Monday, June 30, 2008

Having your sausage and eating it

I'm a big fan of Cumberland sausages. I like the big chunky ones I get from Whites on Market Street in Marple. I'm pretty sure they don't ship them in from Penrith every week.

Now there's a campaign - well, a PR stunt - to protect it. It's got everything, celebrity chefs, a Facebook page, regional indignation, a website, even a day (July 5) devoted to it:

Traditional Cumberland Sausage Day is being held as part of the campaign to give the sausage the same protection as products like Champagne, Parma Ham and Greek Feta cheese. A number of businesses around the county are organising special events including Traditional Cumberland Sausage barbeques and menus featuring the sausage.

They're having a launch day that should get the client - Made in Cumbria - on the local news. Especially at some of the events, including a barbie at the Waterhead Hotel in Ambleside, where chef Michael Weston Cole has made these spicy delights which should only call themselves Cumberland Sausages if they were made in Cumbria.

Er, slight problem. If we're going to get pedantic here, then I should point out that Ambleside isn't in Cumberland. It's in Westmorland. Cumberland as a county ceased to exist in 1974, when Cumbria was formed out of the two old North West counties - with some stolen parts of North Lancashire, including Barrow and Bowness-on-Windermere. There are pedants and traditionalists with maps of the traditional counties in their hallways, like me, who still regard the Cumbria project and the dissolution of Lancashire as a backward step. This kind of opportunistic PR nonsense just makes me ache even more for what was destroyed.

The protection is therefore bending its own rules. There's even something called a Westmorland Sausage, which it seems to me is more in need of protection than ever, as it appears to have been erased from all but the hardiest butchers in Kendal. It's slightly more herby, like Lincolnshire and there's something about it here.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Eco Superheroes

To the Bridgewater Hall for the North West Business Environment Awards. It's a slightly odd event as they get a square like me to introduce an award for the ecological wing of the business community and it starts with a discussion with a selected panel.

The event had a super hero theme running through it, which seemed to work well. Winner of the top award was Joe Dwek, a real class act who I interviewed last year. He has it spot on with the environment - the science might be wrong, but we have nothing to lose by being creative with waste, energy use and innovation.

The organiser, Walter Menzies, had called me during the day to avoid any mention of the congestion charge because he knows me and Joe aren't with the rest of the worthies on this one. Obviously we ignored him and obviously a quick show of hands showed we're in a minority in this kind of company though not the rest of Greater Manchester.

The judges may have been fulsome in their praise for Joe and his tireless work on the NWDA board for pushing green issues and for cleaning up the River Mersey through his work with the Mersey Basin Campaign, but they clearly haven't been with him in his office when he lights up these massive carbon emitting cigars, but then they are Cuban.

As the event is quite odd, I ended proceedings by reading the guests a bedtime story. It was this one.

No more football

Right, no more football for a month. It just depresses me to even think about it. This blog may mention the beautiful game around the middle of July in the context of the Marple Summer Sevens tournament, but it really is time for a rest.

Hat tip: Bitter End

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Kids and work

Luke Johnson is very good in the FT today (as he usually is) on the role of your business goals in raising a family. A flavour is here:

After all, entrepreneurs and children ought to get on well since they are similar in many ways: impatient, self-centred, demanding, enthusiastic, energetic and wilful. At board meetings it can occasionally be difficult to tell them apart. But, perhaps, that is what makes them fun to have around.

The full thing is here.

Toby Young's book - as reviewed in the lift this morning

As I was on trains for 7 hours yesterday I did a fair bit of reading and listening to podcasts (and some work, honest). And I really did bore someone for 8 floors this morning while I told them this, my book review in a lift:

Managed to finish Tony Young's book - The Sound of No Hands Clapping. It's popular in any review of Toby Young to rather reinforce his image as a hapless loser by slagging off his work. I actually enjoyed it. He seems bluntly honest, which I like, slightly conceited, which I don't, but he is very funny.

As a reader of his column in the Spectator, I did notice he reuses the material in his book. I especially liked the story about asking his poor wife to pose for a picture in the maternity hospital with a black baby and emailing it to his friends with the message - "Marsellus was born today". He also has a story in the book where Sean Langan tells him the identity of a heckler, in the column it's Derek Draper, but the point is still the same. And it is still funny second time round.

Trust in the Walkers

An excellent piece by David Conn in the paper today. Here. He wrote a similar piece for Insider a couple of months ago, but the point is well made here too.

So far, the comments seem quite sensible, but Comment is Free quickly descends into bickering and spite.

The Walker Trust is stuck between acting to increase the wealth of the existing family and supporting businesses that Jack Walker wanted them to support. But it's difficult to see those assets shooting up in value. They haven't been able to float FlyBe, or sell it, and the other interests are either freehold property or a few trophy assets like hotels and restaurants, including the marvellous Three Fishes.

There is an ownership model that would work. Putting the club in trust to the people who really care for its future - the fans.

Monday, June 23, 2008

A Season With Verona - book review in a lift

Based on the rough principle that when someone asks you what that book's like, as you get in a lift, you have about 20 seconds to explain, this is how I've been doing book reviews on this blog.

Tim Parks - A Season With Verona - English bloke follows very average Italian football team Verona in the 2000-2001 season and goes to every game. Goes with the racist hooligans to some games, with the directors to others, in so doing presents a very readable account and sometimes sociological studyof Italian life. Reminded me a lot of Tobias Wolff's Dark Heart of Italy. Nice preparation for our August in Italy. More please.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

The death of Shoot

There have been outbursts of nostalgia, like this, for Shoot magazine which is to close.

The issue for me is that the crowded kids magazine market couldn't sustain three magazines which were so similar. Match has been utterly dominant, but when the other competitor is Match of the Day and is cross promoted by a TV programme made by the BBC, then it's an uphill struggle.

The point is made here, in the comments below.

My English Rose

Just sipping a very fresh glass of English Rose wine from here. I tell you what, it would pass any Pepsi challenge with me. Paradoxically, it was a gift from a Scot. Marvellous.

A short history of racism at Blackburn Rovers

I first encountered the kind of raw, angry and hateful racism that scarred Britain in the 1970s at Ewood Park, Blackburn in 1978. The target was a Crystal Palace player (Vince Hilaire?) who was given a volley of monkey chants and foul abuse coupled with a bit of National Front support to let everyone else know that there was something more sinister going on. In those days pretty much every black player got the same. Alex Williams from Manchester City got the full banana treatment. Chelsea fans trumped everyone with a sustained abuse of Paul Cannoville, their own player, before chasing us all the way back to the station. I have never been so terrified.

You couldn't escape this kind of menace at football in the late 1970s and early to mid-1980s, it went with the experience of following football. There has never been much in the way of an organised hooligan presence at Blackburn. Partly it's a numbers thing, does one mob have more than the other and does this therefore increase the chances to bully another comparable mob? There were many occasions when a larger pack of bullies to walk back to town with would have felt quite comforting. Strangely, at Blackburn, the glue that bound together the bullying thugs in the area wasn't football, but the NF. Or rather, they'd follow different teams (Leeds, Man United, West Ham) where the chances to bully were greater, but would beat up Asians when at home. I know who most of them are by name and face and they seemed to gravitate back towards Rovers in the mid 1980s and brought all the unpleasant baggage with them.

Rovers didn't have a black player until Howard Gayle who joined in the summer of 1987. Yes, think about that. 1987. The same time John Barnes broke the mould at Liverpool, a place a journeyman like Howard Gayle was offered no latitude or second chances. I liked Howard and his direct have-a-go attitude. I also liked his 20 goals that season. I once saw him get in the Nuttall Street paddock and offer out someone who said something to him as he was warming up.

I had a cup of tea with then manager Don Mackay in 1988 and he told me the player he most wanted to sign was "a Pakistani boy from this area". Twenty years ago he saw how Rovers needed to reach out. Even now, there are less than 50 Asian season ticket holders at Ewood Park.

After a few squad players dipping in and out - Peter Baah, Jason Beckford - Rovers was a white team throughout the 1990s - the Jack Walker years. I remember writing in Many Miles From Home, a Rovers fanzine, about the monkey chants directed at Carl Leaburn in 1991. You'd hear snippets from people that Jack Walker didn't want "a certain type of player" at the club. And apart from Richard Brown - who was alright - no black players appeared in the Premier League under Kenny Dalglish and Ray Harford. I raised this with the directors in 1998 at a London supporters forum and any notion that this harmed any attempt to increase ethnic support was denied by Bob Coar, the chairman. But Peter White, then the Lancashire Evening Telegraph reporter for Rovers, now deceased, said there was something in it. He clarified by saying Teddy Sheringham was a player Jack Walker blocked as a "wrong sort" and so too was, wait for it, Paul Ince, then at Inter Milan.

Roy Hodgson signed Martin Dahlin (who was rubbish) and there have, happily, been plenty of good quality black players since. Andy Cole, Chris Samba, Benni, Marcus Bent and many more. There's been some crap too, but I don't believe for a moment that any of them has been treated any differently by the fans because of their colour. It certainly isn't like Italy. Dwight Yorke got some stick when he came back with Birmingham, but I don't believe there was much racism in it.

So here we are, on the brink of making history. And do you know what, I don't think any of this will have figured in the minds of the board when offering the job of managing Blackburn Rovers to Paul Ince. Good.

Talk Tonight

It looks like the Tony Wilson tribute has gone very well at Urbis. It seems like a fitting event to remember someone who had so much to say about so very much.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Manchester restaurants - ten more thoughts

A while back, here, I wrote about ten places to pop into for lunch that I hadn't been to yet. I've pretty much done it now, and here are my ten thoughts, topped up with one from Liverpool, and another observation on the worst plate of food I've had put in front of me in 8 years in Manchester.

Gastro's deli and food hall - it was pleasant enough, a bit dear for what it offered, but has closed down already. Oh dear.

I still haven't been to Katsouri's in Bury. I went to the one in Manchester a few weeks ago and though the food was good, the fried food in the deli made my clothes stink.

Ithaca - well loved by people like this. I thought the interior was tacky but the food was awesome, but expensive.

Grado - Excellent the first time, when I was with the owner, good when I was there a second time and the other owner was in. Very average when I went for a third time.

Vermilion - I went there for lunch and we were the only people there. The fresh and spicy Thai food was awesome though.

If there's a better Chinese banquet for 30 people than Yang Sing I've yet to eat it. Brilliant food, excellent service.

I've long held the view that there's little to seperate certain chain bars and fast food joints except for £50 for a family meal. On a recent outing in Manchester we opted for lunch at Harvey Nicols for me, Rachel and Elliot. Wonderful service, great kids meal for our little boy and ours was lovely too.

Restaurant Bar and Grill used to be THE place for the business lunch. I went on Monday and it's still got something, but it isn't the Thai curry. I could do better myself and proved it to myself on Wednesday night.

Restaurant Bar and Grill in Liverpool is a real goldfish bowl of Liverpool corporate and cultural life. John Barnes was in! And the food is very good too. I had a haddock risotto which was creamy, fresh and delicious, in stark contrast to...

Room. I had a haddock kedgiree. It was basically Bachelors Pot Rice with a
chip shop piece of fried battered haddock on top. Ghastly. The worst meal in living memory.

Ince becomes Nice

I'm quite excited about Paul Ince joining Rovers as manager. I absolutely loathed him when he was at Man United and we beat them to the title in 1995. I ironically used to refer to him as Paul Nice. As I always thought he probably wasn't. The Guvnor, remember that. Oh dear. He was young then, and so was I. :-)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Over my dead body

A trustee of the Walker Family Trust has told a friend of mine that Sam Alladyce will be appointed manager of Blackburn Rovers "over my dead body". Given the trustees own the club on behalf of, er, the deceased Jack Walker. I think that has to be taken as a no.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Wilson footage unearthed

Previously unseen video footage of the late Manchester icon and music impresario Anthony H Wilson has been unearthed at The University of Manchester.

The video, which shows the former record label boss and journalist in forthright and animated mood, was shot in 1998 as part of celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of the birth of ‘The Baby’ – the first computer capable of storing a program.

You can see the full interview where Wilson claims digital music in pop music started with his band New Order, which is true, obviously. Remember, when faced with the choice of the truth, or legend, always pick the legend.

At one point in the entertaining and illuminating clip, he breaks off to take a phone call on a large mobile phone. He goes on to argue that the Baby was THE first computer – and dismisses the views of “fussing” academics as “b*ll*cks”.

The footage came to light while Web designers at The University of Manchester were building the official web site for Digital 60 Day, which will take place on this Friday.

(Hat tip: Alex Waddington, University of Manchester)

Friday, June 13, 2008

Silverback goes to Mongolia

This is from Popbitch:

Apprentice silverback goes to Mongolia
Now The Apprentice is over, Suralan's sidekick Nick Hewer is off to Ulan Bator in a 20 year old
Renault to take part in the Mongol Rally. The hard-nosed taskmaster has a softer side - he's raising money to reunite institutionalised children in Eastern Europe with their families. Sugar has coughed up a grand. The cream of Britain's TV business world (Jacqueline Gold, Karren Brady, Margaret Mountford etc) have also sponsored Nick.

See how cheap/generous the celebrity sponsors have been here. (Gold - 200 quid, Brady 20 quid etc)

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Soft as sugar

Right, back to reality. I no longer have to justify to anyone why I watched a programme as ridiculous as The Apprentice. I sped home from a job in Warrington last night to see the final episode. Why? What have I turned into?

The fact that Suralan hired Lee instead of Clare told me one thing: he's soft. In the previous episode Karren Brady said she'd give Clare a job if Suralan didn't. He knew she was the better apprentice and was more likely to be a success for him, but he chose the path of least resistance. He picked Lee because he thought Clare would be OK. If he didn't pick Lee then what might happen to the poor lad who was exposed on national TV for lying on his CV?

Remember too that he bottled it when he should have fired the good little Jewish boy who didn't know what kosher was.

Was never going to happen

What was it that first attracted Blackburn Rovers fans to the idea of Alan Shearer being manager? He was our greatest ever player? He might make a good manager one day? The prospect of Mike Newell pitching up alongside him? The return of Tim Flowers as goalkeeping coach?

All of the above, but more than anything it was a desire of the heart, not of the head. I know, I'm guilty as charged. But when you look at the evidence, he's a coward. He's too comfortable and doesn't have the hunger he had as a player. He's happy on the Match of the Day sofa trotting out his boring opinions with those other smug gits Lineker, Lawro and Hansen.

And do you know what? One day people will stop talking about him becoming a manager. He'll stop popping up on shortlists in the tabloids and there'll be a new generation of successful players keen for a slot on the sofa. And where will that leave him and the rest the smug squad? A bunch of has beens wondering what might have been.

Not bitter or anything. Oh no. Here's bitter: Simon Hattenstone on Manchester City.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The question to Ask

Property developer Asklife, which is partly owned by Marple Bridge man Ken Knott, has bought Compstall Mills and plans to convert the property into 122 luxury apartments. There's a public consultation that starts this week.

A few years ago I mentioned the possible uses for this building to former councillor Mark Hunter, now an MP. He was adamant it would never get through planning as a residential scheme because of the traffic problems that would ensue.

Ask Life is holding a public consultation to encourage local residents to get involved and have their say on the re-development of Compstall Mills into a luxury, residentially led scheme.

Taking place at the Church Hall in Compstall on Wednesday 11, Friday 13 and Saturday 14 June, Ask Life are inviting locals to view the proposals for 122 high specification, high quality family homes and apartments. The units will be a mix of both new build apartments and houses within the refurbished mills, along with c25,000 sq ft of flexible commercial space.

Planning for the proposed units will be submitted following the community consultation in late July / early August.

Jonathon Weston, Project Manager at Ask Life, says: “We’re really looking forward to the public’s response to the scheme and we are confident that it will be well received.”

Times for the consultation are as follows: Wednesday 11 June 3pm-7pm, Friday 13 June 6:30pm – 8:30pm and Saturday 14 June 10am-2pm.

The question to Ask, is what public realm improvements and traffic control will have to be introduced to ensure that this scheme doesn't utterly screw up the traffic. Bear in mind that Dan Bank in Marple is being rebuilt next year, this horrendous bottleneck will then be the only route out of Marple towards Romiley and beyond.

Maybe Marple should have applied under the Transport Innovation Fund for a new public transport system in return for a peak time congestion charging scheme.

Monday, June 09, 2008

The haughty forty

Apart from the specious one from me, there have been 40 applications for the vacant manager's job at Blackburn Rovers.

The Sunday People's Alan Nixon - who has been lurking on the BRFC Supporters Messageboard tantalising bored call centre workers with hints about who it might be - went to press on Sunday with the news that Alan Shearer is going to talk to John Williams about the job.

To be fair, he writes with much less certainty than the Daily Mirror, which reported that Paul Ince is to be offered the job, or the Daily Mirror on a different day, which reported that Sam Alladyce has been given a three year contract.

We've also had Tony Parkes piping up that Shearer is the man for the job, but he needs an assistant to do all the work. Any suggestions, Tony?

Tiff over TIF

Today's the day that the Greater Manchester local authorities are to be told they will be able to proceed with a bid to unlock £1bn worth of funding to improve the public transport system. The catch? the introduction of a peak time congestion charge in 2013.

There's a good summary of the issues here. The BBC coverage is very good, here, and this backgrounder is also useful.

As the editor of a business magazine I get asked at Insider to "come off the fence" and join the opposing campaigns, the Greater Manchester Momentum Group and United City. It brings into focus what we are here to do and where the media should stand. I actually think it's such an important issue that the least we can do is provide a forum for informed and grown up debate. Taking sides is futile.

I don't think Manchester has done very well out of this government. The track record on delivering on promises has been very poor. As this is a project built upon a deal, I feel uneasy about it.

Public transport should be much better. England's second city is important to the development of the economy of the nation and NEEDS a tram system and a train network that people would want to travel on. Whether this is the best way to unlock the finance to do that is the key issue now. The bid would NOT be happening if it was just a means to charge motorists. The prize should be a better train system.

One of the lines that would get better trains under the plan is one to and from Marple. There is also a very ambiguous commitment to do a study into whether the Marple line should be converted into a Metrolink type operation. Detail on this is quite hard to come by.

And here's a savage irony. Due to a power failure today, trains into Manchester Piccadilly have been severely delayed. One of my guys has taken 4 hours to get to work today - a new record. Appalling.

* There will be a special Manchester Business programme on BBC Radio Manchester tonight from 6pm to 7pm, with a debate between leading opponent of the congestion charge, Andrew Simpson from Peel and Chris Oglesby from Bruntwood, who is in favour. The show will be presented by Steve Saul and me.

Friday, June 06, 2008

When Saturday Comes

At one point I used to have the full collection of When Saturday Comes magazines. I continued to subscribe thinking I was building a historical legacy. When I saw the lot advertised for £100 I realised those unread articles about Mansfield weren't adding to any valuable heirlooms. I still like it whenever I do buy it.

They've had a bit of a push on their website, there's a daily blog and a weekly email - plus this, the best book review ever.

Someone on there also said: “The biggest problem of England not being at Euro 2008 is that without regular reminders I might forget myself and surrender to the IRA.”

Hat tip: Taguey

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Manchester Business on BBC Radio

I've been on the radio tonight and I've got my own sting now. It's very different being a "guest presenter" to being a guest. You realise how hard the guy in the middle has to work. I enjoyed it though. Got some good interviews with Mark Garner from Man Con and Steve Smith from Ear to the Ground.

You can listen again by clicking here. Then find your way to Manchester Now with Steve Saul. We're in the second hour, coming in just after Al Green's Let's Stay Together.

The rumour mill grinds on

I've been sniffing around the dark recesses of the Rovers fans messageboard and discovered some gems about the search for a new manager.

* "Ronnie Claytons son works with my mates mum and from a close source within rovers alan shearer is at brockhall today holding talks over the managers job!"

* "Mate of mine with family in Blackpool said they spoke with Colin Hendry in a pub in Lytham last night and he said from what he's heard the job is Shearer's if he wants it."

* "Candidate B is a manager not from England that has Premier experiance, Mr Nicko is unable to mention the name at this time."

* John Williams is in London today.

* Mike Newell and Alan Shearer dream ticket with Kenny Dalglish as director of football.

* Tony Parkes and Simon Grayson from Blackpool

* Didier Descamps, David Ginola, Denis Bergkamp, blah di blah.

* I've also tried to get my head around the odds on Betfair, here, which seem to show the price on Shearer collapsing.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

All I need right now

I'm still feeling a bit depressed about this. And tonight I'm going to a dinner to hear a talk about this. It's all I need.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Is Sam the man?

You have to be impressed with the quick feet of the Rovers board in lining up Sam Alladyce as a replacement for Mark Hughes, even before he's agreed to join Manchester City. I contacted a mate of Sam's tonight he confirmed it is looking likely that he is going to join Rovers. Sky News are reporting that The Wally With The Brolly fancies it. No thanks.

There is a reason for this haste. The club is still for sale, finishing 7th was good, but not good enough. Having no manager through the summer is not going to help build for the future.

Inevitably (some) Rovers fans are unhappy about this. I think Allardyce got Bolton to punch way above their weight. He's what we need.

As for Mark Hughes, I think he's barking mad to go to City. Richard Williams in the Graun today is very good on this. Link is here. Any visiting City supporters may also like to check out this blog which doesn't like Thaksin very much.

All of this sounds very plausible, of course. What none of it does is give me any clearer idea of how I can explain any of it to a couple of heartbroken small boys who can't see why anyone would want to desert the world's greatest football club.

The seaside town they forgot to close down

When property developers Urban Splash bought the Midland Hotel on Morecambe promenade I said at the time we would host the first business event there. We just have. We held a smashing lunch in the Marion Dorn function room attended by a few friends, local business people and the former owners of the hotel.

The hotel is a regional treasure. Built in 1933 it has spectacular views over Morecambe Bay to the Lake District in the distance. The building itself is art deco with a splendid collection of Eric Gill fascias. The modernisation in its current form is an absolute triumph; it's amazing what you can do with a bit of bravery, vision and £4m from the NWDA. Just joking. It's so beautiful.

But to really understand the appeal of the place you just have to sit, as I am right now, in the reception area and see the steady stream of visitors who are walking around mesmerised by the transformation. I've just spoken to a lady who used to work in the reception. There are people checking in who are telling tales about how they came here on their honeymoon 50 years ago. Truly, I never thought it would come back to life so beautifully and so successfully. I can't wait to come back.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Hughes, to Shearer

I've always known that Mark Hughes has helped Blackburn Rovers to over achieve. For a young manager who wants to compete at the top level it just isn't enough to finish 7th and to miss out on Europe. I've always been comfortable with the thought that he would win things for Rovers, setting up the Manchester United job for himself. I think he's had a benign board at Rovers. So benign in fact that they're prepared to let him talk to another Premier League Club while he's still got two years left on his contract. If he does join the mad house that is Manchester City, he will soon see what football has become - working for a human rights abusing dictator will be very different from answering to some kindly men in suits administering a dead man's estate.

It also really angers me that whenever Rovers get anywhere our best players and managers are auctioned off by the national press and the smug gits on Match of the Day.

But here's a thought. He bottled the Newcastle job, but he could do a job at Rovers. Alan Shearer for manager. He's been offered it before, now should be the time to give it a go.