Sunday, March 28, 2010

"We're having a party...

...when Burnley go down." I have a lot of respect for Alistair Campbell, especially after reading his report of the Burnley v Rovers match today, here. It has all the pain of the real fan. The torture of the away fans song ringing in your ears long after the final whistle. The injustice at cheating and bad decisions going against you. Seeing a better organised, more talented, more ambitious team beat yours. Knowing too that your closest rivals have not only beaten you, but have slammed a nail in your coffin and you are going down. I know it because that's what happened to us at Easter 1979 at Ewood Park.

In fact, that was one of the other songs that will have hurt today - 31 years, my Lord, 31 years.

It's all there, read it, I'm too exhausted from all that singing and jumping up and down to add anything to the permanent record of the day.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

My mate.... Walter Menzies #5 in a series

In this random shuffle of my address book I've popped up my mate Walter Menzies, who this week ended his tenure as the chief executive of the Mersey Basin Campaign. I'm ever so slightly gutted I didn't make the wake last night to mark the end of the campaign which has worked ever so hard to clean up the waterways of the North West. I say ever so slightly as I hear (through the medium of Twitter) that there are sore heads today.

We first met in about 2002 when he asked a few people to take part in some discussions about the work of the campaign. He's a great supporter of regionalism and the environment and I've enjoyed working with him on the North West Business Environment Awards and on the book, The Mersey, The River That Changed The World. He was also chairing one of the most memorable planning meetings I have attended, enlivened by the late, great, Anthony Wilson, and which I mention here.

His LinkedIn profile tells us he is now actively developing a "diverse portfolio" of work to follow up what he did at the campaign... and he's looking for new assignments that make use of his experience and contribute to the sustainable development of Northwest England...and beyond.

Walter is a warm, witty and very generous chap. Any day is brightened by a call from Walter demanding in his Caledonian drawl to speak to "Lord Gnome from that scurrilous comic" and to enjoy the sharing of gossip. Very proud to know him.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

A trip to Burnley and the suspension of human rights

It's derby day tomorrow, Burnley v Blackburn Rovers at Turf Moor. The fact that we're playing our closest rivals at the business end of a season that sees them in deep trouble adds to the spice. We should win, but I'm obviously nervous.

Tickets are only available to season ticket holders who've also been to a couple of away games. You also have to agree to have your human rights suspended for the day and travel under heavy police protection. For a 12pm kick off within 10 miles of Ewood Park we have to be on a bus at Ewood at 9am. I may even get to read the Observer for a change.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Worcester Sauce

Went to see veteran pollster Bob Worcester lecture at the University of Manchester last week. He was an impressive presenter. You can read his analysis of the numbers here. But, as he warned, events can change everything.

But he also expanded on a further theory that has been pretty robust over the years:

Allow me to present a prediction model for determining the outcomes of British general elections, which over the period since 1950 has a record to match Bob Mackenzie’s swingometer. (See Table.) All you have to do to predict which of the major parties will have an overall majority in the Commons following the election is to note the shirt colours usually worn by the current holders (on election day) of the FA Cup.

It points to a Conservative win. As Chelsea are the current cup holders. Read the whole thing, here.

Hidden gems

I enjoyed watching Steven Byers, Geoff Hoon and Patricia Hewitt being stitched up on Dispatches last night. They are three of the most patronising and vapid relics of New Labour at its most joyless. But as David Hepworth says here, it was a proper stage managed stripe up. Every edit, every angle was designed to show them in the worst possible light.

In a previous life I tried to dig into this murky world. I'll try and dig out the magazine.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Great things on a wet morning in Gatley

There's a link here to a report on a wonderful performance by the Marple Athletic JFC Under 11s this weekend against Cheadle & Gatley JFC. My pal Jason Isaacs, the coach, has been saying all season that this group of boys has incredible talent and potential, they just don't believe it themselves. Well, it was awesome to see them this weekend. As a Dad, I felt very proud of my son and his group of friends.

Justice for victims of priesthood abuse

The cover up of abuse by priests is horrific. There is no excuse for it and as Catholics we condemn those who have done so. There needs to be the same zealous pursuit of abusers as there has been for those who committed crimes against humanity during the Nazi holocaust. Justice. Forgiveness can come later. But justice must prevail.

Football lasts 90 minutes

I have never been able to understand football fans who leave games early. I mean, what's the point? I have left games at 3-0 down when I've had children with me, but think it's important to stay until the end.

Dan Clough draws attention to this on his excellent Rovers Return blog, here. We obviously sit just above him in the Blackburn End and see the numpties leaving early in the Riverside, but not near him. When we had seats on the front row of the Riverside it used to drive us mad that the early leavers would stop and block our view.

The TV cameras show the Riverside with its walkway at the front, with fans leaving early. I explain to those who ask that it's actually a cut through between Aldi and Lidl and they aren't actually football fans at all.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The worst political poster ever...

I can think of nothing good to say about this poster which I photographed this morning on Marple train station.

It is absolutely vile.

The type is hard to read. When you do read it you find a meaningless slogan. Then there's the horrible Union Jack background and the sky, which doesn't work on any level at all.

The colours are horrible, the picture is lazily slapped on. The fact that Annesley Abercorn and David Cameron are gurning like idiots and leaning out of the back of an OLD LONDON BUS beggars belief. Your mind drifts to thinking whether an old Routemaster would get up Brabyns Brow.

Then there is the context. It confronts you as you wait for an old horrible train that was brought into service the last time the Conservatives were in power.

It offends the decency of Marple by implying that they understand what it is that needs to change in Marple without ever having been here.

None of this is political at all. But is this the best they can do? Is this the most provocative and inspiring message that the slickest political machine in western Europe can come up with? Demon Eyes, Labour Isn't Working, Labour's Tax Bombshell were powerful pieces of political propaganda. If you were a Tory donor you would have every right to be livid.

However it has one redeeming feature. It is screaming - DEFACE ME.

Where are the Blue and White Knights?

I do another blog, here, about murders and executions. Sorry, mergers and acquisitions and corporate finance. The latest is about Blackburn Rovers. The asking price has been slashed but it still seems beyond the reach of wealthy Rovers fans willing to have a go. I rang one today to see what he thought. He was at Cheltenham, with another of that crowd.

Anyway, here's a flavour:

Conversations have taken place consistently over the last five years since the Jersey-based trustees of the Walker family put the club up for sale. As is the case with all football takeover activity a number of chancers and charlatans have appeared from time to time, but no credible bid for the business has been tabled, and certainly none have been seriously considered.

Expressions of interest have come from wealthy individuals from India, China and most recently from Abu Dhabi. But even at £25m there is no-one in the executive fan base with the means, or the will, to step into those large Walker shoes.

As a business Blackburn Rovers Football and Athletic plc has turnover of £53m. It has the strong possibility of being able to sustain Premier League football through the next cycle of television deals. The problem for a purchaser is there’s actually very little upside. By common consent the club is well run, has no massive debts now that the Walker investment of the 1990s has been rolled over into equity.

A link to the full piece is here.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Room, with a view

Was very much looking forward to lunching at Rosso today, the newish restaurant part owned by Rio Ferdinand. However, it had flooding in the toilets so was closed. We ate at Room instead, which I had said I didn't like. Well, apart from being almost empty and the trim hanging off the table, it was OK. Nothing special, but OK.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

People's food

As a place to spend a weekend Manchester gets a bad press nationally, but they mostly miss the point.

The restaurants get royally slagged off on a pretty regular basis and that's without even mentioning Michael Winner. Matthew Norman in the Guardian stuck it to Modern, here and I thought he was unfair. My second favourite food writer, Jay Rayner, always seems disappointed; though he at least deserves credit for consistently making the effort without making it seem like a chore. His latest trip was to Glamorous in Ancoats and the review here concurred with ours on ManCon, here.

Max Davidson in the Daily Telegraph gives Manchester a good write up here. It's noticable for not lapsing into that Factory Records nostalgia. But his choice of restaurants was interesting. One was too obvious, the other a hidden gem. I've never liked Room, but Ning is terrific and deserves every accolade going.

OK, there are no Michelin stars and fine dining in Manchester is an oxymoron. But as Manchizzle makes the point here, street food and cafe food is absolutely thriving at the moment. I know it sounds like a cliche but Manchester is always best when it is original, and modern. Not derivative and nostalgic.

And my favourite food writer? Seriously. He's here.

The time of Dave

Irrespective of the politcal winds we watch, the main reason the public haven't flocked to David Cameron and his shiny new Conservatives is simple, they don't stand for anything. A profile in Vanity Fair, here, captures it well.

Cameron is basing his campaign and, too, his idea of the Third Way—this further chapter in Clintonian and Blair-ite politics—on his being the bulwark against disagreeable and ugly people and other nameless terrible things. And he is counting on the fact that fewer and fewer voters will ask those old-fashioned questions about identity and provenance, which, after all, in the modern world are, for so many people, ever changing and fluid.

This is the moment he has to sieze. And yet the headlines this weekend are being made by the two people who could most easily propel him into Downing Street. His wife and LibDem leader Nick Clegg, another one for whom the above description applies.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

General Election briefing

Who better to sum up the campaigning issues in the forthcoming general election than Malcolm Tucker. Political betting is a very good site, still favouring a narrow Conservative win. Then there's this bloke here, but I think it might be a spoof.


Latitude looks like it would be a wonderful festival to take the kids too, but it's an awful long way away. Some of the kids (especially this one) would have loved to have seen Half Man Half Biscuit at Cornbury two years ago, but they don't discount, so we didn't go. But it's free for under 12s now. Green Man in Wales features the magnificent Flaming Lips and also seems child friendly. There's also one in Cornwall called Creationfest which we actually drove past last year, but didn't go. Even though we're all Catholics in this house, it doesn't feel right.

What's the point?

Not such a profound point, but a thought? It pays to reflect and pause for thought about what this blog is for. A few rules I've pretty much stuck by. Be honest, be loyal, be kind.

But it's defined by what it must not be about. It must not be about private things that must stay private: family, relationships, problems and health.

It's not one of these anonymous confessional blogs that quickly run out of steam, so I have to be accountable to everything that's in it. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. So it must be true and accurate.

It's not about work, so all manner of business issues are out of bounds. And I don't talk about what I do at work and people I work with, either at Insider or in other things I'm into. There's no danger of a breach of confidentiality.

So what's left? The rest, basically. The journey to work, the stuff that's around us, Marple - this smashing place where we live, the boundaries of parenthood, the stuff on the telly, the Rovers, food, the great city of Manchester, the home county of Lancashire, a little bit of politics. The good bits of family life you want to share, but don't want to bore people with - I hope it's never been like one of those Christmas letters that Simon Hoggart compiled in a book. A few blog posts start just as a story to my Dad starts when he phones to ask - "what have you been up to this week, son?"

The namedropping thing is just a laugh and absolutely not to be taken too seriously. I only go out of my way to get a gurning picture to put in here's me with with someone vaguely famous for the purpose of putting it on here.

Once you cross that line into doing a blog there's a certain acceptance of a degree of narcisissm. The arrogance that comes from believing that what you are doing will be read and appreciated by someone else. It's a strange thing to want to do, but then in 1982, with a pair of scissors, a typewriter, a tube of glue and a steamy head full of inarticulate attitude I put together a fanzine called Positive Feedback and sold it at school, in a record shop and at gigs. What was the point? Exactly.

New blog on the block

Tom Mandall is doing a new blog called A View From the Bridge, which is a view of life from Marple Bridge. There's a link here.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Blackburn Rovers takeover - the Abu Dhabi connection

According to the Sunday People this morning, here, the Blackburn Rovers takeover is back on. Advisers Rothschild are in talks with investors from the Middle East. There was a bit of chatter about this at Soccerex in Manchester last week.

OK, cards on the table time. Here's what I've heard.
  • The asking price has dropped to £25m.
  • The Trustees are utterly disinterested and are now eager sellers.
  • There have been a number of expressions of interest, but the management team carry on regardless.
  • The management team all believe new external investment is essential.
  • The most interested party was not from Dubai, but Abu Dhabi. They have a long term philosophy of developing a club based on a core of experienced players, but also nurturing young players who could be sold on at a good profit.
  • These potential buyers came to meet the players in Dubai when they went for warm weather training in February.
I'm very anxious about all of this. It would be just dreadful if Rovers went from being a well run club to one that gambled it all on "living the dream" or became the pawn of some egotist or chancer. Look at Southampton, Leeds, Portsmouth and Crystal Palace. It can never be confirmed but the late Jack Walker wished for everything to be done to ensure the long term future of the Rovers. I think the way the board operate suggests that they live by that philosophy. But he also hoped his investment would propel Rovers to a position where they would be self funding.

There is a bizarre thread on the Lancashire Telegraph messageboard referring to a plan to get 100 people to stump up £500K each. I'm sorry, I think I'm reasonably well connected amongst well-heeled Rovers fans and I can say with some certainty that is an absolute non-starter.

The closure of BBC Radio6 Music - my thoughts

I'm saddened but not surprised by the BBC's decision to close 6Music. The liberal and plural echo chamber that is Twitter has hummed with indignation on this all week.

I do enjoy listening to Julie Cullen's excellent news podcast and occasionally to the DAB, but it felt like an experiment. I still think sticking it on DAB makes it difficult to reach out to a bigger audience, but also it got Radio 1, Radio 2 and even Radio 3 off the hook and they've ended up less likely to take risks with new music. Mark Thompson has argued that Radio 2 could take up some of the best of 6.

As Broken TV, here, argues, the podcast downloads from iTunes build a different picture of delivery and debunks the popularity argument.

Nigel Smith also puts forward a well constructed view here. On the subject absorbtion by R1 and R2, he says:

It's unlikely that the playlist dominated output on Radio 1 and 2 will ever appeal to 6 Music fans especially if Radio 2 adopts the Strategy Reviews's proposal to commit "to at least 50% speech during daytime". This means that if elements of 6 Music's output do find a new home they'll likely be in "specialist music" slots. The joy of 6 is that you can turn it on at any hour of the day or night and hear a new song you've recently discovered, an old one you've forgotten you loved or something amazing that you've never heard before. Best of all, for the most part you'll be guided to that music by a presenter who's passionate and knowledgeable about what they are playing.

I'm tended to the rather defeatist view that this is the shape of things to come. We are emerging, blinded, from a dark tunnel where we have staggered from the land of plenty into something more frightening and more austere. There are many things, as a nation, we hold dear that we may now have to question and to forfeit. A minority station in a public service broadcasting empire is just one of them.

To end on a lighter note, Nigel Hughes has some helpful suggestions for other sacrifices, here, though I could also add: chauffeurs for Shearer, Hansen, Lawrenson and Dixon.

Patricia Roberts of Marple Bridge - visionary

In a bizarre twist of circumstance, I have struggled to really get going with Matthew Engel's book Eleven Minutes Late - a train journey to the soul of Britain because I only really get time to read when I'm travelling on trains. The commute takes half an hour and this is one of those books where dipping in and out doesn't do it justice. That all said, it is a terrific tour de force and at times powerfully written. He doesn't hold back on slamming the inept and the inert for contributing to the mess that is the British railway system. I have particularly enjoyed all references to the "bottom-of-the-barrel" 142 Pacer trains, some of which, he tells, have been sold to Iran as some kind of arm of George Bush's cold war against them. It's a thought provoking, witty and passionate book that made me laugh out loud as much as it made me growl with anger.

Also, the man who stood behind Dr Beeching while he waved his axe was Ernest Marples.

But he quotes a letter from Patricia Roberts of Marple Bridge from 1963 to the Guardian:

"Shall we in a few years time, when traffic in Manchester has inevitably become denser, be bitterly regretting these closures and at great expense be rebuilding commuter lines?"

As Engel points out, in Manchester they now call them trams.

Also, please support the Teenage Cancer Trust Laurie Engel Fund, a trust set up for teenagers with cancer, in memory of Matthew Engel's son who died in 2005.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

An evening with David Dunn

Although this blog isn't about work, and much of my other stuff doesn't cross over into work, on Thursday night we had a wonderful blurring of the boundaries.

It was our Lancashire Dealmakers Awards at Ewood Park. As compere I get to milk the applause at the Rovers, something of a lifelong ambition fulfilled. On Thursday a bloke I've only recently got to know, Alan Townley, came as my guest and persuaded to bring his mate David Dunn - one of my favourite Rovers players.

Now, I have a general rule of not speaking to footballers. I never want the on-pitch persona to colour the more humdrum reality. I'd met Dunny before, but only in passing and as a fan. I've also seen grown men make fools of themselves around overpaid kids. Yet it was oddly different on Thursday. Sure, he knew I was a fan; but he didn't expect anyone to kiss his arse. So there was this bloke I watch every week complimenting me on what I do for a living. He also took a lot of interest in the other guests on the table and obviously has a bit about him. You could almost imagine that if he hadn't been a footballer he'd at least of been a modestly successful property developer or something.

He also brought a signed first team shirt for the raffle, which he didn't have to do. So, full marks to the boy Dunn. He may even make the role model eleven now. He told me a few things too which will creep into the odd post soon, but out of respect I'll keep that low key for now.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Marple whispers

I'm sure Marple is no different to a lot of other places for gossip. This week I've heard that a popular local amenity is to close. Then today, to quote someone on Twitter - "Oh did I Tweet about all preschools closing in a community? Causing uncertainty for working parents in Marple".

The problems facing the Treetops Nursery are very real and it's good to see concerned locals using that Facebook thing to get the message out, here. But it is not ALL preschools. I'm going to do some asking around.