Sunday, November 29, 2009

Lancashire Day

It was Lancashire Day on Friday. Happily it was marked by plenty of folk around the red rose county at lots of events.

The magnificent Kevin Roberts writes about the heritage and pride of our county of birth here.

The Friends of Real Lancashire point out that the county's historical footprint is much bigger than the current administrative one. Indeed, it starts at four miles from here at Lancashire Hill - just at the other side of the Mersey from Stockport town centre and goes all the way north to Lake Windermere.

Anyway, for dinner tonight I made a Lancashire hotpot inspired by Nigel Haworth, a wonderful chef. I added vegetables and used steak, not lamb, but the verdict from the kids was universally positive except for one thing: not enough!

Quite possibly the worst film I've ever seen

I mentioned in a blog post here that I used to write about music, films, fashion and the like. I concluded that it wasn't my bag and the nasty back channel of music journalism was loathsome. I'm sure there's something equally shifty about film writing.

With that in mind, I watched a film called Outlaw on DVD. It stars Danny Dyer, Sean Bean and Bob Hoskins and is directed by Nick Love whose other efforts have included Football Factory and The Business. Now, I'd heard the audio commentary first, which intrigued me. On it Love and Dyer swear profusely at each other and cry into their beer about the "cwitics" and how the fans love it, acknowledging that some fans fast forward to the violence. Lovely.

You feel their pain. They toil to make a film, not just any film, but they claim it is the most important British film of the last 10 years. A political statement about Britain today.

I have to say, I'm with the cwitics and not the fans. It was quite possibly the worst film I've ever seen. Stylistically it's all there. Plot wise though it's ponderous and predictable. Vigilantes, violence and villains.

That said, if you want a good laugh, do listen to the audio commentary where Love describes how Taxi Driver and Godfather were, er, c***ed by the cwitics. Yes, that's right, they compare this to two epics. Then watch the film.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A close shave

I give virtually no thought whatsoever to the importance of the brand of shaving gel I use. Out of habit I use King of Shaves gel. I don't feel strong brand loyalty but it doesn't give me a rash, so I buy it from Boots where I collect points. Now they also do cheap razors, which I like because Gillette and Wilkinson are rip offs. The founder of King of Shaves, Will King, positions himself as a champion of the underdogs, much as Richard Branson has always tried to do. I barely even noticed that they sponsored John Terry, who is on the scrounge for more endorsements. Had I done so, I may well have sought out a new product on a point of principle.

I am sorry that this is a blog post about absolutely nothing at all.

A thin line between success and failure

There is indeed a thin line between glorious success and abject failure in sport. We were a Liam Lawrence lace and a Christophe Samba eyebrow away from both today. The fact that Blackburn Rovers v Stoke ended 0-0 was not a surprise given that both teams deployed such defensive strategies.

Had we won 1-0 we would have been concentrating on the positives; the way in which the side rose to the challenge of David Dunn's withdrawl through injury with a pulsating attacking performance and a solid defensive display from Ryan Nelson and Samba. Vince Grella sprayed balls around for the last half hour, Brett Emerton troubled Stoke's right back. Steven N'Zonzi shrugged off his markers and had a shot rebound off the post. All of that happened and all of that is true.

Had we lost, and we could have done, then the lack of ambition of El Hadji Diouf, the lack of force from Franco di Santo and the lack of ability of Keith Andrews would have been talking points. The changes should have been made sooner and McCarthy should have been on sooner. All of that is also true.

A draw makes you dwell on both negatives and positives. Yes, we missed Dunny, who was tricky again. But even he couldn't create enough in a dismal first half which failed to ignite even after Paul Robinson was forced to make two great saves.

I hope Benni starts against Chelsea in the midweek cup match. We need that extra dimension, irrespective of the team Chelsea put out - either way you know it's going to be a strong side. And for Liverpool next weekend, can we please start with two strikers and leave peripheral wasters like Diouf and Pedersen where they belong, on the bench.

Emerton got the sponsors man of the match, I thought it would have been Nelsen or even Robinson. But if Grella can grip a game like he did for the last half hour, he could be a key man for us if we want to have a decent season.

Family wise, just two of us did this one. That would have cost us £36. So far we've used £198 worth of season tickets. That's almost half of what they cost with loads more to come.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Wasps or wimps?

In football it is the referee who deems whether a pitch is fit to play on. In rugby, it appears that if one team doesn't fancy it then they can unilaterally refuse to play. That's what seems to have happened at Edgeley Park tonight, the home of Sale Sharks. After wolfing down our meal in the Insider Suite we trooped out with our guests to be told over the tannoy that Wasps didn't want to play. Unbelievable. James Jennings, the Sale Sharks chief executive was very annoyed and announced that the ref had deemed the pitch was playable. But Wasps had flown off.

In the lounge later vice captain Mark Cueto was visibly annoyed and said: "It's typical of Wasps, they didn't fancy it at Edgeley tonight."

They should have points deducted for this fiasco.

Monday, November 23, 2009

My mate... Dom #2 in a series


The second in the series of blogs where I write about a random friend. This time I randomly shuffled my address book and found... Dominic Fussell.

I first met Dom through our respective jobs. As time went on we became good mates. He left that job, and in the meantime his wife Nicola helped us by enrolling our lads in afterschool club at their nursery. It's a measure of how far we've come that the last time we went out, to see A Few Good Men at the Romper in Marple, we didn't talk about work at all. We just stood up watching a band, got back ache and realised how old we're all getting.

Five go mad in restaurants

I would say it's been a regular if inconsistent theme of this blog to talk about kids and food. I try hard to make them nourishing and challenging meals at the weekend. I also like eating out, but wonder if kids appreciate it enough for it to be worth it.

I've been given the nod to do restaurant reviews for the excellent website Manchester Confidential. Compared to Gordo, the publisher, and Jonathan Schofield, editor, I am a minnow amongst critics. However, they don't have five kids under 10 and I do, so that is my angle. I'll be contributing one every three weeks or so, with the accent very much on how the restaurant caters for a family like ours. We did Giraffe a couple of weeks ago. Yesterday we filed our report from Murillos in Marple.

Here's a link to the review.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Comic in need

Peter Kay makes me laugh. I love Phoenix Nights. But he made me laugh in a different way last night. He announced on BBC Children in Need that he is returning to stand up and that his new tour (to Manchester's MEN Arena), would donate (wait for it), from all the merchandising (oh, OK, just the Garlic bread t-shirts then). That he would be donating the money to Children in Need. Well, £1. From the proceeds of everything sold.

The four dates have already sold out and no doubt he will stretch to a couple of weeks. The amount the charity will get will be enormous, but it's still just £1 from each piece.

Coincidentally, the tickets went on sale yesterday. The very same day of the biggest charity appeal of the year. For the avoidance of doubt he has worked very hard for this appeal, with this lovely new video with all the cartoon characters. He has done an incredible amount for this project over the years and for Comic Relief. But am I being cynical when I say that I feel this feels all a bit contrived?

Maybe it's because this comes on the back of a story I heard involving a dapper snapper from Liverpool, who recently took a picture of Peter Kay at Liverpool Airport. Granted, he wasn't on show, he was just going on holiday and went mad and refused to play ball. My pal, who is not a paparazzi, but does a load of charity work, politely saw his point and deleted the picture, respecting his privacy, but not before telling him: "As long as you've got a hole in your arse, you'll never be as funny as Ken Dodd."

He needs to be careful that boy.

The hand of Frog

When Ireland were 1-0 ahead in Paris I saw the value of my Robbie Keane signed football boot soar. By the time they had to swallow defeat I was again resigned to it residing in the loft for evermore. No matter.

I can't quite get worked up by the blatant cheating that earned France their phyrric victory. Yes, I know it's wrong, but they all do it. All of them. Every. Single. One. They all dive, they all feign injury, they all shirt pull and try and gain an advantage. So, I'm sorry, but that's football.

Thierry Henry is the player who will now have to live with the reputation as the cheat who handled it so obviously, which is a shame, because he deserves to be remembered for so much more. It was his choice though and he will have to live with that.

Get Shirty

I was a bit slow on the uptake, but Frank Rostron has moved to America. The legendary Manchester shirtmaker has retired to Florida and sold the shop on Princess Street to one of his team. I really like his shirts. I've got two at the moment, the first one I had lasted 6 years, was recuffed, but I wore it to death.

Frank is also one of those blokes with a real aura about him, a man of presence and substance. He has some great stories to tell about his social heyday in Manchester in the 70s and 80s and his trips to the States, where his shirts have become iconic with the Wall Street traders. I used to enjoy a brew and a natter with him and his mate Ray Ranson who was often in there.

I was in the shop yesterday and they've got some gorgeous cotton material for country shirts as well as some lively patterns, which tempted. I quite liked the cashmere jumpers too. They can get John Smedley pieces, but, frankly, Paul Howard in Marple can get them for a lot less.

Drive like an Italian

When I bought my ickle Italian eco car in the summer, I was well pleased with it. Still am in many ways. However, it's not so great for the rare times I have to drive longish distances (over 30 miles) and I do find I get bullied on the roads. Audi, Lexus and BMW drivers do the usual tailgating and nudging in queues that they never used to do to me when I had, ahem, an Audi or a BMW.

On the way back from Carden Park on Thursday night, in filthy conditions, I was tailgated and flashed by a lorry. I stuck my fog lights on and he got the message, but it was a dreadful experience made worse by my exhausted state.

A tip from Simon Sinclair, local dandy and head of chaos at Pravda Advertising, is to drive like an Italian. Look urgent, be nippy and they get out of the way.

Our 7-seater is out of action - clutch gone - which means this weekend we are doing the Saturday sporting shuttle (football, cross country running and swimming lessons) with just the ickle car and some incredible support and logistical juggling from friends.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Peter Hook's book on the Hacienda

I dived into Peter Hook's book 'The Hacienda: How Not To Run A Club' straight after reading David Nolan's posthumous biog of the late Tony Wilson (review here). It sent me scurrying for music from that era to rekindle memories of nights at the legendary Manchester club. My earliest memory of the Hac is of a student night that hardly anyone went to. It then had an elitist and slightly po-faced phase in 1986 and 1987, which we endured, rather than enjoyed; because I always thought the music sounded poor and door policy was elitist. By the time we left University in 1988 it all changed again and the rest is musical history. For all the house music legends and for all the pretending to look cool, my best night there remains an indie night in the summer of 1988, when I went with friends from Lancaster.
I found the book very easy to read. It's a lucid, lively and candid tale that makes a vital contribution to an evolving history of a fascinating era. The roles of the gangsters, as much as Tony Wilson's mismanagement were what contributed to its demise and should be the focus of any residual anger. Either way there is no club that has inspired such devotion.
6 out of 10.

Links and bits of things in mid November

From which train trip in Britain can you see the most league football grounds? From The Knowledge on guardian.co.uk

I got my brother-in-law a Mickey Walsh t-shirt for his birthday from here with the legend: Goal of the Season 1973. Turned heads at Center Parcs this weekend, so he tells me.

The challenge of the Irish volunteers of World War 2 - rather shames the antics of this lot, warning, may induce vomiting.

I know this blog isn't about work, but it was my biggest night of the year on Thursday, here are my thoughts on the matter in hand.

Fantastic montage of pictures of the Berlin Wall - from the Boston Globe.

Mildly gutted that the Observer is scaling back - came to quite like the Sport and Music magazines.

Review of Morrissey concert where some div threw a drink at him. From a friend of a friend in Everton fanzine When Skies Are Grey.

Match reports are on here and here from another weekend of junior footballing fun. Marple Ath, having a laugh.

The legendary Phil Griffin's idea for an exhibition on Manchester's contribution to television history has come to fruition. It's on at Urbis until the end of April.

The bloke that upset Stephen Fry on Twitter does quite a good blog - Plum's Plums.

Very excited about a planned Christmas Eve lunch at the Highwayman - but what to have?

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Speaking of which

Me with henry on Twitpic
It was the Marple Cricket Club dinner last night, which for those of us who don't actually have anything to do with the club, is just a good old piss up and a top night out with the lads. Except of course I'm still not drinking and my incredible shrinking pal Mark Oldfield is still treading carefully after shedding 7 stone during his recent diet.

The speaker last night was Henry Olonga, the former Zimbabwean cricketer and now something of a performing arts maestro. He told some lovely stories and has obviously led a fascinating life full of adventure. He also risked everything by standing up and protesting against Robert Mugabe and his thugs. if you think that's impressive, you should have heard his rendition of Nessun Dorma to crown his speech. We got the tales of facing the Pakistani fast bowlers last night. He is a man of some depth and I would imagine he has routines which work for different audiences. His own website is here.

Thanks very much to Trevor Martin for organising our table. And if anyone wants a Robbie Keane signed boot (size 11), I've still got it from last year's dinner.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Spooks is back and better than ever

The new series of Spooks is excellent. We're on BBC3 time and therefore half a week ahead. It's a good team on the grid, with lots of potential. Enjoying the tension with the Americans.

We've also been dipping into the boxed sets. Identified two episodes with vaguely sympathetic adversaries: Series Two, episode 8, where Reece Dinsdale is a fed up Army hero, and Series Five, episode 8 where the Christian church fights back. Wrestled with the notion that Yalta was a noble cause, but it's hard to trust the French.

Food review on Manchester Confidential

I've done a review of the Spinningfields branch of "global restaurant" Giraffe here, for Manchester Confidential. Hopefully this will be the first of more "family feeding" reviews.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Marple remembers

There was a large turnout at the Marple War Memorial this morning for a particularly poignant service of remembrance. About 1000 people gathered in the park to watch wreaths being laid from dozens of community groups ranging from the Fire Brigade, the Legion, the churches, the Marple Business Forum and the Ring o' Bells pub. But there was also a presence from the Royal Marines, colleagues of fallen hero Danny Winter who died in Afghanistan this year.

It made me proud to be from a community that turned out in such numbers today. All ages and all walks of life paid their respects. And amongst their number were our five boys, respectful and observant.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Remembering

This weekend we will mostly be remembering.

We will be remembering my Mum's father Francis Edward O'Hare who died in a field in Germany in 1943 just a month after his daughter was born, shot down in the Royal Canadian Air Force Lancaster Bomber he was navigating.

We will remember the sacrifice and the contribution made by John Stanley Taylor of the Royal Commando Regiment in special operations in Burma, North Africa and Norway. He returned home to his family in North Wales, and led a successful life as a manager at Woolworths stores around the North West. But until he died in 1982 he always lived with the memories of horrors we will never even be able to contemplate.

And we will remember the young men and women who have died recently in Afghanistan, serving their country in a war of poor leadership, uncertain outcome and wavering public support.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Course you can at UCLAN

I went to speak to the journalism undergraduates and postgraduates at the University of Central Lancashire this week. They were a very bright crop this year. Very attentive and asked some smart questions. There are fewer opportunities in magazines now, but at it's heart it is a young person's industry. Some of their course projects have a well thought through digital element too. But as you absorb this constant barrage of internet evangelism it's worth taking stock and seeing that magazines are still gorgeous, tactile and emotional products that can forge a relationship with a reader in a way a site can't. Excuse me while I close my laptop on this sticky train journey and curl up to read the latest Monocle and this week's Spectator.

Codeword - I showed all the students this blog and urged them all to blog. If any of them reading this can tell me the name of the speaker I heard on Tuesday night then they can come to my work on a placement.

Cable guy

Vince Cable was speaking in Manchester on Tuesday night at the IoD dinner. I thought he was disappointing. He had no real explanation, or solution for the current economic blight. One of my table mates, Phil Jones, has blogged here about his thoughts on his performance, which I don't disagree with.

I think he ended badly, particularly given he had an audience of business people. He trotted out a few lines about how business can get us out of the recession. Well, he's right, it's just that I don't think he really meant it. Politicians have very poor understanding of the relationship between business and government. They think of the City, the FTSE 250 and big hitters. The reality of business is invisible to them. For an economic genius like Cable is hailed to be, this is pretty poor.

The relationship between the tax take and the ability of businesses to create taxable wealth is a fragile one. Too often businesses are seen as the greedy source who needs to be squeezed just that bit more. Squeeze too hard and the state cuts off the supply of revenue. Unleash the beast and there's a fear that this just creates an orgy of fat cat greed. But a clever Liberal Democrat could see this not only for what it is: an opportunity to be brave, bold and visionary, but also to untap a groundswell of support.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Radio radio, live transmission

I never turn down a chance to appear on the BBC. I think the publicity and profile it gives my business is just great. I also like broadcasting and try and learn something new and different every time.

Yesterday, as luck would have it, there was no kids football to chase around after and I was invited to go on BBC Radio Manchester's Retail Therapy as a business expert (I know, I know). The programme was recorded at the Trafford Centre and presented by Marple-born Becky Want, who I owed a favour to, as she presented the trophies at the Marple Athletic junior football tournament last year.

As I was on with these lively older ladies who were testing lip gloss and choosing dresses, it's clearly a very different proposition to talking about business on the drivetime Manchester business programme on Monday. So, after mentioning that 10 per cent of shops are empty, that this has been a rotten year for retailers, but that the best retailers are adapting to survive - John Lewis and M&S being good examples - I built up to my single point. Confidence is everything. Confidence of developers to build shopping centres, retailers to invest in stores and confidence of consumers to believe their house is going to be worth so much more that they can splurge and remortgage. That can't happen now. A recovery will therefore be slower, but more sustainable.

Getting that across is harder than you'd think. But I always try and make one point, but layering it as I make these succession of 15 second soundbites, answering the questions directly and avoiding economic jargon. You can listen again to hear for yourself if this was any good. Anyway, they've asked me back, which is nice.

Ten in a row - will we ever win away?

As a part-time supporter I probably haven't earned the right to say any of this, but for Blackburn Rovers to have now lost TEN games on the trot is just outrageous. I've been to two aways this season and I have to say we never looked like getting anything out of either. Everton was a tepid capitulation, yesterday at Old Trafford was about containing a tepid Manchester United team. I genuinely believe a more positive approach could have yielded a point.

I sat behind the goal, with the home fans, and just to the right of the away end which was understandably sparser than at any other visit to the Theatre of Nightmares. Sat along from us was possibly the thickest football fan I've ever encountered. He had a North East accent and spent the entire game slagging off Berbatov and Carrick, or Bulgarian c*** and Cockney c***. It's always surprising which players get the terrace idiots on their backs, or who the loud mouths like. At Rovers it seems to be Benni who gets stick (when he plays), while badge kissing spitter Diouf is lauded by the louts. Rooney is an obvious type of player. Obvious what his role is, obvious what success will look like. Berbatov is harder to understand, and probably taught Dunny a few tricks about the dropped off role. But the more this cretin went on, and on, and the more the evidence before me suggested Man U would score, part of me hoped it would be Berbatov. And so it was.

The reports will all say we were overwhelmed by superior quality, how we came to defend, which is true, but we at least attempted a positive assault at 1-0 down. In the last 15 minutes, with Dunny, Eamon Andrews and De Santo taken off, we looked lively. Hopefully Pedersen has had a kick up the arse, Benni has that quality to conjure something up out of nothing. I like seeeing him in blue and white at Old Trafford, it reminds me of that night when Porto dumped them out of the Big Cup. But it was Kalinic who caught my eye with his runs and touches. Sam was raging at Diouf at one point, I hope his patience has snapped. Mine has.

Hope springs for a crisp winter of better results. Anyone fancy a trip to Bolton?