Saturday, January 26, 2008

Manflu

This is me. Normal service will be resumed shortly

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Balance

Had a belting night last night with Kevin Roberts and 20 or so others at Lancaster Royal Grammar School. The theme of the evening was to explore work life balance and work life integration. Kevin has put some of this on his blog, here. Suffice to say things quickly moved on as the food and wine flowed. I certainly didn't have much balance by the time we got back to the Sun Hotel on Church Street (excellent place, by the way).

As Phil Jones from Brother UK said in an email today:

What a splendid evening last night, it had everything! Great food, entertaining guest, business, laughter, gambling, banter, stories of school days and a great mix of lovely, intelligent people. It was really memorable, thanks for the invite.

Or this from Laura Wolfe:

I had a fantastic evening wonderful company, great food and fascinating discussions I felt honoured to be included.

Or this from Mike Finnigan:

I had a great time last night. I really did enjoy myself and wanted to thank you for your kind words about me. I was obviously not expecting you to say anything about me and was really enjoying listening to what you had to say; when you got to the ‘another person I would like to mention…’ the last name I was expecting was mine!

Then there's this from Dave Riley:

Just a quickie to say thanks again for inviting me to the Dinner last night. I had a really great time despite the fact that every hour, on the hour, this in-bred piss head would religiously stumble through my bedroom, knocking things over and talking to himself!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Ken gets a kicking

Really enjoyed Martin Bright's Channel 4 programme tonight about Ken Livingstone. The power of a Mayor's office with no accountability and a kitchen cabinet full of Trots should frighten anyone in these parts who aspires to such a model of city regional government in Manchester, Liverpool, or even Marple.

It also scotched the myth that the congestion charge has worked. Something to think about in Manchester.

There's more coverage, here.

And from the excellent Nick Cohen, here.

And Martin Bright's own page on the New Statesman site is here.

Manchester music - with attitude

A great piece in the paper, here, about an anniversary of a great Manchester musical institution that apparently sums up the great "can do" attitude of the city that was the cradle of the industrial revolution. Top one, sorted. Nice one.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Popped Britannia

A love of music - your music - is by its very nature hugely subjective. Lists in books and magazines have to be consumed with that wary eye on thewriter and the intended readers' prejudices.

We only caught the last of three of a promising series on BBC4 - Pop Britannia. By the end I was angry and aghast.

The climax of pop - as it is defined today - is Girl's Aloud, Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys. To then trace that lineage back to punk, which the programme did was ambitious. To fail to even get a train through Manchester at all, remember Two Tone, or Glasgow in the 80s, or to acknowledge dance music in the 1980s just left me thinking "what a waste".

I must remember to get out more, because telly is getting worse.

Friday, January 18, 2008

How fascism works - Toon style

This Newcastle hysteria is hilarious. The frenzy, the delusion, the personality cult, the obsession with uniforms. It's how fascism works.

This isn't me, by the way, but I like it very much:

Speaking of 'number twos', did you see the most craven, shameless piece of whoring ever during half-time of the Manchester City and West Ham game? The brass neck of that baby-haired bastard Alan Shearer when Gary Lineker 'surprised' him by asking whether he would consider becoming Kevin Keegan's assistant at St. James Park.

Cue the crows' feet and crocodile smile. "I'd definitely discuss it if they wanted to talk to me about it."

Too right you would you spineless agitator. That way you can take whatever glory there is - "I've heard it's all doon to Shee-ra really" - but you can also stab soft ollies in the back if it turns to rat shit and probably then get the number one job for yourself if you fancy it. We know your sort.

If the lay-by lizard has any sense he'll tell you to get stuffed and then start asking questions in the press about how come you've not done any coaching at any level yet but seem to have so much to say about a job that you won't come out and declare a proper interest in. He won't though. As Danny Baker once said of Keegan, "He's a big old queen. The only man who makes Stephen Fry look like an old trouper."

Oh dear, oh dear

I wasn't going to reflect on an appalling piece on a media website in the North West about "media honeys". But when PR people from a well-respected national network agency (Weber Shandwick, if you're curious) have stooped to emailing contacts encouraging them to vote for the lovely ******, then I can only agree with a comment from our own Neil Tague:

The PR industry’s desire to be taken seriously suffers another blow. It’s only a matter of time before they set up a rival to flashyourrack.com (I don't know what this is, but I can guess - MT)

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Ten thoughts on politics from Michael Portillo


I used to support Labour in the way I support Blackburn Rovers and the Holy Church of the left foot. I don't anymore, in fact I don't support anyone in that game at all. However, the balance of power, electoral trends, devolution of power and media spin: love it, just love it, as some circus performer once said.

Last night I went to see Michael Portillo speak at a dinner at Harvey Nics in Manchester as a guest of DLA Piper. He was very good. Wise, perceptive and very self-deprecating. I'd be lying if I said that was a surprise, because he has done loads of TV that has tried to change his public image.

I too roared with drunken glee on the night of May the 1st 1997 when Stephen Twigg beat him, a moment, he told us was voted as the 4th best of the 20th century.

Here are ten thoughts from the night that have stuck in my mind.

Gordon Brown doesn't enjoy being PM

The Tories are coming from too far behind to win, David Cameron is doing the right thing in positioning the party in the centre

The media think Brown is finished so we are therefore in for 7 years of sourness

Blair was a great actor with a thick skin

Brown is like John Major, he takes it all too personally

The parties are so similar, the public are bored

Linking pension rises to prices, not incomes is the scandal of the 20th century

Cameron hasn't energised aspiring people with a reason to make them vote Tory in the way Mrs Thatcher did with council house sales

Hilary Clinton is the most impressive candidate in the US

John McCain is a boring speaker who Portillo fell asleep listening to

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Do these people never learn?

Newcastle United chairman Chris Mort has announced that the club's new manager is... yep, Kevin H Keegan. Kevin Keegan! DO THESE PEOPLE NEVER LEARN?

Hat tip: The Fiver

Book review in a lift - Eleanor Rigby


It's about a really lonely woman (hence the title) who meets up with her son who she had adopted when she was teenager. Funny, quirky and sad at times. I do like Douglas Coupland, he's a good teller of strange tales and has very well tuned antennae for social mores. 7/10.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

911 conspiracy tedium

I was very proud to study at Manchester University. I always look kindly on releases from this great seat of learning and reflect proudly on work to further understanding of the world and explore life saving sciences.

And then there's this.

Conspiracy theories which claim to shed more light on the 2001 twin towers disaster in New York are often closer to official versions than first thought – according to new research.

Dr Peter Knight from The University of Manchester who conducted the first academic study of 9/11 conspiracy theories says they are more popular today than ever before.

He also lists all major existing conspiracy theories in his report “Outrageous Conspiracy Theories: Popular and Official Responses to 9/11 in Germany
and the United States. Am I alone in finding something sinister and intellectually lazy about all this.

Dr Knight says: “Official explanations see America as an innocent victim of a catastrophic event that came out of the blue, explained by an all-powerful conspiracy motivated by Bin Laden’s evil lust for power."

Sorry, but what's to dispute about that?

As a journalist I see scepticism as a virtue, but there has to be a line. I haven't read Dr Knight's book, nor do I have the time or the inclination to delve into popular conspiracy theories about Princess Diana (killed in a road accident), 9/11 (nutters flew planes into buildings) or the Holocaust (the Nazis murdered 6 million Jews).

The bigger question, and I may be doing Dr Knight a disservice here, is why people want to question what is staring them in the face. Take any of the three examples above, who's interest does it serve to peddle a load of contrary nonsense? There's your conspiracy theory.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Facebook - what lies beneath?

My pal Andy Coyne warned me: Facebook is a CIA plot. Have nothing to do with it, mused the wise Brummie.

This piece in the paper today is excellent. A flavour is here:

So by his own admission, [Peter] Thiel [Facebook founder] is trying to destroy the real world, which he also calls "nature", and install a virtual world in its place, and it is in this context that we must view the rise of Facebook. Facebook is a deliberate experiment in global manipulation, and Thiel is a bright young thing in the neoconservative pantheon, with a penchant for far-out techno-utopian fantasies. Not someone I want to help get any richer.

We've banned access to it at work and I deactivated my account a few months ago. I didn't see the point, frankly.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Something for Mark Hughes to think about

Surely Mark Hughes won't be the latest Rovers legend to see a false dawn in the North East? This report builds him up as a contender.


Not counting Alan Shearer's medal tally (which isn't hard), it is worth considering running the "where are they now?" test on some of the previous Newcastle managers. Some were once even described as "ambitious". Hat tip to miroljub, a pseudonymous poster on Comment is Free.

Osvaldo Ardiles - in September 2007 was appointed Club Atletico Huracan manager in his native Argentina.
Kevin Keegan - currently runs Soccer Circus at Xscape at Renfrew, Renfrewshire.
Kenny Dalglish - seven years after his departure, he has yet to make a return to management.
Ruud Gullit - currently an analyst for the CL games on Sky Sports.
Graeme Souness - currently employed as a TV analyst on Ireland's RTE.
Glenn Roeder - manager at Norwich City.

Liverpool - Ten Cultural Wonders

It's Liverpool's day today. European Capital of Culture 2008.

Here are my top ten Scouse cultural highlights.

The Beatles, obviously - favourite album Revolver. I could go on, but no list of anything Liverpool could possibly exist without them.

Pete Wylie - some people can write good songs in the cycle of life. He wrote at least three GREAT ones - Come Back, Sinful and Story of the Blues. An unappreciated genius.

That feisty Everton team of the early 1980s. Loved how they worked hard as a unit and won things with grafters like Reid and Harper.

Brookside in the early 1990's. It was like watching a powerful Hollywood film every Saturday tea time. Spawned Jimmy McGovern and Joe Ainsworth. It's also Phil Redmond's contribution to this list and Liverpool's culture.

The End. A marvellous fanzine in the early 1980s. Loved it. See more here.

Love See No Colour. For many The Farm's success was a sign of how bad music was in the 1990s. I thought they were alright. Not great, but alright. Love See No Colour remixed by London DJs was ace.

Echo and the Bunnymen. Nothing Ever Lasts Forever was their last great tune. Never Stop was their optimistic first outing. Ironic, eh?

John Bishop. One of the best modern comics I've seen in recent years. I love all the rough arsed lads like Sean Styles and Vince Earl, but John is from that mould, but with a wry touch of modern class too.

Kevin Sampson. Punchy novelist, who I like. Can't wait to see Awaydays made into a film.

That Liverpool team with John Barnes and Peter Beardsley in it. We used to go over to watch them from Manchester in 1988.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Load up on guns...

...Bring your friends. Lots of stories about new gadgets are emerging from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. There is a downbeat view from the Daily Telegraph, here.

But while handheld gadgets may have proved hard to trump the iPhone, the real story has been the arrival of car makers at the event for the first time. An upbeat American view is here.

Then there is very attractive sounding product (story from GQ):

The latest oddity from the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is the iTaser, which combines an electronic stun gun with a 1GB MP3 player. Rick Smith, founder of Taser International, is quoted in the Guardian as saying, “Personal protection can be both fashionable and functional”. GQ.COM would suggest wearing your iPod headphones for maximum mugger-surprising potential – if tasers weren’t illegal in the UK, that is.

David Cameron does Crimewatch

Tory leader David Cameron is back in the area tomorrow. I had to laugh at his schedule, which has been emailed to me by Conservative Spin Control.

David Cameron will visit Bolton for the opening of Amir Khan’s boxing gym.

David Cameron will spend the afternoon in Salford where he will make a speech on crime.

No doubt the irony of this is not lost.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

So farewell then, Robbie Savage

Robbie Savage has managed to leave a club with good wishes of fans behind him. He was liked at Rovers because he gave his all. We're a bit basic like that. Derby need a bit of that too.

Presumably too it edges him ever closer to his parents in Wrexham. :-)

Optimism of the will

Highlights here from a great piece on technology, the future and why we shouldn't be as gloomy.

Meanwhile, Paul Otellini, the top man at Intel gushed out his enthusiasm on what he calls "a personal net." He predicts that a range of devices will emerge, each with at least the processing power of a current PC, offering their own "specialist features," but which will all interface to the Internet. And in his Arthur C Clarke moment said, "Instead of going to the Internet, the Internet comes to us."

"Our business model is one of very high risk," he said. "We dig a very big hole in the ground, spend three billion dollars to build a factory in it, which takes three years, to produce technology we haven't invented yet, to run products we haven't designed yet, for markets which don't exist." Ummm, wonder if he could have got that business idea past the rich boys and girls in Dragon's Den. "I see Mr Otellini, but what I want to know is have you got distribution in Boots lined up for this product that doesn't exist yet."

It's very easy to be cynical about technology, but the truth is, it's Brits' cynicism that has held back the UK industry. Only in America could you hear so much optimism, so much willingness to throw money at products that don't even exist on paper. Google could never have got off the ground in any other country, (remember, its founders didn't even know how it would generate revenue when backing was secured) and the same applies to today's social networking sites.

It's from a financial email I get, which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

Trouble at mill

I never went to Kelly's Night Club in Marple, round the back of Goyt Mill, but it has now closed. It had started as a snooker club and restaurant, but in March 2000 the owner extended the licence and it changed the use of the premises to being a night club. It was very popular with, er, the younger crowd.

There was noise on the streets afterwards and residents in Hawk Green were getting upset, as reported here, but no-one has forced the club to close. The situation over the summer months got better. The police were more visible at closing time, the club had been making an effort to check for under age drinkers and the colder weather probably hastened kept people off the streets.

Some residents were considering seeking a review of the licence, but the decision to close was down to Terrence Kelly, the owner.

There is a rumour that Goyt Mill itself has been sold. I put a call in to Peak Gas Properties, the owners, who said it very much isn't, and that they are very keen to attract new tenants to the site.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

The. Magic. Of. The. Cup. (Over)

A week into 2008 and the first prediction shot down in flames: Rovers for the Cup. There has been a lot of giddy reaction from people at Oldham, Coventry, Sheff United and Huddersfield that the gap between the Premier League and the rest isn't so great. Without wishing to dampen anyone's glee (sorry, Neil), what it does rather highlight is the gulf between the big red teams and Chelsea and the rest of the Premier League is getting even bigger and the semi-final line up is likely to be the big four. The expectation that Everton, Rovers, Bolton and Brum City won't win the thing is proven by the fact that they couldn't even be bothered to field teams capable of winning against lower division opposition. It's such a shame.

This time last year, by the way, I was a guest at Everton when Rovers tonked the Toffees. Neil Tague, Insider assistant editor, was there yesterday with a some of that same crowd following Oldham, also in the FA Cup 3rd round. The message from Frank McKenna was that this tradition is now over.

My gritted teeth do not allow me to put my tongue in my cheek, but I sat in front of the telly and watched Rachel's Clarets try and duff up Arsenal reserves.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Manchester restaurants - a distant review

Jonathan Schofield on BBC Radio Manchester this morning was talking about loads of new restaurants and bars opening in Manchester in the period before Christmas. It's the worst possible time, but plenty of done so, probably by accident and overrun rather than by design.

Here are ten Friday thoughts on Manchester restaurants and bars I haven't been to.

I still haven't been to Cinnabar and Vermilion. I interviewed the owner and hope to pop over in a couple of weeks for a lunch. Strange location though.

I happened to visit a new one called Gastro's Food Hall yesterday, but I first thought it was Castro's, which would have made it Cuban. I just had coffee because they didn't have any hot sandwiches, which is odd really for somewhere trying to be a New York style deli and food hall.

I love Katsouris deli in Manchester. They have a place at Bury market which Stuart Maconie, in his book Pies and Prejudice, reckons would go down a treat in Camden Town. He didn't realise they'd opened one in this magnificent city.

This new Ithaca bar and restaurant still hasn't opened yet. They've had a bit of a run in with church next door. Manchester private members clubs don't work.

Our magazine covered the restaurant scene and the collapses of Establishment and Le Mont, here. Establishment has become Karims, an Asian fusion place with no booze. Not sure about that.

The site at the top of Urbis is a split level bar with much more comfortable furnishings and a more cosy aura, according to Jonathan Schofield anyway. I look forward to it.

I've never had Russian food, but a new place called St Petersburg has opened. There's one in Liverpool that I haven't been to either. Apparently it's a bit like Turkish.

I like Paul Heathcote. His restaurant at Alderley Edge got the most stinging review I've ever seen. Not been myself, but I bet it hurt.

He's also got a new place on New York Street called Grado. It looks very plush and I hope it does well.

Unbelievably, I've never been to The Press Club in Manchester.

Phil Griffin reviews Mersey book

Phil Griffin has reviewed our Mersey book. Read it here.

Book review in a lift - Soldier

General Sir Mike Jackson's story spans nearly 30 years as a frontline soldier from Northern Ireland through the Cold War and into modern conflicts in Iraq, Bosnia and Kosovo. When he's been successful in hammering out an agreement it's often been sitting down for a long lunch with a Serb commander (plum brandy), a Russian General (vodka) or a KLA warlord (bottle of scotch). He didn't really have that option in Iraq. His account of the culture in the Ministry of Defence is very depressing.
7/10.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Support your local team

The kids have been questioning why they support a club so far from home. I can't answer that, and they do have free will (to a point).

I came across this, which calculates which of the 92 league football stadiums are nearest to your home. I was horrified to discover that Ewood Park is the 21st nearest to our house. Sheffield Wednesday, Port Vale, Huddersfield and Chesterfield are all nearer. I wouldn't want to try and get to Hillsborough by the shortest possible route, however. And I'm sure that a nip over Grane Road in Helmshore would shave off 5 miles from the journey.

Back to life, back to reality

Sleeves rolled up, desk cleared and it's back to work. It was hard coming back yesterday, make no mistake, but we were all straight back at it and Lisa Miles, Neil Tague and our new chap Rupert Cornford knocked out a quality weekly news bulletin. I wrote up an interview I'd done ages ago with this bloke and tried to get my head around the impact of these on the North West economy.

In the manner of many papers and bloggers here are some relevant hopes for 2008.
  1. The economy will stutter a bit, but won't crash and burn the way a lot of pundits are saying. In this neck of the woods a correction to overheating property prices and spiraling costs will be welcomed.
  2. The government will stumble from one crisis to another and Alistair Darling won't be in office by the party conference season.
  3. Liverpool will deliver a great Capital of Culture year in 2008.
  4. Blackburn Rovers will finish 6th and scrape into Europe and get to the FA Cup final.
  5. The old supermarket site in Marple will be turned into a farmer's market with a banking desk, deli and community noticeboard and drop-in centre.
  6. This blog will get more focused. More stuff about where we live, what we've been doing and return to the discipline of a Friday list and a regular book review.