Sunday, July 31, 2011

Marple in Action

The Marple in Action website here is adding new links and lots of tools to help those of us round here who don't want the local collage to sell to a major supermarket chain. What a superb example of community spirit and action. I spoke to a couple of businesses on Saturday who seem quite resigned to the Tescoisation of Marple. It is a chance for the community to up its game. The whole place is going into a period of change - one way or another, it's vital we emerge better and stronger than before.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Pre-season excitement sadly lacking

I've been thinking about all the pre-season build ups in the past. All the simple events and happenings that got my juices flowing in anticipation of a season of thrills at Ewood Park.

On one particular occasion it was the unbelievable giddy, headswimming delight of seeing my team in the top flight with hot new signings like Alan Shearer, Stuart Ripley and Wayne Burnett (he was going to be a star, you know). But that was probably a one off. There's certainly none of that this season.

OK, new summer signings can disappoint. But there were times when you thought, 'hey, this new lad could do a job for us' - Speedie, Sutton, Santa Cruz, even Kevin Davies and George Donis. Or Bellamy and Kalinic. But Jerome Anderson's son hasn't set a pulse racing.

It was even the emotional delight of looking forward to taking the young lads to a game and giving them the same build up of excitement that I used to have - first with my nephews, then with my own first son, then as the rest joined the world, sharing the family occasion with them.

During one close season my nephew won a competition to model the smart new kit with some players. We got to hang out with Dunny, Matt Jansen and Duffer. They co-operated with the sponsors, Time, in parading the new kit. It was innocent fun. Something was stirring. Now the players advertise chicken and look like unwilling sops in a humiliating circus.

There has been anticipation of being truly part of a European adventure. Not this time.

There have been comments from the manager that the group of players could do better than 6th, or a semi-final, and add more silverware. Realistic self-improvement. No, now we get delusions and illusions befitting Comical Ali.

There has been the sense that this is my club, that I will stand by this group of players no matter what. That the club might be skint, parts of the ground condemned and the prospects poor. That the team may not be the best, but they are my club and even though we have gone down, I meant it when I stood in tears singing 'we'll support you evermore'. Maybe I've just grown up a bit.

Sometimes in the past it was even the chance to show off some new gear I'd bought or acquired through shrewd swapping - striding onto the Nuttall Street paddock in my Pringle and Fila. No, I'm way past that too.

Sometimes the previous season may have been tough, but the heartfelt efforts of the club to get the fans onside meant the discounts, the marketing, the little touches that relit the dying flame. Not this season. 

Sometimes it was because I didn't have much else going on, or it was a release from everything else. No, can't claim that now either.

So, for all of the above I have no inclination to renew our season tickets. I have no plans to organise my life, our family life, around the fixture list. There has been nothing to counter a deep rooted cynicism with football in general and Rovers in particular. Nothing at all.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The anger rises over Marple College sell off

So, the Marple Area Committee meeting has never seen anything like it. They moved it to a room that could hold 150, but there were about the same number still outside. In the end, it was taken outside into Memorial Park. The basic council line on the college land sell off, from the officials and the councillors is the same - the site of the Hibbert Lane campus will not be granted planning permission for retail.

There are, however, more questions than answers arising out of all this and people aren't happy at all.

Here are a few to start with.

Why was the MP Andrew Stunell not at the meeting tonight?

When did councillors first learn of this plan for the college to sell off land?

On what basis has "market research" of Marple residents' shopping habits been used to substantiate a business case for a retail development on the site?

What economic impact surveys have been done regarding a retail development on this site?

What conversations have the college held with housebuilders over development of the land for housing and what value has the land for residential development?

What discussions have they held with the local council, or potential partners, over the possibility of leisure developments on the site, including the closure of Marple baths and new sports facilities?

If the plan for retail is against council policy, why has it taken until now for elected officials to RESPOND to questions, let alone make public statements on the issue?

What would change the council's policy on the use of this site? If medium or large retail would be refused, what is small? And what trust can anyone in Stockport have over Tesco's interpretation of this, given their Portwood store is 15 per cent bigger than they had permission for?

And just a thought, which of the Marple councillors are up for election next year? And which of them have served as governors of the college in the recent past? Which of them were privy to meetings at which the land sale was discussed?

Monday, July 25, 2011

Supermarket on Hibbert Lane in Marple? No thanks

A huge issue has exploded locally. A local college has opted to sell one of its sites. The fear locally is that this will be to a large supermarket group - Tesco, Sainsbury's, Asda and Waitrose have all been mentioned, but to be fair, it has been difficult to separate rumour from fact. However, there are some tenacious and resourceful people round here. As a result of Freedom of Information requests and persistent calls and letters to councillors, officials and the college, some facts have started to emerge.

The local website has a particularly useful thread, here, which deals with the facts of the issue.

On there, our local councillor, Susan Ingham, chair of the Area Committee, has confirmed to a concerned resident a few facts too.

It is true that the College intend to sell the Hibbert Lane Campus and as an independent commercial organisation they are free to do whatever they believe is in the College’s best interest and the Council has no jurisdiction in that respect.  As I understand it they have been in talks with various supermarkets and developers, but nothing has been agreed at this stage.
As far as planning permission goes, the Council Planning department is clear that the land in question is designated as housing.  No retail development would be given consent outside the District Centre. The Hibbert Lane campus falls outside the District Centre and therefore any a planning application to develop a retail site is likely to be refused.

Councillor Ingham will be chairing the Area Committe meeting this Wednesday at the Senior Citizens Hall near Marple Library. I expect the numbers attending to be bigger than usual. Our family will be represented.

I have an open mind on many things. Believe you me I've weighed up all the options on this one. Getting a cheap bottle of milk will be much easier for a start. But you have to look at the bigger picture. The local festivals, the local businesses that struggle along, the strong sense of community makes this a different and special place. And there is no way on earth that a big supermarket on Hibbert Lane would be good for Marple. In fact, it would be a disaster. This needs to be resisted all the way.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Can we please show some humanity

This sick lunatic killing kids at a youth camp in Norway is just absolutely horrific. It's beyond comprehension. He will claim it was for one reason or another, just as the nutters who blew themselves up on 7/7 in London did. Nothing can justify it. Neither can anyone rushing to pin complicity on any kind of political or religious position. Innocent people are dead. Surely it is enough to mourn them, condemn those responsible and stand in awe at the selfless bravery, once again, of people caught up in this hell on earth.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Wasn't the golf brilliant?

Really enjoyed that epic final round of the Open yesterday. Darren Clarke was an inspiration. I was particularly proud of my good pal Mike Finnigan who has been working with Darren and got a special mention in the paper here. The biggest barrier to success has been Darren himself - Finn has taught him a winning mentality - so many of the commentators and observers spotted it.

I spoke to Mike yesterday, the full story is here.

It also proves an old maxim about golf being a game played over six inches - between your ears. Inspirational.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Transmission 001 - The Flaming Lips - guest review by David Casey

Jodrell Bank isn't a total stranger to music events - the site has previously played host to a one-off performance from Doves, while Professor Brian Cox's D:REAM 'partied up the world' on the Lovell telescope way back in 1995 - but 'Transmission 001 - Live from Jodrell Bank' is the first time a mini-festival has been held at the Cheshire observatory.

The idea of Transmission is to connect the work of Jodrell Bank with new audiences - attract fans for an evening of music, but allow them to take part in space research workshops and access the new £3.5m visitor centre during the day.

Of course it's also a way of generating extra funds to help pay for the site's running costs, given the shrinking public revenue streams available, and it cashes in on the growing trend for bands to play novel venues.

The Forestry Commission has held music events at Cheshire's Delamere Forest for a number of years now, with Erasure, The Courteeners and Simple Minds on the bill this year, but Transmission's line-up was arguably the more exciting of the two.

The Flaming Lips were the main draw although support acts British Sea Power, OK Go, Wave Pictures and Alice Gold ensured the event attracted a diverse mix of people. It was an inspired choice by the organisers to get Wayne Coyne's Oklahoma psychedelic rockers to head the bill, as songs like 'What Is The Light?' and 'Observer' provided the perfect soundtrack for a gig in the shadow of the Lovell, whose dish also doubled as a huge projection screen.

And whether it's through giant balloons, confetti cannons or fancy-dress costumes, Coyne managed to elicit feelings of joy, positivity and love from the 5,000-strong crowd that is rarely present with other bands. It was hard not to bounce around with child-like glee as you were being showered with confetti, especially during 'Do You Realize?', the big sing-a-long of the night.

The event wasn't without its teething problems - taking more than one-and-a-half hours to exit the site's car park took some of the sheen off the night - but from a music and science-engagement perspective, it was a triumph.

As Coyne said: "To stand hear in the symbolic shadow of this great a achievement, I think this is the best place to be on planet earth right now, tonight, right here." I'm not sure there's many people who attended that would disagree.

Going to jail with James Timpson

This blog isn't about work, but I do want to include a link here to a piece I wrote in Insider. I went to visit Forest Bank prison in Salford with James Timpson, the managing director of his family owned shoe repair and key cutting business. It was one of the most unsettling, yet inspirational days I've ever had. It opened my eyes to life inside the prison system and to the extraordinary things that people can do to change broken lives. You can read it here.

Hope and Glory by Stuart Maconie reviewed

I haven't actually read all of Stuart Maconie's book on the history of our times. I gave my copy to a visiting American businessman I met last week in the fond hope it will inspire him to promote the North of England to his countrymen.

It's better than his last two, even though it's very similar. The format is more structured, he picks a day each decade and uses that to describe the themes that emerged, weaving a readable and modern social history. I'd just got up to 1977 and the Silver Jubilee and the birth of punk. The days themselves are interesting choices, the birth of TV, the docking of the Windrush, the World Cup final in 1966. The best, I felt, was the choice of the conquest of Everest in the 1950s.

For all that more rigid attempts at structure, anyone who enjoyed Pies and Prejudice would still recognise his penchant for rambling anecdotes and touching tangents.

Abuses of power, justice required

These are indeed extraordinary times. The events stemming from the phone hacking scandal continue to amaze. As I write Rebekah Brooks has been arrested. What is there to suggest that James Murdoch won't be next? The other newspapers and media organisations can smell blood. So too can the politicians who bowed and scraped to Murdoch for so long. And even though the public appetite for the story probably isn't as great as the media believe.

Phone hacking isn't difficult. Most people are daft enough not to have changed the pin on their mobile phone. So, by keying in the default codes when the voicemail kicks in, depending on the mobile company, it is so simple a child could do it. That it was done to hack the phone messages of a murdered child is a truly appalling example of the lack of perspective, but it was still bad form when it was a celebrity

It started as a savage verdict on media ethics. The constant crossing of the line of acceptable behaviour - phone hacking, bin dipping, bribing of police - and it has become a major debate over craven politics and abuses of power. The argument over standards shouldn't be allowed to fall by the wayside.

I don't subscribe to the "yes, but" argument. I think when it's used by News International journalists and apologists it is a weak attempt at distraction. But in questioning whether executives at Mirror Group, the Mail, the Guardian and the Telegraph should be answerable to the findings of the Information Commissioners report into the dodgy use of private detectives is a valid one. So too is the introduction into the discussion as to whether the leaking of "hacked" and "stolen" confidential data from MPs expense sheets and Wikileaks auctioning stolen military information is acceptable. You can't have it both ways.

If this debate is being broadened out, then there is another diversion yet to be addressed. That is the abuse of monopoly position, the bullying of the legal regulatory process and the crushing of smaller competitors that undermines a free market. No, not in media, but in retail. The big supermarkets have had their own way for too long too. And if a politician was in search of a just cause that others have feared, then this is it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

My mate #13 Steve Connor

There's a quote from Gore Vidal that says "whenever a friend succeeds a little piece of me dies". I feel the opposite. Today I went to see my friend Steve Connor at the ceremony to unveil a portrait of Yuri Gagarin in Manchester Town Hall to commemorate the 50th anniversay of his visit to the city. Steve's pictured here with Harry Lyons the Lord Mayor of Manchester as he's driven the project along.

When I got there Steve was speaking with the backdrop of the Russian imperial flag. Part of him will have been disappointed that it wasn't the hammer and sickle (purely for reasons of historical accuracy, of course), indeed a couple of old "tankies" made that very point. Steve spoke so well, telling the story of how Major Gagarin came to rainy Manchester to meet the workers at Metropolitan Vickers and at the foundry workers union base in Moss Side and how he met Bernard Lovell, the creator of the Jodrell Bank telescope at a reception at the Town Hall.

"He was pretty much mobbed on his arrival by a crowd that included the then ‘Mayor of Stretford’. He then drove through Moss Side to the Union’s HQ, where his car was reported showered with ‘red roses, poppies and carnations’ and, this is my favourite bit, was presented with a specially designed medal that to my eye could have been the early work of Comrade Saville, if he’d been around at the time. It included the slogan ‘Together Moulding a Better World'."

There's some coverage here and here is Steve's blog on the plans for the celebration of the anniversary of the visit today with a flavour of what he spoke about today.

I knew Steve at Manchester University in the 1980s when we both wrote for Mancunion, the student paper, and were both in the Labour Party (he's one of only two people who still call me "comrade"). It was brilliant reacquanting with him again when I came back to the city in 2000 and I've particularly enjoyed seeing his business grow. Creative Concern isn't just a PR company for good causes, it's more of a moral crusade. They burn with passion for clients and bring civic advocacy and real campaigning zeal. It's been hard through the recession, but on the evidence of work they've done for the Manchester Electric Car Company they have grasped the commercial nettle very effectively.

So, to come back to Gore Vidal's silly quote. Honestly, once in a while you look at one of your friends in a confident and happy place and you just glow. Today was one of those days. And here's a better Vidal quote: "Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say and not giving a damn." Touche, comrade?

Monday, July 11, 2011

Maple Leaf monument to Canadian air crews

Until now there has been no permanent memorial to the Royal Canadian Airforce and their extraordinary contribution to the war effort in the Second World War. As I mentioned here, this has been a work in progress, and me and my Mum were honoured to represent our family at the unveiling of a new monument at the National Arboretum in Staffordshire. My Grandfather Francis Edward O'Hare, my Mum's Dad, died aged just 24, shot down near Duisberg in Germany in April 1943. He was serving as a pilot officer with the Royal Canadian Airforce and based out of Gransden Lodge in Cambridgeshire.

The ceremony was officially hosted by the Duke of Gloucester, who spoke well. But for us the most touching contribution was made by Commodore Kelly Williams, a senior military officer from Canada who is currently serving as the military attache to the UK. He spoke of meeting a war widow and her son, now 67, who never met his father and reunited her with a ring. The full story is here. When we met him later to thank him for his oration he spoke direct words of comfort and support to my Mum that meant so much to her.

I'd never been aware of the National Arboretum either. It is a symbol of the steady and stoic support for the contribution of the armed forces in this country. I've been to Arlington in Washington and to the memorials of Canberra. I've even been to the national monument in Ankara. But wasn't even aware of this place. It seems to have been born from a movement that has genuinely come from the people, to honour fallen heroes. It is a serene and impressive place. The central obelisk and statues form the centrepiece, but much thought has gone into its ambience. As the trees bloom it will be a magnificent haven to reflect and to honour.

Friday, July 08, 2011

The only way is ethics

Even before the news broke yesterday that the News of the Screws was being shut down, I had a feeling something game changing was in the offing. It wasn't ever going to be about the government squaring up to Murdoch, he changed the debate and moved it on. And I can't recall anyone suggesting the NOTW be closed in order to atone for this nonsense.

But what are the deeper lessons and how are they going to play out? How will this impact on journalism? I had an intruiging chat to Liam Fogarty about this yesterday. He also teaches on the journalism course at UCLAN. We were both in agreement about a need to reinforce the ethical heart of journalism and storytelling. So much of the cruelty and meaness of everyday life stems from a diminishing of this. There has to be a recasting of the purpose of journalism from the ground up now. Not just the teaching of the law and the rules, but of the nobility of fairness and accuracy. 

Dr Dee at the Festival - Blackadder goes Spinal Tap

Half way through Damon Albarn's modern opera Dr Dee last night I wondered how on earth he ever came up with the idea for such a performance. It was bewildering. Part Derek Jarman, a bit of Spinal Tap and a sprinkling of Blackadder. As a spectacle it was a triumph. As a piece of theatre and performance there was much to admire. But could I follow it? Not really. I got the hang of it in the second half as I have friends who understand these things better than me and explained things at the break. The moral of the story, I suppose, is this: the Catholics might have roughed you up for your zany scientific ways, but trusting these dodgy sorcerers was only ever going to bring grief.

In a sense, it's what the Manchester International Festival is all about: challenging you to broaden your thinking and experience new cultural forms. That said, it would have been nice if Damon Albarn had dramatically ended the performance with an Elizabethan alchemist's version of Parklife.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

With Downtown Frank on the radio

I did a radio programme this week with Frank McKenna of Downtown in Business. The link to the podcast of it is here, so it should be up in a day or two. It's on City Talk FM in Liverpool and we cover cruise terminals, pensions, the public sector strikes and a tiny bit of politics.

Festival in play - Sinead O'Connor

The excellent Manchester International Festival is back in town. I love the way Albert Square is transformed into a plaza type meeting place of a daytime and an evening. It just feels so civilised and convivial. Even Damon Albarn was hanging out there on Friday afternoon.

On Saturday we saw Sinead O'Connor perform a mix of old songs and new and, yes she did do THAT Prince cover. Her voice is incredible, of that there is no doubt. Some of her lyrics are breathtakingly poignant and reflect her complex and confused life - abusive mother, sexual orientation issues, bipolar, 4 x4 (kids by different Dads), an odd relationship with her faith. Such honesty - such baggage - brings its hazards - and some of the songs are a bit "sixth form poetry". As she tells her own stories between the songs she isn't trying to hide anything. It is all laid bare. But sometimes it seems like she tries to fit a bit too much into a single song.

Was it any good? Yes, of course it was. Really good. And if she's sorted herself out, to learn to appreciate the talent she has and the respect she still has, then I think on the evidence of this concert she stands on the brink of a bit of a comeback. Her band were very tight and her reggae influences show a varied musical style that nicely complemented her own powerful vocal strength.

And she looks very different now too, from when she did THAT video to THAT song. A full head of hair for a start.