Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Some links to good stuff

William Routledge has penned another essay and photo story on the Casco site - this time on Whittingham Hospital. It's here.

The Land of Lost Content. A Wayne Hemingway project, but it didn't put me off.

A tribute to Frank Skinner on Sabotage Times.

Pica-Post, tales, facts, clobber and chatter -  a new, twice-yearly magazine from the trendy folk at Manchester's finest shop Oi Polloi.

Wayne's world

Quite possibly the most disastrous after dinner speech in my 11 years at Insider, indeed, possibly in the 20 year history of the business, was the one given by fashion designer Wayne Hemingway at the Merseyside Property dinner in 2003. The event has fortunately survived such a rocky start and 300 guests enjoyed a thoughtful and productive evening last Wednesday night at the Hilton Hotel in Liverpool.

As a reminder of events past, Hemingway was in Manchester the day after for the Institute of Directors North West Conference. Suffice to say his performance was funny, warm, clever and went down an absolute storm. What a difference a recession and a few years makes.

Monday, March 28, 2011

What next for BBC local radio?

There's a fear gathering pace about the future of BBC Local Radio. One of a number of strategic options being considered is for the stations to be boiled down to peak time opt outs from Radio 5 Live.

As a contributor to BBC Radio Manchester I see at close quarters the dedication and professionalism of the people I work with and the conditions and resources they operate in. So much that is good is down to the people who present the programmes and everything that doesn't come up to scratch is as a result of the murky BBC politics that sits on everyone's shoulder like a black dog.

Example: our programme on Monday evening features music. I don't know why, it is confusing to the listener and makes no logical sense. It should be a talk format about business in Manchester, punctuated by news and traffic. It is much more coherent as a podcast with the Phil Collins and Backstreet Boys taken out. Probably why the podcast has one of the highest number of downloads on BBC local radio.

The interviews are good, the format is relaxed and recently we've had additional items from the business team in London feeding in reports such as today's launch of a new start-up programme. However, it's being cut. I imagine the team will find a way round this, but it's another example of death by a thousand cuts.

I have no reason to believe this experience is any different on other slots. Local radio is frequently boxed into music, community, speech and talk formats because someone centrally says so. Breakfast formats are all speech, for example. Just as the drivetime slot has to have music.Yet local radio is at its best when it is closest to the people it seeks to serve. Good producers and presenters know what works and most importantly, they know what works in Manchester, Cumbria, or wherever.

You can't help but feel that the BBC unit (DQF - Delivering Quality First) which is employed to dream up new strategy ideas are re-running what happened with BBC 6 Music. Threaten to scrap it, say it's just one of a number of options - plausible deniability - watch the backlash; if it's isolated and weak, then proceed, if it's strong then retreat gracefully, saying 'look, we listen'. Remind people what they could lose - gain free publicity out of the indignation. Carry on regardless.  Frankly, I think it deserves a better level of debate than this.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Family hiking again

Another Sunday, another epic walk. Either these children will become endurance athletes or they will regard this as torture and never venture out with boots and rucsacs again. We did the canal walk from Goyt Mill to the Hyde Bank tunnel, then followed the trail down to Chadkirk and Otterspool. The walk up to Marple Hall School and then through the houses is the boring bit - but it was a satisfying day. I can't quite work out the total distance but it's about 5 and a half miles. The highpoint was definitely the aqueduct that takes the Peak Forest Canal over the Goyt. It's history is here. I couldn't believe it had been built in 1804. Amazing. And such adventure on such a glorious day. Bliss to be alive.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Marple's shops and restaurants

Marple's main shopping centre is currently the star attraction in some new BBC comedy called White Van Man, starring Will Mellor. One of the locations is Hollins, a hardware shop where they seem to have disconsolate grumpiness down to a fine art. I remain loyal, but only tentatively.

Other new shops in the centre have popped up. Urban Gypsy is a new deli and cafe at the bleak end of Stockport Road. I wish them well, but it's not the best location. Further up on the right is a new bike shop, a terrific addition to the range of shops. On the restaurant side the Basmati Hut opposite Marple station is to become a Purple Pakora, part of an established chain of curry houses in south Manchester.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

My mate #11 - Jim Pendrill

In this occasional series I do a random shuffle of my address book, skip along if it's either a muppet I only tolerate in passing, or someone I actually haven't spoken to in years. This time it's about Jim Pendrill, who was the first person I recruited to work with me at Insider in May 2000, and who has worked with me until he left on Friday for a new career in teaching. Pictured left, is his memorial front cover.

When I hear Robert Peston on the news explaining, for example, quantative easing, I wince. When I wanted something like that explaining, or simplifying, or analysing then I was confident that Jim Pendrill would do it as well as anyone and certainly better than the BBC's Business Editor. In our 11 years working together Jim has performed a number of different jobs admirably. As the editor of Midlands Business Insider he took our business into Birmingham and got us established.

He took on our contract publishing division and really made it fly, producing exceptional magazines for Manchester Metropolitan University, Clearwater and Target, amongst others.

But his greatest act of heroism was in taking over Yorkshire Business Insider. In his short time there he's launched a terrific rail campaign which will be his legacy and prepared the us for a bright future.

But this is just work stuff compared to the real business of real life.

First thing anyone who knows Jim is how fit he is. He is probably the healthiest and cleanest living man I know. His dedication to fitness shames me, if I'm honest, but is reassuring to know that his diet includes lots of biscuits and Soreen maltloaf. Who will I pilfer from now? But that steel and determination in him also manifests itself in a very deep sense of loyalty and an innate decency. Now that same dedication he has demonstrated in journalism (and in athletics) is being transferred to his new professional life as a high school teacher. He will make an incredible teacher - passionate, caring, dedicated, serious - but also a friendly figure of strength in the uncertain world of teenage kids. He will make good use of his experiences, I have no doubt.
The kids where he will teach are very lucky. Everyone deserves a teacher like Jim.

Social enterprise and the big society

Social enterprises have a massive role to play in the delivery of public services. The difficulty is the politics of it though. I make the point here, in a piece for Enterprising, a magazine for social enterprises in Manchester.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Motivation in football

I suspected on Saturday that the dogged second half display was not a Steve Kean inspired performance. He still looks like a lost soul. No, it was the players. They were out early and ready for Blackpool. They seemed angry and hungry. And just as Scott Parker rallied West Ham to victory recently, well, it was captain Samba apparently with a "Churchillian" rousing address, with a French accent, obviously.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Trust in Rovers

The more the ever so chaotic Venky's bandwagon trundles Blackburn Rovers dangerously towards the trapdoor of relegation, the more I look back on the last year as a missed opportunity. There must have been some noble and resourceful supporters willing to manage an orderly transition from ownership by the Walkers Trust to something more dignified and democratic? Surely? The end result may have been ultimately the same - eventually - but in so doing it could preserve the dignity and the values that a traditional Lancashire club has.

For these reasons and more you have to support the formation of a Supporters Trust by a group of concerned Rovers fans. It's early days yet. There was a tentative move in the summer, but the group, me included, tiptoed around the club and waited for a meeting with John Williams. We then sat back and watched events unfold. No-one knows for certain what the future holds, but an organised and sensible supporters trust could provide a very valuable rock in a very unstable and volatile situation.

There's a Blackburn Rovers Supporters Trust Facebook page here

Here's another piece about the Venky's changes here (from Insider).

And here's another, about the role of Jerome Anderson (from Twohundredpercent).

For good measure, this is Supporters Direct.

The Paul Adams 10People Project

I have a massive amount of admiration for professional  photographers. They can make all the difference to a publication, or to the projection of an idea in advertising. And at a time when all kinds of amateurs are playing at it, sending journalists out with digital cameras for grip and grin head shots, here is a timely reminder of the craft that really good photographers possess.

Paul Adams is one of my local favourites. He's completed a project with ten of his clients, called 10People. I'm one of them, and he's done a sample on his blog here. The picture, above left, is one his too, taken on my iPhone. The others are obviously much more atmospheric.

But take a look at his range of work, especially the textures he creates. The empathy he has with his human subjects. I can't quite place it, but there's also something very organic, very Lancashire, about Paul's work too. Check him out here.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Roman Lakes - a great Marple walk

We are blessed to live in such a beautiful and peaceful part of the world. We took the pooch and the boys for a stroll on Sunday, heading towards Roman Lakes, close to the ancestral home of Samuel Oldknow, a Marple Victorian mill owner. We took a circular route along the shores of the lakes, hung a right down a path towards the Roman Bridge, up through some woods where we reached Strines Road. We then crossed and headed steeply up to meet the Peak Forest Canal. At this point we crossed the canal and rambled through the woods. A path took us to Ridge Road, but we opted to head back through the fields to the canal. It's probably not kind to tell kids that we could get shot by an angry farmer who's barbed wire fence we had just climbed over, but they soon beat a retreat and we headed along the Ridge to Hill Top Farm and rejoined the canal. Anyway, I'm rambling now.

There's a great guide to roughly the same route, here.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Music from the heart

Mike Garry, here, writes a beautiful paean to Raymond Carver and Guy Garvey, two of my favourites. He gets caught up in the emotion of it all, something about Elbow's track Lippy Kids - which includes the line "build a rocket boys" touches him. Wonderful stuff. I love that music can do that.

And me? I'm still massively in love with the whole idea of Elbow. This piece by Guy Garvey in Shortlist is one more reason to. We're not going to the Arena for the tour as nothing can ever bring back the birthday memory of the 2009 festival with the Halle. I tried to listen to the new CD (bought from Piccadilly Records) when I came home tetchy and tired on Thursday. I thought it reached some of heights of Seldom Seen Kid, but not quite. Not yet anyway.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A politician's destiny

The current wobbles of William Hague once again throw to the fore the inherent problems of politicians and their suitability to do such a tough job. Hague is expected to be able to grasp a range of tactical responses to complex international events. His last government job - which ended in 1997 - was at the Welsh Office. Since then his preparation for being Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom has been leading the Conservative Party to an election defeat, writing some books, being a very good after dinner speaker, campaigning with his comely young friend Chris Myers and being the MP for Richmond, North Yorkshire. None of that suggests he could have been able to run the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. It doesn't mean he couldn't, but it's hardly a smooth career segue is it?

These thoughts came to mind on meeting Paddy Ashdown this week and how ministerial office passed him by. As a leader of the Liberal Democrats he did OK. But his military and diplomatic experience caused him to be called to sort out Bosnia and for Gordon Brown to offer him the job of Northern Ireland secretary. He would have done a terrific job. He would have made a first rate Foreign Secretary, of that there is no doubt. He always cuts an impressive and statesmanlike figure. He has a tremendous grasp of world affairs, of history and of knowing the right thing to do. His talk at the Bridgewater Hall on Tuesday this week - organised by lawyers DLA Piper - was wide ranging, serious and, at times, scary. His remarks were off the record, so I won't repeat directly what he said - but the importance of legitimate structures that provide a framework to an interconnected world are vital.

But there's one more thing about him that will forever haunt him. That nickname. It doesn't seem to have done him that much harm, but everyone I told I was seeing him offered it as an aside. William Hague has to be careful how he rides out this current difficulty. A joke won't do it. A quip won't work. A bit of pumped up muscular liberalism might though. Just ask Pantsdown.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Clever stuff

Michael Lewis is a fabulous writer. Check this out - his many layered feature on Ireland, post crash, from Vanity Fair.

On a similar theme, should cities be allowed to die? From Prospect.

Tim Harford's column from the FT on Saturday about Libya, Egypt, game theory and Wat Tyler: here:

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Our turn to cook

It was our turn to cook for our friends Andy and Michelle Hinselwood this weekend. Rachel got us some lamb shanks from Maurice Thornley the butcher in Romiley. The rest was down to me. I tried a lamb tangine with apricots, tomatoes and various nuts. I was pretty pleased with the end result. But it was the starter that was a real stretch.

I liked the look of Yotam Ottolenghi's recipe for a pomegranate and chicory salsa with haloumi. The comments underneath tell a tale though - people complaining you can't get the ingredients. Well, the haloumi was easy enough, but A.C. Neal in Romiley didn't rate the pomegranates on offer at the market so he didn't have any. He did have coriander, parsley and chicory. And luckily the Co-op in Marple had pomegranates. The only thing I couldn't get was the pomegranate molasses. I made do with maple syrup, which seemed to do OK. I'm intrigued now about this mystery ingredient and how it is a stable in Lebanese food, my favourite.

In praise of Wythenshawe Town

It's only fair to present the positive face of junior football after the horrors of last week. Yesterday we visited the brilliant set up at Wythenshawe Town. Two pitches, one full size for the senior amateur club, a junior pitch with home and away dugouts, a barrier and a club house with a special room for the junior section. The photos and trophies in there give the whole club this real sense of togetherness. I had a chat to the manager after the game - a cracking 4-4 draw - and he did say it has taken a lot of hard work and fund raising to get to this stage. But to be honest with you, it was inspiring. We need to get this sorted in Marple.