Wednesday, December 28, 2022

Lunch of the year - and the winner is ... Stockport


The life of this blog is hanging by a thread, but I refuse to give up. The one feature I've managed to keep going on it this year has been the lunch of the month. It must be working because people keep coming up to me and suggesting new places and thanking me for the recommendation.

It's time for the announcement of lunch of the year. It's not about fancy restaurants, or some kind of gastronomical Stanley Tucci tour of Manchester, I have friends far better qualified than me to do that.

When I started doing lunch of the month it was about picking up something high quality but affordable for lunch, and at the time I was working in Manchester in and around Oxford Road. I set the upper limit at a tenner, but was always pleased to spend less.

I've been working in Stockport for most of 2022 and in that time "The New Berlin" has been enjoying its place in the limelight through the course of the year (I would like to claim at least some credit for that, given I literally worked for the transformational leader of the Council).

I'm not going to list all the great places I've been this year. All the good ones had a mention along the way and I don't want to detract from this place, or diminish the standing of anywhere else. 

My go-to gaff for a decent lunchtime buttie has been Rack in St Peter's Square in Stockport. 
Stewart Reynolds first recommended it, the tech entrepreneur from Shopblocks had a proper twinkle in his eye and the next time I saw him he has keen to know if I'd tried it. I had, lots of times, and I'd taken some of Stockport's top politicians. Lots of places have steady service, great coffee, are good value and do a hearty lunch, whether you choose to take away, or perch on the side counter, or sit on the back porch. Any way you choose, it's superb. More than anything, Rack has real character. The specials have been routinely brilliant, especially the Lasandwich. But it also has a real style and positive attitude to food and its sense of place in the centre of Stockport. 

I shall miss having you so conveniently nearby, now that I'm Manchester-based and WFH a bit more, but Rack, you've been amazing,

PS - I found this video by BramhallDoes, which shares my point of view.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Northern Spin Extra - Special Guest, Economist Nicola Headlam

What’s Boris Johnson really like?

Nicola Headlam should know because she was one of the most senior civil servants at the Northern Powerhouse and she’s lifted the lid on him and other senior politicians.

Now the chief economist at Red Flag Alert she’s the latest guest on Northern Spin Extra and didn’t hold back on her views on Northern Powerhouse Rail.

When we launched the podcast it was to get insight from people like Nicola and she didn’t disappoint.

Give it a watch (above).


Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Northern Spin podcast goes to Blackpool, and the Phoenix

"Really good episode" says former civil servant David Higham, a man who knows his history and appreciates insight.

This week we talk about Blackpool's regeneration efforts over the years, Andy Burnham's appointment of Kate Green as his Deputy Mayor and the disgrace of Boris Johnson's honours list.

And why, despite everything, I still love Phoenix Nights.

We're on Spotify, and Apple Podcasts.

Apple - 

Alan CavillAndy MorrellNicola HeadlamThe Manchester Metropolitan UniversityDepartment for Levelling Up, Housing and CommunitiesThe Labour PartyBlackpool CouncilThe Centre for Social Justice.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

The Spirit of the Fanzine

Our radio show is a product of the fanzine generation. Passionate, homespun, authentic and sometimes a bit seat of our pants. 

I was reminded of this last week when I went to a talk in Manchester with the force of nature that is John Robb.

As well as the front man for the band Goldblade, John is a clarion for music in Manchester arguably invented the term Britpop and was the first music writer in Europe to interview Kurt Cobain of Nirvana.

At a talk in Manchester hosted by my friend James Torry from Doodledo he conveyed how just as enthusiastic now as he was then. His website called Louder Than War is an outlet for his first-rate music journalism. 

He started as a fanzine writer, as did me and Neil. 

I actually first met Neil when he was editing a magazine that started as a fanzine and became a gloriously smart menswear journal. Though I’ve had a decent career in journalism, my first baby steps on that journey weren’t an internship at a newspaper or a traineeship at the BBC, but on getting out a Letraset, a battered typewriter, some glue and a pair of scissors to cut bits out of newspapers and magazines to make a fanzine.

I’m probably the only winner of Private Equity Journalist of the Year (2006 and 2007) to have edited a fanzine.

It was 1982, I was 16, a bleach blonde haired sixth former with a bag full of attitude and riding that strange wave between punk and football lads, taking in a range of influences from music, politics, and the terraces.

I would pick up these crudely photocopied mad collections of random thoughts and ideas, usually sold outside gigs in Leeds or Manchester, but occasionally in record shops like Piccadilly in Manchester or Probe in Liverpool.

In Leeds I bought one called Molotov Comics, featuring lots of poetry and swearing, and was sold by a skinhead called Swells. Another was called Attack on Bzag which was enthusiastically marketed by a skinny lad with curly hair by the name of James Brown, who went on to be the editor of lads mag Loaded (when it was good).   

Over in Liverpool, I was absolutely mesmerised by The End, due to its sassy writing, its left-wing politics, and the crossover with football terrace fashion. That was produced by the lads that ended up forming a band called The Farm.

I was inspired to start my own. It was called Positive Feedback, it had some good bits in it, but I lacked the confidence and the contacts to really develop a distinctive style.

I grew up in Lancaster, we had a little bit of a music scene, partly because of the students at university and a decent club called the Sugarhouse which a fake student ID used to get me into most Saturdays.

We also had a brilliant record shop, Ear Ere, which as well as being a hive of great sounds they’d also support fanzines. People bought the first two issues and it was an important part of my origins story. 

Fanzines were part of a network, the underground, people who could help one another, and so I got a call at home one day from a guy in a band called the Membranes from Blackpool who wanted to know if I could help him get a gig in Morecambe or Lancaster. I couldn’t, but as is the way, I think I told him to try the lads at Ear Ere.

I recalled that conversation, that self-help, DIY attitude. I often get asked for career advice by students and young people. I can only tell my own truth, but in an era when there are social media, video, and blogging tools freely available the spirit of the fanzine lives on. You just have to use what’s available.   

Thursday, November 10, 2022

Hello, is that West Ham?

I sent my mate Trevor a message a couple of weeks ago fearing the worst over the rail strikes and backing out of a trip to London for the League Cup game against West Ham at the London Stadium. Having slept on it I then sent another - 'I'm coming down for West Ham, life's too short'. We haven't seen each other for ages, to reminisce on Sunday football at Wormwood Scrubs, great awaydays and tours to Devon. Our mate Martin's funeral in Ireland being one poignant occasion before we all got told to stay at home.

Come what may, I was going. Even though the rail strike was off, Avanti Trains are hideously unreliable but I decided to embrace the challenge. 

I was so glad I did.

Seeing friends in the old familiar bonding environment of a Rovers away match in London was special. Meeting their friends, their sons and other friends' sons was an added bonus.

Some things change though - it used to be a bit of a standing joke that wherever the Rovers were playing in London and the south, the London branch would somehow conspire to find the worst possible place to meet. It was the kind of 90s education that gave me a unique insight on life and rough pubs. 

Meeting for artisan pizza and craft ale in a microbrewery in hipster Hackney Wick wouldn't have been part of the old plan. 

I also avoided shabby Avanti and entered London via Reading, Paddington and the spectacular new Elizabeth Line, zooming over to Stratford in no time at all. 

My hopes and expectations of the match were to not get humiliated like we did last time we played the Hammers in a cup competition. I think taking the lead, giving it a right good go, and bringing our Chilean wonderkid on for a late equaliser, then winning on penalties smashed all expectations. It was nail-biting at times seeing them playing out from the back, but truth be told JDT is deadly serious about what he wants the whole squad to do. The project.

I thought there was much about this new ground to be impressed by, but it's nowhere near as good as the new Spurs stadium. The stewarding was terrible. I had a backpack that they didn't even look at, though I offered, and I got a full-body search. It was obviously going to be a smaller crowd, so why not create a bit of space between the away fans and the West Ham schooligans who think Green Street is an instruction manual? Maybe a Rovers fan wouldn't have had his head cut open by a flying object if common sense had been applied. They've got a real problem there, but all we got was blocked entrances, no stewarding of seating and a bit of a shambles.

It was a visit to ground number 77 of the current 92 and the 169th venue I've watched football on.

Tuesday, November 08, 2022

A football weekend in Portgual

We really loved our city break to Porto in July, but probably saw less of the city than we would have done as it was so hot and we discovered a great beach suburb - Foz - just north of the city. 

 One of the highlights though was the FC Porto museum and stadium tour, which whetted our appetites for a return to an actual game. I got the sense that FCP were a bit like Barcelona - more than a club, but a symbol of their city's defiance of capital dominance. So much of the museum exhibits seethed with indignation at age-old injustices, refereeing decisions and scandals. 

And so as we plotted a return it might as well have been Porto v Benfica, O Classico. We paid over the odds for tickets from a risky touts website but it was worth it. All told it was an incredible spectacle if a little more sedate and less aggro than one might have expected. The result (0-1) and the sending-off for the home team reinforced their deep sense of grievance. But Portuguese football is good. There was some great football at times, you can see why they’re both competing so well in the Champions League this season. 

We then fancied looking into another game to make it a weekend of football tourism. We got on a local train to historic Guimares and took a trip to see Vitoria SC v Boavista FC, Porto's other team. If the O Classico was a top Premier League clash of the giants, this was a slightly aggy semi-derby (say, Wigan v Blackburn Rovers) and it even rained incessantly. What a game though. Sending off, a penalty, mistakes aplenty, aggro, pyro and the best possible result in any football match, 3-2. 

These trips also represent the 167th and the 168th stadiums I've watched football on. The Groundhopping adventure continues.

Monday, October 31, 2022

Lunch of the month for October - the Lasandwich from Rack

Lunch of the month for October had slightly richer pickings than September, but I have opted not to include any lunches from Porto, where we really enjoyed ourselves and a full post will follow soon.

I'll cut straight to it, lunch of the month was Rack for the brilliant special of the month  

Lasagne is delicious, grilled cheese sandwiches are delicious… Our Lasandwich is deliciouser! Early indications suggest this is our most popular special yet - Italy are yet to comment.

🇮🇹 🍝 🤌🏼

Monday, October 17, 2022

A brush with Marple wisdom

I did a talk to the Marple and District Probus Club last week.

Formed in 1972, they offer a chance for retired people to meet socially, converse, listen to talks and go on trips to places of interest.

My dear friend Peter Mount is involved and has brought all of his experience and energy to the club. They were short of a speaker for this week's meeting at the Senior Citizens Hall in Marple, and he asked me on Sunday if I would be willing to turn something around in a couple of days. For Peter I always find it hard to say no.

My talk was called My Life in 17 bylines - journalism and politics. The talk went down OK, I think. I spoke for longer than I anticipated, but then my experience is that the conversational interactions pad things out a lot. The best bit however was the question and answer discussion afterwards. Because I touched on my political experiences I came in for a bit of push back and scrutiny. It reminded me a little of being an election candidate on the campaign trail, not least for the fact that we used to have Labour Party events in the same room. 

That said, there were also questions related to journalism - on truth, due impartiality, the dreadful corrosive effect of the Daily Mail on our society and a question about a recent story in the Stockport Express which I have some knowledge of. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I found the people there to be sharp, wise, curious and deeply committed active citzens. 

Sunday, October 09, 2022

Supersung heroes of music - 20 Feet from Stardom

Sitting having lunch in one of the most spectacular of beauty spots overlooking the magnificent city of Porto, northern Portugal I heard a familiar song.

I recognised the bass and the chorus, and thought I knew who it was. Rachel suggested it was Duran Duran. I wasn’t sure. Because the whole song hung together on a powerful female vocal.

And Duran Duran is Simon Le Bon, right? 

It was Duran Duran, of course, and the song was Come Undone from the 2002 Wedding Album. The female voice who belts out the words is Tessa Niles. 

I looked her up online and she has had an amazing career, with very little front of house credit. The list of artists she’s worked alongside is like the history of pop music in the last 40 years. Rolling Stones, Grace Jones, Tina Turner, Tears for Fears. And of course, Duran Duran.

She also performed at Live Aid at Wembley in 1985, where she provided backing vocals for David Bowie (who introduced her as "Theresa" in the prelude to "Heroes").

I remember years ago when I was compering a charity music night in Manchester that I was thanking the band. I mentioned Jo and Charlotte, the backing singers. I was properly bollocked for that by one of the judges, Rowetta from the Happy Mondays, who insisted they are singers. The phrase backing singers really jars with artists.

Ever since I’ve tried to be a bit more respectful and appreciate their contribution to some of the best music you can hear and the range of musicians who play their part in creating the sounds we love. I’m always careful to refer to Rowetta as a singer in the Mondays, an important contributor to the sound and feel of the band.  

But then take the Rolling Stones song Gimme Shelter. The low vocal opening is Mick Jagger at his best. But the doors get blown off with the “just a shot away” and the incredible soaring voice of Merry Clayton, a gospel singer with a voice to truly stop you in your tracks.

She features in a brilliant documentary I’ve been watching called 20 Feet from Stardom, about the lives of the vocalists that many white blokes signed up to support them as rock music took hold in the 60s and 70s. These unheralded, supersung - not unsung heroes - have some amazing stories to tell.

Merry Clayton was pregnant with her hair in curlers when she recorded Gimme Shelter at the Sunset Sound Studios in Hollywood in 1969. She claims she exerted herself so much, and heaved the studio doors that she suffered a miscarriage. Not the only tragedy she’s endured in her life. She says on the film: “We lost a little girl. It took me years and years and years to get over that. You had all this success with Gimme Shelter and you had the heartbreak with this song. It left a dark taste in my mouth. It was a rough, rough time.”

So this weekend, I’ve dug out a show stopping utterly awesome version she recorded of Gimme Shelter, without the Stones, and it is truly brilliant. I look forward to sharing it with you this weekend. And a great track from Charlotte Day, a local vocalist I worked with many years ago.  

The Devil Wears Ciro Citterio

The foundation of my love of music was the media that provided the running commentary on the styles, scenes and sounds I grew up with.

Without the New Musical Express, The Face and i-D music would still be good, but it would exist in isolation, without context and without colour.

It was also the rock on which my love of magazines, writing and journalism was built. 

Last weekend I ripped through Ted Kessler’s brilliantly titled book Paper Cuts - How I Destroyed the British Music Press and Other Adventures. This is a longer version of the punchy review I did for the local papers.

The last ever editor of Q Magazine when the music monthly closed at the start of lockdown in 2020, Kessler shares the potent mix of his remarkable life story, interwoven with a rich commentary about the decline of the music press.

The other eye I had on this tale was my own early career choices. I often think about this world as a parallel universe down another fork on my life’s road. I started out writing about music, fashion, films and clubs but took that different path in my early twenties. Many other young journalists probably also compromised on their ambitions, but I do count myself lucky to have landed in an exciting sector. I made my home through the 1990s reporting on the television business and its technology, rather than music, stars and showbiz, later moving to Manchester to edit Insider, the best business magazine in the land. One of the reflections I used to share with journalism students at UCLAN was the access I had to real decision makers and headline makers was so much greater in the business press than I suspect it was in consumer media.

Although I’d interviewed some high-profile celebs in that phase (Ben Elton and the rapper Tone-Loc were favourites, various long-forgotten Australian pop stars, not so much), some of the PR-guided set pieces were excruciating and over-controlled. You really felt you were in their pocket and constantly on parole for good behaviour. Ironically, my best-ever scoop was about the revival of Countdown Revolution, a much-loved TV music show.

As I mentioned in this piece a couple of months ago, I have at times lamented that early choice. But deep down I probably always knew the money wasn’t good enough and the precarious nature of jobbing journalism for cool papers and mags was more than I could bear. Certainly, both Ted Kessler and Miranda Sawyer have confirmed their own financial precarity was a trade-off for an interesting life. 

Journalism is a hustle. You have to constantly negotiate access to a much sought-after interview, or work out the trade-offs required to stay in the game. The business press was a different kind of dance, but there were games to play and the advertisers had more power; too much if you weren’t vigilant. 

To be any good at journalism, in any field, you need courage, access and a genuine love for what you are writing about, if you don't then you are dead, because the gatekeepers have an antenna for it. Writing talent, as Ted Kessler describes, particularly for a high-output media like a weekly paper, isn’t as important. You just have to be able to knock out the copy sometimes.

I enjoyed Ted’s accounts of his own on-the-job learning, well remembering the brutal dressing-downs I had through my early career. I didn’t use words wisely, I was way too slow, and it took a while to balance the relationships that could taint a fair and accurate view of our world.

His tales of press trips and moments of genuine wonder are beautifully told, John Harris and him at an early Oasis gig, the energy of the Happy Mondays, but there was always a tension. These people weren't your friends and could snap in an instant. Maybe it’s also because the stakes were so high and the negative consequences so catastrophic. When he spends time with Radiohead and the editor ditches it as a cover story, relegating it to a chippy inside spread with poorly chosen photos, it triggers a grudge that lasts for a decade.

He gives Paul Weller’s Stanley Road album 6/10 in the NME and Weller invites him down to Surrey for a straightener in the car park of his studio.

I don’t ever remember being offered out by a grumpy TV facilities boss, but I upset plenty of people over the years. Sometimes it was my own fault. I can think of the press officers at major corporations, who were also our advertisers, who thought I was an idiot. I then decided I would go out of my way to deliberately annoy them by doing stories so offensive, so detrimental to their reputation, and so egregiously hostile, that they threatened to withdraw all advertising from my publication, and its sister titles, which were hanging by a knife edge anyway. It was high stakes but boosted my credibility and their requirement to take me seriously. And I was right, by the way, the story I worked hard to get published about them was true. And rather a troublesome idiot than a lickspittle, of which there were plenty elsewhere.

But as I matured I knew better and learned how to earn the right, to play the long game. If you’ve got a good reputation, if you do the work, serve the readers good stories, and try to be different, then your respect yields better stories. In later years, while working on a different magazine, that same advertiser flew me to Rome to interview the head of the Vatican’s TV station, and also to the World Cup in France 98. Though to prove where I stood in the pecking order it was only Bulgaria v Nigeria.

For an industry that holds its annual trade exhibitions in Las Vegas and Amsterdam, I enjoyed those years and had a good innings hanging around things I never fully understood, finding the personalities, spotting trends, and separating good new products from dross.

I was asked recently what my favourite ever story pitch was. It’s easy: “Hi Roger from Quantel here, how would you like to come to the Cannes Film Festival on our private jet?” That was a big deal. Competitors upped their game after that. Spending time with smart people brings insights, insights bring readers, readers bring credibility, and credibility gives you the freedom to be brave. Plus, though I knew Cannes was incredible from trips to the MIPCOM and MIPTV markets, the film festival was next-level insanity and glamour.  

But I think the real reason I really enjoyed Ted Kessler's Paper Cuts was that it was also about the decline of publishing, the collapse of the magazine industry as we knew it, and the self-inflicted wounds that legions of halfwitted publishers administered in the name of brand strategy, diversification and efficiencies. I went through many of the same kind of corporate bollocks that Ted Kessler outlines; strategy days, meetings about meetings, overreacting to anecdotal evidence in reader surveys and off-the-cuff comments from people making an excuse not to advertise. I've lost count of the pointless memos, botched redesigns, paranoia, new managers with the latest bright idea and the sharpening of knives by young bucks on the rise. There was also a clash of priorities between advertising, editorial and corporate merger strategy.

Ted Kessler’s characters, some tragic, leap off the page. Maybe he was blessed with big names and personalities, but for his Steven Wells (RIP), we had Oscar Moore (also, RIP). Yet it remains true that no one has yet written a savage portrait of working in the business press in the way Kessler does about his world, or Laura Weisberger's novel about Vogue, The Devil Wears Prada. I just don't think my magnum opus (The Devil Wears Ciro Citterio) would be quite the rip-roaring page-turner. 

The irony is not lost on me, by the way, that other hardy veterans may have well interpreted my own enthusiasm for events, video and podcasts as equally vomit-inducing careerism and therefore evidence of my own blatant hypocrisy. In a later career incarnation, I sat on the board, advocated change, and embraced the internet. As one of my American journalist friends said, "oh my God, you've become 'they'."

But you only have to look at the absolute bin fire that is the local newspaper industry to know what happens when you get the big calls wrong, promote the wrong people and fall asleep at the wheel. 

But for all of that I have never stopped being a journalist, and a supporter of journalism, and loving the company of journalists, not just because of stories from back in the day, but because of all the stories they tell so well. 

Paper Cuts is stuffed full of hilarious stories of wild encounters that us journalists love retelling. Trips to Cuba with Manic Street Preachers to meet Fidel Castro and dinner with Florence (but not her Machine) at the height of her success, a fair few involving Manchester music legends, Shaun Ryder, the Gallaghers and then there’s Mark E Smith of The Fall asking about the name Kessler: ‘Jew, Or Nazi?’ A story Ted Kessler’s dad bizarrely recounted with morbid glee.

But for all its depictions of a downfall of an industry, and the sad story of his Mum’s passing, the book also ends on an optimistic note. Kessler’s own Substack newsletter The New Cue fizzes with the same energy for new music and a rich heritage. It may not reach the heights of NME in the 80s, but it’s a platform for writing that matters. I hope they get the access they deserve in a world where social media gives artists the ability to totally control their brand and message, but often leaves too little a crack for the light to get in.

Friday, October 07, 2022

Lunch of the month for September - a quieter month


I scanned back through my September photos and Instagram posts and only found two lunches that genuinely qualify for the lunch of the month job. 

The best one was this. Viet Shack in Ancoats. I had steak on rice, it was so tender, fresh salad, fluffy rice, and an incredible cauliflower starter. 

The other ingredient that makes these occasions so special is the company. Thanks to Michael Stephenson for standing this one, my shout next time. I always enjoy our catch ups.

The other place is great too. I'll revisit another time, but I made the wrong menu choice. 

Saturday, September 03, 2022

Lunch of the month for August

Looking back August was another good month for lunches in Manchester and Stockport, but I probably need to experiment a bit more, given those featured include at least two previous winners, Bundobust and the Pack Horse at Hayfield.

Starting from the top left we have one of Stockport's absolute gems, Kambuja in the Produce Hall. I took my old MMU mucker Michael Stephenson for a good old catch up and he was suitably impressed. A few days later I returned for the Kambuja Fried Chicken experience with my son Matt who knows his chickens.

Top centre is the renamed burrito joint on Manchester's Oxford Street, Listo Burrito, which my eldest lad Joe and I enjoyed after we moved him into his new flat on Whitworth Street. The portion sizes for burritos seem to be smaller than they used to be, but the quality is still very high. 

Top right is a full English breakfast from Marple's Red Pepper. I get why people like top Marple cafe and deli All Things Nice, and it is the place to be seen for every local face, young or old. Still, Red Pepper is routinely, pretentiously and politely smashing it out of the park for those of us who can't be arsed to wait for an outside table and have a dog to entertain. 

Middle left is the Shrub Club in New Mills where Neil and I were entertained by the arch storyteller Dave Nolan. I thoroughly enjoyed my vegan (not) chicken burger and a pot of chips. We also spent generously in the cheese shop next door.

Dead centre is Stockport's best sandwich shop, Rack. This time a bit of Stockport political gossiping created the appetite for a Korean pork bun, tasty, innovative and very messy. Perfect.

The Manchester Egg at the Pack Horse and a tin of chips with their homemade ketchup, robbed off another table, was probably the most enjoyed and devoured meal of the month because it was at the end of a 42km walk and I was absolutely delirious. A previous winner and a triumph on the day. 

Then, the bottom row reveals two visits in short succession to Bundobust on Manchester's bustling Oxford Street. Also known as the GM Combined Authority canteen, it is a popular drop-in for local politicos working across the road. The best of the two was the Indo-Chinese sharing menu where the cauliflower 'prawn' toast I had on my first devolutionary dalliance was stunningly good, but again, I didn't hesitate to agree to being taken again there a few days later by another GM mover where a lentil dahl and the obligatory okra fries hit the spot.

But there can only be one winner in a very stong field this month and so it gives me the greatest of pleasure to declare that lunch of the month for August 2022 was ... Kambuja in the Stockport Produce Hall.

Monday, August 22, 2022

Pain is temporary, victory is forever, planning is everything

What's the phrase? Fail to prepare, prepare to fail. No, I don’t fail, not on Freshwalks, or on outdoor adventures. I just don’t. I don’t bring up the rear either with the walk leader giving me the option of dropping out and taking the road. Some people get injured, I get that. Just not me.

I did the walk. I don't quite know how, I'm just beating myself up about how hard it was and how close I came to quitting.

I’m so tired now, 24 hours after coming down into Hayfield, that I can’t easily remember the last time I did a 20km walk. April, maybe? A couple of magical evening strolls up Kinder and Bleaklow over the summer. Either way, it's poor preparation for 42km.

We were late signing up for the Seven Trigs Challenge, which Freshwalks organised with Tink Adventures in support of the Peak District National Park Foundation and all week I was worried it was a stretch too far. Then the warnings came through. Checking we were up for it, up to it, and then the dropouts due to swollen knees, etc.

I desperately wanted this feeling, the one I had as I inhaled a Manchester Egg (thanks Alex) at the incredible Pack Horse at Hayfield. The aftermath, the sense of achievement and togetherness. That's what I needed, that's what sustained me. Think of the glory, think of the delirium, even. But I'm going to be dead honest with myself. I failed to prepare for the pain that was to come.

Here's how it went down. We started in Hayfield and the climb up William Clough towards the top of Kinder Scout to the first trig point of the day (1) at 624m was a breeze. In warmer weather I slow down on that steep climb, but we passed Kinder Downfall en-route to (2) Kinder Low at 633m. Heading along the southern edges of Kinder, passing the tops of Crowden and Grindsbrook Clough, before a slight diversion off our usual beaten track to find the (3) third trig point on Kinder Scout at 590m. The route was a descent off Kinder via Crookstone Knoll, heading for Hope Cross where the old Roman Road takes you to the top of (4) Win Hill at 462m. Thereafter, the drop into the Hope Valley with a water stop under the railway bridge set us up to begin the climb of (5) Lose Hill, 476m. That's when I first felt a need to take the pressure off my feet. 

The two hardest bits both involved foot aches. That steep ascent up Lose Hill was tough, but though it put a painful strain on my shins and knees, my hips kept working, and I didn’t want for the energy. Every bit of my 56 year old frame did OK, but my feet were hot and I started to feel every bump and stubble. Attempts to engage me in conversation from friendly fellow walkers were met only with grunts, of which I'm so sorry. 

I changed socks at Win Hill summit, enjoyed the breather, and slapped on some peppermint foot lotion. I was OK along the delightful ridge walk to (6) Mam Tor, where we took another breather in the presence of the full Edale Mountain Rescue team and I was pointedly asked if I wanted to bail out while changing my socks again. If anything that just made me more determined than ever to keep going. 

Rushup Edge was fine - where I must applaud the new stiles and fences - and I actually felt quite bouncy again passing Lord’s Seat up along the flagged path to the final summit of the day on (7) Brown Knoll, 569m (pictured above). That section was just grim though. Every bone and tendon in my feet seemed to hurt, pressing up into my ankles and shins. It wasn't sharp pain, just uncomfortable, and hard going. It turns out I have two blisters, but they weren't giving me any grief, maybe because I just didn't know they were there and I couldn't think about them.

Even though I knew the finishing line was soon in sight as we started to drop down into Hayfield, the absolute worst bit was the steep pebble path down from Edale Cross before the last gentle stretch of the final straight on an actual road. I felt unstable underfoot and stubbed my toes half a dozen times, making sore feet worse. I think it must have been the tiredness too, not lifting my feet enough to avoid catching any protruding rock. Thinking on, I've done this route at dusk and unpleasant as it is having the ground move beneath you occasionally, I didn't do it in such pain.

So was that the fatigue and dehydration that I could have avoided?  I was OK on food and water, a nuut protein shake gave me the energy for the day ahead, and I nibbled little and often. Bread can tend to sit heavily on me so I was pleased to have calculated against taking sandwiches this time. Maybe a pasta salad with chicken would have given me superpowers, but tired as I was my engine never really gave up on me.

Gear-wise, I really have been blessed since I discovered Haglofs. The L.I.M. range in particular has given me high-quality technical layers with no chaffing and excellent temperature control in all conditions, even with a small self-inflicted rip on my shorts. When the wind gets up my hands can get numb, so I wisely packed a pair of thin gloves.

No, it was my feet. The Scarpa Ranger boots have served me well, never a blister or a leak in two years. Dry as a bone in the wettest of conditions. Definitely the best walking boots I’ve ever had. So the only reason I was feeling every pebble was that my feet were out of practice and my socks had made them worse.

That's the mission. I need to up my sock game. Thick wool walking socks made my feet too hot, which meant as good as they are the sweat reduced the protection and padding. I've been recommended Bridgedale midweight merino wool comfort boots socks. 

There will always be another walk. I will prepare better for the next one. I don't intend to hang up these boots, or put these feet up for a long time. 

Please support the Peak District National Park Foundation and the amazing work they do.

Tuesday, August 02, 2022

Lunch of the month for July - a well travelled month

This is one of the hardest picks yet. Having been on a bit of a gastro break in Porto, the playing field isn't exactly level, so I'm going to exclude the dinners and just show a few pictures from snack lunches in the city, or at the beach.

Clockwise from the top left we have octopus and potatoes, simple backstreet Porto food, a chicken sandwich from a market stall at the south side of the Ponte de Sao Joao bridge and a juicy burger from the beach bar at the oceanside lido at Leca de Palmeiras.

Next row, left to right is some astonishingly gorgeous Kampuchean Fried Chicken from Kambuja at Stockport Produce Hall, just enough to scratch the itch and not send me into a coma for the afternoon. Next was the spiciest of them all, a firey Sri Lankan fish kottu at the Blue Dot Festival, and a lamb shwarma from the Edgeley branch of the Levenshulme Bakery. Oh my. 

On the bottom row, left to right, starts with a mixed shwarma from the Antalya Shwarma in Hyde, which like Edgeley's finest kebab, is raising the bar for district kebab action. Next was a delightful roast lamb lunch I had at a country house in Sussex that I'm not really meant to talk about. 

And finally. Last and not least, but best. The Samosa Chaat from Ambala sweet centre on Euston's Drummond Street. I worried HS2 would knock it down, or damage trade, but it hasn't. Lovingly made, terribly photographed, but my lunch of the month for July. Sorry it's not a Manchester winner, all of these were all awesome in their own way, but this was the best.

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Bollocks to Brexit

Since this country narrowly voted to leave the European Union in 2016 I’ve felt more European, not less.

It’s reflected in the songs we play on the radio: French disco, Belgian techno, Krautrock and Italian house music. All of it. In fact, I think it’s one of the things that helped cement Neil and I’s friendship. This is a man who proudly states that the best thing anyone ever said about him was that he was “the most European person I know”.

Neil speaks French and has lived over there. He has aspirations to move to Italy, his kids have Italian names and he works for the uber-cool Swedish outdoor clothing brand, Haglofs.

For my part, I don’t speak any other languages but have consistently hoovered up the European ideal that this country has turned its back on.

Since 2016 I’ve had city breaks right across our continent. A train trek from London to Copenhagen via Brussels and Cologne. A twin city jaunt to Helsinki and Tallinn, where I seriously explored the possibility of taking out Estonian digital citizenship.

In Berlin, I purchased a notebook with the cover of the DDR passport on it - commie East Germany - which didn’t go down too well when I whipped it out of the wrong pocket at passport control.

Going a step further, my wife Rachel is going to take out the full analogue citizenship for Ireland the nation of her parent's birth - which might make queuing at certain airports relatively easier, among other benefits.  

I devour this outrageously trendy magazine called Monocle, which features cities all over the world and frequently rates them for their liveability and as a destination for a city break.

Taking their advice - and that of other Europhile friends - last week me and Rachel went to what I think was our favourite European city break yet - Porto, Portugal’s second city, famed for its wine and port. 

Last year Monocle rated Porto as the number one ‘small city’ to live, to start a business and to visit. It was superb, not too expensive, full of character, multicultural and safe. It has beaches, Fado music, an accessible modern airport, loads of Brazilians, and a really cool football team that have won as many European Cups as Nottingham Forest and two more than Manchester City.

It hurts me that this comfortable relationship with Europe has gone. I know there will be a Brexit supporter who will point out that the vote was to leave the European Union, not Europe, but that’s not how it’s played out culturally has it?

I don’t remember that on the side of a bus, just digs at foreigners, or the lies on posters about millions of Turks flooding over the border and controlling immigration. So actually I struggle to see what it is that Brexit has achieved. I remember asking people which law they were most looking forward to not having to obey. Now I ask, what’s been so ace about Brexit? The answer never comes. 

It also never comes in the tawdry clashes for the Tory leadership. Not one of the political minnows trying to succeed the worst Prime Minister this country has ever had mentioned the benefits of the Brexit they "got done" after the election platform they all were elected on.

As a country we haven’t soared, we have shrunk. In status, in pride and in our economic fortunes.

We cried as we left, because Porto was just so lovely. I cried too an hour after we touched down at Manchester Airport. Weary from the huge queue through passport control, tired from a delayed flight, unable to get out of a messy, badly designed, poorly served airport full of mean regulations. As proud as I am of our immense city, our Airport is an utterly shameful gateway, but maybe it’s a fitting monument to failing Brexit Britain.