Sunday, December 31, 2017

Kieran Quinn RIP

Kieran, centre, supporting Jonathan Reynolds MP, 2017
To a backdrop of Christmas chatter, thanks and chamber music I shook the hand and squeezed the shoulder of Kieran Quinn last week. He has been a valued colleague for the last two years on the New Charter Group board. We arranged to do something in the new year and wished one another a Merry Christmas.

The next day a group of close friends and colleagues from our neck of the woods met for a Christmas drink and we talked politics, as we tend to, and for no apparent reason than I said how much I'd enjoyed seeing him the evening before, we reflected on what a force Kieran has been in Greater Manchester and Tameside.

News of his heart attack days later shook everyone who knew him, and we hoped and prayed for the best news. Cruelly, it wasn't to be and he passed away on Christmas Day night, surrounded by his family.

The tributes have been fulsome and warm, quite rightly. The Kieran I knew was both of those things, always inclusive and often funny in fairly intensive and high powered discussions; but also consistently displaying an impressive understanding of detail and strategic vision. The first thing that struck me about him when he came to speak to the Labour Group at Stockport Council was his ambition: ambitious for the people of Greater Manchester and encouraging of his colleagues for the challenges ahead. He was also one of the signatories to the Greater Manchester devolution agreement, a historical act of courage and foresight.

I can't do justice to his impact on Tameside and to the people, that's for others who knew him much better. I can bear witness to his imprint on the strategy of New Charter, which is immeasurable and total. New Charter is so much more than a social landlord, providing services that hold the community together. We constantly look for new ways to do this, to work hard for the people who live in our homes against a backdrop of cutbacks, punitive measures and a hostile attitude to the housing sector from government. But what I learnt from our chats after meetings and from the intelligent contributions he made to our discussions, is that there is always a way to do the right thing. That's the Kieran Quinn I knew.

I had the privilege of serving on a board with one of the greats of Greater Manchester public life. I can only imagine what his family and friends are going through, but I hope they take comfort from the tributes that have been paid to him. The words I keep hearing that ring true are that he was a great friend, a devoted husband and father, and that he worked tirelessly for others. Kieran, we will miss you, but will always strive to do as you did. So here’s a resolution for the new year or any year, always strive, that is, to find a way. God bless you, Kieran Quinn, leader, servant of the people, father, husband, may you rest in peace.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Northampton away - a load of cobblers

Our tour of middle England hit location fourteen today. Northampton Town's Sixfields stadium is a dreary unfinished Lego identikit stadium on a remote industrial estate on the edge of town.

A shiny new train station for the commuters to Milton Keynes and London, and a new university building were the high spots in a town centre that felt quite Northern for its faded high street and the legacy traces of its shoe manufacturing industry that remain dotted about.

There seemed to be more people heading for the rugby match against Exeter down the road than to see the local football team, which confirmed why a fast growing town of 212,000 doesn't have a football club playing at a higher level.

As for the match, a below par performance from an under strength Rovers saw a rare draw (only the third on the road). It proved how much the classy Charlie Mulgrew is worth to the overall character of the team that Rovers never hit top note until the last ten minutes. He'd pulled out just before kick off and although his replacement Elliot Ward did OK, the assurance a player of Mulgrew's class brings was lacking. Bradley Dack’s goal was real quality but for Craig Conway to miss an open goal AND Marcus Antonsson a penalty just smacked of a lack of professionalism on the day. But hey, we're now unbeaten in 12 and at least the 4000 home fans went home ecstatic from their cup final, especially the Northampton Raider we encountered on the way back to the station who literally said to me, "you want some? I'll give it to you".

It marks another new ground chalked off. I make it the 153rd ground I've watched football on, I'm now on 82 out of the Punk 92, and it's my 75th of the current 92 grounds.

Friday, December 22, 2017

End of year telly round up - Peaky blinding, Walking Dead dying

I did a seasonal round up of the year's telly in August. I can't honestly say there's been anything new that's blown me away since then. Loved the new Stranger Things, loved the second series of the A Word.

I was slow to get going with Peaky Blinders, but this series has been explosively brilliant. Helen McCrory as Polly is the best character in any period drama I can recall. With a strong supporting cast on top form Tom Hardy and Aidan Gillen really rose to the challenge of something so atmospheric.  The scenes with both took the whole thing to a new level.

The biggest disappointment on the whole of telly was the continual slow death of The Walking Dead. I lied, I said I wasn't going to watch season 8. But I did, and at the half way mark, I have to say that I am at least relieved it hasn't got worse. Well, to be fair, season 7 was dreadful and this first half has tried to pick up the pace. But really? Nothing has happened. Nothing has actually changed since Glenn and Abraham were killed at the end of start of season 7. Negan is still alive, in power and to be fair to him, he's not the one randomly butchering people.

When I said enough is enough in April, I asked a few questions, none of which have been adequately answered, but they're the constants that try my patience and they all came round again.

1 - Where did Gregory go? Just vanished from the fight, is still a weasel, why's he still around?
2 - How did the Alexandrians not get butchered when they turned on the Saviours? Same with the Hilltop crew with Maggie, especially when evil Simon ambused the convoy on the road.
3 - Dwight, friend or foe? - still not clear.
4 - Are all three armies the worst shots ever? Was someone firing blanks? Who died?
5 - Why on earth do the garbage pail kids speak so weirdly, who are they, where are they from? Why are they so woefully underwritten?
6 - And what next for that Tiger? Well, at least we know the CGI budget was exhausted for that one.

You can add the whole unresolved, woefully untold Oceanside plot to the mix and you're still left with a mess. The comics, as I've said before, are so much better. For the second half this series has one last chance. It's one of those weeks when I'm very grateful to be British.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Eyes On The City | London & Darwen

I like this short film extolling the bonds between football, fashion and identity. Gary Aspden and his pals sit just down from us in the Riverside stand and I'm always impressed by how well turned out they are.

I interviewed Gary for Northern Monkeys in recognition of his contribution to the evolution of northern working class fashion through his work with Adidas and Size.

I've had a couple of glorious CP Company pieces over the years - a blue duffle coat and a white needle chord shirt - which I got from Shop 70 in London's Lamb Conduit Street in the early 90s. Even now I'm very attached to a very resilient black military style shirt I picked up a few years ago, a pic of it is here.

Friday, December 15, 2017

My mate #25 Michael Merrick

I was delighted to hear my mate Michael Merrick on Radio 4's Four Thought recently. It was in so many ways so typical of him. Searingly honest, humbly self-examining and so very modest for what it left out.

So, I thought I'd add him to the "my mate" series on this blog, where I randomly shuffle my address book and talk about my friends, how we met and what I like about them.

Michael tells the story on the programme of how he graduated and thought of himself as above his family, and then how that has spoken to him about the idea of social mobility. It's always slightly incongruous to listen to a friend talk about the previous version of themselves. Especially as the Michael I know would never do that, he has such genuine love and admiration for the treasures of family and community. Rightly, the piece has been praised for the honesty and depth of thought that has gone into his own journey and how he reflects on social mobility and how kids leave their homes to 'better themselves'.

Michael and I met on Twitter. We had a shared interest in Catholic education, Catholic social teaching, Labour and Lancaster. I'd been impressed by his work for Philip Blond on his inspiring and ambitious book Red Tory. When we eventually met in real life, I'm pleased to say our friendship took on an upward tick. Though it was politics and faith that brought us together, there's so much more about this amazing man that I have grown to admire.

His advice to me as I stepped into politics was exemplary. Starting with why? But linking it to our duty and our salvation. He pulled off a remarkable conference in Manchester that drew together a wide range of voices and thinkers for a tradition he and I wanted to co-create - to place community, work and family into the political value system. We've both since moved away from Labour, and share similar frustrations that Maurice Glasman's Blue Labour seems to be going nowhere. We voted on different sides in the EU referendum and probably disagree on a few other things too. But my admiration for his solid insolence and defiance will never waver.

But what I was driving towards is how much Michael left out in this most recent exercise in soul searching. In his generous sharing of his life journey he didn't mention that he had been a professional footballer with Norwich City, nor that he has been a philosophy teacher in a High School, but is now part of a leadership team as deputy head in a Catholic community primary school.  That school has this week just received a "good" rating by OFSTED for the first time since 2001. I don't know the other people involved, I'm sure they have all played their part. But what I do know from the man I've seen; the clever, gentle, inspiring man, is that he has been involved in something very special. If I was a parent in Carlisle, I'd be fighting to get my children educated by him.

In the midst of this tribute I've also not touched on Michael's family. He has a lot of children and is a devoted husband. Or his humour, or his quest for truth...

Life takes you in different directions from time to time. I'm just very proud this week to doff my cap and say my prayers of thanks that I can count Michael Merrick a friend.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Peterborough away, creating memories and a chance to moan about trains

Seeing the sights of Peterborough, pre-match
Sometimes it's better to travel than to arrive, said no-one ever after being crammed into a two-car East Midlands train from Stockport to Peterborough for the best part of three hours. The Championship and League One fixture list clearly remains a mystery to whoever plans the allocation of trains in December.

But even the noisy accompaniment of Preston and Bolton fans on the way home couldn't take the shine off another good day watching Rovers at another new ground.

Part of the enjoyment remains the company of old friends and new on these trips. On the way down was the bloke who first took me to Ewood in 1977, Kevin Bradley. On the way home we were sat with former referee Tony Leake, sharing stories, memories and opinions about all things Rovers and reffing, particularly good for our Louis who is enjoying being the man in black at Stockport Metro League matches.

At the Blackpool away game last month I found myself behind Tony Brierley, a lad I used to go away with in the 80s; like me he now goes with his sons. They were wild times back then, and very different experiences to now. Apart from anything they were sparsely attended trips, us Rovers fans were usually numbered in our hundreds, not thousands. As we left Bloomfield Road we shared a few memories of friends of old, which necessitated me breaking the news that one of the old crew had passed away. Tony shared the thought with me that though they were great days, we were "true fans, too soon".

In a way we were, but I constantly dwell on the collective memories I'm now involved in shaping for Louis and Joe. Getting relegated last season was hard, but I felt it was coming. This season at least is a chance to enjoy a better team, winning games and playing decent football. It's certainly been a while since we've had a player like Bradley Dack to get excited about. Cairney, possibly?

It was also the first time this season that Rovers have gone behind and yet I thought we'd still win. There seemed to be the same feeling running through the packed away stand. I was massively annoyed at some of our players for getting involved in personal tussles (Samuel) and for getting booked for diving (Antonsson), but I just never thought we'd lose. Mowbray must have talked some sense into them at half time and our counter attacking breaking play was superb. Dack causes havoc among opposing defences, they can't take their eye off him and he seems to want the ball and torture them with it. Anyway, Louis has done the player ratings for Rovers Chat.

I liked that Peterborough have a ground near the city centre, where we could walk back to the station and have some food and beverage beforehand with our pals Mushtaq and Smithy. I'll call the ground by its rightful name, London Road, but it's a mish mash of styles and clearly a work in progress. Though the away end is now in the old wooden main stand, we had a decent view and enjoyed the raucous atmosphere.

It marks another new ground chalked off. I make it the 152nd ground I've watched football on, I'm now on 81 out of the Punk 92, and it marks my 74th of the current 92. I've said before that doing the 92 isn't just a way of chalking off identikit grounds, but a way of rediscovering this land. This season in particular it's also about creating memories, even if they involve learning that "the RAF from Bolton" shot down 10 German bombers. Sigh.