Monday, July 21, 2014

What have we been reduced to? Gaza, Ukraine and Twitter banter

I watch the news every day. My faith, my values, what I cherish above all else, is the sanctity of human life above all political squabbles. 

It distresses to see humanity stripped from much discourse about Gaza. "They" did this, so "we" can do this. 

What particularly upsets me is tit for tat 'yebbut' posturing telling me what I am not allowed to condemn, or pity, or mourn. Like some guy Hillel Neuer in a quote recently listing every current atrocity and challenging anyone to somehow associate any shred of condemnation of Gaza with them all, thus laying down the charge that to fail to do so is actually "anti-Israel". Then some pillock on a demo has a banner likening Israel to Hitler, which a stream of other twits claim is enough to render the entire march as wrong. Or those who think not enough Israelis have died to justify military action. It's all messed up.

It's all been reduced to banter on Twitter. Suarez, Gaza, the Golf, Ukraine, Michael Gove. Instant opinions and powerless passive aggressive nonsense.

It's wrong to kill on such a scale. Wrong to lob rockets indiscriminately, wrong to kidnap school girls in Nigeria, to blow airliners out of the sky above Ukraine. This should never become a zero sum battle of moral equivalence, that the scoring of points on social media is the ultimate forum - the goal, the triumph. Of course it isn't, but it feels like it's getting that way.

Where in our twisted humanity did we lose the capacity to be able to call something for what it is without the Pavlovian response of "yebbut what about what they did?"

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Music Review - Nicky Campbell and Kate Robbins - We're Just Passing Through


We're not unfamiliar with Nicky Campbell's voice in our house. It used to be the first one we heard in the morning, but we get up before he starts his Breakfast show on BBC Radio Five Live these days. We're not immune to his talents and the cadence of his voice and his vocabulary.

So his foray into music isn't a surprise - but the delights of his work with Kate Robbins are. Why do I say that?

For a start I don't really like smokey bar room jazz - not my thing - but it's what Kate does very well. She did the Crying Game song which dominated that movie. But for those of us prepared to like a bit of everything, to dip into something new and to make our world just that little bit bigger, there's so much to luxuriate in here. It's a lovely blend of styles, clever use of instruments and for fans of Nicky a cute turn of phrase at every turn.

Musically, I like Nicky's vocals on Tell My Heart (video above), a tender and uplifting song with probably an unconscious nod to another current favourite of mine, David Ford.

But I think my favourite track is Let's Just See How It Goes - redolent of Paul Heaton and The Beautiful South with lots of quirky references to pepper a doubled headed love song, managing to rhyme Machiavelli and Delhi Belly as it does so.

So yes, something to savour this summer, the soundtrack of our afternoon in the garden, as well as the morning chorus.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Today is St Swithin's Day - something special in memory of Julie

In April 1992 one of our dearest friends Julie Stott was killed on holiday in New Orleans. It's something we think about all the time, occasionally talk about, but we haven't done anything to honour our memory of her. Today we're putting that right. 

A group of friends of Julie who all graduated in the late 1980's have launched a series of university scholarships in her memory.

Julie was just 27 when she suffered fatal injuries after being shot during a botched robbery while walking through the French Quarter of New Orleans.

Julie, from Middleton, had graduated from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology (UMIST), now part of The University of Manchester, in 1986, gaining a degree in Textile Design and was well on her way in life with a successful career.

We're launching the scholarships today - St Swithin’s Day (July 15) the date that was the special day in the David Nichols' book and film One Day, and a day many students will be graduating today. We are now raising money to support students from Greater Manchester to attend The University of Manchester as a tribute to Julie’s memory.

Debbie Hill, one of the founders of the scholarships and Julie’s best friend, said: "Julie had a sparkling career ahead of her in the world of fashion and textiles until she was cruelly taken from us at such a young age.

"As a group of friends still bound by our friendship with this wonderful girl, we wanted to do something to mark her life and to offer the same opportunity we enjoyed to young people from Greater Manchester.

“We have been touched by the support we’ve had from friends who have pledged support for the scholarships from all over the world and from different walks of life.”

One high profile supporter among our group of friends is actor Shobna Gulati. She said: "I am delighted to support this scholarship in Julie's memory. We were at university at the same time, a great time, and we would like to support other students from Greater Manchester to give them the opportunity we had.”

The Julie Stott Scholarships, set up in partnership with the University’s Manchester Access Programme and Undergraduate Access Scholarships scheme, will be awarded to gifted young people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds that might not have the opportunity to attend university without financial support.

If you would like to make a donation toward the Julie Stott Scholarships, visit: Your Manchester Online: The Julie Stott Scholarships.

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.