Tithebarn

Many decades ago, some bright spark with a ‘grand vision’ for Preston decided its Ring Road should split the town into unequal segments, consequences from which are still being suffered today. Following Beeching’s Axe to all-but-one Prestonian railway station, the construction of the iconic Brutalist gem that once was Britain’s biggest Bus Station was seen as a futurist vision of how the town should look to the next generation.

The Ring Road has been a disaster. And we’re about to do it all over again.

The Tithebarn fairytale was pencil-sketched in an earlier age, one where credit was cheap and money flowed. That was the time of plenty; now is the age of austerity. There is not justification for squeezing the Tithebarn circle into today’s square hole. Hard working Prestonians should not be expected to pay the cost of yesterday’s plans being railroaded for the short-termist headlines of today.

It is the demolition of the historic bus station which is at the centre of the whole shameful decision. Not only is it such an architectural masterpiece, it also has 1,100 car parking places available for use, more than any other site in the town. Zealots cannot justify the lust for John Lewis as well as the demolition of 1,100 car parking places. “More shops, less opportunity to park!” is not much of a slogan. With the new bus station being built only 10 metres from the current site (behind a nightclub, ironically on the site of a current small car park), it’s not as though train-travel into the new Manchester-upon-Ribble is being encouraged either.

Demolishing the Station in favour of a John Lewis is a depressing indictment of our times. Low and fixed-income residents of Avenham and Deepdale will get the message; from your bedroom window observe progress you cannot afford glow in glorious glass-and-chrome. Such cheque-chasing short-termist nonsense is almost abuse of power. Where do Prestonians go if the Mini-Manchester being forced upon them is not their vision of the Market Town they call home? What of history, heritage? What of taking each part of Preston in turn, to deal with priorities at the point of need?

Why the rush to demolish England’s youngest city? How much will this cost Prestonians when the expected rush of High Street names fail to materialise?

How will the rip-it-up-to-start-again policy solve the current issue whereby dozens of shopping units stand empty today? It’s a fact that investors are using Tithebarn as a direct reason AGAINST investing in Preston. Why would they change thier minds now?

The blueprint for Tithebarn was a vision nobody could guarantee, and today the onus is on the zealots to prove it will go ahead exactly as planned. If those desperate for modernisation for the sake of it want Preston to be demolished so quickly, and demand Manchester-on-Ribble so readily, I suggest one of two actions. Either move to Manchester, where they will see the “island of glass in a sea of debt”, or demand a binding Referendum on the WHOLE CITY, to see if their profit hungry vision is shared by people living in Larches, Ingol, Tanterton, Ribbleton, Plungington or Callon.

Tithebarn is a capitalist wet-dream. Some of us are far more level-headed and reasonable, hoping the zealots wake up.

Prestonians have never, ever, not once, been asked if they want their history and heritage demolished for a mini-Manchester they cannot afford. So let’s have a referendum.

Let us make the case for saving our Bus Station, saving our Town, securing our identity.

I urge the zealots to make the case for a Referendum. Let the whole of Preston decide.

Jealous of Girls : Strawberry Kisses


Manchester songwriter Matthew Lewis is the antidote to that city’s angrier side, albeit for all the songs other than the opener to his debut album which lampoons the modern gig attendee as ‘bastards’ for talking over acoustic guitarists. Whomever they might be…

It would be untrue to describe the rest of the album as free from such resentment though the mood is noticeably lighter once that particular spleen is vented. “Strawberry Kisses” is robust, direct, a stripped down collection that hints at his indie and alt.rock roots whilst merrily wandering down paths largely of his own furrowing.

The very best moments here are Lewis at his most fragile, “Batter Up” and “She” being clear examples, “Sunny Side Up” deliciously implicit in its barbed romance as it attentive upon pop melodies.

Although largely free-flowing, when the brakes are applied it’s straight into the wall; the attempts at solemnity struggle to convince, consequence of an almost complete absence of other instruments. Given these limitations, the standard is exceptionally high; there’s no flippant diary-writing angst and influences remain bedded down rather than fully grown.

There is an engrossing quality here, one which should quieten the target for abuse in the first song; if it all goes well, he may not have to play it anymore.

Matthew Lewis (“Jealous of Girls”) can be found at MySpace and Twitter

“Strawberry Kisses” is out now at jealousofgirls.co.uk

Nick Clegg must resign

Before we are taken into Hallam in a handcart, the Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg must resign.

There are many reasons to be cheerful as a LibDem supporter:

*Sure Start protected, social care fund of £2million, income allowance up by over a grand next year with a promise to reach the manifesto pledge of £10,000 by the time of the first ever fixed-term parliament, referendum on voting reform, museum charges still free, end of ID cards, end of the DNA database, scrapping of Section 44, increase in Child Tax Credits and available to more families by 2012…..

…..and then…..

Then there’s the shadow. The dark, thick, acrid smoke covering all the good news, turning it inside out like the toxic fog that does for the chrous-line Simpsons. The scare-story in today’s Guardian today – I assume the headline “LIBDEMS REALISED THERE WOULD BE A HUNG PARLIAMENT AND ACTED ACCORDINGLY” was considered too pedantic – nevertheless taps into the problems right at the heart of our Party and its role within the Coalition.

Clegg has delivered exactly what all activists and Councillors and voters wanted; LibDems in Government, giving the Conservatives a liberal accent on civil liberties and tax. But it’s the shadow, the darkness, the storm…

A few days ago, whilst returning on train from Manchester, I struck up conversations with students coming home from the NUS march in central London. All 5 of them – two each from Manchester and Salford, two from UCLan – agreed with despondency and regret that the march had largely been a disaster. As one said; “It was a great march, until we came out from a 20 minute break in Costa to find all Hell had broken loose.” Another said “We picked up stragglers who just wanted to start a fight, we won’t be on the middle pages never mind the front page.”

But any ire focused at the SWP and pick-n-mix anarchists ruining the march was nothing compared to what they had in store towards Nick Clegg. Not Liberal Democrats generally, I noticed (talking with them as a ‘supporter’, assuming telling them how I was a committed activist and former Councillor would colour the debate somewhat). Specifically Nick Clegg. One told me;

Clegg came to every Uni, day after day, telling us ‘Vote for me and I will help abolish tuition fees. My vote was to him on that one promise, and now that promise is broken. I feel betrayed.

Another said;

All I can see now is Nick Clegg lying about tuition fees and a left wing Labour leader wanting them scrapped. That’s it for me, and all our branch (of the NUS) feel the same. Labour will get thousands more student votes now and it’s all because Labour are taking the right words on scrapping fees, that’s just what we want

A few days later, a mate of mine talking on this issue said;

Clegg just comes across like Phil Woolas, lying to get elected. What’s the difference? He should be done for fraud

Each and every attack on Clegg – their voice hoarse, their hearts deflated, their LibDem support utterly compromised – rang in my ears like church bells. Although I don’t believe “Clegg = Woolas” (whilst Phil knew his election material to be untrue, Clegg had no notion of the election result until it happened), the substantive point still stands. The one policy which was our magnet for support has become repellent, abhorrent.

Partly due to bad PR, implementation of the Browne Report has tainted our Party as dream-stealers. The proposals for tuition fees deal with the unholy mess handed to us by Labour. Increasing the pay-back salary to £21k and rightly dismissing the grossly unfair Graduation Tax is amongst the better of very limited options. It’s not right, it’s not pretty, but here is where we find ourselves…

…I just have to blame Clegg for getting us here. During our Leadership Election – “Calamity Clegg”, remember that? – I voted for Chris Huhne as my first preference and spoke against Nick at every opportunity. At the time, he did not convince me. I didn’t like him at the time and I don’t trust him now. His leadership has become toxic. “Word Association” with Liberal Democrat buzzwords comes up negatively everytime. We’re achieving too much good whilst in Government to have the tuition fees mess drag us out of office.

I support all those LibDems – such as my Presidential preference Tim Farron – who won’t just abstain but vote against the fee proposals. This is the kind of progressive and independent matter of conscious actions I would expect from anyone on the LibDem backbenches. Such matters of principle clearly shut down when Clegg’s ministerial car opened.

For the good of the Party – maybe even for our survival as a Party in the longterm – Nick Clegg must stand down. I had no idea of the strength of opposition to him, the manner in which his personal standing is dragging the whole party in the mud. To get anywhere near the standing before the election, his actions now have to ensure elections later are not ballot-box killing fields.

I want the Party to remain in the Coalition, doing all it can for the people of Britain in the aftermath of Labour’s disastrous economic illiteracy. To do anything in this regard, the one man whose role is causing dense fog to cloud all other considerations of our Party must to the honourable and right thing.

Nick Clegg must resign as Leader as soon as possible.

NUS – the problems with issues

First things first, the old-fashioned, good old facts. I am against tuition fees, always have been, from the moment Labour introduced them in 1997 while I was just starting out at college. “Where did this policy come from?” we asked, in somewhat stunned confusion. Well, nowhere, for Labour sprung them onto the nation without much introduction.

(The same, of course as top-up fees, another post-election surprise from Labour)

I don’t know what the NUS have been smoking, but their current violent attitude spilling across the centre of London really does nothing to make them look like the mature counter-argument to university funding. The NUS have got this completely and utterly wrong. By promoting millions of pounds worth of damage to persons and property across London as part of their “debate”, the NUS “leadership” is showing the very worst characteristics of student politics. Shouty, slogan-sore ignorance on a national scale.

Their collective amnesia is stunning. Labour’s introduction and promotion of tuition fees have brought us all to this state, where the only affordable option is to keep the system going with the improvements suggested by Liberal Democrat MPs now in Government. There is no point, at all, in solely blaming the LibDems, as the NUS are doing with all the coherence of a bus-stop drunk.

Graduation Tax proposals were highlighted by the Browne report as being unfair, for they would be levied on students from the moment they earned around £7,000. The new tuition fee proposals, as recommended by Liberal Democrats in Coalition Government, would see repayments START at £21,000, an increase from £15,000. This is an improvement, something the NUS cannot hear above the screaming and gnashing of teeth.

Labour sewed tuition fees into the fabric of university funding. The NUS has to explain what system it would introduce instead of tuition fees, one which would raise AT LEAST the same amount of money. Nobody in the NUS has come up with a credible reason why the entire nation should be expected to pay for university education out of general taxation.

Their “plan” to force by-elections in every LibDem seat is also indicative of their ignorance. There is no “recall MP” law in place yet, that LibDem proposal is still to make it through Parliament (as with the fixed-term parliament proposal, and increasing tax allowances and all other promises made, these things take time). The “right to recall” is only for MPs who have broken the law – such as Phil Woolas. What has Nick Clegg done to break the law? Nothing.

I have great sympathy with anti-tuition fee protesters. BUT I do not, cannot, accept the view that the only organisation responsible is the Liberal Democrats and the only recourse is setting fire to the Square Mile. The NUS has got its argument completely wrong. In the court of public opinion, they resemble the very worst kind of student protesting stereotype.

Labour got us into this mess. If they had increased University funding in line with all other public spending splurges, this mess would not know be realised. There is no point in whinging about the result of the General Election, not trying to rewrite history to present Labour as “friends of students”.

As the sight of the NUS-led protests against “Tony B. Liar” prove, sometimes all the students unions need are reasons to be angry with no solutions to back up the slogans.

I am against tuition fees, now as ever. I am against the NUS setting the HE funding argument as a LibDem witchhunt. It is not accurate, it is baseless in fact and shallow in detail.

Make Me King – "The Whisper is the Hint"

Make Me King are a five-piece pop-punk types from Lancashire, whose take on the ubiquitous genre is particularly sharp. Long since a style given up for dead – oh lovely, another hand-clapped chorus – this fresh take should pique the most cynical of interests. It’s the theory of sour milk – everyone loves milk, tea drinkers or not, it’s the threat of the contents being sour which leads us all to give the bottle its surreptitious sniff, however involuntary. These lads are not the bad stuff, they’re fresh from the fridge refreshing.

And so before I hijack any more Rafa Benitez quotes on milk….

….I’ll start with “If You Can’t Be Good, Don’t Get Caught”, zipping and tip-toeing through an interchange between pointed ska and pop-punk, and throughout a variety much more surprising and mature than you’d first expect. The interplay and production quirks sprinkle through “Every Truth or Dare” (with its hint of blues in the vocal melody) and the stripped “Wake The World”.

There is particularly dangerous territory in these parts, because all groups have to do is time-signature-switch once too often and they’re trapped in Lost Prophets Hell; but follow the melody fairies down the lane with too many skips in the step and there’s the Fightstar comparisons hanging off every branch like torn sheep’s wool. Fair play to Make Me King for knowing how much of each influence to hat-tip whilst strutting along with their own confidence. It’s unfortunate that the title track is the weakest here, though with so many reasons to be cheerful it’s likely whispers will become shouts before long.

Make Me King’s “The Whisper is the Hint” is available on Riot Pop Records

http://www.myspace.com/makemekinguk
http://www.twitter.com/mmkbaby

Initial considerations

It’s very easy to over-romanticise the FA Cup. Worse culprits than ITV are hard to find, with the broadcaster assured of the similarity between it and the TARDIS, the game as a time-machine able to whip up mythical good-old-days of level playing fields and jumpers for goalposts.

(“Level playing fields never existed,” comments the cynical old friend of mine. “We’d struggle not to do our ankles on the molehills.”)

It is ten years after – this should be the only time I type this today – “magic of the Cup” was debated within a stitch of its life following Manchester United’s decision to fly half-way round the globe rather than take part. From fair-weather fans to utter fanatics, the future of the Cup and by extension English football was exhaustively debated and analysed, with my then boss at the time agreeing totally with “Brand Utd” sidestepping the competition “they have clearly outgrown”.

The discussion comes round again this season, related in that spooky-fate-and-fortune sort of way to Manchester United. Following the turning of Old Trafford into a holding bay for Texan debt, plans scrawled on the back of naan bread by disillusioned fans created FC United of Manchester, a protest club which would turn into something non-league football had not quite seen before. Fan-owned, eschewed of shirt sponsors, and now with share-save style promotions to raise money for a new ground, FCUM made an extra slice of history their own this week by beating Rochdale in the First Round Proper of the FA Cup.

(Remember for teams of the Pyramids, the Cup starts in August).

FCUM polarise and divide opinion to this day. Their reputation within the hitherto stuffy world of non-league is polarised. Frankly the atmosphere and attitude was long overdue for some clubs at the lower levels, whose grounds desperately needed the singing, chanting and enthusiasm of League football which FCUM almost always guarantee. The terraces of some provincial towns must thing the echoing choruses of football crowds have been missing for generations. When Burscough, the team I follow, played Boston some years ago, their supporters acted just as they would in the League, an attitude FC has maintained despite long years clawing their way through Leagues were polite applause can be sneered at…

The FCUM attitude to the FA Cup has been one of hyperactivity, giddyness and outright hunger for success. The jokes about meeting Manchester United in the Third Round are told with straight-faced seriousness…..

…..which reflects very differently to the attitude in the London Borough of Merton…..

Below are three Tweets sent to me in response to questions forwarded to those AFC fans suggesting their potential game with MK Dons could be boycotted or even forfeited:

@doktorb Not really. It justifies them. And they say we’re arch rivals, but we’re nothing of the sort.

@doktorb why? The idea of playing the franchise isn’t like playing rivals you realise. I don’t want rivals to go bust.

@doktorb i genuinely would not want to be there which is different from principled boycott stance

The extent of the disquiet – to put it mildly – amongst AFC Wimbledon fans against a potential match with MK Dons utterly stunned and silenced me. There is no charity, no olive branch, no eagerness for playing “rivals”. The two teams may appear to have been cut from the same protest movement cloth….It is only on closer inspection that the different patterns are discovered. Although a minority of AFC fans want the game to go ahead, there is no pounding-heart nostalgia amongst the majority. FA Cup or not – achievement of making the First Round Proper or not – “Franchise FC” would not be welcome at the “home of the Dons”.

(I highly recommend this WSC blog on the subject)

Such is the continuing problems at the heart of the oldest club cup competition. AFC fans are clearly principled – mayhaps too principled to the point of blindness. It is just as easy to over romanticise the fan-power teams as it is the Cup itself. How we all paint the game in the garish pop-art colours of the ITV title sequence, wrap every fault in scarves and wooly-hats. There are hooligan tendencies within the fan base of both AFC and FCUM, there are non-league fans unhappy at the perceived easy ride given the ‘novelty factor’. Nevertheless both sides have ultimately transformed the non-league organisation as much as the game.

There will always be exceptions to prove rules. FC fans are out there now sharpening defiance against ever playing Manchester United, and of course AFC Wimbledon fans who are excited by the prospect of playing Milton Keynes look forward to each respective replays. Ultimately, however, the Cup is only a symbol for the sides at their level, an icon too far to reach, the fervour amongst clubs and fans overblown and knowing. It has not been the Cup we’ve wanted it to be for years. Blame whoever you like for ‘reinventing the wheel’.

It keeps on spinning. AFC Wimbledon and FC United of Manchester find themselves positioned on opposite sides…

Mortal Outrage

My relationship with computer games – as I resolutely continue to call them – can best be described as ‘sporadic’. The CV reads like a potted history of a person who shouldn’t be considered a geek at all; following most of the 80s staring at the blessed blue screen with boxes of cassettes and floppy disks, months turning into years with the final “upgrade” in the form of an infrared ‘gun’ with the size and weight of a dead cat.

I moved onto a Master System (it saw its last days covered by the contents of a knocked-over bottle of Bass Shandy), SNES (pretty much ditto if I recall), before ending the games console ‘thing’ with a first generation PlayStation with only a copy of Gran Turismo for company. Consequently my reaction to modern games consoles resembles that of Grandpa Simpson resenting having to kneel on the floor to fathom out the arbitrary button combinations which have replaced the one jolt of an old joystick.

During High School, twin phenomenons Mortal Kombat and Street Fighter swept through the playgrounds in frenzied swaps of cheats, special moves and cries of Hadoukan. Like a badly aimed fireball, they wooshed over my head. I was completely unable to learn how particular combinations of buttons enabled one character to high-kick another to death. Having barely moved on from motor racing games, it’s little wonder one-on-one urban fistfights passed me by. One standout memory from a family holiday in Spain – and if you don’t know me by know, this should help – is from an arcade near the hotel with one British lad getting all the attention for turning successive Street Fighter characters to pulp with me directly beside on my own playing a Tetris-knock-off…

If memory serves – and even if it doesn’t, it’s not too difficult to invent – British tabloids fed off controversial aspects of Mortal Kombat and the copycat games of the horizontal scrap genre. No matter that “extreme gore” (© Daily Mail) looked like a carton of tomato juice squeezed too hard, “blood” is blood! Inevitably protests and parental anger covered the newspaper letters pages – this is pre-internet, folks, bear with me – which nudged the industry to introduce cinema style age ratings for games. Professional commentators sniffed and sneered at Britain’s multi-million pound games design industry, preferring to use the ‘violence’ as examples of how progressing from Pong was proof of whatever phrase we used in the 1990s to describe Broken Britain.

(Similarly, moving on from 240p in the pound was akin to introducing pears to your anus.)

How the Outraged of RedTops will react to the new Mortal Kombat – numbered 9 and out next year – is anyone’s guess. For absolute lack of doubt, here’s one selected highlight in print form, as a taster before the video at the end of this blog…

During “X-ray moves”, the camera will zoom in to show an inside view of the character who is being attacked while bones and organs are broken or ruptured.

Got that? Yup, cinema’s torture porn, a fetish on its last (broken) legs despite ]
another Final Destination, appears to be influencing the games market still. Games violence and the censorship issue has been ongoing for years, from Leisure Suit Larry to Red Dead Redemption. The cinema age ratings have helped quell the issue whilst not solving the core problem, which personally speaking is the balance of industry involvement verses parental control. Parents do not have 24-hour watch on their children, nor should they. Games designers have little involvement in this issue at all, for the ability to cut open an foe’s head like a wet Cos should not be regarded as permission to practice on the winging brat from two doors down. Hell-bent on promoting fear – encouraged by the kneejerk attitude to ‘anti social behaviour’ turning everyone into curtain twitching CCTV subscribers – tabloid newspapers love violent games for the very intent to highlight them as irresponsible. Call me wet and libertarian if you must, I just cannot hold Mr Games Company responsible for the 8 year old playing an 18-certificate game in which poker games are rudely interrupted through the introduction of Mr Grenade.

The newly released MK looks to have smashed its moral compass into the battered face of its first-draft characters. If parents know about the content of the game and make a decision based on that knowledge, applause to them; if their children acquire the game through whatever means and don’t feel the need to carry out copycat attacks in the Post Office, all hail maturity and reasoned behaviour. If the tabloid press decide the sight of brutal death as a ‘game’ is somehow more abhorrent than the cartoon-like fighting scenes in James Bond or contrived traps of Saw, more fool the lot of them.

Censorship by whichever industry, film or television or computer games, runs counter to the maturity and independence which all national institutions should treat the consumers who happen also to be citizens. One example of a child stabbing another with a fork is not evidence for the wholesale ban of cutlery (there is a letter in today’s i suggesting Theresa May had better ban wooden-legs and pillow cases to dissuade others using them for bombs). This new MK is violent and gruesome, whilst also being exaggerated and self-aware. Its violence should be obvious from its name and reputation. I fear, through experience of living through the civil liberty sapping ‘war on terror’, that its release will be swamped by waves of moral indignation. Such moves should be finished off without a second glance.