Friday, June 27, 2014

The book pile - the first six months - done now, onto another soon

I set up the challenge to be disciplined about my reading pile and plough through a number of titles I've been putting off, a few that had been bought for me and a couple where I'd been to an author reading and had them signed.

I've finished now. I gave up on Shena Mackay's short stories. Maybe another time, but I wasn't gripped. There are reviews of Kev Sampson, Joe Pearce, Paul Morley, Malcolm Gladwell and Maria Hyland up already.

I reviewed Steve Armstrong's Wigan Pier book on the Discuss podcast number 3. I liked it, it was a fairly searing indictment of two track Britain. Tristram Hunt's Engels biography is beautifully written, that's also reviewed on Discuss podcast number 4.

Stuart Deabill's Personal Situations in London Clubland was a brighter read, I especially liked the Small Faces stories. One of the skills in putting together a book like this is having a good ear for a tale. Fair play to Stuart for crafting a compact and readable tome that stretches a long period.

There's a piece in the pipeline for STAND about the strength of lower division football in England. It was inspired by the Miracle of Castel di Sangro by Joe McGinniss, which tells the story of how a small club rose to Serie B. It seems in Italy they have a Premiership, then the equivalent of League One, then the Conference North and Conference South. 

This and the Kev Sampson one were gifts from my friends Mike Emmerich and Neil Tague. There's something special about enjoying a book that someone gets for you. You start to reflect on the things that bring you together and what you like about your friends.

Did I only read these books? No, I cheated. I sneaked in a few on holiday like the new Tony Parsons crime book, The Murder Bag, which was very good. He's found his muse again, it seems. I read a  Lee Child book I found on the campsite library when I'd run out. He has a talent for creating a page turning, but it isn't literature.

The Parsons book I read on a tablet, something I haven't taken to. There are three things I like about physical books that a tablet or Kindle can never displace. First, finding them in charity shops, church sales, of someone's discarded pile; second, getting bought one by a friend who thinks you'll like it; and thirdly, just the sheer joy of handling it and seeing how far you've got to go and holding it up when someone asks you what it is, especially if it's signed by the author as a few of these were. Call it showing off, maybe. But it's been a while since this book did some namedropping.

Monday, June 16, 2014

We've done another Podcast

In this episode of the Discuss podcast we again 'grasp the nettle', returning to the controversial topic of the recent DISCUSS debate: 'Is religion a force for good?' Joining me and Tom Cheesewright in the Pod this month: Angeliki Stogia, a Labour councillor for Whalley Range, Manchester City FC chaplain and Manchester's 'Minister for Business', the Reverend Pete Horlock. Also covered: Uber, 'the dismal science', whether Philip Blond has lost it, and the usual recommendations for your reading and viewing pleasure.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Oi Ref! Breaking my vow of silence at kids football.

I broke my vow of silence today. I shouted at a referee at a kids football match. It wasn't over an offside call, or a controversial decision, but because I was worried about someone getting hurt.

These are big, strong, proud 15 year old lads. They have now properly embraced the physical side of the game, I have no issue with that. But when emotions are running high and tackles are late, then a quiet word from a good referee can calm things down. This ref didn't spot what was happening, so I said: "You need to get a grip here ref, or someone's going to get hurt." He didn't like it, but it needed saying. 

Thankfully both the managers had words with the lads on both sides who were at risk of losing it. All was well in the end. I totally back the FA Respect campaign and abhor parents who swear and rant at referees. But respect also has to be earned and players have to be protected, sometimes from each other, even if it was a friendly. 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Portillo, Uber and Parklife

Monday, June 09, 2014

Rik Mayall - my teen idol - how can he be dead when we still have his poems?

This house will become a shrine, and punks and skins and rastas will all gather round and hold their hands in sorrow for their fallen leader. And all the grown-ups will say, "But why are the kids crying?" And the kids will say, "Haven't you heard? Rick is dead! The People's Poet is dead!" And then one particularly sensitive and articulate teenager will say, "Other kids, do you understand nothing? How can Rick be dead when we still have his poems?" And then another kid will say...
If you're of a certain age you can recite whole chunks of the Young Ones off by heart. Certain conversational triggers owe a debt to that incredible cult TV series. Only this week a mate said on Twitter he was outraged enough to want to write to the lead singer of Echo and the Bunnymen.

I am genuinely shocked and upset to hear that Rik Mayall has died at the stupidly young age of 56.

They say you should never meet your heroes, but I've never had any truck with that. When Rik Mayall did a support gig for the Miners' Strike at Lancaster Sugarhouse in late 1984, I reckon, I got to hang out with him and Ben Elton afterwards. As well as being brilliantly funny, he was also hugely generous and painfully shy. He chucked a ton of money in the bucket for the Blyth NUM lads after the gig, he signed autographs and posed for photos - as you can see - but he was totally unlike his character.

Let the tributes begin. We have lost a national treasure here. 

Saturday, June 07, 2014

As far back as I can remember ... where we are with the Discuss podcasts

As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to present my own radio programme. I dabbled in Australia with my pal Adil Bux, now something of a tycoon in the cosmetics and health industry. Back then music was our life and the high watermark of our show on 6UVS FM was when we interviewed Kevin Sanderson from Inner City, I recall.

I've hung around BBC Radio Manchester and helped them out at the drop of a hat, but they never seem to take the hint that I feel this as a calling. I've enjoyed standing in for Frank McKenna on CityTalk and think I do a good job, but it's Frank's show in his city.

So, in the spirit of Manchester innovation me and Tom Cheesewright have done our own. It's called The Discuss Podcast, we've done three now. We invite guests with something to say, steer the talk around what's going on around us - culture, politics, civic life and we seem to be getting the hang of it.

Long After Tonight - The Last Days Of The Twisted Wheel

Take a peek at this film about the closure of the Twisted Wheel nightclub. Business journalist James Graham has done such a good job of capturing the emotion of the Northern Soul scene. I hope there is some way to curate and protect these elements of our culture in a permanent way.

There are some more memories of the Wheel in our book Northern Monkeys.

Friday, June 06, 2014

A tribute to my favourite football team

This has been a great football season. I have really enjoyed watching my favourite football team. I've enjoyed seeing the team get better and better. The way the players have gelled as the season has progressed and how their late burst at the end of the season resulted in a well earned title win and a promotion.

Yep, watching Marple Athletic Under 15s this season has been terrific. You didn't think I was talking about Blackburn Rovers did you? At any point?

I've fallen in and out of love with junior football, as I have with the professional game. When it's good, there's nothing better. When kids football at its worst is a very dark and ugly world. But that's not for today. Actually one of the things that has impressed me most about my son and his team mates is how they have dealt with the inbuilt adversity that comes from playing in the Stockport Metro League - poor pitches, gobby parents, swaggering opponents, bad referees, games getting cancelled. They didn't play at all through December, January and February. Unbelievable. But on the whole, they've just learnt to get on with it.

The preceding seasons to this one were hard. The team was a few lads on the wrong side of the teenage growth spurt and they lost more than they won as they come off worst as games got more physical.

More than anything though this season has seen all of that come together. It's about them growing up as a group of young men. I say this hesitantly but there aren't any dickheads in the team. They are all such good lads and they work really hard for each other. They're different, they go to at least four different schools, aren't necessarily friends beyond football, but it works. They seem to talk more to each other, apologise when they make a mistake and accept an apology when someone else does. Sure, they get frustrated when a decision goes against them, but they don't let it become the excuse. That isn't the case with a lot of lads of their age.

There are boys playing with my eldest son who have been together now since they were 6 years old. I've seen them change over the years, obviously, but universally they have all changed for the better. Lads have lost weight and got fitter because contributing on a Sunday means so much to them. I've seen a free-scoring forward dropping into midfield and play the best game I've ever seen him play in midfield. I've seen hard, clean, brave tackles that you'd stand and applaud if Vincent Kompany did it. I've seen long throw-ins, corners, free kicks, finger tip saves, last gasp clearances, holding the ball up, triangles, runs from deep, headers away. They can win in style, but they can win ugly too, and just three times, I saw them lose with grace. Pick up and move on.

I'm not ashamed to admit I have a lump in my throat thinking about it right now.

And the managers. Good Lord you meet some grade A pillocks in junior football. But we are blessed to have Jason and Padraig to run this team. Even with bad directions to away grounds, I couldn't wish for better. Here's the other thing about them now, they don't shout and rant and swear. They guide, they manage.

I had to send the managers my choices for players of the season and I was stumped. Genuinely. The only name I couldn't submit was my own son, which meant it was one less to perm from a squad of 14 or so. I so hope they carry on, because they have the potential to achieve more and more together.

I say all of this, of course, because us Dads have foolishly opted to play them in an end of season Dads v Lads match. Two years ago we battered them, but they were young boys. Now they are men. They are about to subject us to brutal retribution. Please be gentle.

Well done lads, what a brilliant season.