Sunday, April 25, 2010

Brian Cox live and unplugged

Our appreciation of Professor Brian Cox has been mentioned on here. So too has my ever so mild irritation that the University of Manchester hasn't found a way to bask in his glow.

That was all rectified on Thursday when he did a lecture for the public at the University. I didn't go, as I was working, but Rachel did. This is her report.

We have adored watching the Wonders of the Solar System on the BBC, not least because of its charismatic presenter, Professor Brian Cox. His boundless enthusiasm and childlike awe at the beauty that surrounds us has made me sigh, more than once, that I should have done more with that grade B at GCSE. Attending his lecture on Thursday night, I convinced myself I wasn't simply a groupie - afterall, Professor Cox isn't bad to look at, for a scientist (no offence intended). His capacity crowd of 600 was an eclectic mix - suited and booted corporate guests through to genuine science students. And I counted around 20 children in the audience. Brian's delivery was warm, enthusiastic and funny. It's impossible not to be blown away by the facts he shared or moved by the importance of science. I had the pleasure of sitting with Harrison, age 9, who was there with his uncle - did he feel the same? Could a teacher like this influence a lifelong yearning for knowledge? There was a moment during the lecture when I was out of my depth. It involved equations which were 4 lines long to develop a point further still for the " really clever people" in the room. Brian promised to go off on this particular advanced mathematics tangent for only 5 minutes, and did so beautifully, I began to kid myself I knew exactly what was going on.

I asked him a question as a mum of 5 boys, to get a sense of which political party was likely to give the best support for science in education and R&D. Working for the BBC, he is unable to be party political but with a twinkle in his eye, he replied in a factual manner, referring me to the letter sent by CaSE to each of the leaders and subsequent replies from Nick Clegg and David Cameron. It's clear that Cox is as serious about any of this as he is about imparting knowledge and remembering what got him excited about science in the first place.

Every vote counts

Nick Clegg's interview in the Sunday Times and on the BBC here warns Labour that having the third lowest number of votes undermines their mandate, irrespective of the number of seats.

Yes, the electoral system is potty, as Clegg says, and the polls are suggesting the Tories losing votes to the Liberal Democrats in marginals in the South. This could lead to 100 plus seats for Clegg's party, but with Labour having the largest number of seats on the third largest size of the vote.

Technically, a hung parliament would see the party with the largest number of MPs talking to Clegg. His shift of emphasis now rather points to the party with the most votes having the stronger mandate from the electorate. In short, it means that every vote counts.

I do find it slightly irritating round here that the LibDems say Labour can't win. It may be historically true, but tactical voting undermines and demeans people's right to state their choice.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The line up for Hazel Grove

The candidates have been formally announced for the three Stockport constituencies, here.

As well as Andrew Stunell, Annesley Abercorn and Richard Scorer, we're also being offered the chance to vote for John Whittaker from UKIP.

Only Andrew Stunell actually lives in the constituency. Annesley says he does, but it looks like he's on Councillor Syd Lloyd's sofa.

I also note that amongst the proposers and seconders for Andrew Stunell is his Liberal Democrat colleague Shan Alexander, who I wrote about here.

Road repairs

Stockport Council's team are doing a decent job of repairing the road. They needed to, Church Lane is like an unmade road.

Annesley and his magic bus

Tuesday morning at Marple station saw the Conservative candidate and his chums handing out leaflets. Though my source tells me Annesley Abercorn, aged just 26 by the way, was in the car while his pals did the work. The initial reason given was he was taking a phone call. Anyway, details.

I now understand why he was on those ludicrous posters with David Cameron, apparently the Routemaster bus is his. According to the Indie he actually collects British vehicles and also owns "a 1955 Green Goddess fire engine, a 1972 ice cream van and a three-wheeled milk float. His voicemail was recorded by the Speaking Clock man..." There's a profile here.

David Quinn, creator of this description of Adrian Chiles and his beard had this comment on our candidate:

He sounds like a character out of a forest-based children's story. I imagine him driving his Routemaster through the woods.

Maybe this is all part of a cunning plan. Afterall he's changed his name, but that's his right and I'm not getting into why he might want to do that.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Stunell winning the poster battle

The progress of the general election campaign locally has been slow. The Liberal Democrat incumbent Andrew Stunell has far more posters around Marple than any of his rivals. In fact I've only seen two Richard Scorer for Labour signs compared to about a dozen Annesley Abercorn Tory ones and three times that number for Stunell.

There's a pretty half hearted discussion on the Marple website, here, and the election coverage from our ever more dreadful local newspaper the Stockport Express is neither use nor ornament.

The Labour candidate was out and about in Marple centre on Saturday, but it's the first time they've been seen round here for years. Stunell has the advantage that he's been seen around the constituency constantly, it's his style of politics. Liberal Democrats don't tend to lose seats once they get them. The candidates work their patch rather than climbing the greasy pole of their Westminster parties. If they do enter a coalition government, it will be interesting to see if they can sustain this approach.

Anyway, on Friday the 30th of April there's an open Election Forum organised by the Churches Together in Marple and District (CTIMAD), to be held at the Methodist Church. I'm not expecting the fizz of the Leader's Debates, but it's a chance to inject a bit of life into the local contest.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Totally trumped on namedropping

I do like to namedrop, you may have noticed. But I cannot possibly compete with blogging chum Laura Wolfe and her husband Anthony Turner and the guest in their house this evening.

*starts to wonder how I could contrive to get Alan Shearer round to creosote the fence*

Goals of the season

I found it mystifying that the Blackburn Rovers goal of the season competition has been trailed with three games to go. The inclusion of Samba's toe-poke against Aston Villa shows what poor pickings there are from this campaign. Straight in at the top of the billing however were two fabulous strikes yesterday.

As we discussed on the Rovers podcast there are a number of key phrases you can probably write before any Rovers match. "Grella limped off injured" "Jason Roberts blasted wide with only the keeper to beat" and "once again Ryan Nelsen was rock solid in defence".

Not yesterday. Grella didn't play and sadly Nelsen had a poor game by his standards; him and Givet were at fault for both goals and he clipped Arteta to concede a penalty.

JR on the other hand was superb when he came on, displaying shades of Shearer with his goal. And there is a sentence I never anticipate writing ever again.

I actually feel quietly upbeat after yesterday despite the loss. Something good is being built at Rovers. Kalinic, on his own again, put a decent shift in. The substitutions, usually so baffling, made sense. When I saw JR warming up me and TBNTM (The Bloke Next To Me) were convinced he'd remove Olsson or Kalinic but were denied our moment of indignation when Pedersen came off.

The centre of midfield is the biggest weakness for me. Cahill and Arteta passed around Nzonzi, Eamon Andrews, Pedersen and Dunny for fun in the first half. Maybe Basturk and Grella would do better when they are fit?

Other bright spots? Phil Jones was superb again. Nzonzi's goal should give him the confidence to have a lash at it again.

So, another good value day. For me and two kids yesterday would have cost £65. We also took some Everton supporting friends which is a good thing to be able to do when you have season tickets, one kid had the spare and I sorted them three more. That makes it £586 worth of Rovers this season.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Hyperlocal news flash

Hibbert Lane and Upper Hibbert Lane in Marple are to have some Surface Dressing work - all the way from Church Lane in Marple centre to Windlehurst Lane. Patching up will take place in April and the rest of the work done in May/June. This follows the bad weather in January. Work will be done by the council's Alliance Partners. Streetscene are co-ordinating the work.

Sir Richard Leese and hyperlocal news

The news that Sir Richard Leese has been in a spot of domestic bother is covered elsewhere, here, here and here. I'm not commenting because it's not my style and it sounds like a horrible personal issue which he is dealing with.

It's one of those issues where you'd expect bloggers to have a unique take. Blood and Treasure points out here that he's accepted a caution and would fail a CRB check. A rather unpleasant blogger who I won't dignify with a link uses the phrase "scum" while David Ottewell points out the options for the leader are now limited.

On Twitter a new hyperlocal news service asked whether this was "good or bad?" for Manchester. It struck me that such a clumsy and insensitive question at the point at which a story was far from clear betrayed the emotional immaturity that lies behind many bloggers and the new class of keyboard warriors looking to sweep aside what they see as the present lazy media.

Attempts at a dialogue on Twitter are fairly pointless and lose their meaning, but my question that this could never be "good" - so why ask it? - were met with the veiled accusation that I'd gone native and was part of a "clique".

Here's a more thoughtful justification and explanation with some detail taken out to protect the identity of the correspondent.

When *we* first talking about setting up ... it was on the basis that the local media in Manchester is far too focused on the city centre and rarely ventures out of it's comfort zone

Part of that comfort zone is a lack of scrutiny of local politics and how it relates to the ordinary person in Manchester

A small clique of people in the city who make important decisons that effect the lives of its citizens,some elected and some not,yet are rarely scrutinised

The Manchester evening news lies at the centre of this failure.I was surprised that you held out David's article as am example of how to report local politics.It was a passionate plea to give a friend a bit of space but rarely has that journalist questioned what goes on on Albert Square.We ... as many of the emerging hyperlocal sites are doing will do that.

Now to the subject of Sir Richard.He has presided over a period of great change of Manchester and I wouldn't take that away from him as his drive to create the city region.

Yet 14 years in power can create arrogence and laziness.I have attended the lastfew council meetings and the ruling Labour front bench displays a total lack of respect for any person who dares to disagree with their philosophy-when is that ever reported?

Three years ago Richard Leese launched a campaign to clamp gown on domestic violence.It is unfortunate and rather ironic that his career has been put on hold because of that very issue.I sincerely hope that he sorts his personal issues out but the fact is that the leader of the third biggest city council must be seen to be impecable

The job of journalists as I am sure you would agree is to question, explain and coordinate in an impartial way.our site goes live shortly and you will see an objective article on the story- the reason for us asking for opinions in the earlier tweet
There you go.

There is a room for hyperlocal news and scrutiny of public figures. But there is still a chasm between the present reality of bloggers and the needs of a well-informed society.

There they go again

In the American presidential debates Ronald Reagan nailed both Jimmy Carter and Walter Mondale with the same line: "there you go again". See it for yourself here.

As I watched the first UK Election Debate last night I saw the whole thing open up for Nick Clegg as he had his turn as Brown and Cameron clashed over something or other. He could and should have said: "There they go again, the old politics."

In one sense Reagan was the old actor yawning in the face of the statesmen. But can you honestly say you recall a single fact either said that actually hit you as revealing? No. But what do you recall? Nick Clegg's cheap suit, Cameron once met a black man who sold a Lexus to the cops and that Brown has a hard stare and either Icelandic ash on his shoulder or dandruff.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

How to achieve local power

At Morecambe college in 1984 one of my teachers, Graham Cayley, came in to class one day in an agitated state. He'd been at a union meeting the night before and the far left activists had obviously got his back up. "If you want power," he said, "all you have to do is invest time."

I thought of this today as the Conservatives launched their Big Society idea. Empowering communities with volunteers and activists. It's a nice idea. Marple is full of good people who give up their time for their church, schools, festivals, sports clubs, civic societies and even a country music club.

It's also a nice idea because the voluntary sector takes cost out of the public sector budget. And savings are what is needed. It's also a major difference in philosophy from Labour, as Paul Mason explains very well here.

Where it falls over takes me back to 1984. The same people who want to run things and have the time and inclination to run things can often be the very people who shouldn't be allowed within a million miles of a public service. Education, for starters, is far too important to be given over to slogans like "parent power". Sorry, but I don't want busy and pushy parents deciding what my kids should learn. That's what a curriculum is for. That's what trained professional teachers are good at.

And for the record, Graham Cayley taught me to love Dickens, Orwell and Shakespeare, as well as how to achieve power. If only I could be arsed.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Vote for democracy

Labour supporting friends have got their mojo back. They believe the country could find itself in a dreadful state if the Tories get it. I remember when I lived in Australia there were members of the Australian Labor Party who genuinely welcomed a period of opposition to regroup and re-energise. And if you believe in democracy - as opposed to a one party state - you have to concede a time when your party doesn't govern. That time has come for Labour supporters.

The scale of the economic turmoil ahead and the size of the budget cuts needed to address the deficit will take some character, even the brother of Ed Balls says as much in a report today - hinting that the weakness of the UK economy could drag the rest of the Eurozone down.

The Labour election broadcast today with Sean Pertwee was woeful. I thought it was a wind up.

I am surprised however that the bookies are still offering the shortest odds on an outright Tory win. They will come under hard scrutiny tomorrow at their manifesto launch. Listen to Cameron speak and he says nothing of any real substance. Tomorrow will be a crucial day.

None of this bothers me much, a hung parliamnet is not only likely but may bang a few heads together.

And round here the awful Tory poster at Marple station has gone, thankfully. The only posters in gardens and houses are for the Lib Dems.

New Blackburn Rovers podcast

Ever wondered who should be in a team made up entirely of Blackburn Rovers players who you wouldn't let near your daughter? Confused as to who Rovers fans should vote for in the election? Have 2,500 people ever had more fun inside a football stadium than on March 28 at Burnley? And did you see Chris Kamara miss that sending off at Portsmouth? And do you really know what #bbtacf stands for on Twitter?

Then wonder no more. The new Blackburn Rovers Podcast is now ready to download. Contributions from Stuart Grimshaw, Jon Hindle and some berk from Marple.

It's here. Download it, let me know what you think.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Having a party when United come second

Whoever you support you look forward to playing Manchester United at home. If it's in the cup, then that's the draw you want. In the league then it's one of the first fixtures you look out for. For Rovers fans it has a certain special spice, as Dan Clough explains here.

Today was great fun. Rovers outfoxed a demoralised United team and prevented the title contenders from going top. It's a shame we are celebrating a 0-0 draw, but such is the gulf in resources now that this is one of the small "victories" we have to savour.

There were lots of positives to take: a Man United eleven is always going to be packed with international superstars, so to see Grella, Givet and Robinson stake their claims for a summer in South Africa was good. And I have to say I'm warming to Allardyce and his tactics. Sure, it's frustrating to play 5 across the middle with Kalinic on his own, but Olsson lurked over Gary Neville and came close to ripping past him effectively a few times before the bumfluffed one hacked him down in the second half. I felt Olsson could have won us the game, and was surprised to see him replaced by Spit the Dog in the last third of the game, but he'd taken a knock.

David Dunn was a menace when he was on for the second half and a couple of his passes were awesome. Pedersen's cowardice and lazy passing riled me today, but he also covered a lot of ground. Hopefully he's off in the summer.

This was a game where solid defending was required. Phil Jones is an absolute revelation at centre half. I loved Sam's words on Radio Rovers after the game - urging him to keep his feet on the ground, warning him about hangers on and women turning their heads to him. He also mentioned the lad's parents and what good people they seemed. You just hope proper blokes like Ryan Nelsen, or Dunny, have taken him under their wing.

And Manchester United? I thought they looked clueless. Berbatov seemed to want to run the show himself. They gave the ball away far more than any top side I've seen this season and so many times were actually beaten to the ball by players who wanted it more. Nothing special at all. To top it all Rio and Van Der Sar had a row, Berbatov had a hissy fit as he fell on his arse again. Hilarious.

Manchester City will rip them apart next week.

This was also one of those games where a big chunk of the value of the season ticket comes off. It would have cost me, Joe, Max and Louis a whopping £84, as it was I just had to get extra briefs for my Dad. Total value of football so far: £521 against a £400 outlay, plus getting a Burnley ticket.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Still Holding On after all these years

Tony Marchant's sprawling masterpiece Holding On was an 8 part TV series shown in 1997. It features a series of unrelated but vaguely connected stories of London people struggling to get by and understand their lives. Watching it again in 2010, on DVD boxed set in three sittings, we were struck not by how it had dated, but how it hadn't. OK, no internet and no mobile phones, but the whole story could be re-run now and it would have the same undercurrents and convincingly touch the same important fault lines running through urban life: mental illness, corruption, loneliness, racism, ambition, generational conflict, provincial people drifing through London. Highly recommended, if you fancy it then let me know, we've got a boxed set ring going at work, more than happy to pass things like this on to readers and friends.

Dedicated Followers of Northern Quarter

Had a very pleasant stroll around Manchester's Northern Quarter this Thursday just gone. Lunch at Kabana, popped into the new Oi Polloi shop, the Thomas Street Post Office, a cracking treasure trove of a shop called Bags of Flavor. We even popped into a new burger joint and bar under Afflecks called Black Dog Ballroom, with a vow to return to shoot some pool.

It's an area that is slowly getting better, but still needs a great leap forward. Hopefully the new oi Polloi is a step in that direction. Depressingly the weekend it was opening some scrotes tried to ram it. Security is good though.

Thanks to Oneupmanship for the links and the quality reviews on his delightful blog.

Is there an election on?

We've had two leaflets through the door. One from Andrew Stunell, the sitting Liberal Democrat MP. The other is from David Cameron. No mention is made of the local candidate. So far it looks like being a low key scrap to get the incumbent back in. Even on a busy day in Marple there was no sign of any campaigning this afternoon. Maybe they were knocking on doors in Hazel Grove. I haven't seen a single poster yet for any local candidate.

There's plenty of noise on Twitter, mostly from Labour supporters, and there are some very insightful blogs, but the notion that this is a whole new type of election is fanciful.

Nationally, so far I've been irritated by the self-regarding narcisissm of Nick Robinson and that annoying arts correspondent Will Gompertz. They seem to place their management of the daily agenda over all other concerns. The leaders debates should at least allow the public to see them as they are without being constantly picked over and interpreted by Robinson and whoever else.

The other irritant is the obsession with vox pop interviews with members of the public. Especially the kind who are wandering around, say, Chester city centre at 3pm on a weekday. One said he wouldn't be voting because: "I don't believe in it." It wasn't clear whether his lack of belief was an existential point - like belief in the tooth fairy or Father Christmas; or possibly he believes in feudalism.

It is a great pity that voter engagement is so low, but it is too easy to just blame the greedy politicians, part of the blame must also fall at the feet of the news media, national and local.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Marple tip closing for a while - who knows?

If local councils have one function left then it is the job of collecting the rubbish. In recent months our local authority, Stockport, through Greater Manchester Waste, has moved to collecting material for recycling and encouraging us to use blue, brown and green bins. The net effect has meant we no longer take all our waste newspaper, card, plastic, bottles and garden waste to Rose Hill tip.

I found out through the Marple massive we've formed on Twitter - notably Lord Roberts of Marple - that Rose Hill tip is to close for a period for an upgrade. In turn he directed us to the Marple community website, for the news here.

Search on Google for a bit more information and you get this, here, news that there will be no disruption to the facility as a result of the works which start at the end of March.

Though the official information is here:

Regarding the HWRC at Rose Hill in Marple the date of closure is 10th May 2010 and is due to re-open 10th Jan 2011 but Bredbury HWRC’s opening date, 1st May 2010, as alternative facility to use instead of Rose Hill.

I'm told that residents of the immediate area were given leaflets and there was even an exhibition at the Dale Primary School. And yet a large proportion of the local population are none the wiser. I don't recall seeing anything in the council rag, and there are no posters or signs up at the tip itself.

Confusing, isn't it? I don't want to go on about this particular local issue overmuch. My point is a wider one. A disfunction in communication, democracy and local media is playing out here. Where was a local newspaper campaign? Well forget that right away. The Stockport Express has simply become irrelevant to our lives. How then are major civic changes like this to be communicated? Where else can a body whch takes the thick end of £200 a month from us inform us in return about the most basic of services? There are moves to develop hyperlocal media, but no-one has worked out a business model to make it work. There are the beginnings in this story of how information may be spread in the future. I think it's an opportunity, but who will make the move?

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Your evening of swing has been cancelled

At last, they've called the flipping election. I cannot see how the Conservatives can overturn Labour's majority. It's going to be a close run thing - but here goes, here's my prediction: Conservatives to have the largest bulk in parliament - 302 seats, Labour 240 seats, Lib Dems 73, Others 18, Northern Ireland 18. That assumes a bit of a uniform swing towards the Tories come election day, but nowhere near enough to govern outright.

This would mean the SNP and Plaid Cymru doing well, Respect, UKIP and the Greens winning one seat each.

And Liberal Democrats to hold Hazel Grove. Is that even a prediction?

Brian Cox spoof - brilliant

There's a superb Brian Cox spoof video, here.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Jodrell Bank, Brian Cox and science

We ventured to Jodrell Bank today. Partly inspired by Professor Brian Cox's mesmerising Wonders of the Solar System on BBC TV, but also because I've never been. Even with an association with the University of Manchester dating back 22 years and a recognition of its place in the modern fabric of the North West, it was something I needed to put right.

Like the Winter Hill transmitter and HMS Inskip, the giant Lovell telescope stands proud in the landscape as the symbol of regional pride, communications and a yearning for greater knowledge, though probably not in that order.

As a location, it is spectacular. The telescopes being the centrepiece. The parkland around provides a good backdrop for exploration of a different kind and it has the variety of trees that make it an arboretum worth visiting again, especially in September.

As visitor attractions go it isn't all that. Not by the modern standards set by the Eden Project and the National Railway Museum at York. The buildings look and feel like a weary comprehensive school and the facilities are bare. The 3D film of a trip to Mars was lovingly presented by Eric, the resident narrator, but next to Brian Cox's globetrotting antics it didn't tell much of the tale of life on other planets and of cosmic physics that such a place should inspire in curious young minds.

Happily, all of this is going to change. A new visitor centre is planned at a time when interest in science and physics is being encouraged - needs to be encouraged - like never before. There are lots more details about this here.

And if I have one tinge of frustration with the floppy haired professor basking in the media spotlight as the poster boy for this new zeal for science, it is that his employer, the University of Manchester, is nowhere to be seen. It is an opportunity missed, but hopefully one being addressed.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Another terrible political poster

Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Who on earth thought this would be a good idea? The Labour poster depicting David Cameron as Gene Hunt, the detective from Ashes to Ashes, is a spectacular own goal. Hunt is unorthodox, strong and successful. He is politically incorrect, which is one of his charms.
And, in the latest series, which started last night, we are reminded that the 80s was a time of ambition and prosperity for those who wanted it. Despite his rough edges, Alex Drake played by Keeley Hawes says Hunt is "one of the good guys". His nemesis is a smarmy college boy on the make.
The media reaction is hostile already, here. And a much better Tory idea is this:

Friday, April 02, 2010

Insider's election coverage

This blog isn't about work, but... I'm very proud of Insider's pre-election special.

There's an exclusive interview that Rob McLoughlin did with George Osborne, with great pictures from Paul Adams.

I'm still expecting a hung parliament, but not only do I think this is likely, I think it could be the best option too.

You can have a glimpse here, but get hold of a copy to read the full thing. Print magazines are still gorgeous things, hold it, feel it, read it, smell it.

Good Friday links

Here are a few things I've been interested in this week.

Philip Blond's book is out soon. His attempts to create the mood music for a new Conservatism are intruiging. Some thoughts on him here and here. There are certainly some positive ideas around local community organisations and the state.

Moving swiftly on, a brilliant Daily Mail song here.

I do enjoy waking up to Nicky Campbell, but not when he has to get his mouth around The West Kent Hunt, here.

Wonder what was going on with Adrian Chiles' beard recently? Great description from David Quinn here: He looks "like the violent alcoholic captain of a Victorian steamship". Superb.

Dan Clough's Rovers Return blog has been particularly good this week. Great match report and a superb piece on the new season ticket prices. It's here.

Rory Sutherland, here, on why Brummies make good creative thinkers.

New blog here from Simon Sinclair, one of my Saturday touchline companions.

And more profound thoughts from Steve Connor's Headstretcher blog here.

Holy Thursday in Marple

It was Holy Thursday Mass last night at Holy Spirit Church in Marple. This is one of my favourite services of the year. There is a special devotional feel to the night before Good Friday. The choir were in good voice, the eucharistic ministers reaffirmed their special role in the community. As of course does the priest, who washes the feet of twelve men. Well, it was six, including me last night.

These are difficult times for the Catholic Church, but they are also difficult times the world over. There is a constant need to stand up to injustice and to tell truths.

A very happy Easter to you all.