Thursday, November 30, 2006

You are what you hear

On Monday I noted that Amazon were predicting what I may buy. Now iTunes is doing it to me as well. In a fit of nostalgia for 1970s punky politico agit pop I downloaded a selection of tracks from the Tom Robinson Band. One of them was, er, Glad to be Gay. I now get suggestions that I may want to buy some Jimmy Summerville, Dusty Springfield and Erasure.

Monday, November 27, 2006

You are what you read

I get regular emails from Amazon, which I do genuinely like. Trouble is, they send me recommendations based on things I've bought before (sometimes as presents).

Top of the list is a book by a football hooligan from Glasgow Rangers, followed by a DVD Something the Lord Made, starring Alan Rickman and some cuttings job about Paul Weller. Anyway, see the full list below. I have no intention of buying any of these:

Rangers I.C.F.
Something The Lord Made [2004]
Spin Doctor's Diary
Death Warrant: Kenneth Noye, the Brink's-Mat Robbery And The Gold
Crusader's Cross
Celtic Soccer Crew
Highway Companion
Shout to the Top: The "Jam" and Paul Weller

This is clearly a ploy by Amazon to make me so self conscious that I will buy some more cookbooks from them, instead of from Borders or the Marple Bookshop. And to redress the balance of dross I will then buy Terry Eagleton's collected essays, the new Christopher Hitchens book on Tom Paine and a Merchant Ivory DVD boxed set.

The Queen, Duke of Lancaster

Today is Lancashire Day. A celebration of God's own English county.

I could put a load of tributes up here about our heritage, etc. But I'll leave that to the Friends of Real Lancashire to explain, here.

There's also a nice piece in the Liverpool Daily Post today, which you can link to here.

We'll be toasting at 9pm tonight.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Martin Georgiev

Who he? You might well ask. He's the Bulgarian who was attacked with a paving slab by so-called Liverpool fans before the European Cup Final last year.

He hasn't had such a great time of it lately. Does anyone know where you can make a donation to him, or to his family? No, thought not.

Ten thoughts on... magazines

I work in the world of magazines and have always absorbed the look and feel of the glossy printed word. More enduring than a newspaper and more lovingly produced, they reflect such a vibrant world and aim squarely at a reader's prime passion.

At various stages of my life there has been a magazine that has defined and shaped my world. Times move on, I change, the title changes, the world changes. My passion for magazines never does. This list even has some terrible ommissions. But as with so many other things, this is my truth, tell me yours...

Shoot - Mid to late 1970s - There was NEVER anything about Blackburn Rovers, but I was utterly absorbed by Shoot, pre-match meals, Kevin Keegan's column, Focus On... is still a great device in a profile.

Just Seventeen - My younger sister used to get this, but I read it cover to cover. Great celeb interviews, problem pages, crosswords and a busy layout on the early pages. My excuse is I went to an all boys school so this helped me to understand women. Yeah, right.

NME - For me it had two genuinely golden eras, 1984 and 1989. The first was all about music after the arse had fallen out of my world when The Jam split up: Smiths, U2 and Billy Bragg. The second was how pop met dance music. Electric stuff. Stuart Maconie, we salute you (still).

Off the Ball - I believed in this pioneering football fanzine so much I used to sell it around the campus at Manchester University. It was funny, punchy and more than anything else it was about football when the game was at its lowest ebb. I think it had the edge over When Saturday Comes at the time, but the guys behind it had other fish to fry. Always brings a smile to my face when I hear Adrian Goldberg on the radio. Top chap.

Arena - When Arena launched in 1986 we were students who dressed like Italian football hooligans, but we were growing up as well and realising that the big wide world was waiting. Cover stars were blokes too. It's launch formed the basis for my final year dissertation which missed getting a first because my approach was "journalistic". Thanks for the career tip. It's absolute rubbish now. Never buy it.

Mondo 2000 - An obscure American technology magazine that was way ahead of its time. In 1989 it contained some awesome writing about media, technology and popular culture. Wired, which followed, was tired in comparison. A mention of it in a job interview got me a job and kept me excited about writing on technology for ten years.

90 Minutes - The post-fanzine football magazine written by cheery music journalists in their 20s. Brilliant and irreverant, but good with the news too. From 1993 to 1995 Rovers featured rather a lot. Since folded.

Loaded - Never has a magazine captured the zeitgeist like the first two years of Loaded under James Brown, Tim Southwell and Martin Deeson. You felt like you were part of the gang that were having the best time of their lives. It's absolute rubbish now. Never buy it.

Brill's Content - Another obscure American title that rekindled my faith in journalism and debates about accuracy and fairness. Terrific design, great paper stock, non-standard size, powerful interviews. Since folded.

Private Eye - I have never missed an issue in 17 years. Absolutely love it and look forward to it every fortnight. Schoolboy humour, dense investigative journalism, vicious satire. Superb.

Rubbish snacks - takes one to know one


Holland's Pies are assaulting us with some kind of marketing blitz at the moment.

"We're pie-jacking rubbish snacks - Grab some proper food," they say.

This was what greeted me at Piccadilly station this morning (trains all running well, thanks).
Oh dear.

Holland's are to pies what McDonalds are to fillet steak. They have a following amongst sentimental Lancastrians who think it earns them some homespun street cred. They even suggest you eat one cold. Noooooooo! And I really don't like the fact they're now at the Rovers, either.

But sit down with a Levers' meat and potato, or a Fraser's meat, a Satterthwaites pork, an Archers steak, or a Grenaby farm potato pie and do a taste challenge with some of Hollands salty mush. There's your answer.
Rubbish snacks? - that's you that is.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Man Who Made Accidents Happen

In the not too distant past Insider magazine has earned some points of distinction covering the rise and fall of The Accident Group (TAG), a Manchester-based company that would process trips and slips. It went into administration on 30 May 2003, but was the market leader in the ‘after the event’ insurance business, providing legal expense insurance services to individuals who had suffered a personal injury and who wished to recover damaged from a third party.

The BBC did an excellent documentary on the subject called The Man Who Made Accidents Happen about Mark Langford, the controversial founder of the business.

The directors of TAG had made a lot of money in the past and liquidators have since sought to find out the cause of the collapse of the business with a view to asset recovery.

A court in Jersey will this week rule on the distribution of assets in an offshore trust earmarked for millionaire co-founder Mark Langford and his wife Debbie. Begbies Traynor, one of the firm's liquidators, has been delving deeper into the mysterious offshore trust, which was frozen in June 2004 after Langford attempted to sack the trustee and move cash to a company on the Isle of Man.

Insider Weekly, our email business news service, has this week reported that the Langford's house in Congleton has been put on the market for £3.75 million.

One day, when people are willing to talk without fear of perverting the course of justice, I'd like to write a book on this whole episode and some of the characters thrown up by this whole pantomime. Whether anyone would buy it is another matter, but it's a salutory tale for our times.

No surrender to the SRA

I've been contacted by other Marple commuters who share my concern about the poor service from Rose Hill station. It's been a write off four mornings out of four this week. I must admit I took the train from Marple station this morning. I've been in touch with Passenger Focus who are a consumer rights organisation for rail users. There may well have been a campaign on this issue before, when the threat came from the Strategic Rail Authority.

4000 fans from Blackburn, Lancashire

Once again I'm not following Blackburn Rovers in Europe, I regret to say. Tonight's match against Feyenoord in Rotterdam may see us through, but it will be tough. Key men will be Savage and Tugay again.

The occasion may also see Rovers with their biggest ever away following in Europe, beating the 3,500 we took to Celtic Park in 2002. The question is with so many of the chaps camping in Amsterdam last night, what will so many stoned Lancastrians look like? And what will they sing? No Nay Whenever, perhaps?

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Farewell my sweet northern Rose Hill?


I am worried I may no longer be able to rely on the train service from Rose Hill to Manchester Piccadilly (pictured above). This morning's 08:13 train was cancelled, which left me no other option but to drive to work. I'm cross about this, though not as cross as I would have been if I'd walked to the station.
This is also compounded because the Marple train yesterday was dreadfully late because of overcrowding, which then sparked a revolt at Romiley when passengers refused to get off the train.
Northern Rail do have a website which is now reporting no problems on the Rose Hill line. GMPTE also have a service where you ring 0161 228 0322, then key in 2873 for information about trains from Rose Hill, or 2830 for Marple. I'm going to test this tomorrow and let you know if it's working properly.
My major worry is that passengers will get out of the habit of using the service because it is so unreliable. The operator will then decide it's not worth running and shut Rose Hill altogether. This gloomy conspiracy theory is not an uncommon topic of conversation amongst commuters and I'm not minded to let this lie.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Sensible discussions about Islam

Something I'm quite interested in here. Not exactly standard Marple Leaf fare, but Oliver Kamm writes explosively about the links between self-appointed "leaders" of the UK's muslims and cryto-fascists who peddle falsehoods about the holocaust.

I was delighted to hear on Radio Five Live this morning a mature and honest discussion about Islam from some reasonable people. The idea to do a week of programmes like this followed an email from Altrincham dentist Khalid Anis who wrote to the BBC to express his horror that nutters were being given airtime. More of this please.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Blogging and Journalism

The wonderful thing about this land of blog is the passing on of ideas and the sharing of opinion. The links I've provided to the other blogs aren't here because I've joined a clique, far from it, they're the blogs I visit from time to time and come from people with whom I share interests. I still haven't found a Blackburn Rovers blogger, anyone out there?

On the downside, I do think many blogs are full of self regarding, irrelevant nonsense. A gobshites paradise. I've heard some crap about how blogging will sweep away journalism. But someone has to sharpen a pencil, ask questions and know where to look for facts and opinions that aren't obvious or apparent.

I got into all of this because I want to see where it's all going from the inside; how people relate to what goes on here and why they come to the site. I'm a journalist and have made a living all of my working life from selling the words I write and the way in which they are presented. I value and respect good journalism above all else. It is such a powerful force for good and it is so important to a healthy functioning community. Be that a local community, within a business community. Blogging, I reckoned, was of a different order.

I didn't think, for instance, that tapping out a few opinions on my laptop at the weekend would in any way have an impact like some of the journalism we produce. Yet my comments about the new bridge from Piccadilly to our part of town have resulted in it being closed down until the scaffolding has been taken down and the pathway completed. It was one of those stories that as a journalist you literally stumble across from time to time and wonder why no-one else has noticed. The blog gives me the ability to talk instantly about the subject. My monthly magazine gives me the chance to debate the issue and present the balanced picture. That's a luxury many others don't have, but it's starting to help me understand how the existing media can subtly embrace blogging.

It's also drawn attention to two local stories in the last week that contained a mixture of good old fashioned digging and community campaigning, with some strident opinionating. Hat tip therefore to the following:

Manchizzle for drawing attention to the Salford Star and its sterling work on the Lowry Centre and Urban Splash and for some harsh words about the dreadful Moving Manchester magazine.
The Manchester City Supporters Trust, who followed up our exclusive on their imminent launch, and fair play to Chris Bailey at the Manchester Evening News for following it up in such a fair, detailed and honest way.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Ten thoughts on... Lunch in Manchester city centre

Seeing as I've been given Paddington Bear stares from people for telling the truth about Manchester, here are ten thoughts on eating lunch in Manchester city centre.

Best place for a rubber necking business lunch: Piccolino (ooh, look who he's with)

Best dish: Steak and Kidney pudding, Sam's Chop House (still never finished one)

Best Chinese: Yang Sing (don't believe the snipes)

Best Italian: Harpers (simplicity is best)

Best chippy: Portland Plaice (more tea, vicar)

Best fast casual: Barburrito (sooo tasty)

Best place to take five hungry kids: Wagamama

Really good sandwiches: There isn't anything better than Pret, but you feel there should be

Best Northern Quarter curry: Kabana (grilled lamb chops)

Best private dining in a hotel: The Lowry (nobody does it better)

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

What’s so great about local democracy?

I saw my local councillor the other day. She’s a very pleasant and committed person who chooses to give up her time for the good people of Marple.

Faced with an opportunity to articulate to a local politician the issue of whether Greater Manchester should have a mayoral figure, like Ken Livingstone in London, I did not. Instead I chose to vent my spleen about a parade of drunks that spill out of a local night club.

That I did is indicative of a wider crisis in politics and local government in the regions of England.

At its best local politicians keep an eye on whether the officials do the small stuff well; such as whether there is somewhere to take your recycling and that the bins get collected on time.

At its worst they get in the way of progress and sensible economic decision making. They have no real say over education, health, transport or policing. That is dictated by national policy.

I have come to this decision reluctantly, but believe it with all the zeal of a new convert. Local government, as it is constructed, should be scrapped entirely. It would free up local councillors to be proper local champions who rattle cages and name and shame the incompetent.

The lives of the people of every borough in the North West can be improved by the confidence of businesses to invest in them and for more people to visit them. It’s that simple. Everything else is meddling.

Example: Having been mugged by Tesco into building a store bigger than the one they had planning permission for, Stockport Borough Council had an application to attract Ikea to a neighbouring site turned down. They should never have even been entertaining the idea. It has ended up four miles up the M60 in Ashton, part of neighbouring Tameside, on a vacant site with better access. Good.

Another example: Following the letter of the planning system led officials in Sefton to decline planning permission to the Gormley statues, Another Place. This is meant to be a borough that is part of the Capital of Culture 2008. The decision has been stalled as the sensible politicians, under the weight of a public campaign, to try and find a way to override the concerns of illegal poachers and moronic tourists. Good.

Some people in Liverpool think their city needs an elected mayor to catch up with the pace of change in rival cities like Manchester and Newcastle. No it doesn’t. Manchester is one of the most undemocratic cities in the country. It is ruled effectively and marketed attractively in the manner of a one party fiefdom. And that is the secret of its success. The politicians know when to shut up and get out of the way.

(As featured in the November issue of

Monday, November 13, 2006

Spooked

Wow. And so Spooks ends another blistering series.

The safety of the capital city is threatened by the maverick actions of a deranged and confused lunatic. Yep, Adam finally lost the plot in the middle of a sensitive operation.

Clever last plot leaves me gagging for more.

But hold an a mo: the deputy PM couldn't act and the special effects waves at the end were rubbish.

How long before the boxed set comes out?

A bridge too far


It appears that the bridge from Piccadilly station to our part of town has been closed already. The perilous lack of a pedestrian crossing - where the walkway from the bridge leaves you to cross the tram tracks at a blind spot - must have been a factor.

And while I spoke of Manchester business locations last week, this weekend I experienced the great city centre retail experience. Bear in mind we had three kids with us, and it was chucking down with rain, that at times I wanted to be here but nevertheless we wanted to put a dent in our Christmas shopping lists. Anyway, the following thoughts sprang to mind.

The Arndale is much, much better since the refit.

Wagamama at Spinningfields is excellent. The staff really know how to make families welcome and to get kids excited about fresh food. Brilliant. I chose the wrong thing, but that was my lookout.

Daisy and Tom is great. Give kids a colouring competition and they're happy to see you buy a bag of toys for nephews and nieces.

The deluxe gift packing of the staff in Selfridges is laughable and shambolic. Our two year-old has in fact proved he can do better with a soggy discarded copy of the Manchester Evening News and some of Grandad's bale string.

One of the shops on Market Street was playing music so loud (and employing Max and Paddy on the door), that they clearly didn't want any customers. They didn't have any.

The hordes of hoodies and scallies are still quite frightening, especially when they press their groins up at the window of Wagamama.

These two seemingly different threads are linked by the common theme of Manchester not quite living up to its billing. The little things matter and I'm sure other cities have these annoying instances of innate crapness and poor service too, but then they don't aspire to be the Original Modern city. More later, thoughts please...

Friday, November 10, 2006

Just married!


We got married today!
We tied the knot at Stockport town hall at 11am. Then we went to The Oddfellows in Mellor for lunch.
All very low key, no guests or anything, just the way we wanted it.
Life is so good, I can taste it in my spit.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Ten thoughts on...football fans

A new list for the end of the week. I did one on films, which you can see here. But this is the one to start us off.

For me, how the crowd contributes to the occasion of a football match is of paramount importance and interest. My first ever game was Lancaster City v Barrow and me and my Dad cheered for the wrong team. My first league match in 1972, Preston North End v Burnley, was made memorable for several pitch invasions (and me getting a bobble hat stolen). When I first started going to Rovers in the 1970s Kevin Bradley grassed on me to the other lads that he'd spotted me crowd watching (It was Mansfield!). No wonder I ended up studying sociology and became a journalist.

I think the whole experience is more sterile and lifeless these days. I miss the edge and I miss the banter, the songs and the clothes. If you like this terrace retro sort of thing, look here and here.

Here are my ten thoughts on... football fans

* The football fans with the wittiest banner - Liverpool v Galatasary, 2002, "Hell - My Arse, You've never been to the Grafton on a Friday Night"

* The most pretentious banners - Liverpool, 2004 "What we achieve in life, echoes through eternity" (my arse)

* Biggest annoying boasters/unsporting whingers on radio phone in - Spurs (before/after the 2002 Worthington Cup Final, after we won 2-1)

* The best dressed - Liverpool 1984 (trainers and tweed)

* The worst bullies - Newcastle 1981 (I was only 15...)

* The most racist - Chelsea 1983 (shamefully booed every touch of their own player, Paul Cannoville)

* The most stupid - Burnley 2000 (smashed up their own town centre, after we won 2-0)

* The most loyal - Manchester City 1999 (Third Division season, crowds went up)

* The most carried away with their own self-importance - Manchester City 2000 (there weren't THAT many of you at Ewood Park)

* The most polite - Fulham (for as long as I can remember)

Danger alert - and how to make business in Manchester more interesting

Right, I've sorted the commute thing out. Trains from Marple are bit quicker, but trains from Rose Hill are empty (it's at the end of a branch line, little Thomas). Getting a seat trumps the tiniest minor inconvenience of stopping at lots of stations like Hyde, Woodley and Guide Bridge.

Arriving at Piccadilly today I was greeted by hip young things handing out leaflets. Often, these are vouchers for some trendy cafe or sarnie shop, so I make a point of taking one. They were actually for the opening of the new footbridge, which is a tidy little short cut to the office.

Here's the view back towards Piccadilly, with a few of the lads who are still polishing it.



However, it's still a bit of a hazard when you get to the end of the ramp as the path seems to take you right onto a blind spot where the tram track curves towards the station. I'm sure the new piazza and the new hotel, when they are finished, will give this section more logic. But it's pretty hairy and a straw poll in the office found 100 per cent agreement. Taguey is going to a dinner to launch this tonight (he needs to eat), so we'll ask him to point this out.

This is the thing with the new Manchester. The centre of gravity is constantly changing. Clusters are emerging in unlikely places. A pal of mine is starting a new business and said his preferred location was just over the Irwell, as it's close to loads of the top finance guys in town. Fourways House, the eco-central, in the Northern Quarter is full of greeny like-minds. PR companies and design agencies abound on Jordan Street in Knott Mill. Personally, I think people should mix it up a bit more. The Mersey Basin Campaign could move into the spare floor in City Wharf, home of Ford Campbell "as imaginative as it is persistent, as assertive as it is credible", while the new Zeus Partners team could find an opening on Canal Street. They may even learn to like it.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Spooks - what's going on?

The beauty of Spooks is the constant threat in the air that the unexpected will happen. Lisa Faulkner being dunked in a fat fryer in the second episode set the tone. The constant churn of characters means no-one is indispensible. Tom, Danny, Zoe, Ruth - where did the Scottish one go? I missed that.

I think the current plot twist with Adam isn't that he's losing it and will be put out to seed, but the opposite. He'll stay and we'll see the rest of the grid dealing with his issues. And there's so much more to come from Zaf.

A couple of recent debates have focused on the Mossad conspiracies in the last three episodes. Was this a sop to Islamic viewers who were cross at having their brothers portrayed as violent terrorists every week? Was it tantamount to a rehashing of lunatic 9/11 theories?

For me, the most ludicrous aspect of the second storyline (the Christian nutters) wasn't that a highly trained hit squad of Mossad's finest would take a building in central London and kill a Christian terrorist, after being tipped off by a rogue civil servant, but that they would be battered senseless by the posh bird out of Cold Feet.

Last night's Serbian twister was a corker, spoiled by a typo in the last scene's on-screen caption. I won't spoil the plot in deference to my colleague Lisa Miles, a fellow Spooks addict who missed it, but she will be reaching for the screen with her pot of Tippex.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Build a bonfire, build a bonfire

You can tell a lot about the health of a community by the conduct on bonfire night. Like most people we've long forgotten the anti-Catholic trappings of November 5. Just as well, as our house is fervently leftfooted, but hungry in pursuit of a treat like this on our doorstep.

Marple Scouts had theirs in Brabyns Park last night and it was magnificent. I reckon there must have been 3000 people enjoying a great communal atmosphere. The still, clear night helped, but the fireworks were awesome. Brabyns is a perfect location, almost a stadium bowl with the fire at the Marple Bridge end, with the fireworks further down towards the football pitches.

It's the turn of Hawk Green tonight.

The Fantastic Five

We had a magnificent trip to London with all five boys on Friday. The family railcard made it all very affordable. The spirit and endurance of the boys made it a joy.
A travellers tale would bore the arse of you all, but we took in:
The Tower of London
River cruise to Westminster
Walk along the Embankment and up to Covent Garden
Cookies and ice cream in Covent Garden
The Tintin shop
Dinner at Giraffe on Essex Road with John and Rachel Dixon, godparents of the oldest, first meeting with the twins and the youngest.

I can't believe how much Islington has changed. Even in 1999 (my era) there were more places to buy a candlestick than anything useful. Now it's changing again. Even Tesco has had to shut a petrol station to make way for apartments, All Bar One has gone, Clone Zone can't even make a fist of it (fnarr, fnarr) and the bookshop on Camden Passage has long since vanished. Alfredo's cafe on Essex Road had given up in about 1998, it's now open again as a slightly inauthentic sausage and mash gaff.

Still busy, still buzzy and high in my affections.

They boys loved Giraffe, even if the fish fingers were a bit of a surprise (salmon). Can't wait for that one to come to Manchester. They even coped admirably with Islington at mad hour and the cancellation of the train coming back.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Halloween

Halloween went down a storm in our house. Face paints, costumes, elaborate food and drink, games in the garden, a carved out pumpkin, loads of sweets, games in the conservatory. One of the boys won a prize at holiday club for his superb Frankenstein costume - his idea, Rachel's execution (scuse the pun). All five boys went to bed happy and exhausted from so much fun.
And we didn't go trick or treating, or encourage anyone else's children by answering the door.
Sorry. Call it a guilty conscience, but I am veteran of several tours of duty of various parts of Lancaster in the much more sinister Lancastrian ritual of Mischief Night every 4 November. Even now I barely dare to confront the horror and inconvenience we must have brought to so many households.

Student Daze

Over a pint of vegan beer me and Steve Connor reflected on some of the characters involved in student politics at Manchester University in our years, 1985-1988 in my case, dragging on for a year or two more for Comrade Connor.

Derek Draper is perhaps the most high profile Labour hack from that era. Following his showbiz marriage to Kate Gerraway of GMTV no more needs to be said. And no more can be said that would be digestable to readers of OK Magazine.

David Pannell veered from Tory student, through Labour, to the SWP and was nearly thrown out for trying to land one on a Tory minister. He was last spotted as an investment banker with Durlacher predicting the house price crash of 2005. Yes, that one.

But what ever happened to Viraj Mendis? I was told in Fresher’s Week by a leading lefty thug that this Sri Lankan communist was under no real threat of deportation, but was being used by this nasty little sect – The Revolutionary Communist Group – to wave a fist at the establishment.

Poor Viraj even had a stammer, prompting some graffiti in the library “V V V Viraj, F F F off”

He eventually took refuge in Hulme Church and as he became a rallying call for the ragbag army of crusties in pre-regenerated Hulme, the cops eventually stormed the church and sent him back to Sri Lanka. One of his supporters reflects on that here.

Some of my friends speculated that he’d be running his Dad’s tea plantation by now. He isn’t. He did go back, he wasn’t killed, but now lives in Germany. He’s even been back to Hulme. Which you can read about here.