Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Marple Leaf Review of 2013

Here's a review of 2013, based on the 10 main blog topics.

Marple - Asda got shown the way out of town, but Marple still seems to lumber on without a clear identity or a direction. Paul Howard Menswear closing was a blow to the retail core, no progress on the Kirkland development of a new Waitrose or Aldi. Crummy Corner looks even worse since All Things Nice departed for the new deli on the main street. The row at Rose Hill ended badly.

Rose Hill Stores - ended badly
Rovers - still been staying away from Ewood, except when we were invited. The outlook is still miserable, for the most part, which has been masked by moderately good form. I don't share the optimism of blogger Mikey Delap. I rather tend to the view shared by Jim Wilkinson that this is a mid-table side still owned by people who don't know what they're doing. There is no money and the losses are piling up. There will be a day of reckoning. This cannot last.

Journalism - Carried on writing, including a cover byline on Economia, the largest circulation business magazine in the country, but radio was what started really exciting me. I hosted Downtown's hour long business programme on CityTalk FM a few times and really enjoyed it. Have also enjoyed popping up on Radio5 Live and BBC Radio Manchester. Also did the Whistelblowers podcast a couple of times. I want to do more of this. Any help and hints gratefully received.

Manchester - the city is definitely on the up, but large issues loom ahead. The circle of poverty around the city core is a blight on the rest of the shiny happy centre. I've worked with the top class civic leadership this year, but 2014 has to be year when a new generation starts to shine through as the whole city region looks beyond Sirs Howard Bernstein and Sir Richard Leese to the generation who will lead the city in the next 20 years.

Cass Penant and Bill Routledge at the NFM
Books - Moderately pleased at the reception and reviews for Northern Monkeys - another cultural anthology that I enjoyed this year was Thick as Thieves - Personal Situations with The Jam by Stuart Deabill and Ian Snowball - captures what it was really like following the best band I ever saw. Best work of fiction I read was probably Zadie Smith's NW. My magnum opus is with its editor at the moment.

Telly - Enjoyed some quality box sets - Broadchurch, Breaking Bad, House of Cards and the most compelling of them all, Homeland.

Politics - massively unimpressed with all the parties. Yet for all the negativity about Ed Miliband he's been an effective opposition leader - prevented intervention in Syria, stood up to Murdoch and the Daily Mail. Labour's message about living standards may be starting to stick, but as things get better economically the prospects for the coalition parties improve by the day. The politician that has played it best in 2013 has been George Osborne even if he has missed all his own targets. I'm worried that the Scots will vote for independence - they have the momentum and Salmond is one of the most capable politicians there is. Liked Andy Burnham and Andrew Adonis.

Catholic stuff - We were lucky enough to visit Rome this year and celebrate Mass in the Vatican. Pope Francis has brought zest and energy to the Church. He seems to be able to connect with the essence of what the core Christian message is - love, charity and hope.

Friends - This was the year we said goodbye to Martin McDermott and Norman Geras. So sad. But I continue to be awestruck by the small acts of kindness, generosity and thankless endeavour by so many of of our friends. We are truly blessed.

Family - we continue to hope and pray for the health of Hazel, my Dad's loving wife.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Homeland - "I want it to end"

Pic from Showtime - Brody in prison in Iran
Yep, me too Brody. The last episode of Homeland was on Channel 4 last night. It was a crashing, crushing disappointment. After all the emotional investment into Carrie and Brody, it felt like it needed to end. There isn't any way back now. Season 3 was a rambling confused series of indulgent red herrings. It was only rescued by the re-appearance of Nicholas Brody, but even his scabby imprisonment in a Venezualan slum was starting to feel more like an episode of Lost.

The last twenty minutes last night - after the horrible public execution of Brody in Tehran - stripped back what was left and, frankly, it doesn't add up to much. Without Brody there is no series. The paranoia, the confusion and the second guessing of motive made Homeland so gripping, so surprising and to quote a word used twice last night - astonishing.

There cannot and should not be a season 4 - it has been reduced to the level of Spooks, where the story always trumped the characters. Enough.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

STAND - Against Modern Kids Football

I'd urge you to go and buy a copy of STAND - the fanzine of the year - it always has some really well put together pieces from the perspective of football fans. 

I was really chuffed that they won Fanzine of the Year at the Football Supporters Federation awards night.

I've done a piece in the current edition on my experiences around kids football and who I blame for the appalling behaviour of some parents and managers. I was going to upload it on here, but for now I'll just urge you to buy the print edition.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Mark Timlin, British hard boiled crime fiction at its best

Through the 90s I devoured crime fiction, falling particularly for an American writer called James Crumley and a South London hard boiled voyeur of London's underbelly by the name of Mark Timlin. 

Even before his Nick Sharman private eye novels were made into an ITV drama with Clive Owen, they had something characterful and true about them. I liked the sense of humour and naughtiness of them - name dropping TV series Sharman watched like Magic Rabbits and Invitation to Love - both series-within-series on Brookside and Twin Peaks respectively, he also hat tipped Crumley, which I thought was a nice touch. Timlin also had a delicious way of describing food, sex and clothes, something that is easy to get so wrong.

I stumbled upon Guns of Brixton recently having been bitten again by the crime genre bug thanks to a Val McDermid event at the Manchester. Literature Festival and from reading Kevin Sampson's expansive Scouse gang epic The Killing Pool.  What, I wondered had become of Timlin? Like all his previous books Guns of Brixton it is named after a song title. It turns out it was originally published as Answers From the Grave in 2004.

It is full of the familiar observational social nuances that Timlin has always been good at. By spanning generations, like Kevin Sampson's tome, the changing nature of London criminal activity and morality provides a constant backdrop as well as his trademark bloodbaths and a cameo from Nick Sharman.

But, and there is a but coming; much as I enjoyed it, and sat up late one night to finish it, I felt it lacked polish. All the ingredients are there, it just needed an edit, someone to push a funny, deep and powerful writer to be better. A couple of silly errors towards the end, confusion about which character was speaking when and a lack of impact about a couple of plot twists. All that said, I've also knocked off John Grisham's latest, The Racketeer, this week. Formulaic, no character depth, but slick as you like. I'd have hated Timlin to have become like that, but Grisham doesn't half have pace and polish.

I hope there's more from Mark Timlin. I'm going to enjoying filling in the gaps.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Whistleblowers podcast

Me, Stuart Deabill, Webbo, Kevin Day

Recorded a podcast down London this week with old mucker Mark Webster. It was a nice surprise to meet the other guests: Stuart Deabill, author of my favourite book about The Jam, Thick As Thieves; and comedian Kevin Day.

We rambled on about Man United, Chelsea, Match of Day, Blackburn Rovers, kids football and a few stories about Northern Monkeys and Southern Ravers.

You can listen to it here - http://ht.ly/2C1bql - or subscribe to Whisteblowers via iTunes.

What is the point of the Manchester Evening News?

I’ve sat in meetings with regional media executives thinking I’ve missed a trick. Being fair minded I sat there listening patiently to bold new strategies, to taps on the nose about hidden revenue streams they had discovered and thought they must know something I don’t. Over the years these have involved going free, getting into TV and sticking bits behind a paywall.
They’ve all come and gone and I have, occasionally, doubted my core view that the whole regional newspaper industry is sliding towards total oblivion.
The announcement this week that the Liverpool Daily Post is to close is just one more nail in the coffin of an industry in its death throes. These strategies are just dreams, whims and last gasps.
So let’s take this opportunity to take stock of the Manchester Evening News, also owned by Trinity Mirror and run by the same management team responsible for closing the Post. Now based in Oldham, the MEN reads and feels like a tabloid paper in a city region that does a decent job of reporting big crime stories, Metrolink problems and Premiership football. Beyond that, what else?
Really, go on, ask yourself if you can remember an MEN splash that wasn’t one of those stories?
Two days of the week it is handed out free (pic, above). Its very name is a triage of misnomers – it is neither Manchester, Evening, nor News. Such is the pace of which hard news is broken through web and social channels, not to mention through radio.
Circulation is heading downwards, as it is with all print titles.
Analysts of these trends tend to focus on the decline in the quality of the journalism and the supposed correlation with copy sales. Many will also evoke the take up of social media as evidence for public disengagement.
The real decline however is in advertising. That was the foundation upon which everything else was built. Advertising paid for the court reporters, the political editors, the punchy columnists and investigations. The layers of rock of newspaper advertising were jobs, homes, motors and classified. At each turn these have been cracked apart by more Internet disrupters – Monster, Right Move, AutoTrader and the all conquering eBay.
As I know very well, there is a small reservoir of business to business advertising, but it is barely enough for the MEN to sustain even its GM Business Week magazine, usually to be seen in unopened bundles in receptions in Spinningfields.
Any media property is at the core of a community. It provides a relevant platform for advertisers, attracted by an attentive set of readers. It also dominates the conversations people are having around that pivot. That has long gone in Manchester and in other cities around the world. What all regional papers are doing now is flailing around looking for a purpose. Good luck to them, but it looks like the game is up.