half right. Zurab was skinned by Petrov four times and paid the price. I think the tactical switch was good insight from Mark Hughes. There have been a fair few Rovers fans slating Benni McCarthy on here, but I think he changed our options in the second half and we always looked threatening. He is a class player and he looked totally committed to the cause. At the end, we could have stolen it completely. Roque Santa Cruz and David Bentley were superb again.

It's amusing to sit here now, watching Sky Sports News, with Mark Hughes smiling and praising the ref and linesman. My view of our manager was that he spends far too much time berating the officials and not enough time communicating with the team. It makes him appear graceless and surly. I wish he wouldn't do it.

And in due respect to the many, many Marple-ites who follow the home team, I think they're the best City side I've ever seen. Yes, even better than the one featured in the programme who battered us 6-0 in 1983. A strongman in midfield - a fit Hamann - could prove all the difference and they could finish in the top 4.

Monday, December 24, 2007

What's the time?

Had an enjoyable afternoon with the f-i-l Eamon Curran discussing the best away trips following our respective teams. His is here. You know mine. The rivallry may be strong, but the memories are the same: Bad pies, good pies, welcome pints, cold terraces, bad coaches, right hammerings and jammy wins. All happy memories.

Eamon reckons the trip to Millwall was scary, though mainly through reputation. A walk through Liverpool was genuinely the most violent with scallies flashing the blades and asking you the time.

And me? Any trip to t'Turf. Like this, here.

Second half of the season starts now

So, we lost 1-0 to Chelsea, but it didn't feel as bad as the 1-0 loss to West Ham somehow. Zurab didn't put a foot wrong at the back. Bentley relished his free role and Santa Cruz was desperately unlucky not to score.

We're off to the Temple of Doom on Thursday to see us try and hold on to our good record there.

The stewards at Rovers had a word with knuckle head and potty mouth two rows behind. They then tried to intimidate me at half time and at the end of the game, fingering me for "grassing on them" to the stewards. Scumbags. I'm determined not to let these racist arseholes spoil my family's enjoyment of the football.

Blair becomes a Catholic

There was a sharp intake of breath at Mass on Sunday when prayers were offered for Tony Blair. Much of the comment about it seems to have wrongly focused on his faith as if it were membership of a political party. In all the time I've been in the Church no-one has ever brought up stem cell research, faith schools or abortion as the central tenets of what we do and how we think. Humility, compassion, forgiveness and love on the other hand are central to every homily and prayer I've heard.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Are you local?

I'd be lying if I said the decision to buy all our food for Christmas in the local was motivated by Marple pride. The supermarket scrum at Tesco in Stockport and Sainsburys at Hazel Grove is too awful to contemplate. So is the traffic in and out of Marple.

I got the wine yesterday from here. The guest stalls at Stockport market were very impressive, especially the one from Lancaster Smokehouse. The Morecambe Bay potted shrimps went down very well.

Borders yielded a nice haul of last minute presents, and a wry chuckle at this. A Christmas card with all copies of The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.

Today, I was getting the BIG PRESENT for the boys ready while Rachel went into Marple on foot. We're now stocked up and Nick Lindley from Deli Select is once again considerably richer as a result of our cheese and pate craving.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Own goals and DVDs

In an act of penance for this, I've been buying presents. The younger ones got this. The older ones got an own goals and gaffs DVD narrated by some bloke called Bradley.

Joe laughed like a hyena at Ronnie Rosenthal. Louis loved the Rene Higuita crab kick. Max roared at Robbie Keane when he scored at the expense of some hapless keeper.

It cost about twenty quid and it will be ruined in days. I then spotted the Danny Baker VHS in an Oxfam charity shop in Marple (I've been living rough) and do you know what, they like it better. It cost 25p and the machine we play it on will pack up before it has a glitch.

Simon Hawkins, here, reviews the current crop of rubbish in this flooded field.

Fairytale of White City

The BBC has made a U-turn decision not to censor the word "faggott" from the Christmas hit "Fairytale Of New York" by Pogues frontman, Shane MacGowan, and the late singer Kirsty MacColl after MacColl's mother branded the decision to bleep the word out as "pathetic", the Guardian reports. "While we would never condone prejudice of any kind, we know are audiences are smart enough to distinguish between maliciousness and creative freedom," said Radio 1 controller, Andy Parfitt.

Couldn't make it up, world's gone mad, blah blah blah.

Black cloud

Kevin Gallacher on Radio 5 this morning spoke of a black cloud over Blackburn at the moment. Me and Rachel went to last night's latest defeat at home to Young Arsenal. I was baffled and can only communicate in a series of questions.

What has happened to our defence?

Does Morten Gamst Pedersen have a groin injury?

Since when has Stephen Reid been a right back?

If Zurab is going to be playing against Chelsea on Sunday in his first league start, then why was he not introduced last night?

Does Benni McCarthy know where the goal is?

Is David Dunn completely fed up with all his team mates, or just Savage, Perdersen and Mokena?

When playing a team reduced to ten men, why persist in playing David Bentley as a free man when he's only ever been effective on the wing, where he can pull the opposition out wide?

Mokena and Roberts have said they want to leave. Who's next?

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Greatest story ever old, la

Maybe it was the book launch we went to. Maybe it was a the great night out we had with our favourite Scouse Marple-ites - Mark and Rachel Oldfield - last night. But we watched the Liverpool Nativity. It was fantastic. Plenty of warmth and spirit. Good use of songs too - plenty of Beatles, Lennon, Harrison, Teardrop, Echo and Wah.

Thought Story of the Blues or Sinful might have made an appearance, but overall it was one of those really magical public expressions of goodness that makes you feel warm on a cold night.

I tell you what, if this is a shape of things to come then this Capital of Culture year is going to be alright.

A day to remember, a night to forget

I was invited to a private dining event on Thursday with a group of 20 blokes from round and about. He was there, these chaps were as well, as were him and him. This bloke kept us amused, not least at the anagram of his name - Him of Claret, which is good for a Burnley fan. It is a tremendous occasion. How I got home is a mystery. How I managed to lock the family out is not. I double bolted the door and they had to call a locksmith while I was asleep inside. Frankly I'm lucky I've not been kipping in the shed this weekend.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Lost property at Rose Hill

The temporary gypsy camp at Rose Hill station has moved on. If anyone knows any of the people concerned could they pass on the message that the forgot to take a few things.

- A caravan (bashed)
- Two empty gas canisters
- A mattress (torn)
- A formica chest of drawers (smashed)
- Full bin bags (several, split)
- A rope

The Ancient Greek used to say they had a duty to leave the world more beautiful than they found it. I don't think it applies here.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A tale to warm the heart

I get press releases from Manchester University, but none with quite the impact of this one.

A former Kenyan slum child who found University of Manchester prospectus leaflets in a dustbin will finally achieve his dream of gaining a Masters degree tomorrow (13 Dec).

Sammy Gitau discovered the documents inside a discarded cardboard wallet decorated with the University’s name in a well-to-do neighbourhood near his home in Mathare, Nairobi 's oldest slum district.

Sammy read references to his country on a page about a course based at the University's renowned ‘Institute for Development Policy and Management’.

And after a struggle of epic proportions he’ll receive the accolade on Thursday. Aged 13, Sammy became his family’s breadwinner when his father, who brewed illegal alcohol, was killed in a hammer attack.

After he was beaten by angry mobs for thieving he became a drug seller in 1997, hitting rock bottom when he overdosed on cocktail of drugs soon after.

Even after he was accepted on to the course, Sammy was forced to take on the UK immigration service, which after hearing about his limited schooling, refused to believe he was a genuine student.

The ruling was overturned seven months later.

Drawing on his experiences, Sammy established a community resource centre which lobbies for fresh water and an electricity supply, as well as helping young men to come off drugs and find a job.

A group of wives of local and international officials - including the wife of the head of the Kenyan EU delegation Monica Quince - helped Sammy to convert cargo containers into classrooms from which he could teach skills to disenfranchised youngsters, such as carpentry and computing.

And it was another EU official Alex Walford who encouraged Sammy to apply to the University’s School of Environment and Development to take the MSc in the ‘Management and Implementation of Development Projects’.

He said: "After the drugs put me in a coma, I remember hearing hospital staff telling me I was going to die and when you are dying, you make a deal with God.

"You just say, get me out of here and will do anything. I will go back and stop children going through the same kind of life as me.

"This may be the end of the first part of my journey, but it certainly isn’t the end of the road.

"In my field work last in July this year, I was able to share and set some foundations of how best to work effectively with slum communities.

"It is the hope and the trust in the eyes of my people that strengthens and ensures me of great success in future.

"I have big plans for the centre – I hope to expand the project into other areas of Nairobi.

"Who knows, it be may a model which can be emulated across Africa.

"If it wasn’t for my amazing experience and support from my friends at Manchester University and constant support from donations around the world, this dream would never have become a reality."

Sammy’s University programme director, Dr Pete Mann said: "I found it humbling to teach Sammy - it really is a remarkable achievement.

"In class, he was reflective, thoughtful and creative - a very successful student.

"A development project or agency can only benefit from one who has witnessed so much adversity yet brings such intense spirit of endeavour on behalf of others.

"We have only begun to hear from Sammy Gitau."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Oh Come All Ye Faithful

I go to Church every Sunday and my faith is very important to me. A surprising number of people seem to think I will be swayed if I were to read a book called The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. I haven't been impressed with any of the extracts I read in the papers. Frankly I can't be arsed. I know what I believe and my faith journey has plenty of tests and twists as it is.

I love Christmas and all it represents. So I was therefore amused to note that Nigel Hughes has started to read it and has reviewed it and responded in great spirit. A flavour is here:

I'm not usually very outwardly religious but the infuriating, mean spirited, too-big-for-his-boots, not-quite-as-clever-as-he-thinks-he-is, boffin-type way he scoffs at the average everyday folks who happen to go to church has got me so riled I thought I should do something about it, so I did.

A link is here.

It's even more amusing to read here, that Dawkins describes himself as cultural Christian.

You can learn it all in three days

Peter Wilby in the Media Guardian yesterday found a fantastic quote about a career in journalism from Matt Taibbi, a heir to the throne of Hunter S Thompson.

If you have no real knowledge or skill set and you’re lazy and full of shit but you want to make a decent wage, then journalism’s not a bad career option. The great thing about it is that you don’t need to know anything. I mean this whole notion of journalism school—I can’t believe people actually go to journalism school. You can learn the entire thing in like three days. My advice is instead of going to journalism school, go to school for something concrete like medicine or some kind of science or something and then use the knowledge you get in that field as a wedge to get yourself into journalism.

A link to the full piece is here.

Rose Hill invaded by travellers

I had to do a sharp turn at Rose Hill this morning and head for the usual chaos of Marple station. The station car park at Rose Hill has been taken over by caravans. There didn't like there was anywhere to park, but frankly I wasn't going to leave my car there all day.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Potty mouths

It was so frustrating to lose at home to West Ham yesterday. Santa Cruz missed a couple of chances and I have to say Robert Green made a save to savour from our Turkish delight, Tugay.

But what really made the day sour for us was the potty mouth who sits in seat 49, row C. The occasional burst of swearing at a ref is understandable and you kind of live with it. I'd hope they might temper it for the sake of the kids. But calling Carlton Cole of West Ham "f****** black c***" five times, is completely out of order in any circumstances.

When we asked, please, think of the children. We just got a volley of abuse to get off to the family stand as he's been there for 10 years. I suppose that's OK then. Can't make my mind up about what to do next.

Christmas party time

We had our work Christmas do on Friday. It was a great night. After presenting to the staff all the highlights of the year we then took them all to Opus nightclub in the Printworks again. It was a really good night and everyone seemed to have behaved themselves. Though do you honestly think they'd tell me if they hadn't?

The whole 'elf and safety and claim culture mood can cause you to avoid the risks involved in a Christmas do, but we are determined not to ever let that get in the way. Pip pip.

Friday, December 07, 2007

I don't want to change the world

Marple Leaf regular Nick Morrell tells a great tale about a day with Billy Bragg at Lancaster Prison. Nick, an old pal from Lancaster, is now a prison officer after serving in the forces.

Thought you'd be interested in the morning I've had today at work at HMP Lancaster Castle. We're taking part in an initiative that's been started by a certain Billy Bragg that raises money to buy guitars for use by prisoners 'doing time' in HMPs around the country. The Castle is one of the first prisons in the country to have taken part in this so far. Prisons that have received the instruments are then visited by Billy. So there we are this morning, myself, a couple of other officers and about 12 prisoners just sat chatting with Billy and watching him play. He did The Jam, Clash, Bob Marley and a couple of his own, finishing, of course with A New England. A marvellous morning's work!

A link to more information on this is here.

Change for the better

Michael Heseltine was wonderful last night, speaking on his time in Liverpool as a minister in the 1980s and kick starting so much of what is happening in the city now.

Report in today's Daily Post is here.

The book The Mersey: The River That Changed the World is available now from here. An exhibition of Colin McPherson's photographs from the book is now on at Albert Dock.

We actually missed the start as it took us 2 and a half hours to get from Manchester city centre to Albert Dock. Awful weather and awful traffic. The price of a successful city?

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Book and exhibition launched tonight by Hezza

Here's the release relating to tonight's launch of the exhibition and book: Mersey: The river that changed the world.

It will be officially opened by Guest of Honour, Michael Heseltine on Thursday 6th December 2007 in the Albert Dock’s Grand Hall. Proceedings will start at 17.30 and continue through to 19.00. Lord Michael Heseltine has a long standing relationship with Liverpool having been Environment Secretary in 1981. Once dubbed Minister for Merseyside, Michael decamped here for 3 weeks following the Toxteth Riots and was then instrumental in amongst other initiatives, forming the Merseyside Development Corporation which, ultimately led to the restoration of the grade 1 listed World Heritage Site we enjoy today.

Mersey: The river that changed the world features superb pictures by acclaimed photographer Colin McPherson with chapters by leading Northwest writers including David Ward, Michael Taylor, Deborah Mulhearn, Peter de Figueiredo and the late Tony Wilson. Joe Edge, Director of the Albert Dock said

“This will be a superb exhibition and one which, I am sure will be extremely popular with both Liverpool natives and our many visitors. We look forward to welcoming Michael back to the Docks and showing off the exciting progress that has been made of late”

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Catcher in the rye with stanley knives

I laughed out loud on hearing the news that Awaydays, Kevin Sampson's novel about Tranmere lads in the late 1970s has been made into a film. Some photos and gossip about the shooting of the film are here. Hysterical story in the Liverpool Echo, here.

The whole casual thing is still of interest to me. Neil Tague maintains that the lads who dress at football don't fight, and those that fight don't really dress. The Clone Island look so beloved of throwbacks who like to do both is particularly hideous and goes against a lot of what was innovative and experimental about this wildly misunderstood era of culture and fashion.

I don't go mad for the gear like I did when I was young, but I still like a pair of classic Adidas trainers, a good parka coat and a Lacoste t-shirt. I also tend to like something classic from here, or here.

Monday, December 03, 2007

That Morrissey row

I've stumbled upon the row over Morrissey's comments on immigration. I even went out and bought the NME for the first time in a long while to fully appreciate the context over his comments.

The interviewer, Tim Jonze, started asking about music, etc, but the subject of immigration came up. Bizarrely, he has asked for his name to be removed from the feature.

He says, in a nutshell, that he won't come back to live in England because it is "a terribly negative place". And that this is possibly because "Other countries have held on to their basic identity...England was thrown away..." as a result of uncontrolled immigration.

As if to re-iterate one of Morrissey's points, that this is a subject that dare not speak its name, the paper goes on to draw some fairly harsh conclusions likening him to the BNP, which is absurd.

My view: an out of touch popstar who exists in a rarified world tries to comment on a country he hasn't lived in for far too long (he uses Knightsbridge as an example, for God's sake). A paper which has always sought to occupy a moral high ground hasn't the maturity or the sense to grasp that and has thus defaulted to student-style politics and crude sloganeering.

There's a link here, to more hissy fitting from Morrissey's "people" and a strange legal threat that isn't a threat at all.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Alan Partridge Marple Interview

I've been searching for Marple's feature on BBC News 24 to no avail. But found this. Brilliant.

Sadly it appears to have been removed. I did click on it through YouTube, but I bet it wasn't cleared for copyright.

Anyway - it was very funny.

Where did Shearer win the league?

A real game of two halves at Ewood yesterday. We deserved to win though. Newcastle proved to be pretty fragile at the back. Santa Cruz should have scored early on and spared us a gruelling first half. We had a superb view of Bentley's free kick. As soon as it left his foot we could see where it was going.

And those Geordie fans. I scoff at all this greatest fans in the world stuff. It smacks of self pity and poor excuses. In an era where only one of three teams ever win the league it seems to me that any team's fans are destined to be "long suffering". A big city club is always going to have a big following. We have four other "town" clubs in the Premiership or Championship within a twenty mile radius whose natural fans would never choose to come to Rovers in a way that the average Geordie is a Toon Army fan by birth. Fair play though, in contrast to their silence and booing of their own team they made a lot of noise yesterday.

They've forgotten that Rovers fans have forgiven Alan Shearer now. The signing of his name used to be a taunt. Now it's a reminder that the greatest centre forward of his generation has one medal to his name. Premiership champions 1995.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Merry Marple Christmas

It's the mavellous Marple Christmas Cracker event today. Link here.

We'll be supporting it. See you there.