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I’m a little despot, short and stout….

Jang Jin-Sung


dearleaderSuch is the absurdity of the North Korean regime, you could be forgiven for thinking it was actually based on 1984. Sounds a bit far-fetched I know, but hang on………… of the state intelligence directorates is genuinely called Office 101. Or maybe one of the Dear Leaders actually had a sense of humour? This book is one of several memoirs by defectors from the tinpot regime in recent years. What makes this a little different is that the author was one of the inner circle, protected from starvation and to a certain extent secret police investigations. He was at the seat of power during the reign of Kim Jong-il, father of the current loon Kim Jong-un. The author rose to prominence after penning an epic poem about the supreme leader. The book encompasses Stalinism, feudalism and Orwellian nightmares. The gilded lives of the chosen few contrasting strongly with the dirt poor penury of the masses. And like in Orwell’s 1984, the upper echelons have to be able to doublethink – accepting both the absurdity and life enhancing situation they find themselves in. Currently the Dear Leader is threatening a nuclear holocaust – America’s response ranges from blitzing them out of existence to more sanctions. Sanctions! Many people already subsist on nothing more than rice water! This book details Jin-Sung’s awakening to the perils of living close to the light when a South Korean book supposed to be used for propaganda purposes was handed to a trusted friend. Escape and adventures ensue!


#The History Boys – grammar school baloney

I am a late arrival at the platform containing one of the most hyped plays of modern times. Alan Bennett, lugubrious Yorkie, has been feted like some kind of colossus of literature for this tale of 80s grammar school sixth-formers aspiring to the silver spires of Oxford or Cambridge.  Perhaps because I was not caught up in the critical storm of approval for the theatre production, and later movie,  that I can take a more dispassionate view. One thing struck me immediately as discordant – the setting in 1983 did not tally at all with the story which was clearly based on Bennett’s own experiences of the 1950s. In fact it was ludicrously out of sync. To have quasi-intellectual teenagers quoting from popular movies and choosing Brief Encounter  instead of say A Man For All Seasons was just wrong.  And then there was the covert and later overt homosexuality one associates with public schools – certainly not grammar schools in the 50s or even later. I can see the appeal of pupils being subject to different ways of inculcating the intellectual tools required for the Oxbridge exam from an old veteran master and a new, flashy one but I felt it fell down on too many levels. I speak from some experience. When I went to grammar school, my later next door neighbour Shirley Williams, decided we should go comprehensive. After three years being whipped by masters in black capes we were then bashed by thugs from the local secondary modern. Incredibly, in a small poverty stricken coastal town, and despite the trauma of  the change, five of my chums got into Oxford. An infinitely more dramatic tale which I may, one day, write about,Historyboys

Cricket beside the seaside

Lancashire v Middlesex 9/6/17

Trafalgar Road, Southport.

Lancs won by 8 wickets


It had it all – a sun blazing on my baldy pate, a washed out day fit for gumboots or goloshes and two other days that at times required a jumper and an overcoat. The cricket weren’t bad either and even though just three days of play were possible, the Red Rose were able to inflict the champions first defeat in 21 outings.

There is something unique about outground cricket, especially at the seaside. But Birkdale is the posh bit of Southport, far from the commotion of the funfair or the whiff of fish and chips.

The cricket ground is not far from the golf club which will host the Open championship in July.

Birkdale has wide rolling boulevards and most homes have their own driveway – nevertheless at the southern approach the authorities have imposed a staggering mile-long parking exclusion zone.

I can’t quite make out if this is to funnel motorists to the designated car park zone (fiver a go and throw in a lengthy hike) or to ensure the top cops and senior Town Hall officials who inhabit these parts are not disrupted by the hoi polloi. One thing is certain, it is not on traffic management grounds.

At the ground there is something of a queue. Given the heightened atmosphere over security I imagined there was a frantic scrabble for exploding sandwiches.

In the event it was an alcohol search. A table had been put up for the contraband and was groaning with two cans of cider.

An old lad in the queue recalled the 1981 encounter with Middlesex at this very venue when the lines snaked down Trafalgar Road and the beer ran out by 2 p.m as Clive Lloyd knocked a few into the leafy avenues. The occasion? A day off for the common people while Charles and Di tied the knot.

A couple of temporary grandstands had been erected and chairs and benches dotted the ground which backs on the rail line ferrying passengers between Liverpool and Southport.  Even though a sign stated that no dogs were allowed on the ground I spied Jack Russell eager for a book signing to commence.

The first day really was a scorcher, ice creams and Crabbie’s ginger beer  being gobbled up greedily. Three chaps behind me were debating various matters relating to the game but the foremost question seemed to be when to get the first ale in.

‘Is the sun over the yardarm?’ one asked. ‘Who knows’ quoth another. They decided on 11.45.

After a slurp of lubrication they embarked on the highlights of their careers in organised cricket – top scores of 24, 20 and 9 respectively.

In the meantime the Londoners appeared to be ruing the decision to bat as wickets quickly fell. At lunchtime there were rumours of dark mutterings from the Middlesex players about the pitch.

I took a stroll around the boundary and bumped into an old colleague from Trinity Mirror. Inevitably it descended into him bemoaning his lot – forced to work from home on a rota made for a Roman galley slave. And one of the lads had to take a 25% pay cut! Imagine having to survive on 90 grand a year in austerity Britain.  

Middlesex were skittled for 180 but cynical Lanky lags merely looked to the heavens when Davis and Livingstone departed in the opening over. The ship was steadied to leave Lancs 123-4 at the end of day one.

In contrast to sunburn weather on the first day, the following was a complete washout. Not many ice creams sold or £4 sausage barms for that matter.

Day three was decisive and particularly innings from MaClaren (75) and Bailey (58) which  propelled Lancs into a lead of 129.

I disappeared due to family commitments but was back on day four when Middlesex were struggling to build a lead with four wickets left.

This time the weather was a mixture of overcast condition and blue skies but still very much on the parky side.

Still a good crowd in but with an air of inevitability about it. The champions cobbled together a lead of 107 which was never enough to make a game of it. Lancs won by eight wickets with Hameed showing a glimmer of form by painstakingly making his way to 38. While most players are greedy for runs the young man ekes them out in miserly fashion, almost unhappy at having to leave his defensive pose.

A great day out is outground cricket and I am pleased to say Lancashire have also played at Liverpool and Blackpool this season. Sir Ian Botham has also made noises about taking Durham back out into the heartlands. Surely its time Yorkshire eyed up some of the haunts they abandoned? Eyy up lad, there’s nowt like it.





Broken – Jimmy Mcgovern – Corbyn – BBC

I’m quite amazed that the BBC decided to air Jimmy McGovern’s hate letter to Tory Britain during the frenzy of an election campaign. However the old nanny reared her head before the credits had barely finished rolling as BBC News  at Ten opened with an astonishingly vicious attack on Crobyn. His crime? To forget a figure – and that was apparently the day’s headline news. You can just imagine some of the besuited twits at Broadcasting House thinking ooeer this Broken is a bit political let’s try and even it up.

Scouser McGovern revisits his hometown to deliver a vitriolic piece of drama about austerity Britain. priest Sean Been and single mum Anna Friel are caught up in the maelstrom – Friel gets sanctioned for 13 weeks ensuring she can’t feed her kids. At the end she delays announcing the death of her mother so she can pick up the weekly pension to buy food.

Far-fetched? maybe it is in the Home Counties but from where I come from desperate people would scour the obituaries seeing if they knew anyone who had died and left a job behind.



Cricket T20 franchises – causing a rumpus

Cricket T20 franchises – it’s causing a rumpus down Lancashire way.

I don’t know what is happening in other counties but in Lancashire the in-fighting has erupted. Not about the fact that the club politbureau took a decision to join the T20 circus without consulting members – but what the new team will be called.

The consensus outside Manchester appears to be that many will not follow a team bearing that monicker. Supporters have quickly divided along city, town and football tribal lines.

Opinions on the Facebook fans page include: “I’m a Lancastrian not a Manc” and “Can you imagine a Liverpudlian supporting a Manchester team?”. Even someone from Bolton – part of Greater Manchester – poured scorn on the idea.

Is this happening elsewhere? I can’t imagine so unless maybe Yorkshire. It is staggering that there is more animosity about the Manchester franchise than there ever is about relations with the noisy neighbours.

The ECB has yet to unveil which locations will get the franchise but clearly they will be based around major metropolitan areas. Will counties then consult fans or members on the name?

It seems unlikely, steeped as they now are in marketing speak and jargon – even Colin Graves spouting tosh about stakeholders and the like. You can imagine some sort of p.r. agency being brought into produce the optimum name.

I suppose they could go neutral given the likely backlash – something like Northern Raiders. However the divisions are not just on geographical lines – many followers just don’t want anything to do with the new competition. Probably why many clubs didn’t go out to a public forum.

Many feel that the franchise games, complete with fireworks and boundary hot tubs, will not be their cup of tea and it is hoped that the Lancashire T20 team will help the grass-roots game in Southport, Blackpool and Liverpool.

The ECB is also proposing a new all-star programme for 5-8 year olds to gear them up for the magnificence of the T20 whatsits name. Here’s an idea – pour some resources into state schools where cricket is all but dead.

The Euro is doomed. #yanisvaroufakis

And The Weak Must Suffer What They Must – Yanis Varoufakis

As a business journalist I’ve read a lot of stuff on the economy, the 2008 meltdown and the history of the Euro. This is the best exposition I have read, it left me gasping for air.  Varoufakis looks at postwar European history through the lens of global monetary policy, from Bretton Woods to the ongoing reverberations of the euro crisis. And a powerful lens it is too, to help us understand the turbulence we are witnessing today and why the Euro is a busted flush. Thank God we didn’t join (3)

The book is divided roughly in two parts. It begins with the post-war economic decisions America and Europe took, the role Bretton Woods played for the future of the world in general, the reversal under the Nixon Shock of 1971, and the realities of the current Eurozone and Federal Reserve systems.
The second part deals with the 2008 financial crisis and its impact on Europe (crippled by the very monetary union that was supposed to shield it when such events happen), and what the people in charge ended up doing to make it much worse. In this, Varoufakis is unrelenting in his criticism, but it always backed up by solid economic logic. He saves the most biting of his words on the bureaucrats and politicians of the EU who used the bailout to save the banks, but left the bills to the people. And not just any people, but the weakest people in the weakest of nations (not just Greece, but Ireland, Spain, Portugal, and Italy).

I won’t go into detail but here’s one thing; Quantatitive Easing – the printing of electronic money to be pumped into banks and other institutions ( supposed to kickstart the economy but just helps company shares and upmarket property portfolios)

In the EU it is shared out on a GDP basis; therefore Germany – which needs it least – gets the Lion’s Share – and the poor relations like Greece and Portugal get the leftovers.

After reading this you will agree the Euro in its present format – and probably the whole EU – is doomed.

Cricket? Who gives a toss?


I have a confession to make; I like going to watch county cricket. With spring in the air and a new season looming I have already earmarked likely first and second eleven fixtures on my multi-coloured computer desktop calendar.

I am delighted to see Lancashire and Liverpool Cricket Club appear to have got over their recent spat and a fixture has been allocated to the city’s Aigburth ground even though it is a Royal London cup one-dayer. Despite the contraction of fixtures into cricketing centres and away from outgrounds, the Red Rose still flies the flag with games at Blackpool, Southport and Liverpool. Lancs survival from relegation last year means no bi-annual trek for the fixture with Glamorgan at Colwyn Bay though.

There is little to beat a packed outground on a balmy summer’s day; certainly not sitting alone with a rucksack of sarnies in one of our cavernous Test venues.

I dusted off Duncan Hamilton’s love letter to cricket the other day – A Last English Summer. This doomsday tome envisages 2009 being the last true summer before it all implodes in a T20 galactic supernova. In fact every season since then has seen commentators bemoan crash bang cricket, central contracts, mercenaries and kolpak insurgents.

Hamilton waxes lyrical about the Golden Age of Constantine, Hobbs and Bradman although I’m pretty sure he’s not old enough to have seen any of them. However he superbly catches the deep pull of nostalgia and I am sure sees himself as the literary successor to Cardus and Allott and has worn out his dvd of Death of a Gentleman.

Everyone has a view on the future of the game;  from the crusties who are clinging to tradition like a starving trucker grasping a Yorkie, to the cash obsessed suits at the ECB who scrabble for cash like a beggar rooting around a dustbin.

However times do move on and there is little point thinking that we should be stuck in some sort of timewarp. I agree with him that the long form game is now just a mere trifle to be cut, sliced and crumbled in favour of the right Eton Mess of T20.

The question is; what to do about it? The CC has been allowed to stagnate with little support, marketing or direction. I asked Lancashire’s commercial director five years ago to implement a staggered payment regime for county games to attract the walk-in customer. Last year they finally implemented £15 all day, tenner after lunch and a fiver for the last session.

But does more need to be done?

I now refer to the case for the prosecution. Last August on a bright, searing day I was at Old Trafford to see the last days of the Roses encounter which dangled the carrot of a thrilling finale.

Lancs began the morning intent on setting the auld enemy a target to chase. The precocious Haseeb Hameed wrote himself into the record books with a glorious second century of the match.  The 19 year old shook off his Wall of Bolton nickname to dab and carve his way to 100 not out.  

The declaration left a target of 367 in 71 overs. Surely Yorkshire, hanging on to Middlesex’s coat-tails in the CC title race, would give it a go? Lees and Lyth kept the scoreboard ticking over during the afternoon. At 4 p.m. no wickets down and 219 required off 30. Time for tea. What happened during the break is pure speculation. Afterwards with 180 required off 20 the dig in began. Fifteen runs off  five overs after tea.

I said to a couple of Tykes nearby that this unfathomable act of cowardice could well cost them their championship. It did.

I was amazed with so much on the line that the game was allowed to fizzle out. In other cases the last afternoon safe draw is often commonplace.

Tradition maybe but surely it is time to punish the bore draw. Either no points for those who perpetrate a stalemate or ban draws American-style.

Surely better marketing is needed too but the plan to virtually stop all CC in the summer holidays looks akin to sabotage.

Something has to change if county cricket is to remain relevant.

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