Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Shadow Line and Page Eight - good telly

No-one does smart thrillers better than the BBC. This week we have enjoyed the double treat of Page Eight, a smart and contemporary David Hare spy drama, swiftly followed off by our completion of the boxed set of The Shadow Line.

I won't compare a series of seven with a feature length drama, but they both had superb casts and well written, tightly directed scripts. I feel more comfortable recommending Page Eight, however. I can just above forgive it's most ludicrous plot development involving Bill Nighy and Rachel Weisz. However, hey, both brought a lightness and a subtle wit to the screen, even in times of great seriousness.

Lightness and wit isn't something you'd accuse The Shadow Line of. But, in the finest traditions of British TV drama it pulled an impressive cast - Antony Sher, Christopher Eccleston, Stephen Rea you will know about. Rea, in particular, was mesmerising and terrifying as Gatehouse, the most accomplished killer since the Borgias, as he was described towards the end. While Eccleston was as tragic and as doomed as he was in Cracker. But The Shadow Line will also prove to be a breakthrough for other impressive actors who starred such as Chiwetel Eijofor, Keirston Wareing, Rafe Spall and Freddie Fox who you may not be so familiar with. All turned in performances of brooding, competing tension that suggested a change of allegiance and confusion was never far away. We were gripped.

But, on balance, it was a deflating and depressing experience. Nothing changes, yet everybody, mostly, dies. It was a gloomy and ultimately ludicrous turn of events. It was laced with a pessimistic view of human nature and motivation, reinforcing the view too that no good deed goes unpunished.

And here's another thing. It's probably a budgetry issue, but though there were some scenes shot noticeably and obviously in London, most of it was shot in the Isle of Man. At no point did the story reflect this quick shift to hillsides and harbours, seemingly very close to London as to be seamless. This became ludicrous, especially for the most significant final scenes. I'm sure the Isle of Man Tourist Board and Film Council will be pleased with the outcome. The latter for hosting such a noted drama, and the former for managing to be disassociated from such nastiness.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Jerome Anderson and the rat's nest at Rovers

A story in the Daily Mail, here, suggests Blackburn Rovers have paid over the odds for players, or rather have paid hefty commissions to agents. This may also go some way to explaining why Steve Kean has been unable to land as many of the transfer targets as he hoped.

Some fingers point towards the drink driving manager and his agent, Jerome Anderson, as the problem. One of Kean's summer signings afterall was Myles Anderson - son of Jerome - a player with no relevant experience of first class football. It actually beggars belief.

But through all the transfer dealing, agents payments and the relationship between this agency and others, the biggest question I don't think has been answered is this: did Venky's borrow money to buy Rovers, who did they borrow it from, and did Jerome Anderson get paid for advising them to do so?

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Being on TV

I was on TV last week talking about the Co-operative Group's results. The jist of it is this: they made incredibly good profits last year. They have made a little less this year. The boss says it is a tough trading environment, in fact the toughest. They are trying to break into Big Four, and are up against two of the most ruthless commercial operators in the world. Because of their membership structure, they can build for the long term. I'd link to it, but I'm not allowed, even though I recorded a clip on my iPhone. Still not been stopped in the street yet.

Returning the love

The Manchester response to the tear up of a few weeks ago has been very positive. A campaign called I Love Manchester has been quickly and enthusiastically thrown together. The broom and dustpan army that assembled the morning after was the first manifestation. The campaign was the next step.

In all honesty the campaign isn't particularly original in its conception, modern in its execution or ambitious in scope. As it says here, it's a 30-year old take on a New York campaign. I seem to remember a reaction to a previous limp campaign spawned a new generation of thrusting doers who called themselves the McEnroe Group, and are now in positions of power and influence in the city. But this isn't then, either, so it's only right to support a positive statement of intent and an outpouring of civic pride. I have no intelligence on what Peter Saville makes of it.

But if it's all that comes out of this period of turbulence it would be a great shame. It's an opportunity to remind everyone of the strengths of the city, but also to set some realistic benchmarks for how the city can be improved.  That will inevitably get political, but it will be a chance to think big and bold again.  A lot of time has now passed since the last acts of audacity which have got Manchester so far - the Olympic bid, the Commonwealth Games, the reaction to the 1996 bomb and various property schemes. What degree of autonomy could the city region seek to attain? Does the city region need a Mayor? Or just the city of Manchester? What about some bold thinking on city planning, like banning cars from the core of the city centre altogether? What decisions can be taken at a city level on education, taxation and business rates? Where is Manchester positioned on the sixth wave of resource efficiency? What more can be done to extend co-operative structures in finance and business?

There are some intelligent lines in the sand here and here from John Leach and Dave Haslam - and both do so from their own very different perspectives. The best way of showing your love for Manchester would be to  contribute to a very important debate from your own point of view, wherever you are in this brilliant city.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Cottonopolis - new gear from Oi Polloi

Popped into Oi Polloi today. Delighted to see they've developed their own label called Cottonopolis. If you are so inclined, there's a very smart piece in the latest issue of Pica Post by Ian Hough. Captures the essence very well.

Marple out in force to say NO

 This video is on You Tube, shot by a resident at the rally on Saturday the 20th of August.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

What we did on our holidays

This isn't really a twee blog about what we all get up to, well, maybe just a bit. This is our 9 year old son Matt's picture from one of our days on holiday (he did one for every day). Here we are skimming stones on Thirlmere, which is accurate, as is the landscape. The presence of a steamboat, SS LOL, is entirely made up.

Marple supermarket - the arguments for

There was a good turnout at the march against proposals for our local college to sell their site in Marple to a supermarket. I've been wrestling with a couple of the arguments against the protestors, I think they are worth airing.

The first is that this campaign is hypocritical. That the protestors do their "big shop" in big supermarkets away from Marple, supermarkets that will have had the same ruinous effect on other communities. There will, to be fair, be plenty of evidence of this, there will be research to say that people round here do go to other supermarkets. I know they do. We do. There IS an argument against all big supermarkets, but this isn't it. At issue is the suitability of this location. Contained within this objection is the inevitable accusation of Nimbyism. You have to take this one on the chin. Of course people directly affected by noise, disruption and compulsory purchase orders will object to it. But look again, that's not why most people are opposed.

Another argument against the protestors is that some competition is needed against the monopoloy of the Co-operative in Marple. A large supermarket on a site the size of the huge Hibbert Lane campus would provide a shabby and overpriced small supermarket with competition. It may even be that the Co-operative have opposed other applications by Tesco, Asda or Sainsbury's to open a store in Marple, even on a site their group owns. Firstly, I don't dispute the competition argument at all. There is a retail core in Marple that contains multiples like Boots, Superdrug, Iceland as well as independent retailers. I'm sure the local traders wouldn't be doing cartwheels about a Tesco Express, or a Sainsbury's Local (similar to the one in Romiley), but again, that's not the issue here. Personally, I'd welcome more retailers stimulating the core. It would attract people to the other businesses. This proposal, the price tag on such a large piece of land, however, offers only the potential to simply attract people in their cars to a big tin shed, and then leave again. A splinter of this view, by the way, is the economic determinism of big retail. That their march is inevitable and irresistable. I don't even think the big supermarkets have that view any more.

The third argument I came up against was about the place needing to be "livened up" as the youngsters went elsewhere. I must admit, I'm all in favour of any amount of livening up of the right kind, but I don't see how a massive supermarket is an attraction for young people. I used to marvel at how so many pie shops and sandwich bars were supported. This is because of the 6th Form College, it would appear. I'd rather there were educational opportunities here, than over there, that this community imported, rather than exported young people.

The fourth argument is about the importance of jobs and investment, that Marple is getting major investment that should be welcomed. I agree that the council have a responsibility to discuss opportunities with employers and investors. But it's also about the right ones in the right places. This is the wrong place.

An offshoot of this view is that the collapse of the housing market leaves the college with no other options? Even if you accept that view, and I don't, then I'm sorry, but this really isn't our problem. There are a number of reasons why Cheadle & Marple College need to juggle their estate. There will also be a range of commercial barriers to how that process is managed. One of them will have to be the unsuitability of Marple for large retail.

Finally, there are various comments that split hairs on the issue. There are debates, mainly on the Marple messageboard, over politics and tactics. Let's face it, any campaign will have these and in the internet age, this has been amplified 1000 fold. Then there are discordant views that because various things are wrong with what we have in Marple, so it then follows that this is a conservative campaign that seeks to protect the mediocre and defend the mistakes of the past. Mistakes in planning and architecture have been made, of course they have, nobody is saying this is some kind of utopian community. But if this campaign succeeds, then it will also serve to remind everyone about what we have and how it is "that we are where we are". It is a massive generational opportunity to debate what kind of community we want to have in Marple. And I think the local council (the officials and the politicians), need to bear that in mind as they decide in secret what they think is best.

So, if you arrived here thinking this was a pro-supermarket change of heart, I notionally apologise. But only a bit. I called it "the arguments for" because that's what it is addressing. As you can see, none of them have swayed me. In fact, of all of the above, the only one I hesitated on was the first. Well, an element of it. Our Friday night chat on the Rose Hill flier pondered a few "what ifs" about who would build on the site. If it was a big ugly Tesco or Asda, then it is an easy side to take. I wouldn't trust them as far as I could throw them. But what if Booths or Waitrose had their eye on it? I would love a Booths here. I would love the prestige it would bring to the area. No question. But the fact remains, this site is off the centre. This site is unsuitable for big retail. This site is large. There is still much to be done in the centre. Booths and Waitrose would be welcome in Marple. But not on Hibbert Lane.

How Dare You Accuse Me of Inhumanity - Withnail tribute 3

Monday, August 15, 2011

Manchester's historical traditions and the riots of 2011

Shops were looted in Manchester, police were attacked. The poor and disenfranchised were making their voices heard after years of brutal repression and intolerable living conditions. The middle classes of Manchester were hated by the workers who seethed with injustice. No, not August 2011, but 1842, when the Chartist uprisings reached a crescendo.

And as the city reflected on the very week in 1819 that 15 people were killed and hundreds injured at Peterloo, when the Manchester Yeomanry attacked a crowd of protestors, it is well to reflect on the historical parallels with today and how we interpret the riots in the city centre and Salford. Indeed, Tristram Hunt MP did just that at a sparkling lecture on Peterloo at the People's History Museum on Friday night. He concluded, rightly, briefly, that the riots were an outbreak of horrific criminality. But history never ends at a line drawn on an era. Peterloo took years, decades, to force change.

So I do think the rioting was part of a historical tradition unique to Manchester and Salford. Please bear with me. But it had absolutely nothing to do with the fine, noble and courageous sacrifices of struggles that have marked these great twin cities. They have been at the forefront of democracy, feminism and vegetarianism - and even the competing radicalisms of free trade, trade unionism and the co-operative movement.

But there has always been something murky under and often on the surface of Manchester life. Gangsterism.

Forget that buffoon David Starkey and his hopeless attempts to understand street culture, the celebration of mob rule, criminality and the gang exploded to the surface on our streets last week. And it wasn't for the first time. What was it that sounded the death knell for Madchester club culture in the 1990s? Gangsters.

This isn't a working class thing either. How many financial scandals have been rooted here? Barlowe Clowes, Lexi, VAT scammers and the wealthy gangsters who live alongside the celebrities and footballers in the Cheshire golden triangle. Gangsters.

This isn't yet another piece of punditry claiming to have the answers, but just a sad and grumpy recognition that we live amidst some horrible people who inspire some very stupid people to be like them.

PS If you want some sensible comment on the riots there's loads out there. I tip my hat in the direction of the following: Martin Bright, Simon Marcus, John Robb, Charlie Brooker, Ed Owen on Daddy Be Good, Harriet Sergeant, Peter Oborne and Polly Toynbee.

They reach different conclusions. They come from different perspectives, some of them are a bit shrill, but that is what is important for everyone who cares to do here. Think and listen. Open your mind, step out of your comfort zones and your echo chambers. Stop this pathetic descent into "he said, she said, yes but" name calling. Try and forge a solution that can save our society from barbarism. All of us.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Chaos behind the scenes at Blackburn Rovers

The customer-facing staff are at the frontline of any business. And at Blackburn Rovers today I spoke to enough of them to see that the organisation is utterly dysfunctional. No-one knows what is going on at the club. There is no leadership or sense of common purpose. Who's fault is that?

Customers in the corporate areas have dropped off; the Clayton Douglas lounge - which is for the shirt sponsor and the match sponsor - wasn't open today. Indeed, the match sponsor was Sportfive the sales agency tasked with selling such deals. I saw one director there today - Bob Coar. There were the executives, sure, but there is no board to host the visiting directors any more. There was no one present from India. For the opening day of the season that is disgraceful. It is a shameful facet of foreign ownership that certain owners lack sufficient interest in something so special to so many people that they don't even go to games. Who's fault is that?

On the pitch the team lost. That is bad enough, but they lost because they were a weakened team. Who's fault is that?

Kean fielded a young midfield player and a rookie at centre back and no holding midfield player. Jamie O'Hara will not dominate another midfield area as easily as he did today. Yes, injuries had a bearing on the options, but a new centre half should have been a priority since the end of last season. A good squad has players in every position and the bench today showed the weakness in the squad. The worst thing I heard today is that despite all the departures there is no money. None from Jones, none from Kalinic. It is all hand to mouth. Who's fault is that?

The answer to all of the above is "Venky's".

But it is also dawning on everyone at the club, and now amongst the supporters that the owners aren't as resourced or as committed as they claimed when the Walker Trust sold it to them. They just buy time with stunts like free pies at Wolves, charity sponsors and renaming the Blackburn End. And if they have got the club in this kind of chaotic mess so quickly and so recklessly, and are so unable to do anything about it, then the ultimate responsibility also has to be with the Walker Trustees who signed over our club to these people.

Hooray - the Premier League kicks off today

Right, back from holiday, off to the football today. We haven't bought season tickets this year for reasons I've mentioned elsewhere. Still massively underwhelmed by football as a whole. There is something even more vapid and manipulative about it. But still...

Here are my predictions for the league.

1 Chelsea
2 Manchester United
3 Manchester City
4 Liverpool
5 Arsenal
6 Tottenham
7-16 I have to say I've totally lost interest in doing this already. There is just no excitement in it. Here are the three that I think will go down:
18 Blackburn Rovers
19 Queen's Park Rangers
20 Swansea City

FA Cup: Chelsea
Champions League: Barcelona
Championship: Leicester
League One: Sheffield United
League Two: Crawley Town

Why so pessimistic about Rovers? We've lost three of the most influential players of last season - and three potentially big players for the one to come - Phil Jones, Jermaine Jones and it looks like Chris Samba will go too. I liked Kalinic, he could still be a decent Premier League player, but he's gone too. They are all big holes to plug. Who is there to replace them? Last season's pretty boys - Rochina and Formica - still have to get games under their belts and to learn. There isn't time to do that. Same with this David Goodwillie, the Scottish striker will not make it in time, the gulf in quality is a chasm. It will be Keith Andrews all over again.

There is chronic instability throughout the club, which matters. Sure the chief executive doesn't pull on a shirt and play a game, but the lack of one contributes to Steve Kean's uphill task. He will not be able to attract the game changing players that are needed and he doesn't have the network to do quick fixes.

If any of that is misplaced, offensive, or you think it is disloyal, then I'm sorry. This is one of those issues where I desperately want to be wrong.