Monday, September 29, 2008

And when I die

Morbid, I know, but death's been around me lately. There's this string - And When I Die - on The Word website about songs to play at your funeral, prompted by one service that featured Magazine's Shot By Both Sides.

I've been to two funerals recently where the tunes played were Joy Division's Atmosphere (a choker) and Abba's Fernando (he's smiling on us all).

And then there's this magnificent send off from the Baltimore PD.

Rovers on a roll

I'm not going to come on here and admit I was wrong about Paul Ince, I wasn't and I still don't like him. In fact I was completely right about Keith Andrews being out of his depth against Arsenal and completely right that Matt Derbyshire, Benni and Tugay would have given us options.

The Rovers fan in the Observer was full of praise, claiming we're playing better football than under Hughes. I'm not qualified to comment on that, so will reserve judgement.

We've got Man Yoo this weekend and as long as Rob Styles isn't the ref, then we've at least got some momentum to take into the game.

And I'm bottom of the office prediction league. I'm getting a few results (one point), but no correct scores (three), so what do I know?

When you walk through the garden

We've now ended our regular tour of duty to Baltimore. Yes folks, tonight we watched the last ever episode of the Wire. All 58 episodes in less than three months. It's been an incredible journey. I know I sound potty, but I cannot recall a TV series this good.

If you have reached the end, as I have, there are some excellent reviews here, here and here, from New York magazine, The Word and The Guardian website.

Do not click through if you haven't finished.

But, as discussed, there are friends who are behind us on this. Neil, Rob M, Rob H and John Dixon have been very good about not revealing plot lines, so I'm not going to blab about what's happened to different characters, top ten moments, top ten most horrible characters etc.

But let's get our skates on and organise a screening and discussion at the Cornerhouse. Baltimore, the Manchester connection.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Welcome to the layer cake, son

Rachel's out tonight, all the boys are asleep and I'm watching one of my favourite films on DVD - Layer Cake - and necking a bottle of Amarone. It's a brilliant film, full of great dialogue, imposing performances and has a sense of humour. It was also a real milestone in Daniel Craig's career, propelling him to the Bond role. Or so his Dad told me over lunch on Wednesday. Sorry, couldn't resist.

Director Mathew Vaughn was inspired by another multi-layered crime epic - Heat - which I also never tire of.

When I do an event I always tuck myself away for five minutes and listen to Michael Gambon's speech at the climax of the film, followed by Lisa Gerrard's soaring Aria.

You're born, you take shit.

Get out in the world,
you take more shit.

Climb a little higher,
you take less shit.

Until one day, you're up
in the rarefied atmosphere...

...and you've forgotten
what shit even looks like.

Welcome to the layer cake, son.

Kevin Roberts at the Lowry Centre

As I mentioned earlier, this week has been really gruelling. And for all the effort I was still double gutted to miss an Insider event I'd worked really hard to put together. I got Kevin Roberts to come and do a talk in Manchester. It was a great success, Nigel Hughes says so here, and my guys are still buzzing from it.

Here's how it was reported:

Kevin Roberts, the chief executive of global advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, last night called for a complete rebrand of the MediaCity development at Salford Quays, saying the name and design of the emerging creative centre lacked the originality needed to put it into the hearts and consciousness of a worldwide audience. Speaking at Insider’s Creative Forum, held at The Lowry Centre, Roberts praised the idea of MediaCity, but said its execution has so far been poor. “I think you need to add mystery, sensuality and intimacy to it,” he said. “It needs to be rebranded, to have more storytelling around it and the external design needs to change. It’s not enough that it’s coming to Salford over London – we have to make this great and fabulous and ours. I really want it to succeed, but I just find it so bland at the moment.” Roberts added that the economic slowdown could also benefit the creative community, saying some of the most innovative ideas are generated during tough times.

Worst radio interview ever

Is this the worst radio interview ever? It's writer and broadcaster Hardeep Singh Kohli being interviewed about his new book, Indian Takeaway, on the Les Ross show on BBC WM.

Source: Holy Moly and the Word.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Playing catch up

I feel I'm slipping on this blog. Sorry. Something had to give during this phenomenally busy couple of weeks. Here are ten things that are on my mind at the moment, from the ten most popular categories on this blog.

Manchester put on a great show for the Labour Party this week. I've been at a do in Harrogate tonight and the (private) perspective from the white rose side of the Pennines is that Manchester is streets ahead of other UK cities right now. The Cushman and Wakefield report here confirms it.

I'm enjoying discovering new wine, but it's harder to find bargains at Majestic these days. The cheeky Chilean Merlot I like has doubled in price. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is also soaring.

I was involved in two events at Labour Conference. It struck me again how much I am switched off the whole entourage of politics. I was impressed with Richard Leese and John Healey and their honest, very personal commitment to public service, but Labour are doomed. The Tories seem exciting, but that's only because they're in opposition and don't have to do anything. They are weak once you get past Cameron, Osborne and Boris. See if anyone else stands out next week.

It has never been a more fascinating time to be in business journalism. Scary, yes. Complex, yes. But truly remarkable times. I've marked some student projects for UCLAN this week and I am in awe of what these students are capable of.

I didn't go and see Blackburn Rovers beat Fulham. It wasn't a great game according to my kilt wearing correspondent, but I did notice that Keith Andrews got Man of the Match in one paper.

I went to the Marple food and drink festival, which was a fantastic reminder to us that we are very lucky to live in a community where people care about their neighbours and their environment. The best pie award went to Grenaby Farm, as I mentioned. But there were also a whole range of entries in the home made category, which I regret to say I can't remember. As for other food, I was also really delighted to see that Murillos were doing a roaring trade in paella.

The best programme ever to appear on telly - The Wire - has concluded its fifth and final season. We're catching up on DVD and have seen the first three episodes. And it's set in a news room. Unbelievably good.

The Glasvegas CD is brilliant music. I love the energy and the initial feeling of authenticity. But part of me thinks there's a cynical plundering of Definitely Maybe and the early Jesus and Mary Chain that smacks of trying far too hard to get attention. Or maybe I'm just a grumpy old man. Still, I can play Smoke on the Water on my six string now.

So here I am, in a hotel in Yorkshire, away from my family. All this talk of Ruth Kelly giving up her cabinet job to be with her family makes me sad that I don't see enough of my Rachel and my boys. We did our best to have a great birthday for Rachel this week, but we're both at it again straight away. You feel so guilty all the time, but we devote so much of what we do, what we earn and how we invest our love into our family. And on another note, last month we went to my cousin Mark Leamy's wedding party in Morecambe, today we paid our last respects to Uncle Doug and on both very different occasions I was struck by how close people are in different parts of my extended family, and yet I've become distant from it.
We're also so proud of Rachel's niece Emily, who has been on the X Factor. I don't think I properly appreciate what a wonderful extended family we have. And I still haven't seen little Calum! Honestly, I know there are family who pop on here, I just wanted to say "Hello, and I love you all very much".

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Doug Lancaster RIP

Doug Lancaster, my Great Uncle, will be laid to rest at Macclesfield Crem tomorrow and mourned by a sad and large throng at Mobberley Church. He was a lovely kind man and played a huge role in my Mum's life after her father died in the war. RIP, Doug.

Pie winner announced

The Marple Food and Drink Festival was an absolute triumph. The weather helped, but the efforts of so many great people paid off. There were queues at every stall at lunchtime.

And the winner of the Samuel Oldknow Pie Competition, as judged by myself and Joy Abell was...

Professional category: Grenaby Farm pork pie with cranberry.

There were other winners, but I am sketchy on the details.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

...played it till my fingers bled

My fingers hurt today, because I had a guitar lesson last night. It really isn't going very well at all. Part of me wants to blame the teacher, who seems to show me some nifty moves with his fingers, that look physiologically impossible, but doesn't say anything that makes it easy. But basically, I don't practice enough. I just don't get the time. I will try harder to pratice, but I find chord transitions really hard and can't concentrate on two movements by different hands.

I read a terrific book on holiday called Guitar Man by Will Hodgkinson. It's one of those self deprecating middle aged man books that embarks on a journey of discovery. He learns the guitar in six months and plays a concert. It should inspire me to stick at it. All I want to achieve is being able to pick, strum and fret my way through a few campfire classics.

Sitting in judgement

I'm going to be a judge at the Samuel Oldknow Pie Competition this weekend at the Marple Food and Drink Festival. We'll be outside the pub on Market Street.

The glory of the North West

Stuart Maconie is to be an ambassador for the North West, he's doing a web service, which is here. I like Stuart, he's a funny writer and his book Pies and Prejudice was a great old ramble around the North. I did a review of it for one of our magazines, which he took exception too, partly because I said he made a few mistakes and then tripped up by making one of my own - he didn't in fact go to Manchester Poly.

Anyway, I hope it works out.

This is the worst trip...

The Times is reporting here that Rangers fans have been singing sectarian songs about the Irish famine. If I recall, this song ends with the line: "the famine is over, why don't you go home." And it is to the tune of Sloop John B.

As one of my Cardiff based colleagues reflected today, when Rangers were in Manchester, and he was required to be here, he did muse: "This is the worst trip, I've ever been on."

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Italy is different

This cute animation about Italy is quite amusing. Click here.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Oh dear - Rovers get battered

Stuffed at home by Arsenal, who barely broke sweat. And our manager linked with the Newcastle fiasco. All my worst fears about Paul Ince, Keith Andrews and our flaky defence look like coming true. We will be in the bottom three tomorrow and may well spend a great deal of the season there.

I'm going to do running total here, working out how much the match tickets would have cost had we bought them on a game by game basis, as opposed to buying our family season ticket. As Arsenal are a category A team, the price would have been £111.

Y Factor a great success

The Y Factor was an enormous success on Thursday night. Dean Gormley of law firm Halliwells was crowned as winner after wowing judges, even the super-cynical Terry Christian, Rowetta, Sean Fitzgerald and Angie Robinson and an audience of over 450 professionals with his rendition of Suspicious Minds. Emma Leathley of Clearwater came second with her excellent Manic Monday.

Overall, the event raised nearly £40,000 for Mencap.

A DVD of the night, plus unseen extras, will be available soon after some wizardry from Chris and Alan at Zut Media. No doubt it will include raw footage of Phil Tarimo of Investec who provided "one for the ladies" with You Can Leave Your Hat On. The hat, and the trousers, did indeed stay on... but the shirt did not.

An absolutely blinding night. I understand Dean is still wearing the Elvis outfit.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Feeder club

It is customary for the perpetually vacant manager's job at Newcastle to be linked with whoever is in change at Blackburn Rovers.

According to a "rumour" in today's Fiver: "Dennis Wise and Mike Ashley think Paul Ince is the perfect puppet for the Newcastle job."

Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha.

Must have been how he snatched a point from Hull City, a week before Wigan stuffed them 5-0.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The intense humming of irritation

I read here that the new iPod Touch will have an inbuilt speaker. Boz won't be happy.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Fire at Hawk Green Cricket Club

Rotten news that the cricket club pavilion at Hawk Green has been torched. The jist of the story, here, seems to smell foul play. It would add insult to injury if it was.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Marple's best pie

It was an early exercise of this blog to find Marple's best pie, link is here. We went for Grenaby Farm steak.

I'm delighted that the excellent Marple Food and Drink Festival have created the Samuel Oldknow Pie Competition, which you can find out about here. The festival is one of the things that makes Marple such a lovely community; combining all the best aspects of shared experience - eating, drinking, family time and supporting people with honest values. And filling Nick Lindley's boots. ;-)

We sampled something of this spirit in Barga on our holidays. We went to the annual Fish and Chip Festival organised by AS Barga, the local football club. There's a strong connection in the town to the west of Scotland and English is spoken with a Glasweigan accent. We did not find any deep fried Mars bars, however.

The website for the Marple Festival looks good, as you'd expect from Stuart Manley of IF Consultancy. I will accept the decision on the pie as binding, but will be making representations for myself and Ian Wolfendale to join the panel of judges.

Touched Up

Apple have fixed the bug on the iPod Touch. I can now sync it with Outlook calendars and address book. Still can't blog from it though.

Wire in the blood

The new issue of The Word magazine was waiting for me when I got home this afternoon. I do enjoy the cultural musings of David Hepworth and tend to like his unorthodox recommendations: Willie Nile, for one. There's a banging interview Hepworth has done with David Simon, the writer of The Wire, quite possibly the greatest TV series ever. We are currently up to episode 6, series 4 on the boxed set. It's not just the sprawling cast of characters, the changing backdrops to Baltimore's layers or the moral maze that blurs the lines between the cops and baddies. It's the scale of it. I'm envious that there's a screening in London of the last 5 episodes with Simon hosting a Q+A afterwards.

As a piece of work, it's amazing enough, but it's also epoch making in the way it's consumed. In the US and the UK followers have got hold of it in the most unconventional way, through downloads, Sky Plus and DVD. This is Simon on its unexpected popularity in the UK:

I'm stunned. I can't figure you people out.

We have the final series on order.

Coming Around Again

My Mum always reckons she wells up when she hears Carly Simon's Coming Around Again; she says it reminds her of when I went off on what people now call a "gap year". Oddly, it came on the radio this afternoon when I was taking Elliot to school for the first time. The last of our babies growing into boys, and then men. He looked so smart in his school uniform, but so young too. Anyway, for the benefit of all family members popping onto The Marple Leaf, he was very happy and excited. He was a bit nervous as we waited at the gate, but went in with no problems at all. When I picked him up a couple of hours later he was so proud and pleased and he ran round to the junior yard to meet his brothers and show them his smiley sticker.

And as I got Joe's stuff together for him this morning I noticed he had a certificate and a badge announcing he's been elected class councillor. Not that he thought it important to tell his Mum or Dad, or anything.

Honestly, I gasp at our lads sometimes and how they cope with the tests of life with such apparent ease. Being a Dad causes me more angst than anything at work or in any other sphere of life. But it also gives me highs I've never experienced either. Every day.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Come and see the Y Factor

I'm involved in the Y Factor event next week, where we're raising money for MENCAP.

Ten corporate financiers will be performing a song with a live backing band at the Chicago Rock Cafe in Manchester on Thursday the 11th of September. Having done it last year, it's a great occasion and quite nerve racking.

The full link is here, for tickets and information on the singers.

Creative industry

The subject of creationism has been thrown to the fore with Sarah Palin's candidature for the US vice-presidency. If you can bear the smug tone, Oliver Kamm blogs well on it here, concluding that anyone who approves of teaching a pseudo science that the earth was created 4000 years ago is not fit for high office. I don't think she believes it for a moment, but such is the force of creationist drivel in the Republican party she has to be seen to tolerate it.

A few of us at work have also been sent a massive book called The Atlas of Creation by an Islamic creationist called Harun Yahya. It is absolutely bonkers.

Damian Thompson, author of Counterknowledge, and editor of the Catholic Herald, sums it up very well:

Insightful? Let me tell you a bit about Harun Yahya. It’s the pen name of a series of writers flooding the Islamic world with books and DVDs that present Darwinism as part of a diabolical conspiracy. This is a particularly poisonous form of counterknowledge.

British universities are filling up with science and medical students who reject the single most important discovery in biological science. Sooner or later we’re going to have to face the consequences.

Full blog is here.

They're flooding the whole world with this nonsense by the looks of it. The book is enormous, it is expensively produced and it is frightening that people believe it.

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Middle Eastlands

As usual, Real Journalism's David Conn does a cracking job summing up the "Manchester City bought by the oil trillionaires" story. Can't add to it. Superb. Link is here.

What's the betting someone is looking to hire a camel for the next home match, that they'll be selling sky blue and white tea towels as Arab head dresses? I've even had one City fan goading rivals with reminders that every time they fill their car with fuel, it's helping Manchester City.

But I've not heard anything yet from this blue. Or this one. To quote one blue pal today - "I still think there's a catch somewhere."

Footballers behaving badly

Jamie Carragher was going to get Lucas Neill "done" by some of his Scouse mates after Neill broke the leg of the World's Greatest Ever ScouserTM. There's a link to a slightly strange football website here which could take you on a bizarre journey of discovery.

Revolting passengers

I had to laugh at this (passengers revolting at Manchester Airport). Well, not a laugh exactly, but emit a slightly weary "huh". I really dislike air travel, especially from Manchester Airport. It is made worse by the attitude of so many Manchester Airport staff. They seem to think you have to suffer to earn the right to fly. We had a couple of stray bags at the end of our holiday. It wasn't the end of the world, but it delayed us another half an hour. Then of course, because taxis won't take an order until you've got ALL your bags, because they get charged so much to park, things dragged on. The attitude of the staff was the worst part of it. They couldn't have cared less.

Late today - congestion to blame

Today was the first day I have driven into work since I came back from holiday because I'm working late tonight. The 12 miles from Marple to Manchester took ONE HOUR AND 46 MINUTES. Suffice to say I was late. Most of that time was spent snaking along the two and half miles on the M67 from Hyde to the M60. No congestion charge would make any kind of difference to that, as it's outside the zone. The route along the A67 was pretty quiet.

And I could find no information on BBC Radio Manchester about what was causing the jam.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Blogging - what next?

Coming back from holiday - and following an August lull - there seems to be a certain amount of soul searching and wonderment about blogging amongst the local blogerati. Manchizzle goes so far as to ask: Is blogging dead?

I got into doing this out of curiosity. Part of my day job is to understand how people consume media and how we then deliver it to them. This blog has helped in that. But it's also subtly changed over the two years I've been doing it, both in its look, but also in tone. I have separated my work from this blog. I don't put stories from Insider on here, for example. I'm careful about what I say about my family. But I'm committed to it more than ever.

So, two years on, what next? I always find it amazing that people manage to publish long and well put together blogs on politics, or as extensions of their personal interests - be they music, football, writing, poetry or local history. I would find that achingly narrow. The blogs I return to - and link to - are generalist and personal. They reflect as well as possible the hinterland of the writer. Nigel Hughes does this very well, but he's also shifted away from his day job a bit; Dave Hill separates his Guardian work from his local Hackney stuff; I sense that Laura Wolfe is working out her direction - running a business, her family, Man City. The much missed Dougal Paver threw everything at his, but stopped entirely because he's a public face who didn't want to self-censor his deeply held views on Norweigans and environmentalists. I think I've settled down with my core now, though I occasionally need to be reminded not to overdo the Blackburn Rovers stuff.

I don't hanker after comments, but I like it when I get them. I know from the stats that there's a small loyal following and I like the fact that the blog not only helps me entertain and keep in touch with friends and family, my occasional nostalgic ramblings have also flushed out a few old friends from as Stringer Bell would say - "back in the day" - Nick Morrell, Andrew Worth and Andrew Blacktop.

Anyway, to try and revive the momentum and explore the reasons and the purpose for blogging, a Manchester bloggers blog has been set up here. And the Manchester Evening News blog has organised a get together, the details of which are here. I would suspect the bulk of the blogerati are younger, less grumpy, trendier, more left wing and therefore considerably more interesting than me. They may even inspire a new direction for the Marple Leaf. I'll let you know.

Delayed this morning - congestion to blame

Getting into Manchester city centre from Marple this morning was really difficult - due to heavy "congestion". Trouble is, I was on the train. The driver announced that we were stopped at Ardwick because the approach to Piccadilly station was congested. Maybe this is why the promise of more peak time services on our line has been quietly dropped from the proposed transport improvements, here, in favour of longer trains with more seats, which are desperately needed.

The train was delayed again today, but unlike yesterday, it was bigger and better able to carry the hundreds of passengers crammed in like sardines. One bloke sat in the toilet for the duration.

Monday, September 01, 2008

On Keith Andrews

I've never seen the bloke play. I only know what I've read about him. He was in and out of the team and Wolves and did a good job at MK Dons.

Paul Ince's faith in the ability of his former skipper to make it in the Premier League will define his tenure as Rovers manager. If he does play then it's going to be at the expense of internationals like Vince Grella, Steven Reid, Aaron Mokeona and Johann Vogel, and for Ince's new best mate - Dunny. If he plays well and competes, and adds something to our game the transfer will be hailed as a masterstroke. If he fails to break through then Ince will be seen as showing poor judgement, blind loyalty and looking out for an old mate.

Like a lot of Rovers fans I've mocked this transfer, but when you listen to Andrews himself admitting he's going to be lucky to get a game, you start to hanker after the days when a hard working grafter can work his way up to the top division. I'd love it to work out.

Charge debate

Surprising early poll news here seems to confound my firm belief that the TIF bid will be trounced in the polls in December. However, I think this is extremely optimistic on the part of the pro-TIF lobby. I don't think the question that the MORI poll asked will bear any resemblence to the question that will be set in the referenda.

Football predictions

These are my predictions for the Premier League, which I did before the start of the season (honest)

Man U
Man City
West Brom
West Ham

Cup: Villa
League Cup: Middlesbrough

I think Preston Burnley and Blackpool will all comfortably finish in mid table.

Back on the train gang

First day back. First train to catch this morning and guess what? Yep. Rose Hill train cancelled. Luckily a chap at the station bundled a couple of us into his car and we headed for Marple instead. Nice touch that, more than made up for the disappointment of the train.