Sunday, 30 November 2008

NOM NOM NOM: that's the sound of the Police...

Ahahahaha snooort! Pure GOLD!!!

I should probably let it lie, but this recent front-page outrage is a Sentinelism of the highest order.

Revealed: Contrary to popular belief, officers of the law in Stoke-on-Trent are a bit partial to a sandwich and banana for their scram. Quite awesomely, the MASSIVE headline comes complete with shocking illustration: the offending carrier bag photoshopped into some innocent bobby's hand, or, "our mock-up of how an officer may look doing his shopping at Asda."

Um, right then...

So has some jilted journalist at the Sentinel picked up a speeding fine of late or something? Poor soul. An earnest paragraph acknowledges that the Force is investigating the alleged naughtiness. And, if you press your ear to the cold steel gates outside the back of Hanley police station, you may just detect a weary sigh carried along on the breeze from the copper canteen.

To underline the daftness, even the send them back brigade over at is failing vociferously to detect any sort of problem whatsoever...



During the summer, we took our two-year old brio fanatic for a carefully choreographed wander through the cattle fields of Staffordshire and beyond to Burnam Dilhorne wood.

Not only does this huddle of trees conceal a "secret" railway station, but it also confers a fraction of the requisite mystique upon some rather theatrical red-coated gentlemen wielding period rifles, thermos flasks, and severely re-enacted facial hair.

"Mind out for the live rounds, kids!"

Granted, I have a known weakness for steam trains, but Stoke's own Foxfield Railway features the coolest of them all. Going strong (well, ambling, on and off) since 1874, it merits this title in part on account of its fearsome and rather steampunk-sounding name. Except, there's no punking required for this most genuine of articles.

More than that, it's the only train I've ever known that pssshticoofs exactly like Ivor the Engine whilst trundling about its north-west corner of Staffordshire. Ivor, you'll recall, had his whistle changed for organ pipes and sang in the male voice choir.

If you've no idea what I'm talking about, you suffered a deprived childhood of cultural denial and your mum and dad should be pilloried by the outraged townspeople of Llantisilly.

That, children, is Bellerophon - creature of myth and slayer of monsters.

Thursday, 27 November 2008


Pic via Wayne Williams on Facebook.

Now then - this may become a recurring theme here, but the terminally slow-news-dazed Sentinel today gets to table the idea via a suggestive whisper (a sentinelism!) that sacred landmark and undisputed fount of civilisation Burslem town hall is about to be wiped off the face of the planet.


Is this mischievous or just a bit rubbish, or both? Do readers swallow it? I dunno, but fortunately for the rest of us, Northcliffe Newspapers has plenty of highly entertaining previous - and that's without even bringing the Mail into the equation.

While the subject of the article is valid enough, is it too much to hope that if (or when) Stoke's governance improves seriously, one or two of our city's opinion-formers might just have to raise their game too, or at least find a new story that's actually worth fucking about with?

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Burslem by night

There's a teetering, unspecific restlessness about Burslem at night, when the drone of traffic has passed and the streets are all but left to the cats, even if it's just the anticipation of nothing in particular.

Thanks to the jaundiced uplighting and fractured textures of blistered gable ends, Queen Street really does seem to twitch and tense its sinews in the cold night air.

[With apologies for the limitations of my compact camera...]

Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Close encounters of the First kind

It may be an oldie, but here's a sweet and affectionate (if slightly ambiguous) sketch of Hanley bus station, soon to be gone. Or not. We all love it none the less.

Still, it reminded me of my homeward commute from Stoke station the other night, courtesy of the Number 21 bus towards Bradeley. Dicing up the Potteries all the way from Trentham to Tunstall and on to the outer nebulae, a gaslight cruise aboard the 21 is the *only* way to experience the Potteries in all its twilight glory.


A well-nourished but wobbly fella hauled himself aboard in Hanley, by Cheque & Pawn. With ample cheer and breath like napalm, he sat himself down and commenced broadsiding merrily at anyone and everyone that wouldn't listen. Something about I'm a Celebrity and how he used to know Robbie.

All this was but background noise as our chariot swept by the wipe-clean lap dancing club and onwards to the labyrinthine headfuck that is the Festival Park Experience.

Suddenly, I was hurled from my reverie as the driver hit the anchors. I sensed an exodus of ruffled, elderly passengers. Evidently, they'd suddenly remembered how much they'd been coveting one of those dainty USB fishtanks from PC World.

Big fella danced around the maypole and thlumped his adequate arse down on the seat in front. Like a beery barn owl in Bukta, he deftly rotated himself and presented a battered wing-tip for inspection. Foolishly I detected little harm in shaking it - for what bother is a friendly drunk anyway?

Two minutes and an aeon later, he released me. By now he had anointed himself Gorgeous George, King of Tunstall ("that's what they call me!" - no shit!) and had begun to wonder loudly whether I fancied a buying him a pint in the Globe by way of small tribute.

Being every inch the considerate monarch, he ensured that I was fully briefed on the fortunes of that old friend of mine [also, conveniently, his ex-girlfriend] Tracey. Uh-huh. Oh, that Tracey... um... wow, who knew...?

From thence we proceeded regally to more pressing matters of state. The State of the Nation, no less. Cobridge, if you're particular. George, you see, had once been a member of the Socialist Workers' Party - "protesting against that lad that wouldn't sell to a nigger," apparently.

The bus took on a demographically representative sample outside Sageer Barbers and tiptoed apologetically past the Mosque with the onboard polemic in full swing.

"Hey, all this... makes you glad to be WHITE BRITISH, doesn't it?"

I rubbed frantically at the condensation and stared determinedly out of the window.

"Makes you PROUD doesn't it? To be white. BRITISH, Eh!?"

"Um. I dunno. I'm half Italian," I squeaked with the it's-a-pound shrug 'n' smile combo of a desperate man; a slightly, if wilfully embellished version of the truth.

Note to customers: For your comfort and peace of mind, all PMT buses are fitted with clearly-marked MISSION ABORT! buttons positioned throughout the vehicle.

Also, don't forget the Chlamydia Advice Line!

And so it was that I alighted prematurely and with no little relief outside Coin Crazy. Drawing deeply from the sweetly scented air of Waterloo Road (yum... Hanging Mangoes), I began to reflect wearily on this, my unexpectedly close encounter of the First kind.

Nosey Park-er

Cool. The City Council website now has a map of some £2m of prospective improvements for the wonderful Burslem Park. Despite the bad press, the council has done a very decent job of revitalising our parks, considering their previous state of decay.

There's also a fledgling Flickr group dedicated to the life and work of the park's planner Thomas Mawson - other commissions of his included Hanley Park, the garden at Wightwick Manor, and Brockhole Garden in the Lake District. More on him here and here...


Like an unloved Pepsi-Cola can this blog has been re-deposited in one G. Wedgwood's drinking trough, along with the autumn leaves.

So, after a good ol' bit of feedback, the not-so-old name is back - but never mind usability, I'm not changing the URL again.

That, dear friends, would be too much faff by far...

Monday, 24 November 2008

Halfway to fifty-eight


Day off. A rare day all on my own with nothing to do - no-one to please, no-one to displease, as my Grandad once wrote of his preferred pastimes. Great. Or at least, a chance to do the little lazy things I do rarely seeing as I'm someone's dad.

So, off back to bed for two hours, then long bath and into (sorry, up...) Hanley to spend someone else's money on two records by local bands (my first and last CDs in ages) - see he-arrh and a-he-arrh!

Interval: a highly decadent vanilla larr-tay and cookie, costing about the same as two fry-ups. Quick bout of Guardian reader guilt, quickly dispelled by reading said chatter-paper and therefore about someone else's liberal guilt instead.

An idle perusal around some little shoppes, speccing up wooden castles for S's Christmas present - very important task, this. Expensive, but very cool.

Then a quick ascent of that hill at Trentham with the monument on. Grrrrr-anville! he's called. Nice view of huge distribution centres to the fore and away to Shutingsloe in the distance. A beautiful clear day.

Feel great, lungs bursting full of fresh wintery air. Guilty cup of fairtrade tea by the lake. Then off home to blog this and mastermind some tea for la famille, after test-driving new cezve (or Aladdin's lamp if you're two).

After Sam's bath, story and bedtime, I fancy I'll finish watching Persepolis and maybe rock some washing up, such is my no-holds-barred lifestyle.

Glorious fuckin' stuff you increasingly old bastard, I tell myself.

Mmm, coffee...

I'm still smiling from Saturday night at Coventry's Tin Angel, where Ish Marquez - on his first trip to the UK - put on a splendid set for a small, appreciative audience.

Squeezed into a corner cafe somewhere between the huge new blue Ikea and the brutalist blocks and precincts, this was a very personal show - a little bit Pixies, a bit Herman Dune (blame my untutored ears for the bad comparisons).

While Ish confessed (with surprising sincerity) that he was "blown away to be in the city of The Specials," companion Stanley Brinks looked rather taken with the living lights on that tower block in the Lower Precinct, in addition playing the sweetest of sets midway through Marquez' gig.

Coupleted with nearby Taylor John's House, this has to be one of the best small venues in the Midlands and certainly outside the south east. It'd be easy to take issue with the vaguely antifolk circle that rarely plays outside London, Brighton and Bristol. But it's great to see a Midlands venue that privileges this stuff - with (bonus!) David Thomas Broughton bringing his loops in January.

And a quick tip-of-the-hat to the proprietors: it's great to have access to nice coffee when you're driving back to Stoke in the small hours. Very goodly, that.

Nearer to home, this and this also look promising...

Thursday, 20 November 2008

St. George and his cardboard castle

Interesting that the BNP's electoral strength (relatively speaking) in these parts isn't borne out in its membership strength.

Oh, to live in Charnwood or Loughborough. Not.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

There will be Bloods

Oh well, 0-1. I've just returned from the appropriately-named Butchers Arms in Droylsden. The first twenty minutes aside, the mighty Quakers were outfought by The Bloods. It's a fair reflection, and all a bit too familiar, but I'm still not feeling magnanimous enough to buy into the 'romance' of the cup thing. At least it wasn't as bad as Hornchurch, and what's more we're still top of the league.

Unfortunately the whole evening, romance or none, was overshadowed by some trouble and by a rather serious injury. Liam Hatch, who has been outstanding during his loan spell from Peterborough, has a suspected broken neck. Facilities are limited at this level, there was no ambulance on site and so the match was suspended for at least half an hour while Hatch lay immobile in the cold, awaiting the arrival of trained medical staff.

It's a long hour down the three motorways from Tameside to the Potteries when you're out of the cup (a fact underlined by the jubilant pitch invasion from Droylsden's resident scallies). Still, a young man's basic health and livelihood are in question all of a sudden due to a chance collision, and I'd imagine most Darlo fans will be willing enough to call this one a write-off.

Well done Droylsden. You deserved it.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Let's end it here

So. Ventured out to the teen haunt formerly known as The Coliseum with Matt last night to see Ladytron. I like them, but I'm never quite sure what to expect with electropop when performed live - lads hunched and nodding rhythmically over a keyboard or two? There's a time and a place called Thursday night.

And there's not much to scribble either. The music was delivered very proficiently and the vocalists were excellent if a bit brooding (maybe that's their territory). The hunched lads hung back and did what it says on their tin. But still, forty-five minutes (including one-song encore) for your fourteen notes, and out on the streets before ten...

It was pleasant enough, but so's the near-identical CD. On the bright side it was a decent opportunity to pop for a beer, or would have been if we weren't both driving.

This, friends, was what a gig review looks like when written by someone's dad. But - I may just pop back to Coventry next week for Ish Marquez.

Friday, 14 November 2008


Just occasionally, the internet brings you something wonderful that you almost didn't click to.

Check out this beautiful steampunk silhouette animation, and just imagine something similar set in some retro-Victorian version of Longton.

Even better, there are a few tantalising echoes of Conrad (I think) in the heavy sense of nautical apprehension that runs through the plot.

Perfect. Thanks to alec-m for noticing!

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

The Greater Glory of the Invisible Hand

Hmmm. For what seems like the 1,143rd consecutive day, the every major news organ reannounces what they had already reannounced time and time again:

1) It might be an actual recession now;
2) It might get quite bad;
3) It might last more than a week.

And on point 3, you get to wondering what exactly they were all expecting, if not this?

But, hang on, what's this? Um... has anyone seen property fetishists Kirsty and Phil recently? No? Marvellous - I am willing to undergo any amount of negative equity, just to make this moment last!

But if I'm wrong about the last point, I'd rather not know, thanks!

Bad Carma

The wandering urchin that spontaneously appended a silver go-slower stripe to the side of my car last week was rather perceptive, it turns out.

He/she seems to have figured out that I never take the speedy or more direct path to anything whatsoever; the aforementioned stripe seems a genial work of unstraightness and charming whimsy... some kind of psychogeographic metaphor, perhaps.

I don't mind too much. It's not worth much (though I am expecting it to go twice round the clock before nature reclaims it irredeemably, please). People are too fucking precious about their paintwork, and spend far too much time stroking their bountiful tubes o'Turtlewax.

Likewise, restless natives like to complain about the occasional vandalism and often non-specific 'trouble' round here, but based purely on personal experience we had more grief more regularly when we lived in leafy Warwickshire.

So there y'go, dear readers.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Being Stoke

Jesus, I've been living in the Potteries for nearly five years.

During that time, a lot has changed both for me personally and in these, my adopted towns (though I think I've managed to avoid ever stopping in Fenton except to visit the bike shop). This is the place where I arrived an outsider, where I settled and ultimately started a family.

To some extent I'm still a distinct outsider. I know of people who grew up five miles from Stoke and claim to feel like outsiders in a way that I'd never imagine feeling in, say, Coventry. And despite the fact that I too grew up watching those Potteries derbies on Central Match Live, Burslem is the one place that I've ever been called 'immigrant' to my face (and that's just plain odd).

It's too easy to overstate the parochialism cliche, and just as easy to underestimate it. There's a distinct a multifaceted identity here, and it's dripping with saccharine sentimentality. "In the old days, way back when... we were poor but we were happy, and you could leave your front door open," and the like.

This scent of roses may be equally pronounced elsewhere, but in the Potteries I challenge anybody to escape it. People so often sound fantastically proud in one breath, dejected and disinterested in the next. On the buses, in the street, and pretty much wherever you care to turn - "it's a shithole, mate..."

By the same token, we know and trust our neighbours and they know and trust each other. And much as they bemoan 'the way the country's going' - whatever way that is - there's a real sense of community that I've never experienced anywhere else, beaten down and diminished though people may feel. Things worth cherishing - "'s *our* shithole, in't it."

And still, disillusion abounds and rebounds, whether it's about regeneration, immigration, low pay, the ills of Federation, whatever. Community pride ever vying with the sense of betrayal by complacent city fathers and fly-by-night council managers. Is it justified? I don't know - cheap shots at the council are ten-a-penny in these parts.

Know what? I'd hazard a guess that many outsiders settling here have very similar feeling - certainly more akin to the 'local identity' than you might expect. I don't think I ever expected to stay, and others I know tried living elsewhere. But here, eventually, we stayed. And we grew to like the place in a way that perhaps we never expected to.

This is a city that doesn't seem like it was ever really finished, such are the rubbled, empty expanses, even in the city centre. Some days it's depressing, a relentlessly downbeat place. But there's a really compelling undercurrent here - true Stokies and newcomers who sense possibility and potential, who coax out and sometimes broadcast the sense of "unconventional beauty" that prevades these parts.

History has not been kind to the Potteries; this isn't some Richmond or Knightsbridge - and yet people are creative; they acclimatise, develop ways of seeing and learn to create nothing less than A Beautiful City by looking closer.

None of this is overtly political. But our political climate is crying out for optimism, creativity, warmth and a renewed sense of perspective. This can come from artists, council managers, bloggers, whoever - just people, at the end of the day. In pubs, on websites, at the civic.

So it goes.

After all, this Being Stoke, it's our shithole too. And that's the great thing about living in this of all places, the city that's not quite finished yet.

Let Them Eat Oatcake!

I unna goin Benidorm anytime soon, but....

On the blog...

So, then.

I feel another blogalapse coming on; perhaps this one won't be so short lived as the last.

Maybe this is the only blog in the whole world named after a horse trough.

Doubtless someone will be along shortly to prove me wrong.