Monday, August 31, 2009

On The Road by Frank Skinner

Easy to read, easy to like. Frank Skinner's account of his move back to doing stand up comedy is astonishingly frank (scuse the pun). He's also speaks very well about his Catholic faith and his volatile personal relationships with his other half. Another appreciative review here. 8/10

Enter the Dragon by Theo Paphitis

I enjoyed this book. Witty and self deprecating, but surprisingly good on common sense business advice. Having met him recently and got it signed, I think he's alright and kinder than his Dragon's Den persona. Obviously pleased with himself, but he's done it the hard way. Very good chapters on Millwall and the funding gap in football.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Paintball's Coming Home (Alt Version) Half Man Half Biscuit

I'm sure there's a new version of this that sums up the fact that we get all our kids singing along to this fantastic tune in the car.

"They get their kids to sing ironic pop
"They get their kids to sing ironic pop
"They get their kids to sing ironic pop
"In the people carrier"

However, as they go to Catholic schools one can only imagine the horror on the teacher's face if they contributed such a line to the original song.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Bore all at Ewood today

The match today was dull stuff and deserves to be last on Match of the Day tonight. It was summed up by one key moment. David Dunn gets the ball on the half line, bursts forward, looks up and sees only Jason Roberts ahead of him closely guarded by West Ham defenders James Collins and Matthew Upson. Pedersen was ambling in the general direction. Vince Grella was probably digging a trench he was so embedded in a defensive position and Eamon Andrews was striding up in no great hurry. Chimbonda, who looked good all day, was tied to a piece of elastic preventing him crossing the half way line. Even with Dunny on the ball the manager's instructions seemed to be "8 behind the ball at all costs". The game plan today was simple: don't lose. Grim, but effective. Or just grim?

I'm still monitoring our football spending. It cost us £29 today for an extra ticket for Rachel, but because we had 4 season tickets, it would have cost £50. The total cost of our season tickets was £404. We missed the City match, so we've still got £354 to go to get our value. To complicate matters, we also have access to a lounge before the game which is pretty good.

West Ham throwback

Rovers are playing West Ham today and we're looking forward to a trip to Ewood. Given the events at West Ham's last match some of the kids saw the footage on Sky News and were a little worried.

And wasn't it strange to see tattooed 50-something men on the pitch in a crazed and nostalgic waddle down memory lane? And is it ever so hypocritical of Sky News to be showing an advert for The Firm during the same news - about the self same West Ham hooligans in their heyday? Hypocritical, or a masterstroke of media planning?

Ten thoughts on Oasis splitting up

* The first two Oasis albums were blisteringly good. They captured a time and had an incredible energy, the concerts in this country were the closest experience I'd had to what The Jam created from 1978-1982.

* For me, one of their best songs is on their rotten third album, All Around The World on Be Here Now.

* They never moved on. You could play each subsequent album to a man from planet Zarg and they'd never place them in evolutionary order. Oasis were discussed this week in the context of the new Arctic Monkeys album. This is different said a critic, better this than just trotting out the same old stuff, like Oasis.

* I saw Oasis at their blistering best in 1996 in San Francisco. Back then I thought Noel would ditch his simian brother and do bigger and better things with his pals like Paul Weller and Ocean Colour Scene. What took you so long? That said Echo Round the Sun on Weller's 22 Dreams is the worst track - and Noel's on it.

* That whole row with Blur was idiotic, probably rooted in a desire to endlessly punch Alex James in the face, which is understandable. I supported them, bizarrely, in the same way I instinctively supported Blackburn Rovers, Labour and England for Euro 96. But you have to say Blur have played the better hand over the years.

* I think they've turned their backs on Manchester, which is a shame. Mick Hucknall's millions are invested in the city. Where are the Gallagher's?

* You could imagine sitting down and having a drink with Noel and rather enjoying it. Not so with Liam.

* It's bad form to walk out with gigs planned. Noel says he can't work with Liam any longer, well, he's always been a knob so why let all those people down now?

* Very pleased for my graphic designer Darren Gillibrand. He was there at V Festival, the last ever UK show.

* I can't imagine any of them recording anything of any critical significance ever again.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Some more best jokes ever

It's a pretty bold statement to say a joke is the best ever. And so I'm slightly suspicious when TV channel Dave has awarded the best joke at Edinburgh this year.

It's this from Dan Antopolski : "Hedgehogs. Why can't they just share the hedge?"

The last best joke I'd heard in ages, from Jason Manford (on Twitter), is this:

"How does every racist joke start? With a look over the shoulder."

Thanks to Ted Robbins, here's the best comedians' joke ever:

Two comedians meet up at Edinburgh. "How have you been?" asks one.

"Great," replies the other, "haven't you heard? I was doing some work in New York, got on the Letterman show as warm up, got on a Broadway Show."

"No," says the other, "I never heard about that."

"Yes, then my agent got me in the new Ben Stiller film. It was a raging success. I won an Oscar, now I'm doing a new film with Simon Pegg."

"Oh," says the other, "I never heard that."

"And to warm up some new material I did a couple of pub gigs at the Frog and Bucket in Manchester, but I died on my arse if I'm honest."

"Ah," says the other, "I heard about that."

The Junior Officers' Reading Club - by Patrick Hennessey - a review

I first heard extracts from The Junior Officer's Reading Club by Patrick Hennessey on Radio 4's Midweek and it was compelling and urgent. His exchanges with David Hepworth on The Word Podcast was one of the best radio interviews I'd heard in ages. It was all a revealing enough tale of a young man's rites of passage through Sandhurst, and at first I enjoyed it. By the time he got to Afghanistan, it dragged on a bit. It seems harsh to reduce (edit) this young man's tale, as it takes something away from the sacrifice of his fallen comrades, but he seems to have aspirations to write more and he needs to learn. Anyway, here's a review here that says pretty much what I think.

Double perils at Rose Hill Marple

The commute home on the 18:06 from Manchester Piccadilly to Rose Hill Marple is a very pleasant experience at the moment; today there was plenty of room to sit and gaze out of the window while listening to my chosen medley of The Chords, Secret Affair and The Purple Hearts.

By the time the train screeches up the sharp rise from Marple junction and along the cutting towards Rose Hill, I noticed the embankment full of pretty pink and white flowers atop a towering bushy plant, but with blood red triffid like stems. Aaaaggghh. The dreaded Japanese Knotweed. This invasive and evil weed was imported in the 1880s as an ornamental plant and gets everywhere, it can cause havoc with gardens and is almost impossible to get rid of. Railtrack are part of an alliance to tackle this nuisance, here, and we wish them every success.

Walking home from Rose Hill station, I hang a sharp left along the Middlewood Way, the path of the old railway line, and emerging on Wood Lane by the entrance to the rugby club. That route should be lovely, but it is littered with dog shit. And horse shit. Dog owners carry bags with them and seem to have embraced the law that says they should clean it up. Some clearly do not.

It's one of my unreasonable prejudices that horse owners are self righteous middle class prats who feel morally superior to anyone who doesn't make way for their fetishistic animal indulgence. This is reinforced when I see their crap that litters the Middlewood Way. Horses just seem to do great piles of it wherever they can. I'm sorry, but that is just as disgusting. It might not stink the same as dog mess, but as far as I'm concerned there's no difference. Shit is shit.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

On the wagon

After a great holiday, and the subsequent shock of having to get back into the commuting and working, I thought I'd lay off the grog. I'm not a heavy drinker. I don't get pissed very often, but like a lot of people of my generation we've taken to having wine about the house. I've started to discover favourites as well, usually strong Italian reds or a potent New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc.

My pal Erikka Askeland gave up alcohol for a commendable 40 days a few years back and wrote a very entertaining blog about it. Her abstinence was all the more remarkable for the fact she lives in Scotland.

I'm not going to do a confessional theme on this blog, but we are going to see if we can cut it right back. Last night we thought we might fall off the wagon as we had friends coming over. Apart from a welcome glass of Cava, the wine was left untouched. Mornings have been strange. I feel groggy but rested. I've also combined it with walking a lot more as I'm "between cars". So, just thought it's worth putting a marker down. No big deal.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

This is how it feels to be Everton

An Evertonian of my acquaintance was in a philosophical mood on Tuesday as he reflected on Saturday's 6-1 home lashing by Arsenal.

It felt strangely comforting, he said. "You know when you're in a marriage and everyone else on the outside sees the relationship as perfect. It puts pressure on you, because you know all is falling apart. You eventually reach that point where you admit to yourselves that this is over. Saturday felt like that. David Moyes is not a good manager. The squad is weak. Now everyone can see that, and we can do something about it."

Monday, August 17, 2009

The stages of a midlife crisis

I bade farewell to my midlife crisis car today, my Audi A4 convertible. No more whizzing round with the top down, pleading with kids to get inside a bin liner before they can have a lift home from football. No more lying awake at night thinking someone's going to kick the front door in and demand the keys at knifepoint. It's been fun, but now it's time for a sensible runabout. More later, but this is a brief lament.

What we did on our holidays

When the sun shines in Cornwall, then all is well with a domestic holiday. And ours was special this year. But the perverse thing about a British break comes on those wet drizzly days when the estate cars with roof boxes tear up and down the A30 and the A39 in search of relief and fun.

Blissfully we had few such washouts this year. When we did we found the Lost Gardens of Heligan, a fairground museum called Dingles, Launceston Castle, Tintagel and Land's End. The first was amazing. Really. A great day out, and it's got a brilliant farm shop. More on the second later. In the latter two, there were shops full of tat and grass slopes. Our kids love a grass slope. There were also grass slopes at Launceston and Dingles.

Land's End is an absolute toilet. In fact, it's worse than that, because one of the grimmest things about it were the public latrines. We had our picture taken at that sign for £9 - but it hasn't arrived yet - showing how far Marple was. We went to the Doctor Who exhibition which cost the thick end of £20. The whole experience was grubby. The punters, a large number of whom were smokers with kids in Bristol City shirts, all looked glum. Here are some more reviews, here.

Dingles had a collection of old fashioned fairground attractions in a barn and to be honest I feared a repeat of rip-off tat. I couldn't have been more wrong. A lovely place, run by enthusiastic volunteers and space to run around. It gave us a nostalgia kick and the kids the freedom to enjoy the dodgems and a wild merry-go-round without being terrorised by teenagers.

It sounds like this is drifting into a bit of a moan, which this wasn't meant to be, we had a bloody brilliant holiday. We've already booked to go back next year to Fentrigan Manor Farm, which was just perfect for us. We were talking to the owner Richard Grigg and he's got loads of ideas to keep improving the farm and make it better.

The common twine that links all these positive experiences, and excludes the negatives, was the attitude and intent of the people behind them. A bit of pride, a bit of passion. And hopefully a bit of success from other people's fun.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Football predictions 2009/2010

It's become a tradition on this blog to predict the Premier League places and some other issues around the other leagues. Last season was a total wipeout. Here's what I reckon this time.

1 Chelsea
2 Liverpool
3 Manchester United
4 Manchester City
5 Tottenham
6 Arsenal
7 Aston Villa
8 Everton
9 Sunderland
10 Fulham
12 Wigan
13 Stoke
14 Bolton
15 West Ham
16 Portsmouth
17 Burnley
18 Wolves
19 Hull
20 Birmingham

League Cup: Manchester United reserves
FA Cup: Liverpool
Champions League: Real Madrid
Scotland: Do you know what? I couldn't care less.

Nothing particularly controversial there. I think from Rovers downwards it's all going to be pretty grim stuff. Gary Megson will be the first manager to get sacked. I think we'll lose at Turf Moor but win at Ewood.

Elsewhere, West Brom to win Championship, Ipswich and Derby to come up with them. Newcastle nowhere. Blackpool to go down, PNE comfortable mid table.

Huddersfield and Charlton to go up. Dirty Leeds stay down. Stockport County to go down.

Notts County on the way up with Shrewsbury and Rotherham. Morecambe in the play offs. Sad farewell to Accy Stanley.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

After dipping in and out of various autobiographies, long magazine articles and bits of newspaper, sitting down in one sitting to devour this book was a massive shock. A gripping apocalyptic tale, focused on just two characters - a father and a son - but covering an enormous range of profound questions: good and evil; unquestioning love; our environmental stewardship of earth; and the existence of God. A truly amazing and mesmerising book. 10/10

Friday, August 07, 2009

Gone fishing

It must be 33 years since I last went fishing. But the old magic (and the old ineptitude) was still there this afternoon as we messed around in the fields and lakes around Fentrigan Manor Farm. You should have seen the one that got away - a carp - it was THIS BIG. And we had such a lovely day as a family, away from other people and the demands from our children for ice cream. Very chilled out.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Slavery in Marple

After the rant, here, about Griff Rhys Jones comes another history programme of a comedian on a journey, this time it's "Who do you think you are?" which my observant FiL, Eamon Curran, tells me was about David Mitchell, the comedian.

"His ancestor Rev John Forbes Of Sleat, Isle of Skye was instumental in rescuing young girls from the Walmsley woolen mills in MARPLE and a Dr Hibbert certified the death of one girl who died of typhus. Check out lots of information."

Will watch it later and comment further.


Try anything once, within reason. Here's me having a go at clay pigeon shooting in Cornwall. What a lot of fun this is. I think next time I'll try doing it blindfold and see if there's any improvement.

Monday, August 03, 2009

I'm on a journey...

You've all heard the opening line of many, many BBC documentaries where a middle aged comedian is on a journey - and the rest is just a vaguely hacked together series of mildly interesting anecdotes masquerading as a penetrating and incisive narrative.

The latest is Griff Rhys Jones and "his journey" around rivers, imaginitively called River Journeys With Griff Rhys Jones. Last night's episode annoyed me. Not because he went to Marple and didn't acknowledge it, but because the whole point of this exercise was a fraud.

He went from west coast to east. Included in this were some warm and inviting vignettes of modern geography; the clean up of the Mersey, Manchester's underground rivers, then some stuff about canals. Visually this works very well in Marple, which they did by shooting the barges, the locks and the viaduct, but his narrative was to get on the Rochdale canal in Manchester city centre and then get off around Stalybridge and hike up a mountain, so he didn't mention it. But then that's the point of these programmes. No one is really listening. No one is really watching. No one will notice if you take liberties with reality.

They didn't even mention the name of the star in the making sat on the bridge at about 17m 36secs. We certainly didn't on first look!

Griff then dropped down to Chatsworth House - oh how the BBC love a toff and a stately home - warbled about there for a bit, then ambled over to the Trent for some stories about a road and fishing for carp in gravel pits. As for his "journey from east to west" he'd forgotten it.

Next month: Alan Partridge and the spoons of our Motorway service stations.

Once more unto the beach

Sorry for not smiling, because I was very happy indeed. There is no sensation more likely to make you feel like you're on holiday than sea water in your face. I do so like crashing around in the waves with a Boogie board.

Summerleaze beach in Bude also has a safe seawater pool, freezing mind, hence the wetsuits.

Wide Open Road

It took ten hours to get from Marple to where we are staying in Cornwall. All told that included diversions to even get to the M6, two meal stops (an hour each), two road side toilet stops, rain in the Midlands, heavy traffic on the top bit of the M5 near Bristol, rubber neckers on the M5 in Somerset and a couple of wrong turns.

As I was piloting the supplies that's a lot of time alone. I listened to all my podcasts, a morning of Radio 4, some music and a dreadful afternoon of nothing courtesy of Radio 5 Live.

Here are some random things I learned.

More soldiers who served in the Falklands have committed suicide than died there in battle.

Justin Webb is leaving the BBC in Washington to move to London, the sale of his house there was a very odd process.

It's raining at Egbaston, thanks to Radio 5 Live.

Mark Mardell is leaving the BBC in Brussels to replace him.

It's still raining at Egbaston, thanks to Radio 5 Live.

The origins of the mild insult "Berk" - thanks to Andrew Collins on the Word Podcast, in a debate about Dave Cameron's use of the T word on the radio.

Ooooh, it's raining at Egbaston, thanks to Radio 5 Live.

I really don't like the Monocle Podcasts at all.

Julie Cullen and Matt Everitt on the BBC Radio 6 Music Podcast are just fantastic. Especially from live events.

Of the mid-period Jam albums, I prefer All Mod Cons to Setting Sons.

How is it possible to say so little other than it's raining at Egbaston, no thanks at all to Radio 5 Live.

If you do a Genius selection (from my music) based on One Day Like This by Elbow it comes up with, as you'd expect, Arcade Fire, Bon Iver, Fleet Foxes, Glasvegas and... Promise by Girl's Aloud. Obviously based on songs of the year. And yes I do have that track.