Sunday, April 28, 2013

Andrew Adonis in Manchester - very impressed

Lord Andrew Adonis is one of life’s true gents. For a start he’s quite insistent you call him Andrew. A charming, energetic and really positive force of ideas and curiosity. But he’s also something of an enigma in politics.

He is a switcher, an avowed social democrat, he has changed his party allegiance rather than his values, just as the parties have pivoted on changing political poles. An early member of the SDP, a former LibDem councillor who later found a home in Tony Blair’s New Labour, he was also wooed by the ConDem coalition as a potential minister following the election of 2010.

He also comments freely on how he looks - wiry and wispy - and not at all like an Adonis - “Apart from my own name, the Transpennine Express is the greatest misnomer of all time..” is a typical self-deprecating comment. Yet I find him massively persuasive and charismatic. When he spoke at the Chamber dinner in 2010 he went down better than the comedian - and that was Michael McIntyre!

Tony Blair made him a peer which meant he has never had to stand for and hold a seat in the House of Commons. Yet the evidence of last Friday was that he would have made a terrific constituency MP. He seems genuinely interested in people and how to find solutions to their problems and challenges, but then he has the flexibility to focus on where he really can make a difference - leadership, educational entrepreneurship and transport initiatives.

So Downtown was thrilled last week to host Andrew Adonis on a day of looking around the North West. His first call was under my care at a breakfast at the Renaissance Hotel.

His three big specialisms are transport, education and regional economic development. Inevitably, these are linked.

I asked him about the work he’s doing in the North East - LEPs working together, a skills revolution, a Combined Authority, an “Oyster” style travel card that works across trains and buses. This was informed massively by the Greater Manchester model.

I asked him as well about the potential for London’s ever powerful Mayor and the clout it gives our capital - “when I was Transport Secretary and I got a call from the Mayor of London I took that call”. He agreed that cities like Manchester need them too - “Manchester should have a mayor. In time this will happen”, though admitted it is a tough argument to make amongst all three parties.

He was also on sparkling form in talking about the urgent need to develop apprenticeships and reduce the number of kids who aren’t in education, employment or training.

We then arranged for him to visit UK Fast, the award winning data hosting business led by Laurence Jones.

Lord Adonis was just the latest in a series of high profile, influential and thought leading figures to work with us on crafting our Northern revolution agenda. We want to stimulate a fresh approach to business engagement, a higher priority to regional needs and a recognition that our great cities and counties and communities are not the problem to the economic malaise of this country, but are part of the solution.

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Top 20 happy memories from 40 years following football

That was the scene, top pic, that I witnessed at my first ever football league match 40 years ago today. They are Burnley fans celebrating promotion to division one on the pitch at Deepdale in 1973. The 1-1 draw ensured that North End stayed up as well. Although I'm a grumpy old man who rails against so much of what modern football represents, it has given me friendships, experiences, highs and lows and many, many memories.

But any memory of a football match is never just about who scored, what the game was like or what the score was. It's also so much about the sense of occasion and the day out. Here are my twenty best memories from the last 40 years in date order.

Preston North End v Burnley at Deepdale - my first match, with my Dad. There were pitch invasions, celebrations and a stand off at the end as the teams played out a 1-1 draw. I had a bobble hat knicked. Football wise I remember that Burnley team well, Alan Stevenson and Peter Noble and his combover. This was one of many trips to Deepdale, but I never took to supporting North End. However, something stirred in my soul, as I've now published a book by one of PNE's best known fans and I've married a Claret!

Blackpool v Sunderland - 1975 - the day Mickey Walsh scored a wonder goal for Blackpool. My Dad was a milkman and worked Saturdays, so it was rare for him to get a free day in time to get us to a match, but he went to extraordinary efforts to get to games. As he was from Wrexham, but had lived all over Lancashire as a lad, he wasn't a loyal fan of any team he just wanted to go to games. This was a cracker, I remember the Sunderland fans in their thousands, swaying and singing. The Mickey Walsh goal, which you can see on YouTube here, was a belter.

Liverpool v Trabzonspur - 1976 - This was when Liverpool dominated English football, and were about to embark on a conquest of Europe too. The team was brilliant by any standards, Keegan and David Johnson, Ray Clemence in goal, solid in defence. And we sat in the main stand close to 500 noisy Turks.

Blackburn Rovers v Orient - September 1977 - I was friends with an older lad called Kevin Bradley who was originally from Darwen. He took me on the train to Blackburn to this match, though I had been to Ewood before for a schoolboy international and with my Dad. Some other hard lads from Lancaster were Rovers fans as well - Baz Dootson (who I still see), Mark Currie and this nutter from Scorton called Bill Binks. When you're 11, these things matter. But I loved football and desperately wanted to belong. I liked Ewood Park, the walk from Mill Hill, the smell of pies, the accents, the way Rovers played. I have always loved an attacking full back and we had two this season - Hird and Bailey.

Wales v Scotland - 1977 - Anfield - Joe Jordan secured a passage to Argentina with a little help from the hand of whatever twisted God he serves, which earned the visitors a penalty. Except they weren't really the visitors at all. Apart from my Dad I didn't see a Wales fan all night. The Tartan army roared Scotland on. See it on YouTube here.

Burnley v Blackburn Rovers - Boxing Day - 1977. Jim Wilkinson describes it as the best day ever.

Wales v Spain - Wrexham - 1984 - that Mark Hughes scissor kick. We were there. Me and my Dad finally got that night at Anfield out of our system.

Swindon v Blackburn Rovers - 1983 - I missed some of the big, big occasions of the Rovers promotion back to the second division, but saw the majority of matches through the Bobby Saxton years. Some fun memories of London trips with the Accy branch, Simon Garner hat tricks, some giant killings, being scared witless at Wolves, getting battered at Newcastle, but this was great. Rovers rarely took big followings and it was often a bit tasty back then. But for Swindon in the Cup we had what can only be described as a 'mob of lads' out for this, which was rare. It certainly was an oddity to be part of the gang the police were tracking and who were dishing out the random acts of bullying that constitutes a hooligan day out. Me and my mates went in a transit van. Rovers won 2-1.

Bury v Blackpool - 1984 - I've never been involved in a riot before, but this was like something out of the wild west. Some good pals of mine are Blackpool fans - one is now married to my sister - and this excursion was one of a number of crazy days out with them in Blackpool's third and fourth division days. I took a reel of photos that day too which are now on the Lancashire Lads website and included in Peter Walsh's book Hooligans.

Millwall v Rovers - 1991 - two reasons. Minor reason, we won. Main reason, I was writing as a stringer on Rovers for the Lancashire Evening Post and met Jack Walker after the match. He gave me a quote, so we had a bit of a scoop on Kenny Dalglish joining the week after. It was great fun in the press box, but my heart was on the terraces.

Barcelona v Sampdoria - Wembley - 1992 European Cup Final - incredible. Me and John Dixon were in the Samdoria end. Epic, that Barca team with Koeman, Stoikov, Laudrup and that Sampa team with Vialli and Mancini. Not the only European final I've been to, but the most memorable. Can still picture that Koeman goal now.

Blackburn Rovers v Derby County - 1992 - play off semi final. Two nil down, won 4-2. Speedie. Scotty Sellars, Mike Newell's amazing curling shot. Just brilliant. The second leg at the Baseball ground was great too, the play off final at Wembley v Leicester was so tense I felt sick. But this game was just incredible for drama, noise and intensity. Drove Pat Whittle's BMW up from London

Blackburn Rovers v Arsenal - 1992 - first home game in the top flight in little old Ewood for me and I was there. Shearer scored. Enjoyed sending a fax from my Mum's office to Arsenal supporting workmate Nick Masters the next day. Technologically driven football banter ain't what it used to be.

Blackburn Rovers v Queen's Park Rangers - 1994 - on the way to the Premier League title Rovers took QPR apart 4-0. Shearer was on fire. This used to happen all the time, it was what we expected every week and I have to pinch myself that it actually happened at all. This one stands out as it is the only game my Mum has ever been to.

Arsenal v Blackburn Rovers - Highbury 1997 - with Roy Hodgson as manager we beat Arsenal 3-1. It was brilliant. I don't think Arsenal lost another game that season. It was a defining moment in football as Arsene Wenger turned it round. I remember Peter White telling me in Terry Neill's pub the night before that he thought Hodgson was up his own arse and that the players didn't like him. I used to love away matches in London when I lived there. The London branch was a lively scene at the time and I made lifelong friends.

Preston North End v Blackburn Rovers - 2000 - secured promotion. See those Burnley fans dancing on that pitch (above), that was me that night, jogging on to the pitch to celebrate with David Dunn, Matt Jansen and Garry Flitcroft. I went corporate with Alec Craig, Ian Currie, Kenni James and Roland Horridge who I have got to know much better since. A top top night. Dropped my phone on the pitch when I ran on. When I eventually retrieved it I had a text from my sister - "who's the hoolie in the suit?"

Tottenham Hotspur v Blackburn Rovers - Cardiff - 2002 - Winning any cup is just brilliant, this one was a truly epic victory of endeavour over arrogance. Still laugh about it now when ever I see my good friend Steven Lindsay. Oh such a perfect day, so glad I spent it with you.

After qualifying for Europe we experienced an away trip to a bleak European concrete hell hole. But that was Celtic, first we had a trip to Bulgaria to enjoy.

CSKA Sofia v Blackburn Rovers - 2002 - Although Rovers won the tie, it was only on away goals. A great trip with the lads. I can genuinely recall hardly anything about the game at all as we had been on it all day. Tour rules apply. Still laugh thinking about it now.

Manchester United v Porto - 2004 - United went out. Porto had Benni McCarthy playing for them and their manager was Jose Mourinho. I remember going corporate with my good pal Neil Tague and enjoying a good snigger at this behind our hands. And we both thought that the bloke in the Matalan coat seems to be quite a character.
Blackburn Rovers v Arsenal - 2010 - I've really enjoyed taking the kids to Rovers, until recently. We had season tickets in the Riverside, then the Family Stand, but this match in 2010 is the pinnacle of those days. It was Joe's 11th birthday and we went back to the player's lounge after the game for a drink with David Dunn, who was man of the match in a 2-1 win. Happy days.

Vinyl Vision by Hazel Jones

Isn't this great? It's by Hazel Jones, partner of my pal Jeremy Smith (financier and musical genius).
It's called 'Vinyl Vision' and is available in limited edition prints:

High Quality Giclee Print - £89
Print mounted and framed - £225
Box stretched canvas - £195

If you are interested let me know, there are a few still available. Mine is on my office wall and always attracts interest.
1 – Born In The USA – Bruce Springsteen
2 – Dark Side of The Moon – Pink Floyd
3 – Bat Out of Hell – Meat Loaf
4 – Tubular Bells – Mike Oldfield
5 – Never Mind The Bollocks – Sex Pistols
6 – Aladdin Sane – David Bowie
7 – Abbey Road – The Beatles
8 – Layla and other assorted love songs – Derek and the Dominoes
9 - Who’s Next - The Who
10 – Teaser and the Firecat – Cat Stevens
11 – London Calling – The Clash
12 – The Velvet Underground and Nico
13 – Aqualung – Jethro Tull
14 - Foxtrot – Genesis
15 – A Wizard, A True Star – Todd Rundgren
16 - Live Under A Blood Red Sky – U2
17 – Close To The Edge – Yes
18 – Weasels Ripped My Flesh – The Mothers of Invention
19 – Deep Purple in Rock – Deep Purple
20 – Queen II – Queen
21 – Innervisions – Stevie Wonder
22 – Exile On Main Street – Rolling Stones
23 – Blood On The Tracks – Bob Dylan
24 – Live – Bob Marley & The Wailers
25 - Off The Wall – Michael Jackson
26 – Aja – Steely Dan
27 - Electric Ladyland – The Jimi Hendrix Experience
28 – In the Court of the Crimson King – King Crimson
29 – Graceland – Paul Simon
30 – Pet Sounds – The Beach Boys
31 – The Bends – Radiohead
32 – Parklife – Blur
33 – 4 Symbols – Led Zeppelin

Friday, April 26, 2013

Rovers - staying up, for now. But we are bust

Raped by agents, led by idiots, owned by people who have been taken for fools, but who are too arrogant and proud to admit when they are wrong. Today is the false dawn. Staying up in the Championship offers no new turning point, just catastrophe delayed.

I can't make the numbers stack up for Blackburn Rovers, I really can't. If the wages to turnover ratio was nudging 90 per cent in the Premiership, then it must be 130 per cent now. Big signings on decent money. And long contracts too. There is a funding requirement way over what the depleted income streams can match. It is bust. But it is worse than that, it is beyond rescue. It is unsellable.

This summer there will be a fire sale of Rhodes, Olsson, Hanley. Others will be allowed to drift off, like Dunny and Robinson. The big earners, the Portuguese, Murphy, Etuhu, Best and Kazim-Richards will be will sit it out and pick their cheques up. The football liabilities and obligations to football creditors (players) required to remain a football club are simply too big to carry on.

Venky's London PLC, and whoever owns that, will just turn the tap off. It's coming folks. It is as well we are prepared to hold it together as fans, but we may have to fall very far before we rise again.

Why I'm in a grumpy mood today

This Friday catches me in the grumpiest of moods. I can't particularly identify why, but here is a list. Think of it like an in/out list. These are all out. "In" is "just not being a dick".

Seeing McDonalds wrappers at the side of the road - obviously chucked out of cars.
Boy racers slaloming round the useless speed bumps on Hibbert Lane in Marple.
Boys racers in Marple generally.
Trying to drive anywhere between Bredbury and Marple between 8-9am and 3-5pm.
Getting stuck behind a bus on Brabyns Brow or Compstall Brow.
Platform 1 at Manchester Piccadilly station. Chaos.
The callous indifference of Northern Rail staff at Piccadilly.
The aggressive stone faced G4S/Northern Rail ticket inspectors.
Blame cultures.
Lack of accountability cultures. 
The rubbish offers from WH Smiths vouchers.
The number of extra questions the poor staff have to ask at WH Smiths.
Chocolate on sale at the counter.
Late payers.
PPI texters.
Unknown numbers calling you.
Misuse of the word "yourself". eg "Will you be wanting a bar of chocolate for yourself?"
The kid who punched kid2 in the bollocks.
Twitter noise.
Twitter boasting.
The stand off of ego between competing businesses.
Fault lines and petty rivalries in business.
Saying "I don't believe in censorship but...".
Not knowing.
People who don't show at events.
Liverpool fans on Suarez.
Everyone else on Suarez.
Being expected to be pleased that Blackburn Rovers will probably stay up.
SEO people who think they can be copywriters.
The Daily Mail.
The Guardian.
Jumping to conclusions.
Party politics.
The sudoku in the Metro.
Car parks where you have to key in your number so you can't pass it on to someone else even though you've paid the rent on the space.

Ah, that's better.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

More than ever, business needs a revolution in banking. Thoughts on the Co-op, Lloyds, FLS and JLS.

I was lined up to go on BBC Radio 5 Live on Wednesday to talk about the Bank of England’s announcement that it was extending the Funding for Lending Scheme (FLS). The news was all a flurry when two other events jumped up the agenda – the break-up of JLS and the collapse of the Co-operative Bank’s deal to buy 632 Lloyd’s Bank branches.

When Andy Verity, the business reporter leapt from his chair, breaking the peaceful hum of the Five Live newsroom at that early hour, I knew something big was going down. For preparation I was checking through the Bank of England press release and had just read Luke Johnson’s excellent column in the Financial Times where he called for more competition in the sector.

My initial thought was that this is a disaster. It looks like a real kick in the balls for Peter Marks, outgoing CEO of the Co-operative Group, who was offloading assets and clearing the decks to integrate a large business into the bank in order for it to become a real player. He’d been positively crowing about it and had been given the highest level endorsements possible from George Osborne.

Robert Peston claimed the withdrawl from this deal was an indication of the Co-op’s possible exit from banking altogether, a remarkable and dramatic reversal if proved true. I’m not so sure.

Clearly then, it’s also a bit of a blow to any of the government’s ambitions (and of the Labour Party) to encourage more competition in the banking sector.

Pretty quickly, Lloyds announced that the branches would be floated as the Trustee Savings Bank (TSB). A swiftness of foot that rather exposes the tardiness displayed by Royal Bank of Scotland when its deal to sell branches and customers to Santander fell apart. For all his skill in shrinking RBS, Stephen Hester clearly had no Plan B up his sleeve.

Though if a bank doesn’t want the branches and £25bn of deposits, why should anyone buy shares in TSB? That’s one to ponder.

All of this starts to scream for urgent action for a properly funded bank that can lend to smaller and medium sized businesses. One too that is closer to the heart of the regional economy and one less concerned with City issues. One that will be part of a Northern Revolution of policy, planning and economic management.

My own view for what it’s worth is that the lack of lending at the moment is as much about demand as it is about supply. Confidence is the biggest barrier to any business taking out a loan.

But there are a few other interesting trends in the emerging economy. For a start there are signs of growth from the fast growing “gazelle” companies who have grown in the last year, the FT, quoting Experian data, said there has been a ten per cent increase in medium sized businesses to 4,353. These are the companies targeted by the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses programme and by GrowthAccelerator. These businesses get good advice and are well served by banks. Funding for Lending has reduced the cost of money for these businesses, it has not made money available to more companies.

The issue is new start-ups and businesses who are constricted in what they can do. They may have the idea and the ambition, but don’t know where to turn. The UK small business market deserves a banking service that can be their friend.

Another process that could unlock dormant capital in the economy is the large numbers of companies who were missold complex interest rate swap products as a condition of a loan. These are anchors on growth and profitability and need sorting out.

But here’s an alternative thought. The Co-operative backing out now is a blessing. The previous evening I’d attended a very useful event at the new group HQ in NOMA where Ruairidh Jackson talked passionately about the best strategy for members, about creating great places in Manchester city centre that contributed to the life of the city. The board has a responsibility to members, that the Co-op is different. It was Chatham House rules, so I can’t be too specific, but maybe what we have just witnessed is an act of great bravery that could just be the best decision the Co-op have taken in a decade of bold moves.

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Sunday, April 14, 2013

A view of Margaret Thatcher, not from the left or the right, but the North

There will be plenty of people on the left drifting into a fantasy world of what life would have been like with no Margaret Thatcher, now that there is no longer a real living Margaret Thatcher to despise, just a grave to dance on.
If you want to properly assess the legacy and the impact of the so-called Iron Lady then start with the words she chose to use when she’d won the election of 1979. Twisting the beautiful words of St Francis of Assisi she said: “Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope.”
The reaction to her death – more disharmony, no consensus over what the truth is, plenty of doubt, it rather points to a failure on all fronts. And for many communities, the only hope came from successive governments.
As the brilliant sociologist Stuart Hall said, “Thatcherism” was defined by what it was for and what it was against: “the virtues of the market, competition, elitism, individual initiative, the iniquities of state intervention and bureaucracy… and against trade union militancy, national aspirations, permissiveness, women’s liberation.”
It’s all very Manichean* – if you know what that means fine, if you don’t, then that’s fine too, but you probably need to read more.
But to make things easier, I believe you have to separate what she said and what the government did. In fact, a lot of what she said was errant nonsense, ill thought through and arrogant. Such as that breathtaking baloney about there being no such thing as society, just collections of individuals and families.
But let’s for a moment concentrate on her quest for the truth.
For me the biggest failure of Thatcher and Thatcherism is that it was never really true to its revolutionary rhetoric. There was never any attempt to create new models of co-operative business, genuine shareholder democracy, or to forge a revolution in home ownership beyond selling off council houses. It remains a challenge now.
I don’t come at this from the left or the right, but from the North. I have always suffered from an excess of civic pride.
There are proud intellectual traditions in the north. Like mutuality, the co-operative movement and free trade liberalism. Instead the anti-Thatcher and pro-Thatcher camps have painted us all into a nasty form of rampant capitalism pitted against a dismal protectionist socialism.
There is a myth too that the North stood strong in 1984, but was defeated, that the brave miners led the struggle against her mighty state armoury; that they were the vanguard of the enemy within, who took her on. No they weren’t, they were pretty much on their own. I was active on the left in the 80s. I supported the miners (see above, with Rik Mayall), marched for Derek Hatton and his cronies in Liverpool, peacefully picketed Padiham power station, danced at Red Wedge gigs and bought Billy Bragg records (the revolution is just a t-shirt away, comrade).
It was a debate that was hopelessly lost. The miners were defeated, not just because they weren’t united, but were led by a tyrant to an unpopular strike that divided communities with rhetoric and tribalism. As a supporter, you rattled collection tins in working class areas and were as unpopular as a Tory. People didn’t want to know. The coal industry was a pawn in a politically motivated class struggle – by both sides.
As for her battle with the local authorities, Manchester City Council only began to be in a position to make the city a better place when they accepted the new rules and engaged. Former leader Graham Stringer deserves a lot of credit for this.
Society had changed, Thatcher provided a mood music for a generation of entrepreneurs, 11 per cent of the workforce in 1989 were self employed, made up of people like my dad, who had his own milk round. Yet that was against a backdrop of high interest rates and no real attempt to remove red tape. Instead, just the unchallenged march of the banks and their concentration of power.
I dispute the view that this created a culture of selfishness that made the world a harsher place, but something clearly snapped.
Only by attempting to govern from the centre, by taking the country with you could any politician ever hope to govern again. And a new language of business engagement has taken root.
Neil Kinnock partly saw this, but Tony Blair grasped it fully, and so too we now see the leaders of every political party today occupying familiar territory. Thatcher even said that her greatest success was New Labour. And I have always held that David Cameron is truly Blair’s heir. It all rather drives home the point that no other politician could ever expect to win one election, let alone three, by declaring war on an ‘enemy within’.
And let’s remember that. The left has been properly marginalised and defeated. The supremacy of post-Thatcherite politics for the last 23 years has been the killing of the idea that there will ever be another Thatcher of the right, or the left. For all of the talk of the triumph of neo-liberalism, most western countries have a state that produces over 40 per cent of GDP.
Finally, I can’t let the week pass without a nod in the direction of the grave dancers. I can’t personally celebrate the death of anyone. As a good mate of mine, Simon Sinclair, said this week in response to an invitation to a party to mark her death: “I’d be very sad and think less of you if you actually celebrated the death of another human being. I don’t remember anyone celebrating the death of even Fred West or Osama Bin Laden. And nobody danced for the death of Stalin or Mao Zedong. So why anyone I respect might do a childish jig over the death of someone who took an immense popular mandate to fight a huge national decline in the way she understood the country would want to, and repeatedly elected her to do, makes me feel a little diminished as a member of the human race.”
*Manichean – the belief that everything can be reduced to a fight between good and evil.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

This club is our club

At Hillsborough today I ran into Rovers fans who I've been through a lot with.

There was Kevin Bradley, who took me, aged 11, to Ewood Park in 1977 as his mate. I didn't know whether to thank him or not.

Outside the ground I met Andy Carruthers and Margaret Reid, the first time I'd seen them since our friend Mark Wastell died. I first met Andy when he drove us to Ipswich in 1983 and I got chased all over town for my Fila top. Margaret even ran our London branch football team in the 1990s. They travel everywhere following Rovers. We had a memorable trip to Lyon with a gang of us in 1998, Mark included.

A more recent acquaintance is Mushtaq Khan, who I'm very fond of. We've been threatening to meet at a game ever since we met on a project we've been trying to get going last year.

I also had a nice day with one of my lads, Louis. I love how his understanding of football is growing and how he's developing a dark ironic sense of humour for a 12 year old. He'll need it.

Everything else about the day was rubbish. The performance was abject. Cowardly and inept. Lacking belief and passion. Only David Dunn had the ability and the hunger. Some had neither. Most have the ability but just don't seem to care.

It was depressing seeing the Leppings Lane stand with its narrow gangways poor stewards and no memorial to the 96 Liverpool fans who perished in 1989. They may have won belated justice, but the lack of a memorial to them at Hillsborough is a disgrace. If I blinked and missed it, then I'm sorry, but I didn't see it.

Supporting a football team is about more than the halfwits on the pitch, or the owners (wherever they may be). Our bond is also to each other, to what we have shared, the places we've been and to the highs and the lows. Venky's will go one day; maybe not as soon as we'd like, but there will be a Blackburn Rovers in our hearts forever more. This club is our club.  

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Crocky Trail, a brilliant place the Daily Mail probably thinks has been banned by the nanny state

OK, I'm not thrilled that of our five sons, three picked up minor injuries. I don't welcome it. But I am pleased they had a brilliant time at Crocky Trail. They took risks, they rubbed up against older kids who pushed and shoved up the Titanic and scrambled up the climbing wall without harnesses. I liked it that the rides were rough and ready. I liked being able to take our dog for a walk around the trail while the younger lads went on rope swings and chain walks across a dyke.

In my youth we had similar fun for free, it was called "the woods" but this was a brilliant collective experience.

This review is also on Trip Advisor.