Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 in review

Here are this blog's highlights of 2010 based on the ten most common categories.

Blackburn Rovers - The jury is out on the wisdom of the long awaited takeover. Sacking the manager, hacking off the fans, miffing the captain and losing at home to Stoke wasn't a great start, but change can be turbulent. Beating Burnley at Turf Moor was as good as it gets, getting hammered by Manchester United and Manchester City (in January) was gut wrenching. 

Marple - the biggest issue locally has been the store wars. The deli rivalry has raised the bar for food in the centre, but seems quite civilised. The food festival was brilliant.
Commuting - It's been generally OK, but when it's bad, it's very, very bad.
Jokes - I had the honour of working with Jon Culshaw, Jimmy Carr and Justin Moorhouse this year. All were really good blokes. Very funny, but ultra-professional. Also saw Jason Manford, Michael McIntyre and Peter Kay in the space of a week. 
Blogging - Kept up a decent run rate and the unique visitors are still sufficient to keep it worth doing. A few old favourites have stopped altogether, or are virtually lapsed.

Book review in a lift - One Day was brilliant. A masterclass in popular novel writing. As Richard Bacon said, how can you care so much about two characters who don't even exist?

Friends - neglected our friends as usual. Great to see John, Rachel, Ruth and Michael Dixon in Cornwall, but we can't be doing so bad as we've been Godparents twice this year. Dom's 40th in Munich was as good a lad's trip as I've been on.

Food - The Red Lion has been our favourite restaurant as a family, a real treat on our doorstep. We did a decent run of reviews, but I don't really have the time. Kids liked Nando's.

Politics - I expected a coalition government led by the Conservatives, and I think the new government has done well to stay together. The tuition fees issue could mortally wound Nick Clegg, if not his party. The real test is how they deal with events, Cameron seems determined not to waste time, as he believes Blair did.

Telly - We devoured the Thick of It and Mad Men box set on DVD. I thought Sherlock was very good. Any Human Heart was probably my favourite drama series. Best comedy was The Trip.  Least favourite show but most watched, still Match of the Day and the dismal line-up of Shearer, Hansen, Lawrenson and Lineker. Get rid, BBC.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Frankly speaking

I bought one of the kids a book for Christmas called Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce. It was on the strength of a terrific Radio 3 Free Thinking lecture he delivered on the need to embrace failure.

As the blurb says, Frank argues for an end to the excesses of "affirmation" culture, where school prize days now have the elated tears and whoops of an Oscar ceremony and where pupils are encouraged to applaud themselves for listening - before they even applaud visiting guests. Promoters of such affirmation claim it is about encouraging people: But Frank asks "Is this pathology-ward level cheering and waving really encouragement? Or is it a strange new morbid dread of failure?"

I've liked everything this fellah has done: 24 Hour Party People, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, Welcome to Sarajevo and, it would appear, he was a lead writer on Brookside when it was particularly good.

I also enjoyed his Desert Island Discs, which has a bit of everything: Catholicism, punk, education, family and the North West.

I do hope the book is good, but the best judges will be our boys.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Football predictions half way through

It's been hard to turn my blogging hand to anything football related, but here's a progress report on my predictions for the season so far.

1. Manchester City (spot on, time for another new star on that laser blue shirt!!)
2. Chelsea (overestimated)
3. Manchester United (there or there abouts)
4. Liverpool (overestimated)
5. Arsenal (slightly underestimated)
6. Tottenham (slightly underestimated)
7. Everton (overestimated)
8. Aston Villa (overestimated)
9. Bolton Wanderers (underestimated)
10. Sunderland (ish)
11. Blackburn Rovers (ish)
12. Fulham (overestimated)
13. Newcastle United (ish)
14. Birmingham City (ish)
15. Wolverhampton Wanderers (overestimated)
16. West Bromwich Albion (ish)
17. Stoke City (underestimated)
18. West Ham United (ish)
19. Wigan Athletic (ish)
20. Blackpool (worst prediction of the lot, but still think they'll go down)

Other predictions: Real Madrid to win the Champions League, Liverpool to win the Channel 5 Thursday night cup. (Can still both these coming off).

Manchester United to win the FA Cup and Chelsea to win the Carling Cup. (Well that's wrong)

Morecambe and Accrington Stanley to be mid table, but Stockport County will do well to stay out of the bottom two. (I'll stand by that. Shrimps struggled, but will be OK, Stanley have masses of games in hand and County's squad is pretty thin).

What I couldn't have predicted was just how low the prestige of the game has suffered, yet again. Rooney, Tevez and the way these Indian muppets have behaved at Blackburn Rovers. It beggars belief and makes me embarrassed when I show how much I care. I can safely predict there will be more scandal, sleaze and greed to come.

OK Computer

For the first time I have a computer that didn't make me weep when I tried to set it up on my own. Sure I've had computers at work that the IT manager sorts out, but this new Hewlett Packard Pavilion is a joy to drive. The kids are using for homework and games. Well, games, really. But it has to be a sign of progress that the computer industry is making more consumer friendly products that pretty much plug and play.

My headache was the simple act of buying it from Currys. I know, there will be plenty of you who will tell me I should build my own, or get one from Dell, or some specialist in Altrincham, but I was paranoid about it not working for the kids on Christmas Day, so bought it a while back in the expectation I would be taking it back. I had some help from Daniel Labella, one of the Rose Hill Commuter Crew, who I just happened to bump into that day. Having already successfully guided me through getting Virgin Cable, his advice was excellent and we shopped around and found the best deal. The trouble is they try and chuck so much  extra surplus crap at you - Norton (got it), back up drive (got one already), warranties and insurance (go away) and this cloud storage product that I knew more about than they did. I also wanted a camera, but such was their insistence on added extra accessories I just decided there and then to give someone else my money.

I can't say I'm happy or hopeful at having to relocate iTunes on the old box of frogs and transfer the preferences and playlists over, but so far, so good.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Northern Fail

The train I get to work and back most days is usually grotty. The horrible Pacer and Sprinter trains are uncomfortable and unpleasant.

And when the service fails it tends to do so quite spectacularly. The thin thread which holds Northern Rail together seems to snap very easily. 

The whole network in the North of England needs sorting out, and my group of magazines are all going to campaign on this issues throughout 2011.

But there's another issue. The digitally literate public now have an outlet for that frustration. On any given day my Twitter lights up with bilious rage from commuters crammed on trains or stranded at windswept stations. Each message is tagged #northernfail and someone dutifully sends them all on again. There's even a website called Northern Fail.

Between Christmas and New Year the conductors are going on strike. This, despite only a third of them actively voting for strike action.

Let's be honest, this is a company that is losing its PR battle.

So what are they doing? Apart from sponsoring a minor Rugby League tournament, not much. Dave Higgerson, here, points out that the company is fighting a rearguard action to buy up some domain names. I'll let him take this up:
"According to, was snapped up by the York-based company on October 5th, along with Both take you through to this default landing page from 123reg. Given the trashing they take on you can perhaps see the reason behind their actions, but I’m also inclined to think that surely prevention would be better than cure?
In which case, working a bit harder to appease disgruntled customers might be a better way to protect the brand. Snapping up the domain names which relate to criticism suggests you’re no so much interested in improving things  as you are silencing people."
It makes you wonder about the job someone has in York, fighting this overwhelming negativity. What a tragic way to earn a living.

World turned upside down

There has so far been nothing, absolutely nothing, in the few short weeks since they bought Blackburn Rovers, to suggest that Venky's know what they are doing. Sacking the manager, destabilising the chairman, upsetting both captains and appointing a novice as manager. These are the actions of meddling buffoons. I find it unbearably hard to be so negative about Rovers. I want to see a masterplan, a good intention or to believe these people when they say - don't worry, it's going to be alright. But I see only stupidity and sinister forces manipulating the naive and terminally stupid.

Unlike Christopher Samba we can't hand in a transfer request and ask to start supporting Bolton instead. Well, we could, but we won't obviously.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Red Chilli - what took so long?

I've got a bee in my bonnet about food critics from national newspapers. I think they're all grumpy buggers who rarely venture out of London. When they do, it's to complain about the very act of having to. I've blogged on it here.

There is one exception to this. Jay Rayner in The Observer. He makes the effort and seems to enjoy it. On the whole I agree with his Manchester and Leeds observations. By chance a bloke I've met recently, Thom Hetherington, is a mate of his. And it was Thom who drew Jay to Red Chilli back in 2005, for this review, here.  This restaurant is a skip from my office, but I've never been. Until yesterday. And I don't think I'll be going back for lunch again any time soon. Bear with me.

I let Thom order and he didn't even look at the menu. Minced pork with green beans and chillis, poached lamb, spring onion bread and Peking dumplings. And some rice. It was an unbelievable taste sensation. I could eat the pork forever. The dumplings were extremely moorish. As for the lamb, we didn't seem to dent it, but I had a good few scoops on the rice.

I didn't eat anything else for 24 hours. It was a major assault on my digestive system. It would make for an amazing banquet of an evening, but it sat rather heavily on me for the afternoon and evening. It is, without doubt, an incredible food experience.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Paintball's Coming Home

On the list of things I really must try, paintballing has never been there. Not that there is such a list, but you get my drift. However, on Thursday, my eldest son Joe's football team had a bonding session at the Asylum Paintball centre in Stockport. It was great fun, I should say from the outset, but was a glimpse into a very strange world. The lads who run the centre are great teachers, very enthusiastic and big on safety.

Here are a few other observations.

Popping a cap in your backside actually hurts.

It is scary how thrilling it is to rattle off a round of a submachine paint gun at Simon Sinclair.

It is even more scary how thrilling it is to shoot an 11-year old boy who has just missed you.

I am definitely a coward and prefer to cower behind a sandbag and risk very little in a battle situation.

Food glorious food

Apologies to anyone who saw a grumpy man in black flustering in Marple on Saturday afternoon. That was me. I had a panic attack in Iceland. I don't even know why I went there. I think it was in the misguided belief that I could get a few tins of tomatoes and a tin of sweetcorn to go with the fresh meat I'd just picked up from Whites Butchers. Call it a Jamie Oliver moment, but the jars of salty sugary sauce, the freezers full of frozen sweepings from the meat factory floor made me angry. I'm not generally snobbish about food, but there has to be a better way to feed a family than this, and it doesn't have to come down to money either.

I love trying new food and dabbling with ingredients. And in Marple and Romiley there are some terrific butchers and grocers who share that passion for trying new ways to feed a brood like ours.
My extended family have been very supportive of my efforts in this regard - I buy a few cows with my Dad who knows a thing or two about rearing cattle; he's been doing it for 30 years. We've also received a few gorgeous recipes that have been passed down through the generations. Rachel's mum has given us an incredible marinade for sticky ribs, while I have tried, but come up short, on my Mum's incredible braised steak.

From the papers I have been most impressed with Yotam Ottolenghi, who's recipes I've been saving for a while now, even though some of the ingredients have been hard to come by, especially in Marple. Tonight's dinner was a treat inspired by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall - a chunk of beef, rubbed in spices and cooked in a pot with carrots, onions and swede

As for recipes from the large volume of cook books we have, by far the best book of the lot is the Good Housekeeping guide. It has 900 recipes and never fails to inspire.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Britain, not violent, but obsessed with violence

I heard Lord Blair of Loughton's lecture as part of the Radio 3 Nightwaves Free Thinking Festival. He touched on a point common to all us sociologists of the last 30 years. Fear of crime and crime statistics are socially produced. This country, he said, is not a violent country, but one that is obsessed with violence. He backed it up with statistics, claiming that crime peaked in 1995. The National Crime Survey is flawed, he conceded, but made some shrewd observations on moral panics and political posturing.

I can think of very little to say that this chap hasn't covered here. It's a site called Extra Mural by Jack Serle, a Science Journalism Masters student at City University in London.

Here's some more: It strikes me that in his short lecture Lord Blair struck deep at a sad aspect of British journalism and one which is costing it dearly. We are too parochial an industry – our copy too narrow in focus – and this myopia is failing our readers, viewers and listeners.

Jack forgive them for they know not what they do

In football, as in life, timing is everything. And Sam Allardyce's sacking yesterday could not have come at a worse time in the Blackburn Rovers season. On the back of a spirited performance - albeit a defeat - two home wins against West Ham and Stoke would have set us up for a good half way tally of 27 points. Now, it's up in the air. I don't know how the players will react, but give this to the big man, he usually had a game plan and they were two of the 12 games we should expect to win.

That's my first problem with his sacking. The timing.

My second is I think these new owners are clueless.

Say I'm right, then this is going to be a grim second half of the season. This will see rising anger at the haste with which the Walker Trustees sold the club reach a boiling point. I think they've acted with indecent haste and completely against the wishes of a man who's legacy they were entrusted to protect.

Say I'm wrong, then Venky's will have to pull a massive rabbit out of a hat. The return of Tugay, for example. But  everything they've done suggests that the Venky's people don't know their bees knees from their chicken's elbow. There is money, there isn't money. We can rely on loan players, we can play better football. We can be top 5, we have a plan. We will wait to get the right manager, we are talking to a target right now. It all sounds so very amateurish and so very sleazy.

Finally, a word on Big Sam. I didn't like the style of football. It was cynical and lacked romance. Grind a win against most teams at home. Hoof and hope against the big boys. Capitulate against Manchester United away from home. But he had NO MONEY. He hasn't signed a real duff player has he? Chimbonda, possibly? His management style at least gave Blackburn Rovers a stable base from which to evolve. Now we have chaos. And from that, I fear can only emerge more chaos.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The local community of blog

I do like the spirit of sharing and support amongst those who blog. Having been "at it" since 2006 I know it takes a lot of effort, but I personally find the messages, comments and reaction very rewarding. Here in the Marple area there are a few recent developments I'd like to draw your attention to.

First, the good news, there's a lively new blog from up the hill in Mellor - called Mellorview by Moor End Man - we've corresponded, but I'm assuming he's keeping his name to himself for now. Anyway, it's got some gorgeous photos of the recent snowy landscapes and some wise observations on recent news events.

Secondly, I've previously linked to Michael Walters' website about his own books, but have updated the link directly to his book review blog, which is rather excellent. And we really must take in a Half Man Half Biscuit gig in the New Year!

Third, I'm reinstating George Dearsley's blog on the links opposite. He had lapsed, but I had lunch with the great man on Friday and urged him to keep at it. He's got such a lot to say!

Fourthly, and sadly, Tom Mandall's View From the Bridge, has stopped. I hope temporarily. I liked his Friday reports, whether they were from Africa, or Marple Bridge, or even Hyde. Think again Tom. Come back soon.

If I've missed anyone out, then the omission is entirely accidental. Please send me links.

PS I note too that the Friends of Rose Hill Station have a new site on the Marple site. Good work. Keep it up.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Some amusing links

Why Newcastle chose Alan Pardew.

Billy Bullshit, ace new website. A compendium of complete and utter bollocks from out of the mouths of idiots…

Speaking of which....

Heather Mills brokers deal to get Beatles on iTunes

Great tattoo. Though I would probably stick to oven gloves.

Friday, December 10, 2010

That's me in the Corner (house)

I'm unconvinced of the merits of the Cornerhouse moving to First Street. Writing on Manchester Confidential Jonathan Schofield has it bang on in a tidy review of the food, here; it is in a fantastic location for a coffee house and "salon". The last time I had lunch there in the excellent cafe it was with Mike Emmerich, the cleverest man in Manchester, I also remember the old BBC Radio Manchester Saturday radio programmes where we'd watch the world go by and talk for an hour or so. None of this is to even touch on the films, exhibitions and drinks I had there in my student days from 1985-1988.

But that doesn't mean the cinema and exhibition areas can't work in a new location, it will just have to be pretty special. And it starts to make the current Cornerhouse site a very intriguing location for a new bar or cafe.

The site the Cornerhouse and the Library Theatre are moving to was originally earmarked as Manchester's new home for the BBC, let's not forget.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Cable theft - one for the coppers

I had a wretched journey home tonight, all told it took two hours. Our train had to turn back at Guide Bridge and I had to get another one to Marple and then walk to Rose Hill where my car was.

The problem is "cable theft". People robbing cables from the side of tracks and selling the copper. Apparently this is a growing problem and is likely to cause more train delays than leaves and the wrong kind of snow.

There's a growing violent anger towards the train company at the moment. The trains ARE horrible, the staff can be surly and rude, but I felt tonight the driver and the guard were in an impossible situation and did a decent job of letting people know what was occurring.

But to return to the cable theft business - it does come with hazards. The British Transport Police are employing drones to track down culprits with some success, and one thief nearly got fried. There's more here and here.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Granada. From the North

I haven't watched Coronation Street for, like, forever. Couple of things, who are all these good looking young men and women? When did it turn into Hollyoaks? Second, I've just seen the very first episode as part of the 50 years celebration. The title sequence got me right here. Granada From The North. We will never see its like again. Amen.

Pic comes from a great nostalgic TV site called TV Ark.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

You love it don't you?

That's all I said. "You love it don't you?" It was a short Twitter message in response to @InsidertheM60 - the author of an earlier message reporting what protestors on Market Street in Manchester were doing yesterday:

"Starting to get a little lively chanting and one very small brick thrown at Vodophone window."

The typos aren't mine, I am being very careful and quoting accurately.

Here is the response:

1. "What is your problem?"

2. "yes we do because unlike many news organisations we welcome all opinions and views"

3. "we are standing up for the ordinary person you are trying to defend the people who got us into this mess in the first place"

4. "love it if you actually started to care about the real people of mcr instead of the fortune few who think they run the city"

Honestly, how do you respond to a stream like that? Part of me is tempted to laugh and get on with my Sunday. Another part of me thinks I may have brought this on myself and should just apologise for all the trouble I must cause in the world. I'm a Catholic, I confess my sins, this doesn't worry me unduly.

But no. First of all Inside the M60 is "a news site for the people of Manchester".

So here are my responses.

1. I don't have a problem. But, as you can gather, I was rather irritated by the protest. I don't see the point in reporting on 40 protestors basically harrassing Saturday kids at Top Shop, Vodafone and Boots.

2. In the light of the rather hysterical response to my five word tweet, I doubt very much that Inside the M60  "welcomes" any view other than a left wing one. I doubt such a chippy and blow by blow account of the protest by the English Defence League would appear. So, that is a silly argument.

3. I don't know where to start with this one. When was it the job of a "news organisation" even a two-person band, to "stand up for" the "ordinary person"?  And in what way is a small protest of a handful of people an example of that? And in what way, any way, have I defended "the people who got us into this mess"? Where? Anywhere, show me where I have done that? I'm baffled. That's even before we begin a debate about what "got us into" this mess. Public sector profligacy? Poor regulation? Consumerism? Easy credit? Who wanted that? The millions of ordinary people who spend borrowed money in Manchester city centre.

4. "The fortune few?" I'm wasting my time, aren't I? This is such a nasty and personal attack I rather think whoever made it needs to stop and consider who I am, what I do and how little they actually know about me and what I care about. But although it assumes a lot about me, all of it wrong, I think it actually says ever so much about Inside the M60, doesn't it?

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Two quick thoughts on the World Cup bid

OK, Germany hosted in 1974, then again in 2006. Mexico in 1970 and 1986. Brazil is getting it again in 2014. But why should a country that has hosted once have another chance? There are 208 countries in FIFA. It has been said that giving it to Eastern Europe and the Middle East was a way of sharing the tournament around the world. I think that's plausible, but if it was such an overwhelming and compelling reason for giving it Russia and Qatar, why was anyone else encouraged to waste so much time, energy and effort? I think the answer is the bidding process generates so many offers of "vital assistance" to national federations and associations that they need to keep that pretence. It's not the winning, it's the taking part.

And isn't it rich with pathos that the England bid team distanced themselves from the exposes of FIFA corruption by the Sunday Times and the BBC's Panorama, but now bleat about, er, corruption and collusion.

That's better

Blackburn Rovers needed a good performance today against Wolves. The players needed to show the home fans everything they lacked at Old Trafford last week: character, courage, hope, guts and guile. Even after a shaky start they managed to carve out a solid 3-0 win that never looked in any doubt. Highlights for me were Pedersen and Givet - both injured last week for the drubbing at United - and a brilliant goalkeeping performance from Paul Robinson who made SEVEN very good saves.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Wide Open Road

Travelling to Liverpool tonight I tuned into Radcliffe & Maconie on Radio 2. Great show, great chat, great music. Their chain featured a wonderful link from Prefab Sprout's Don't Sing to The Triffid's Wide Open Road. Two songs that both mean a lot to me. I would have found a link from The Triffids that involved their home town, Perth, Western Australia, where I lived for a while. INXS for a start, who got going there on the pub rock circuit.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Putting people together

I chaired an event last night for Pro Manchester: Suits Meet Ponytails and Anoraks. The idea is to look at what professional services people can do for creative and digital businesses.

Pete Rush, The Pitch Doctor, has written a very kind and well observed account of what happened.

Pete says this: I went to a highly informative Pro-Manchester event hosted at KPMG’s  city centre offices last night. Sean Fensom of Manchester Digital welcomed an expert panel-based discussion skillfully orchestrated by Michael Taylor, editor of NW Insider. Michael sees part of his mission to bring Manchester’s digital people and the professional community together. He asked hard and intelligent questions and set the tone for the night just right. And what a clash of cultures there is. 

The rest is here.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A World Cup worth winning?

How dreadful is FIFA? I mean, really? What a horrible and corrupt organisation. The bribes, the backhanders and the greed of officials is bad enough, but the contract that host countries have to sign up to was the single biggest thing that appalled me about Monday's Panorama. So, there's a chance now that the bid will be lost. And already they're lining up to blame "the British media" and the investigative reporter Andrew Jennings, a long time critic of FIFA who has waged a war against the organisation.

Jim White in the Daily Telegraph asks - was that it? - World Cup 2018: only loser is the BBC as Panorama programme fails to deliver knockout blow.

But as Paul Hayward asks in the Guardian - Do we really want to pay this price to host the 2018 World Cup?

This is a balanced and reflective piece from the Daily Maverick in South Africa.

I think it will be fun to have the World Cup here. And Manchester will be a central location for major games. On balance I still hope England wins. The decision will be broadcast in a live screen in Exchange Square in Manchester on Thursday. Then there are plans for parties around town. Or wakes. I suspect the only party will be at St Petersburg restaurant.

A few more links for the end of the month

Blair v Hitchens. Is religion a force for good. I think the odds were rather stacked against TB.

A Phil Townsend jigsaw. Right, that's Christmas sorted. For the record, I really like Phil. I think he's a genuine bloke and hope he can take a joke.

New issue of Proper is out soon.

How the Irish stimulus package works

My pal Tim Murphy forwarded me this, allegedly from the Irish Independent....

IT IS a slow day in a sleepy little Irish town. The rain is beating down and the streets are deserted.

Times are tough, everybody is in debt, and everybody lives on credit.

On this particular day a rich tourist is driving through the town, stops at the local hotel and lays a €100 note on the desk, telling the hotel owner he wants to inspect the rooms upstairs in order to pick one to spend the night.

The owner gives him some keys and, as soon as the visitor has walked upstairs, the hotelier grabs the €100 note and runs next door to pay his debt to the butcher.

The butcher takes the €100 note and runs down the street to repay his debt to the pig farmer.

The pig farmer takes the €100 note and heads off to pay his bill at the supplier of feed and fuel.

The guy at the Farmers' Co-op takes the €100 note and runs to pay his drinks bill at the pub.

The publican slips the money along to the local prostitute drinking at the bar, who has also been facing hard times and has had to offer him "services" on credit.

The hooker then rushes to the hotel and pays off her room bill to the hotel owner with the €100 note. The hotel proprietor then places the €100 note back on the counter so the rich traveller will not suspect anything.

At that moment the traveller comes down the stairs, picks up the €100 note, states that the rooms are not satisfactory, pockets the money, and leaves town.

No one produced anything. No one earned anything. However, the whole town is now out of debt and looking to the future with a lot more optimism.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how the stimulus package works.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

An apology to my children

The most extreme optimist in me anticipated making an apology to you this weekend. I had a few invites to Old Trafford for the Manchester United v Blackburn Rovers match, but I chose one that didn't include any of you. I chose instead to go with a mate in an executive box, have a few drinks, have a chinwag and had all the best intentions of witnessing a good match. So, in the back of my mind I had that pang of guilt that you might miss out on the one game when Rovers sprung a surprise. Fat chance.

In life we all have choices. I hope you feel you have had the choice of football team to support. Three of you have followed my preference with great enthusiasm. One of you isn't bothered at all and one of you has bravely chosen to support another team entirely. In doing so that declaration comes with baggage. In this case, you support a team that has been battered by the team that most of your mates at school support. Because of that choice you will have to face all manner of jibes at school on Monday. Sorry.

I hope I've always been honest and realistic about what Rovers means to me and what it can mean to you too. A "small town in Europe" has been as good as it's got for us in your lifetimes. And some semi-finals. Brave, plucky, occasionally surprising, but always dogged and honest. I see some of that in the way the two keenest Rovers fans amongst you play football. Never fear anyone, stand up to bullies and give all you've got.

Oh dear. The Rovers performance at Old Trafford had none of that. Instead it was awestruck, gutless, leaderless, incompetent, weak, defeated, pitiful and humiliating. Sorry.

All I can say is that it's the worst I've ever seen. I first saw Rovers in 1975. I've been going regularly since 1977. The previous worst result was a 6-0 defeat at Manchester City in 1983, but that was a one-off, we had a good season that year and finished sixth in Division 2. I can't promise a bright future, but it will get better. Stick with it.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Rosso - my verdict

It's taken one year, two days and a few false starts, but I finally got to eat in Rosso restaurant yesterday. I have tried to go, but they had a burst drain, as I explained here.

Rio Ferdinand and the Khamani brothers have made a bit of a splash. At the weekend it's quite the place for a certain crowd. And you might remember AA Gill gave it a stinging review, link from here, which Roger Cashman valiantly defended here.

Anyway, it hasn't changed too much from when it was Establishment, a fairly lavish restaurant that closed down. The overwhelming elements are still the quite magnificent domed ceilings and the marble surfaces. If they have spent some more, then I didn't spot the difference apart from rather tacky photos on the wall of the footballers and various celebrities who've been in.

To try and be fair to the food I ordered a prawn starter and a Vitello a la Milanese, my house favourite at Piccolino. Neither were as flavoursome or well cooked as the original. One of the lads I was with had a splendid seafood medley for a starter, which I thought was a bit over the top. He expected smaller. For his main he had a huge Dover Sole while the other lad had tuna steak. We all had tomato salad, which wasn't up to much. But on the whole the food was "OK".

Service was attentive and swift when it needed to be. Though one waiter spilled some water.

The ability to have a conversation sat in an alcove was a definite plus. I would commend Rosso for that. Piccolino and San Carlo are so noisy and full of atmosphere you have a headache straining to concentrate some times.

Yes, I'd go back. But I'd be tempted to test the menu a bit more and possibly to see the circus of a weekend evening.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Some good telly

By jove there's some good telly kicking around at the moment.

First of all, there's this tourist video made by Michael Winterbottom for the NWDA called The Trip. From what I've seen so far it's Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan doing impressions and just talking and then taking in some incredible scenery. I'm curious as to whether this can sustain itself, but I rather suspect it can.

Second, the new Jimmy McGovern series The Accused got off to a barnstorming start with a mesmerising morality tale starring Christopher Eccleston. There was little love and no humour, which felt wrong, but it made for a greater impact.

Thirdly, I probably would have enjoyed Any Human Heart on Channel 4 much more if hadn't been on Channel 4. Sorry, but I was tired, it was a late night and the adverts just made it drag on. The next one I will watch on the V+ recorder and skip the ads. Thanks for new technology even an idiot like me can work. That aside it was clever, funny, observant and expansive. Brideshead meets Our Friends in the North. Epic.

Finally, I really, really enjoy Match of the Day 2 on Sunday nights. Obviously I really enjoyed this week because Rovers' win over Aston Villa was on (last, of course, last out of two, but still last). The presenter and pundits are SO much better than the smug old farts on Saturday's version.

I insulate myself from cooking programmes, reality TV, Pop Factor, Jungle Fever and all of that utter, utter crap. Life is too short, it really is.

What it's all about

Read this. The perfect party. From David Hepworth.

Thoughts on the new Rovers owners

I've had a chance to sit down and compose a few thoughts on the takeover at Blackburn Rovers. Rather than repeat myself, here is what I wrote on the Insider blog.

In summary, the whole deal is so much less about what Venky's can do for Rovers, and more about what Rovers can do for an ambitious Indian business keen to be talked about in the upper echelons of international business.

As a fan, rather than as a journalist, you have to remain optimistic that the primary concern should lead to a responsible and sustainable stewardship. Nothing more.

As for the idea to rename Ewood Park? I'm dead against it. Bad move on every level. No club has EVER renamed their ground. They may have moved to new grounds, like the Britannia, the Reebok and the Emirates. I cannot think of a traditional stadium that has been renamed. The name change from the JJB to the DW doesn't count. There's this here.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

East Fife 5, Forfar 4

I noticed that East Fife played Forfar today. The score was 3-1.

Apparently they've never given James Alexander Gordon cause to read out that score, but according to this, the result has gone the other way with Forfar netting 5 to East Fife's 4. In 1963.

Friday, November 19, 2010

A new era for Blackburn Rovers

So, we have new owners now. And the Rao family now has a unique chance to make Blackburn Rovers a sustainable and successful club. I've had my reservations, but it's time to welcome the new owners and give them all the help and understanding they'll need to make it a success.

The outgoing Walker Trustees seem to think they've found good owners. Paul Egerton-Vernon, chairman, said: "We are very pleased to be passing on the Rovers to the Rao family. We have been impressed with their enthusiasm for the Club and their plans and ideas for developing it further. We are particularly pleased that the Club will continue in family ownership and that the existing management team at the Rovers led by John Williams will continue unchanged. We would like to express our gratitude and admiration for the great job John and his team have done for the Club whilst it has been part of the Trust."

Anuradha J Desai, the Chairperson of Venky’s, said: “We are delighted, proud and humbled to be associated with Blackburn Rovers, a team with whom we share many values and ambitions. Going forward we plan to focus on leveraging the global influence in establishing Blackburn Rovers as a truly global brand. We absolutely respect the Jack Walker legacy and will be actively supporting the organisation to ensure that Blackburn Rovers remains one of the best run clubs within the Premier League.”

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A few web gems from round and about

Here are a few links to some poignant, thoughtful and inspiring things I've seen in the last week.

Helen Newlove has started a blog in her role as the champion for active, safer communities.

A mountain I'm willing to die on. A mother's thoughts on bullying. Hat tip: Toby Scott.

A warm and revealing profile on Christopher Hitchens by Andrew Anthony. 

Social enterprises and public service delivery. From the Guardian today.

Richard Littlejohn gets mugged on his own show by Johann Hari. Hilarious. Even though Hari is an irritating dweeb, this is great.

A very good new blog I've found from Solly. The egotistical musings and mutterings of a tabloid journalist with too much time on his hands who is determined to post a new blog every day for a year without mentioning football. Hat tip: Ear I Am.

Jay Rayner on The Trip.

Yotam Ottolenghi. That is all.

I was going to review the new "i" newspaper, which I quite like. But this review says it all. Hat tip: Bracknell Blog.

Technology addiction. From Fast Company.

What did God give us, Neil? God gave us life, Nigel? Tribute to Half Man Half Biscuit from Ear I Am.

Finally, business, the big society and Bolton. From North West Business Insider.

San Carlo Cicchetti

I went to the new San Carlo Cicchetti today. It was described to us by the waiter as an Italian Tapas bar.

There were lots of small portions of things to share and everything was delicious - calamari, scallops, lamb chops in egg, livers, prawns and meatballs. As a spot for lunch I was impressed. That's even after they cocked up our order a bit. Some spicy sausage pizza never arrived, but it was on the bill, and there was a misunderstanding over our coffees.

The crowd were more casual shoppers and wealthy looking ladies who lunch, but I imagine they'd like to get more business lunch people dropping in. The blokes I went with were directed across the road from the main San Carlo, which wasn't a bad ploy. I also hear they do breakfasts. Sharp move, I like it.

So, well done San Carlo, another winner.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The day I went to Neil Diamond's house

Watching Neil Diamond on TV doing the Electric Proms has rekindled a memory so bizarre that it almost doesn't feel real.

In my previous job - 12 years ago! - I used to get to the USA a couple of times a year to cover a couple of trade shows. I became good friends with Colleen O'Mara, the editor of a magazine in Hollywood, who went on to start her own PR company and we stayed in touch.

In the summer of 1997 we went on holiday to California and made the effort to contact Colleen. I got on really well with her boyfriend, Matt, and she invited us to a 4th of July party at Matt's parents' yacht club in Marina del Ray. Which was nice.

I enjoyed meeting Matt's Dad, Harvey. He was an interesting character who knew lots about lots. He also had a very fetching Neil Diamond casual tour jacket. I shared my own personal stories about how the great man provided the soundtrack to my youth as my parents were also big fans.

On the drive back to West Hollywood one of the other couples broke the news. Harvey was Neil Diamond's brother. Whaaaaat! I started reeling, wondering what I might have said that could have caused offence. Oh shit, did I say that Urge Overkill improved Girl You'll Be A Woman Soon? Did I?

The answer came the next morning when Matt, not Colleen, called me at our hotel and asked if we fancied coming over for a barbecue with his parents, who liked us. Where? His Uncle's house in Malibu!

So, long story short, we enjoyed a very pleasant afternoon eating food overlooking the Pacific Ocean on the balcony of Neil Diamond's house with a bunch of lovely friends of my new pal's parents. I swam in the sea and said hello to the young lad from the house next door who was cooling off. John Cusack. As you do. Neil, I should clarify, was at his other house. In Aspen.

A few years later Matt and Colleen got married and we went back for the wedding in San Francisco, this time with Joseph, then 18 months old. We got to meet Neil, who was a very kind man, but I wasn't quite as shameless and brash then and didn't get in his face the way I would now.

But what stuck in my mind was how he was also really encouraging to Susanna, the sister of another of our LA pals, who is a Canadian folk singer and musician. She performed a few of her haunting numbers and he was very impressed. I tell a story about meeting her and her father here.

Showbiz is around every corner in California, and you get very blase about it. The group of friends we hung out with over there see it all the time, many of them work in entertainment, but ultimately, at a family wedding he was just my friend's Uncle. And as time goes on, you look back and think - crazy times.

MARPLE ATHLETIC 25 years - Picture gallery

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Justin Moorhouse is Zack

Top comedian Justin Moorhouse is to appear at the Royal Exchange as the lead in Zack, a Harold Brighouse play. Good luck mate. This guy is fantastic. He did a turn at our football club dinner (pictured, thanks to Colin Hughes) and was a knockout. Really, really good. He was also a superb judge at the Y Factor charity event I'm involved in. There's a very nice blog he's done here about how he feels he's getting on.

My mate #9 - Jason Isaacs

Eagle eyed readers of this blog may have noticed we have been advertising the Marple Athletic Junior Football Club 25th anniversary dinner. We held it last night at Edgeley Park and it was a great success. There were lots of people there, lots of smiling faces from the chaps that started the club in 1985 - well before my time - and a few quid raised to help with the running of the club.

As well as organising the event in the run up to it, I also compered proceedings on the night. Part of which was a chance to introduce the chairman of the club, my mate Jason Isaacs, pictured left with me and speaker Fred Eyre. Here's a rough summary of my intro to him last night and how we know each other as part of this ongoing series of blogs about my mates.

When my eldest son was playing for the Under 8s, one day a different bloke turned up to take training. Joe was full of it, "Jason showed us this, Jason showed us that." As a Dad, you can get a bit jealous of other male role models encroaching on your "My Dad, My Hero" space.

A few weeks later, me and Rachel turned up at the 2006 footy club Christmas do. All the Mums were telling us that this Jason character was a bit of face around Marple back in the day and that he was quite the catch as a young lad. Ok, right. The Dads who grew up round here said he was a good footballer as well.

Then this lovely woman came over for a chat: funny, attractive, welcoming. Who's that? Yes, you guessed it, Jason's wife, Marion.

Changing the subject I asked what the entertainment was going to be that night. Came the reply: "Jason's band". Please tell he's the drummer, I said.

The band, A Few Good Men, with Jason on lead vocals and guitar were brilliant and we've seen them loads of times since. They're a superb covers band and they always put on a good show and change their set every time.

Since then, we've both got involved in the club, Jason as chairman, me as media monkey and we've had some good laughs along the way. He's also taken over Joe's team as they've moved into 11-a-side and played his part in turning my son into a very good footballer, much better than I ever was. Not that I'm jealous.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Down to the sea in ships

I hosted an event on Wednesday at the Port of Liverpool building at Pier Head. It is a remarkable building, quite stunning and quite majestic. I was immediately struck by the inscription in the atrium, a quote from Psalm 107: "They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the LORD, and his wonders in the deep."

And to give it a full exposition: "For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof. They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble. They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wits' end. Then they cry unto the LORD in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses. He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still. Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven."

I was interviewing the owner of the building, George Downing, who is a real character and worthy holder of Insider's Property Personality of the Year Award. If you get the chance, drop in. Downing Developments have done a marvellous job preserving the stained glass windows and restoring the natural light into the atrium from the domed ceiling.

Coverage of the event is here. Everton and Liverpool should share a new stadium, says George. And by George, he's right.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Chicken feed

David Conn writes on the Blackburn Rovers takeover in the Guardian today, link is here.

Wigan chairman Dave Whelan has been typically hard headed and realistic about it. He thinks it feels wrong. I agree. And I wonder if for football this isn't a deal too far.

What are the alternatives? Well, the trust have explored these and there aren't any, it would appear. But should the deal go through to sell Blackburn Rovers to Venkys, then I must confess to feeling a little empty about it all. They are making all the right noises about Asian support and the values of the club, but at the end of the day it’s a profile raiser for them. And they ain’t in the same league as Abramovich or the Abu Dhabi mob who bought Manchester City, so not much will change on the financial front, except the trustees in Jersey will be a shut of an asset their benefactor created all of £25m of value.

Maybe I'm looking at it too emotionally. I chose to support Blackburn Rovers as a cosy homespun and traditional Lancashire club. And never in my wildest 11-year old dreams in 1977 did I think I’d be taking my kids to see Rovers play in the top division, to cup finals, semi-finals let alone in Europe. It’s been an amazing 20 years and we all enjoyed the Walker years.

But it saddens me to think that Blackburn Rovers will become some kind of marketing arm of a chicken manufacturer from India.

There was surely the opportunity to convert the interest of the Walker Trust into a community mutual. And if this deal doesn’t go through, then I for one would support that as the next step, rather than this slightly humiliating public auction we’ve endured for the last 6 months and the uncertainty in the 10 years since Jack died.

Anyway, we're beating the barcodes. And that's always a good feeling.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Marple fireworks - amazing

The Marple fireworks were awesome this year. Brabyns Park lit up beautifully. Here's a quality pic from Steve Grace, taken from the bridge over the train station.

Fans should own football

Prior to the Rovers match against Wigan I had a quick catch up with Proper Journalist David Conn. The Guardian journalist and sometime Insider contributor was at Ewood Park to ask around about the imminent takeover. There'll be more to come on this in the next day or so, but it was good to hear his tales from the night before in Rochdale. David had been at Spotland to see FC United of Manchester win a dramatic FA Cup tie.

There can't be many football fans who don't have admiration for what the Rebels have done. Fed up with corporate football, fed up with being ripped off to service the debt of the American owners, they started their own club. I like the integrity of non-league football and the raw ambition to build a new club here. I know a couple of the lads involved and it's a great coalition of interests and characters. Communists and rapacious capitalists, joined by a passion to make it all work.

As Rovers stand on the brink of a new era of ownership, we reflected on what a missed opportunity it appears to be.

Take it away Morten

So, there we were at the world's worst service station, Rivington on the M61. We were on our way back from Blackburn Rovers v Wigan and alongside us in his BMW X6, a ludicrous car, is Morten Gamst Pedersen. Pic here.

It was a great opportunity to tell him just what we'd been talking about in the car a few minutes earlier.

Pedersen, you are a lightweight fancy dan in a muscular team of hoofers. At best you'd see a role as a midfield sweeper upper, picking up a loose ball and playing a neat short pass to one of the Dioufs. But you don't even do that well. Your long balls are too long, you can't tackle, you're not brave and you pull out of challenges. Wigan scored a goal that was ruled out. It should have counted and it was your fault. You lost the ball in the middle of the park, which led to the free kick, which led to their goal. You should have scored a headed goal as well. But the keeper saved it. Head it down, man, not up. What do you do in training, because you never get any better?

And then you scored a screamer. A free kick that caused mayhem that floated in at the back post. Did you mean it?

Do you really think we said any of that to him. A middle aged man with his 11 year old son? Articulate in private, mildly star struck in person. No, of course we didn't. We didn't say anything in fact. MGP seemed happy. But then you would wouldn't you?

And one of the reasons is there's this very amusing advert for fruit. This enigma is a superstar in Norway, he gets to do adverts for fruit. What's that all about?

Here's his own blog here. Where, in his words, "we played a shit first half".

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Some cool stuff

Look at this - Makeamixa - make a mix tape, just the like old days - but with a modern digital twist. From those wonderful people at Magnetic North in Manchester.

My pal Charlotte Bacci has opened a wool shop in Manchester. Check out Purl City Yarns.

Don Draper says "what" a lot. Hat tip: The Word

Some lush winter knitwear from Albam Clothing. Toasty. They sell a few Albam pieces in Oi Polloi on Tib Street.

New wool Wier Hats from the Casual Connoisseur.

Roger Cashman's spirited defence of Rosso.

Tomorrow's World introduces the possibility of the world's first mobile phone in 1978. (Hat tip: The Word)

Some pics and stuff from a day trip to Lancaster by Red Bricks and Coal.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Cafe Culture in Marple - love it

There's been a bit of competition in the foodie scene in Marple. I would hazard a guess it isn't anything like as acrimonious as the store wars in Rose Hill.

Toast deli has opened a new shop on the corner of Derby Way, just along from All Things Nice, itself a recent opening. Both are run by lovely passionate people who want to serve new and interesting food. I've been enjoying some bacon butty banter with the owner on Twitter and he's taken up a suggestion to punt his wares on a daily basis on the social networking site.

I do love All Things Nice. The owner, who also runs an outside catering business, The Travelling Gourmet very kindly shares recipes and tips. There's a lovely buzz in the cafe and the deli whenever I go in, which is too infrequently.

Also good news is that Toast has turned the Market Street shop, which was always too pokey for my liking, into a lovely, moody wine emporium. The staff also seem to know what they're talking about. I enjoyed  a aromatic Barolo 1994 from there last week. They also stock the wine that defied the infidels - Chateau Musar, from Lebanon. Beautiful.

One casualty appears to be that Deli Select on Hollins Lane has closed. Does anyone know what has happened here?

PS - Update 4/11/2010 -  The guy at Deli Select is in business with the guy at Toast.

Get well soon Danny Baker

This blog wishes Danny Baker all the very best of luck in his battle with cancer. His statement was full of the wit and wisdom we've come to love him dearly for: "Once the quacks have soundly thrashed this thing I shall return like a rare gas and as if out of a trap."

North face - Spooks in far fetched shocker

As the current series of Spooks drives headlong into a dramatic conclusion can I confess to feeling a little out of patience with the script writers. It is a ludicrous complaint to level at a series built on the very foundation rock of preposterous flights of fancy, but I just can't buy into the current Lucas North story.

Let me explain. Spooks is essentially a character-based drama set in a workplace. As it's a domain that deals with issues none of us have any experience of, we have to suspend any sense of realism or believability. No, that's not my issue. I just can't get my head around the simple identity theft of Lucas North's life by "John". It doesn't square with any of the actions and desires and sacrifices hitherto made by the same character. Or MI5's vetting procedures. As a storyline it has lost its way completely.

This is shame, I like Iain Glenn's character Vaughn Edwards, good murky wheeling and dealing at the fringes of Spookdom. Glenn is also superb at the bluff and double bluff he brings to each scene.

So, I'm still hooked, still buzzing from it and can't wait for next week's episode.

As for Harry and Ruth. Get a room. Please.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

That's why they're champions

There really will be very little to stop Chelsea this season. Blackburn Rovers out played them and harried them for the first half, but lost a lead. In a more even second half, a winner looked more likely from Rovers than the champions. But they have Anelka, Drogba and any number of sharp eyed attack minded midfield players. Rovers had Jason Roberts. I've said before that several passages of Rovers match reports can be written before the game - Grella limps off injured, Pedersen ineffective, Robinson brilliant, Roberts misses one-on-one with keeper and blasts wide.

My eldest lad plays at left back and we both kept a close eye on Ashley Cole today. He was incredible. When Chelsea attack he plays very far forward; more an out and out winger than an overlapping left back. The other player for them that stood out was Mikel. Nothing fancy, nothing fussy, but he passes so well.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Parc Life revisited

At the risk of sounding like I repeat myself, my verdict on Center Parcs is pretty much the same as it was this time last year after our half term break. The link is here, but I said the staff are great, the other people are nice, but it's starting to get a bit tatty. Well, it's even more in need of love and attention and a bit of investment. On the plus side it has universal wi-fi now, but the other changes were all cost cutting measures. The canyon slide in the pool is now an unmanned free for all, which is fine.

Ironically, the news over the weekend was a hint that the Forestry Commission would sell off land to leisure developers like Center Parcs. Ecological vandalism, it has been called. Honestly, I think the Whinfell Forest is pretty well looked after. But it seems like an odd idea.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

An open letter to Balaji Rao and the Venky's people

Let's go round again. In June I wrote an open and welcoming letter to Saurin Shah, one of the supposed bidders for Blackburn Rovers. In August, I wrote a slightly updated one to Ahsan Ali Syed. Even then I had a natural suspicion of anyone who blabs before a takeover is complete and felt something wasn't right. Bizarrely, he has been probed, prodded and investigated and looks like he has not been able to complete the deal afterall. However, he has made some very generous donations to Blackburn charities.

Here's an open letter to the latest bidder, reported as Venky's, an Indian-based poultry company. And here is Alan Nixon's story in the Mirror, detailing the strategy. There is talk of a tie up with an international agency. This is a worry. But, hey, forever positive, here goes.

Good luck in your efforts to buy our wonderful football club! I just wanted to mention a few things that might not pop up in your commercial due diligence.

First of all, thank you for conducting your negotiations with grace and privacy. The other lot made a mockery of our club by sounding off. Your interviews have also been polite and respectful, without bravado. That is the way of our club and I think it puts a positive marker down.

Fans are realists, we know football is changing. We know football is a global industry with television audiences expanding in your home country. But don't be fooled into thinking anyone will want to come and play in front of empty seats. Make sure the club is looked after too.

Our fans are the future of this club. Their loyal support has kept this club in a special place. To make it work for you, you need to engage with them and help that support grow even more. That doesn't mean walking round the pitch shaking hands and signing autographs, it means involving supporters in the running of the club as a community asset. Be open to any positive suggestions that may come your way on this.

The fans are frustrated at the moment because there haven't been any new signings. The manager is frustrated too. But make sure we sign the right players.

Exciting young players connected with an emerging sports agency are one thing, players who play with pride are another altogether. Don't let agents and middlemen turn your head. And please don't use this club as a feeder club or be used as a commission earner for these sharks.

Be patient. Our local talisman, David Dunn, is an injury prone genius. Our goalkeeper was a reject who was written off but has missed out on the World Cup because he plays for an unfashionable club. But they are stars. Our stars. So is Phil Jones - a teenager from Chorley. They are adored. And Steven N'Zonzi, our player of the year, is a young man plucked from obscurity, who has just signed a new contract.

Our fans are usually right. When Jack Walker owned the club he didn't like a certain type of flash player and blocked some transfers. There are players who just aren't Rovers players, learn about that and treasure it as a core value. Rovers fans like a solid centre pair, a free scoring forward and attacking football. We're not getting that at the moment, which is frustrating the fans.

The season can seem long and a grind. When we lose at Liverpool, draw at home to Sunderland and lose at Stoke it tests your faith. We're fourth from bottom. So, you will look at these wealthy players who don't seem to be able to perform and despair. But you have to stick with it. Form can dip, the manager can seem negative and grumpy, but at heart he's a good man. There are voices amongst the fans who want him out, Don't listen to them. Stick with it. He has a good scouting network, he finds gems, like our player of the year. Don't get your head turned by younger managers with fancy methods, something good is building at Rovers. The Academy at Brockhall is a treasure trove. Extend it. Make it the place the best kids want to come to. That's the place where investment is needed.

Blackburn is a multi-racial town, but Rovers supporters are mainly white working class men. This has changed a bit over the years, but don't expect to see much of an affinity with the local Asian population without a long hard effort to win hearts and minds and don't expect them flocking overnight. The current marketing and management team have been focused on shoring up what we have, but with your help greater links with India, with Asian communities and with other sports can expand Rovers as a brand.

You will have seen other owners of football clubs in the Premier League see their dreams shattered because they splash the money and lose it. Rovers have a heart and soul and a family spirit that is very much in touch with the roots of East Lancashire life. But it is just one aspect of our community. Build on that, extend deeper into that, and build the links with your own heritage - it could well yield commercial rewards and enable this club to move further forward.

Be realistic about what that could be. Be modest, be strong, value quality and there is a good chance that in the future there could be a statue of you next to the one of Uncle Jack.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Enron - How?

Doing what I do, the story of Enron and its collapse like a house of cards into a sea of oil was the most incredible story of our times. It was all the more remarkable that it took business magazine journalist Bethany McLean to first ask the question that no-one else would - is Enron overpriced?. Not an analyst, a regulator, a bank, or even a whisteblower from within, but a magazine journalist from Fortune.

The story has been made into a feature length documentary and a stage play. I saw it at the Lowry last night and it's terrific. A brilliantly staged production with some powerful devices to tell the story - the monsters in the cellar to represent the off balance sheet SPVs that Andy Fastow set up, for example.

It's a test for us as storytellers to make these tales compelling, but a test too to keep asking questions. Ironic that one of Enron's slogans was "Why?" the question that keeps being asked retrospectively is "How?"

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The first cut is the deepest

There's nothing to celebrate about the government's deficit reduction plan. The billing that this was the moment that the public sector workers would learn their fate was always fanciful - it's not government by Radio 5 Live. There will be much to work through now, and much more detail to implement. But there is some comfort in the fact they're getting on with it. It had to happen. Every party supposedly understands the need to make the cuts. The question the Labour Party can't answer is which departmental spending cuts would they support now, and which ones  they wouldn't implement. That's the beauty of opposition though. It's not a privilege afforded to the Liberal Democrats, many of whom aren't naturally inclined to govern, just to make speeches.But they're now going to have their resolve tested.

Speaking of which, these set piece occasions always skim the surface and lead to pundits uttering the inevitable - "the devil is in the detail." 

Science budgets are protected, but the projects that were named were all in the South. It hopefully tilts the argument towards carbon capture and other green technologies being centred on the North.

There was a nod in the direction of rail improvements, but with price increases for tickets. The projects that have been identified initially were for electrification. I'm not sure that's the best use of resources. What about the Todmorden Curve, or the small improvements for massive gain that the Northern Hub will deliver? Details, details.

And what about those exciting plans for Local Enterprise Partnerships? They must have been in his speech when the sound went down. Or maybe not.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A sorry lot

AA Gill in the Sunday Times (behind the paywall) has re-ignited the Manchester Food Is Crap debate again. He reviewed Rosso, Rio Ferdinand and Mahmoud Kamani's Italian restaurant at the top of King Street, chosen one assumes, because it's a living breathing symbol of that blingy, WAG, faux gangsterish side of the city centre. "A sorry lot," he observed. First, I've not been to Rosso, so I'm in no position to defend it. Second, he's clearly a bit of an arse, but he plays the role well and would therefore have enjoyed the backlash in the Manchester Evening News, here and on Manchester Confidential, here.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Pendle prepares

Rachel's home town features in the Observer today. Nelson's demise is charted with some trepidation as the government prepares cuts. Despite Housing Market Renewal, the efforts of Ant and Vet to offer a bright future for Pennine Lancashire, jobs haven't been created and the place hasn't found a fresh purpose in the modern age. Re-reading the report seems apt now. It spoke of bottom up community action to revitalise the area as much as top down large statements and icons. More than ever it needs bold thinking.

My mate #8 - Jon Johnson

I've dabbled with Facebook and thought it wasn't for me. Being asked to "poke" young people isn't my thing really. Anyway, as I said yesterday I've piled in again. I'm glad I have for the connection to an old friend called Jon Johnson. We were mates when I lived in Western Australia in 1988-1989. He introduced me to an eclectic and bohemian crowd in a laid back city and contributed to a memorable year down under. I was thinking of him as we watched the last episode of series 3 of Mad Men last week, not for the mild Don Draper comparisons, which are real enough, but for a tangential episode with another character. Jon had a mate who followed him to London called James Martin, or so I thought. It turned out he was called something else. An engaging enough rogue, the last time I saw "James" was in Jon's flat in Holland Park as this bizarre unravelling took hold.
Another of our "crew" back in the day in Perth was an amazing character called Roy Jopson, who I shared a house with. Roy died in 2004. As I've chatted to JJ on Facebook this weekend he's recounted the detail of Roy's demise. It must have been a painful experience for Jon and other friends as they watched Roy bewildered in hospital as he reeled from brain cancer. Memories are one thing, but staying in touch with friends is much better and makes it more real.

Back on Facebook

I've registered with Facebook again. I got round to thinking I couldn't ignore it any longer. Anyway, it was instantly proven to be a good decision. I'm back in touch with an old pal now living in Tasmania. We had failed to find one another using other social media and searches, but bang, there he was. Another mate has started a new job in Dubai, and clearly uses Facebook to keep in touch much more than he uses email.

I also had a couple of chats last night with a mate in Morecambe and a bloke I know in China.

I'm going to keep it very social, much as I do with this blog I suppose. But look forward to staying in touch.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Some random October links

Tony Blair and Christopher Hitchens to debate the future of faith.

Finnish news reader gets sacked for this. Harsh.

There's a very excellent music video website I've discovered. Muzu TV.

I remember the RCP. This is where they went. Nutters.

Truly great interview with Gore Vidal in the New Statesman.

A magnificently stupid polemic by John Pilger in the New Stateman.

A website that is so brilliant it defies description. But look.

Norman Geras on leftish miscalculation.

Philip Blond interviewed by Ed West in the Catholic Herald.

The Marple underworld - car causes obstruction

I was rather taken with the stunt from Greater Manchester Police to highlight EVERY incident that is reported over a 24 hour period. Apart from learning that a car caused an obstruction in Marple, we were able to sleep in our beds safely here in leafy land.

Here are the stats:

"Between 5am on Thursday 14 October 2010 and 5am, today, Friday 15 October, the force has dealt with 3205 incidents and posted details of every single one on Twitter."

The cops reported it had been a success too. Here's the MEN report. Here's the BBC.

It ticks a lot of boxes about accountability and accessibility. More of that, please. It also gets across a harsh truth that the "hard working taxpayers" don't always like to confront. Not only are there a small and irritating number of horrible people out there doing a lot of horrible things, there are also a lot of very stupid people wasting time.

But I also noticed that the chief constable mentioned the decline of local media as a reason to use new technology like the social media channel Twitter. This is a good point. The facts bear it out too. I'm sure there was a heyday when the local daily paper, the local BBC and Granada would touch everyone. All the chief had to do was make a statement and it would be reported. Everyone would share the experience, most people would have a view. It's just not like that now. There may be many more outlets, including the daily news service in our office where a hive of activity spreads a dozen or more regional business stories every morning. But overall, we know so much less.

Knowledge and engagement about public services, indeed, anything that goes on around us has never been poorer. In a world where we supposedly can know everything about a bunch of rescued miners in Chile, or the takeover of Liverpool Football Club, we are surprised and outraged at what our local police have to do on a daily basis. There have never been as many ways to tell us stuff, but there actually seems to be less understanding of more things.