Friday, December 31, 2021

Lunch of the month for December - The Pack Horse at Hayfield


Alright, so this is a slight bending of the rules. Lunch of the month was invented to give due credit to indie joints in Manchester when I worked there everyday. I revived it, post-lockdown, when I started popping into town again.

December has been a weird one. I didn't get out much, bizarrely because I had a lot of actual work to do from home and from Lancashire, Tameside, and the Peak District.

The winner then, by a mile, is the Pack Horse at Hayfield. I know the full experience rather busts the budget of a tenner, but the Manchester Egg doesn't. £7 of pure love.

Happy New Year. I promise a fuller foodie range in January. 

New cure for cancer still not as good as Succession


A few years ago one of those super smart spoof news sites, The Daily Mash, did a story with such searing insight it stopped me in my tracks. "New cure for cancer is good, says The Guardian, but still not as good as The Wire."

It can be easily updated today for pretty much any discussion of Succession. 

It is so universally, critically and publicly applauded that I'm expecting the ferocious public backlash any day now.

I make absolutely no apologies for being one of those people who wax lyrical about it to people who haven't seen it. Since the day I acted on my mate Andy Westwood's very firm instruction to watch Succession, I've literally become that person.

Rachel was a later adopter and by the time we caught up with the beginning of series three it felt important to start all over again and familiarise ourselves with the subtleties of Waystar Royco, the cruise liners, cousin Greg, Stewie and Sandy, and other bits we might have missed due to the whip sharp dialogue. Trust me, if you haven't started season three yet, watch seasons one and two again. It is like watching a new series, there is so much you can't take on board or remember. 

I keep having theories about where the main story arc might go - Logan for President, Tom or Kendall committing suicide. But if you think about it, nothing much has really changed from the very beginning. Logan is healthier than he's ever been and sort of still married to Marsha. None of the four appalling Roy children have come closer to fulfilling their own ambitions. It's like a horrible game of snakes and ladders without, er, any ladders.

This is a long way round of saying that Succession has been the best TV I've seen all year. Honourable mentions to: The Landscapers, Fargo, A Very British Scandal, The Girl Before, Time, The Terror, Line of Duty, Baptiste, Modern Love, The Investigation, Deutschland 89, Occupied, The Rain and Lupin. 

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Top ten Music Therapy tunes of 2021


When we set out to do our radio show, I honestly thought I would be delving into the past for our soothing Sunday soundtrack. But the greatest thrill of the last year of dispensing Music Therapy to Tameside has been discovering new music. So, here are my top ten new tracks of 2021, as featured on our show. And they’re all British artists. I Do This All The Time - Self Esteem. This isn’t the only end of the year list that will feature Rebecca Lucy Taylor’s spoken word lament, but it was a huge breakthrough track that propelled her album Prioritise Pleasure throughout the year. It’s raw, honest and superbly composed. Winter Solstice - LYR. A low key band fronted by the Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage, who also use the spoken poetic word technique overlaying intelligent pop music. I envisage this self-pitying plea to a lost lover to be the gaslighting response to Self Esteem’s agony. It isn’t, but I discovered the two in the same week, and I possibly love this because it borrows a line from Prefab Sprout’s Desire from one of my favourite ever 80s sophistipop albums. Feet Don’t Fail Me Now - Joy Crookes. Sometimes new music roots you in the present, but great music can also be timeless. This cracker from young Londoner Joy Crookes has all the glitterball uplifting joy of 1970s soul, with a touch of Amy Winehouse. Ritchie Sacremento - Mogwai. Manchester’s iconic Piccadilly Records had Mogwai’s album, As The Love Continues as their new release of 2021. For a largely atmospheric and instrumental band, this vocal track for me is the most awesome of a very hot batch. There’s also a version knocking about that’s been remixed by Stephen and Gillian from New Order. Pond House - Saint Etienne. Lockdown has been rubbish, but one of the unexpected pleasures has been how it has perversely unlocked the experimental in many artists forced to make do and mend. Saint Etienne’s 2021 album I’ve Been Trying To Tell You is a heady mix of samples and random memories, as is the glorious accompanying film made by fashion photographer Alasdair McLelland. It’s easy to lose yourself in the beautiful Pond House, featuring Natalie Imbruglia on loop with smatterings of Massive Attack’s Protection. Everybody Knows - The Specials. No stranger to the protest song, The Specials recorded a whole album of protest reworkings in 2021, and this Leonard Cohen cover is the cream of the crop. For covers to really work they have to respect the original and bring something new to the party. This does just that, with Terry Hall’s take just right. Heartlow - Jane Weaver. We call her the Kate Bush of Marple Bridge, but our near neighbour just keeps on producing incredible mesmerising music that pulses with energy and beauty. Hooked - Cobain Jones. Another local, this time the Tameside Troubador himself, young Cobain Jones. He’s had his diamond well and truly polished by the Coral’s James Skelly and this 2021 release is a delightful jaunty pop tune. Really chuffed for the lad, who got a record deal and a support slot with Paul Weller in 2021. Lover Undiscovered - The Coral. The whole Coral Island project lit up the middle of the year with a collection of conceptual pop songs that reminded us that the water supply of Liverpool has something special in it. Glad Times - Paul Weller. How the Modfather keeps delivering the goods after all this time, I’ll never know, but I’m so chuffed that he does. His sixteenth solo album sees him pushing the boundaries of perfect pop music again. This is a great track, but at a time when we’re told no one listens to albums anymore, this should be an entree into Weller world, and just a glorious way to make life feel better again. On our Boxing Day show I'll be reviewing our highlights of the year and adding a few gorgeous surprises to the mix.

A link to the show is here.

Friday, December 10, 2021

Stockport is open



I mentioned last week how much I like living where I do. We've got to know a few retailers and cafe owners over the years and I'm really thinking about them at the moment.

I've recently joined the board of the Stockport Economic Alliance. Last week we were shown this video to try and inspire local people to support their local businesses. The presenter is Stockport-born actor Will Mellor, but the supporting cast are the real heroes; people from all over Stockport who wake up every morning to open their shop, business, or cafe, and hope, or pray, or both, that people will come through the door and spend. I am full of love and admiration for them.

I'm embarrassed to say there's a couple of shops and businesses on the clip that are right up my street (one literally) who I haven't shown enough love to. I'll do my bit. Rachel's just done hers at the fantastic Suburban Muse in Marple.

So, come on Stockport, do yours too. Show the love, why not make it a Stockport local Christmas. 


Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Meeting Gary Neville for the Big Issue in the North


I met up with Gary Neville a couple of weeks ago. Everything we talked about is pretty much covered in the cover story profile I wrote for this week's Big Issue in the North. We talked about so many of my favourite subjects; football, politics, business, education, and personal motivation. But he didn't hold back on the anger and moral disgust he feels for this government. Reading it back, and listening to the recording is quite powerful and raw at times.

One of the things he said was that if you call out this government for what they are, eventually you will be proved right. 

Some comments work in the moment. Some stand the test of time, even in a fast moving news agenda.

He's such a fascinating character who has already lived an extraordinary life. But I was particularly struck by his humility, how he learns lessons from mistakes and setbacks. It may seem an odd thing to pick up on given his many achievements, but that quest for perpetual forward motion and the desire to do the right thing is quite special in the present climate.

He also told me: “You know, I am an entrepreneurial business person who's earned a lot of money. But I believe you can still act with compassion and empathy and be decent, but the people in charge of our government at this moment in time aren’t doing that."

Once again, I'd urge you to go out and buy it, support your vendors, and support quality print media.

Or if you can't get out to a Co-op store, or a vendor, and if you don't live in the North, then you can buy a digital copy online.

Saturday, December 04, 2021

What's the use in complaining? Rovers 1, Preston 0 in the Lancashire derby lite


We only have so many outlets to express our discontent as football fans. Not that beating Preston North End 1-0 at home gives me any cause to be angry. It really doesn't, I always enjoy a win in a local derby, even if it isn't really the full-fat version that may be about to return.

It doesn't mean I'm entirely happy though. Football is essentially a pastime where uniquely once we opt to partake in it, we are individually powerless yet collectively threatening. It's not like any other area of life where substandard aspects of the experience offer the possibility of redress. Let's cut to the chase. I was unable to get a pie before the match because they'd run out on the Riverside entrance, and the tills weren't working and the staff walked out in the one on the top of the stand, in the 15 minutes before kick-off. It's not an option to wait or go elsewhere. And these things are pretty critical to the whole matchday experience, even though I could go to Morrisons right now and buy the same pie for about a third of the price. That's a matchday experience, by the way, that Steve Waggott, the chief executive of Blackburn Rovers (salary £180k) valued at £30 a head today. He may be right that demand was high enough to justify charging that to walk-on home fans and for the 3000 visitors from Preston. Indeed they will have paid half his annual salary in one afternoon. But I can't help but feel, as my good friend Ian Herbert put it, that just because you can, it doesn't mean you should.

You might also think that as well as hiring and training the poorly paid catering temps, Waggott may have some responsibility for the groundstaff. Puddles of water made the game a tough watch in the first half, which rather suggests a pitch that lacks drainage and staff unable to fork enough holes before the game and at halftime. In the first half, Preston looked like they'd played on wet pitches before. Rovers looked for all the world like the Mauritanian badminton doubles team learning a new sport.

I don't know. I know nothing of maintaining grass pitches and team tactics.

I've raised 5 kids though. I think I've done OK. One thing I learnt is that when they were hungry, tired and upset, garnishing them with too much attention is probably the wrong thing to do. We also learnt that when they had run-ins with supply teachers, to let it go. The referee today, Gavin Ward of Surrey, displays all the control and charisma of a struggling stand-in, who learns all the worst lessons in lesson management, crowd control and dissipating authority by making literally even worse decisions. I am saying this today because we won. And I also think he got a bad call wrong that could have earned Preston a penalty. But it shouldn't be about him, though somehow, it always is. Who do I tell about this? Who do I write to? Why is he refereeing professional football matches and who says he can do so again?  

As an example of a fruitless protest a Preston supporter unfurled a bedsheet at full time with 'Frankie Must Go' on it. Unfurling bedsheets demanding hapless Scottish managers be sacked used to be popular in these parts, and to be fair I have observed that Frankie McAvoy, the North End boss, gives off Steve Kean vibes. But even that half-hearted howl took some foresight given that a week ago North End earned a draw against a team that recently beat Blackburn Rovers 7-0.

I'll take that today. I'll take the 1-0, the winning ugly, on a day when players of real artistry were quite literally stuck in the mud. Joe Rothwell and John Buckley will have better days. Though Rothwell may have more like that if he foolishly opts to play in the Scottish Premier League, as is rumoured.  It was a day for Darragh Lenihan, a day for Lewis Travis, both of whom got fouled without redress and booked without justification. I also observed it was possibly a day for a clever player like Bradley Dack. His return is getting closer. He will bring an intelligence and a versatility to a team that is beginning to frighten me. At Stoke last week, and today, I was concerned that Reda Khadra doesn't do enough to justify playing ahead of the incredibly gifted and energetic Tyrhys Dolan. But he only needs one moment of magic to turn a game, and his cross to a Sheareresque leap from Ben Brereton Diaz was enough. And I've got absolutely no complaints about that whatsoever.

  



Friday, December 03, 2021

Lasting Legacy of The Beatles


We were out in Liverpool last Friday and were reminded once again of the absolute enduring power of the Beatles.

We walked past two different bars where live musicians were performing. And yes, one of them was knocking out a passable version of Yesterday.


When I was younger I used to roll my eyes a bit at what I thought was a mawkish and nostalgic attitude towards the Beatles from our scouse cousins. If anything that attitude was just so typically English.


It’s 20 years last Monday since George Harrison died. And next Wednesday the 8th of December it will be 41 years since John Lennon was killed in New York.


I think the time, the distances between their passing and the ever-growing appreciation of Paul McCartney’s more recent output has given us a reminder that we need to cherish their memories a little more.


So much of their appeal in America was their humour. And the picture above of them in masks on a visit to Manchester is a bit of gentle ribbing about air quality down this end of the East Lancs Road.


Quite rightly, Beatlemania has taken root again.


Paul McCartney has a book out about his songs, the Lyrics, 1956 to the present. It sounds like a Beatles’ geek’s dream, including accounts of all of the songs he’s ever written, what he was thinking at the time, who he was with, what they were about, and what he thinks of them now.


I’ve also recently discovered a podcast series where different people basically talk about their own personal experiences and how the Beatles have shaped their own thoughts, lives and experiences. It sounds like it shouldn’t work, but it does. The last one I listened to was with the comedian Adam Buxton and it is just sublime.


A writer I follow called Ian Leslie has been commissioned to write a book about John and Paul. He mentioned them in a very good book he released earlier this year called Conflicted - Why Arguments Are Tearing Us Apart And How They Can Bring Us Together. You can see why he’d want to look closer at the dynamic behind the greatest songwriting partnership of all time.


He made the point in another long article about The Beatles recently that no single individual in the history of humankind has brought as much pleasure to so many people as Paul McCartney. 


On our show last week we opened with All My Loving, the first song played by The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in America in 1964. It started the lasting love affair that the rest of the world had with them.


But the project that has got everyone excited has been the work of the film director Peter Jackson who has delved into the archives and released a three-part epic documentary film Get Back. It's presented in a proper fly-on-the-wall style, the encounters in the studio and the everyday mundane business of making a record are captured in beautiful celluloid glory.


Everyone I’ve spoken to who’s seen it describes it as time travel. More remarkable than this was a far less media-savvy group of people than they would be today, so are in a much more natural and relaxed mood. 


How a band so creatively prolific, commercially successful and capable of bringing so much to so many people could be overindulged was frankly ridiculous.


So, if anything, Liverpool hasn’t done enough to celebrate them.


(This is from my weekly Music Therapy column in the Tameside Reporter/Glossop Chronicle)

Wednesday, December 01, 2021

A guided tour of Marple


Last Friday (26 November) I was invited by a team of policy officers from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority to show them around my neighbourhood of Marple. It's something they do once a month in places they may not know so well in this conurbation of 2.5 million people.  I got the impression they wanted to get a better sense of the place when they saw the name on policy documents.

Anyway, one of them said to me halfway around our tour that I'm obviously very passionate about my home. I never really thought of it like that, but I suppose I must be. It's been an amazing place to raise a family, we've seen steady change over the years, and though I do probably grumble a bit on here about traffic, trains, NIMBYs and scrotes, I actually really like it.

I invited a couple of local chums to join Rachel and me on the tour, not entirely randomly. Peter is involved in Our Marple Plan and the Friends of Marple Station group. Karen was involved in something called Marple Matters and is active in her kid's school. Like us, both of them have moved here and therefore have that incomers perspective. Some are born here, some are drawn here.

It all coincides with the window of opportunity for the Marple neighbourhood plan, which has been the product of a lot of hard work over the last few years. I was involved at the very start, but cleverer and more dedicated people than me have got it to this important stage.

There's nothing particularly special about the tour, but I hope the route I picked at least framed the identity of Marple for our guests. 

We met the team off the train at Marple where Peter was able to talk through the proposals for a new entrance and an upgrade to the waiting room and station building on the northbound side. Explaining the transport logistics is pretty integral to the whole identity of Marple and starts to focus the mind on what the town is for, who uses it, and who lives here, and how wealth is generated in the community.

From there we hiked up Brabyn's Brow to Lockside Mill, where I used to have an office, showing off the canal and Memorial Park. Again, the view out towards Mellor and Ludworth Moor and the canal show just how different this place is to anywhere else they may visit in Greater Manchester. Rachel had the muscle memory of a teacher as she recounted the local history of the canals, and of the role of Samuel Oldknow. We had a stroll around the civic buildings in the park and I was a tad disappointed that the consultation boards about the new leisure centre, civic offices and library have been removed. I maintain it's a great opportunity to reconfigure that space and solve a number of problems at once. Between us, I think we had enough to summarise the issues and options.

Next, I simply had to point out a couple of unique local businesses. Britain's first provincial Cambodian restaurant, Kambuja, and our wonderful little one-screen cinema, The Regent. We waved at William Wragg MP's office and moved along to The Hollins.

One of the regular features of a daytime Marple experience is the group of elderly characters who sit outside Greggs. I'm on nodding terms with a few of them, and one was involved in UKIP and the Leave campaign, so I was actually keen to get their alternative view of life. Sadly, they weren't around.

Crossing over to Market Street we chatted to Daniel, the Big Issue vendor, before checking out the bustle of the main drag, stopping for a photo outside new bar Aggie's. I pointed out how the retail balance has changed in the time we've lived here. Some significant retail has gone, but the multiples hang on in there (Boots and Superdrug) all four of the big banks have gone, only one traditional pub remains, but new barbers shops, fishmongers and several independent bars and cafes have sprung up.  It prompted an interesting discussion on the purpose and future of our local high street and the need for high-density housing balanced against the preservation of heritage assets, where there was a difference of opinion amongst the home team.

We then cut across to the derelict leisure centre, Marple's greatest current blight and in need of urgent attention and replacing. 

Stockport Road, like Market Street, has been transformed of late and we stopped to welcome the couple who have just opened Lentils and Lather, Marple's newest shop and got their take on what attracted them to expand here. I hope that was a useful insight. From there it was a quick jaunt downhill to The Railway pub for a drink and some food before our guests caught a train back to work from Rose Hill, pointing out a few local characters and landmarks along the way. 

All told, it was a real honour to host them. They were a super-smart group, as you'd expect from civil servants in Britain's most dynamic city region, and they all asked some very good questions and shrewd observations. It was light touch, informal, but hopefully useful. And yes, when I reflect on it, I am pretty proud of our town and more so for the passion of lovely people like Peter and Karen who want to make it even better.


  

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Lunch of the month for November


I had some really good lunches in November, even better than the month before. 

I won't count the limp chicken salad (middle, right) at a hotel in Manchester that should know better, especially as the kitchen utterly redeemed themselves with a high quality set dinner for the guests at a business get together I was working at.

I probably shouldn't count the pie, mash and veg at York City v Buxton (top left). We booked in for some hospitality and although it was a total bargain it wasn't quite in the spirit of popping out for a quick lunch for under or around a tenner.

Bundobust brewery on Oxford Street, last month's winner, hit all the right notes again and me and my friend Katie properly delved into the menu this time (top, centre). Someone I know who works across the street from there has been for a ludicrous number of lunches. I dare say I'd be the same if still worked around that part of town.

The lunch special at Istanbul Grill in Denton was really good (top, right). It had a fairly neutral feel for a Turkish restaurant, like one of the neighbourhood Italians we go to locally, but the food was obviously from further east. No complaints about the food at all though, from me who had kofte meatballs, or from Kid4 who had the grilled chicken.

Rachel and I really enjoyed a katsu curry and dumplings from Manzuko (centre left) in the new food hall opposite the Bridgewater Hall. It was a good spot to dive into between sessions at the Louder Than Words festival nearby. It was also presented very, very well. 

One particularly delightful surprise was a vegan kebab joint in the Northern Quarter called What the Pitta (bottom row). It was packed with crunchy salad, spicy as you like and the meat substitute was sufficiently juicy and tasty that I probably wouldn't have noticed if I hadn't been told. 

My latest swoop on Kabana (centre), virtually next door, was in the company of a true believer, Kevin Gopal, editor of the Big Issue in the North. We also planned our visit properly and whoever arrived first had to pre-order the grilled lamb chops, which take a few minutes, obviously. Honestly, they are the best lamb chops I've ever had. The bread was tip top too, the side of chicken curry just right and therefore I have great pleasure in announcing that at the head of a very strong field this month is Kabana. 

Writing for The Big Issue in the North


I'm very pleased today. There's a story published in the Big Issue in the North that I've wanted to write for a few years now, an interview with Patrick Grant from Community Clothing.

Full disclosure, I was an early adopter of the utilitarian clothing brand, I subscribed to the first crowdfunder and have a few of their hard-working pieces. But, as Patrick makes clear in the interview, they don't work with so-called influencers and chuck out freebies. I wouldn't want them even if they did. The reason I wanted to speak to Patrick and dig a little deeper into his philosophy is because of what he's doing for the cause of northern manufacturing and re-establishing a sense of purpose and pride to places that make things. It just so happens he's doing this from Blackburn, where I watch my football and have an affinity, but that's only part of it. 

In so many nooks and crannies of the fashion world I hear barbed digs about what Community Clothing is, and what Patrick's agenda is. Maybe I didn't dig hard enough, but I don't see anything to snipe at.

Anyway, read it and let me know what you think. It's a good follow up to the insights I picked up from looking into emerging northern textiles businesses for The Mill recently.

It's the second piece I've written for The Big Issue in the North this year, but not the last. The first was an opinion piece on the awkward spot the BBC has found itself in, then this week's piece with Patrick Grant, on Monday I filed another feature for next week with a nationally known public personality with lots to say. 

Kevin Gopal and Antonia Charlesworth, editors at Big Issue in the North, are also exceptionally good at nudging, pushing and tweaking. They definitely improved the piece from commissioning to publishing. It's not surprising that the magazine is always a good read. It's well written, authentic, lively, it has strong clear design, but with a very real sense of who it is for and what the reader will be interested in.

So, go and get yours today, support your vendors, and support quality print media.

Of if you can't get out to a Co-op store, or a vendor, and if you don't live in the North, then you can buy a digital copy online, here.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Analyse this - a Blackburn Rovers fan on the couch


Football has a habit of messing with your head. Any game can only have one of three outcomes; win, lose or draw. On balance, I can probably live with that most weeks. I can also accept that in most seasons, because I see more of Blackburn Rovers at the home games than the rare occasions when I go on away trips, therefore I expect to see more wins than any of the other outcomes. This may not be statistically in tune with reality, but I have conditioned my brain to expect that outcome in the face of all other probabilities. With away matches, I expect Rovers to lose, and therefore my default response is disappointment, but not embarrassment or anger, as it tends to be at Ewood. It’s what psychologists of the transactional analysis theoretical school might refer to as my ‘football ego state’.

Yesterday at Stoke was just like that, but something was going on in front of me that contested every neural signal. This is a good team, knowing what to do, playing against a home side lacking belief, which wasn't for me to worry about. 

It was with nervousness that I revisited my case notes after this same eleven players, give or take, were ruthlessly taken apart by Fulham and subjected to a 7-0 home defeat.

OK, I confessed to feeling numb and said it felt like the slow death of a football club. That’s probably the bit where I was catastrophising. Where a good therapist would lean in and say, “but is that really true?”

But having looked back, I stand by most of the rest of it.

In essence, I said I like this team, but that the club feels adrift. Nothing's changed, really.

There was certainly lots more to like about them at Stoke. I could just list the players from 1-11 and all of the subs, and then single out John Buckley for extra praise, as everyone else has rightly done. But more than that there was a togetherness about them. 

I also said the lack of confidence and momentum means we slot in and play how the opposition want us to play. I said I find it hard to understand some of Tony Mowbray’s decisions and tactics.

But when I look at that picture from the set up of the team just before the goal it describes vividly to an over-emotional footballing know-nothing like me what wide wing backs, overlapping centre halves and a high pressing creative midfield linkman looks like. 

And as everyone with a platform to say so, has said so, the comeback from the Fulham thing has been remarkable and a testament to the character and determination in the team, from the manager. 

I don’t get involved in the social media barracking of ‘brigades’ and ‘mobs’ and ‘the same people who said this now say’. I'd advise anyone reading this not to either, not because anyone is wrong, it just won't make you happy. Because something else I said was that what I say doesn’t matter. What I feel matters, and I linked that to a sense of belonging.  

What’s the identity of this club? These players? How can you articulate a positive message that would persuade someone to subscribe to these social attributes, to be involved, as a fan, a player, a sponsor, a day tripper?

Belongingness, it's called. A unique and subjective experience that relates to a yearning for connection with others, the need for positive regard and the desire for interpersonal connection. Or as we said on Saturday, "I know I am, I'm sure I am...". You know the rest.

It took a bad day to work that one out. And there still might be more bad days, but there's a word that comes to mind, and that's 'resilience'. The team clearly have it, it's the fans I worry about, especially this one.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

The Saying Yes to Everything Tour - an update


I mentioned a while ago that me and my wife Rachel and Neil and his wife, Rachael, are on something of a say yes to anything tour.

This blog is a slightly updated version of my weekly column in the Tameside Reporter and Glossop Chronicle for the end of November. 

Having been locked down for the best part of two years has made us really appreciate the things we were denied for so long. There’s a real sense out there that many of you feel the same way. 

Concerts, comedy nights, talks, festivals, exhibitions, films, restaurants and bars, sporting events, walks in the hills. You name it, we’ve been on it. And yet we still have massive FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) when we see other people going to things we wish we’d gone to.

Out of this darkness, some real moments of magic have appeared and I wanted to share a few of them with you. Hopefully, they’ll encourage you to get out a bit and see what might happen.



Just to give you a flavour for this, we bumped into Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, last weekend. Neil had interviewed the Mayor a few weeks before for a film he made for the clothing brand Pretty Green. There was a competition to “meet the designers behind the brand” and get a discount voucher for some lucky winners. It turned out that it was actually a chance to hang out with Liam Gallagher.

Andy told us that he’d been at three gigs in a row last week - The Jesus & Mary Chain, Paul Weller, and Billy Bragg, who we featured on last week’s Music Therapy. One thing the Mayor has consistently done is support venues and give a helping hand to emerging artists across the area. One of the bands he trumpeted, Wigan’s The Lathums, supported Weller in Liverpool last Friday.

Apparently, I’ve been mispronouncing their name when I’ve introduced their tunes on Tameside Radio. This Sunday night I’ll get it right. Thanks, Mr Mayor.

Incidentally, it was brilliant to learn that the Modfather gave a support slot at his Llandudno gig last Saturday to the Tameside troubadour, Cobain Jones. What a lovely thing to do and by all accounts, Cobain absolutely rocked the North Wales audience.

We saw a similar act of generosity last Wednesday at the Plaza Theatre in Stockport. Top comic Jason Manford sold out this show two years ago, but only now has he been able to fulfil the date, even if it did clash with Stockport County’s FA Cup replay conquering of Bolton Wanderers, it was still packed. He didn’t have to, but he gave a support slot to Denton comedian Stephen Bailey, who was really good.

Neil had also seen a raucous event over in Wigan featuring Shaun Ryder from the Happy Mondays, interviewed in front of an audience of fans. The MC for the evening was Neil’s mate Brian Cannon, the graphic designer who did such iconic artwork for the album covers for Oasis and The Verve. Brian had his work cut out as his plan to steer a conversation gently was taken over by a local crowd who shouted out their own questions and Shaun answered the ones he wanted to. Pretty fitting really.

By way of contrast, we saw the writer David Hepworth at the Louder Than Words Festival in Manchester, promoting his book about British artists breaking through in America, Overpaid, Oversexed and Over There. This is a man who knows all about artists going off-script. It was David who famously interviewed Bob Geldof during Live Aid when the Boomtown Rat banged the table and urged the people at home to, er, donate a bit more money!

No such chaos at the Innside Hotel in Manchester last week, but we learnt a stream of fascinating stories. Not least that the first words that an American audience heard from The Beatles in 1964 were - Close Your Eyes and I’ll Kiss You. And boy, America certainly did.

Post script to this is we braved the wilds and drove over to Liverpool to see two delightful performances from two artists I've really got to appreciate in the last year. Jane Weaver was the support for Saint Etienne, a band I've always quite liked but never fully bought into previously. I'll have to try and think about what that might be.

Here's another resolution, I'm going to start adding the column here on this blog every Friday. Just to cross-reference it, and maybe be a bit assiduous about adding reviews of things we've done and places we've been.



Sunday, November 07, 2021

Buxton's legions breach York City's walls


If there’s a TV producer reading this, then you must be kicking yourself at missing the opportunity to cover the footballing reality show of the season. 

Buxton FC have given us laughs aplenty and a reborn love of football and I'm delighted that my Radliffe to Wembley odyssey will be with the Bucks for at least another round, which is sure to produce more drama.

First it was the spectacle of the 10pm floodlight failure against Kettering. But if that wasn’t enough of a “you couldn’t make it up” moment in the latest Carry on Football, we had the build up to their first FA Cup First Round Proper tie in 58 years. It went something like this: the assistant manager insists on going on a long awaited holiday, for fear of losing his deposit. The manager says that’s fine. The chairman embraces the oncoming panto season and says, oh no it isn’t. They both get the boot, a few days before the BIGGEST GAME IN THE CLUB’S RECENT HISTORY and on the back of a seven match unbeaten run.

A few weeks before, in a club, not so very far, far away, another manager leaves Curzon Ashton FC with immediate effect after the chairman reveals that he'd been in secret talks with another club. 

And so it was that Steve Cunningham's first match in charge of Buxton FC was this juicy away match at York in the First Round Proper of the FA Cup, something even the veteran Bucks fans on our train hadn't witnessed in their adult lifetimes.

I called it before the game that Jamie Ward and Diego De Girolamo were class players capable of stepping up for the big occasion. Boy did they do that. Diego's worldy with just five minutes to go was no more than Buxton deserved. They had plenty of early chances, they constantly attacked and exposed York's soft underbelly. Their fans had also kept up a constant barrage of noise and pyro throughout, fitting for a team that matched York in every department, despite their opponents being full time, coached by Steve Watson, a former Premier League player with over 500 top class appearances in a decent career, and playing in front of 2,300 of their own fans.

So farewell then, York. Two visits to the York Community Stadium and twice I’ve seen this team of full-time professionals combust under pressure from gutsy part-timers.

Rachel joined me on this jaunt, partly because we entertained the vague notion that we might have a wander around York's city walls and cobbled streets. We didn't. Instead we booked a hospitality package in a lounge, and strapped on our VIP wristbands for a pie and mash with spring veg that would have had me cheering if I'd ordered it in a top country pub. We were sat with FA officials and some other real characters for a top afternoon of drama.

The chance encounters are what I think I've enjoyed the most about this whole adventure. The two lads from Exeter City we sat with on the train, on their way to Bradford City, three blokes celebrating one's birthday, and two ground hopping Bantams fans taking in a smart new ground rather than experiencing their side's draw against Exeter. Small world.

One of our other new pals was indeed a TV producer and we said we'd stay in touch. You see, I've got this great idea... 

Thursday, November 04, 2021

Blackburn Rovers ship 7 and I just don't seem to care


It seems strange to think I was writing a reflective blog recently about 'right hammereings' that my Blackburn Rovers have inflicted on other teams, just like we did when we beat Cardiff City 5-1.

Last night I witnessed the absolute horror show of the worst defeat I've ever seen. 

I have seen us ship seven before, just once, at Old Trafford in 2012, but we at least got a consolation.

I have seen us lose 6-0 at Manchester City in 1983, just a week after beating Derby 5-1.

The previous heaviest home defeat was being tonked 5-1 at home by Dmitri Payet's West Ham in a cup tie in 2016 (I mentioned this recently as one of the best 3 all time performances against us by an individual player). 

All of those experiences were painful, embarrassing, excruciating. There have been other occasions where I've wanted the referee to stop the game on a technical knockout.

But last night seemed far worse and left me feeling far emptier than I did after any of the others. Do you know why? 

I don't think I care any more. 

Before the game we were 7th with a positive goal difference. 

Now we're 12th with a zero balance.

If we'd lost 1-0 or 10-0 it's still no points and we aren't anywhere near good enough to push for promotion. The whole structure of English football is such that a team like Fulham who were comfortably relegated last season are now seen as a level above every other team in this division, save the ones who also came down.

Suppose by some trick of fate this squad of Rovers players edged into sixth spot in May next year. Then in the heat of the play offs managed to grind out a 1-0 against, say, West Brom, then took a trip to Wembley for an emotional collision with Huddersfield, maybe, who then bottle the big occasion and have a poor refereeing decision go against them in the 92nd minute of normal time. Dack scores the penalty and we're promoted.

Now imagine that side facing any team in the Premier League.

Being led to Anfield, Stamford Bridge, anywhere really, by Tony Mowbray.

Fulham strolled to that 7-0 last night. A team that has been beaten by Reading, Blackpool and Coventry.

They are a good side, but the whole approach seemed to be to treat them like Ajax of 1972, or Barcelona of 2009.

Once again I was left confused by this diamond midfield with John Buckley at the tip of it, and Bradley Johnson in front of the back four.

It's nonsense, isn't it? 

And we've been here before. Lining up at home to match the way the opposition play. It didn't even work against Fleetwood Town in League One. So it won't against a better team, with cleverer players, who can pass the ball, who have the ability to just change their plan in midflow.

Mowbray sets his teams up to outsmart the opposition. But he'd be better off trying to play to our strengths and get the basics right.

Don't give the ball away.

Mark their striker at a corner.

Defend a lead by keeping the ball in the opposition's half. Just as Fulham did.

And don't wrestle a player to the ground and knee him in the head. 

One of the other predictable things about a bad spell at Blackburn Rovers is the fans turning on each other.

I stay off Rovers social media, but when I do peep-a-look it's basically Leave and Remain all over again. 

Both kind of miss the point, if I'm honest.

The one thing the whole club lacks is momentum. What is the objective? What is the strategy to meet that objective? And what are the tactics that we can relate to?

If it's survival, then say so. To find the best futures for these gifted young players, then so be it.

But can you honestly make a case to persuade a young amitious player that staying at Blackburn Rovers will be good for your career?

Every aspect of the club seems to be adrift. I genuinely like every player in that team. I will forever be grateful to Tony Mowbray and think he's a good man. But what I think doesn't matter. 

What I feel matters, to me; and I feel empty. I feel as empty and lacking enthusiasm as the thousands of people who call themselves Rovers fans, but don't go.

If you look at the size of the crowds, the amateurish promotional offers, the lack of commercial partnerships, then you can see why the ambition of the fans and the players has waned. With the exception of Brereton mania, it's gone.

I always wanted to be part of something. It's at the heart of what being a fan is all about.

This isn't an overeaction to a terrible performance. It's a really slow death of a football club.    

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Lunch of the month for October


It's a very strong shortlist for lunch of the month for October.

I'll take you round, clockwise from the top left.

It was a flying visit for a few snacking pots at the new Oxford Street branch of the exceptional Bundobust, brightened by the company of Professor Andy Westwood who had just been on a panel at Tory conference and probably needed to come back down to earth. The okra fries I've had before, and are a must. The dahl was smooth and full of flavour. We probably could have tried a Dhosa and a rice dish, but this was really high quality.

Next up was another trip to an old dependable, the Ashton branch of Five Guys. I know it's expensive for a burger, but I think they are the best burgers you can get, bar none. I love the way they offer a customised burger. Me and Matt share a massive portion of fries, again, as good as any you can get elsewhere. Sadly, for the first time ever they got my order wrong, no mushrooms and onions. Still good, but one to keep an eye on, Five Guys.

Up to the Lakes next and these next two were just the job on walking days. One is a perfect egg on toast from the Black Bull in Coniston, the other is a thick juicy steak pie from the Old Cobbler's Cafe in Hawkshead. Both were sensational. Genuinely amazing food and just right for the day.

After last month's swoop by Cafe Marhaba with their twist on the rice and three (curries), my good friend Neil pointed out that the best ethnic cafe in that part of town was Kabana. His love is not misplaced. I have enjoyed many a delve into their menu, not least with Kevin Gopal, the editor of Big Issue in the North. I popped into Kabana after a meeting and was delighted to run into Jim from Planks Clothing, which is part of what makes Kabana so cool. I like the new interiors as well. The keema with salad on nan bread was exceptionally good, but I'm not being drawn on whether it's better than Maharba just yet because it's not really comparing like with like.

Finally, there will be worse places than Vertigo to spend an hour in the wind tunnel that is MediaCity, Salford Quays, especially listening to Rishi Sunak's budget as I did so. Lovely service, excellent wifi and a very good mushroom soup and cheese with piccalilli sandwich. 

The winner, by an okra fry, is Bundobust. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Writing for The Mill



























I am dead chuffed to have made my debut writing for The Mill, a fresh and high-quality online newspaper for Manchester. It has the potential to grow and be so much more, so I'm strapped in and ready for the journey ahead.

Founded in June 2020, The Mill is for people who want a new kind of local news and don’t have the patience for pop-up ads and endless scrolling on social media. The newsletters recommend local events, keep you up to date on what’s happening in Greater Manchester and investigate important stories in politics, education, business and culture. There's a long read about it here.

I've wanted to delve into the burgeoning Manchester fashion sector for a while. I used to love looking around factories and workplaces when I was editor of Insider, so visiting Private White V.C. in Salford (pictured), English Fine Cottons in Tameside and the Manchester Fashion Movement in Manchester's appropriately named Ancoats was just great. The piece is here

I'll say this as well. Joshi Herrmann, the editor, is excellent to work with. Really innovative, challenging and curious. Hope there's more.

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

FA Cup odyssey - a twist in the tale


The FA Cup journey - or odyssey of oddities - has taken on a curious twist in the last few days. Having followed the happy scrappy grafters of Morpeth Town, the Highwaymen, from the mugging of Radcliffe, which earned them a trip to the slick and sophisticated new home of York City, I hadn't really contemplated the consequences of a draw. These are scheduled to happen on the Tuesday after the main event and have to be wrapped up on the night. Extra time and penalties if necessary. 

Morpeth is a long way to travel at any time. If you drove, you'd still have your pedal on the metal forty minutes after you passed the Angel of the North. The last train back is at half ten, getting me home at half four, which is some going on a Tuesday night, with the prospect of still leaving before a potential penalty shoot-out. My new mates who I watched the second half with at York chided me at the conclusion to the game - a 1-1 draw - that I would now have to do it. Of course, I don't have to do anything, this is a casual challenge driven only by my own curiosity, nerdishness, and neediness for purpose. 

When the draw was made on Sunday, however, things got interesting. The winner of the replay in Morpeth would be at home to either Kettering Town or Buxton, who would be hosting a replay just over half an hour down the A6 from home. This way I would get a sneak preview of the opponents in the next round on November the 6th, which I am totally committed to. Maybe the chance of penalties and giant-killing and drama was too alluring, but amazingly my wife Rachel opted to come with me. As our friend Patrick Loftus said on Twitter - "you are mad". Or maybe it's true love.

On Saturday it was a bit of a rush to get to York, and I sadly saw very little of one of my favourite British cities. The new stadium is situated well out of town but is easy to get to by shuttle bus. I laughed when the directions to the ticket office were to pass the cinema, cut through the leisure centre, and turn left at Starbucks. It's very modern, very unlike what I expected to see watching a home game involving a team in National League North, as was the crowd of 2,258. 

I've had form watching York City in the FA Cup. In 1985 a trip with my mates from home to see Morecambe in the First Round proper at Bootham Crescent was the preferred option to a fight in Stockport with the National Front. I was committed to the cause, but I rather suspected the students I would have been with would get properly battered. It turns out the local Stockport hooligans turned on the Nazis and that I rather underestimated how game the Jewish Student contingent from Manchester were. The game ended 0-0 and the replay, shamefully, though conveniently for me, was at Maine Road.

I also saw York City's last ever game in the Football League, at Morecambe, in 2016, which I blogged about here. Things have been rough for them since, dropping down even further, but emerging with a nice new home. The only way will be up, but there were rumblings of discontent that the board should be sacked. I probably need to investigate, but it wasn't a director who flapped at a header in the 75th minute.

All told it was a feisty game, clash of styles, a game of two halves, end to end action and some late drama. Knowing what I noticed from Radcliffe, Morpeth are fighters. Despite being frankly played off the park in the first half, they came out in the second with no intention of rolling over. By the end, York's slick passing game was gone and they were hanging on and in relative disarray.

The football is the prime fascination, but I always seem to meet nice people too. I watched the second half with a stag do spin off pair from Norwich, who I caught taking pictures of a pie whilst sporting a niche French football training top. I also enjoyed chatting to Morpeth's chairman after the game, who was absolutely thrilled.


We only just made the kick off at Buxton due to traffic, having no cash, and then queing up to get in to see Buxton try and get to the First Round of the FA Cup for the first time since 1962. That wouldn't have been the most heinous error of the night though. I do prefer to do this jaunt on public transport, but we were slightly concerned that the last train from Buxton to Disley leaves at 22:55. Extra Time, penalties and a celebration would cut it a bit fine. As it turned out, so would the ensuing chaos caused by the planned floodlight shutdown on the stroke of 10pm, which no-one thought to override, stretching the evening's entertainment out a bit.

Buxton went 1-0 down to a second half goal by Kettering's unit of a centre forward, Kyle Perry. It's sensible they have an artificial pitch in the Peak District, but although the ball can roll freely, the swirling wind was a major factor for both sides. Buxton are a good team though and their talisman is Diego De Girolamo, who has played professionally at a high level, and probably could do so again. He struck two good chances that fell to him in Extra Time and could have had more, as the Northern Premier League side humbled their National League North visitors.

I often wonder when I watch non-league players what fine margins led them here, rather than the riches of the Premier League, or even the more modest achievements of a career for a club in the Championship. De Girolamo seems to have had bad luck, signing for clubs in crisis. I imagine he's enjoying his football at this level now, more than he did as a Bristol City reserve player.

As for the stadiums, York Community Stadium is a modern, neat and well-built facility with a good view and a good surface. Should York ever need to, it could be extended. It's the 163rd ground I've paid to watch football on.

Buxton's Silverlands stadium (the 164th) is tidy, with a raised viewing position at the side, where I like to stand, ideally, and a tall compact stand. There were 1,017 there to see history being made and most seemed to have queued for a pie and a cup of tea at some point in the evening. 

Meanwhile, up in Morpeth, York did a professional job on them and cruised to a 3-1 win. So I'm back to York on the 6th of November and a little bit of history being made between two teams from lovely places.




Saturday, October 09, 2021

My internal dialogue on football, Newcastle, oligarchs and Venky's


Why haven't you done one of your self-regarding and pompous blogs about the Newcastle takeover? Don't you care about murdered journalists?

I feel genuinely exhausted by all the commentary and back-and-forth on the Newcastle United takeover and pretty much every conversation about global football, investment trends and how everyone from your barber to the bloke that stands next to the fruit machine in the pub are now experts on sovereign wealth funds and cultural relativism.

So, you think you're above such banalities then? It's fine for you as the one-time editor of a business magazine, friend of football club directors and would-be owners of your club to have an opinion, but not now, right?

Everything that has been said and done has been said and done. Proper journalism's David Conn, a very good piece on an Arsenal website, and another piece by David Goldblatt in the Guardian, of course, which blames New Labour, obviously. It's the natural progression of the modern form of capitalism, acquisition of soft power assets by sovereign wealth funds to either greenwash or sports wash their reputation for a time when the oil runs out, or a UK passport gets secured. And something to do with TV rights and piracy in the Middle East and Qatar, or something.

Ah, so it's a government issue, not a moral one, that if only there was better regulation and enforcement of the rules on fit and proper persons who can own a football club, is that what you're saying? 

Do you know how many current Premier League and Championship owners would be barred from owning a club if the rules could by some miracle be enforced retrospectively? None. Not a single one. They aren't designed to block global tycoons, nation-states or oligarchs, they're meant to be a bar to the kind of local crook too thick to operate through an offshore trust.

Or a rapist?

Indeed. But equally I don't remember Blackpool fans complaining about Owen Oyston when Blackpool got promoted to the Premier League. Only when he took all the money, stiffed his Latvian business partner and laughed in the faces of the fans did it become an issue. Nothing in the rules prevented him from doing any of that.

So clubs should be co-operatives of local basket weavers run for the benefit of that nebulous and slightly contorted word "the community"? Basically, you're just tilting at windmills here, aren't you?

So if you follow the logical progression of football club ownership, this is all inevitable and therefore you price it in and swallow it? Skint local businessman gets bailed out by either highly skilful overleveraged and very lucky local businessman, who then flips it to national semi-celebrity businessman, or possibly a European with UK connections to the financial laundry of the City of London, who then realises he then needs to cash-out to either an oligarch, a nation-state, or a financially engineered American. 

Go on...

So if every club goes through a version of that progressive game of snakes and ladders, then the end result is a very wealthy Premier League, an ever more desperate Championship of clubs desperate to get into that cycle, and you just have to hope your club is owned by someone at the top of that slightly grotesque foodchain.

There's the German model?

If we had the German model of fan ownership then one of the big red teams would win the league every season, for a start. Plus, I used to have similar discussions when I worked in the education sector. You have to fix the fundamentals of the economy to get that model. The European Super League thing hasn't gone away you know.   

So you walk away from football then? Boycott it?

I see what you did there. So you either bail out of football entirely, go and support a non-league club, or suck it up. I think that's led us to the moral cop-out that says we can no more boycott football - it's too important - than we can give up using electricity.

But what about the long-suffering Newcastle fans burdened by the trauma of the Mike Ashley era, don't they have the right to a better future?

I don't care. Why do they think they're going to win anything anytime soon? In that world where every club is super-wealthy, only one team can win the Champions League, only one can win the league. And here's the other uncomfortable truth. Three of them have to be relegated. And who says it's a better future?

Will foreign ownership of football clubs end up being the same as the colonial slave trade issue of the future? Shamefully hiding their human rights reputations in investments into failing clubs…

Yes, kind of. But if you look at Manchester City it's been a well-run investment in a successful club that has also managed to project the new modern image of the UAE. As long as things are going well, the projection of that image looks good. You'll also see in the next year a series of well crafted long reads about Saudi Arabia's new generation of leaders moving on from Wahabi Islam, becoming a more tolerant and cohesive society, rooting out corruption and the old ways. How the ownership of Newcastle United is a gift to the people of the North East, consistent with the mainstream values of a technologically connected world. How tolerance and mutual respect for diversity of cultures is part of Saudi Arabia's step out of the dark ages.  

You're just jealous. I saw what your fans were saying on Twitter. Hoping for a rich Saudi to buy Blackburn, and you didn't stop supporting your team when a tax-dodger bought the Premier League, did you? Wouldn't you want Blackburn to be owned by a billionaire?

Blackburn Rovers literally is owned by a family which at the last time of checking was valued in the billions. But Venky's aren't stupid enough to break the rules of financial fair play on a gamble that may get us into the Premier League, but they are also somehow unwilling to walk away and plunge the club into liquidation. And I'd contest the Jack Walker description, a little bit, but Blackburn Rovers are very much on that conveyor belt of ownership. We got very, very lucky, played our hand well, then got very, very unlucky and were financially rinsed by a series of disastrous decisions made by people who didn't have the long term interests of the club at heart. No one truly knows what went on there except the Rao family, Steve Kean and Jerome Anderson. Portsmouth went through something similar too, they even went down the fan ownership route after having a financial disaster - and opted for the rich American option. But there's a long term structural reason why our club is currently where we are, the fan base, the tradition, the size of the town and the catchment area. As for expecting me to defend "your fans" though, really?

Saturday, October 02, 2021

Radcliffe to Wembley - the latest twist


Thanks for having me, Radcliffe, it's been great getting to know you.

It was a bruising physical duel at Radcliffe today that saw Morpeth Town upset the odds with a 3-1. The damage was done in a first half performance that saw luck on their side as they snatched three goals that proved too big a margin for the hosts to overcome.

I can't put my finger on what Radcliffe lacked, the first goal felt like it was against the run of play and that they'd get one back quickly. The second was a scramble from a corner, and the third had them shell shocked at how easy Morpeth swept it in, but it takes nothing away from a gutsy defensive showing from the visitors from the North East, who consistently played out from the back with real confidence. 

My friend Steven joined me for this stage on the journey and once again we were greeted at the gate by our mate Alan Townley, a Boro director, who is a popular and well-known local personality, known by name and reputation even amongst the young lads behind the goal who chanted his name at one point. 

I'm now anxiously awaiting Monday's draw and hoping Morpeth's name is paired with somewhere new and interesting (and not too far away).

Thursday, September 30, 2021

Lunch of the month - Cafe Marhaba


We're supposed to be back to some kind of normal, so this blog is resuming the tradition of picking a 'lunch of the month'. I'm not going to be testing the steaks at Hawksmoor, or trying to make a pitch to be some kind of foodie blogger, it's more of a thing about what you might grab in and around work, pitched at under a tenner.

The variety this time will be that I mainly work from home, so I might pop into Marple and other spots locally. For that reason, the new butty shop in Bredbury - Bread- Brie - is an early strong contender. Their steak canadienne with gravy and onions was sumptuous. I've also had decent bacon butties at both The Locks and Red Pepper in Marple.

I've got a few things going on in Stockport as well, and there's much to commend the Produce Hall, the market area and some other gems. 

Then there's Tameside, where I need to get out and about. As a local radio personality and newspaper columnist I need to know my patch much better. So far, I haven't found one that can top Lily's in Ashton, which the recent Manchester Food and Drink Awards also acknowledged.

Being only a hop skip and a jump from Manchester means there are plenty of choices within easy reach, but it's a slightly different dynamic than when I started this a couple of years ago and I was permanently based near Oxford Road.

I've had a couple of trips into Manchester to try and drum up business and do a day's work, that have also involved food, and my eldest son Joe lives in the city centre. All have been pretty good, but one was outstanding. Gorilla's burger was as good as I remember it. I tried the Levenshulme Bakery shwarma and it was decent. Wing's in the Arndale Market is reliable, and a bit of a guilty pleasure.

But the winner was Cafe Marhaba in Back Piccadilly, an unlikely setting, but their Instagram page has tantalised me for 18 months. It has a deserved cult status amongst those who know of its clay oven, the delicate bread, the taste of texture of the curries. I have really missed it, so much so I couldn't settle on what to have so I went for the trusty rice and three, lamb, chicken and keema. Astonishing. Other places do dependable rice and three, but no-one comes close with bread like this. I had a garlic naan, my pal had a chilli one. Superb.

If you fancy joining me or suggesting somewhere - and I tagged a few potential lunch chums on the Twitter - then let's do this.


 

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Playing the long game - some big university deals come off




I had a couple of little tickles of pride this week as a few things I'd been involved in at Manchester Metropolitan University came to fruition.

In 2018, I made sure the University was fully part of the Civic University Commission inquiry, led by Lord Kerslake, eventually leading to the signing, with Mayor Andy Burnham, of the Greater Manchester Civic Universities Agreement this week. It covers degree apprenticeships, equipping our public services, contributing to the strategies of the city region. and making sure research has true impact locally.

I wasn't sure where we'd get to when I introduced Health colleagues to officers from Stockport Council, but Stockport's Academy of Living Well looks like a glorious legacy of that ambition.

I picked up National Geographic Traveller magazine today and was really chuffed to see trails for the new Poetry Library as one of Manchester's new cultural jewels. I remember when I first started to talking to the VC about joining back in 2015 and it was his passion for this project that convinced me he was taking the institution on an exciting journey. 

But the pet project I most want to see is tantalisingly close and I wish everyone involved the very best of luck.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Always judge a magazine by its cover


I'm still a sucker for a new magazine, not just as a reader, but as someone who's been into the whole process all of my working life. I love to pick up something I've never seen before and thumb through it, check out the advertisers, think about the production meetings that led to the different design decisions that were made. I always ask, who it is for? And wonder if there are enough of them to sustain it.

A few new titles I've liked recently have included a trendy business magazine called Courier, which feels a bit like Monocle. A men's fashion concept aimed at old hooligans like me, Paninaro. The design style is striking and it has a real clear personality and a curiosity about it. The interview with JJ Connolly in issue 002 is very good indeed. I really liked Faith magazine, a freebie about clubs and house music that was packed with really good interviews and recollections. I've not sat down to read my latest purchase, but it's a niche wee project called Turnstiles, produced by a Blackburn Rovers fan, Chris O'Keefe.

The most important page in any magazine is the cover. It's the one that I would think about first and last whenever I was the editor, and planning ahead or thinking through the bigger message any title needed to say. The first magazine I edited I worked with the fantastically talented Andrea Horwood, who went on to build Australian Style magazine. She was a fabulous stylist and I bowed to her judgement on her choice of interesting looking cover models. I've just found a print of a cover featuring Kylie from 1994 that's on sale at an auction for A$1200, which rather proves the point.

When I worked in the UK Britfilm magazine sector in the 1990s we were spoilt for choices of imagery, given the subject matter, but I tended towards something with an eye-catching visual effects story to draw the eye to the cover lines. Or something from a TV series I liked, such as Cold Feet.

At Insider I was much more interested in conceptual stories and created some great covers with designer Damien Wiehl. I think of only a handful of single personality led covers, I just don’t think anyone in the regional business community could justify that kind of rock star status. In my office now I still have the framed print of the cover from 2007 bearing my award-winning story of the collapse of retailer Music Zone. For me it has everything, it's brash, it's about the story, it projects it accurately and it's remarkably simple.


All of this is pointing towards a trip to Rare Mags in Stockport's Underbanks, a delightful shop with a love of design and print that still gets me excited.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Binge reading


I've written before (yesterday, in fact) how I tend to jump in and absorb everything I can from certain authors. It isn't a recent thing either, in my early 20s I ripped through all the output of Carl Hiaasen, Mark Timlin, Elmore Leonard and James Crumley in a splurge of murder and mayhem. I loved the American literary brat pack - Donna Tartt, Brett Easton Ellis and Jay McInernay. In my year in Australia I couldn't get enough of Milan Kundera, which then switched me on to Raymond Carver in pretty short order. Even as a young kid I think I read all of Enid Blyton, Rev W Awdry, Herge and Michael Hardcastle.

It was a good job George Orwell was a set text at English A level, because I'd read everything he'd done by the time I was 16 - diaries, journalism, all his novels and most potently of all Homage to Catalonia. We studied 1984 and it provided no challenge at all.

Sometimes this doesn't leave much space to let others in. Maybe it should.

One of my guilty pleasures is Tony Parsons (the other was Lee Child, but he's basically given up now). I know it's fashionable to diss him and he does himself no favours with his opinionated column in the newspaper I refuse to buy or refer to, but I do like his new series of Max Wolfe dark detective novels. It seems that the hard-boiled crime genre I was so taken with is now the resting place of different types of novelists. 

There is nothing guilty about liking Chris Brookmyre and his excellent Parlabane series, but he's definitely gone darker and more noir. 

I'd say my favourites currently are Val McDermid, Joseph Knox and John Niven.

As a latecomer, I'm a little daunted at Val's output but life will always be worth looking forward to as long as there is another Val to go to; I'm up to date with John Niven though his first book, Music From Big Pink, must have passed me by and I've just borrowed it from the library. I think my favourite is No Good Deed, but nothing prepared me for the sheer unadulterated splenetic joy of the 'gateway Niven' experience of Kill Your Friends

This weekend I binged on Joseph Knox's True Crime Story, set in Manchester, which I've written about in my column in the local paper and will link to it here when it's out. It is one of the most startling and different crime books I've read. Really smart and very well written, just like his previous three, but a real game-changer. 

Next up for me is The Survivors by Jane Harper, an Australian writer who I picked up on a couple of years ago. And as soon as she's got another out, I'm on it.

  

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Lancashire folk horror - a dark place


Last year, as we lurched into lockdown and I was task-avoiding the final flourish on writing my thesis, I got absorbed in folk horror. It sort of coincided with a ratcheting-up of my enthusiasm for fell walking and discovering the countryside. 

Maybe it was the shrinking of our world to what was within reach that made me deeply yearn for what lay beyond. My morning walk and cycle ride saw me become fascinated with things that hadn't caught my attention - a disused piece of farm machinery became my companion and I would stop and speak to it every day, an emotional crutch and a recipient of dark thoughts. I even gave her a name - Darkness. I would also seek out abandoned barns and remote dwellings, sometimes off the beaten track, but also sometimes just tucked away, and let us remember here, they all had a Greater Manchester postcode.

I'll lay my cards on the table. Folk horror is a sometimes shocking but always dramatic film genre, never passive, never unchallenging, I can take it in small doses, but horror still works better in film than in literary fiction. The origin story starts with Michael Reeves’ Witchfinder General (1968), Piers Haggard’s Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971) and Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973) but the most shocking modern film that can trace a line back - particularly to the latter classic - is Midsommar (2019), directed by Ari Aster, also responsible for the seriously terrifying Hereditary (2018).

Here's the thing though, seeing something grotesque, otherworldly and weird is terrifying and the tricks of light and sound make it all-consuming. Reading about it is just a bit odd, but far harder to accomplish as a writer. 

I say this because in fairly short order I read all three of Lancashire writer Andrew Michael Hurley's novels - the Loney, Devil's Day and Starve Acre. What I liked about all three were the dramatic descriptions of place. All three were set in locations I know a little of - the Lune Estuary, the Trough of Bowland and, less so, the Yorkshire Moors. Life feels hard for all of the characters in them, the plots are all tight, odd, and well-paced. Hurley told my friend, the writer Mark Sutcliffe, that the greatest compliment he could receive would be that if you felt you were there, in the mud, on the moors and feeling the rain, then he's done his job. I'd agree with that, and he is very, very good at atmospheric descriptive writing.

Yes, there's a but coming. 

I couldn't quite buy the supernatural elements, yet in each story they are the things I remembered most vividly, and it's what gives me the shivers. I wonder out loud whether stripping them out would make them well-told thrillers, worthy of something a writer of the output and pedigree of Val McDiarmuid would do, but otherwise just bleak Northern noir. 

I note that Hurley has a contribution to a horror collection out soon, and maybe, just maybe, a writer of his skill and growing confidence could win me over to the deeply weird and the terrifyingly eerie.