Saturday, July 31, 2010
It's a long way, but it's worth it.
Thursday, July 29, 2010
So, here is the memoir of Christopher Hitchens. Better reviewers than me have picked it apart, while the digested read in the Guardian spoofs the consistent tone of self-importance. Terry Eagleton, in the New Statesman, concedes that if you could "swallow some vomit" at yet more name-dropping and slightly sleazy accounts of sexual encounters with men and with women, then he says there is a good tale here. He's right, there is much to commend - much love and affection for his impressive and lonely mother, and a father he couldn't quite work out - he writes so powerfully on 9/11, on Cuba and, not least, a lovely passage on how to drink.
But I was intrigued as much by what he left out; memoirs which are selective have that habit, do they not? For his brother there are just patronising swipes. There is hardly mention at all of his wife, or even his ex-wife, and only cursory mentions of his children - mainly that he was a poor father to them. But that's a choice a writer makes about how much of himself to give.
No, the odd bit is the politics. Though clearly he's a political polemicist, I found it astonishing how scant was his account of the leftist programme he backed, and now does not. Let me explain. Though there's much to be said for any journey from the far left to a more measured view of society, I still find it strange that his move away from Marxist socialism - essentially as much about economics as social justice - comes with no account. He finds no place to at least reconcile capitalism, the global economy, entrepreneurship, wealth and property rights. If you once held so dear a doctrine that was based entirely on an antagonism to those things it seems odd not to say anything of where such issues stand now. Maybe then the mask has slipped? Maybe he was just an angry liberal all along? Maybe then the left in the 1960s and 1970s in Europe and the US was about opposing racism, supporting guerrilla wars in Asia and having a good ruck with the police at a demo.
You'll notice I haven't mentioned Iraq yet, the one issue he has become the most notorious for. I supported the case for regime change in 2003, even though the WMD issue was the one used here, and Hitchens continued to provide ballast for an argument that became almost unarguable through the so-called "insurgency" and to the horror that Iraq became. He does this well, he's a closer observer and a longer chronicler of Iraq than most and fortells a collapse of Iraqi society, post Saddam Hussein and his murderous sons. He is wise after the event though on the lack of preparation for the occupation by the American military and the project he claims credit for chivvying along in Washington. But where Hitchens is at his best is when tells the story of Mark Jennings Daily, a young American who enlisted in the army and died in Iraq after being convinced of the nobility of service by Hitchens' writings. This is heavy grown-up stuff. Proper choking accounts of a proud family deep in grief, but accepting into their home the man who so inspired their son to fight and die.
I made a further error this morning of listening to an interview he did in Philadelphia. He came across as a bit of a bumptious arse. Still, I hope he's better soon, and I'm looking forward to reading his book on another disillusioned socialist and essayist - George Orwell.
It is a series of partial accounts from people who were swept up in the hysteria of Welsh nationalism from 1966 to 1969, so fair play for getting first person accounts. It mainly suffers greatly from a lack of context and analysis. Some bits even made me laugh out loud at the posturing and organisational ineptitude of the FWA,
But it also served to deepen my anger at John Jenkins from MAC and his high minded lack of accountability for the bombs that maimed an RAF officer - he claims it wasn't "our boys". Neither was the one left in a locker at Cardiff station. But that's the problem with autonomous cells and leaderless resistance, people do their own thing. Nutters who don't and can't make moral judgements.
It also really annoyed me that the FWA were cited as "anti-communist" and "nationalist" but were probably to all intents and purposes neo-fascists. The uniforms, the oaths, the rhetoric. Clews makes no comment about them receiving correspondence from the National Front leader John Tyndall, or their links to the IRA. And maybe Humphries was better connected to the police through his job on the Western Mail, but the roles of Special Branch and MI5 remain half told by Humphries here, and not at all by Clews.
That all said, it's been interesting. And I've enjoyed rediscovering a few anthems from Rhyl rockers The Alarm. I'm sure the soaring 68 Guns is about the FWA. It is now.
Wednesday, July 28, 2010
The University of Manchester begins to pay respects.
There's a brief tribute on the Insider site
The Manchester Evening News story with some lovely comments.
Saturday, July 24, 2010
As time has gone on I have met people who saw me that day. Good people who are sensible and moral upstanding pillars of society, local and regional. None have said I disgraced myself. All have confessed they did. It seems it is what cricket is made for - a good old fashioned all day bender. But despite that lifting of a cloak of shame and self pity, I was more desperate that the children not see me in such a sorry state. And, with a frantically busy schedule of work ahead, a sensible midweek period of absence was in order anyway.
This has now continued through a monthful of weekends which have included my sister's 40th, a night at our friends - a return match to a fixture which became very rowdy last year - and summery evenings with not much to get up for the next day. I have to say I have enjoyed myself on all occasions.
But, I have also felt better and sharper as a result. The healthier diet and the fitness training recommended by Steve Hoyles helps, I would suggest. But still my abiding feeling of being off the grog is not to come over as too pious about it.
One of my vices is a love of slightly exotic red wines. Two delicious and tempting bottles of Barolo wink at me from the wine rack. They can wait until our summer holiday - and the wait will be worth it. So too will a bottle of Chateau Musar 1999. But these are treats, something to look forward to and savour and not part of a lingering habit.
Friday, July 23, 2010
I have suffered great pain since he started his Tuesday evening appointments and began the long process of licking me into some kind of shape. We have done weight training and he has compiled me a diet sheet. I will update on progress in time.
In summary, after the first session my legs turned to stone the next day. The day after that they hardened to granite. Walking was difficult.
Though the session itself was harder on the second visit, the leg pain was bearable but my chest has been stiff. This is all good, I'm sure. I am feeling much more alert and some of the excess timber is dropping off. I'm sure that not drinking is a big help too.
I was very honoured earlier this month to take a full and active part in the confirmation ceremony for my Godson Adam Bircher. His Dad, Dr Richard Bircher, is a lovely man. He and I will be linked through life by that bond of Adam. For a time we were linked by a closer one as we were brothers in law. That we have maintained a loose and friendly connection since that legal bond broke is, in part, testimony to his good grace and generous spirit.
He keeps chickens, takes up sailing, put on a play at Edinburgh, has an allotment, co-produces a local production at the Carver Theatre in Marple and, most importantly of all, has raised Adam to be a fine young version of his Dad, and a dear best friend to my eldest son. He is also a father to a daughter, an honour I will never have and she too is a wonderful girl.
I have moaned on many an occasion of the poor quality of service from general practitioners. That I have never lived in the catchment area of Stalybridge means I have never had my prejudice challenged by being treated by Richard or his wife Joanna in their practice, the Lockside.
Friday, July 16, 2010
John Humphries, a former reporter and later editor of the Western Mail, has written a history of the fringes of Welsh politics, focusing on two groups called Mudiad Amddiffyn Cymru (Movement for the Defence of Wales) or MAC for short and the Free Wales Army.
While the Free Wales Army was good at stunts it was never regarded as a serious force and Humphries regards them as posturing clowns. This FWA video set to the tune of The Alarm anthem 68 Guns on You Tube, rather backs his theory up. He has considerably more time for John Jenkins, the man behind MAC, a bomb maker and cell commander who served time for his bombing campaign and was interviewed by Huw Edwards for a BBC documentary. Two of Jenkins' colleagues blew themselves up (the Abergele martyrs) and it was good fortune which prevented other deaths, but that is what happens when you play with fire. Another bomb that injured someone he claims wasn't one of his, which is convenient. The book will no doubt add to a cottage industry of mythology around Jenkins that I'm pretty sure he doesn't deserve. He created a cell structure where many of the activists never met, or even knew each other, just Jenkins. A structure that was used by the IRA to great effect and which baffled the police and the security services. But though Jenkins was an articulate activist and has since devoted his life to helping the mentally ill, it all rather accentuates the view that terrorism and political violence actually attracts those either too stupid and too lazy to pursue achievable aims through peaceful means.
There was much that must have seemed very unfair to Wales in the 1960s, but when you look at the direction of travel of Welsh interests from the 1980s, then the cause for Welsh speaking and for local democracy has been a vindication of constitutional nationalism.
But, I digress, what is significant about the book however isn't so much the well-composed accounts of the campaigns against the investiture of Charles, or the flooding of the valley of Afon Tryweryn to make a reservoir for Liverpool, but the startling omission of any notion that there has been an achievement of a national independent political structure and a media in a country once struggling to find a sense of identity.
The book trails off with some odd biographical anecdotes, but was worth reading for its first person telling of a crucial story in our recent history and culture. I was interested in it, because I often wonder what draws people to the flame of violence. Why would they give up a life for a cause, in particular, such a lost one? And what, if anything, did their efforts achieve?
As for the arson attacks which persisted through the 1980s and 1990s, the thought remains that while they didn't work in any way shape or form, they did drive an issue to the surface that is as relevant in Wales today, just as it is in the Lake District and Cornwall.
Having been a reluctant Daily Mail reader as a kid, and then on the occasions I visit my Mother, a default feeling of shock and awe comes easily. Awe, because it is so resolute and so clear about what it is about - and very good at it. Shock, because it still has the capacity to surprise and stand up for good things. However, for every heartfelt report from a warzone by Anne Leslie, comes a lazy rant full of half truths by Richard Littlejohn and layer upon layer of prejudices being reinforced and easy targets being attacked.
It's fun to mock the Mail, it really is.
So, this map of the Mail's Moral Underground is good.
And I do like to look at Mailwatch and Tabloidwatch.
I know this makes me some kind of middle class liberal mocking the day to day concerns of middle England, but it makes me feel better.
The thing that worries me is the nasty intolerant streak that such humour (and the Jan Moir backlash) feeds. Read the Independent and the BBC and the Guardian message boards and see the flipside - an illberal secular pool of bullying and intolerance.
It was my sister's 40th birthday party last weekend at St Martin's College in Lancaster. She asked me to say a few words, so I adapted this well worn classic and read it out at the party - I died on my arse to be honest, but I like it and hope she did too.
Close your eyes and go back in time...
Before the Internet...
Before Facebook, Twitter
Before Sony PlayStation or Super Nintendo Wii...
I`m talking about Hide and Seek in the park.
The woods at the top of
Noons corner shop.
Hopscotch. Butterscotch. Midget Gems and Sports Mixtures.
Games of football that took all day
Robbing my Joanne’s copy of Jackie, Just Seventeen and Smash Hits
Jumping the stream, building dams on Barton Road Beck.
The smell of the sun and fresh cut grass.
Bazooka Joe bubble gum.
An ice cream cone on a warm summer night from the van that plays a tune; chocolate or vanilla or strawberry or Mint Chock Chip. Or maybe even a screwball.
Watching Saturday morning cartoons, short adverts or going to the flicks.
The Children’s Film Foundation, The Double Deckers, Red Hand Gang, The Tomorrow People, Kizzie, The Changes and those annoying idiots from Rentaghost
Were you Tiswas or Swapshop?,
Blue Peter? Or Magpie?
And who can forget `Why Don`t You`? - or staying up for Doctor Who and hiding behind our red vinyl sofa.
When around the corner seemed far far away and going into town seemed like really going somewhere.
Holidays at Butlins at
And Gramps and Auntie Jean.
And Nana Betty.
And Uncle Doug and Auntie Joan
Our Family. Gone, but never forgotten.
We’re not going on holiday this year, we’re having days out…
Days out at special places: The Dub, The Crook, Wray, Roberndale, Littledale.
And our places that we gave names to: The
Skimmers and dams, earwigs and wasps, stinging nettles and bee stings.
Do you all remember playing out on the street? And in fields
Grass stains on your knees.
White dog poo.
Cops and Robbers, Cowboys and Indians
And Japs and Commandos.
Knock a door run (they just call it Parcelforce now).
Walking to school, no matter what the weather.
Running till you were out of breath, laughing so hard that your stomach hurt.
Jumping on the bed. Pillow fights.
Being tired from just playing out....remember that?
The worst embarrasment was being picked last for a team.
Choppers and Grifters.
Eating raw jelly. Orange squash ice pops.
Things you had at your house that no-one else had: Weetabix with butter on, Chicken baked in crushed crisps.
There were two types of trainers - girls and boys, and Dunlop Green Flash - and the only time you wore them at school was for P.E.
You knew everyone in your street - and so did your parents.
It wasn`t odd to have two or three "best" friends.
You didn`t sleep a wink on Christmas eve.
When 25p was decent pocket money.
Curly Whirlys. Space Dust. Toffo`s.
When you would reach into a muddy gutter for a penny.
When nearly everyone`s mum was at home when the kids got there.
When any parent could discipline any kid, or feed him or use him to carry groceries and nobody, not even the kid, thought a thing of it.
Basically, we were in fear for our lives but it wasn`t because of scrotes or drive-by shootings or gangs, but embarrassing your Mum and Dad.
Didn`t that actually feel good?
Just go back and say, Yeah, I remember that! Remember when....
Decisions were made by going "Ip Dip Dog Sh*t"
"A race issue" meant arguing about who ran the fastest.
Money issues were handled by whoever was banker in "Monopoly".
The worst thing you could catch from the opposite sex was germs.
And the worst thing in your day was having to sit next to one.
Scrapes and bruises were kissed and made better.
Taking drugs meant orange-flavoured chewable aspirin.
Ice cream was considered a basic food group.
Getting a foot of snow was a dream come true.
Do you remember?
We can. Happy times. Happy days.
Happy birthday Jo
Tuesday, July 13, 2010
Grooming tips from Frank McKenna - the chamber of commerce with hair wax - I think you'll find I coined that one. (Liverpool Confidential)
Are the Conservative Party turning into Christian Democrats? (Cardus)
How to downgrade your iPhone if the slow grind of IOS 4 is making you grind your teeth with rage. (The Tech Journal).
The Fish and Chip Festival in Barga, my favourite place in Italy. (Guardian)
When blogging and tweeting is just about showing off. (Wired)
This blog post, Rooney's Gold: A Publisher's Tale by Iain Dale, is a good introduction to the saga. Dale's Biteback Publishing have taken the book on and thrown caution to the wind.
What follows is entertaining enough. Sweeney is a funny writer, a little pleased with himself, but essentially he has a good turn of phrase and a newspaper journalist's eye for crucial colour and detail. There isn't much to say about Rooney's life so far, as he's such a young man, but the back story of agents and media deals is where Sweeney has delved with great relish.
The role of Paul Stretford and how he signed Rooney to his agency, and how he somehow got involved with gangsters is all very amusing, if a little frightening. Some of the deep background about Liverpool drugs baron Curtis Warren is just Sweeney showing off that he's read Cocky by Tony Barnes, Peter Walsh and Richard Elias. It tries to build a picture of where Rooney is from, but in so doing it rather overplays the role of the gangster culture in Liverpool.
The other problem with the book is it's out of date already. Random House were meant to publish it in 2007 but were derailed by the legal action, but even now we await a further court verdict that could have greater implications for the ability of Paul Stretford to act for the Rooneys. Within that contains layer upon layer of detail about Stretford, his relationship with Formation Group, where they are going, how he can act for Rooney despite his losing his licence to be an agent for a while. Maybe it's just an anorak like me who wants more of this, but as with the career of Wayne Rooney, so with the dark tales from his entourage: there are more twists and turns to come.
6/10, but worth a nose.
Monday, July 12, 2010
Others who've donated include Wayne Hemingway (a rubbish t-shirt), Nick Johnson (cider), Yvette Livesey (a gorgeous picture of her and Tony) and Andrew Stokes (a pair of adidas Manchester rare rare trainers in a glass case bolted to the floor).
There's a space left for Peter Saville and no expectation that anything will ever turn up during the two weeks the exhibition will run for until the end of July.
Richard's piece is a card pointing you to a downloadable tract called, simply, The Manc Candidate. It's a lovely warm and honest account of his experiences through the Olympic bid, some of the Commonwealth Games shenanigans and much more. You can have a look yourself here.
I've donated something, but you'll have to go and have a look.
Friday, July 09, 2010
1. Emails from parents in the area warning that "two men" have been approaching kids. Quite detailed descriptions were included and in the initial press reports. There are FOUR incidents cited. I got these round robin emails and sensed a slight conspiratorial tone.
2. A Facebook page has been set up - well reports of one, I'm not on it so can't check.
3. The Stockport Express reports concentrate on the reassurances from the police. The posters however exaggerate the danger and feeling of panic. There are no descriptions of the would-be abductors.
4. Following 22 incidents which have been reported to the police, the official police statement, quoted on the BBC, actually says one of the reported incidents was false. There is nothing to link the incidents. And there are no descriptions of the would-be abductors. "Incorrect information is also being published on community and social networking websites leading to more fear in the community."
We teach our kids "stranger danger" and all of that sensible stuff. There are beasts out there, as we found out in 2008 with this case.
But I can't help but wonder who fuels this, and why. And how sensitive the mainstream media are to responsible community information in such times, but only to a point.
Tuesday, July 06, 2010
I don't think, so far, this government has put a foot wrong politically. I don't agree with their abolition of regional development agencies, to reinforce that I mean this in a political sense, not practically. But I do accept the basic premise of the modern times: there is a financial crisis that needs to be faced up to. When the previous government, bravely, bailed out the banks there was a recognition that this would have to be paid for in the future. I'm not sure Labour had the stomach to do what George Osborne and David Laws settled down to do. That Laws is not now in government is a great shame, for him and the party. But there is a fundamental question gnawing at their very being and I don't ask the question with quite the sneer it may first convey.
There are turf wars between the Liberal Democrats and the Tories and the same team wins every time. RDAs, personal allowances, defence spending, VAT and capital gains tax are all Tory victories. They are all sensible practical policies that can cut the deficit and stimulate economic activity, but I don't detect they are part of the liberal agenda, in the way that they serve a conservative one.
Here's the marker though, what happens at the end of this parliament? Where will these leave the junior party in this government? What will they campaign on? What will they attack? What will they defend? What, I can only say again, will be the point of the Liberal Democrats?
Monday, July 05, 2010
There's a good piece in the current Word magazine by David Hepworth about being spoilt for choice in the iPod era. I hope the serendipity of a longish playlist manages to have the best of both worlds. Happy memories on one hand, but also safety from dross.
But I've also been buying all kinds of stuff my CD collection had lost, er, through a couple of life changing events. And amongst the wonderful songs I've rediscovered are Suzanne Vega's Luka, Tracy Chapman's Baby Can I Hold You Tonight and Run Baby Run by Sheryl Crow. And anything at all by Kate Bush and early Everything But The Girl.
Great opening line to Run Baby Run about the day Aldous Huxley died. Next to the one about the closest football stadium to the River Mersey it's my favourite pub quiz question - name two other people who died that day?
This is coming together nicely. The new Tracy Thorn CD is meant to be very good.
Sunday, July 04, 2010
Saturday, July 03, 2010
As a tool of analysis it certainly helps business journalists; it is certainly no worse than economics, which is at its best, when it observes social transformation.
Apart from not being clever enough, one of the reasons I probably never fancied taking further academic study was the turgid nature of dominant social theory in 1988. There was a bizarrely cultish Third World Marxist clique around our department: one academic was obsessed with Eritrea. But that was nothing compared to a very odd school of thought led by ideas of phenomenology, a dense and dreadfully subjective diversion from ethnomethodology. It seemed like theory had disappeared up the backside of its own importance and forgotten the basics of human interaction as a way of understanding societal conflict, or indeed cohesion.
Of all the sociologists I liked I always found the essence was captured so well by this guiding thought: "The sociological imagination enables us to grasp history and biography and the relations between the two within society. That is its task and its promise. To recognize this task and this promise is the mark of the classic social analyst." - C. Wright Mills
Anyway, I've been enjoying this website - called, simply, The Sociological Imagination.
1. I'm never particularly short of a opinion on anything. But there are some things that I have a view on that it's not appropriate to sound off about on here. You know what it is.
2. There have been massive developments in subjects my other blog deals with, such as local venture capital and the budget.
3. A time to blog. I blog in the evenings and weekends at home. Never at work. But June was a hectic month, I went to two Insider breakfast events hosted by colleagues, hosted a conference, an awards dinner (with Jimmy Carr), hosted two other Insider breakfast events, did five events for commercial partners of Insider and did two radio programmes for BBC Radio Manchester. I'm not complaining, by the way, it's my life and I embrace it.
4. The World Cup - who wants to sit down on a warm evening and bash out 300 words on the closure of Dan Bank when there's Switzerland v Honduras on ITV?
5. The cricket. Last Sunday was dominated by the cricket at Old Trafford.