Sunday, October 30, 2011

Francesca Simon at the MLF

We went to see Francesca Simon last week, the author of the Horrid Henry series. There's a prefectly good report on another website here. The boys loved meeting her too.

Her new children's book is set around the British Museum and the statues there. She took a lot longer to write it, but she put ever so much thought into it. I'll let you know what the boys thought of it.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Creative and media are moving on

There was a useful debate on Thursday as part of CityCo's conversation series. A decent opportunity for the city centre managment to keep businesses up to date with various goings on. Peter Salmon was very impressive - as you'd expect. The Head of BBC North talks a good game and conveys the passion of the whole BBC project.

There's a good piece in the Telegraph today, here.

The other speakers were two big favourites of mine, Lou Cordwell and Sue Woodward who both mentioned the shortage of capital for the technology and creative businesses sprouting up. Rightly, that needs addressing and it is the top priority.

There was a question from the floor that said something along the lines of "yes, yes, we've heard it all before" and said the Manchester swagger was in danger of being overstated. Although the panel didn't invoke the memory of Tony Wilson, the questioner anticipated they were about to.

Sat next to me was a wise professional of these parts, with his daughter, who is on work experience at a big firm in Manchester. She had sat gripped throughout the discussion. She leaned over to her Dad and asked this question: "who's Tony Wilson?" I don't think the great man would have wanted it any other way.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Why it's OK to like Tintin and why he isn't a fascist

We are all massively excited about the new Tintin film. It's been a long time coming, but I really hope that it's as good as people are suggesting. Tintin is a marvellous character and a noble role model for young men.

What I like about the stories is the way that Herge matures and improves his sense of humour. The way Captain Haddock changes from a hopeless drunk to be a courageous and loyal friend. I recently read Flight 714 to our youngest son and the layers of meaning are magical, particularly in the unravelling of the back story to Rastapopolus, Tintin's evil nemesis.

Even taking aside the crude racism of the Congo book, which I blogged on back here, and there are some abusive racist names used by Haddock in The Crab With The Golden Claws - which are the utterings of an unreconstructed angry alcoholic - I still compelled to defend Tintin from lazy attitudes that he was "right wing" or even a "fascist". That slur pops up again here in an excellent analysis in The Australian.

But the essential Tintin, forged in wartime, never really changed. For ever young, for ever apolitical, his adoption by Spielberg and Hollywood is final proof of the timeless universality of his appeal as the Peter Pan of the cartoon strip. Remi did not take a stand against an evil ideology. Instead, he worked tirelessly, while the world tore itself apart, to create a character without beliefs who always did the right thing.

That's a delicious way of putting it. Tintin displays virtues of humanity, forgiveness, morality, justice and humility. He lives a relatively modest lifestyle even as the stories unfold and Haddock becomes wealthy. Herge clearly dabbles in mysticism, sci-fi and even vaudeville, but never dark politics.

I am delighted that Tintin has been reclaimed and renewed for the new century. It's been a long time coming.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Prize Culture debate at the Manchester Literature Festival

Picture courtesy of Jon Atkin
A new experience this week, hosting a session on "prize culture" at the Manchester Literature Festival. The panel (left) was a brainy quintet of poets, writers and academics, all of whom were lovely to work with. Blogger Valerie O'Riordan has written a detailed account of who said what. It's here, if you want to link.

She says: "A couple of hours before this year’s Booker Prize winner is to be announced, The University Of Manchester’s own cabal of bookish experts turns out at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation to thrash out the advantages, complications and intricacies of literary prize culture. The debate is all the more timely in that this year’s Booker competition has been dogged by more than the usual speculation, with Dame Stella Rimington, head of the judging panel, announcing that she wanted "readability" (see link), and Jeanette Winterson, responding in theGuardian, saying that, in contrast, great literature ought to demand "time and effort" What’s happening? cry the commentators. What’s the remit of literary prizes? Have they replaced critics as the arbiters of public taste? Have the publishers’ publicity machines obliterated the rewarding of quality? Do we really need the Booker? Never fear, dear reader – our panel has stepped boldly into the breach to figure it all out.

"The event is facilitated by journalist Michael Taylor, and joining him are most of the staff of the University’s Centre For New Writing – Vona Groarke, MJ Hyland, Ian McGuire and John McAuliffe – as well as Jerome de Groot, Senior Lecturer in the English Department; between them, we’ve got poets and novelists, academics, literary prize judges and prize-winners – including, in Hyland, a former Booker shortlistee."

The main point was that literary prizes, like the Booker, may be flawed, they may exist for underlying marketing reasons, but on balance they have a place in the cultural firmament. The same could equally be said of art and music prizes. We also touched on how literary criticism is evolving through online reviews and the evolving proliferation of literary blogs.

The whole festival is amazing. I love the breadth of ideas that the range of venues and format has brought to Manchester. Last Saturday I saw readings from John Niven and Emma Jane Unsworth. On Tuesday I sat transfixed through a debate on Norweigan and Dutch short stories. There is an appetite for different cultural experiences and patterns of thought that the festivals bring. It's an explosion, a celebration of something extraordinary, rather than the very ordinary that we can so easily wallow in. It's exciting too that it's all happening here.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Rude boys!

Specials at Manchester Apollo, pic courtesy of Joanna Simpson
After missing out on seeing The Specials, Selecter and Madness on the Two Tone tour in 1979 at Lancaster University, I finally got to see The Specials on Friday night. It was a magnificent nostalgia trip for a band I still love listening to. Musically they displayed an incredible range - at one point there were 13 performers on stage - the band, the brass section and strings helped them rattle through all the old favourites. My pal Richard Bell, who sorted the night, says they've got better from when he went to see them two years ago.

I've debated the merits of these reunion gigs before. On balance, I'm in favour. I probably wouldn't go and see Stone Roses who are rumoured to be doing a couple of gigs, I won't bother with From The Jam again, much as I enjoyed the last outing.

For me the audience was fascinating as well. Skins, rude boys, mods and 100s of paunchy blokes dusting off the old Fred Perry to lap up a feast of memories and hear some echoes from down the years. I certainly spotted a few old faces from places as diverse as the terraces at Ewood as well as the boardrooms of modern Manchester.

We went in memory of Tim Edwards, who wasn't able to join us.

Between the Wars - a song for Marple

A tongue-in-cheek reworking of Billy Bragg's Between the Wars by Carl Cieka in protest at the Plans of Cheadle and Marple Sixth Form College to sell their Hibbert Lane Campus for development as a supermarket. More info at http:/

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Doing it for yourself

The unemployment figures make for harsh reading. According to New Economy, the Manchester agency tasked with promoting economic activity, the rise recently has been especially harsh in the young.

"The number of jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) claimants in Greater Manchester grew by 1,170 and was recorded at 82,310 in September 2011 – a monthly rise of 1.4%. National and regional JSA numbers also increased from August to September – by 0.2% and 1.4% respectively."

To bring home the human side of it, there's a journalist of my vague acquaintance - Nick Hyde - who has joined those ranks. I don't know him well, but he's written a calm and collected blog about it, here, which has taken some guts.

I detect too that he's got a few irons in the fire. More and more the self-employment and start-up business route is appealing to people like Nick. Not just to those who have had unemployment forced upon them, but for those for whom grinding away at the same thing just doesn't seem worth it any more.

A venture capitalist of this parish, Richard Young, is even looking for experienced managers to back in start-ups, something many private equity and venture funds seemed to have given up on a long time ago. He's come up with the phrase "management breakout" and I wrote a bit about it here. I tend to squirm at some of the rhetoric around start-ups and new business. There is a tendency to make a serious endeavour into something like the Apprentice or the X Factor, but there is an opportunity here for investors even if banks aren't there as they should be.

Much as I'm sure the likes of Nick want to avoid hanging round the house reading books, I can heartily recommend a great new title by Luke Johnson. Start It Up - why running your own business is easier than you think reads like a real go-to-it guide for anyone thinking of making a leap on their own. Plenty of people dream, but few take the plunge to do it for themselves. There are inspirational stories of people who made the leap, but also useful pointers on what to avoid and what not to do. It's also rare for a business book in that it's very well written.

I've always had a massive admiration for the self-employed. Walking around the streets of Marple early in the morning, while walking the dog, I see plenty of them getting into their vans and setting off on jobs as plasterers, window fitters and builders, etc.  This is the army of hard working grafters that keep the economy ticking along. My Dad was a self-employed milkman until he sold up last year, though we made sacrifices as a family, that independence of spirit and that control over his own destiny was a freedom he loved and gave him the chance to diversify with his farm.

The economy is dreadful, there is clearly less money around, but I think there is a boldness and a zeal out there. People will struggle, they will be hungry, but they will also get up, attack the day and try and make the best of things. They are the true heroes - you hear politicians pay lip service to them, but I really wish the media would recognise this growing movement. They need all the encouragement they can get.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

My mate #14 - Ian Currie

My random shuffle of my address book has come up with Ian Currie, the latest addition to the roll of honour that is the my mate series on this blog.

I've known Ian for 11 years. He's a fellow Rovers fan and has season tickets close to where we used to sit in the Blackburn End upper tier. I fondly remember celebrating together when Rovers were promoted at Preston in 2001.

Until a couple of years ago he was in business with another friend of mine, Richard Hughes. Here's a profile I did on them back in 2005. The fact that the two of them have split was a source of some upset. I like them both very much and admire their dealmaking skills and their ablity to add value to businesses. It's not the time or the place to go into the reasons for the split here, but they were a formidable double act in their heyday and I'm proud to count them both as friends still.

Ian and Richard also grew a much coveted client base who they introduced to investment opportunities. It's a matter of public record that their wealthy backers included some old northern family trusts as well as footballers and entrepreneurial business people. Ian is also close to Sam Allardyce who is an active investor; I still kick myself that I royally cocked up a diary date to have lunch at Ian's house with Sam, he rang me as I was arriving in Chester, when I should have been in Lancashire. That link between the two dates back to when Ian was a director of Bolton Wanderers, a purely business arrangement that he enjoyed while it lasted. I imagine Phil Gartside, Bolton chairman, isn't the easiest guy to work with and eventually Ian left the board. We have enjoyed some sweet victories at the Reebok since.

Ian is also a great supporter of good causes (not just Rovers) and particularly of the Prince's Trust, the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital Charity Appeal and of the Lowry at Salford. We worked together on an event a couple of years ago with Theo Paphitis, another close friend of Ian - a report is here. We also played on opposing sides at the Reebok at this match in May.

By a remarkable coincidence there's tabloid speculation today suggesting Ian has been over to India and is about to be invited onto the board at Blackburn Rovers, something I suggested here back in February. This would be a very good move for Rovers, but I'm confident Ian and his pal Ian Battersby would require assurances that things are going to change and they won't be "yes men" to people who are taking our club down. I certainly hope so.

Meeting Hooky at the BBC at Salford Quays

We had a great experience this morning as I was a guest on Gordon Burns' programme on the BBC Radio Manchester AND Lancashire. The first such show from Quay House at MediaCity. You will be able to listen to it for a while if you click the iPlayer link here.

I was reviewing the Sunday papers with Maria McGeoghan, the editor of the Manchester Evening News, who is always very lovely company. We picked up a few serious highlights to start with: Steve Jobs, the rising popularity of crafts and a good piece on climate change that Maria found. In the second part we highlighted TV shopping, the X Factor, Christina Aguilera's backstage demands, internships and I had a bit of a rant about the hopeless cause that his Blackburn Rovers under Venky's.

It was great to be broadcasting from a studio with a view and one where Rachel and the kids could watch from the office outside. It was also a fantastic experience watching Gordon Burns work, he has a great manner about him. He carries such authority but he also interviews and discusses in a very easy way. No wonder Sir Alex Ferguson wanted his first BBC interview to be with Gordon. But as much as he makes it look easy, he prepares very methodically.

The guest after us was the great Peter Hook from New Order. We had a good chat about his forthcoming concerts and the experience of RAW 2010 when he was interviewed by John Bishop. I was ready to apologise if he hadn't, as it was my idea. His daughter took this picture of us next to his old boss and our much missed friend Tony Wilson. I wish I'd told him how much his music has meant to me over the last 25 years.

There's a growing realisation that the BBC move to Salford isn't just a good idea, but a popular reality. It has started to put the inaccessible BBC just that bit closer to the heartbeat of the nation. Yes, this is good for the BBC, but it's also important for the North too. This piece in the Spectator by William Cook is refreshingly positive without being patronising. Hopefully the rest of the country will awaken to what greatness lies within the North, and appreciate that not only will great things happen, but that they have been happening for years and this is just another step.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Tim Edwards

I've just been for a long walk down Marple golf course to try and make sense of a rotten week. It's significant because it was the place I last spent a proper amount of time with my friend Tim Edwards, who died last weekend.

As the obituary notice here says he was only 46 and leaves a loving wife Gale and two daughters Carla and Ellie. It also paints a very accurate picture of the Tim I knew: funny, warm, clever, unorthodox and quite brilliant at what he did. But what has also come through from the other people I've spoken to about him was that he was a true friend; someone who was loyal and kind who had a capacity to listen to people's troubles and offer a friendly word. He took his responsibilities as a supportive friend very seriously.

He was also incredibly honest. If he thought something was rubbish, or someone wasn't good at what they did, he wouldn't waste time being diplomatic, he'd tell you straight. I found that very refreshing.

What is particularly upsetting is that Tim died while out cycling; training for a trip to Italy he was planning. He was one of the fittest 40-somethings I know. He ran marathons, he had captained Leeds University football team and he was still very was active, he wasn't a big drinker (in fact, on our golf trips to Portugal he was a lightweight on that score). He looked lean and healthy.

I struggle to find any words of comfort at times like this. But there is a reservoir of love for Tim and a deep sense of loss and hurt from everyone who's life he touched. He was a remarkable man. His life was too short, horribly short, but that love we feel now and that loss we feel is a tribute to the mark he made. Rest in peace, my friend.

Tim's wife Gale has set up a page where you can add tributes to Tim and asked for donations to a special charity at the Salford diocese. You can donate here.

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Stay hungry, stay foolish

This talk by Steve Jobs is worth reading again. Amidst this outpouring of respect and emotion for an amazing man that no-one really knew, I'm feeling very sad this week as I've lost a dear, dear friend. I'll write something about it over the weekend, but it's been a pretty horrible week.

Monday, October 03, 2011

The Romiley reek

There is an appalling smell in Romiley at the moment. You get a lung full of it on the road from Marple Garden Centre up Otterspool, then also from the train on the Marple side. I asked the Stockport Council leader Dave Goddard about it when we met him a couple of weeks ago and he said he was looking into it. Has anyone got to the bottom of it?

Venky's invite fans to India - but will they listen?

More grim news from Ewood Park. Two defeats before a nonsense trip to India. I genuinely despair. Steve Kean has been given money in the transfer window to build a team, though my understanding is not that much money changed hands for the likes of Yakubu and Scott Dann's deal was on the never never.

Even after Saturday, the moment has passed to demonstrate for his sacking. The bigger problem is we have a club with no infrastructure and no management team. The PR stunts the owners are involved in are a joke - flying fans over to Pune for a meeting is just stupid. And why are they continuing to do interviews about footballing matters? - successful owners never do that - Jack Walker didn't, Abramovich doesn't, Sheikh Mansour doesn't. They are making a laughing (chicken) stock of Blackburn Rovers. But as well as the fans who are going over to Pune, I understand that they are also meeting with a serious Rovers supporting bloke, who would ordinarily make a solid chairman or even take an executive position. But this guy has met them once already and was ferocious in his criticism of them. It would suit the Rao family to have such a figurehead, but he wouldn't risk his own personal credibility being a puppet show in this circus.

It's my understanding too that Jerome Anderson is still very much in the picture.

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Steve Kean is not the problem, he is the symptom. The sooner Venky's take the job of ownership seriously, realise the limits of their expertise, appoint a management team who will give them credible advice and not rely on advisers and agents who line their own pockets, the sooner they will realise he is not a proper manager - and find someone capable of doing it properly. Until then though, they'd probably sack Kean and replace him with Leonardo di Caprio.