Thursday, December 31, 2009

Football predictions - how am I doing so far?

At the start of the season I made the following predictions for the season. I'm doing better in Pick the Score too. Currently 141 points, 2nd in the league at work, and the best in the country is on, er, 176.

My predictable top 6 only really has the howler of Liverpool's chronic underachievement. The other big surprise this season, for me, has been Birmingham City. The rest I pretty much stick by. Wait and see.

1 Chelsea (spot on)
2 Liverpool (oh dear)
3 Manchester United (slightly underestimated)
4 Manchester City (only one off)
5 Tottenham (only one off)
6 Arsenal (slightly underestimated)
7 Aston Villa (nearly)
8 Everton (some way off)
9 Sunderland (nearly)
10 Fulham (nearly)
11 ROVERS (over optimistic)
12 Wigan (four out)
13 Stoke (nearly)
14 Bolton (bit off)
15 West Ham (nearly)
16 Portsmouth (way off)
17 Burnley (nearly)
18 Wolves (nearly)
19 Hull (spot on)
20 Birmingham (way off)

No point reminding you about the cup predictions, but I did tip Manchester United reserves for the League Cup.
I said Gary Megson would be the first manager to get sacked, he was third. I still think we'll lose at Turf Moor but rightly predicted a win at Ewood over Burnley and I stick to my prediction that they'll stay up.

Elsewhere, West Brom are still on track to win the Championship, but I'm way off in thinkin that Ipswich and Derby would come up with them. Newcastle have done better than anyone imagined and I'm pleased that Blackpool have proved me wrong. I had Ian Holloway down as a clown, but he's done OK. PNE are indeed in mid table, but far from happy.

Huddersfield and Charlton may still go up. Looks like I was wrong about Dirty Leeds staying down. But sadly I was right about Stockport County going down.

It's a good job I'm not a gambler.

Lest we forget

Collection of cool people who have slipped off this mortal coil in 2009. Idiots are mourned elsewhere. Link here.

Hat tip: Chas Devlin.

Marple Leaf reviews 2009

Here are this blog's highlights of 2009 based on the ten most common categories.

Blackburn Rovers - well, I'm on a bit of a downer about this at the moment, but the win over Burnley was a very special day.

Marple - I was moved beyond words at how Marple turned out for Remembrance Day.

Book review in a lift - I still haven't got over quite how brilliant The Road by Cormac McCarthy is. As with many fine things in life it was recommended by my best pal John Dixon.

Friends - we've really enjoyed time with our friends this year, from trips to Center Parcs, Amsterdam, Cornwall, at home and on football tour.

Wine - Stopping drinking for a few months was quite a cleansing experience. That said, a very hearty Unicorn from Robinson's went down well on Tuesday.

Politics - what a dreadful mess. Definite low point was the North West electing that goon. Tory conference in Manchester was good sport, liked Philip Blond and Philip Hammond. Cameron was vapid.

Commuting - It has been a very pleasant year on the Rose Hill thunderbolt, unless the worst guard on the railway is working.

Jokes - I had a go at stand-up, of a manner, but I still think the best joke I've heard this year is this - the best Irish joke ever.

Music -I've really struggled with new music this year. Nothing really stands out. But live wise, Elbow with the Hallé was an amazing experience.

Blogging - this was the year when I got into Twitter, but never at the expense of this blog. I will resolve in the new year to cross post, link and blog a great deal more.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Pictures of the decade

There are some astonishingly good pictures here from the decade we are about to depart.

Hat tip: Norm.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Disappointment in Blunderland

There are insufficient adjectives for awfulness to describe the first half of Blackburn Rovers v Sunderland.

Four hours later I still feel deep disappointment.

Disappointment that I haven't had a chance to see two of my favourite opposition players: Steed Malbranque and Kenwyn Jones, both absent today.

Disappointment that Sunderland were unambitious and jaded.

Disappointment that Blackburn Rovers failed to take advantage of that.

Disappointment that the mood of our supporters is so downbeat, so passionless and so resigned to being served up rubbish.

Disappointment that Keith Andrews is booed by morons when his name is read out.

Disappointment that Morten Gamst Pedersen failed to complete a single pass in the first 45 minutes.

Disappointment more than anything with a negative mental attitude from the manager. Looking back now, we had Manchester United and Liverpool there for the taking at their low points. But he has this view that we're little Blackburn. Mark Hughes never settled for that, and neither did Allardyce when he was at Bolton.

Was there any satisfaction from today? There was until I heard our manager say this:

"We haven't got the clout to go out and buy a Bent or a Peter Crouch."

No, but we do have one of the brightest talents from Chelsea - Franco Di Santo. You, Sam Allardyce, spunked £7m on a Croatian striker who hasn't started a Premier League game yet. We do have a striker who will play in the next World Cup, who just 2 seasons ago, scored 19 goals. These are just excuses and I'm fed up with them.

For me, this represented a crucial turning point in our season. Lose; and it's the prospect of a relegation scrap for the rest of the season. Win; and we can think about cracking on and building confidence for the upcoming cup games. Instead, a draw just prolongs the uncertainty.

As for our family season ticket; it would have cost a painful £80 for us all today. Rachel and Elliot came as well. That means we have got £417 worth of football out of tickets, more than they cost. Any more of this shite and we'll be off to Mossley, Hyde United and Stalybridge Celtic.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Believe in the Sign by Mark Hodkinson - reviewed

I reviewed Mark Hodkinson's novel here - it's called The Last Mad Surge of Youth. If that wasn't a hearty enough recommendation, then one of my top 3 bloggers, here, has also picked up on the author's "ear" and it's authentic qualities - a rock novel you can believe in, he says.

For more, then I can also testify to the delights of Believe in the Sign, Hodkinson's memoir loosely based around following his hapless football club. But really it is a broader reflection on growing up in a northern town in the 1970s and 1980s. I liked it because it is honest, true and full of warmth. There is plenty of crossover with his novel (and why not?) and certainly a great deal more about the lows and more lows of following Rochdale FC. But it's achingly good; it manages to be vivid without being nostalgic or twee, which takes some doing. The passages about his relationship with his parents are just wonderful.

Welcome to readers of the Normblog

One of the earliest inspirations for this blog - back in 2006 - was Norman Geras, custodian and master of the excellent Normblog. I was very flattered to be asked to be the 327th profile on his blog this week. It's here.

To visitors from Professor Norm's blog, I say welcome, but can't promise anything particularly highbrow or as wise as what you may be used to. Have a poke around by all means - the politics and Manchester labels may be of more appeal to you than Blackburn Rovers and Marple ones, but you never know.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Ham is where the heart is

We've had a lovely day today. Went for lunch at the Highwayman Inn near Kirkby Lonsdale, a real treat and a chance to chill out with my Mum who is working tomorrow. But beyond this special dimension, I also rediscovered the delights of York Ham, which was on the specials menu. It's a way of curing ham that originated in York (obviously) but is one of those food curios that is looking for special status that only ham cured in York can call itself a proper York Ham. Well, I don't care where it comes from, but it's blooming well brilliant. Tender and sweet, a layered over a hearty dollop of bubble and squeak it can't be beat.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

My mate.... Dave Crossen #3 in a series

This random shuffle of my address book, ahem, has today thrown up... Dave Crossen.

When we were at University in Manchester from 1985-1988, living in 245 Upper Brook Street, we formed a circle of friends that did very well to stay close over the years. We shared houses and flats with various combinations in London, settled down, were best men and ushers at each others weddings. I'll admit I'm really only close to one of the group - John Dixon, Joe's godfather - it's not that we've fallen out, we just went off in different directions. Dave, from Leeds, went to New York. I haven't seen him for ages (3 years), but remarkably he is in Manchester today to stay with his brother (another great lad) and we're meeting for a drink tonight. We have much to catch up on.

Stockport County without a paddle

Stockport County supporters, here, have planned a demonstration and protest march today as their club slides towards oblivion. I wish them well, but fear the worst.

Here is how one County fan I know articulated it:

The worst day in our history wasn't losing any of four important games at Wembley, it wasn't two successive relegations, it wasn't applying for re-election, it wasn't getting knocked out the cup against Everton with a really fluke goal a second after our equaliser, it wasn't that cheating Ted McMinn ruining our promotion day at the twin towers, it wasn't being robbed at Boro in the league cup semi in 97, it wasn't even taking on Carlton Palmer as manager, nor sacking two of our best ever managers Bergara and Gannon, it wasn't losing 0-6 at little tiny Macc Town, it was the day the buffoons in charge of us signed us over to Sale f***ing Sharks, owned by a ruthless multi-millionaire who saw us coming and f***ed us for all we're worth, it's our pitch it's our ground, only it's not any more, 100 odd years of history and great times, and I now hate the place.

I can't begin to imagine how it must feel. I feel shame that as a football supporter I've been on Edgeley more times to watch egg chasing than the beautiful game.

For Sale Sharks, though they are doing OK, as discussed here, their owner doesn't want to be in Stockport any more. It would be better if they sorted out a new ground of their own at Sport City, or a share with Salford Reds at their planned new stadium near the Trafford Centre.

As for County, they need a clean slate, which is easier said than done. I know at least three potential bidders who have walked away in horror from what is happening. And the longer the administrators are in, clocking up fees, the harder it becomes to secure a deal. They desperately need to be out of administration this season. If they don't, they are down and out playing Stalybridge Celtic and Hyde United, if they are lucky. The trouble is, the entry ticket to football club ownership is of such a level now it is beyond the gift of a philanthropic fan - and there are no banks willing to lend - so making a profit on buying a distressed asset has proved uncertain. It has ceased to be worth the effort.

Monday, December 21, 2009

The Red Lion in High Lane - reviewed

The third of our restaurant reviews for families has been published on Manchester Confidential.

Here's a flavour of our visit to the Red Lion in High Lane:

There is no better host at any restaurant I’ve been to than Steve Pilling. Period. Robinson’s brewery have spotted that and they must have sunk the thick end of £1m into this. He has raised the game in this relatively barren corner of Greater Manchester with a local pub restaurant that oozes class.

And here is our report.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Road is now a film

The Road by Cormac McCarthy has been made into a film. It remains one of the best books I've ever read, so I'm anxious it doesn't ruin something so powerful and evocative.

The author is profiled in the paper today, here. It describes him as the ultimate pessimist. I didn't reach that conclusion at the end of The Road, in fact, quite the opposite.

Good weather

There's no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong kind of clothes. Or, in the case of the Highways Agency in Greater Manchester, and Stockport Council, an inability to grit the roads round here. What a shambles.

Tidying up

I've taken a couple of blogs off my links (right) as they haven't been updated recently. If the owners return let me know and I'll restore. Likewise if anyone else out there links to me and I don't link back, please let me know and I'll sort it.

Spooked again

The current series of the ever excellent Spooks reaches the grand finale this week. It's been another belter, despite more plot holes than the roads of Blackburn, Lancashire. But the identity of the bad guys has once again caused scorn.

Nick Cohen makes some very good points in this piece here that the real MI5 is tracking Islamist terrorists pretty much all the time. On the grid meanwhile Sir Harry, Roz and Lucas are battling international cabals, Isrealis, greens, Russkis and private bankers. He traces this as a trend through James Bond and the Bourne series. Even detecting political cowardice and a fear of offending muslims.

First the Greens, then the Jews, then the Hindus-baffled viewers will be expecting the English Quakers and Burmese Buddhists next. Maybe the BBC will get round to them, but as the eighth series of Spooks draws to its conclusion, we know that for the time being at least, the scriptwriters have identified the real enemy. Episode by episode, Harry and his team have learned about a conspiracy of awesome power. As with Bourne and Bond, it is a cabal that has established itself at the highest levels of Western intelligence services. Once again, the good guys must fight the real menace that comes from the enemy within.

We have been at war since 9/11. To judge from popular drama, we have been at war with ourselves.

I think he's overdoing it, personally. AQ is always there in Spooks, but this is daft telly with a need for twists and turns.

And character wise, Roz has had all the best lines in this series. I hope she isn't killed off, you just know that one of them will be.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

All we are saying, is give us a goal

Not much to say about today's game between Blackburn Rovers and Spurs. We lost 2-0 and shouldn't have. The moaning from the fans (including my kids) about the refereeing would have been irrelevant if McCarthy had scored his easy chances. It was cold. We left early, which I never usually do.

Used all the season tickets and smuggled Elliot in. Rachel's working a night shift at the moment and therefore sleeping through the day, so she needed us out. That would have cost us £59, which means we've had £337 worth of footballing fun.

Name that group

I sat down to browse and blog last night but got distracted by this here.

It's a pop music picture quiz. So far I'm on 224 out of 270. The American rockers confuse me.

This is a sure sign that I am beginning to unwind for a 2 week break.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Freedom of expression

Read this. It's about Britain's libel laws.

You may then want to sign this.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

To Hull and back

Had a very enjoyable day trip to Hull City v Blackburn Rovers on Saturday. Another 0-0 draw, but a decent performance lay at the centre of it. Nicola Kalinic gets into some great positions and must score soon, or he'll end up next to Corrado Grabbi on here. All the midfield players had chances galore to blast in a shot, but seem to be looking for the perfect pass. It's where David Dunn is so effective, so his recovery would be welcome.

Away trips are about more than just the match though. Me and my pal Steven got a chance to catch up on this and that without wives or kids in tow. We took the train over and had a look around Hull; finding a decent piece of haddock for lunch, which you'd expect at the seaside. Hull's German christmas market is really just a dressed up car boot sale and tatty market, but it's nice they're trying to make an effort. I'm still not drinking so I probably ruined Steven's day by keeping us out of Wetherspoons.

It was also the 127th ground on which I've watched football and was a rare day out for the flag (pictured).

There was plenty of noisy banter and solid support from the 1500 travelling fans. I'd say 5 per cent are total cretins; real neanderthal dingbats who boo Keith Andrews before he's even taken the field and sing the most offensive and racist songs imaginable about Owen Coyle. A further 20 per cent are just young lads who are easily led. The remainder, that is most Rovers fans, are quite nice people. But it does mean there's a good chance you'll get a nutter in your orbit at a reasonably well attended away match and there isn't anywhere to move to. One idiot, who I recognised from home games, stood up throughout, without a thought for the young lads behind him. No-one asked him to sit down, not even a steward. It was like he was willing anyone to challenge him. We suggested to the teenage lads sat behind him that two seats on our row were empty and that they'd get a better view. They seemed very relieved.

As a parent the question then is do you want your kids subjected to louts standing up in front of you and coming out with this rubbish. I'd say not yet, but that's life.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Get up stand up

Regular readers will have noticed I do a bit of public speaking as part of my job. I enjoy it and try and do new things all the time. Occasionally I tell the odd story, or short joke, but it's always secondary to the main event and core message.

When I heard that Richard Bacon was going to do a night at Edinburgh as a stand up comedian I was full of admiration. I think stand up looks incredibly hard and was interested in what he went through.

Well, last night I had a go myself. Admittedly, 110 people at Marple Cricket Club was not quite an open mic session at a comedy club, but I think it went OK.

My role was to just do a few bits of housekeeping to welcome people to our junior football club Christmas party for parents and supporters, no kids. After dinner, my pal Jason Isaacs was going to be performing with his band A Few Good Men, so the least I could do was put a smile on people's faces to get the evening off to a happy start.

I had the routine worked out: pepper the housekeeping announcements with gags and a few stories about being a football parent.

I started with some short tales about some of the rough arsed places we go to for away matches and a few friendly jibes at local rivals - paying off with an old old gag that some people hadn't heard before.

Next I moved on to golf - we have a club golf day at the same venue - I thanked the bloke who organises it - didn't get much from him and remembered that I just don't know him well enough to take the piss out of his business - which I did consider - but moved on quickly. Quick Tiger Woods quip which was mistimed and misjudged. Move on quickly.

Next, the open goal. The club secretary is a mine of material - Scouser, attractive younger wife, nice bloke, lost weight recently. Kept going for a while with this, lot of laughs. Really pleased, was on a roll here. People seemed surprised and happy.

The finale was an amended joke I've seen done with expert precision by Ted Robbins. So I've introduced people, said thanks, name dropped a Bryan Robson story, so people think it could be possible that we really do have a special guest. I take off my specs. Cough, look nervous and serious and ask for hush. "Ladies and gentlemen, tonight we have a special surprise guest. He's a local sporting legend, he's fought in Manchester and Las Vegas, he's held world titles, he usually walks out into bigger rooms than this to the chimes of Blue Moon, but tonight let's give a warm Marple welcome to our special *surprise* guest tonight.... Ricky "the Hitman" Hatton."

This will either die on its arse, or people will believe it. They look round, they applaud. There are gasps.

I put my glasses back on. And I say, squinting at the table by the door: "Oh dear. I'm sorry love."

Bingo. It works. The best and biggest laugh of the night. I love this. What an incredible feeling. Time to end, quit now on a high. Thank them for their time, encourage them to give generously.

This may not count as a "thing to try before you die" but it was a nerve wracking experience and something new for me. I'd like to have another go, in another environment, and will work on more stories. 'Ave it!

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Last Mad Surge of Youth - book review


Reading fiction, for me, requires a longer sitting than 20 minute bursts on commuter trains. I'm pleased I made the effort to finish this excellent book. I liked the vivid and anti-nostalgic account of a northern upbringing in the 1970s and the journeys of friends, forming a band and forging an identity. It's bleak at times and though there are large passages that make you feel uneasy, it's never a difficult read. Mark Hodkinson is an observant writer with a good ear, Martin. And the two friends at the centre of the story - think Our Friends in the North with guitars - are vivid and recognisable characters. One of the reviews, here, conjurs up another book I've enjoyed recently - John Niven's Kill Your Friends - noting by way of contrast that this avoids the sex drugs and rock n roll - but instead centres on notions of ambition and courage.

Heartily recommended - 8/10.

And there is something quite special about a Pomona book.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Clive James and Martin Amis on ageing

If you look in the forthcoming events section of any national newspaper or political magazine or literary journal, you can't help but be struck by the vast number of intellectual events taking place on any night of the week. In London.

Rather than moaning about this, I went to an event last night at the University of Manchester where Martin Amis (60) and Clive James (70) were talking about ageing in literature. How the voices of the aged were sadly missing - how Dickens and Shakespeare died in their 50s. Where then is there a voice from the elderly?

Fascinating it was. Amis opened up by bemoaning the later works of John Updike, who had "lost his ear".

James retorted with several aces skillfully flipped on the table: Tolstoy, Goethe, Yeats. In particular Yeats "exploited the power of reflection, a transparency denied to the young," said James.

They both had the intellectual sharpness, but confessed to rattling a little.

Speaking to Clive James afterwards he spoke of his own impatience and vigour for the web. His own work in progress - CliveJames.com - he finds intruiging and beguiling. Oh to be young again.

The audience was appreciative and lapped it up. There is a healthy intellectual life here, but it needs feeding and supporting.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Admirable Nelsen

By their own standards, and by the expectations of their supporters, Liverpool were poor at Ewood Park today. And as Rovers failed to convert good chances in the last few minutes, I think we have to chalk that one off as points dropped. But no matter, the place is buzzing, it's been a great week at Blackburn Rovers. We're in the semi finals of the Carling Cup, we're above Burnley in the league at last and more importantly we're playing some good football while we add to the points tally. Sam Allardyce, sat up in the director's box, earpiece snugly fitted and video monitor in position, was pleased with the clean sheet and the growing reputation that we're quite hard to beat at Ewood.

For me, it was a great day out. I went as a guest of one of the club's sponsors and enjoyed the company of their chairman and two mates of mine who were also guests. But the added bonus was I got to present the man of the match award to Ryan Nelsen in the Clayton/Douglas Lounge. Also on hand to sign a book for me was King Kenny Dalglish.

I have to say Ryan Nelsen is a proper bloke; a real gent and a professional captain. And as a player I think he's a colossus. He got in the way of everything today and nearly set up Diouf for a goal when he went on a mazy run up the left wing in the second half.

Rachel took three of the boys on the season tickets, which would have cost £80, which means we've used £278 worth so far and it's still only December. What a bargain.

Some advent links

Some assorted links I've liked.

Try this game - locate the football ground. Endless minutes of fun. I scored 118402.

The flip side of the Football Museum moving to Manchester - what next for Urbis? From Gnome Chomsky.

Extraordinary story - The man who smuggled himself into Auschwitz. From Derren Brown.

Oh dear - Roger Cashman has discovered Twitter.

Some cool looking stickers have been popping up around these parts. From CasCo.

I'm going to keep my eye on this. The Reference Council.

Stop the X Factor morons getting a Christmas number one.

Cities bidding for the World Cup - is it just me, but has Liverpool the weakest case of all?

One of my lads is obsessed with penguins. This public art lark in Liverpool looks great.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Is there a Doctor in the house?

I very rarely go to the Doctors. Whenever I do I come away feeling like I've been wasting someone's time. My Dad has had problems with high cholestral, my Mum only has one kidney and my sister had something which forced me to check something of my own, so I feel entitled to be concerned enough to check things out. On every occasion they have been all clear, but my GP seems to very quickly dismiss everything I have a concern about. I rather get the feeling my notes read: "hypocondriac".

Contrast this with the attitude at Marple Physio clinic today. My lower back has been killing me this week. I had an appointment time that suited me, and within 40 minutes Matthew Carpenter asked questions, watched me walk and made me stretch. Then he had me doing exercises, massaged me and said, Let me tell you what I think is going on here. He then adjusted my car seat and sent me away feeling tons better, with some ideas to sit better and, I feel this is significant, £37 lighter of pocket.

I have to say, it has been the best money I've spent all week. I know nothing of this clinic other than the positive experiences I have had on the two occasions I've been there. It has a sense of customer service about it. Something the NHS does not. Because this is 2009 and feelings run high, I feel I have to qualify this by saying I care passionately about the importance of the NHS in this country, but something is wrong at the core. I don't base this on what I have experienced, today, but a slow realisation and observation about how organisations work and why.

The Elder Statesman

I had the pleasure of interviewing Sir Mark Elder recently. In the interview he talked about many things, but importantly about how people can be touched by classical music and return to it at different times in their lives.

“I’ve tried to make the Hallé so much a part of the fabric of the city, that even people who don’t appreciate the music we produce, at least recognise that Manchester would be a poorer place if the Hallé didn’t exist. We need different sorts of music. If you can show a five-year-old child a concert orchestra, they may not need that music until they are 45, but they try that and remember these people who came to school. They may move to pop music, and that’s great because music is spiritual food. We need it as much as we need fresh air, companionship, a social life or sports. Music is something to share with others. It has to have an open door.”

What a lovely way of putting it.

Sometimes you meet people who are good at what they do. In fact, I'm lucky enough to do this rather a lot. But other times you meet a real inspiration. He's one.

The end result is here.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Lancashire Day

It was Lancashire Day on Friday. Happily it was marked by plenty of folk around the red rose county at lots of events.

The magnificent Kevin Roberts writes about the heritage and pride of our county of birth here.

The Friends of Real Lancashire point out that the county's historical footprint is much bigger than the current administrative one. Indeed, it starts at four miles from here at Lancashire Hill - just at the other side of the Mersey from Stockport town centre and goes all the way north to Lake Windermere.

Anyway, for dinner tonight I made a Lancashire hotpot inspired by Nigel Haworth, a wonderful chef. I added vegetables and used steak, not lamb, but the verdict from the kids was universally positive except for one thing: not enough!

Quite possibly the worst film I've ever seen

I mentioned in a blog post here that I used to write about music, films, fashion and the like. I concluded that it wasn't my bag and the nasty back channel of music journalism was loathsome. I'm sure there's something equally shifty about film writing.

With that in mind, I watched a film called Outlaw on DVD. It stars Danny Dyer, Sean Bean and Bob Hoskins and is directed by Nick Love whose other efforts have included Football Factory and The Business. Now, I'd heard the audio commentary first, which intrigued me. On it Love and Dyer swear profusely at each other and cry into their beer about the "cwitics" and how the fans love it, acknowledging that some fans fast forward to the violence. Lovely.

You feel their pain. They toil to make a film, not just any film, but they claim it is the most important British film of the last 10 years. A political statement about Britain today.

I have to say, I'm with the cwitics and not the fans. It was quite possibly the worst film I've ever seen. Stylistically it's all there. Plot wise though it's ponderous and predictable. Vigilantes, violence and villains.

That said, if you want a good laugh, do listen to the audio commentary where Love describes how Taxi Driver and Godfather were, er, c***ed by the cwitics. Yes, that's right, they compare this to two epics. Then watch the film.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A close shave

I give virtually no thought whatsoever to the importance of the brand of shaving gel I use. Out of habit I use King of Shaves gel. I don't feel strong brand loyalty but it doesn't give me a rash, so I buy it from Boots where I collect points. Now they also do cheap razors, which I like because Gillette and Wilkinson are rip offs. The founder of King of Shaves, Will King, positions himself as a champion of the underdogs, much as Richard Branson has always tried to do. I barely even noticed that they sponsored John Terry, who is on the scrounge for more endorsements. Had I done so, I may well have sought out a new product on a point of principle.

I am sorry that this is a blog post about absolutely nothing at all.

A thin line between success and failure

There is indeed a thin line between glorious success and abject failure in sport. We were a Liam Lawrence lace and a Christophe Samba eyebrow away from both today. The fact that Blackburn Rovers v Stoke ended 0-0 was not a surprise given that both teams deployed such defensive strategies.

Had we won 1-0 we would have been concentrating on the positives; the way in which the side rose to the challenge of David Dunn's withdrawl through injury with a pulsating attacking performance and a solid defensive display from Ryan Nelson and Samba. Vince Grella sprayed balls around for the last half hour, Brett Emerton troubled Stoke's right back. Steven N'Zonzi shrugged off his markers and had a shot rebound off the post. All of that happened and all of that is true.

Had we lost, and we could have done, then the lack of ambition of El Hadji Diouf, the lack of force from Franco di Santo and the lack of ability of Keith Andrews would have been talking points. The changes should have been made sooner and McCarthy should have been on sooner. All of that is also true.

A draw makes you dwell on both negatives and positives. Yes, we missed Dunny, who was tricky again. But even he couldn't create enough in a dismal first half which failed to ignite even after Paul Robinson was forced to make two great saves.

I hope Benni starts against Chelsea in the midweek cup match. We need that extra dimension, irrespective of the team Chelsea put out - either way you know it's going to be a strong side. And for Liverpool next weekend, can we please start with two strikers and leave peripheral wasters like Diouf and Pedersen where they belong, on the bench.

Emerton got the sponsors man of the match, I thought it would have been Nelsen or even Robinson. But if Grella can grip a game like he did for the last half hour, he could be a key man for us if we want to have a decent season.

Family wise, just two of us did this one. That would have cost us £36. So far we've used £198 worth of season tickets. That's almost half of what they cost with loads more to come.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Wasps or wimps?

In football it is the referee who deems whether a pitch is fit to play on. In rugby, it appears that if one team doesn't fancy it then they can unilaterally refuse to play. That's what seems to have happened at Edgeley Park tonight, the home of Sale Sharks. After wolfing down our meal in the Insider Suite we trooped out with our guests to be told over the tannoy that Wasps didn't want to play. Unbelievable. James Jennings, the Sale Sharks chief executive was very annoyed and announced that the ref had deemed the pitch was playable. But Wasps had flown off.

In the lounge later vice captain Mark Cueto was visibly annoyed and said: "It's typical of Wasps, they didn't fancy it at Edgeley tonight."

They should have points deducted for this fiasco.

Monday, November 23, 2009

My mate... Dom #2 in a series


The second in the series of blogs where I write about a random friend. This time I randomly shuffled my address book and found... Dominic Fussell.

I first met Dom through our respective jobs. As time went on we became good mates. He left that job, and in the meantime his wife Nicola helped us by enrolling our lads in afterschool club at their nursery. It's a measure of how far we've come that the last time we went out, to see A Few Good Men at the Romper in Marple, we didn't talk about work at all. We just stood up watching a band, got back ache and realised how old we're all getting.

Five go mad in restaurants

I would say it's been a regular if inconsistent theme of this blog to talk about kids and food. I try hard to make them nourishing and challenging meals at the weekend. I also like eating out, but wonder if kids appreciate it enough for it to be worth it.

I've been given the nod to do restaurant reviews for the excellent website Manchester Confidential. Compared to Gordo, the publisher, and Jonathan Schofield, editor, I am a minnow amongst critics. However, they don't have five kids under 10 and I do, so that is my angle. I'll be contributing one every three weeks or so, with the accent very much on how the restaurant caters for a family like ours. We did Giraffe a couple of weeks ago. Yesterday we filed our report from Murillos in Marple.

Here's a link to the review.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Comic in need

Peter Kay makes me laugh. I love Phoenix Nights. But he made me laugh in a different way last night. He announced on BBC Children in Need that he is returning to stand up and that his new tour (to Manchester's MEN Arena), would donate (wait for it), from all the merchandising (oh, OK, just the Garlic bread t-shirts then). That he would be donating the money to Children in Need. Well, £1. From the proceeds of everything sold.

The four dates have already sold out and no doubt he will stretch to a couple of weeks. The amount the charity will get will be enormous, but it's still just £1 from each piece.

Coincidentally, the tickets went on sale yesterday. The very same day of the biggest charity appeal of the year. For the avoidance of doubt he has worked very hard for this appeal, with this lovely new video with all the cartoon characters. He has done an incredible amount for this project over the years and for Comic Relief. But am I being cynical when I say that I feel this feels all a bit contrived?

Maybe it's because this comes on the back of a story I heard involving a dapper snapper from Liverpool, who recently took a picture of Peter Kay at Liverpool Airport. Granted, he wasn't on show, he was just going on holiday and went mad and refused to play ball. My pal, who is not a paparazzi, but does a load of charity work, politely saw his point and deleted the picture, respecting his privacy, but not before telling him: "As long as you've got a hole in your arse, you'll never be as funny as Ken Dodd."

He needs to be careful that boy.

The hand of Frog

When Ireland were 1-0 ahead in Paris I saw the value of my Robbie Keane signed football boot soar. By the time they had to swallow defeat I was again resigned to it residing in the loft for evermore. No matter.

I can't quite get worked up by the blatant cheating that earned France their phyrric victory. Yes, I know it's wrong, but they all do it. All of them. Every. Single. One. They all dive, they all feign injury, they all shirt pull and try and gain an advantage. So, I'm sorry, but that's football.

Thierry Henry is the player who will now have to live with the reputation as the cheat who handled it so obviously, which is a shame, because he deserves to be remembered for so much more. It was his choice though and he will have to live with that.

Get Shirty

I was a bit slow on the uptake, but Frank Rostron has moved to America. The legendary Manchester shirtmaker has retired to Florida and sold the shop on Princess Street to one of his team. I really like his shirts. I've got two at the moment, the first one I had lasted 6 years, was recuffed, but I wore it to death.

Frank is also one of those blokes with a real aura about him, a man of presence and substance. He has some great stories to tell about his social heyday in Manchester in the 70s and 80s and his trips to the States, where his shirts have become iconic with the Wall Street traders. I used to enjoy a brew and a natter with him and his mate Ray Ranson who was often in there.

I was in the shop yesterday and they've got some gorgeous cotton material for country shirts as well as some lively patterns, which tempted. I quite liked the cashmere jumpers too. They can get John Smedley pieces, but, frankly, Paul Howard in Marple can get them for a lot less.

Drive like an Italian

When I bought my ickle Italian eco car in the summer, I was well pleased with it. Still am in many ways. However, it's not so great for the rare times I have to drive longish distances (over 30 miles) and I do find I get bullied on the roads. Audi, Lexus and BMW drivers do the usual tailgating and nudging in queues that they never used to do to me when I had, ahem, an Audi or a BMW.

On the way back from Carden Park on Thursday night, in filthy conditions, I was tailgated and flashed by a lorry. I stuck my fog lights on and he got the message, but it was a dreadful experience made worse by my exhausted state.

A tip from Simon Sinclair, local dandy and head of chaos at Pravda Advertising, is to drive like an Italian. Look urgent, be nippy and they get out of the way.

Our 7-seater is out of action - clutch gone - which means this weekend we are doing the Saturday sporting shuttle (football, cross country running and swimming lessons) with just the ickle car and some incredible support and logistical juggling from friends.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Peter Hook's book on the Hacienda

I dived into Peter Hook's book 'The Hacienda: How Not To Run A Club' straight after reading David Nolan's posthumous biog of the late Tony Wilson (review here). It sent me scurrying for music from that era to rekindle memories of nights at the legendary Manchester club. My earliest memory of the Hac is of a student night that hardly anyone went to. It then had an elitist and slightly po-faced phase in 1986 and 1987, which we endured, rather than enjoyed; because I always thought the music sounded poor and door policy was elitist. By the time we left University in 1988 it all changed again and the rest is musical history. For all the house music legends and for all the pretending to look cool, my best night there remains an indie night in the summer of 1988, when I went with friends from Lancaster.
I found the book very easy to read. It's a lucid, lively and candid tale that makes a vital contribution to an evolving history of a fascinating era. The roles of the gangsters, as much as Tony Wilson's mismanagement were what contributed to its demise and should be the focus of any residual anger. Either way there is no club that has inspired such devotion.
6 out of 10.

Links and bits of things in mid November

From which train trip in Britain can you see the most league football grounds? From The Knowledge on guardian.co.uk

I got my brother-in-law a Mickey Walsh t-shirt for his birthday from here with the legend: Goal of the Season 1973. Turned heads at Center Parcs this weekend, so he tells me.

The challenge of the Irish volunteers of World War 2 - rather shames the antics of this lot, warning, may induce vomiting.

I know this blog isn't about work, but it was my biggest night of the year on Thursday, here are my thoughts on the matter in hand.

Fantastic montage of pictures of the Berlin Wall - from the Boston Globe.

Mildly gutted that the Observer is scaling back - came to quite like the Sport and Music magazines.

Review of Morrissey concert where some div threw a drink at him. From a friend of a friend in Everton fanzine When Skies Are Grey.

Match reports are on here and here from another weekend of junior footballing fun. Marple Ath, having a laugh.

The legendary Phil Griffin's idea for an exhibition on Manchester's contribution to television history has come to fruition. It's on at Urbis until the end of April.

The bloke that upset Stephen Fry on Twitter does quite a good blog - Plum's Plums.

Very excited about a planned Christmas Eve lunch at the Highwayman - but what to have?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Speaking of which

Me with henry on Twitpic
It was the Marple Cricket Club dinner last night, which for those of us who don't actually have anything to do with the club, is just a good old piss up and a top night out with the lads. Except of course I'm still not drinking and my incredible shrinking pal Mark Oldfield is still treading carefully after shedding 7 stone during his recent diet.

The speaker last night was Henry Olonga, the former Zimbabwean cricketer and now something of a performing arts maestro. He told some lovely stories and has obviously led a fascinating life full of adventure. He also risked everything by standing up and protesting against Robert Mugabe and his thugs. if you think that's impressive, you should have heard his rendition of Nessun Dorma to crown his speech. We got the tales of facing the Pakistani fast bowlers last night. He is a man of some depth and I would imagine he has routines which work for different audiences. His own website is here.

Thanks very much to Trevor Martin for organising our table. And if anyone wants a Robbie Keane signed boot (size 11), I've still got it from last year's dinner.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Spooks is back and better than ever

The new series of Spooks is excellent. We're on BBC3 time and therefore half a week ahead. It's a good team on the grid, with lots of potential. Enjoying the tension with the Americans.

We've also been dipping into the boxed sets. Identified two episodes with vaguely sympathetic adversaries: Series Two, episode 8, where Reece Dinsdale is a fed up Army hero, and Series Five, episode 8 where the Christian church fights back. Wrestled with the notion that Yalta was a noble cause, but it's hard to trust the French.

Food review on Manchester Confidential

I've done a review of the Spinningfields branch of "global restaurant" Giraffe here, for Manchester Confidential. Hopefully this will be the first of more "family feeding" reviews.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Marple remembers

There was a large turnout at the Marple War Memorial this morning for a particularly poignant service of remembrance. About 1000 people gathered in the park to watch wreaths being laid from dozens of community groups ranging from the Fire Brigade, the Legion, the churches, the Marple Business Forum and the Ring o' Bells pub. But there was also a presence from the Royal Marines, colleagues of fallen hero Danny Winter who died in Afghanistan this year.

It made me proud to be from a community that turned out in such numbers today. All ages and all walks of life paid their respects. And amongst their number were our five boys, respectful and observant.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Remembering

This weekend we will mostly be remembering.

We will be remembering my Mum's father Francis Edward O'Hare who died in a field in Germany in 1943 just a month after his daughter was born, shot down in the Royal Canadian Air Force Lancaster Bomber he was navigating.

We will remember the sacrifice and the contribution made by John Stanley Taylor of the Royal Commando Regiment in special operations in Burma, North Africa and Norway. He returned home to his family in North Wales, and led a successful life as a manager at Woolworths stores around the North West. But until he died in 1982 he always lived with the memories of horrors we will never even be able to contemplate.

And we will remember the young men and women who have died recently in Afghanistan, serving their country in a war of poor leadership, uncertain outcome and wavering public support.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Course you can at UCLAN

I went to speak to the journalism undergraduates and postgraduates at the University of Central Lancashire this week. They were a very bright crop this year. Very attentive and asked some smart questions. There are fewer opportunities in magazines now, but at it's heart it is a young person's industry. Some of their course projects have a well thought through digital element too. But as you absorb this constant barrage of internet evangelism it's worth taking stock and seeing that magazines are still gorgeous, tactile and emotional products that can forge a relationship with a reader in a way a site can't. Excuse me while I close my laptop on this sticky train journey and curl up to read the latest Monocle and this week's Spectator.

Codeword - I showed all the students this blog and urged them all to blog. If any of them reading this can tell me the name of the speaker I heard on Tuesday night then they can come to my work on a placement.

Cable guy

Vince Cable was speaking in Manchester on Tuesday night at the IoD dinner. I thought he was disappointing. He had no real explanation, or solution for the current economic blight. One of my table mates, Phil Jones, has blogged here about his thoughts on his performance, which I don't disagree with.

I think he ended badly, particularly given he had an audience of business people. He trotted out a few lines about how business can get us out of the recession. Well, he's right, it's just that I don't think he really meant it. Politicians have very poor understanding of the relationship between business and government. They think of the City, the FTSE 250 and big hitters. The reality of business is invisible to them. For an economic genius like Cable is hailed to be, this is pretty poor.

The relationship between the tax take and the ability of businesses to create taxable wealth is a fragile one. Too often businesses are seen as the greedy source who needs to be squeezed just that bit more. Squeeze too hard and the state cuts off the supply of revenue. Unleash the beast and there's a fear that this just creates an orgy of fat cat greed. But a clever Liberal Democrat could see this not only for what it is: an opportunity to be brave, bold and visionary, but also to untap a groundswell of support.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Radio radio, live transmission

I never turn down a chance to appear on the BBC. I think the publicity and profile it gives my business is just great. I also like broadcasting and try and learn something new and different every time.

Yesterday, as luck would have it, there was no kids football to chase around after and I was invited to go on BBC Radio Manchester's Retail Therapy as a business expert (I know, I know). The programme was recorded at the Trafford Centre and presented by Marple-born Becky Want, who I owed a favour to, as she presented the trophies at the Marple Athletic junior football tournament last year.

As I was on with these lively older ladies who were testing lip gloss and choosing dresses, it's clearly a very different proposition to talking about business on the drivetime Manchester business programme on Monday. So, after mentioning that 10 per cent of shops are empty, that this has been a rotten year for retailers, but that the best retailers are adapting to survive - John Lewis and M&S being good examples - I built up to my single point. Confidence is everything. Confidence of developers to build shopping centres, retailers to invest in stores and confidence of consumers to believe their house is going to be worth so much more that they can splurge and remortgage. That can't happen now. A recovery will therefore be slower, but more sustainable.

Getting that across is harder than you'd think. But I always try and make one point, but layering it as I make these succession of 15 second soundbites, answering the questions directly and avoiding economic jargon. You can listen again to hear for yourself if this was any good. Anyway, they've asked me back, which is nice.

Ten in a row - will we ever win away?

As a part-time supporter I probably haven't earned the right to say any of this, but for Blackburn Rovers to have now lost TEN games on the trot is just outrageous. I've been to two aways this season and I have to say we never looked like getting anything out of either. Everton was a tepid capitulation, yesterday at Old Trafford was about containing a tepid Manchester United team. I genuinely believe a more positive approach could have yielded a point.

I sat behind the goal, with the home fans, and just to the right of the away end which was understandably sparser than at any other visit to the Theatre of Nightmares. Sat along from us was possibly the thickest football fan I've ever encountered. He had a North East accent and spent the entire game slagging off Berbatov and Carrick, or Bulgarian c*** and Cockney c***. It's always surprising which players get the terrace idiots on their backs, or who the loud mouths like. At Rovers it seems to be Benni who gets stick (when he plays), while badge kissing spitter Diouf is lauded by the louts. Rooney is an obvious type of player. Obvious what his role is, obvious what success will look like. Berbatov is harder to understand, and probably taught Dunny a few tricks about the dropped off role. But the more this cretin went on, and on, and the more the evidence before me suggested Man U would score, part of me hoped it would be Berbatov. And so it was.

The reports will all say we were overwhelmed by superior quality, how we came to defend, which is true, but we at least attempted a positive assault at 1-0 down. In the last 15 minutes, with Dunny, Eamon Andrews and De Santo taken off, we looked lively. Hopefully Pedersen has had a kick up the arse, Benni has that quality to conjure something up out of nothing. I like seeeing him in blue and white at Old Trafford, it reminds me of that night when Porto dumped them out of the Big Cup. But it was Kalinic who caught my eye with his runs and touches. Sam was raging at Diouf at one point, I hope his patience has snapped. Mine has.

Hope springs for a crisp winter of better results. Anyone fancy a trip to Bolton?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Swine flu, Jesus, Frank Skinner and us

Frank Skinner writes a column in the Times, which I've only just discovered, but this early delve has found some belters.

His latest one is about swine flu hysteria and how it is affecting the taking of holy communion.

Forgive me as I move from the ridiculous to the sublime. When I take Holy Communion in church on Sunday mornings, it involves eating a thin disc of bread and then sipping from a chalice of wine. As a Roman Catholic, I believe that this bread and wine, through some supernatural process, has transubstantiated into the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Being a recovering alcoholic, some sceptical friends have accused me of using transubstantiation as a loophole. I can’t blame them for this. I’ve had similar doubts about Catholics on a no-carbs diet.

Either way, in recent weeks, my local church has withdrawn the wine element as a precaution against the spread of swine flu. Given that it too believes in transubstantiation, the inference is that I might catch it from Jesus. Surely that strain would at least be self-healing.

Brilliant. I'll let you know if such madness spreads to Holy Spirit Marple this Sunday.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Climbing mountains

Check out this. A candid and mildly bizarre statement about the future of Sale Sharks from owner Brian Kennedy.

His definition of success:

When we are playing in front of 15,000 fans every home game with the camaraderie of occasion that belongs to the world’s greatest team game; when we are competing and winning against the top teams in Europe; when Sale Sharks can truly say we are a top flight club in every way.

This ambition can only be achieved with the support and help of the people of the North West. I urge you to join me and our loyal fans, sponsors and employees in this challenging and stimulating journey, the destination of which is worthy of the most creative and enterprising region in England... THE NORTH WEST.


I say it's bizarre because elsewhere in the piece he's remarkably candid and self-effacing. He makes a blatant plea to councils in the whole of the region to get in touch and help him build a new stadium, but isn't that bothered about where it may be. The whole thing also strikes me as odd because I simply couldn't imagine this kind of ambition and focus coming from any Premier League football club owner outside the Big Four. Go on, read it and see what I mean.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The best Word podcast ever - Danny Baker is a radio genius

If there is a better radio programme on God's earth than the Word podcast with Danny Baker, then I will eat my iPod. Do listen to this if you get the chance, it made my drive from Manchester to Preston fly by last week. All weekend I was dripping anecdotes and stories from the podcast at Rachel and our friends. Amazing. Don't just take my word for it, Paddy Hoey liked it too.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

You're Entitled to An Opinion - David Nolan's Tony Wilson book

For a man who has had a film made of his life and who spent so much time in the media, there are few accounts of Tony Wilson that really do him justice. This one does. Partly because even in the title it acknowledges there were so many intruiging sides to this unique and very special individual, who I personally still think about often. David Nolan's final chapter sees the author step in with his own personal recollections and in so doing brings back the raw sense of loss of August 2007. It inspired feelings of amusement, anger, frustration and pride - all at the same time, much like time spent around the great man himself. Much of it seems to be correcting the slapstick version of Wilson's life that was represented in the film 24 Hour Party People, but knowing quite when to stop was probably Nolan's biggest challenge; afterall, doesn't everyone have a Wilson anecdote? Lovely contributions from Yvette Livesey and many other forgotten friends from Granada. Some nice bits on Marple too; Tony went to St Mary's and the author still lives here.

A random collection of bookmarks for late October

I used to have a badge with "Professional Northerner" on it. But what is one? Michael Henderson tries to explain in the Spectator, but really just wants to be rude about John Prescott.

Football 365 is a site I've largely forgotten existed, but anyway, as a memory jogger here it is: the Mediawatch section is very good.

The olde football curiosity shoppe - Football Spotter.

Jonathan Schofield in Manchester Confidential is very good on just how rubbish one of our MEPs was on Question Time last week.

Keep an eye on UKIP, this is interesting from old pal Laurie Laird in GQ.

Comment on my work blog from a story that came out of a Question Time event I chaired last week. And the report in the Lancashire Evening Post.

Kidnapped by the Taliban, this looks fascinating, from the NY Times.

Parc life

We've been away at Center Parcs and I've thus gone a week without updating on here. Sorry for that. There are many highlights involved in time spent with friends and family: Max and Louis learnt to ride bikes, Matt and Joe discovered classmates from school were also on site, I queued for the water slide behind Middlesbrough coach Colin Cooper. And apart from that we didn't particularly do very much at all, except have a lovely time.

That said, I'd make the following observations about Center Parcs: the staff seem more laid back, and the pool is looking a bit tatty.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Twang live - "unbelievable"

I wrote about The Twang, the Brummie indie rockers, here. I've since had chance to listen to their new album, The Jewellery Quarter, which is good.

My friend David Smalley went to the gig at the Ritz on Sunday night - I was on Cloud Nine and unavailable - and here is his report:

One of the best concerts I have been to. The atmosphere was unbelievable with absolutely everyone getting involved and the music just didn’t stop one great song after another. The last thing I wanted was an hour’s drive on a Sunday evening into wet Manchester but I am so glad we did. Before I saw them support Happy Mondays at Manchester Central a couple of years ago I had never heard of them but I came away thinking they were brilliant. Easily the best band at the moment.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Insular Peninsula

Having lived for three quarters of my life in Granadaland, England's Northwest, whatever, then I can fairly say I know my way around. But I'm clueless about the Wirral. I've probably been here three times in my life: all for sport, the Open at Royal Liverpool and twice to see Rovers at the other Rovers. And that's why I'm here in the Village Inn in Bromborough as I have an early start in Birkenhead in the morning.

I also have no idea whether the place is insular or not. But it's a very cheap headline and I like a bargain. Over to you Nigel...Blackwell, or Hughes.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Job Dunn

My first derby against Burnley was a 3-2 win where the scoreline didn't do justice to our dominance. And so it was this afternoon at Ewood as Joe and Louis enjoyed seeing a lively and comfortable win, orchestrated by another massive performance from David Dunn, reports here, here and here.

The game has all manner of dimensions for us these days - I'm now married into a Claret supporting dynasty, but loyalty is as strongly blue as ever.

The guys around us in the family stand apologised for their language and behaviour before the teams were even out. "This one's different," they said. It was, and it was also one of those days where your faith and commitment is renewed. Most Rovers games barely merit a mention in the press and end up being at last on Match of the Day. The hype this time was incredible. And, blissfully, there was no bother.

At 9 and 10 the lads are old enough to know bad language and where it is not right to use it. They were both understandly anxious about trouble, but as a good pal from Lancashire plod had texted me yesterday - "We've enough cops to invade Poland." It doesn't seem right that such extraordinary security is deployed for a football match, but maybe the more we play each other it won't be such a big deal. I'd also like to add that the Claret callers to BBC Radio Lancs and Alastair Campbell on 5Live have been fair minded and constructive. It might be wishful thinking, but maybe the nastiness could ease away if Burnley stay up this season. Maybe not.

In the stadium I wish they'd turn the pumped up music off. It kills the spontaneity and noise from the fans - Black Eyed Peas, No Nay Never, Killers, it doesn't matter whether I like the music but it's a pain.

Football wise I thought we were impressive today. Fluid, committed and capable of real quality. Nick Hornby once said that a 3-2 win is the best kind, especially if it involves coming from behind. Well, he's right. It has everything a football drama should have. A great day.

As for the sums, well, that first half was worth £199 on its own. Had we gone for match by match it would have cost us £67 today, and that means we've had £162 worth out of the season tickets so far.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Spiral of righteous loathing

When a celebrity dies it's never long before the sick jokes start. The mainstream media however usually respect the dignity of the departed and elevate them to a peculiar level of sainthood. Once the funeral is done, then the nastiness starts. With Stephen Gately the jokes were immediate, but The Daily Mail's Jan Moir piled in with a piece of hasty spiteful conjecture. This afternoon she has been hounded into an apology, advertisers have withdrawn from the site and the internet mob has had its blood up, encouraged greatly by Charlie Brooker of the Guardian. The last time I looked on Twitter people (including Brooker and Derren Brown, to be fair) were appealing for calm after her home address was published. There's an irony there, for sure.

It's a social media phenomena this. Normally you would just not bother to read the Daily Mail if you didn't like it. Now the Twitterati is quickly mobilised. In the US this is as likely to be a conservative backlash. But the kind of people who arse around on the internet all day are more likely to be socially liberal, Guardian readers and more than capable of waving the pitchfork.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Country Life

On the recommendation of Nigel Hughes of Ear I Am, we went to the Cheshire Game and Country Fair at Tabley today. Luckily it didn't rain, and luckily I ran out of cash by the time we reached the food tent. And lucky too that they don't have a cash machine on site.

I think these events are brilliant. It gives you a glimpse of English life you wouldn't normally see where we live and work. The demonstrations of hunting, shooting, falconry and horse riding are displays of dedication from often very young people who take part in their chosen activities.

Then there's the clobber. My favourite sturdy belt was bought at Lowther 8 years ago, and if I ever get my timings right a country fair would be the perfect place to buy my Dad new stuff to top off his peerless agricultural look (he is a farmer). Today we shopped for new green wellies for Rachel (romance isn't dead, eh?).

The Lowther event in summer 2001 was something else. The hunting ban was just about to come in and the Countryside Alliance had their blood up. A full pack of horses and hounds rode into the parade ground to the tune of Do Ye Ken John Peel. Everyone sang along, it was spellbinding. The posh lady on the Tannoy then railed at the "urban socialist government which has declared war on British country way of life". A (urban socialist) politician I was with whispered in my ear; "welcome to Nuremberg, Cumbria style." I think that rather reinforced the view that the hunt ban was totally class motivated.

Then there's the food. Perversely, given the rise of the gritty organic food movement, the tucker on offer today was almost universally and marvellously unhealthy. Today I salivated over ice cream, pork roast, pork scratchings, venison, sausages, ostrich meat, cheese, salami, curry, pate, pies, donuts, more cheese, cakes, nuts and olives, baklava and these monster chicken kebab wraps being eaten by the lads selling wellies and snide Barbours.

And the kids? Yes, they have a moan that they're not doing exactly what they want, like, right now ("I hate owls, they're boring," was the best comment of the day as we stopped for a minute to look at, well, an owl). But as long as they have some food and a fair chance to play on stuff it holds their attention even if they don't share my sense of sociological and gastronomic fascination with the whole thing.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Derby day looms

There's an air of giddy excitement over Lancashire in anticipation of the Rovers v Burnley derby match next weekend. My first was in 1977 at Turf Moor when Rovers won 3-2 after leading 3-0 at half time. I was only 11 and had never experienced anything like it. I can only imagine how my Dad was feeling with me at his side penned in the away bit of the Longside.

I haven't missed a derby since. I've seen us win six, lose three and draw one. The worst feeling was when they did the double over us in 1978-79, when we eventually got relegated. At Ewood in 1979 I'll never forget the feeling of seeing 5000 of them singing and dancing around in delight, compounding our slow and painful demise and inevitable relegation. That feeling of utter deflated sickness when you lose to your closest rivals is just horrible.

At our school, Lancaster Royal Grammar, a lot of the boarders were Clarets fans - Chris Harper, Chris Marriott, Paul Lucas, Graham Ashworth, Ian McFarlane - and I got dog's abuse back at school. I just knew it was coming too which made the remainder of the Easter holidays unbearable.

In 1982 I hitched there. On Boxing Day. But it was worth it. The game in 1983 at Ewood was when the Burnley fans rioted. Simon Garner scored twice.

The recent meetings (2-0, 5-0) in the 2000-2001 season and the FA Cup games (0-0, 2-1) in 2005 were all pretty spicy affairs.

After the 2000 game some lads I know placed a sign in the window of the Burnley club shop that read "2-0 in your Dingledome". That same slogan was left on the answerphone of Alastair Campbell, details here. For the record I published the photo in North West Business Insider and will dig it out for posterity.

The tension in this house hasn't started yet, but I can feel it bubbling. Right now Rachel's at a High School reunion with the likes of Tony Livesey whipping themselves into a similar state of frenzy. Back in 2005 at Turf Moor I was trying to see where she was in the Bob Lord stand and texted her asking if she was sat anywhere near a nutter in a white coat and black hat who seemed to be getting overexcited - "that's me" came the reply.

That day I went with a few pals to the Fence Gate, a Burnley pub in a village outside the town. We had a driver take us to the ground in a people carrier. One of our number jumped out on Yorkshire Street, and joined the throng. We couldn't leave him on his own, so we bounced out as well, a good few hundred yards up the road and just as the pubs were spilling out. We were right in the middle of a big mob of Burnley's finest. So with our collars up we were the only lads not shouting "we hate Bastards". Out of the crowd a voice shouted - "Alec, Alec, do you know where you're going?" (it was John Townsend, brother of Man United PR man Phil, and who Alec worked with). Helpfully JT added - "the away end is just there". It was like a wild west film where everything stops. Suddenly they were looking for whoever was being helpfully directed. Another voice shouted: "there's bastards here, it's gone quiet and it fucking smells".
We stuck together and fronted it out unscathed. The game was rubbish.

What bodes well for us is that our best player at the moment is the only man who will take the field on Sunday who understands the rivalry. David Dunn is a Rovers fan, he has mates in Great Harwood who support Burnley. It really matters to him. When he played in the 2000 game at Turf Moor Kevin Ball attempted to disembowel him (and was sent off).

Come on Roverrrrrrs!!!

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Football quiz for you

Can you name 20 players in the Premier League who were born within 10 miles of where they now play?

Some links, Tory conference and stuff

Here are a few links I liked.

A new look London tube map for tourists.

Oxford in the 80s with Boris and Dave. Not unlike Manchester in the 80s with Derek and Mike.

Best headline in the Daily Mail ever. One gay man, two lesbians, a three-legged cat and a poisoned curry plot.

The best session I went to at the Tory fringe was to see Philip Blond. Fascinating. A quip and a line doesn't begin to do it justice.

Here's a clip of the NESTA session on Creative Industries.

A few thoughts on Cameron's speech

I was dipping in and out of David Cameron's speech - which you can still watch here - I was struck on two occasions by a very hollow inauthentic ring. Not, as it happens, when he spoke about Ivan; I think that was genuine and desperately sad.

The first was that bloody letter from some OAPs besieged by yobs. It was a device Enoch Powell used in his Rivers of Blood Speech and had a phoney feel about it then. The other was at the very end when he was walking out of the arena, waving to the crowd, still with his mic on, and self conciously turned to his wife and said "let's get those kids home darling". I'd have preferred it if he'd muttered something like, "Look darling there's David Davis, what a twat."

I liked following the tweets afterwards, for and against. Usual political guff: "no policies" "devil in the detail" "Blair lite" "toff" as well as overblown right wing hype like "Big Government and socialism quiver in your boots. Cameron is coming."

But I'm also liking a few wise words such as these:

Phil Jones - liked the honesty of flushing out the debt problems

David Ottewell - it was a vision speech, deliberately dull.

Or as Matt Finnegan said: "He has articulated a vision of Britain which Brown failed to do. Whether it's the right vision is another matter...."

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Today at Tory conference

I saw the dark side of the Tories today, their nutters. First there was an absolutely barking mad woman sat at the front of an IoD fringe meeting who said "all regulation should be abolished," which even John Redwood on scary mad-eyed (brilliant) form had to correct her. Secondly, I put my head round the door of a Freedom Association meeting at the Bridgewater Hall and Redwood was there again. Then I got really scared when I stopped for a chat to the people from the Taxpayers Alliance. I chose not to take a car sticker with "Love Europe Hate the EU" on it.

This morning Philip Hammond was impressive again in a debate where he got wound up by Polly Toynbee from the Guardian. He is quite resolute in the need to balance the books. George Osborne's later announcement about public sector pay freezes is part of the package of reform he is wrestling with. I suspect he has been doing the work for Osborne in this.

It's been interesting too to see how the policy to "reform the regional development agencies" has been interpreted as "abolish" by very senior speakers at events. The glum looking officials from the NWDA that we see around the place have, until now, been putting a brave face on things. But it's a visible quick fix that rouses the rabble. Presumably now every two bit local authority will have their own economic development, regeneration and tourism marketing people to make up for what the NWDA won't be doing. How's that an effeciency?

I was disappointed not to get in to see a fringe event on Conservatives and Creative Industries organised by NESTA and featuring Jeremy Hunt and Martha Lane Fox. A small and very frightening posh lady turned up even later than me, seemed just to be on the verge of saying to the doorman "don't you know who I am", but withdrew gracefully to fold her Burberry coat over a chair in the coffee area.

Tomorrow me and my pal Steve Connor are satiating our intrigue in the ideas of "progressive conservative" Philip Blond at an event organised by his think tank Respublica entitled "A new Conservative political economy and the common good".

At the North West reception last night I detected a certain triumphalism. They need to be careful about that. I'm spending some more time around and about them tomorrow and will see if that has been nipped in the bud. They've been told to say "if" not "when" they win an election and have been warned not to drink champagne.

That said, on Thursday David Cameron has to whip them up with a message to put fire in their bellies. Presumably it won't be: "go back to your constituencies and prepare for a coalition." It certainly won't wash with the nutters, but they have always been part of the problem.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Northern Tories

I harboured a feeling at North West Conservatives regional conference back in 2008 that the party lacked depth. Beyond the front bench the talent pool was pretty shallow.

Tonight I saw Eric Pickles on fine form, using an old cricketing sledging joke. But that's just showboating. Policy wise I was impressed with some of the ideas aired by Philip Hammond this lunchtime: savings bonds to fund infrastructure, tax advantages for equity investment without debt structures.

The event at the Town Hall was a good idea and was very Northern in feel. Insider's North West PLC publication was on show. Food was supplied by the Garstang Cheese company, there was Bury Black Pudding, Warburtons bread and Hollands Pies. I'd never had the pepper steak one before but it is very good.

They are working hard on planting deeper northern roots, and there is much ground to make up.

I met our delightful local PPC - Annesley Abercorn. Bless him. He has a house in Romiley, but works in London for Oliver Letwin. Next time he's up, he's promised to pop round and would like to meet more of his potential voters in Marple.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Touching the stars - WSC Howl

My Friday afternoons are made happier by the arrival of an irreverant newsletter from Half Decent Football Magazine When Saturday Comes called the Weekly Howl. I submitted a story this week which they've run.

Here it is:

Touching the stars
Playing with or against footballers, or indeed a celebrity of any kind

I played for Blackburn Rovers Supporters Club, London branch, in the APFSCIL league throughout the 1990s (my party piece is pausing after the first five words of that sentence). I'd met this lad from Darwen, called Neil Arthur, who used to front up synth-poppers Blancmange. He seemed to be able to play football a bit and supported Rovers, so came along to stake a claim to a place in our struggling side. Everyone in the team knew who he was. But for three weeks no one mentioned it. Until one lad, a copper, blurted out: "Right, Mr Pop Star what are you up to these days?" Anecdotes flew around and giddy questions fired at him until PC Pat asked him bluntly if he was thinking of getting Blancmange back together. A diplomatic answer followed, a less sensitive reply came back: "Come on Neil, there's always room in the charts for a couple of poofs with a synthesiser."

Link to the full Howl is here.

The Marple Leaf Welcomes the Tories to Manchester

Manchester welcomes the Conservative Party this week. Except there is plenty of evidence that it does not. Tweets and blogs from supposedly intelligent people have complained about the congestion they will cause, etc. Please get over your infantile disorders and tribal instincts.

Wake up. This is the next party of government. And you don't even have to think what the alternative is, look around.

Grow up. This event is good for Manchester. 200,000 visitors alone.

Wise up. Manchester has contributed to new ways of city governance and new ways of public private partnerships. Tory policy on many areas is unformed. Use this opportunity to take part in the debate.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

In a parallel universe

I used to write about music, film, arts and fashion. Seriously. I was the editor of a fashion magazine in Australia (sic) for six months. I fell into business journalism by necessity for a job, rather than a calculated career diversion. But I've always essentially been a sociologist. What I do is basically tell stories about people, the links they make with other people and why they do what they do.

Back in the day - in Perth, Western Australia, where I peddled the music and fashion thing - the pop star interviews were tightly controlled by PRs and were often pretty flimsy. The Proclaimers flounced out of my phone interview because the previous hack offended them. One band wore their shades indoors, but I had turned up to interview them still drunk from the night before and it was a bit of a fiasco. Ben Elton was lovely. I could go on. I do sometimes wonder what may have happened if I'd thrown myself into music journalism instead, but not with any regrets.

Yesterday, for reasons far too complicated to explain, I interviewed a lad called Phil Etheridge from Birmingham indie band The Twang. He was good fun. He was very passionate, knew his music, but was a bit angry and introduced me to a new word I'd never heard before, which wasn't even in Urban Dictionary (though it might be now, ahem). The context was "slagged it off". (I've since heard Danny Dyer and Nick Love use the same phrase on the DVD track of violent vigilante flick, Outlaw).

I enjoyed our conversation, appreciated his honesty (and swearing) and got a decent piece out of it, mainly about Birmingham. Anyway, I had barely had time to listen to 4 tracks by the time we spoke. I read the press release for the tour, did a ten minute Google search and asked the anoraks in the office about them. I have to say I liked his music and reckon they would be a good live band. They've been compared to the Happy Mondays (which I can't see at all) but they are melodic and doff a bit of a cap to The Streets, Cast, Shed Seven and early Charlatans (showing my age here). But I've now filed a two page spread based on nothing at all really.

But much as I enjoyed the nostalgic novelty of dabbling in music journalism after all this time, there was a sadness about it. And a relief it's not a world I inhabit. For a start the interview was a nightmare to sort out. Once I'd got his mobile number it only took three calls to get through. But Phil only answered the phone because he was lost and thought I was someone who could direct him to the dressing room at the venue in Derby. There are different PR people for different parts of their lives - tour, CD, local, national and Phil had no recollection of being told I was ringing him. But, to be fair, he was great value.

He was sore about "some cock end of a journalist" which revealed that rather seedy and virulent nastiness in music journalism. In business you tend to pick your targets: scoundrels and crooks. In music and film there is such a jealous back channel going on. So much building up and over hype, then a massive backlash of spite. Phil is feeling this now. I'm not qualified after one listen to dismiss this man's album or praise it. It may catch on, I may add it to my pile of "never quite got into that" music (The Coral, Beth Orton, Saint Etienne). But what I could never do is put my name to a hastily cobbled together review that utterly dismisses the efforts of these lads - over a year or more - to record an album, play it in front of appreciative festival audiences and then to go on tour. I think I made the correct career turn in 1989.

Some autumn links to things I've liked

Best customer complaint ever.

Most prolific swearing ever, DVD commentary on Outlaw (not child friendly)

Mark Garner is looking forward to Tory Party conference next week.

Some nostalgic Hacienda artwork.

A very good recipe for Greek-style roast chicken.

We've put up some Respect barriers at our junior football matches, for our derby matches we're thinking of ordering these from Poland.

How did I miss this. Kevin Cummins photo exhibition at Richard Goodhall Gallery. Pay attention.

Thoughtful piece on the myth of the debt mountain by Michael Luger of Manchester Business School.

More outrageous stories from Roger Cashman and friends.

Feeling sorry for yourself? Snap out of it. It could be worse. You could have had a week like Nigel Hughes has had.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

New feature - My mate... #1 Mike Finnigan

I've been thinking of introducing a new feature on here that randomly shuffles my address book and I write something about someone I know, how we met, what they do, what I like about them, etc. My pal Mike Finnigan has asked me to write something for his new book - Impossible to Inevitable. So, I'm including it here as the first in a series.

I first met Mike Finnigan at the Reebok Stadium at the conclusion to a thrilling Lancashire derby between Bolton Wanderers and Blackburn Rovers, my team. It was August 2003. At the time Mike was working for Sam Allardyce and Bolton Wanderers. Our emotions at that first meet could not have been more different. I was elated as my team had equalized in the last minute of the game after looking dead and buried at half time with the scores at 2-0 to the Whites.

He had a lot to say about the game, about the belief of the team and what it was that led to a seemingly unassailable lead being lost. I was struck then by his charisma and positivity. Since then we have helped each other out.

I’ll give you one example. At late notice I asked him to come and join me at an Insider breakfast event on leadership in Lancashire. It was a hard event to get people out of bed for at the crack of dawn. One speaker didn’t even turn up. But it was and is a really important issue. People running businesses need to be aware of their responsibilities, of their mission and how absolutely bloody brilliant it is to have that ability to turn someone’s day from a good one to great one.

Finn was the star attraction. He energized the room. He didn’t literally grab people by the lapels and tell them to smile, shout, scream and laugh, but he might as well have done.

One of the other panel members, a really good guy called Clive Memmott, came out of himself that day. He was running Business Link in Preston at the time and must have had one of those jobs where you can either be sucked under the quicksand with the politics or bureaucracy, or you come out fighting. I saw Clive fight that day. I truly believe Finn showed him a glimpse of what he could be if he knew he couldn’t possibly fail.

And me? I’m a cynical journalist by background. Looking at the matrix of organizational roles that Finn first showed me I’ve probably been a terrorist in the past. I’ve also worked with people who are energy sappers. I won’t have it any more. You have that one opportunity to make your mark. Whoever you are and whatever you do, you matter and people around you will react to how you are. When I’m old and grey and look back on these fantastic years at Insider, I’ll rightly be pleased with a few different articles, the odd witty headline and some crazy design on a front cover like our smiley face in February 2009 when everyone was ready to throw themselves off one of the tall (and empty) buildings in Manchester city centre.

But the one aspect of the job that brings me the most pride is the development of the people I’ve been lucky enough to work with. Seeing them bloom sometimes brings a lump to my throat. They’ve done it all themselves because they are keen to get on. But we all help each other out and have that environment of self improvement, positivity and risk taking. If you ask them, they might have a different take on it all, but I know what I’ve seen. It is so important to recognize that no-one sets out to have a crap day and be rubbish. Some people might not be up to the standards we set, and they’ll be happier somewhere else.

And I’m dead serious about this as well. Mike Finnigan taught me the value of positive thinking and the infectious nature of positive people. My wife Rachel is one, she has lifted my life and filled me with joy. My children have that zeal. When they are not, it is because they are hungry, or tired.

Mike Finnigan is endlessly entertaining to be around. When he left his last business to set up i2i he said he “just wanted to be great around people”. What a job! What a statement. What a guy. You can be great around me anytime.