Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Food glorious food

I like cooking. I hadn't done much until me and Rachel started living together, but our division of labour sees me in an apron most weekends. It's helped by the fact that we have an Aga in our kitchen that is a joy to drive. It warms, slow cooks and has two hotplates.

I've had a couple of setbacks lately though.

You have to stir the porridge rigorously or else it sticks to the pan. Also, our dishwasher has been bust so the pan hadn't been properly rinsed away - and it's last square meal was cabbage.

The other was an absolutely ropey braising steak I made. Really rank. This is my Mum's signature dish, the meat flakes off in a rich gravy. Having come back for another go this weekend - with much better results - I have deduced one of three things - don't put the vegetables in with the meat when cooking in a slow oven; cover it all in a large pot or dish; use meat from a proper butchers. Supermarket meat is grim.

I'm desperate to get our brood to eat more veggies. They seem to go off them at will. Any tips gratefully recieved. Post on here, or email me here.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Talking rubbish

We got our new see-through bin bags last week. Marple is the first part of Stockport to get this new service. We're being encouraged to recycle, which I don't mind, but the reason given for the 60 see-through bags is so officials can see people who are disposing of "business waste". I wasn't aware this was such a huge problem to warrant such a dramatic change in policy and practice.

The real reason is almost certainly to start targeting people who don't recycle cans and bottles and paper with "advice" and then prosecution. I just wish they'd be honest enough to admit it.

The link to the Council explanation is here.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Spooks - Is Zafir dead?

We said at the end of the last series of Spooks that it couldn't improve upon what has gone before. It has. Gripping stuff once again. The plot twists have been quite brilliant. But can they really have killed off Zafir? No spoiling from the cheats who catch up early on BBC3.

Thoughtful piece in Private Eye this issue, link here, about how sensitivity in the BBC will lead to a drop in Islamist baddies this series:

“Increasing nervousness about showing the world as it really is poses a big problem for Spooks, which is now in its sixth season of depicting MI5’s best – or, at least, best-looking – at work. For reasons of realism, spy supremo Harry Pearce and his boys are clearly going to have to be shown fighting the ‘war on terror’, but the official policy in the drama department is that the country is at more risk from dads denied access and gerbil-lovers angry about how lipstick gets made than from Osama bin Laden.”

Personally, I think the script writers are quite capable of moving the whole thing along without having to chop and change the episodes with different varieties of bad guy. I like the sparky French woman and the tough Indian agent. These are good new opponents. The loyal viewers, like us, will not swallow a major clear and present danger to the security of this country from, er, a weekend Dad dressed as Batman.

Don't let us down.

Quality sausages

The Manchester Markets are in Piccadilly Gardens today. The people who run the Bowland Meat stall are so lovely. I always end up spending a few quid more. And I have to say, the sausages are a class above anything you can get from a supermarket.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


American Vanity Fair is to release a one-off magazine compiling a list of the 50 greatest film soundtracks. Purple Rain tops the list even though it was described as "perhaps the best badly acted film ever," by editors at Vanity Fair, while Trainspotting came in at No.7 and Saturday Night Fever was eighth.

A Hard Day's Night came in a No. 2, followed by The Harder They Come, Pulp Fiction, The Graduate and Superfly. American Graffiti and The Big Chill rounded out the top 10.

I'm obviously a biased Northern git, but I thought the 24 Hour Party People soundtrack was pretty immense. Pulp Fiction would probably get my vote.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Control at the Cornerhouse

To the Cornerhouse for a double bill of musical and cultural indulgence. A seminar (part of In The City) followed by Control, the film about Ian Curtis. The panel discussion featured punk spokesman and talking head John Robb, musical historian CP Lee, Terry Christian, a bloke from Channel m and the producer of Radio 4's Front Row. Terry was very well informed, at times funny, but then lurches back into default idiot savante who has to be more plebian than anyone else. CP Lee I could listen to all day with his amazing stories.

Control was an awesome film. Apart from the obvious historical and musical points of interest it was an incredibly powerful film, beautifully shot, about the unbearable pressure of a young man terrified by his future and unable to face up to the choices he has to make. We've all been there.

When the closing scene drew to its inevitable conclusion and the hum and the drum roll at the beginning of Atmosphere kicked in, my throat did swell. Not just because it took me back to that memory at Tony Wilson's requiem mass as that sad sad procession started to that same sad sad song, but also as the screen filled with the image of the smoke billowing from the chimney at the same Macclesfield crematorium where we lay our friend John Flint to rest in 2003.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Phoney liberals and strange bedfellows

Good piece in the paper yesterday about the bizarre bedfellows of the Islamists and the revolutionary left. It starts with a strange tale of Che Guevara's family visiting a conference in Tehran.

A flavour is here:

There used to be a clear dividing line between conservatives and liberals. It defined the culture wars of the late 20th century, which pitted reactionary fuddy-duddies against tolerant, enlightened types, who believed in equal rights for women, minorities and gays. That fault line is becoming as dated as the flower power of the 1960s.

A link to it is here.

There's also a quiz to see how much of a phoney liberal are you?

A weekend of sporting glory

Well, it was for us anyway. On Saturday, Marple Athletic Under 9s (A) won 2-0 in a tough game on Saturday at home to Signol.

After wolfing down the braising steak I managed to ruin we hot footed to Ewood Park for the 4-2 win over Reading. Rovers were awesome in the first half and there was evidence that Tugay may be some kind of superhero with his goal. By golly hasn't Benni McCarthy done well since Mark Hughes took the brave decision to drop him when his performances were: "not of the standard we require". I can't add much more to the report than what is in the paper today, here.

It was nice to bump into the BRFC London Supporters Club again. We joined them in the Premier Lounge after the game where David Bentley was presented with his player of the season award for last year. Picture of Elliot after a nifty nutmeg on Bentley:

My Scottish team won 3-0 as well. Nice preparation for Barca. Good story here.

OK, the rugby was a let down, but hey.

The Marple Athletic Under 7s continued to do well at Curzon Ashton. A win and a draw.

Formula One? Who cares?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Ten thoughts on...playing football

St Paul’s Scotforth – semi final at the Easter Field. I loved playing for my primary school team in my last year, but not the year before. I was bullied and nagged at by knobs like Ian Chippendale and Duncan Fraser, and the team was crap. The next year we were much better and got to the semi-final of the annual Easter Field at Giant Axe, which was good for one of the smaller schools.

College – We didn’t play football at school and I pretty much gave up proper organised football after that. Kicking about never does you any good for the real game as I found out at FE college. I played for the second team a few times and really enjoyed it. We were a great side and had Ian Stevens playing for us who went on to be journeyman pro and is now with Bacup Borough. Link to his career is here.

The University years – I had a shocking time playing at University and really paid the price for wasted teenage years. I turned out for Cath Soc a couple of times. I did however turn out for Manchester Football Supporters Association against Merseyside in a charity game for Alder Hey at Marine FC. I was marked out of the game by Mike Lyons and Terry Darracott.

Roverrrs, first time, the best of times – my best ever goal v Doncaster. Pitching up in London I turned out for BRASIL – the Blackburn Rovers Away Supporters In London. We were all Rovers fans, give or take the odd ringer. Sometimes we were really thrashed, by Celtic, Rangers and – awful, awful – Burnley - and it was just dreadful. But we also had our moments too and I formed some great friendships. I scored a freak goal from the half way line against Doncaster Rovers, who were all Irish lads from Acton - at Hurlingham Park, Fulham, which was nice and I will remember that for the rest of my life.

Best celeb I ever played with - our winger was Neil Arthur, pop star and top lad. Our midfield general was PC Pat Whittle – Bad Lieutentant – who once famously told Neil - “Get Blancmange back together, Neil: there’s always room in the charts for a couple of puffs with a synthesizer.” He asked me: “Why do you play up front? You couldn’t score in a barrel of fannies.”

Best ever tour. In 1990 We went on a tour to Devon, staying in Brixham and playing at Brixham Town, a park in Torquay and finally at Exeter City FC. Great fun, but we didn't win a game.

Dirtiest ever side played – Rotherham United London Supporters Club. None of them from Rotherham, just a vile set of cockney thugs.

Dirtiest side ever played for – Wansdyke, circa 1994. When I lived in Bristol I played for these after an invite from a mate, Darren Hook, who promptly left them. A vile set of racist thugs. Some good players mind.

Roverrrs, second time around. When I moved back to London I played for Roverrrrs (BRASIL) and an outfit of social workers and media types called Shepherds Tuesday. Got found out and was forced to choose – I chose Roverrrs, obviously. Different set up, woman manager – Margaret Reid – and some young players. We’d also been relegated so instead of getting thrashed we’d play some competitive games. I also dropped to full back and did much better with the ball coming at me. We got to a cup final where we were beaten by Wrexham, who were all black lads from south London, managed by a fat lad from Ruabon called Dave.

Best player ever played with. My mate Rick Ogden, who now lives in Japan, was an awesome centre half, especially for a little fellah. I played with him twice for different friendly teams.

Tony Wilson memorial sorted

There's a wonderful piece on Manchester Confidential, by Mark Garner, about the best ever tribute to Tony Wilson.

A flavour is here:

Everyone and his dog wants to get in on the ‘lets give Tony a memorial’ gig at present.

Forget it.

Because the memorial is here already, it consists of a young man and woman with an unreserved, joyous and passionate love for their dad. If I had brought you two up I would be the proudest father on the planet. There is no memorial in the world that would make him prouder; there is no doubt in my mind that Tony considered his greatest achievement to be you two.

The full link is here.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Football, crazy

Much to the amusement of the serious footballers in our family I am rekindling my commitment to play regular five-a-side football tonight. I shall be wheezing around the JJB Soccerdome at the Trafford Centre with the lads from work and a few fellahs from Hurst.

I have to do something or I'm going to get so badly out of shape.

I've also cut down on rubbish food and booze for a while. All the lads who went on the Rabble Tour to Portugal last weekend are suffering this week.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Manchester Airport gets a kicking

In the Financial Times today there's a story that Manchester Airport is even worse than Heathrow for queues.

The survey on the Travel Counsellors website, which monitors airport delays, has named Manchester as the worst airport in the country for the longest check-in, security and immigration queues. Average times for check-in was 35 minutes, followed by 32 minutes for security, the study found.

Hold on a moment. The league table is a summary of all the reported airport delays. The airports that appear on the table are those that have received data from passengers. The number of passengers that have posted data for each airport is also shown. Manchester had reports from 138 passengers. Heathrow from 178, Aberdeen, one of the best, had recorded 4 comments. So it's hardly scientific.

Neither, therefore, is what I am about to say. I don't enjoy travelling through Manchester Airport. In my personal experience Manchester also compares less favourably to wherever I happen to go. Faro (better facilities, never delayed), Malaga (didn't lose my bags), Marakech (cleaner), Stansted (longer queues, but it was August, and the bars and shops are far better) and Munich was just such a pleasant experience in comparison I wouldn't even know where to start.

It's just another of things that Manchester needs to sort out before it's too late. I personally still can't understand why it's owned by the councils and think it should be flogged off now.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Flying high

Last night: there we were at Faro airport playing cards and drinking water. On the next table in the cafe area was Ryan Giggs and a bunch of mates – all regular looking fellahs who’d been golfing for a few days. And on the next table was Alan McInally and his wife also waiting near the gate to board the Monarch scheduled knee crusher to Manchester. Giggsy was getting lots of attention from excited teenagers and their Dads – photos, handshakes, knicker wetting and squealing. Even McInally was ribbed about Sky Sports News. Spare a thought then for Harry Kewell. Loading his wife and kids and entourage onto the tiny seats he barely attracted a sidewards glance. I hate to say this, but even our John Fowler was recognised, though one of Giggsy's mates thought he was Martin Bayfield.
So, here's the question: what's worse, living it? or losing it?

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Going away

I will be heading for Portugal on Thursday the 11th of October for four days of male bonding, drinking, oh, and a few games of golf. See you all when I get back.

Monday, October 08, 2007

The Tao of Moulton

Jon Moulton, leading venture capitalist and generally sound bloke, if a little scary, is in the latest issue of Midlands Business Insider talking about a range of things.

Here are two very sensible observations.

On TV’s Dragon’s Den:

“It’s a dreadful programme.”

On investing:

The questions an investor needs to ask are: “How much money are you looking at? What business are you in? How many divorces have you had?”

Moulton says analysis of investments showed companies run by someone who had been divorced once are more successful than those run by happily married men.

However, people who are twice divorced are not to be relied on, while when he puts money into companies run by people who have been divorced three times, he has lost the lot.

“After one divorce you are hungry; two divorces – he must have a lot of spare time and doesn’t concentrate too much at work. Three divorces – he is not driven by his head, is he?”

Random Friends United

I got my renewal email from Friends Reunited. In it there was a list of 20 people "randomly selected" from my area and my "places".

Random, my arse. It's a neat piece of tracking that's designed to get you to use the site more. It's tracked who I've checked out and reminded me, and clearly included people who've clicked on my profile. One of them keeps in touch via this blog. Hi Nick.

It also included someone who I was checking out for a story I was working on, my first ever friends, Rick Townson and Andy Worth, I often view their profiles to see if they've added details, people I was friends with and a smattering of others from my class at primary school.

It's included a few journalists who were at the University of Manchester when I was, which is clever, when you think about it. Including this bloke, here.

It also "randomly" includes Rachel Curran from Nelson, Lancashire. Who I only met four and a half years ago and am now married to.

This whole FU thing seems to have taken a back seat to the incredible momentum created by MySpace and Facebook, but I still like it. When it first started it was a refreshing nostalgia trip and a good antidote to the Lancaster Royal Grammar School old boys network. There, everyone was doing ever so well for themselves. You never heard from the punks, the quiet ones or the people who, like me, dropped out early.

The Anthony Wilson Way

There's a story here, about plans to rename Whitworth Street West as a tribute to Anthony Wilson.

There's another story here about a motion before the full Manchester City Council about a plaque at the Town Hall. Something usually reserved for Freemen of the city.

In our own way Insider has frozen the 99th position in the annual Power 100 list we produce in July.

Friday, October 05, 2007

What is Urbis for?

There's a piece on ManCon, here, asking the question I've often asked: What's Urbis for?

The interview with director Vaughan Allen is OK, but the comments from readers are better.

Here's Howard Sharrock: Urbis may be a delight but probably in sculptural terms rather than arcitectural. To be a great building it needs to fulfil some functional purpose. I've never seen any evidence that Urbis achieves this.

And here's the ex-creative director's sister: I was privy to some 'inside' information about what went on within the organisation. Apparently, for quite some time Urbis was under immense pressure by the Council to put on more 'Manchester' themed exhibitions and it has undoubtedly succumbed to the pressure in recent months; the Council even suggested just putting up a big show on United. Why? Because let's face it, folks - Manchester only cares about Manchester and Manchester's history.

Here's another anonymous poster: The problem with Urbis is all down to Ian Simpson (the architect) who was so busy trying for "iconic" that he didn't bother considering whether the building was welcoming to the casual visitor.

I went down this lunchtime to see the Hacienda exhibition which is running until February, here. Except when the whole building gets taken over by a bunch of cheek sucking numpties from the world of fashion for Manchester Fashion Weekend.

I think it can be a great asset. Plus, the thing I like about most galleries and museums is the shop. Urbis has a great one.

Happy birthday Max and Louis

My step sons Max and Louis are 7 today. Being a step parent, people have told me, is unrewarding, thankless and hard work. I agree on the last one, but being a parent is tough, full stop. But the rewards in bringing up such loving and happy boys are incredible.

They've got their own dad, Marcus Gee, who is a great guy, and who rightly gets all the love a dad deserves. I'd never assume the important place he has in their lives. They are such good boys, they've made our family such a happy unit, welcoming my own sons into the fold and forming these quite unusual, but solid, bonds.

So, happy birthday lads, even if you wouldn't lend me ten quid from your mountain of birthday money this morning.


There is an astonishing piece in November's Vanity Fair by Christopher Hitchens. It's about Mark Daily, a young soldier killed in Iraq, who had been inspired to enlist by Hitchens' conviction that Iraq was a just war. He meets Mark's family, attends the scattering of his ashes on a beach in Oregon and looks deep into his own soul about the betrayal of what should have been a noble mission.

A flavour is here:

These grand, overarching questions cannot obscure, at least for me, the plain fact that Mark Daily felt himself to be morally committed. I discovered this in his life story and in his surviving writings. Again, not to romanticize him overmuch, but this is the boy who would not let others be bullied in school, who stuck up for his younger siblings, who was briefly a vegetarian and Green Party member because he couldn't stand cruelty to animals or to the environment, a student who loudly defended Native American rights and who challenged a MySpace neo-Nazi in an online debate in which the swastika-displaying antagonist finally admitted that he needed to rethink things. If I give the impression of a slight nerd here I do an injustice. Everything that Mark wrote was imbued with a great spirit of humor and tough-mindedness. Here's an excerpt from his "Why I Joined" statement:

Anyone who knew me before I joined knows that I am quite aware and at times sympathetic to the arguments against the war in Iraq. If you think the only way a person could bring themselves to volunteer for this war is through sheer desperation or blind obedience then consider me the exception (though there are countless like me).… Consider that there are 19 year old soldiers from the Midwest who have never touched a college campus or a protest who have done more to uphold the universal legitimacy of representative government and individual rights by placing themselves between Iraqi voting lines and homicidal religious fanatics.

But do go to the full feature, here.

Jumping for Joy

Blimey. The new Ian Curtis film gets the five star treatment from Peter Bradshaw in the paper today. Wonderful review, it certainly promises a lot.

A flavour is here:

It all looked so vividly real to my fortysomething eye that, frankly, I thought I'd died and gone to Q-magazine-reading 50-quid bloke heaven. And when John Cooper Clarke came on playing himself, a support act to Joy Division when they were called Warsaw, I pretty well levitated out of my seat with sheer happiness, and had to be tied back down with guy-ropes.

You can link to the full review here.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Radio Tameside

I love hearing from an old pal out of the blue. Yesterday I got an email from a character called Kenni James who's had his head down plotting his comeback in the big bad world of commercial radio.

The just of it was this:

I've just launched Tameside Radio and into our first week on air. It booms in across most of the North West and it’s going well. Have a listen.. 103.6 FM Tameside Radio.

Kenni's got a great grasp of music and targeting it for the right time of day. He also knows how to mix up a bit of modern and nostalgia. I tuned into the drivetime programme and liked it a lot. It also came across as very authentic and just right for the down to earth punters of Ashton and Hyde. It reminded me of the early days of The Bay in Lancaster, which Kenni also launched.

It's good to see more local stations popping up. Pure in Stockport and High Peak Radio in Glossop are both good fun stations.

Lunch with SHB

Yesterday I had lunch with Sir Howard Bernstein, chief executive of Manchester City Council. I get on great with SHB, he's a straight up bloke who does everything with the best interests of the long term improvement of Manchester in mind. We disagree on a few things, I'm still appalled that a congestion charge would be introduced to pay for better transport, for example.

But he shares my biggest frustration about Manchester: people think it's a slam dunk, job done ; that everything is rosy and heading in the right direction. He senses other authorities trying to claw Manchester back - like over the decision to award a casino. He too is acutely aware of how the international competition to Manchester as a place to visit, locate and attract business is constantly innovating and improving. He's currently very excited about Stockholm.

The international theme of our next edition of North West Business Insider magazine follows this idea through.

SHB is also the chief returning officer for Manchester. He had just come away from a meeting where the election date of November the 8th was discussed. It clashes with the switching on of the Christmas lights, but it is the date they are expecting to be announced on Tuesday. This is the nightmare scenario for the Conservatives, and a supreme piece of political stage management from Gordon Brown. He is breaking with the Blair era, getting a mandate before some tough economic medicine is needed next year (tax rises) and he has an opportunity to split the Tories and finish them off for another generation.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Sit down for the champions

I went to Old Trafford to see Man Yoo v Roma last night. I went as a prawn sandwich munching guest of Robert Levy, one of the nicest lawyers you could ever meet, so contributed fully to the somnolent atmosphere that so irks United fans and players of a certain persuasion. These Champions League games can be very tense tactical affairs and last night was no exception.

What struck me more than anything about the game was how rigid Roma stuck to a 4-1-4-1 formation, with Totti on his own up front. Until Tevez came on, they had the game locked down, really. Two shocking misses near the end would have been grossly unfair, but Roma and their tiny band of fans would have been happy to go home with pride intact and front teeth still in place.

After last year's bother it was no surprise to note that there were no Italian fans in the city centre yesterday.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Barwick takes on the PAPs

The FA's determination to clamp down on referees has predictably focused attention on incidents such as John Terry squaring up to Mike Riley. The bigger problem, as Brian Barwick has identified, here, is the behaviour of amateur players and pushy parents.

God willing, we have been free of unpleasant incidents with other parents. But Marple Athletic has a clear policy of no swearing, no aggressive chanting, no drunk or drugs, applause for the opposition (within reason) and encouragement rather than chastisement.

Monday, October 01, 2007

A lesson in local history

There was a marvellous little exhibition in one of Marple's hidden gems, The Reading Room on Hibbert Lane. Displaying photographs and artefacts depicting Marple's industrial and social history it was also well thought out with a small cafe at the back serving home made cakes and tables for kids to paint and draw scenes of mills, barges and bridges.

I must have browsed the room for all of, oh, forty seconds before our brood of boys insisted instead on going to the sweet shop or just to scream "Noooooooo, it's boring".

Once inside the home of pornography, sweets and pop, with their grubby fingers in the pick and mix, one expelled some air from his backside that cleared the shop. Another attacked one of his brothers over ownership of a refresher chew. None of them said "thank you" to us.

I know sometimes I present our life as some kind of northern version of The Waltons, but I relay this incident to make it clear that our little angels are quite capable of being horrors.

Est Est Est - rubbish

I can't say I get excited about a visit to the Trafford Centre. Most of the shops just sell tat and as a social and cultural experience it's as shallow as they come. In the seven years that I've lived back up here I've never, ever, bumped into someone I know in there. Until Saturday, when a chap called Gary Tipper made the same choice as us to take his lad for tea: Est Est Est. I can't say with any confidence whether Gary had a good meal, but we didn't.

I chose Chicken on pasta carbonara. Tasteless and bland. The chicken wasn't so much char grilled as just burnt, then warmed up. Elliot and Matt had pizzas, which they ate, but they looked doughy and undercooked. Joe loves his steak and devoured his, but there was quite a lot of fat on it. Rachel had the same and was underwhelmed in the extreme.

One of the reasons we'll choose a trip to Dumplington over the city centre is that everything you need is close together. But these chain restaurants are starting to disappoint, We've had trips to Giraffe that have been pleasant, but it's just a burger and chips when all is said and done. We've been to a couple of other places there after the pictures, or whatever, and for what you get it's poor value, frankly.

There is one restaurant chain that the kids always love and I routinely enjoy: Pizza Express. and now there's one around the corner from work, hooray. There's a lot to be said for sticking to what you know.