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Alas Myth and Cones: Counting the Costa traffic jams in a city of red lights

18 Jul

I am lucky enough to have two homes. One is a sunshine villa 30 minutes’ drive from Alicante airport, the other a modest semi 18 miles north of Manchester’s three flight terminals.

An airport trip at the English end is subject to an electrifying hazard in the form of 50 sets of traffic lights. The consolation is that no more than 47 tend to be stuck on red at any given time.

If you are lucky enough to actually catch your flight, you do at least face a delightful evening discussing traffic lights with the Spanish cabbie driving you to Guardamar on the N332.

Mention the super-hazard of every street corner in Britain and the taxi driver’s conversation is likely to consist of a quizzical look and the words ‘Que es trah-fick-lie-eat?’

Odds are he won’t know what you are talking about because, believe it or not, there’s not a single set of the things between Alicante and my Costa Blanca home.

At the Manchester end one can, of course, avoid the red-light menace by heading for the airport via the city’s Park-And-Don’t-Move service, otherwise known as the M60 motorway.

That trip is no fun either, aRoadworks on the A21nd unless you give yourself at least two days to get to the airport, a couple of hours with your head immersed in 50 Shades of Red may well be less stressful than counting traffic cones.

Either way, both routes to the airport provide ideal material for a ‘100 Reasons to Escape Manchester’ publicity blitz.

What sort of voyeur gets a kick out of watching traffic cones breeding on the M60, for heaven’s sake? Last time I used the so-called ring road I counted 428 million giant ice-cream cornets during a six-mile crawl to the Trafford Centre. The 14-hour trip was marginally quicker than taking the car but my knees didn’t half hurt by the time I reached my destination. And I was suffering from orange-and-white colour blindness into the bargain.

One of the few perks of driving to Manchester airport via the city centre is that you can stop off for a coffee and a bacon butty. The down side is the £60 parking fine you’ll inevitably get in addition to burning off eight gallons of unleaded in a desperate attempt to park sideways on the single metre of kerb untainted by double yellow lines.

I appreciate that comparing the Costa del Salford with the Costa del Sol is akin to confusing Bury Market with the London Stock Market. But that’s a bourse-case scenario.

There are, in fact, many leisurely compensations for those who choose not to drive in what must surely be the wettest part of the UK. One is enjoying a morning swim to the office in downtown Mancunia’s high-street ocean, known to the aquatic community as the Sea of Umbrellas. The rush hour is so busy that there’s no choice but to do the crawl, and not only because the breast stroke is illegal and a butterfly as rare as an English Mark Spitz.

Which brings me on to football or, for the gob-fearing amongst us, the mouths of Wayne Rooney and Kompany.

Manchester is of course home to two top football teams, namely Bury and Oldham Athletic. Fortunately I don’t support Man United or Man City either, which is a bit of a relief since I don’t speak German (heaven help whoever puts the names on United players’ shirts) and with my flight back to Spain only 24 hours away, I’m pretty low on Sterling too (boom boom).

Oh, a geeky friend just called to say there are actually 49 sets of traffic lights between my Whitefield home and Manchester Airport. Using the bacon-butty route, that is.

I believe there are also 49 million traffic cones between Anfield in Liverpool and Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium.

All paid for in Sterling, of course.

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Bigger than Manchester United: Two-faced Ferguson’s ego trip

11 May

I’ve met Sir Alex Ferguson on a couple of occasions (well, been in his company ) and I have to say it was a pleasant experience. Even if the Manchester United boss’s red-nosed jollity had been inspired by a glass or six of vintage vino.

So why do I find it so pleasant to see his 27-year reign at Old Trafford finally come to an end?
It’s not that I’m anti United — how can I be when half my family are dyed-in-the-wool Reds? It’s just that I have no time for two-faced people. And I’m afraid Fergie is a classic example of a split personality .
You can’t argue with the Scottish super-boss’s record as a football club manager. He has no peers in terms of success over more than two decades. What I find disgusting is that Mr McMighty has become bigger than Manchester United—and that his employers  allowed him to do so.
Fergie’s press conference bans on newspapermen who dare to criticise  him or his team  have become folklore in Fleet Street. One agency reporter felt the full weight of Fergie’s wrath  a while back just for asking a question about Ryan Giggs. But it was nothing new. Over the years, Fergie has slapped ridiculous sanctions dozens of journalists who dared to write or say something he didn’t like.
Sir Alex is vindictive with it, too. Not for him the “let bygones be bygones” approach. His ludicrous vendetta against the BBC went on for almost a decade—fuelled by a Panorama programme which investigated the business activities of his son Jason, who was then a football agent.
Another example of his petulance was the recall of two players on loan from United immediately after Preston North End sacked another of his sons, Darren.
The fact is that Sir Alex became the victim of his own success. He seems convinced that he is even closer to the Almighty than Jose Mourinho and the late Brian Clough.
And the United board are entirely to blame for the situation. Quite simply , they lacked the bottle to tell Ferguson ‘‘Either talk to the BBC along with the other broadcasting companies, or find yourself a new job.’’
OK, we all know what would have happened. United would have been looking for a new boss many years ago. That has been the problem at Old Trafford for a long time. Quite simply , the board were just as scared of Fergie as the frightened media rabbits who bowed and scraped to his every whim.
They humbled themselves in the eyes of the Mighty Dictator,  which makes me suspect that few of those who cover United matches on a regular basis always write exactly what they think.
And I find that very discomforting.
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Buddy Golly! The miracle baby with no heartbeat goes home

2 Feb

Buddy leaves hospital...all 2 kilos of him

BUDDY John Harry Holmes entered this world silently on December 14, 2011 – and it was three minutes before he drew his first breath.
My daughter Hayley’s third child arrived 12 weeks early and weighed less than a kilo. For those first terrifying moments of his life, he also had no heartbeat. How times change!

On Wednesday this week, the little mite left hospital with his mum and dad, the intrusive array of tubes that had decorated and invaded his little body for weeks all long gone.
For the first week of his life, it was touch-and-go for Buddy. Dragged out of Hayley’s womb by Caesarean section, he survived because of her intuition that something was amiss with the 28-week embryo.
A scan revealed that the waters surrounding Buddy had all leaked away – and medics ordered an immediate emergency delivery.
Hayley and her partner  Steve Holmes learned later that the baby would have died within two hours had he been left in the womb.
As it was, he survived not only those first breathless, heart-stopping moments, but also being half-strangled by his umbilical cord.
For a week, he remained in an incubator in Intensive Care, listed as ‘critical’.
Then the miracle of life kicked in big time. And when he left hospital this week, Buddy’s birthweight had more than doubled to 4lb 7oz.

So tiny...that's Buddy, not dad

In seven weeks, the wizened mini-alien had transitioned into a chubby little boy – albeit still only the size of a man’s shoe.
Hayley and Steve had named him seconds after he was born, fearing he would not survive.
Instead, he has become a picture of health, so pardon this column’s nepotism as the family drink a toast to the little one’s future.
Mine’s a Bud, by the way.

Ferguson’s split personality is Manchester United’s fault

4 Jun

Unforgiving: Sir Alex Ferguson

I’ve met Sir Alex Ferguson on a couple of occasions (well, been in his company) and I have to say it was a pleasant experience.
Even if the Manchester United boss’s red-nosed jollity had been inspired at the time by a glass or six of vintage vino. So why did I find it so pleasant to see his charges on the receiving end at Wembley at the weekend?
It’s not that I’m a Barcelona fan – it’s just that I have no time for two-faced people. And I’m afraid Fergie is a classic example of a split personality.
You can’t argue with the Scottish superboss’s record as a football manager. He has no peers in terms of success over more than two decades.
What I find disgusting is that Mr McMighty has become bigger than Manchester United – and that those who employ him have allowed him to do as he likes.
Last week’s press conference in which he called for Associated Press reporter Rob Harris to be banned just for asking a question about Ryan Giggs received wide publicity. But it was nothing new.
Over the years, Fergie has banned dozens of journalists who dared to write or say something he didn’t like. Indeed, it makes me wonder if it is more than coincidence that the hack who churned out United copy for the Manchester Evening News for so many years was called David MEEK.
And Sir Alex is vindictive with it, too. Not for him the ‘let bygones be bygones’ approach.
His ludicrous vendetta against the BBC has gone on for seven years now – fuelled by a Panorama programme which investigated the business activities of his son Jason, who was then a football agent.
A more recent example of his petulance was the recall of two players on loan from United when Preston North End sacked another Fergie son, Darren (pictured) as manager during the season that has just finished.
The fact is that Sir Alex has become the victim of his own success. He seems to be convinced that he is even closer to God than Jose Mourinho and the late Brian Clough. And the United board are entirely to blame for the situation.
Quite simply, they lack the bottle to tell Ferguson ‘‘Either talk to the BBC along with the other broadcasting companies, or find yourself a new job.’’
OK, we all know what would happen. United would be looking for a new boss…and that is the problem.
Quite simply, the Old Trafford board are just as scared of him as the frightened media rabbits who bow and scrape to his every whim.
They humble themselves in the eyes of the Mighty Dictator, which makes me suspect that few of those who cover United matches on a regular basis write what they REALLY think.
And I find that very discomforting.

Goodbye Daily Sport – you never were any good at figures!

9 Apr

Weren’t you gutted to hear that the seedy Sport Media Group founded by David Sullivan had gone into administration? Neither was I – apart from great sympathy for the 80 people who lost their jobs.

I detest the tackiness of the Daily and Sunday Sport so I’m glad to see the back of their smut. But I also have some unforgettable memories of the days I worked for the Daily Sport myself – and became the only journalist to be involuntarily pushed out of the door TWICE.

My career in journalism has embraced well over 30 years in what is still fondly called Fleet Street – mainly as a sub-editor but also as a writer and columnist.

I worked under charismatic editors ranging from the awesome Sir John Junor at the Sunday Express to the booming bullying of Kelvin Mackenzie at The Sun and the bloated arrogance of Piers Morgan at the Daily Mirror.

I also had both the pleasure and pain of twice working for Peter Grimsditch, the launch editor of the Manchester-based Daily Star in 1978 who some years later became inaugural editor of the Daily Sport.

Grimbles, as we called him, was simply brilliant with the Star’s launch team of journalists. By the time the paper first hit the news-stands, he had called every one of us into his office individually for a drink and a ‘meet the boss’ chat.

My chinwag lasted fully half an hour and sealed an instant bond which, long after we had both moved on to other newspapers, led to Grimsditch invitingme to join the Daily Sport team in its early days in 1991.

With virtually every national newspaper production team at this point operating exclusively in London, as someone whose heart was in Manchester, I actually jumped at the chance to sink into the gutter. After all, I was joining the paper’s one decent department – the sports desk, whose staff included some highly talented journalists.

And to avoid any embarrassment, I proceeded to hide my shame from my friends by telling them I was now freelancing rather than working for any individual title.

Most of the journalists on the Daily Sport were experienced national newspaper subs who simply wanted to stay in the North. It was much, much more than Sullivan deserved – but the fact is he had a captive market.

Anyway things went well until the pressure of trying to keep the title afloat started to get to Grimsditch. We all laughed when he suddenly issued a warning over staff using the office computer system to store private files, something we all did and which caused no harm whatsoever.

It all came to a head when he called me into his office one day and accused me of committing a criminal offence by using the office system to store minor details from a sports book I was writing. It was all trumped-up nonsense and I exploded.

It was like something out of a movie as I stormed out of Grimbles’ retreat and in a dramatic scene watched by the entire staff, yelled theatrically ‘‘I quit’’ before slamming his office door as hard as I could .

I swear the entire building shook and by the time I got home, a dispatch rider had already delivered a quickly dictated letter from Grimsditch accepting my resignation.

Two months later, sports editor Steve Millar phoned to tell me the Grim news that the Editor had himself been dismissed. ‘’Will you please come back – we need you,’’ he pleaded.

So back to Great Ancoats Street I went with a quiet snigger that the person responsible for my departure had himself been booted into oblivion.

A year or so later, Sullivan – dissatisfied with the economic state of his print empire, ordered a redundancy exercise which involved the sports desk being trimmed by three.

Unfortunately Sport Newspapers’ naïve management team failed to realise that certain procedures must be followed regarding redundancies and when Millar refused to single out three people, they took it upon themselves to do the job for him.

It was a mistake that ended with their representatives being ripped to shreds at an industrial tribunal. I and the two sports-desk colleagues who got the old heave-ho were awarded almost £30,000 between us, with the chairman intimating the figure would have been higher had he not be tied by a legal maximum.

I look back on it all today with some amusement – particularly at the memos the less-than-articulate Sullivan would circulate about his beloved Birmingham City. Indeed, I’m sure I still have copies of a couple of them somewhere.

At the time, the Blues were playing in the second tier (now the Championship) and the chairman was keen to put his players in the shop window at every opportunity in the hope one of the big clubs would come calling.

‘‘Whenever you mention our star striker Paul Peschisolido, please make sure you say ‘’£2million-rated Paul Peschisolido’’, he instructed the sports department. ‘‘And for all other Birmingham players, please put ‘‘£1million-rated’’ before their name.’’

I could throw in an anecdote or two about Sullivan’s protégé Karren Brady, who also put her oar in once or twice. But I’ll leave that for another day because I’ve kind of warmed to English football’s first female managing director over recent years.

So I’ll leave it to the men to moan about women ruining the game. Andy Gray, where are you?

Ryan Giggs: Manchester United legend but no red-blooded Taffy

29 Mar

Anyone who thought Welsh football wizard Ryan Giggs would end his self-imposed international retirement and play against England last  Saturday must have been dreaming.

Because when it comes to the Land of His Fathers, Giggs and patriotism have never been particularly close partners.

I’m a big football fan. I am also proudly Welsh. But when it comes to Giggs and his contribution to his country’s cause, that’s where I grab my little red ranting hood.

When our best player Gareth Bale had to drop out of the squad for the England game, the cry went up for Manchester United legend Giggs to step in. He did – but only to show his face and perhaps offer some friendly advice during a family holiday in Cardiff.

Had he been as dedicated to the cause as any true red-blooded Taffy, he’d have stripped off for action there and then. The golden boy may be 37, but he is still as good as any player in Gary Speed’s Wales squad.

The problem is that throughout his career, the Cardiff-born star’s loyalty to the land of his birth has been tenuous, to say the least. And there was as much chance of him saying yes as there was of Speed calling ME into the squad!

Giggs opted out of international football three years ago – and Wales said goodbye to a tragic dragon rather than the magic one who has graced Old Trafford for the last two decades.

Ryan Giggs: No hero for Wales

For me, it was a case of good riddance because I can count the number of outstanding performances he made for his country on one hand, if not one finger.

Those who do not know the full facts believe Giggs chose to play for Wales rather than England.

The reality is that our Ryan was born in Wales of Welsh parentage and has absolutely no English blood.

So the option was never there…even though he did qualify for England Schools courtesy of being educated in Manchester (where I am assured Welsh was not on the curriculum).

Look at the contribution Giggs has made to his ‘beloved’ Wales since leaving his native Cardiff at the age of seven and began speaking more like a Salford scally than a true Taff.

Like myself and millions of other Welsh patriots, I’m sure he is proud of his blood line. But the reality is that everything about him, from his upbringing to his education and subsequent career, is pure English.

I was born in Birmingham but my Welsh father and English mother moved back to Wales when I was a baby and I will always by loyal to the country I regard as my homeland. Giggs is almost the reverse of this…so it would surprise me if his loyalty outside football is entirely to Wales.

I cannot imagine he supports Cardiff Blues at rugby and Glamorgan at cricket, as I do – and I’d just love to know which side he favours when Wales play England in the Six Nations!

Admittedly, the guy has played some blinders for United – and is right up there with the greats of the Premier League. But all those comparisons with George Best are ridiculous – George had tricks Giggs couldn’t live with and unlike his Welsh counterpart, he could do them with both feet.

The thing that irks me about Giggs’s Wales career is that when he condescended to don the real red shirt he invariably either went through the motions or developed a mysterious injury which incredibly cleared up before United’s next game.

For nine years from 1991 he refused to play for Wales in friendlies – missing 18 matches, many of them important build-up games towards major tournament qualifiers. Had he played in even half of those, Wales’s 49-year spell without qualifying for a major tournament may well have ended years ago.

Patriotic Welshmen simply do not refuse to play for their country without a very good reason. Mind you, it might all have been at Sir Alex’s instigation. Now that is a thought.

I’ll have a think about that one…and then maybe I’ll grab my hair-dryer and head for Old Trafford.