Sunday, February 28, 2010

Men and boys

Our eldest lad is off to PGL camp this week with his school *lump forms in throat*. The big trip in the last year of primary school is such a step. One parent said, they leave as boys and come back young men. Each of these steps they take brings back my own memories - good and bad. This one is all good; walking through Borrowdale in the spring of 1977 singing about Great Gable and Kendal Mint Cake.

Thanks be to pod

David Hepworth at The Word magazine writes here on Podcasting. Do have a read. Like him, I love podcasts. And I feel excited about doing them, having a go and trying something new in media. More than I have about new things for a quite a long time.

He says: "Podcasts shouldn't be trying to be professional and polished. I can't abide podcasts that begin with a menu that tells us what's coming up. What's the point of that? It's more likely to make you change your mind about listening to it than persevere. I also hate the feeling that people are reading from scripts. I wince when I hear journalists trying to crack the same kind of jokes that look OK in print. We don't need any of that print or radio or TV baggage. Podcasts are punk rock. They're the first thing that comes into your head. They're an evening down the pub. They blitz the divisions between the speaker, the thought and the personality. They have little use for conventional professionalism. They're so direct they're hardly media at all."

I agree to a point. The fact that James Richardson brings a certain structure to the Guardian's Football Weekly Podcast by running through the topics doesn't take much away from the free wheeling style that flows. And I love the non-mainstream edge of this too. My favourite moment was when serious journalist Paul Hayward joined in. After he gave a lengthy and articulate pundits reply to the speculation that Kaka was joing Manchester City, Barry Glendenning likened it to the lads in the pod inviting Girl's Aloud over to join them for a jacuzzi. I don't have to guess at Hayward's face but the tone of his voice was one of utter discomfort. He hasn't been back.

From my own point of view, I loved doing the Blackburn Rovers podcast on Thursday with Stuart Grimshaw. We did it over Skype and technically it sounds good and we did OK. I think as we get to know each other it will get better and better. We did have a rough agenda - Bolton, Hoilett, Liverpool, Burnley, but I never set out to tell the story of why Kevin Davies didn't come to my 40th birthday party. And I'm sure Stuart didn't script his line about the club not paying VAT on Junior Hoilett's kit.

Last on Match of the Day, not even last on Spoony

I felt compelled to phone Spoony on 606 this evening. To be fair to the people I spoke to they seemed quite pleased to have a Blackburn Rovers supporter calling up. The fact that I was annoyed by the surly interview Rafa Benitez gave probably helped. They love the whole contrived drama of the tedious "race for 4th place" and I guess this was a tangent from that.

But I also felt that Rovers deserve some credit for a spirited performance today. Liverpool had two shots on goal in the first half and scored both times. Ours was a penalty. I will confidently predict now that Match of the Day will focus on the following.

a) A "controversial decision" to give us a penalty - a clear penalty, the accident prone Carragher fluffed it again.

b) Torres and his "brilliance" - ignoring his wayward headers and rightward drift.

c) N'Zonzi's booking - a tangle with Lucas, handbags.

d) Gerrard and Diouf squaring up - it takes two, as Marvin Gaye said.

The latter two will get wrapped up with Big Sam and his physical approach. Do you know what? I wish it was true. Sure, Rovers competed today. But a bit more strength of character and a bit more concentration and two soft goals wouldn't have been conceded. At the other end a more direct approach and a cutting edge might also have seen another goal, which was no more than Blackburn Rovers deserved.

Some other positives to take: Vince Grella ran the game in the last 20 minutes; Salgado looked comfortable (despite being at fault for the Torres goal after a brilliant tackle by Samba), Givet was commanding.

The only consolation is Rovers won't be last on Match of the Day this week, as it's against a Big Four team, but we usually are. Which brings me back to Spoony. I was bumped off in favour of a last call from a Spurs fan. So not only were Blackburn Rovers due to be last on 606, we didn't even make that. Typical.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Some classic Tony Wilson

From the Heavenly jukebox - here. Hat tip: Paul Carroll.

Pomona on the Word Podcast

There's a particularly delightful interview here with Mark Hodkinson from Pomona on the Word podcast. There's a review of Mark's book - The Last Mad Surge of Youth here. As well as really liking the story, I'm also really taken with the indie label ethos of Pomona. Go and have a look for yourselves.

Travelling to Wonderland

Me and Rachel and the kids have now all been interviewed by a researcher from the BBC’s Wonderland series who want to film a doc about families travelling a long way to a UK holiday this summer. We didn't go looking for this, the farm we're going back to in Cornwall suggested us. The series has one-off films like Seven Pups for Seven People and The British in Bed and doesn't seem to be in search of freaks.

My question, which I’d appreciate your advice on, dear reader, is this: are we about to become the latest victims of a TV stitch up and a national laughing stock? And will our children hate us for evermore for humiliating them on TV as a film crew capture hissy fits, puke and tantrums? Or will it be OK and a bit of fun? What shall we do?

In the Rovers Pod

Me and Stuart Grimshaw recorded another Blackburn Rovers podcast on Thursday night. Download it and have a listen, if that's what you are into, please pass on to others too. It will be available in iTunes, but for now you can get it here.

Role models in football

All this talk of role models in football - following the John Terry nonsense - has actually come to a head in our house. Our lads who play football have been known to do the odd silly celebration. Some of their pals have dived, feigned injury, answered back to referees and coaches as well as the odd tantrum. And it's clear where the inspiration for such dreadful behaviour comes from.

Even the team we watch - Blackburn Rovers - has some poor examples of humankind on the team.

Blissfully, we also have some real men. Role models, gentlemen, sportsmen, good men and examples to our little men. The kids know about this kind of thing and gave the following as their positive role models and the reasons why.

Ryan Nelsen - captain, never dives, always tries, always talks to the other players.
Keith Andrews - not that good a player, but does his best
Jason Roberts - always tries, got an MBE for helping other people and was really kind at the open day

I agree with all of that. Then, thanks to Rovers fan Stuart Grimshaw, we got onto who is in my all time Rovers role model 11. A team of honest professionals. Good human beings as well as decent players from those I've loved before, and in a 442 as well, a proper formation. Here we go.

Sir Roger Jones; Colin Hendry, Derek Fazackerley, Ryan Nelsen, Henning Berg; Mark Atkins, Tony Parkes, Stuart Metcalf, Jason Wilcox; Jason Roberts and, despite the prison, the beer and the cigs, Simon Garner.
Subs: Terry Gennoe, Damien Duff, Kevin Hird, Gordan Cowans, Mick Rathbone.
Manager: Don Mackay
Doing the half time raffle: Ronnie Clayton and Bryan Douglas.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

A witness to violence

About ten years ago, when I lived in London, I witnessed the most appalling street fight. A bus knocked a car door off on Essex Road in Islington, a bloke in a suit getting off the bus then clashed with a gang of teenagers, trying to get on the bus. One of them punched him and bust his nose. Stood on the pavement, his nose bleeding the gang stood laughing as the ringleader goaded him and told him to "This is Islington." He then swung a punch that took the yob clean off his feet and charged at him, as the rest of them stood back, he managed to get the stunned scrote in a headlock. But for the intervention of the general public one of the mob was about to bring a large metal gas bottle down on his head. I felt sick. When the police arrived and the lout who started it (who was still in a headlock), burst into tears and accused the chap in the suit of attacking him for no reason. "Oh, no he didn't," came the reply from us all. But the mood amongst everyone on the pavement was thick with fear and suspicion. People appeared from the nearby estate and it wasn't clear who was friend or foe. The man who stood up to the louts was so shaken he was looking at everyone asking us to help him. I sidled up to him and gave him my name and number and said I'd be a witness but I was absolutely bricking it. I felt terrible that I didn't have the courage to do more, but relieved I didn't get a gas canister over the head or worse. But he never called. He probably just put it down to another bad night in inner London. The police were angry no-one stepped forward boldly to explain what happened. Then frustrated, they just wanted everyone to move away and took the mouthy kid into custody.

Today, something similar happened. The same fear of intervention. The same intimidation by the assailant, the same uncertainty over the police reaction. Instead it was just me watching a man spit in the face of woman while they both held a push chair containing a small child. She then punched him in the face, so he spat again, then stared at me as I shook my head disapproving. Again, I didn't intervene, but I called 999 immediately. The police were quick and someone else had also called them. An arrest has been made. They also followed it up and sent an officer over to take a statement from me. I feel I've done the right thing, but still feel wretched I didn't step in right away. I told the police officer this and he was very reassuring that I'd done exactly the correct thing, adding some details about the circumstances that made me even more certain.

So. I still feel shaken up, but it's not about me. And I'm feeling much better than all the people involved in a particularly nasty episode.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Manchester Parade

I'm not opposed to the idea of Manchester having a parade and a special day. Just don't do it half cocked. We came into town for Chinese New Year and it was pretty bobbins. I get the impression the gays put a good show on and the Manchester International Festival has been brilliant. Interesting that opinion is pretty divided - but Manchester wouldn't be Manchester without a bit healthy cynicism.

Monday, February 22, 2010

It's bobsleigh, not ballet

One of Rachel's pals from work Dan Money is competing in the British bobsleigh team in the Winter Olympics. He had a tumble yesterday. But I love his quote, here:

"This can happen," he said. "It's bobsleigh, it's not ballet dancing. Crashes happen."

The Even Thicker Thick Of It

We watched the first series of The Thick Of It on DVD over the weekend. I thought it was a work of genius and couldn't believe I hadn't watched it before. The Office meets Yes Minister; with swearing. But obviously it's fantastical, isn't it?

Then I read this, from Andrew Rawnsley's book about when Gordon Brown bottled the election decision in 2008: "Brown's court started to devour itself as members of the inner circle attempted to dump culpability for the farrago on each other. To try to distance Brown and Balls from the debacle, Damian McBride spent Saturday afternoon on the phone to journalists of Sunday newspapers. He was spinning all the blame on to Douglas Alexander, Spencer Livermore and Ed Miliband. Several reporters were successfully persuaded that they were at fault for pushing Brown towards an election and then getting last-minute cold feet. As McBride rubbished other members of the Prime Minister's inner circle to reporters, he was caught in the act by Livermore who yelled at the spin doctor: "What the fuck are you doing?" McBride retorted that he was obeying orders from Balls: "I've been told to by Ed." The two aides screamed at each other in front of civil servants until Sue Nye dragged them out of the room."

Motherwell rules, eh?

Council leader supports Shan Alexander

I have an update on the sad case of our local councillor Shan Alexander. To recap, she pleaded guilty to causing the death of a passenger in her car last year. I said in a blog posting here that I recognised her contribution to the community, but felt on balance that she should step back from public life.

It seemed strange too that there was very little public debate about the case and why there appeared to be no statement from the council one way or the other. I wrote to Dave Goddard, the leader of Stockport Borough Council, and asked him whether he supported her continued tenure.

Here is his reply:

"I am happy to clarify that I and the entire Liberal Democrat team continue to support Cllr Shan Alexander 100% in the excellent work she has done over many years for various communities in Stockport.

"You may wish to be aware of legislation that provides under section 80 of the Local Government Act 1972 a person may be disqualified for being elected or being a member of a local authority if he: is employed by the local authority; has been declared bankrupt or made a composition or arrangement with his creditors; has within five years before the election or since being elected been convicted of an offence and has been sentenced to not less than three months imprisonment without the option of a fine; or is disqualified under any enactment relating to corrupt or illegal practices (under Part III of the Representation of the People Act 1983).

"Cllr Alexander has not been convicted of any part of that legislation and therefore has no need in my opinion to consider her position."

I do find his loyalty to a friend and colleague very commendable, but haven't changed my view. She really should stand down and that is all I have to say on the matter.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Cheer up Owen Coyle

I didn't see anything positive for Bolton Wanderers in their 3-0 defeat today. Even their excellent goalkeeper made no difference as Rovers comfortably pushed them to one side.

For Rovers Gael Givet was the official man of the match, as chosen by a table of guests in one of the posh lounges (did you know that?). We agreed with that, especially after he crowned his performance with a goal near the end. Personally, I thought Keith Andrews deserves some credit for standing in at centre half when Ryan Nelsen went off. It was a spirited performance with good finishing instincts and some fire in midfield. Even Diouf was effective at times.

This run of wins should give the team the confidence to go into the remaining fixtures with a will to win, with a positive mental attitude. It would be nice if they would start positively against Liverpool next week who have just been dire in their last two matches. This season isn't over, we may well be safe, but it will be a test for Sam Allardyce and a measure of where he wants to go.

But poor old Bolton. Could Owen Coyle be the manager responsible for relegating two teams in one season?

It was just me and Joe today, which would only have cost us £20 as there was a special offer. That brings our season ticket tally to £437. We missed the Wigan and Hull games because, well, it's been rubbish and it's been cold.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Trying to be fair to Nicholas Winterton

I don't have a political axe to grind here, but I've sat down to carefully look at what Nicholas Winterton MP has had to say on first class travel and other things on Radio 5 yesterday. Thanks to political blogger Matt Wardman the full interview is here, but not the phone-in that followed.

I feel a need for balance when I read Marina Hyde in the Guardian today describing him and his wife as being of "such luminous repugnance".

I'll start with the points I think he was trying to make, which are fair. MPs are being told they can't travel first class on trains. He feels that as business people and public servants do, then so should elected members of parliament. It's a matter of status, I think he was saying.

He also said it's hard to get confidential work done on a train. He's right.

Also, he was ambushed by Radio 5. He was asked to come on and talk about the Falkland Islands, but they had the bear trap waiting for him on this. They also quoted two wildly different prices for first class travel and standard class, in order to make him look worse. I've checked, if you want to go from Euston to Macclesfield on a Thursday night - when he said he often drives at night - then you can do it for as little as £34 in first class. Not £361 and the standard ticket being £65. But that wouldn't have suited the argument and it's a diversion anyway.

Where he loses the plot is in getting into this ludicrous discussion about the type of people you might meet on a train. At 10 minutes in he refers to Standard Class passengers as having "a different outlook". You can't defend that.

But then there are some more quotes from him here on the Total Politics site.

Like this one: "You get free tickets to quite a lot of things because you are a member of Parliament. And you are always expected to have a go on a raffle or tombola. All the summer fairs, where you are expected to spend money. I reckon I’ve probably spend £3,000 a year on tickets, raffle tickets and you know. It is like many members of Parliament, not without justification, to claim for instance for the wreath that they lay. I have never done so myself and I wouldn’t because I am a member of the Royal British Legion. But all these things have to be taken into account. You can’t claim tax on any of that. You actually have a lot more expenditure than people realise."

So, on balance, he's a bit of arse isn't he?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Lent on

It's Lent. So I'm back on the wagon.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Hand in hand by Jane Coupes

One of the things I like most about living round here is that we've met so many fantastic people through our children's school and sporting lives. On Friday night an upliftingly large number of these kind of people gathered to support Jane Coupes, who was launching her book. I don't know Jane very well, but I have got to know her husband Dom over the last couple of years and he's such a top bloke (for a Leeds fan). Jane's book is about how she suffered a stroke after the birth of their son Daniel in 2001.

Inevitably perhaps, as a husband and father, you reflect upon how you would cope and the effect that illness and disability would have on your own relationships, your friends, your children and on the logistics of life. I haven't read Jane's book yet, but obviously I bought a copy on Friday night.

You too can read how this family have coped with their challenges by buying a copy of the book here.

Councillor Shan Alexander - step down please

In late December, one of our local councillors, Shan Alexander, was sentenced to a community service order after pleading guilty to causing death while driving without due care and attention. The story about the case is in the Daily Telegraph, here, and in the Manchester Evening News, here. There are 9 suitably outraged comments on the MEN story, but I am amazed that more has not been made of this.

Mrs Alexander has been a Mayor of Stockport and has served this community with distinction. This blog supported her re-election in 2008. I have not changed my mind when I said then that she seems to be a good person. And I have no doubt that she is distraught about what happened to her. She has also served as chairman of the Stockport magistrates, and will no longer sit on the bench and administer justice, which is obvious when you think about it.

But I find it incredible that she is still a serving councillor. She really should do the decent thing and step back from public life immediately.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

A steal of a deal

I drew the conclusion here that Trinity Mirror's purchase of the Manchester Evening News was a steal. Press Gazette, quoting Enders Analysis, is on the same page.

Madchester backlash - 20 years on

I've blogged in passing about this blog Fuc51, which rails against lazy nostalgia for Manchester's musical heyday. There are updates on Words Dept and Fat Roland which bring up the same themes about how that Factory imagery has contributed to Manchester becoming some kind of theme park, much as some accuse Liverpool of being a Beatles wax museum with a pulse.

Much ire is directed towards Peter Hook, bass player of New Order, who has opened a new club Factory 251, with all the Factory and Hac icons to the forefront. There's a positive review here but it all rather serves to add grist to the critics' mill. And I've also written about Hooky at Raw 2010 here.

I can see how it's mildly annoying, and Fuc51 is a wake up call to move on from this, but surely it's not the worst thing that's happening in Manchester at the moment? In fact, it could be said it was far more annoying when the cultural marketing of the city ignored an important part of the musical history and employed a golf loving tourist boss from Northern Ireland and used slogans like "We're Up and Going". The McEnroe Group - as in "You cannot be serious?" was set up in 1996 to counter this. Many of those peripheral snipers are now the cultural and political establishment - Colin Sinclair, Nick Johnson, Tom Bloxham, Peter Saville, Andy Spinoza and Carol Ainscow.

This is one of those that could get drawn into a "I'm not saying....but..." So here's a cautious disclaimer, but a question: is this a shrill, but witty and spiky overreaction?

I can't claim to know where young bands get to play these days, I'm 43 and grew out of clubbing long ago. I know not how they stretch their creative sinews, but the logical conclusion of all of this anger is that everything else gets killed off if it doesn't fit into this faux nostalgia. This can't be right, can it? It's like Doves and Elbow never happened. And wasn't that amazing hazy, dizzy summer event during the Manchester International Festival a nostalgic indulgence - Elbow playing with the Halle? I notice too that Guy Garvey is guesting, promoting and supporting new bands and artists. When does his backlash start?

More laughs with Theo Paphitis

I've done this sort of thing before, here, but I had the dubious pleasure of interviewing Theo Paphitis in front of an audience yesterday. He's an engaging, intelligent and confident character. He doesn't need much encouragement, but he certainly entertained the guests at a Prince's Trust lunch held at the palatial offices of law firm Halliwells.

But while the future looks quite good for Theo as he embarks upon an 8th series of Dragon's Den, he had a gloomy prognosis for the economy - sorry folks.

“Britain is suffering from some serious underlying economic problems that the nation finds hard to discuss.

“In my opinion unemployment is the biggest current danger. Half of Britain has not actually seen the recession yet, and a recession only really hurts those who have been exposed to job cuts.

“When the public sector starts making cuts, the challenge will affect a lot more people and will become a lot greater. Many have, in fact seen a rise in their disposable income - but it comes at the serious cost of the unimaginable debt mounting behind our backs.”

But he did take the opportunity to advise potential start-ups on some tips to success: “Britain relies on SMEs for almost half of the Gross Domestic Product of the country. Even in a recession, if a business can maintain a healthy cash flow, regardless of profit, it can survive.

“Any entrepreneur needs to take risks, but it is essential to be truthful about your ability to repay debt. Don’t bite off more than you can chew, be aware, and more importantly be realistic of what you can make back.

“50 per cent of all businesses fail in the first 24 months. 500,000 new businesses are set up every year, and many obviously get it badly wrong. The Prince’s Trust is all about enterprise – they give young people the support and guidance they need at the critical early stage of developing a business.”

The whole thing came about thanks to one of the lads who sits near us at Rovers - Ian Currie - who is a mate of Theo and a supporter of the Prince's Trust. Happy to help a good cause.

Experimenting with Posterous

A few people I know quite like Posterous. As a firm exponent of “having a go” I’m delving in.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Life and death

A Blackburn Rovers supporter died at Stoke yesterday. I have heard all manner of rumour and speculation as to the circumstances but the facts are far from clear. I was going to sit down and write something about the game yesterday but this renders it all rather pointless. A terrible tragedy.

Saturday, February 06, 2010


The newly launched Apple iPad has claimed it can do many things. Enthusiasts have speculated it could do even more, as yet unimagined acts of greatness. No-one is claiming it will make you happy though. I say this through a slight fog of depression; brought upon the aquisition of my new iPhone. It has taken a bit of effort to work properly and still fails to sync with the home PC. This rather emphasises the poor quality of the old Dell on which this is being written. I don't really want to fork out for a new home computer at the present time, and I rather fear it will create more problems than it will solve. Something else will be wrong. We will lose photos, songs, drivers for printers, Wi-fi connections. Something will fail. Trying to get on Skype the other week was a major exercise in patience and perseverance.

These machines, which offer so much of a window on life, also cause such angst. At lunch yesterday, with four intelligent men who are all chief executives of successful organisations, this was a shared issue of some consternation. I don't have a conclusion, but I am past the point now where I have any enthusiasm for new gadgets and new technology.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Greater Manchester derby

Had a proper treat last night at the Greater Manchester derby match; the top of the table League Two clash between Bury and Rochdale at Gigg Lane.

I was lucky enough to sit next to former Shakers legend Derek Spence over dinner and during the match. The former Northern Ireland international is now working for the community programme at Blackpool, another of his former clubs.

He was great company and a proper old school football man with a great store of tales, anecdotes and opinions. He came off the bench in 1976 in Rotterdam to equalise for the wee country against Holland with Cruyff and Neeskens in the team.

I know it's not normally like this, but it was a brilliant noisy atmosphere with lots of support for both sides and lively banter between the fans. There was even a smoke bomb chucked on the pitch from the Rochdale end. This kind of passionate local football I fell for when I started following Blackburn Rovers in 1977, rather than the easy option of Liverpool, Leeds or Man United.

The game itself was exciting too. Competitive in the first half as the hard pitch meant it was tricky to control the ball. It could have gone either way. Top of the table Rochdale missed a sitter with 20 minutes to go in the second half, and as is the way in such games they were punished within minutes when Steven Gerrard's mate Ryan Lowe took advantage of a lucky ricochet to score for the home side. He said after the game that his mate was going to come and watch him, but it was cold. Bless.

It's the first time I've been to Gigg Lane in 25 years. Almost as long for Derek Spence, by the way. It was lovely to see so many Bury fans greet him with such affection. He stayed in the Legends Lounge long after the final whistle. I get the feeling he'll be back when he can.