Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 in review

Here are this blog's highlights of 2010 based on the ten most common categories.

Blackburn Rovers - The jury is out on the wisdom of the long awaited takeover. Sacking the manager, hacking off the fans, miffing the captain and losing at home to Stoke wasn't a great start, but change can be turbulent. Beating Burnley at Turf Moor was as good as it gets, getting hammered by Manchester United and Manchester City (in January) was gut wrenching. 

Marple - the biggest issue locally has been the store wars. The deli rivalry has raised the bar for food in the centre, but seems quite civilised. The food festival was brilliant.


Book review in a lift - One Day was brilliant. A masterclass in popular novel writing. As Richard Bacon said, how can you care so much about two characters who don't even exist?


Friends - neglected our friends as usual. Great to see John, Rachel, Ruth and Michael Dixon in Cornwall, but we can't be doing so bad as we've been Godparents twice this year. Dom's 40th in Munich was as good a lad's trip as I've been on.


Food - The Red Lion has been our favourite restaurant as a family, a real treat on our doorstep. We did a decent run of reviews, but I don't really have the time. Kids liked Nando's.

Politics - I expected a coalition government led by the Conservatives, and I think the new government has done well. The tuition fees issue could mortally wound Nick Clegg, if not his party. But the policy direction is very good. The real test is how they deal with events, Cameron seems determined not to waste time, as he believes Blair did.

Commuting - It's been generally OK, but when it's bad, it's very, very bad.


Telly - We devoured the Thick of It and Mad Men box set on DVD. I thought Sherlock was very good. Any Human Heart was probably my favourite drama series. Best comedy was The Trip.  Least favourite show but most watched, still Match of the Day and the dismal line-up of Shearer, Hansen, Lawrenson and Lineker. Get rid, BBC.

Jokes - I had the honour of working with Jon Culshaw, Jimmy Carr and Justin Moorhouse this year. All were really good blokes. Very funny, but ultra-professional. Also saw Jason Manford, Michael McIntyre and Peter Kay in the space of a week. 

Blogging - Kept up a decent run rate and the unique visitors are still sufficient to keep it worth doing. A few old favourites have stopped altogether, or are virtually lapsed.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Frankly speaking

I bought one of the kids a book for Christmas called Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce. It was on the strength of a terrific Radio 3 Free Thinking lecture he delivered on the need to embrace failure.

As the blurb says, Frank argues for an end to the excesses of "affirmation" culture, where school prize days now have the elated tears and whoops of an Oscar ceremony and where pupils are encouraged to applaud themselves for listening - before they even applaud visiting guests. Promoters of such affirmation claim it is about encouraging people: But Frank asks "Is this pathology-ward level cheering and waving really encouragement? Or is it a strange new morbid dread of failure?"

I've liked everything this fellah has done: 24 Hour Party People, Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story, Welcome to Sarajevo and, it would appear, he was a lead writer on Brookside when it was particularly good.

I also enjoyed his Desert Island Discs, which has a bit of everything: Catholicism, punk, education, family and the North West.

I do hope the book is good, but the best judges will be our boys.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Football predictions half way through

It's been hard to turn my blogging hand to anything football related, but here's a progress report on my predictions for the season so far.


1. Manchester City (spot on, time for another new star on that laser blue shirt!!)
2. Chelsea (overestimated)
3. Manchester United (there or there abouts)
4. Liverpool (overestimated)
5. Arsenal (slightly underestimated)
6. Tottenham (slightly underestimated)
7. Everton (overestimated)
8. Aston Villa (overestimated)
9. Bolton Wanderers (underestimated)
10. Sunderland (ish)
11. Blackburn Rovers (ish)
12. Fulham (overestimated)
13. Newcastle United (ish)
14. Birmingham City (ish)
15. Wolverhampton Wanderers (overestimated)
16. West Bromwich Albion (ish)
17. Stoke City (underestimated)
18. West Ham United (ish)
19. Wigan Athletic (ish)
20. Blackpool (worst prediction of the lot, but still think they'll go down)

Other predictions: Real Madrid to win the Champions League, Liverpool to win the Channel 5 Thursday night cup. (Can still both these coming off).

Manchester United to win the FA Cup and Chelsea to win the Carling Cup. (Well that's wrong)

Morecambe and Accrington Stanley to be mid table, but Stockport County will do well to stay out of the bottom two. (I'll stand by that. Shrimps struggled, but will be OK, Stanley have masses of games in hand and County's squad is pretty thin).


What I couldn't have predicted was just how low the prestige of the game has suffered, yet again. Rooney, Tevez and the way these Indian muppets have behaved at Blackburn Rovers. It beggars belief and makes me embarrassed when I show how much I care. I can safely predict there will be more scandal, sleaze and greed to come.

OK Computer

For the first time I have a computer that didn't make me weep when I tried to set it up on my own. Sure I've had computers at work that the IT manager sorts out, but this new Hewlett Packard Pavilion is a joy to drive. The kids are using for homework and games. Well, games, really. But it has to be a sign of progress that the computer industry is making more consumer friendly products that pretty much plug and play.

My headache was the simple act of buying it from Currys. I know, there will be plenty of you who will tell me I should build my own, or get one from Dell, or some specialist in Altrincham, but I was paranoid about it not working for the kids on Christmas Day, so bought it a while back in the expectation I would be taking it back. I had some help from Daniel Labella, one of the Rose Hill Commuter Crew, who I just happened to bump into that day. Having already successfully guided me through getting Virgin Cable, his advice was excellent and we shopped around and found the best deal. The trouble is they try and chuck so much  extra surplus crap at you - Norton (got it), back up drive (got one already), warranties and insurance (go away) and this cloud storage product that I knew more about than they did. I also wanted a camera, but such was their insistence on added extra accessories I just decided there and then to give someone else my money.

I can't say I'm happy or hopeful at having to relocate iTunes on the old box of frogs and transfer the preferences and playlists over, but so far, so good.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Northern Fail

The train I get to work and back most days is usually grotty. The horrible Pacer and Sprinter trains are uncomfortable and unpleasant.

And when the service fails it tends to do so quite spectacularly. The thin thread which holds Northern Rail together seems to snap very easily. 

The whole network in the North of England needs sorting out, and my group of magazines are all going to campaign on this issues throughout 2011.

But there's another issue. The digitally literate public now have an outlet for that frustration. On any given day my Twitter lights up with bilious rage from commuters crammed on trains or stranded at windswept stations. Each message is tagged #northernfail and someone dutifully sends them all on again. There's even a website called Northern Fail.

Between Christmas and New Year the conductors are going on strike. This, despite only a third of them actively voting for strike action.

Let's be honest, this is a company that is losing its PR battle.

So what are they doing? Apart from sponsoring a minor Rugby League tournament, not much. Dave Higgerson, here, points out that the company is fighting a rearguard action to buy up some domain names. I'll let him take this up:
"According to allwhois.com, northernfail.org was snapped up by the York-based company on October 5th, along with northernfail.com. Both take you through to this default landing page from 123reg. Given the trashing they take on northernfail.co.uk you can perhaps see the reason behind their actions, but I’m also inclined to think that surely prevention would be better than cure?
In which case, working a bit harder to appease disgruntled customers might be a better way to protect the brand. Snapping up the domain names which relate to criticism suggests you’re no so much interested in improving things  as you are silencing people."
It makes you wonder about the job someone has in York, fighting this overwhelming negativity. What a tragic way to earn a living.

World turned upside down

There has so far been nothing, absolutely nothing, in the few short weeks since they bought Blackburn Rovers, to suggest that Venky's know what they are doing. Sacking the manager, destabilising the chairman, upsetting both captains and appointing a novice as manager. These are the actions of meddling buffoons. I find it unbearably hard to be so negative about Rovers. I want to see a masterplan, a good intention or to believe these people when they say - don't worry, it's going to be alright. But I see only stupidity and sinister forces manipulating the naive and terminally stupid.

Unlike Christopher Samba we can't hand in a transfer request and ask to start supporting Bolton instead. Well, we could, but we won't obviously.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Red Chilli - what took so long?

I've got a bee in my bonnet about food critics from national newspapers. I think they're all grumpy buggers who rarely venture out of London. When they do, it's to complain about the very act of having to. I've blogged on it here.

There is one exception to this. Jay Rayner in The Observer. He makes the effort and seems to enjoy it. On the whole I agree with his Manchester and Leeds observations. By chance a bloke I've met recently, Thom Hetherington, is a mate of his. And it was Thom who drew Jay to Red Chilli back in 2005, for this review, here.  This restaurant is a skip from my office, but I've never been. Until yesterday. And I don't think I'll be going back for lunch again any time soon. Bear with me.

I let Thom order and he didn't even look at the menu. Minced pork with green beans and chillis, poached lamb, spring onion bread and Peking dumplings. And some rice. It was an unbelievable taste sensation. I could eat the pork forever. The dumplings were extremely moorish. As for the lamb, we didn't seem to dent it, but I had a good few scoops on the rice.

I didn't eat anything else for 24 hours. It was a major assault on my digestive system. It would make for an amazing banquet of an evening, but it sat rather heavily on me for the afternoon and evening. It is, without doubt, an incredible food experience.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Paintball's Coming Home

On the list of things I really must try, paintballing has never been there. Not that there is such a list, but you get my drift. However, on Thursday, my eldest son Joe's football team had a bonding session at the Asylum Paintball centre in Stockport. It was great fun, I should say from the outset, but was a glimpse into a very strange world. The lads who run the centre are great teachers, very enthusiastic and big on safety.

Here are a few other observations.

Popping a cap in your backside actually hurts.

It is scary how thrilling it is to rattle off a round of a submachine paint gun at Simon Sinclair.

It is even more scary how thrilling it is to shoot an 11-year old boy who has just missed you.

I am definitely a coward and prefer to cower behind a sandbag and risk very little in a battle situation.

Food glorious food

Apologies to anyone who saw a grumpy man in black flustering in Marple on Saturday afternoon. That was me. I had a panic attack in Iceland. I don't even know why I went there. I think it was in the misguided belief that I could get a few tins of tomatoes and a tin of sweetcorn to go with the fresh meat I'd just picked up from Whites Butchers. Call it a Jamie Oliver moment, but the jars of salty sugary sauce, the freezers full of frozen sweepings from the meat factory floor made me angry. I'm not generally snobbish about food, but there has to be a better way to feed a family than this, and it doesn't have to come down to money either.

I love trying new food and dabbling with ingredients. And in Marple and Romiley there are some terrific butchers and grocers who share that passion for trying new ways to feed a brood like ours.
 
My extended family have been very supportive of my efforts in this regard - I buy a few cows with my Dad who knows a thing or two about rearing cattle; he's been doing it for 30 years. We've also received a few gorgeous recipes that have been passed down through the generations. Rachel's mum has given us an incredible marinade for sticky ribs, while I have tried, but come up short, on my Mum's incredible braised steak.

From the papers I have been most impressed with Yotam Ottolenghi, who's recipes I've been saving for a while now, even though some of the ingredients have been hard to come by, especially in Marple. Tonight's dinner was a treat inspired by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall - a chunk of beef, rubbed in spices and cooked in a pot with carrots, onions and swede

As for recipes from the large volume of cook books we have, by far the best book of the lot is the Good Housekeeping guide. It has 900 recipes and never fails to inspire.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Britain, not violent, but obsessed with violence

I heard Lord Blair of Loughton's lecture as part of the Radio 3 Nightwaves Free Thinking Festival. He touched on a point common to all us sociologists of the last 30 years. Fear of crime and crime statistics are socially produced. This country, he said, is not a violent country, but one that is obsessed with violence. He backed it up with statistics, claiming that crime peaked in 1995. The National Crime Survey is flawed, he conceded, but made some shrewd observations on moral panics and political posturing.

I can think of very little to say that this chap hasn't covered here. It's a site called Extra Mural by Jack Serle, a Science Journalism Masters student at City University in London.

Here's some more: It strikes me that in his short lecture Lord Blair struck deep at a sad aspect of British journalism and one which is costing it dearly. We are too parochial an industry – our copy too narrow in focus – and this myopia is failing our readers, viewers and listeners.

Jack forgive them for they know not what they do

In football, as in life, timing is everything. And Sam Allardyce's sacking yesterday could not have come at a worse time in the Blackburn Rovers season. On the back of a spirited performance - albeit a defeat - two home wins against West Ham and Stoke would have set us up for a good half way tally of 27 points. Now, it's up in the air. I don't know how the players will react, but give this to the big man, he usually had a game plan and they were two of the 12 games we should expect to win.

That's my first problem with his sacking. The timing.

My second is I think these new owners are clueless.

Say I'm right, then this is going to be a grim second half of the season. This will see rising anger at the haste with which the Walker Trustees sold the club reach a boiling point. I think they've acted with indecent haste and completely against the wishes of a man who's legacy they were entrusted to protect.

Say I'm wrong, then Venky's will have to pull a massive rabbit out of a hat. The return of Tugay, for example. But  everything they've done suggests that the Venky's people don't know their bees knees from their chicken's elbow. There is money, there isn't money. We can rely on loan players, we can play better football. We can be top 5, we have a plan. We will wait to get the right manager, we are talking to a target right now. It all sounds so very amateurish and so very sleazy.

Finally, a word on Big Sam. I didn't like the style of football. It was cynical and lacked romance. Grind a win against most teams at home. Hoof and hope against the big boys. Capitulate against Manchester United away from home. But he had NO MONEY. He hasn't signed a real duff player has he? Chimbonda, possibly? His management style at least gave Blackburn Rovers a stable base from which to evolve. Now we have chaos. And from that, I fear can only emerge more chaos.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The local community of blog

I do like the spirit of sharing and support amongst those who blog. Having been "at it" since 2006 I know it takes a lot of effort, but I personally find the messages, comments and reaction very rewarding. Here in the Marple area there are a few recent developments I'd like to draw your attention to.

First, the good news, there's a lively new blog from up the hill in Mellor - called Mellorview by Moor End Man - we've corresponded, but I'm assuming he's keeping his name to himself for now. Anyway, it's got some gorgeous photos of the recent snowy landscapes and some wise observations on recent news events.

Secondly, I've previously linked to Michael Walters' website about his own books, but have updated the link directly to his book review blog, which is rather excellent. And we really must take in a Half Man Half Biscuit gig in the New Year!

Third, I'm reinstating George Dearsley's blog on the links opposite. He had lapsed, but I had lunch with the great man on Friday and urged him to keep at it. He's got such a lot to say!

Fourthly, and sadly, Tom Mandall's View From the Bridge, has stopped. I hope temporarily. I liked his Friday reports, whether they were from Africa, or Marple Bridge, or even Hyde. Think again Tom. Come back soon.

If I've missed anyone out, then the omission is entirely accidental. Please send me links.

PS I note too that the Friends of Rose Hill Station have a new site on the Marple site. Good work. Keep it up.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Some amusing links

Why Newcastle chose Alan Pardew.

Billy Bullshit, ace new website. A compendium of complete and utter bollocks from out of the mouths of idiots…

Speaking of which....

Heather Mills brokers deal to get Beatles on iTunes

Great tattoo. Though I would probably stick to oven gloves.

Friday, December 10, 2010

That's me in the Corner (house)

I'm unconvinced of the merits of the Cornerhouse moving to First Street. Writing on Manchester Confidential Jonathan Schofield has it bang on in a tidy review of the food, here; it is in a fantastic location for a coffee house and "salon". The last time I had lunch there in the excellent cafe it was with Mike Emmerich, the cleverest man in Manchester, I also remember the old BBC Radio Manchester Saturday radio programmes where we'd watch the world go by and talk for an hour or so. None of this is to even touch on the films, exhibitions and drinks I had there in my student days from 1985-1988.

But that doesn't mean the cinema and exhibition areas can't work in a new location, it will just have to be pretty special. And it starts to make the current Cornerhouse site a very intriguing location for a new bar or cafe.

The site the Cornerhouse and the Library Theatre are moving to was originally earmarked as Manchester's new home for the BBC, let's not forget.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Cable theft - one for the coppers

I had a wretched journey home tonight, all told it took two hours. Our train had to turn back at Guide Bridge and I had to get another one to Marple and then walk to Rose Hill where my car was.

The problem is "cable theft". People robbing cables from the side of tracks and selling the copper. Apparently this is a growing problem and is likely to cause more train delays than leaves and the wrong kind of snow.

There's a growing violent anger towards the train company at the moment. The trains ARE horrible, the staff can be surly and rude, but I felt tonight the driver and the guard were in an impossible situation and did a decent job of letting people know what was occurring.

But to return to the cable theft business - it does come with hazards. The British Transport Police are employing drones to track down culprits with some success, and one thief nearly got fried. There's more here and here.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Granada. From the North

I haven't watched Coronation Street for, like, forever. Couple of things, who are all these good looking young men and women? When did it turn into Hollyoaks? Second, I've just seen the very first episode as part of the 50 years celebration. The title sequence got me right here. Granada From The North. We will never see its like again. Amen.

Pic comes from a great nostalgic TV site called TV Ark.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

You love it don't you?

That's all I said. "You love it don't you?" It was a short Twitter message in response to @InsidertheM60 - the author of an earlier message reporting what protestors on Market Street in Manchester were doing yesterday:

"Starting to get a little lively chanting and one very small brick thrown at Vodophone window."

The typos aren't mine, I am being very careful and quoting accurately.

Here is the response:

1. "What is your problem?"

2. "yes we do because unlike many news organisations we welcome all opinions and views"

3. "we are standing up for the ordinary person you are trying to defend the people who got us into this mess in the first place"

4. "love it if you actually started to care about the real people of mcr instead of the fortune few who think they run the city"

Honestly, how do you respond to a stream like that? Part of me is tempted to laugh and get on with my Sunday. Another part of me thinks I may have brought this on myself and should just apologise for all the trouble I must cause in the world. I'm a Catholic, I confess my sins, this doesn't worry me unduly.

But no. First of all Inside the M60 is "a news site for the people of Manchester".

So here are my responses.

1. I don't have a problem. But, as you can gather, I was rather irritated by the protest. I don't see the point in reporting on 40 protestors basically harrassing Saturday kids at Top Shop, Vodafone and Boots.

2. In the light of the rather hysterical response to my five word tweet, I doubt very much that Inside the M60  "welcomes" any view other than a left wing one. I doubt such a chippy and blow by blow account of the protest by the English Defence League would appear. So, that is a silly argument.

3. I don't know where to start with this one. When was it the job of a "news organisation" even a two-person band, to "stand up for" the "ordinary person"?  And in what way is a small protest of a handful of people an example of that? And in what way, any way, have I defended "the people who got us into this mess"? Where? Anywhere, show me where I have done that? I'm baffled. That's even before we begin a debate about what "got us into" this mess. Public sector profligacy? Poor regulation? Consumerism? Easy credit? Who wanted that? The millions of ordinary people who spend borrowed money in Manchester city centre.

4. "The fortune few?" I'm wasting my time, aren't I? This is such a nasty and personal attack I rather think whoever made it needs to stop and consider who I am, what I do and how little they actually know about me and what I care about. But although it assumes a lot about me, all of it wrong, I think it actually says ever so much about Inside the M60, doesn't it?

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Two quick thoughts on the World Cup bid

OK, Germany hosted in 1974, then again in 2006. Mexico in 1970 and 1986. Brazil is getting it again in 2014. But why should a country that has hosted once have another chance? There are 208 countries in FIFA. It has been said that giving it to Eastern Europe and the Middle East was a way of sharing the tournament around the world. I think that's plausible, but if it was such an overwhelming and compelling reason for giving it Russia and Qatar, why was anyone else encouraged to waste so much time, energy and effort? I think the answer is the bidding process generates so many offers of "vital assistance" to national federations and associations that they need to keep that pretence. It's not the winning, it's the taking part.

And isn't it rich with pathos that the England bid team distanced themselves from the exposes of FIFA corruption by the Sunday Times and the BBC's Panorama, but now bleat about, er, corruption and collusion.

That's better

Blackburn Rovers needed a good performance today against Wolves. The players needed to show the home fans everything they lacked at Old Trafford last week: character, courage, hope, guts and guile. Even after a shaky start they managed to carve out a solid 3-0 win that never looked in any doubt. Highlights for me were Pedersen and Givet - both injured last week for the drubbing at United - and a brilliant goalkeeping performance from Paul Robinson who made SEVEN very good saves.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Wide Open Road

Travelling to Liverpool tonight I tuned into Radcliffe & Maconie on Radio 2. Great show, great chat, great music. Their chain featured a wonderful link from Prefab Sprout's Don't Sing to The Triffid's Wide Open Road. Two songs that both mean a lot to me. I would have found a link from The Triffids that involved their home town, Perth, Western Australia, where I lived for a while. INXS for a start, who got going there on the pub rock circuit.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Putting people together

I chaired an event last night for Pro Manchester: Suits Meet Ponytails and Anoraks. The idea is to look at what professional services people can do for creative and digital businesses.

Pete Rush, The Pitch Doctor, has written a very kind and well observed account of what happened.

Pete says this: I went to a highly informative Pro-Manchester event hosted at KPMG’s  city centre offices last night. Sean Fensom of Manchester Digital welcomed an expert panel-based discussion skillfully orchestrated by Michael Taylor, editor of NW Insider. Michael sees part of his mission to bring Manchester’s digital people and the professional community together. He asked hard and intelligent questions and set the tone for the night just right. And what a clash of cultures there is. 

The rest is here.