Sunday, September 25, 2011

Great weekend in Rome

Rome was fantastic, a really amazing city. The proximity of ancient and modern is mind blowing. We packed so much in to the short time we had, but there is still plenty left to lure us back again.

For us the highlight was probably the Scavi Tour, a guided exploration of the tombs directly under St Peter's basilica and including a view of what may well be the tomb of the first Pope. The entrance into the church itself was breathtaking and unique to our small group of 12. We climbed a small staircase and were immediately faced with the amazing spectacle of the epicentre of Catholicism in all it's glory.

I've done reviews on TripAdvisor for our hotel (not great), and two restaurants (one brilliant, one OK).

An open top bus tour took us from one essential stop off to another, but we pretty much walked everywhere, within reason, and just enjoyed soaking up the energy of the place; stopping off for a drink or an ice cream whenever the mood took us.

We love Italy and for us the most gorgeous Italian experience came when we had dinner at a small neighbourhood restaurant near our central hotel. As it filled up with families and couples we started to soak up that love of family, food and conversation. Italy is sometimes so chaotic that it's maddening - and you occasionally get glimpses of why the country lurches from one crisis to the next - but there was a real sense of what matters most.

Thanks to everyone who sent us tips, either on email, through the blog, or via Twitter. All very useful.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Open your mind, read some, learn some

There are yet more events emerging that provide an intellectual stimulus to Northern life. The Manchester Literature Festival is almost upon us - I love it's stubborn and insolent commitment to highbrow writing and poetry - Latvian Poetry night and a refusal to cede to a slightly showbiz tendency creeping in at other book festivals, such as Hay.

That said, the gatherings are fun. I had a lovely time at the lunch on Wednesday - there's a piece about it on the MLF blog here. I was very flattered to get a couple of mentions in Kate Fox's poem about the festival. I'll link to the video when it's up - mine went a bit pear shaped.

I'm chairing a discussion on the 18th of October about Prize Culture at the Anthony Burgess Centre. Here are the details. Please support festivals like this, I think they raise the bar of life and culture in the North.

When in Rome

We're off to Rome next weekend for Rachel's birthday, just the two of us. I've only ever been to the eternal city on business, visiting a TV studio run by the Vatican, hanging out with some lads from Sony Italia and staying in a grim airport hotel. And that was 12 years ago. Any tips, hints and advice will be very gratefully received - a bottle of Barolo for the best one.

Bennett grasps nettle to land Marple pie crown

Steve Bennett won the Samuel Oldknow pie competition at the Marple Food Festival yesterday. Another superb day and another table full of entries for us pie loving judges to get our teeth into.

His nettle pie had an almost perfect firm crust, embedded with local nettles, with a spicy filling bulked through with cheese and tomato. It was a fitting and courageous entry from the man who won last year with his crayfish pie. This guy is the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall of Marple.

The "professional" category was won by a delicious Ham Hock pie submitted by the Crown at Hawk Green. A nice twist to the tale is the chef there was a previous winner when he worked at Grenaby Farm bakery. He's still doing the business and clearly knows his pies.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

First win for Rovers

I never got round to writing a post saying all the reasons why I wouldn't be going on the Kean Out protest today. I think it was negative and pointless. It had all the potential to get ugly but I'm so so glad it didn't. The people behind it are well meaning and passionate, but, I feel, wrong. I don't think Steve Kean is a Premier League manager, but he's all we've got at the moment. He's actually a symptom of the misrule of Venky's, not the root cause of the problems.

But anyway, the real reason I wasn't going on a pre-match protest, was because I wasn't going to the match. This is our season of being part-timers. It's a wider lifestyle choice, part of my falling out of love with football generally and its elevated status of being THE MOST IMPORTANT THING - LIKE EVER! and, I confess, I'm massively frustrated with the situation at Ewood Park. Something has had to give in our lives, there is more going on than I can possibly explain here, but it feels better already.

But, I was thrilled to follow the match today. And I look forward to watching it later as the first game on Match of the Day. This really is a season of surprises.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

911 - Ten years on

On September the 10th 2001 I sat at Arlington Cemetery in Washington DC and admired the view of the Pentagon. It was the last day of a long weekend in the capital of a country I always enjoyed visiting. As I landed at Manchester Airport on the morning of September the 11th I was still buzzing with the highlights of the trip - the Capitol Building, the Lincoln Memorial and all the occasional delights of a trip to any American city - people, food, conversations and the ambience of a place at ease with itself.

The violence of it, the outrageous wanton killing is just dreadful. You keep hearing the same horror from those in New York, the sights of people jumping from the Twin Towers will never leave you.

Personally, I think too that the terrorists who hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 did so from Dulles Airport, where I was just a few hours before. And that I was at the Capitol the day before, which was the intended target of Flight 93.

Did the world change forever? Probably. Did we change as individuals? I don't think so. I know it affected me, hardened some of my views, but also shook up my own view of liberal values, faith, justice and what America stands for in the world. I still get upset that people seem to have forgotten it so quickly. I still believe those responsible were from the joyless and distorted fringe of Islam, a religion that truly believes in peace. Their death cult has a hatred of our way of life that is not fuelled by the things that make liberals angry, but gives them the very freedom to consume, create and behave as they do.

Practically speaking, I was still reeling from the shock of the attacks, when I heard that a special adviser to the government suggested it was "a good day to bury bad news". If that was the level of cynicism of party politics, then I wanted no part of it. The Labour Party membership was torn up, and much as I've shifted views on a number of issues, I won't be joining any other party either. It's not for me.

I blogged on how the fall out from 911 shifted my outlook here and here.

Everyone should take time today to reflect - pray if that's what you want to call it - that our reactions and intentions should be peaceful, loving and forgiving.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Desperately want to say YES to something in Marple

The best point to emerge from the rally in Marple today against the location of a supermarket on Hibbert Lane was a positive thought for the future of our community. Hopefully it should give everyone present something to consider about the future of Marple beyond disruption and house prices. Our local MP Andrew Stunell (speaking, left) made some excellent points, and concluded by asking: "What kind of place do you want Marple to be in 10 years time, in 15 years?"

The warm response to his point was quite uplifting.  He is opposed to the plans by the College to sell their site on Hibbert Lane to a supermarket, the plans would be against planning guidance, against planning policy and in the teeth of a local action plan that the council and what passes for a local community body has signed up to. The passage of the Localism Bill, he says, will give greater emphasis to the needs of communities. He is palpably not a hypocrite for pursuing this essential reform. Marple has development needs to promote community cohesion, amenities and economic development. Hopefully everyone engaged in this very important debate can contribute to a viable plan about what those needs are and how they can be achieved.

This issue has also flushed out the local politicians. They are used to apathy and a "behind the scenes" way of doing their business. No more. Not on this issue. And I think they all need to come clean about what part they have played in consultation with the college governors - even when they were college governors.

I feel grumpy and reactionary being part of a "no" campaign. Instinctively I favour progress and new developments. But this is all wrong. It is now important that the college governors think again about pursuing a sale of land that is against the planning guidance, opposed by the council and against the overwhelming wishes of the local community. And when they have we can all get on with debating a brighter future for Marple.

Corrected on the 11th September.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Made up Manchester

Very amusing contributions to the concept of a made up Manchester facts on Twitter today. Here are my favourite 10. One is mine, I am allowed to laugh at my own jokes on here.

Magic buses are so-called as they are run on ecstacy tablets confiscated from the Hacienda in the 90s

Manchester was created by the men of Chester after being driven out by the womenfolk in the feminism riots of 1682

The M60 was built by the Romans as a defence wall around Mancunia to protect from marauding Celts.

Corbieres Wine Bar was originally owned by the Grand National winning racehorse of the same name.

New York Street in the city centre was in fact originally called New Amsterdam Street

From next January Princess Street will be renamed Howards Way

The Peak District, Lake District and Penines are man made and were built by the people of Manchester to maximise rainfall

The king of the ancient kingdom of Mancunia was Affleck. His palace is where Affleck's now sits

Spinningfields, Spinning Buildings and Spinning Bedroom Ceilling are all in the Drunk Quarter

The Manchester Canals were built to export water from the city for re-sale as it has a surplus supply

Monday, September 05, 2011

The village of Clovelly

In a blog a while ago - over a year ago - I mentioned the private village of Clovelly in Devon. Anyway, there have been some replies. I thought it only fair to mention it as I've been told I'm wrong. I don't think I am.

The original blog, with comments, is here.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Fixing stuff

One of the kids broke the door off our washing machine. Rachel called the shop we bought it from - Comet - and they were incredibly inefficient. They also frightened us with quotes ranging from £120 to £200. For a door! Even an estimate was going to start the clock ticking for a call out charge. I had a look at it and worked out we could get a new door. It turned out we didn't even need that. We needed an "inner door rim" which once I'd logged in the spare parts code was going to cost me ... £28, including next day despatch. We needed a slightly strange screw set - which amazingly, we have - and it took about ten minutes of fiddling to get on.

Why am I boring you with this tale of domestic nonsense? It's the shattering of a mystery, brought on by the ability to research and buy on the internet. We are so used to being mystified by the availability of parts and the complexity of the tools to fix things that we just fork out.

Our next challenge is a Flip video camera, which is made by by Cisco. It was ace when it worked, but now it doesn't. It just stopped charging up on holiday, which was a bit rubbish. I've tried to fix it, followed all the on-line instructions which are pretty limited. Now we're trying to send it back. Still no joy. We're in this Kafkaesque world of American websites which won't allow me to register where I live because it's an incorrect ZIP code. The product code on the back is so small none of us could read it. Seriously. We just want a new one, it doesn't work, it should work. No wonder Cisco are pulling out of this product, they're making good things go bad and can't handle the backlash.

In many ways power is shifting to the consumer, but the big companies are conceding their control in limited ways, before reasserting it in others. This week feels like a score draw.

Ian McEwan's Solar - book review in a lift

While reading this book on holiday, over a fortnight, I stopped a couple of times, I turned to Rachel and said - I think he's losing the plot this bloke. Ian McEwan has always been smug and a bit snooty about working class characters and here he sneers with some degree of unsympathetic contempt at two important characters, a tradesman and a young goofy scientist. Even Michael Beard, the main character, with his six marriages is that exaggerated grotesque creation that he and his mate Martin Amis seem to revel in building up with layers of unsympathetic unpleasantness, while still leaving you utterly in thrall to their perspective. All of that's probably an accurate reflection of a "voice" and an "ear" for such things. So these tricks, these flights of humour and fancy - like the discomfort of an ice suit and taking a toilet break in the Arctic Circle - turn out well. Similarly, each linguistic trick, or plot twist, equally turns up good. The packet of crisps on a train with a scary fellow passenger story is the strongest example - I'd first came across it in a book about Urban Legends in 1986 - link here - and then Douglas Adams used it in So Long and Thanks For All The Fish, and, ahem, I'm sure Jeffrey Archer has too. I was amazed McEwan was using it, but it comes good as a plot device. As a whole Solar deserves a standing ovation - a big bravo. It's a bold and different story, and just when you think he's disappeared up the funnel of his own self importance, he pops back. His research and grasp of science and venture capital is also commendable, as it makes credible a fabulous story of our time. Enjoyable, compelling and gripping. And genuinely funny.

Great food and drink in Marple

I like to try and keep on top of new businesses in and around Marple.

The Marple Festival is coming up later this month with a fabulous programme of events.

The long awaited Purple Pakora has opened opposite the station on Brabyn's Brow. There's an excellent review of it here on the Mellor View blog. I say excellent, because I believe it to be fair and thorough. It's not just saying nice things for the sake of it.

I was sad to see the Urban Gypsy cafe and deli close before we'd even had chance to visit. It was in an awkward location on the main road and has launched into a tough local market. I've been delighted to sample both local delis in recent weeks, but that's because I've been out and about in Marple and they are easy to pop in and use. Toast has consolidated by moving the wine business into the deli on Derby Way, which I'm sure is a sensible business move, but it leaves another shop vacant on Market Street. All Things Nice always seems busy at the weekends and has had rave reviews for the supper nights.

It's as well to celebrate the success of the businesses that are also surviving. It is incredibly tough out there at the moment, so do try and support these local businesses. And at a time when the sense of community and local enterprise is under such threat, it is as well to remember that you need to appreciate what you have on your doorstep until it is too late.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

New Rovers podcast - check it out

This is a recording of a Blackburn Rovers podcast I did with a couple of good lads called Stuart and Dale. I'm pretty pleased with it. It's got a decent pace to it, has a smattering of humour and some decent footballing analysis by Dale. The funny thing is, we've never met. We do it all on Skype.