Thursday, 31 March 2011

The Sound of Cley

This is what it sounds like to walk on beautiful Cley beach in Norfolk.

Monday, 28 March 2011

My First Chiffchaff

A Dunnock (I haven't got one of a Chiffchaff yet)
Dates for my first singing Chiffchaff of Spring:

2011: Yesterday (Sunday, March 27) - London Wetland Centre, Barnes

2010: Sunday, March 28 - Thames path at Barnes

2009: Saturday, March 21 - London Wetland Centre, Barnes

2008: Saturday, April 5 - Wells, Norfolk

Previous data unavailable but a pattern seems to be emerging - they always turn up on a weekend...

New London Cyclist Manifesto

(I've just been a hapless victim of this.)

Today, we announce a new code of behaviour for London's cyclists.

Today, we make a new promise to the motorists and pedestrians with whom we grudgingly share the roads and pavements of our proud capital city.

We have a new weapon in the fractious Us and Them commuter race.

It is free and foolproof.

And it will help us achieve a free-wheeling goal as revealing as our lycra shorts.




Our new methods will be as high-vis as our orange Hump backpacks.

We will cycle in packs in front of double deckers in bus lanes during rush hour.

We will pedal in the slow lane of the Great West Road when there is an empty, newly-resurfaced cycle lane next to us.

We will flick fingers at the dimwitted motorists who fail to read our minds at roundabouts.

And we will fearlessly await the moment when we risk limb loss while weaving down Chiswick High Road because we have a new loaded gun to point at the demented drivers doing their damnedest to kill us.

Windscreen Gob.

Sunday, 20 March 2011


Weybourne, Norfolk, 6.54pm, March 19, 2011

The moon was at its closest point to earth for 18 years on Saturday. It looked more like a  sunset than a moonrise where we were.  Some other shots here

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Time's Tide Will Smother You

I celebrated my 19th birthday 26 years ago today by going to see The Smiths at Victoria Hall in Hanley.

These were heady days for Morrissey & Marr. Meat Is Murder, the second studio album, had been released in February and was heading to number one. The new single, Shakespeare's Sister, was out that very week. Iconic Top of the Pops appearances were becoming regular treats.

The price on the ticket has been neatly but mysteriously covered by a felt-tip. I presume the promoters hiked the original price when the success of the album surprised everyone. I can't remember how much the big-haired, teenage me had to pay but Morrissey did give a clue during the most memorable part of the gig.

It was towards the end and the band had just launched into the title track of the album. Suddenly something was thrown from the crowd. It hit Morrissey straight in the face. He dropped the microphone and stormed off while Marr, Rourke and Joyce played on.

A minute later Morrissey marched back on the stage and muttered into the mic, "Very clever. People have actually paid five pounds to throw things at me."

He then carried on as if nothing had happened.

It later emerged that the offending missile was a packet of sausages.

Photo: Author's own

Listening to Meat Is Murder today is still thrilling and joyful and funny. Some of the lyrics are once heard, never forgotten: Time's tide will smother you (That Joke isn't Funny Anymore), I'd like to drop my trousers to the Queen (Nowhere Fast), Belligerent ghouls run Manchester schools, spineless bastards all (The Headmaster Ritual), A boy is stabbed and his money is grabbed and the air hangs heavy like a dulling wine (Rusholme Ruffians).

And, as 19th birthdays go, hearing them performed live by a band at the peak of their magnificent powers was just about as good as it gets.

Set list: William, It Was Really Nothing; Nowhere Fast; I Want The One I Can't Have; Handsome Devil; What She Said; the glorious How Soon Is Now? (first heard on a John Peel session during a caravan holiday in Anglesey the previous August with Paul and Des); Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now; Stretch Out And Wait; That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore; Shakespeare's Sister; Rusholme Ruffians; The Headmaster Ritual; Still Ill; Hand In Glove; Meat Is Murder; Miserable Lie; Barbarism Begins At Home (the only Smiths song featuring a Morrissey bark).

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The Loneliness of the Injured Medium Distance Runner

So I've started running again.

But here's the thing: I'm nearly one-minute-per-mile slower than I was this time a year ago.

On March 13th 2010 I ran 8.94 miles in 1hr 17mins - 8:37 per mile.

On March 13th 2011 I ran 10 miles in 1hr 19mins - 7:56 per mile.

On June 19th last year I set a personal best for the 10k of 46'20".

The quickest 10K this year was 1hr 50secs on March 5th.

So what happened?

Well on June 24th last year my left ankle suddenly and dramatically swelled up. At first I thought it was an insect bite from a World Cup garden barbeque. Then it spread to my right ankle.

A sight to rival the Golden Gate Bridge

I couldn't walk, never mind run. Anti-inflammatories had no effect. An X-ray and two MRI scans failed to diagnose the problem.

Was it the statins I started talking for high cholesterol in March? I stopped taking them - no effect. All I could do was rest.

So no running for six months. A juddering halt from a schedule that was averaging five runs and 30 miles per week.

And then on January 4th the first tentative jogs. Six minutes on a treadmill. Then a gentle 15 minutes a week later. On January 21st the first outdoor run - a canalside jog for 20 minutes. Last month the first five miles along the Thames. And then on March 5th a nine mile trip from Hammersmith to Lambeth Bridge and back.

No ankle pain.

It feels good to be back - even if the running is heavy-going and sluggish. But last Sunday felt a bit better than the Saturday before.

And tonight on the treadmill - 5K at 25'11". Nudging closer to a reasonable time.

But I'm also a year older. Will I ever get back to sub-25" 5Ks, sub-50" 10Ks and sub-1'44" half-marathons (at Marlow in 2010)?

If not, I'll settle for pain-free running and slower times. But it'll be fun trying. Sort of.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Daring to Dream

One-nil up, 94th minute.

Suddenly Conor Sammon is put clean through on the right side of the box. He's only got Joe Hart to beat.

I actually hear myself hyperventilating. Hands on head. Heart pumping. This is it - he's going to bury it.

He hits it right-footed. It's arrowing along the turf towards the bottom corner. That's that.

But it isn't.

The ball actually goes wide. Sammon's missed it. And City have limped over the finishing line against bottom club Wigan thanks to David Silva and a goalkeeping howler.

We've won a game we would have traditionally drawn.

It shouldn't matter this much, of course, but it does. And it seems to matter more than ever.
Thirty-five years and we're still here

Thirty five years ago I listened on the radio as City won their last decent trophy. It was so long ago that the League Cup Final wasn't even shown live on TV. In Manchester you had to wait until the highlights on a Kick Off! special on Sunday afternoon.

Peter Barnes' side-footer past the Newcastle keeper and Dennis Tueart's brilliant overhead kick won it for City.

I risked the wrath of Mrs Highland's Monday morning school inquisition and bunked off Sunday Mass to watch Mike Doyle and the squad parade the trophy round the city centre at lunchtime.

It was a good squad - Gary Owen, Joe Corrigan, Joe Royle, Dave Watson - and the trophy win would surely kick-start a period of dominance.

The following season we finished second to Liverpool in Division One. But Tony Book's squad had easily secured a Uefa Cup place and the trend was still upward.

I saved up my paper round money, bought my first season ticket in the Kippax Street stand and went autograph hunting. Then it all started to go wrong.

Relegation battles, relegations and promotions became the norm. But no trophies.

There was one sniff - the 1981 FA Cup final.

Tickets seemed better value back then

We got there thanks to a Paul Power goal against Ipswich Town at Villa Park. My glasses got knocked off in the Holte End celebrations and I couldn't see a thing for the last ten minutes. Didn't care.

Glasses like these destroyed in semi-final
I got the train to the final with my punk pal Tommy.

When Tommy Hutchison scored with a flying header I was so shocked and relieved that I bent double for so long that Tommy (my mate not Hutchison) asked me if I was alright.

I was. Until Hutchison scored an own goal at the other end. We were stood behind that goal - miles away from it in the old Wembley. We thought Hoddle's free kick had gone straight in. It was only walking back to the train station with other fans that the true horror was confirmed.

But never mind, we had a replay the following Thursday. I couldn't go because of school but it was a rare treat to watch City live on TV. My dad, a policeman and a United fan, was on duty and my brother wasn't bothered so I watched it with my disinterested mum who kept saying shush.

When Kevin Reeves put us two-one up from the spot I was jumping around the lounge. When Ricky Villa got the ball and carried on dribbling I was flat out on the floor.

Every time I've seen it since I think Big Joe is going to save it. He never does.

But two cup finals in five years - surely more would follow along with top two finishes and title pushes.

Fast forward 30 years into the Sky+ era and our new status as the Richest Club in the World. Still no trophies and not really any near misses since.

Maybe the FA Cup quarter final against Spurs in 1993. I dashed over to Manchester after playing up front for the Bradford Telegraph & Argus against the Yorkshire Evening Press on the morning of the match.

Needn't have bothered. Lost 4-2, crowd trouble, police horses composting on the pitch and all over the club. The beginning of the end for the Peter Swales era.

Maybe the League Cup semi-final against United last year. A Tevez winner in the first leg. A last-minute Rooney clincher for United in the second.
Carlos Tevez, Manchester City, Wigan
Know how you feel, Carlos
And now the start of a week that could change everything. The players look knackered after four games in ten days.

But next is a trip to Kiev on Thursday for the Europa League last 16, a home FA Cup quarter final against Reading on Sunday, the second leg against Kiev next Thursday and away to Chelsea the following Sunday where a win would consolidate third place in the Premier League.

Punk Tommy won't be here to see it. He died of a heroin overdose in a pub toilet in Manchester in 1985.

But those ten days can put City on the road to a new era.

And me and fellow Colin Bell-stander Vince could celebrate 11 years of watching us through thin and thin with a final at Wembley and another in Dublin in the same week.

I'm starting to hyperventilate again.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011


The anti-Alternative Vote campaign featuring Nick Clegg sums up the utter fatuousness of British democracy  and makes you wonder why the Arabs are even bothering with their great awakening.

The very fact we're being forced into a referendum on such a non-essential, unimportant and self-servingly political issue in the first place shows how out of touch Westminster is with the mood of the nation.

The No campaigners then decide to rub our noses it even further by not even bothering to spell out the positive reasons why we should listen to them - the debatable benefits it will bring to the House of Commons, its tendency to produce guaranteed hung Parliaments.

Instead they turn it into a playground spat about whether or not people like Nick Clegg. Not even Nick Clegg - an imaginary President Clegg.

We elect our politicians, by whatever means, so they can make decisions on our behalf. Especially decisions about politics.

So why don't they go ahead and make them instead of wasting millions of pounds on something only a tiny proportion of people give a monkey's about?

Forget the big issues about immigration, education, the health service, bankers' bonuses and if anybody is  going to be able to afford to retire before they're 80.

No - what politicians think people really want to go to the polls about is a voting system.

Well do they? We should have a referendum on it.

This is an edited version of a speech I gave in the car this morning after seeing the poster on the A4.