Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Welcome to the Wire World

The BBC are screening the Wire. Do watch it if you haven't already, it's brilliant.

Matt Jansen - what could have been

Sad story here about Matt Jansen. He's been at Wrexham, but is on the brink of jacking it in.

He has to be one of my all time favourite Rovers players. He scored the goal which took Rovers back to the Premier League at Preston, the first goal in the League Cup final against Spurs. More than that though he was exciting to watch and played with great flair. It was sad that he missed out on the World Cup squad and just awful that he never recovered from a motor cycle accident.

I saw him once in Velvet in Canal Street, shortly after he fell off his scooter and had that head injury. I meant to say all that. Instead it came out like this: "aaaa, uuuu, you gonna be alright. uuuu. huhhh."

He's a clever lad though. I can see him making it as a coach if he puts his mind to it.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The banking crisis

I've done a piece here on the banks. Go and have a look.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

As a parent...

which can preface all kinds of flaky self-justifications for ill-thought through opinions based on gut feel.

But as a parent I worry all the time about how our boys are going to get on in the world. How they'll cope with violence, relationships, jobs, making sense of life. You want to protect them, but you know the best you can do is to bring them up to be strong, loving and confident.

When I heard the brother and the parents of Jimmy Mizen on the radio last week I had tears rolling down my cheeks. It was deeply upsetting hearing not just their sense of loss, but their determination not to be angry and to try and make some good come from this dreadful, awful crime, at the moment the killer who did it was sent down.

There's a website here, set up by Jimmy's friends and family.

God bless them. RIP.

Bookmarks - various things this week

Line up for Cornbury announced. Sorry but I think that looks pretty pants. We were going to go last year. Won't be even thinking about this.

Venture capitalists back Somali pirates, from the Daily Mash. Very good.

Laura Wolfe is back blogging - come on girl, you know you can do it.

Polly Toynbee on the crisis in regional press. She's annoying but it's always powerful stuff. Doesn't conclude with the point about local councils chucking squillions at ghastly free papers. It's a horrible cycle of demise.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Campbell in Manchester

One of my colleagues interviewed Alastair Campbell yesterday at this. As this blog isn't about work I won't go into details, but he dropped into the conversation that his boss is a Rovers fan. This was his reply:

Tell him you were doing really well until then.

I would like to apologise at this point for phoning Mr Campbell in December 2000 after this and singing: "2-0 in your Dingledome."

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

In praise of junior football for a change

The Stockport Express today splashes on the old story about Graeme Souness swearing at a junior football match. TalkSport have also featured interviews with the manager of Bramhall North JFC, who said he doesn't condone lashing out. Good. But this has been blown up because it's Souness and that's wrong. One of the parents has gone to the papers with it and has done nothing to advance the cause of junior football. It just exaggerates the isolated instances where people lose their rag. Can we all please move on.

At our games against Hale United and Inter Macc on Saturday we had no incidents at all. I refereed two incredible games of football. The first a comfortable win for Marple, the second a close draw. And we even got an email on Monday from one of the teams saying - "Your set up is fantastic and parents were brilliant. A top bunch of kids as well. Hope we can play again over the summer."

This is the reality of junior football most weeks. It's a great environment for children to learn about responsibility, team work and to have fun playing sport.

A postscript to all of this and our recent row: the manager who called me a cheat and a disgrace actually put his hands up and apologised when his team came back to Marple. You have to give him credit for that. Accepted.

I will follow

I caught up with prolific blogger Phil Jones today who has properly got into it. He's one of my three followers, which I'm not that bothered about. I'm reasonably happy with the Marple Leaf having a few hundred followers every week. Adding friends who you don't know was one of the aspects of Facebook that put me off, it seemed like a peculiar exercise in showing off.

If you do pop round to this blog, it would be nice to hear from you all occasionally. Pop your name on the board, and I'll follow you too. Gives me a nudge to check out others.

I'm still not sure about Twittering.

The best Irish joke of all time

An English builder is keen to implement the EU’s policy of job mobility, so he advertises a job in an international trade paper. Three applicants turn up: a Frenchman, a German and an Irishman. When the builder interviews them he points out that a basic knowledge of English is essential, especially of terms used in the building trade, so he has devised a little test. He asks each one of them the same question: “ Can you explain to me the difference between ‘girder’ and ‘joist’?”

The Frenchman shrugs his shoulders, admitting that he does not understand the terms. The German also admits that he has no idea.

Before the builder puts the question to the Irishman, he says “I know you speak English, but in the interests of equal treatment I have to ask you the same question as the other two: “What is the difference between ‘girder’ and ‘joist’?”

The Irishman replies, “Sure, everyone knows that. Goethe wrote ‘Faust’ and Joyce wrote ‘Ulysses’.”

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Football, a simple game - isn't it?

I'm sure playing football is harder than it looks, but why can't highly paid professionals take a corner? El Hadji Diouf couldn't today. Appalling. He wasted each corner we won with a soft pass to the near post. Pedersen redeemed himself with some throw-ins that did what Diouf's corners couldn't. But we should have won today instead of drawing 1-1. I took this West Ham fan and his lad and we agreed that the best player on the pitch was Judas Neill, Lucas to his friends. Joe asked me why we still let Keith Andrews play as he's rubbish. A minute later he drilled in the equaliser.

Stock take on the season tickets. Today would have cost us £56.70. For Everton, we upgraded to corporate, but I gave my season tickets to pals. I'll not include that. So the running total is: £713.95.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Infantile disorders

When I went for lunch at Manchester University back in February I mentioned there had been an occupation of the admin block as a protest at the war in Gaza. When I went back to meet the President, Alan Gilbert, this week I didn't expect them to still be there. But they had been for a good month and had only just left. Apparently they were pretty much free to come and go, but they were becoming a bit of a pain.

The students blog is here. It's a feeble and self important series of delusional rants about how this dismal alliance of spoilt brats and terrorist sympathisers somehow believe what they are doing will have any bearing whatsoever on events in the Middle East. I thought it was a spoof at first. One post even call this "the Manchester intifada". No, really.

A video on the student website Fuse FM sees Alan Gilbert putting them in their place.

Their account of what happened makes them seem brave and revolutionary. They say Alan Gilbert "met our demands". Well, he listened to them, agreed to look into sending some old books to Gaza University and they, er, ended their occupation.

Respect campaign in kids football

I've been meaning to put this video on here. It's Ray Winstone trying to get the message over to loud mouth, pushy and aggressive parents about how to behave properly at kids football matches as part of the FA's Respect campaign.

On top of it all there's the news that Graeme Souness had kicked off at a match involving his son's team Hale United and Bramhall North. We had a run in with Bramhall North last season over a similar incident - some of the Marple parents thought there was bullying by some of their players, some negligent refereeing and aggressive coaching.

In my experience matters are always made worse when parents start ranting and raving over incidents in games. Much more powerful are the videos about Shouty Dad's on the FA site, here. I found it quite hard to watch, to be honest. This season I've heard words like "hit him", "be a devil" as coaching tips and from parents: "pathetic", "awful" and "shocking" to describe how 9 year old boys are playing.

Anyway, Joe's team are playing Hale tomorrow, though not the same team that Young Souness plays for. We're also doing the team photo afterwards, so let's hope they're smiling. Nothing more.

Festival Fun

The Manchester International Festival was launched yesterday. I think the line up looks massively better than two years ago. For a start there are even acts I've heard of. I cannot tell you how pleased I was that I managed to book two tickets for Elbow and the Halle at the Bridgewater Hall. On my birthday. Wey hey.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

In praise of Promo, the bible of music video

Back in the day, when I used to write about film, video and TV, the industry magazine I had the highest regard for was Promo. It was a neglected and unloved afterthought to Music Week, but it was a simple digest of news about who had made what videos, for how much and with who. It was edited by a guy called David Knight who knew his market inside out. Our magazine (Creation) had a following in the high end commercials market, but if I even dreamed I had as much stature amongst the creative community of Soho as David did amongst the record company commissioners and promo directors, then I would wake up and apologise.

So, as is the way of these things Promo has closed as a magazine, but he's set it up as a site, here. Go and visit it if you have the slightest interest in music video.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St Patrick's Day

Did anyone see Ian Paisley on Songs of Praise with Eammon Holmes this week? Thought not. Age has mellowed the Big Man. He also accepted a friendly award from the Labour Irish Society yesterday. John Reid had this to say:

"the Reverend Ian wasn't over the moon when he heard the identity of the new secretary of state. "First he'd had a woman (Mo Mowlem), then a gay (Peter Mandelson), then me, a taig."

Monday, March 16, 2009

Discovering Fred Aldous

I went to the Fred Aldous Print Shop (est 1886) in Stephenson Square today. Fantastic. It immediately had the feeling of a place full of English eccentrics united in the cause of their passion for art and craft.

A Marple commuter's revenge

We were given a questionnaire tonight at Piccadilly station. I filled it in on the way home, but all the questions were very specific about the train we were actually on, in my case the 18:06 to Rose Hill Marple.

It was on time, I got a seat and there were no fights or drunks or delays. Much as I wanted to use the opportunity to rant about unhelpful staff and aggressive GFS goons, patchy service, smelly toilets and the poor quality of the rolling stock I was skillfully prevented from doing so.

Tempting as it is to use writer's licence and pretend that the service was the worst it could be, or ever has been, I couldn't. For a start, I couldn't say the train staff were negligent. That might backfire on the very pleasant guard on the train today. I was asked about the facilities at Piccadilly, a modern shopping precinct, not local stations that have become neglected and soulless relics (Rose Hill, or Chinley, or Marple). I also like Tony the station master at Rose Hill (who I first knew when he worked at Davenport), a loyal servant of the long suffering commuter who does his job with pride and a warm sense of occasional humour.

Many questions were about British Transport Police and their reserve force. I am blissfully unaware of what they do, or whether they ever get on our train at all. I've never noticed.

I squeezed a few comments into the "owt else" box, but basically it felt like a very manipulative exercise.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Blackburn Rovers shamed at Arsenal

No, not the scoreline - but that was bad. No, not the woeful defending from Olsson and Simpson. No, it was the shame that comes from losing with such a lack of grace.

El Hadji Diouf's late tackle on Arsenal's keeper was ugly. He's not a very nice guy is he? He was never an easy player to admire throughout his spitting and snarling. You can sometimes delude yourself that the players in the team you support will embody the values you hold dear. I don't see why they should, but you can at least develop a bond, or a liking (these things are all one-way), for players who compete with honour, are fair, hard working and don't rub your nose in it.

And Pedersen's dive. Pathetic.

I'm all for winning ugly if that's going to keep us in the Premier League, but that was an undignified shameful day for Blackburn Rovers Football Club.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Bookmarks this week

Some bookmarks this week.

Comic Relief - go on, dig deep, you know it makes sense.

Christopher Hitchens gets roughed up in Beirut. This is a profound and shocking piece. Make a stand against bigotry and nazism.

Luke Johnson on trading down. Always wise.

Oliver Kamm reviews Nick Cohen's new book. One to add to the list.

Andy Dickinson on students and newspapers.

New Awaydays film coming soon.

Prediction League update

In the Pick the Score competition in the Guardian I had the 4th highest score in the country last week with 21 points. If Jason Roberts had managed to poke his shot over Tim Howard and scored against Everton then I'd have been top with 24 points. But then if Jason Roberts could hit a cow's arse with a banjo Rovers wouldn't be in a relegation dog fight. And maybe he was saving himself for Fulham which was a brilliant result. I'm still some way off the pace in our work league and unlikely to win, but the adrenline rush is fantastic. Marple Leaf reader George Dearsley also claims to be watching and is ready to remind me of my hopeless Premier League predictions here.

John Cleese for you

You get a call, on a Friday afternoon and it's "John Cleese". I thought my pals were past all that spoof phone call stuff, except it really was John Cleese. And he REALLY WAS calling for me. He's speaking at a massive conference in Harrogate in June and wanted to talk about his speech. We had a chat and we've opened a line of dialogue. Fantastic. He was really warm and witty, slightly dismissive of the conventions of PR and marketing and genuinely interested in what the mood of business people in the North of England is.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Another nail in the coffin

These are dark days for local newspapers. The news is here that the Guardian Media Group is closing its regional offices and moving everyone into Spinningfields.

One friend of the Marple Leaf, with extensive experience of the local paper here, the Stockport Express, has this to say.

Another nail in the coffin of local /regional journalism. The phrase: " … Reporters will continue to work their patches, but no longer from a local office …" completely sums up the bean counters' complete lack of understanding of how journalism works.

I think it's a nail in the coffin for the existing model. There has to be a better way, different margins, different priorities, better use of technology, better use of user generated content. Ultra local, rather than regions that people don't relate to. Sites like the Marple UK give a glimpse. Papers like the free Review do too. But it's a far cry from where we've come from.

New U2 album

Most U2 albums, at least since Achtung Baby have been plodders with some stand out tracks (City of Blinding Light, Beautiful Day, Stay). I've yet the find the stand out tracks on No Line On the Horizon.

Those European nights

I was lucky enough to go to Anfield last night to see Liverpool stuff an abject Real Madrid 4-0. Torres and Gerrard were awesome. It was an honour to see them on such blistering form. Now, I've heard all the guff about the magic of the European nights. But when the whole ground sang You'll Never Walk Alone just before the players came out it was a truly moving moment, hairs on the neck twitching and everything. I've been quick to mock the mythology of LFC in the past, the pretension of the flags and the indignation. But you have to hand it the Scousers. I've never felt anything like it at a football match.

I explained the history of European nights at Anfield to one of the boys tonight. And Hillsborough. And Heysel. His questions? Who won? Was it a penalty?

Monday, March 09, 2009

Half a World Away

I've just skimmed through a memoir from a lad who used to fight at the football. This one was a friend of a friend, Bill Routledge, who follows Preston North End. There are loads of lads featured in the book who I used to knock about with in Lancaster, and a few I knew and kept a polite distance from.

The thing is, if you followed football as a teenager in the early 1980s you couldn't escape violence and hooliganism. I was kicked all over a road outside St James' Park Newcastle in 1981, aged 15, I was chased through Ipswich for my Fila top in 1984. I also liked wearing the trainers and sportswear associated with the look of the time (still do). However, my fortune, if you can call it that, was to follow Blackburn Rovers, a team with no reputation at all for football violence. For a brief period I used to lament that fact, as other teams fans would chase us back to Mill Hill station and there were never any "hard lads" of our own to give us safety in numbers. Other fans in Lancaster would laugh at our tiny band of Rovers fans, not just because we missed out on the play offs again, but because Bolton, PNE, City, or whoever had "done" Rovers fans, or simply walked around unopposed.

Beware of what you wish for, however. By the time I'd landed at Manchester University in 1985 and used to just pop up to the odd game, the tables had turned and there was a ready made posse of bullies causing mayhem. Instead of watching as hordes of other fans would threaten and kick me for supporting my team, fans of my team were intimidating the locals in Swindon, Ipswich, Nottingham and Stoke.

Anyway, some of these hooligan books make it all sound like a bit of a laugh, like it was a cartoon version of Robin Hood and his merry men running around with the sherriff's men in pursuit. In my experience it's always been about having the odds stacked in the favour of one side in order to gang up and batter the smaller number. Some of the things I saw were horrible acts of savage bullying.

To be fair, the author of this book makes that point and from everything I've heard about him, he seems like a good bloke these days. The end of the book, reflecting on his "addiction" and his passions, and his regrets, is the most revealing. We all make choices about what kind of life we can lead. I made mine and I dare say it hasn't been as exhilerating as William Routledge's.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Inside the bubble

I wrote this the other day, for a forthcoming guide:

In the last year Manchester’s professional centre of gravity has probably been drawn towards San Carlo where a rich mixture of ladies who lunch, footballers, insolvency experts and celebrities sit cheek by jowl for fish specials and Italian grills. Ask for a booth along the edge if you want to be seen as important.

I was there today with a couple of big hitters from round and about. The food was very, very good - sole, zucchini, spinach and a fresh glass of Pinot Grigio. Even the coffee was sharp.

We didn't get a booth, but those that did included a load of guys from this insolvency firm, just along from them was Bryan Robson and some pals. At the bar was The Plumber holding court with some rough looking blokes, no doubt discussing his latest plan to buy Real Mallorca, inventing a pipe or suing someone. I'm weary of his stories, so I didn't say hello. The place was also full of "ladies who lunch" talking about Abersoch and Barbados. I also overheard someone else making arrangements to take a helicopter down to Cheltenham next week for the racing.

Someone else, a lawyer with a big firm, bragged loudly that only bad businesses are under threat in this recession, and those with "bad finance". An hour later I heard a recurring rumour that his firm was on the brink of administration (not true, as it happens, but what irony).

Is there a recession on, or is this place the last chance saloon?

An evening with Ken Clarke

I went to a very good dinner at Harvey Nichols last night and enjoyed the company of Ken Clarke MP QC etc. The hosts were law firm DLA Piper. I was lucky enough to be sat opposite him and took in his anecdotes about Margaret Thatcher, Tony Blair, Peter Mandelson, John Major and his views on all kinds of characters. All unpublishable.

Anyway, his talk will form the basis of my serious business blog on Monday.

But here are a few thoughts to be getting on with.

He quipped that Margaret Thatcher was blessed by having poor quality enemies - Arthur Scargill, Michael Foot, General Galtieri and Neil Kinnock.

He said the media in this country doesn’t really cover policy. Their interest in politics is largely reduced to the level of gossip. Who’s plotting against who for which job, etc.

As a political veteran Clarke says he isn’t interested in sound bites and clever dick remarks that make him look smarter than his opposite number Peter Mandelson, who he has a high regard for. Yes, he’s in a political dog fight, but his biggest criticism of this government’s response to the financial crisis is the readiness to issue a statement of intent, but not the means to deliver the action.

He also said he has to be careful not to be an "irresponsible opposition", which I think his predecessor Alan Duncan was in danger of becoming in his hatred of Labour. A call to nationalise the banks could have dire consequences.

The message that came across is that Clarke is quietly preparing for government. Not for how he’s going to get there, but what needs to happen following a transition to power. He was scornful of the wasted years of the early Blair government, where young and inexperienced ministers arrived in office with no idea of how to drive the Whitehall machine. He didn’t say so, but David Cameron and George Osborne could face the same fate as neither has any real experience of, well, anything meaningful to holding the two highest offices of state.

He thinks Gordon Brown is beyond saving. He's doomed to failure now. His colleagues in the Tory party aren't as sure. And he does believe a hung parliament is still possible.

It was a great dinner too. Fish, chicken and a superb cheese board. As Clarke said - "the best dinner I've ever had in a supermarket canteen."

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

End of an epoch - Arena magazine closes

It takes us right back to 1986. Upper Brook Street, Manchester.

Aftershave in the fridge, Sapporo beer tins, cashmere & Levis, Paninaro ooh a oooh, chinchilla fur socks, "Hobbes is sh*t it didn’t have mey seyze", 15 minutes of sustained mayhem but not much actual fighting took place, etc. Wearing two jackets, pretending to like hip hop and dance music. Timberlands.

Story is here. Wise comment here.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

What a way to run a railway

At Rose Hill station the morning there was a huddle around the ticket office, so I got on the train with the intention of buying a ticket off the guard on the train. He never came round, so I went to look for him. As he did his duties of opening the doors at Woodley station I approached him, tenner in hand, but he just retreated into his cab at the back of the train and slammed the door.

I knocked, he answered. I asked if I could buy a ticket. "No, I'm not well," he said. And slammed the door again.

So I joined the queue of about 30 people at Piccadilly to buy a ticket off the surly (and burly) GFS security guards who make you feel like a criminal.

Boz enjoyed this story.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Navigating a lunch for a hungry family

Our oven has packed in, which is a pain in the backside. It's an Aga and it also heats some of our hot water. I never particularly sought it out, it came with the house, but I have grown to really love it as I've learnt to cook using it. It also dries the clothes, keeps food warm when I'm doing a mega Sunday roast and my timings are all to cock. It's getting fixed, but it's costing a fortune.

I just couldn't face doing another roast dinner on our substitute two ring hob and electric oven, so we ventured into Marple for a Sunday lunch.

First stop, the Ring O' Bells after a dog dirt dodge along the canal towpath. Chef was on holiday.

Next, Dolce Vita. Shut.

Next, The Edge. Couldn't fit us in. Mmmm.

Finally, The Navigation. If I owned a pub and was looking forward to 40 football fans coming in at 3pm for the Wee Wee Cup Final then I doubt I'd be ready for 5 kids under 10 and their hungry parents. Fair play to them, they found us a separate room, fessed up to not having much in and sorted us out with plenty of hearty pub grub.