Tuesday, May 31, 2011

More Manchester tribes

I was going to rattle something off about how annoying I found this in the Guardian. It's a guide to Manchester tribes as an intro to people from outside the city coming to the Manchester International Festival. Actually, it's quite funny and rather than being patronising, you just have to see it as a start.

Here are a couple of mine:

Heirs to Burgess: 60 something men and women, linen, tweed or cord jackets. Learned and fun loving, enjoying a second youth after kids have all grown up. Live in the city centre or Didsbury. Will go to absolutely everything.

Reluctant sponsor: 40s or 50s man, in business, usually property or the law. Jeans, shirt undone two buttons. Was never quite hip enough to be hanging out with Hacienda Man, would probably be seen checking his Blackberry at the back of Sinead O'Connor as his (younger, second) wife asks when she's going to do the Prince song where she cries.

Peak people: Bergaus and North Face fleeces, checks and denims. Stout walking boots and rucsacs. Live in somewhere like Hayfield or Mellor. Will go to everything at the festival, and especially the free events where the kids can eat organic ice cream.

Monday, May 30, 2011

My predictions summed up - rubbish

I didn't do very well in predictions this season. I gave up in the two prediction leagues I joined. My start of season punts, which I link to here, had Manchester City down to win the Premier League which topped a litany of mistakes. It's a good job I don't bet.

In my favour I, like most people had Blackpool to go down, but also West Ham. Full marks there. I had Norwich down as dark horses in the Championship, mid table for Morecambe and Accy Stanley in League Two and a rotten season for Stockport County.

Here's how the Premier League ended up:

1. Manchester United (I said 3rd)
2. Chelsea (ooh, correct!)
3. Manchester City (I said 1st)
4. Arsenal (I said 5th)
5. Spurs (I said 6th)
6. Liverpool (I said 4th) - but hey, I got the top 6 right.
7. Everton (ooh, correct!)
8. Fulham (I said 12th, underestimate Sparky at your peril)
9. Aston Villa (I said 8th)
10. Sunderland (ooh, correct!)
11. West Brom (I said 16th)
12. Newcastle United (I said 13th)
13. Stoke City (I said 17th)
14. Bolton Wanderers (I said 9th, I do rate Coyle)
15. Blackburn Rovers (I said 11th, Venky's eh?)
16. Wolverhampton Wanderers (ooh, correct!)
17. Wigan Athletic (I said 18th, sorry Mr Whelan)
18. Birmingham City (I said 14th, thought they'd do something good)
19. Blackpool (went down, correct, but better than anyone expected)
20. West Ham United (went down, correct)

In fairness, there is a predictability to the whole miserable greed league. There's nothing remotely clever about that top six prediction, or the bottom end of things. It will be the same next season.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

This is how you beat Barcelona

Everyone salivated at that wonderful second half performance by Barcelona last night, and rightly so.

A few thoughts though - Ryan Giggs finally achieved the anonymity he craved all week. The number 19 also corresponded with the number of touches United players had on the ball in the last 45 minutes.

But it also brought back a memory of how Barcelona can be beaten. The report is here.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Let me tell you a story

I've been lent a terrific book today - Researching Life Stories by Dan Goodley and others - trying to reclaim story telling of a valid tradition in the field of social science. I'll delve into it this weekend.

Its appearance is timely for a few ideas I have.

But it also ties in with some terrific audio I've found lately. First is the constant joy of Radio 3 Nightwaves, especially Philip Dodd's piercing interview style. His latest was with Vidal Sassoon. But he's also sat down with Tony Blair and John Gray recently too.

Second is a regular of life's delights, the Word magazine podcast. The last two have been exceptionally good. First Neil Tenant, then songwriter Van Dyke Parks.

I'd never even heard of VDP before, which made it such a terrific discovery. His stories about The Beach Boys, and his early life were breathtaking. What a storyteller, what a life. He has a theory - there are three types of people in the world - those who can count and those who can't count.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

To walk the line - Andy Cryer, Rovers and Steve Kean

It is a tough job to walk the line in journalism. The patch you cover will have moments of drama and at the heart of all drama is conflict. Over the last year Andy Cryer in the Lancashire Telegraph has walked the line between criticising the club and risking a more difficult and fractious relationship with his biggest source of stories, or appearing as a poodle and losing all credibility with his readers.

A good journalist seeks to live by fairness and accuracy. It's that simple really. I think Cryer has done pretty well. David Conn on the Guardian rates him, which is high praise. I think he's a good commentator on the club. He made the point that sacking Sam Allardyce was a mistake, that the owners had blundered and made some basic mistakes including the appointment of a manager hopelessly out of his depth. There's probably a whole load of other rumours he could have gone with too - comments from the dressing room he could have used, but he's been fair and stuck to explaining what the facts were showing - a winless run.

Now the season is over I think he makes some good, fair points here. In a nutshell he's saying Venky's have done better in the last two weeks - and the tide of opinion may have leant a little in their direction. The free pies and the cheap tickets at Wolves helped, so too have the new season ticket prices.

I think he needs to turn the gas up on Venky's now. There were 25 questions in the last issue of 4000 Holes fanzine, all of which are still valid. But a very basic question still remains - what are they doing this for?

The smell of Selfridges

For as long as it's been open I've felt slightly uneasy about something in Selfridges in Manchester city centre. At first I just thought I was being snobbish and put it down to a view expressed by one of Insider's writers that it's Debenhams under any other name. It isn't that. The men's fashion area is quality - it couldn't quite sustain some of the upmarket concessions, but it holds its own.

Then there was the cosmetics area. No, all fine. Not quite as poncey as Harvey Nichols across the way, but you could get good products for presents and the like.

I went in last week and it twigged. It was the food court in the basement. The smell of greasy food from Yo!Sushi! would rise up the store. Now that it's been closed and the lower ground is being converted to something else the smell has gone. Harvey Nics manage to have a restaurant at the top and you'd never know. It will prove to be a good idea to move any food element of the store to the top of the building.

But do you know what? The smell is now lingering in Piccadilly Station where Yo! Sushi! have opened on the mezzanine level. I can bear that though. In fact it's very, very tempting.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

In praise of Andre Geim

Tonight I had the opportunity to celebrate one of Manchester's proudest and greatest achievements in the last year. Professor Andre Geim, Nobel prize winner, was delivering the Cockford-Rutherford Lecture.

It was certainly a great deal more inspiring than any physics lesson I ever had at school. The main thing I took from it was his sense of curiosity. Though he started his research career in the Soviet Union, Geim has a wonderful exploratory mind. His Friday Night Experiments are the ones that have seemed to have attracted attention and ultimately proved fruitful. One was the levitating frog - an experiment in magnetic fields. Another was seeing if you could reduce a piece of graphite, such as a pencil mark, to a single atomic depth. This led to the discovery of Graphene, for which he won the Nobel Prize.

The product has been taken up in communications by the US military. Geim is working with Samsung, but he's also been warned off patenting Graphene, as he explains here.

These are quite remarkable quick wins and major advances for science, following his discovery.

His final line was massively inspiring:  "How shockingly little we know about the world around us."

But there's also a curiosity I have - how can this city, this part of the world where we are raising our children benefit from this fabulous world changing invention? I'm not sure it will.  Science works in strange ways, it's both healthy for research and academic advancement that he works at the University of Manchester. But when these enquiries have such profound opportunities there has to be a passionate and rather bullish determination to make it work for the home team.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

An act of sporting excellence that leaves me baffled

OK, I admit it. I'm a pessimist. Despite a Premier League win, three promotions, a Worthington Cup, a Full Members Cup, a decent run in Europe, some semi finals and plenty of wins over local rivals, my sense of doom about Blackburn Rovers, carved on my soul in 1981 at Eastville, and branded again 8 years later at Selhurst Park says - we're an unlucky club.

I've just got back from Wolves. Two thoughts have dominated today. The first is how pleased I was, purely for reasons of personal security, that Wolves stayed up too. I got a bit of shoeing near that subway in 1982 and didn't fancy a moody walk back to the station at my time of life.

But the main thought was about that first half performance. Rovers didn't just edge out a nervous home side, Wolves were crushed by a superior mindset, better skill, better technique and a thoroughly professional performance. Every single player did their very very best and proved their worth as top class players. You think then, why? oh why? have I spent the last week being grumpy and tetchy and worried for the future.

Had they displayed that sort of quality at home to Blackpool, Newcastle and Birmingham then there would have been a very different dimension to the run-in. So different that the magnificent support today would have stayed at home.

That leads you to the final shock of the day on checking the league table and seeing that Rovers finished 3 points behind Bolton and Stoke who have been lauded for having "excellent" seasons. Sure, they both did well in the cup and have faded towards the end, but this Rovers team was always capable of doing better than fighting for scraps. They are so much better than this. I hope that performance and the support today has convinced a lot of them to stick around.

Today isn't the day to call time on Steve Kean, to rail against Venky's, or to make demands. But it is a time to set the bar for what is acceptable. A great deal this season hasn't been good enough, in fact it's been quite disgraceful - including several dismal performances under Sam Allardyce and several under this bloke.

Today gave us all a glimpse of what we have a right to expect - even a miserable old git like me.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

No-one likes us, we don't care

And so, the end is near. According to Engineering Sport, there are 81 different scenarios that could play out tomorrow. In 9 of them, Blackburn Rovers go down. In fact, it's even more complicated than that. A better goal difference could yet be our saviour.

I'll be there at Wolves enjoying my free Venky's subsidised pie and pop. I haven't got a portable radio to take and mobile 3G phones just don't work in large crowds. No doubt there will be false information floating around - there seems to be a rogue radio station that gives out incorrect football results on days like these.

I half expect Fergie to play Alan Keegan up front, Neville Neville, David Gill and a couple of the Glazer brothers. 

There was something on the radio today about who the neutral could have reasons to wish well. Mick McCarthy and the potential of the sleeping giant of Wolves, Roger Johnson and the Big Eck, Dave Whelan and Roberto Martinez and then there's plucky little Blackpool, everybody's second team. They probably have the goodwill of everyone - people have warmed to "Ollie" and Charlie Adam and their swashbuckling style that has been a "breath of fresh air" to the Premier League.

In contrast to all of that you just don't sense any goodwill towards Steve Kean, Venky's, our small support or our style of play.

No-one likes us, we don't care.  I hope it creates a powerful siege mentality amongst the players that will serve the club well on such a critical day.

Talking Telly with Tony Wood - Totally Reem

I hosted a fascinating event last week. Absolutely fascinating. Basically, I sat on a comfy chair with this really interesting bloke, watched a bit of telly and asked him some questions about his life.

I was interviewing Tony Wood, the creative director of Lime Pictures, the Liverpool-based production company responsible for making TV shows for young people. Their roster includes Hollyoaks and the highest rated kids' drama on US TV, which is a show shot in Liverpool called House of Anubis. He is also the creator of The Only Way is Essex, the reality-drama which has created such a stir in tellyland.

You can describe The Only Way is Essex as many things, but you have to agree it was a risky proposition. Filming a group of real youngsters in their natural habitats in Essex bars and salons, but creating such drama, such characters that the concept has dominated the bottom shelf magazines and the tabloids. These events, which link with social media - by providing the root of a conversation on Twitter and Facebook - become valuable properties.

But these ideas aren't handed down by broadcasters to be made in production factories, they are created by brilliant minds who understand the sweet spots of popular culture, honed while making Coronation Street and Footballer's Wives and learning from the experiences on a TV spin off of Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and filming Families, an "Australian soap", in Manchester.

All told it was a fascinating and some of the acting, direction and set building was incredible. In fact, it was reem.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Pete Wylie - part time rock star, full time legend

There are plenty of song writers and musicians who have written a good crop of good songs. Not many write great songs. Those that do tend to enjoy careers and riches. Where then does that leave Pete Wylie of Wah!? I can place Sinful, Come Back and Story of the Blues in any list above the efforts of latter day pretenders. Ahead of anything by plenty of bands I really like. There's plenty more he's been involved in that's ropey, but I subscribe to the flawed genius theory of Wylie. These three songs have majesty, ambition and that overblown Scouse sense of epic entitlement.

Anyway, there was a long and thoughtful profile on him I remember reading about 20 years ago. It was by James Brown in the Guardian, one of his better efforts since Attack on Bzag (look it up). It's now slightly updated and on the excellent Sabotage Times. 

Wylie's own site has gone.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

An act of sporting cowardice we will live to regret

Who else remembers West Germany and Austria playing out a tepid game at the World Cup in 1982? It ensured they both qualified for the next stage of the competition.

The last 15 minutes of the visit of Manchester United to Ewood Park today was something like that. An act of sporting cowardice that we will live to regret next Sunday. Once Wayne Rooney had converted his penalty, and the idiots in the Rovers support had hunted down the rogue United fans in their midst and pointed at them, the game was reduced to a farce. Neither side made any effort to create a chance, stretch the opposition or score a goal. Given that both Wolves and Blackpool won, this wasn't exactly the ideal result for us. What made it worse was the quality of the performance for the middle part of the game. Rovers attacked them, defended brilliantly and apart from a couple of wayward passes, we saw the best from Jermaine Jones.

In my view, the best Rovers manager in my lifetime was Mark Hughes, because no matter where we were, or who we played, Rovers always went out with a sense of professionalism and a will to win. I cannot believe the surreal events of today would have happened had Sparky been in charge. Even when Fulham were stuffed last week - 3-0 down at half time - they tried to claw something back. But Steve Kean played to the agenda set by Sir Alex, despite the fact that United were there for the taking. They scabbed a penalty, like they always seem to, but a bit of application and another goal wasn't out of the question. Why would trying to get a goal lead to them scoring? I don't get it. Even some long balls to JR and Pedersen running at them could have exposed flaky Ferdinand and the dodgy keeper. No, high fives all round and see you in San Carlo later lads. Enjoy your party.

I really worry about our football club. What is this booing of Keith Andrews all about? What is it with this timidity in the face of Manchester United? The first 20 minutes produced a limp stand-offish performance. Fair play to Martin Olsson, the Zonz and the Jones boys for playing with a bit of pride and injecting the idea that this was winnable. And as for Samba. He is a colossus.

And so we go to in-form on-fire Wolves with them thinking - "let's do these in style". Blackpool will face United's reserves and win. I guarantee it. What stands between us and a dramatic relegation is teams with nothing to play for showing some guts - hopefully we can count in that number Mark Hughes and his pride, professionalism and a desire for Fulham to finish 8th.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Blogger had a wobble

While Google were having a PR war with Facebook, their Blogger service wiped out a load of posts, including two on here. Tut.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Caught up in this big rhythm

I've blogged before on the art of a good cover version. There seems now to be a habit of artists who haven't done much for a long time to come back with a cover of a cultish and cool track. I suppose you could classify George Michael's cover of New Order's majestic True Faith in that bracket.

But what's going on with Andrea Corr's new album of covers? For a pretty woman with a coquettish and easy vocal style her appeal was never her range and power. Strange then that she's included State of Independence - a Jon & Vangelis power ballad, and this particular crime against music - her version of one of my favourite songs ever - Tinseltown in The Rain by Blue Nile. I can't add anything to what Holy Moly had to say.

"The original just had too much majestic, wasted beauty and doomed optimism about it. It lacked perkiness, and the sparse arrangement needed filling in with a generic 90s studio pop sound. And Paul Buchanan’s vocal delivery simply wasn’t sappy enough, with far too much soul and raw, abandoned emotion. And what are those lyrics about? We haven’t a clue so it’d be best if they were sung without any sense of understanding or connection. Essentially, what we’d like to hear is Tinseltown In The Rain given the same hit-making treatment The Corr’s gave to Fleetwood Mac’s Dreams. It can’t fail."

Anyway, do you know what I think? She's married to the son of irish billionaire Dermot Desmond. She can do what she wants and just couldn't care less.

But anyway, all this talking, this talking, is only bravado.

Monday, May 09, 2011

The Premier League trophy at Ewood Park

Here's a dilemma. Do we go to Ewood Park on Saturday and watch the coronation of the champions? We don't go to every game, but this is one of those you look out for at the start of the season.

I can't see Rovers winning another game this season. Maybe a point at Wolves. But it should be enough. I can even see us staying up on goal difference as 39 points seems to be what a whole group of teams could finish on: Birmingham, Blackpool, Wigan and us. Unless Manchester United stick another 7 past us. I was horrified and traumatised at that awful event last year. I was also grateful no children (of mine) were harmed in its production.

In search of the truth

Talking to our lads has started to get interesting. They want to know about all kinds of things: racism, atheism, irony and justice. Their questions about mundane matters include an angle on homelessness and there is the beginning of a small interest in politics. This is, I imagine, a window of brightness before they become what Justin Moorhouse described as "a yawn with a hood".

Anyway, for posterity, and as a way of looking at the world through a different prism, here are a few recent articles I thought I'd share with them and also with you.

One is about Somali pirates by Johann Hari in The Independent, recently added to his podcast after all this time.

The other is about 9/11 conspiracy theores, by Christopher Hitchens in The Slate.

And on a lighter note, there's a compilation of hoaxes from Sabotage Times.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Dirty Leeds

Who owns Leeds United? Well, it turns out that Ken Bates does. If I was forced at gunpoint to say who I "think" really owned Leeds, then I'd offer up Ken Bates and would suggest he's owned it for the last few years. The paper trail will point to the Forward Sports Trust and some other offshore entity which he said he didn't own, and he didn't know who controlled them. Now he's bought them for an undisclosed sum from undisclosed owners.

Anyway, if you are interested in this nonsense, then have a look at this quite extraordinary interview on Yorkshire Radio, where he attacks David Conn, a journalist I've worked with and respect enormously. He refers to David throughout. First by saying he has no interest in him, then describing him as "our international enemy in the media".

Here is David's response. But don't bother reading the comments underneath. I did and I will never be able to get that time back. It's like being sober on a stag do.

Friday, May 06, 2011

That most peculiar of places - a Lib Dem stronghold

We woke this morning to find that Marple is even more of an endangered and special area than ever. The Liberal Democrats held on to both their council seats in Marple North and Marple South. Elsewhere in the borough of Stockport the party lost its overall majority on the council. However, I find it unlikely that they will be ousted from power and will have to enter into a pact with the independents from Heald Green.

But what fascinates is how and why the Lib Dems have taken such a savage kicking across the country. It stems from a lack of roots in their electoral base, and that ability to be all things to all people. I was always curious as to what the Liverpool Lib Dems stood for, for example. Mike Storey, their leader, was said to be Tony Blair's favourite council leader. They don't stand for a smaller organisation, or a targetting of resources to the poorer areas. I didn't hear any political change of direction when I heard Labour leader Joe Anderson speak earlier this year.

It all comes back to their part in the coalition government, a business arrangement that seems to suit the Conservatives more than it clearly suits them. I can now see a scenario where the detoxified Tories could win an election comfortably. Forget the polls, it's about morale. The results haven't seen anything like a bounce by Ed Milliband's party, they haven't had enough of a period of reflection (and shame) to recover from a kicking at the last election.

And round here in Marple. I think people vote Liberal Democrat because they are liberally minded, fair, public spirited and community focused. All are core LibDem values, but they also are quite close to what David Cameron has in mind for his version of Conservatism.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Deputy to what?

I don't quite understand why Blackburn Rovers have appointed Paul Hunt as a deputy chief executive, when they have no chief executive and no chairman. Tom Finn is the managing director, but he held that role in partnership with an executive chairman. I expect there are more changes on the way.

Here's a piece Insider ran on what he did at Leicester. He sent free tickets and a kit to every 7 year old in the catchment area. Canny and very much of the ethos at Rovers.

Anyway, we keep being told to trust Venky's and that they know what they are doing. Nothing so far has suggested that they do, but maybe this is a positive step in the right direction.

Short and bitter sweet; Panoptican

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One of our freelance writers at Insider, David Chadwick, has contributed a couple of stories to a collection that's being launched tomorrow. It's a creative writer's collective and they've set up Pandril Press, a publishing venture to do so. The first collection is called Panopticon. So far I've read David's two stories - one about corporate lingo in a Manchester company full of full on blatherers. Then there's a touching father/son tale set in Wales. I've dipped into the other stories and one is quite bleak and gruesome.

Anyway, good luck to them all. There's a launch tomorrow night, which I can't get to, but there's a piece in the local paper, here. And a piece on a blog here.

One Day - the movie

I'm always a little dubious about how a book I've really liked gets made into a film. Here's the trailer to One Day, starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess. Getting excited already. Everything in the trailer is faithfully reproduced from David Nicholls' story. Or so it seems.

Monday, May 02, 2011

My mate #12 - Father Phil

OK, time to come clean. This feature where I write about a mate of mine is not entirely random. I have to be honest, especially when I'm talking about this friend this week. I tend to pick someone topical. Anyway, here I include a great friend to our family, Father Philip Egan, the parish priest of Our Lady and St Christopher Catholic Church in Romiley. Father Phil is such a lovely man. He is so full of the grace of our faith, so understanding and such a clever man too. His book, Philosophy and Catholic Theology - a Primer, is something of a triumph. He has carried through the way of explanation in his present role. Indeed, one of the most difficult jobs of being a parish priest comes from the nature of the parish itself. Communicating scripture, the calendar, the doctrine and the message to a range of ages must be so hard, but I think he does it very well.

What I like about him is that he doesn't compromise, or waiver from what is right and true. My Christian faith is rooted in love for fellow mankind and forgiveness. Sometimes it's very simple. Sometimes it's harder, deeper, more mysterious. And I'm very blessed to have someone like Father Phil with me on that journey.

We have been honoured to welcome him into our home to discuss our family, our role in the church community and how we can be better parents and Christians.

I'm particularly pleased for him at the moment as he's just been made a Monsignor and a Vicar General, a senior assistant to the Bishop. However, he still much prefers the title 'father' as it is "the most beautiful, authentic and challenging of titles." And he hopes he will prove as worthy of his new title. I'm sure he will.

Marple Bridge street party for Royal Wedding

We enjoyed the Royal Wedding. I thought it showed a very modern and inclusive side to the monarchy. But the national celebrations were great fun too. Especially that Kark Guare managed to organise the largest street party of them all, just down the hill in Marple Bridge. Some links, here, here and here.

The death of Bin Laden

It has been a momentus day. I can never celebrate the death of anyone, but I can well understand the mood in America right now.

I was last in the US on September the 11th 2001 when I flew out of Dulles Airport to Manchester. I'd spent a few days taking in the history of the nation's capital. The sympathy for and solidarity with America quickly waned for many, but never for me.

Here are a few pieces of analysis that seem particularly apt today.

Christopher Hitchens on Pakistan, even on the BBC 5Live news this morning the High Commissioner was splitting hairs over the location of Abbottabad, the military garrison and the ISI protection of Bin Laden.

More questions on What Pakistan knew? in the New Yorker.

Jason Burke - What is it with Pakistan? Book review in Observer yesterday, very timely. And his obituary for OBL.

The location of his compound in Abbottabad. If I could find it on Google Maps so easily, what took the CIA so long? (irony alert).

The New York Post news feed.

The Prime Minister on UK Forces in Afghanistan site .

And recorded for posterity, President Obama's video news announcement.