Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Another brush with crappy crime

Someone crashed their car into mine at Rose Hill Station on Wednesday or Thursday last week. I was parked on the top row, facing outwards and had foolishly left it overnight when I'd been in London on a late one.

I put a couple of posters up on Friday morning in the hope that someone might come forward and realise what they'd done. I hoped someone in a silver car may have checked their car for blue paint scratches from mine. Hopefully we would then swap insurance details and put it down to one of those things.

It's another of life's annoyances on top of our frustration with the ongoing failure to prosecute far more serious local thugs. I enquired to the police and they said I have to attend Cheadle Heath police station with my documents and report the accident. Presumably this is a way of reducing the number of reported crimes, by making it inconvenient to report and to be given the impression by the police that they really haven't the time or the inclination to do anything. My expectations are very low.
Will I even make an insurance claim? Probably not.

Do you know what's really saddened me about this? By Monday my little posters had been taken down, after just one day, and the local Marple Community Forum refuses to put a friendly request for witnesses on their page. I look around at my lovely fellow commuters each morning and am left wondering which dirtbag did this. I don't want to feel like this about people I get the train with. But someone with a silver car knows and it will be on your conscience.

If the CCTV yields anything, then I unleash hell.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Digest and digress, blog from Wonkfest 2018

Here’s the thing. There are far, far more talks and panels (and therefore insights and wisdom) at an event like Wonkfest18 that you DON’T see, than you do. It’s inevitable. You literally can’t be in two, three or even four places at once.

So picking your way carefully through the schedule is part of the skill before you even go. But in there lurks hidden dangers; you miss those serendipitous moments of revelation.

Or as the modern parlance has it, fear of missing out, or #fomo.

My job is external relations. I look for opportunities for our university to connect to industry, other civic institutions, the public sector, our democracy. To make us relevant.

I will also confess to being profoundly irritated by the culture war narrative around “free speech on campus” and the (imagined) prevalence of the censorious “no platform” in our universities. I think it is overstated, and has become a useful “straw man” to bash the sector. 

Food for wonks
So, I digress, but on day two of Wonkfest, I digested quite a lot. There was a sparkling “in conversation” with Two VCs (Linda Drew of our hosts, Ravensbourne University London, and Mary Stuart of the University of Lincoln). I enjoyed the morning motivational lift from Michael Barber. I was even appreciative of a sparky lesson in how badly prepared we all are for Brexit from Dirk van Damme of the OECD.

All good. In fact, really good. But I sat on the edge of my seat in a session, What Should HE Do For Local Communities? Plenty of concrete examples from Clive Winters from Coventry University and Selena Bolingbroke from Goldsmiths, University of London about the importance of trust building and aligning priorities with external partners (that woefully doesn’t do them justice, by the way). But it was everything you come to a conference for: ideas, and confirmation that what you’re doing is right; or a challenge to yourself if it’s spectacularly wrong.

But I didn’t leave early; partly because I’ve been on panels where those on stage outnumber the audience, and it’s a horrible feeling seeing people peel away to be somewhere else when you’re baring your soul. But the main reason was the debate was really getting going by 2.25pm, when I should, by rights, have been shuffling in to the main stage to see Mark Leach grill Sam Gyimah. But I was also really gripped. In a very strong two-day programme it was the most useful and practical discussion I attended.

So, I didn’t get in to hear the minister speak. I could have pressed my nose against the crack in the door and heard him, but I didn’t. Instead, I retreated to the soft furnishings of the Guardian Stage and deleted some email, followed the sparring downstairs via the wonders of social media, and after a few minutes or so was interrupted by a panel of students appearing in front of me to discuss “the snowflake generation”. Remember what I said before? Irritated and grumpy about the culture war rumblings? Yep.

Cut & thrust
It was an illuminating and challenging debate, especially with the questions and answers that followed. I came away with some far deeper reflections on the language we use, the expectations of the students we serve and its coupling to a growing mental health crisis. But also the sometimes woeful institutional response to issues when they arise. It’s all important, of course, because of the wider political context being tiptoed around downstairs as they spoke.

My vice chancellor didn’t know that initially, because I gave him my hot-take on the minister’s comments first thing the next morning, which he seemed happy with. I got that from listening to it on the Wonkhe podcast and scrolling through the social media responses.

But there you go, my first Wonkfest. I really enjoyed it.  I got a lot from it. I felt emboldened and determined. We’ve got some tough times ahead, but there are brilliant people working at all levels of HE prepared to share ideas and work very hard to fulfil a very important cultural and economic mission. To do it well we have to be alive to everything shaping that. And that includes listening to testimonies in places we wouldn’t normally go, however it was that we got there.

Crosspost from WonkHE.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

My mate Mike Emmerich #27

Today is a very happy day. It's therefore a good opportunity to add a good friend to the "my mate" list. I liked Mike Emmerich from the first time I met him, mainly because he's clever, he's decent and he's committed to making the world a better place as an economist.

But we properly became good pals about six years ago when we embarked on an idea to get Manchester discussing. With Martin Carr we ended up with Discuss Manchester. I look back on the sheer scale of our events and achievements and it was bloody brilliant.

In the course of all of that we went through a lot, some of it together. I say this delicately, but he isn't easy to work with. He challenges, he questions and he won't settle for second best. I like that. Part of the experience of working with him encouraged me that a good place to end up would be amongst academics and university enterprise people.

All that makes him sound like a boffin, but his wide hinterland - which sadly includes supporting Manchester United - gives him a real richness. I have also never laughed as much as I have on nights out with Mike and Martin. Sweary, puerile, bombastic, but always clever and always funny.

When he rang to tell me he was seeing Jessica I was thrilled for him. I thought they were a perfect match. Today is the day we toast their marriage. See you later, comrade.   

Friday, November 16, 2018

The Great Escape of Marple

These local posters are the handiwork of my old pal and neighbour Eric Jackson, once of the Manchester Evening News and the creative force behind Statement Artworks.

We have a few 1930s art deco railway posters around the house. It's a style from the golden age of railway advertising, rather than the railways themselves, and Eric has cleverly borrowed from that style.

So many localised artefacts are twee and boosterish, but I love how these tread that thin line between a smidgen of pride and self deprecating northern humour, something very dry and very Eric. Northernticity, as Dave Haslam calls it.

He's been telling me for a while that there was a Marple one in the pipeline. I wondered what local characteristics it could come up with. I think the allusion to the traffic is genius and the typography a great twist. The Offerton poster is great too, drawing a landmark with a gentle overstatement of the place in anyone's heart.

Take a look at Eric's website for one for your area, I love how he's not tried to be in any way tactful for Wilmslow, Alderley and Hale. There's an assumption, I suspect, that there aren't markets in irony to be found in Cheshire's golden triangle.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Heap's Sausages in Greenwich - a delight

I've said before that one of the best ways to experience London is by its cafes. As I found in Holborn, Pimlico and Bethnal Green, they reveal all the deep layers of London life in each one, multiple generations as well as shifting demographics.

Last week I was in Greenwich at a conference, so I skipped the option of the predictable hotel breakfast and went on the hunt for a local cafe. I struck gold with Heap's, a sausage specialist and delightful haven just around the corner. The sausages and bacon were as good as anything I've experienced, rich in flavour and the eggs were cooked to perfection, which is rare.

There were other options available, but nothing that really fitted the old school bill. But this at least had that artisan nod to some firm London traditions.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Here comes the techlash - interviewing Carl Miller author of Death of the Gods, the new global power grab

Carl Miller has travelled the world meeting people at the forefront of digital change - Russian spies in Prague, fake news merchants in Kosovo, hackers in Las Vegas, powerful Silicon Valley titans and the British soldiers training in information warfare. I interviewed him in Manchester last week, above is a link to the raw and uncut recording of the event. Fascinating.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Thank you for the music - the 30 song challenge

So, that's the 30 Day Song Challenge completed. A mad, epic, exploratory, confessional expo. Choosing songs based on the criteria listed above. Broadcast via a group chat on Twitter, curated by a group of old pals from KPMG's Manchester office, I set myself the target of picking something new if one of the others had bagged that song first. It's incredibly cathartic too, makes you cleanse your playlists and explore more from artists others jog your memory on. I've done my top 100 songs list too, if anyone fancies a go at that, it's here.

1. Orange by Richard Lumsden
2. One Last Love Song by The Beautiful South
3. The Sun Rising by The Beloved
4. Seven Nation Army by The White Stripes
5. The Air That I Breathe by The Hollies
6. Voodoo Ray - A Guy Called Gerald
7. Driving Away from Home by It’s Immaterial
8. True Faith by New Order
9. Left to my own devices - Pet Shop Boys
10. A Good Day to Die by Sunhouse (Gavin Clark RIP)
11. Union City Blue by Blondie
12. Yes Sir I Can Boogie by Baccara
13. When You're Young by The Jam
14. Mr Rock n Roll by Amy Macdonald
15. La Vie En Rose by Grace Jones
16. How soon is now? by The Smiths
17. Your Love Alone (is not enough) by the Manic Street Preachers and Nina Persson
18. Sunny Afternoon by The Kinks
19. Wide Open Road by The Triffids
20. This is the Day by The The
21. Stan by Eminem with Dido
22. My Sweet Lord by George Harrison
23. All You Need is Love by The Beatles
24. Northern Skies by I Am Kloot
25. Purple Rain by Prince
26. Annie's Song by John Denver
27. You Don't Have to Say You Love Me by Dusty Springfield
28. Son of a Preacher Man by Dusty Springfield
29. Waterloo by ABBA
30. Make Your Own Kind of Music by Cass Elliot 

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Black Moss - a storming fictional debut by author David Nolan

I love an author event. I love seeing writers sharing their moment, their pride, their secrets. 

I love an event in my home town, where we can be home in time for the rest of our evening. Strangely, this was the first time I've been to such an event at Marple Library, but where David Nolan has started, I hope there will be more.

For a start, he spoke so well, so powerfully and was so compelling that we not only bought this book but his investigative books on the St Ambrose child abuse scandal. I'd already read the Tony Wilson biog when it came out.

While Black Moss is a fictional story, there is a solid grounding in reality. The background is important, David Nolan was writing a book on the complex and murky world of abuse scandals - particularly kids in care homes and the existence of a dossier into high profile paedos held by former Saddleworth MP Geoffrey Dickens. Dickens was always dismissed as a bit of a buffoon, but the hard truth, we sometimes discover, is stranger than anything we could dream up. The revelations about what was going on in Rochdale, for instance, have been truly shocking.

David's publisher didn't think the book was worth him finishing so paid him a kill fee. He turned that disappointment into an inspiration for a story about an unsolved child murder, committed in plain sight at a time when the news media and the police were obsessed with the Strangeways prison riot of 1990. Using a major event to hide a crime was the root of I Am Pilgrim - Terry Hayes' sprawling espionage thriller, set against the aftermath of 911. This tale is far more locally focused, intensely so, and he uses devices to show the time and place to great effect. They are best when they are subtle - speech and behaviours - rather than what was playing on the radio. The attention to the detail of Manchester and Oldham's changing topography is also highly skilled, while he clearly had some fun settling a few old scores with the depictions of characters from a barely disguised Piccadilly Radio newsroom, or even a Tory MP called "Peter Jeffreys". But the tale is one of isolation and rather sparse emotions - a central character with flaws, a monstrous ego, but also an impatient hunger to right a series of wrongs. The eventual plot twist is ballsy, I'll only say that, but the journey to get there is driven by a writer with a real feel for the pace of a story. An excellent first foray into fiction.

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Our story - a year of excuses from Greater Manchester Police

Twelve months ago today, I discovered that one of our sons, along with three of his friends, had been mugged at knifepoint. In an hour-long ordeal, hidden in plain sight of customers and staff at a major 24-hour supermarket, they were robbed by four youths who had half a dozen younger kids for support.

They were stripped of their personal possessions (mobile phones, outer clothing, cash) and then, at knifepoint, taken along the main road, to a cash machine and forced to withdraw the money from their bank accounts.  Our son was first to be sent to the ATM, and told that if he did a runner or told anyone what was happening, they would "cut" his friends and find his mum and brothers and hurt them. One of the youths even openly chatted-up drunk girls in the queue.

Luckily, all four of our lovely young men survived this dreadful ordeal in-tact.  They even laughed at how surreal it had been, but at the same time, shook with fear.  At one point, as they were led into the underpass beneath the M60 motorway, our son truly believed he was going to die, "just like Jimmy Mizen."

Until now, you will not find any mention of this crime on my timeline, on this blog, because I do not ordinarily believe in sharing every single detail of our life with social media.  Our dignity and privacy is far more important to me.  Instead, we decided to trust Greater Manchester Police to find the lads that did this, and for the criminal justice system to do the rest.  We did not want public hangings or life sentences. Justice, that's all. And safer Stockport streets for other beautiful young people enjoying time with their friends on a Friday night.

Twelve months on, the perpetrators of this crime are still at-large.  This, despite the fact that each one of the four youths were identified by name the next day, thanks to a little detective work and the joys of a small-world via Instagram, Snapchat and FB.  One even bragged he was off to the Trafford Centre to spend his ill-gotten gains, and asking if anyone wanted to buy an iPhone 7.

Unbelievable?  You betcha!

I'm tired of how many excuses I have heard from GMP.  I'm tired of how pathetic their attempts to do anything have been.  But I am listening, with interest, to the chief constables of major police forces this week, discuss their need to tackle ever-rising violence and crime on a threat-harm-risk basis and wonder what will happen next.

By the way, we have given up on ever seeing justice for this particular crime.  We no longer harass the police officer for updates.  He tells too many lies. It's embarrassing.  Our son quit college and joined the British Army, despite the risks in that particular career path. He even told us he would be safer in Iraq than in Stockport, and is now receiving initial soldier training. We are so proud of him.

So, Happy Anniversary boys.  All four of you are amazing.  And whatever doesn't kill you, only makes you stronger. Except polio, maybe.