Sunday, March 30, 2008

Bourne, Again

We gorged ourselves on the Bourne trilogy while we were at Center Parcs. All three were awesome pumping powerhouses. Spooks on steroids. Action from beginning to end and incredible, but moral, plotlines. The use of so many locations was exceptional too, though poor old Prague stood in for Zurich and got no credit for it. I still think Daniel Craig has made a great modern James Bond, but the other JB is a superb sequence and I'd love to have seen any one of them on a big screen.

Will there be a fourth? There's plenty of scope for a prequel, or a sequel?

Under siege

Is it just me, or is Marple being cut off from the outside world? There are road works at every road in and out at the moment. And there seems to no work going on at the weekend, which just wastes time. Most of this is related to gas main repairs, according to this very helpful update at the Council website. It all seems very badly co-ordinated.

Luney tours

Had a nostalgic trip up the Lune Valley to meet the rest of the family for lunch on Friday. I had a few pals in villages like Caton and Brookhouse and we used to go to teenage discos in village halls right up to Hornby. Summer days were spent at river spots like the Dub and the Crook, which will probably be fenced off and considered too dangerous now.

When I was younger still my parents used to seek out beauty spots in places like Wray, Roeburndale, Littledale and sometimes deeper into the Forest of Bowland. We never knew where these places were and gave them our names like: the Rocky Place, the Pipe Place or just, the River. Fond memories.

I do also remember being spaced out on cider and magic mushrooms, aged 16, while this bloke waited to kick my head in outside Hornby Village Hall. I can't tell you what the row was about, but it certainly wasn't football related. He was a hairy biker then and had no interest in football at all.

I had a good potter round Kirkby Lonsdale and bought a few things for the kitchen. I doubt it has changed much in 30 years, but I never had much call for the kind of things such a gentle and slightly posh Northern market town has to offer.

We went for lunch at The Highwayman Inn, in Burrow-by-Burrow, which I've blogged on before. Another top quality feed for us all. The rib eye steak was divine. The Ploughman's was also full of flavour and consistently good. And for a bunch of frustratingly fussy eaters the boys cleared their plates. It's either the food was so good, or they were so hungry they'd have eaten straw.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Great night in Liverpool

I've had to abandon the family and come to Liverpool to host our Merseyside Property Gala Dinner. I am so pleased at how well it has gone. The venue - ACC Arena - was superb, with Paul Heathcote's catering team doing a great job. Joanne Jennings from the new Liverpool One shopping development spoke very well. Our comic turn for the night was Frankie Boyle. Really good. But then you can see here how good he is. The measure of any night is how many people are still there well after the bar has closed. Terrific.

I'm staying in the Premier Inn at Albert Dock. I tell you what, it feels like a boutique hotel. All that exposed brickwork, friendly service, large comfortable rooms and all at a sensible price.

A Mancunian and a Brummie were arguing about which was England's Second City. Brummie says his city has new a retail offer, is very multicultural and is bigger. The Manc says his city has Spinningfields, the Arena and Man United. They call this other bloke over - a Scouser - and ask for a second opinion on what is in fact the Second City. Easy, says the Scouse lad: It's London.

That was my opening gag. Seemed to go down well. Hat tip in the direction of David Partridge for that.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Center Parcs - ten thoughts on why we like it

As I'm on holiday - at Center Parcs, for the third time in just over a year - here's a list of why we keep coming back.

When we were walking from the Village to our lodge Matt said "hi Mrs" or "hi bigger boy" to everyone we passed. This could be seen as rude, or cheeky, but everyone smiled and replied. It's full of nice people.

The houses are well equipped with plenty of room for playing hide and seek.

The slides at the swimming pools are brilliant. The kids like them too.

There are plenty of open spaces at the backs of the houses for the kids to run around in and create games with their own imaginations.

There are lots of sports pitches that are hardly used, which the boys like to play their own style of football on.

We haven't actually booked any activities this time, but we don't feel we've missed out. There's still loads to do. And you feel somehow that you've beaten the system a bit by not falling for it.

The bikes are brilliant. They're all learning really well. There are a few too many vehicles on the roads around, but it's safe enough.

The shops aren't a rip off, they're actually quite good.

Even the fast food restaurant is better than the average level of crap. But we eat in, mostly.

I've seen two people we know, one of these guys, and one of the Dads from St Mary's. Nice surprises.

Friday, March 21, 2008

The F Factor

We're officially on a week's holiday now. We've had our friends Paul and Nat and their beautiful daughter Maisy around for lunch. I don't think the boys knew how to react around her! Rachel, Joe and Louis are at church. I'm tidying up (and doing this).

It's a real time to spend with everyone, to reconnect with what is important - family, friends and food. And the final F - faith.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Witch burning

Usually when I see someone getting a kicking in the press, I tend to try and see their point of view. I think this is quite a natural human reaction that reflects our sense of fair play. The pendulum of public opinion seems to swing the other way quite quickly. Not so, however, with Heather Mills. There's this piece in the paper today which sums it all up very well.

And yet, for all that we can occasionally empathise with her unhappiness, her bitterness, her anger, Mills does make it difficult to stay resolutely on her side. As much as we feel sorry for what was clearly a tough childhood, the lies that she has told - the tales of abuse which were apparently wildly exaggerated, for instance - warn us to hold back.

A link is here.

A copy of the judgement is here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Thinking of you Chris

My friend Chris Lodge will be 41 today. I think about him every day. He went missing over 10 years ago and no-one has heard from him in that time. I hope he's at peace wherever he is.

Grado part two

I went to Grado again yesterday. This time it was with Andrew Weaver, a Marple Leaf reader and a top chap who came on our Golf trip. It was OK, but the squid was cold. Shame.

Anyway, apart from a fairly feisty new venture the boy Weaver is also involved in a music night called The Sound of Proper Music on the first Friday of each month with profits going to Christies Hospital, a mark of respect to the late AHW. It's at a club called The Purple Pussycat. Blimey, I feel old.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Monocle - one year on

When Monocle magazine made its publishing debut in March 2007, it seemed an idiosyncratic launch. But a year on it’s still with us and selling 150,000 copies a month. The features cover business, politics and culture, which you have to admit sounds a lot like The Economist, but its character is much quirkier and it’s presentational style delivers so much more than the words on the page. A feature on the Finnish border police includes a camp picture of two guards that wouldn’t be out of place in a Diesel Jeans advert.

A year on the breadth of features remain impressive – the latest includes Panama’s economy, a profile on Australia’s new gay Malay/Chinese MP, property in Tokyo, German socks and sport in Qatar - you couldn’t help but wonder if this is a wild and expensive whimsy of its founder and editor – Tyler Brûlé – the man who successfully developed Wallpaper*, a design title, yet sold it for squillions. To be fair, Brûlé’s skill lies in the fact that a magazine at its best doesn’t have to reflect a demographic, but give the readers a style of life to aspire to, namely that of all-knowing, über-cool global citizens jetting between Manchester and Montevideo.

Some of the business coverage is probably a bit shallow. Some of the political features concentrate too much on “look and feel” rather than policy. All of which rather adds to the notion that it isn’t quite The Economist, but is more fun, certainly. And it’s what that publication would be like if it was put together by gay men. Happy birthday.

Tory Boy

Here's our littlest treasure Elliot gracing the front cover of Insider magazine this month.

Given the Tories are targetting this part of the world so much, we thought we'd run the rule over their prospects.

As you can see from this picture, Elliot has mixed feelings about David Cameron and George Osborne.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Boys and trees

The house seemed strangely quiet on Saturday morning. I couldn't see the boys anywhere. It turned out they had ventured into the woods at the bottom of our garden. This is out of bounds, and it involved climbing through our next door neighbour's garden. He is a very tolerant man, I salute you, Andy. They were all there looking for Joe in a game of hide and seek. He wasn't there, he was hiding up a tree in our garden. While I told them off for wandering, I was also very proud of such a spirit of adventure, even though Ellliot got a nasty scratch and they were all caked in soil. I don't want to make out like we're some kind of Walton family, but it's important for us to encourage as much outdoor wholesome fun as possible. There's plenty of time to hunch over acomputer when they're older, in the meantime, we don't have computer games and all that crap in our house.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Watch this space

There isn't much to do in Zurich Airport for 3 and a half hours except shop. And if you want designer clothes, luxury goods, watches and Swiss chocolate then you're in business. I had a vague notion I might buy something in the colours of Grasshoppers, the second best team in Europe to play in blue and white halves. Not a sign, anywhere.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

As featured on Sky News

This blog has been on Sky News tonight, according to Eamon, the FiL, who saw it in Spain. I can't get Sky News in the Ibis Hotel in Nice. If anyone else has seen it let me know.

Where in the world?

I've been at the MIPIM event in Cannes today. We held a successful event at the Martinez Hotel on investment strategies for English regional cities. It was more exciting than it sounds, actually.

I caught up with a few people in the exhibition itself and took time to look at what so-called rival cities from around Europe were punting. Manchester now doesn't sell anything, just the brand and lots of Hacienda style yellow and black.

After a while everywhere blurs into one. Can you guess which of these three is Manchester, which is Bologna and which is Munich?

XXXXXXXX offers productive localisation and is counted among the emerging cities for the next ten years by operators in the real estate industry. The territory offers opportunities for any requirement...with accessibility provided by a capillary infrastructure network.
Key business sectors: motors, electronics, agro-food.
Emerging sector: Creative industries

XXXXXXXX is cemented on the global stage as a top 10 European business location. The choice and affordability of property being a testament to the city region's unparalleled success.
Key business sectors: financial services, food and drink, aerospace
Emerging sector: Creative industries

XXXXXXXX is the silent star of the xxxxxxxxx economy. The region is known for
its industrial base, but 80 per cent of the population now work in service industries. There are close relationships with universities.
Key business sectors: motors, financial services.
Emerging sector: Creative industries

You can probably work it out, but you could equally say the same thing about each one.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Just keep swimming

What always chokes me when a man or woman in their prime dies suddenly is the children. I'm so blessed to have healthy parents who have always been there and are now such wonderful grandparents. Children have enough to comprehend without the death of a parent. I just can't imagine.

One of the touchline Dads that Rachel got to know died in January. Brian Miller was described by everyone who knew him as such a nice guy. You think there's nothing you can possibly say to anyone who's lost a loved one, let alone their Dad. I can't get the words of the woman priest at his service out of my head. Looking at Brian's young son, she conjured up the scene from Finding Nemo when Dory couldn't remember what to do - "just keep swimming", she said. "Just keep swimming."

Michael Todd RIP

I'm really shocked at the news that Michael Todd has been found dead. I didn't know him well, but he made a real impression on me. He was prepared to lead from the front and speak his mind. He was a man of some substance. He read widely, thought a great deal and he struck me as a good copper who wanted to do the best for Manchester. He went out of his way to get to know people in the city and make sure the quality of life could be improved for everyone, directly linking what he could do as a copper, with the work of the council and Marketing Manchester in attracting money and visitors to Manchester. When he spoke at an Insider Leader's Lunch in 2004 he drew on his own experiences, his challenges, but did so with great humour.

The Two Reviews

Two free newspapers called Review popped through the letterbox this week.

One is from the council and is understandably full of propaganda about the great work our elected councilors and appointed officials perform. Usefully, it has plenty of contact information for when you get fed up that your binmen have left some rubbish. Generally I find Stockport MBC too user-unfriendly. Apart from when we got married, most of the services (and servants of the public) are delivered with a shrug and a grunt. We may not be typical of people who need their help, as we just want our kids educated and our bin collected.

The other is a private enterprise called Marple Review. It may not be professionally put together, but it's got a warm feeling about it. It makes you feel that you're part of a community full of good people with great stories to tell. The writers have an instinct for human interest. The adverts cover the whole tapestry of life in Marple. I really feel this is the future for local printed media. The days of large newspaper groups enjoying 30 per cent profit margins by squeezing costs on weekly and daily papers are gone. Ultra local niche papers. linked to a hub of websites and community resources are the future.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Thai - me down

We had a good night out in Manchester last night. A good night with friends. We fancied Thai, but that one with the long name was full. I'm still not sure a trek out to Wastelands for Vermilion would work for those in our party who wanted to go dancing later. We went to Pacific in Chinatown. Not impressed. The place was dirty, over-priced and served very average food: rubbery tasteless scallops, limp chicken, chip shop fish smothered in chilli sauce and warmed up deep fried starters that had seen better days.

Ten thoughts on ...bringing up boys

With thanks to Lorraine Jones for forwarding a piece with pics about the, er, charms of small boys. Here are ten observations quite close to home.

A 3-year old boy's voice is louder than 200 adults in a crowded restaurant. A 7-year old’s is even louder.

Any space, anywhere, can be transformed into a football pitch. Even a trampoline.

When a small boy is asked a question in church about a bible story, he will always answer with a reference to Sponge Bob Square Pants or The Simpsons.

When you tell a boy not to leave the light on if he goes to the toilet in the night, make it clear he can actually turn it on so he can see where he’s pissing.

When you hear the toilet flush and the words "woopsie", it's already too late.

The molecular structure of our dining table is now 20 per cent Weetabix.

It is possible for Lego pieces to pass through the digestive tract of a 5 - year old boy.

Always serve the same food to every child on the same sized plate, irrespective of whether they will eat the food in front of them. If it takes a dollop of ketchup to make a boy eat vegetables, then fine.

DVDs may be an advanced technology, but the sticky fingers of small boys make them useless in weeks. Stick to video tapes.

VCR's do not eject PBJ sandwiches even though TV commercials show they do.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Out of office

I was reminded how much I miss the ravings of former-blogger Dougal Paver when I got this out of office message yesterday:

Thanks for your note. I'm in Florence with clients watching Everton and shall be back on Friday morning.

Meantime, the Blackberry's fully charged and I'm taking mobile calls and emails. It's just that the sun's shining and I'm drinking proper coffee.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Falling off Shaps' summit

I noted this week that Simon Shaps has left his job as something important at ITV. I was once interviewed for a job by him and found it a wounding and humiliating experience. It wasn't the fact that I didn't get the job in LWT's press office, which was only a temporary job anyway, but the gleefully nasty way in which he derided my modest CV. I was thinking of this experience when I interviewed someone for a job recently. There's just no need for bad manners or bullying. And when some of the people I'm interviewing are closer to the ages of my children, than to mine, I remember too that these people are somebody's children.

I've subsequently never heard anything since about Simon Shaps, the son of Mr and Mrs Shaps, that has caused me to put that experience down to bad luck, or just the way of the telly business. I just hope he can learn from his own chastening experience at the hands of Michael Grade and emerge a better person.

I interviewed Grade once. He was tough, but fair.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Cheshire Life on Miss Marple

There's a piece from Cheshire Life magazine, here, about whether Agatha Christie's Miss Marple was actually inspired in any way by Marple. Ray King, the bloke what wrote it, comes to a fairly flimsy conclusion that she may have passed through on the train.

Flicking through the last issue of the region's most enormous magazine in a lawyer's reception last week - squeezed between the adverts for divorce lawyers, estate agents and picture spreads of middle aged ladies being pawed by men in tuxedos - there was a feature on Why You Should Move to Marple. The average age is going down apparently, more younger people are moving in and there's an expectation that facilities will improve. I have a visceral dislike of certain places in Cheshire that feature heavily in that magazine. Personally, I think I rather like Marple as it is.

Russian Roulette

A few weeks ago I said I'd try and get round ten Manchester restaurants I hadn't had chance to sample. I notched off Grado yesterday, Paul Heathcote's new Spanish restaurant and tapas bar. It was very good too. We had tapas, which was terrific. The Pimientos de Padron are grilled green chillies, Paul reckons one in six is really fiery, so you play a game of dare. He got the hot one.

Since I said that in January I've been to Gastro's which is pleasant but quiet, Vermillion, which had awesome Thai food, but was deserted.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Family way

We're down to three this afternoon (Me, Rachel and Elliot) and have popped over to Leeds to visit Rachel's brother Sean and his wife Reena. They're expecting their first baby and are just so excited. They'll make such ace parents.

This is a lovely picture of them having fun, but we should add that it wasn't taken this afternoon in Leeds, but at Reena's father's 50th in London last year.

I have a massive mental block when it comes to the traffic in Leeds, is it just me or are the roads particularly awful here?