The present my wife gave me for my 50th birthday.
The present my wife gave me for my 50th birthday.
I’ve been involved with Lytham St Annes And Fylde YMCA Football Club (let’s just call it the YM) for 6 years now as a parent of an under 8 to current coach and parent of the Under 13. The YM has a history of producing good quality football teams in the Fylde area competing in the Poulton & District Primary League and Blackpool & District Junior Football League. Our side has just won the under 13 league and this weekend over the 25th and 26th competed in the Bolton Wanderers Junior Football tournament Under 13s.
Over the years I’ve been involved in several of these tournaments and managed the team to success in 2 of them. This weekend, our manager Duncan, stayed firmly in charge but for once also we were lucky with the weather as the sun shone for the duration of the tournament with something of a northerly breeze providing just enough freshness to stop the atmosphere becoming unbearable. In our under 13 age group 10 teams were split into 2 groups of 5 with the top 4 teams assured of entering the knock out stages the following day with other reduced trophies still to compete for amongst teams eliminated along the way. All the group matches on day 1 and knock-out games up to the semi final were played at Wanderers’s Academy training complex in Lostock, not far from their Home Ground Reebock Stadium. And very impressive it was too with pristine pitches cut like billiard tables with barely a worn patch to be seen.
We kicked off our 1st match at 10am against a team called Shootstar Academy from somewhere from the North West and found ourselves a goal down after only a few minutes. The matches only lasted 25 minutes so it was important for us to hit back quickly and we managed to forge an equaliser before the break and scoring a second in the 2nd half to win the match quite comfortably 2-1. Similarly our 2nd match was against a team called Real Sports from the Stockport area who we again beat quite comfortably 2-0. At 12 noon we were pitted against a team called Hearts who as we suspected were the under 13 Academy side of Scottish Premier League side Heart Of Midlothian. This was our 3rd game of the day and Hearts’s 2nd and after we conceded a late goal in the 1st half to go 1-0 down at the break our opponents rather ran rings round our tired looking players in the 2nd half scoring another 3 to give us quite a rude awakening and a 0-4 defeat. The players suddenly looked flushed and jaded and looked like they were struggling against a pacy and well drilled professional outfit. Afterwards we chatted with the friendly Hearts coaches who were clearly better qualified than we were, trained 3 to 4 times a week for 2 hours at a time against our 1 hour a week on half a football court and had all the facilities, back up and coaching that our amateur club simply doesn’t have the resources to match. But, we picked ourselves up to play our final match of the day to beat a side called Woodbank from Bury who we beat with some aplomb, 5-0. Our 3 wins and 1 defeat at least guaranteed us 2nd place in the group which would assure us of a place in the knock-out stages to play the team finishing third in the other group in the quarter final.
After a good night’s sleep we returned to Lostock the following day for our 1st match at 11am against a team called FFPC (I think). We really took the game to them and should have won more comfortably than the 1-0 score line suggested but it set us up for a semi-final tie against Bridport from Wales with the incentive of a place in the final to be played at Bolton Wanderers’s Reebock Stadium. We seemed to be improving with every game and saw off Bridport 3-0 to set up a final tie at the Reebock against the team which trounced us yesterday; Hearts.
There was a good 3 hours before the final, scheduled for kick of at 5.30pm so we grabbed something to eat from the burger van and sat with the other parents and players chatting in the sunshine. We drove the short distance to the Reebock and had another drink at KFC at the shopping plaza adjacent to the stadium before making our way inside. The 26,000 seater stadium looked more magnificent from the inside than Blackpool FC’s Bloomfield Road Ground where we have played twice previously but we lost the toss which meant we were given the ‘away’ changing room. I had heard that Bolton’s changing room for the away team is designed to have a psychologically negative impact on the team using it because it is drab and has the treatment table right in the middle in view of the players. No matter, our players readied themselves and Dunc, Jon and I gave them as rousing a team talk as we could. We had already seen the Hearts team walking round the stadium in their track suits and Beats headphones slung round their necks, a lot like the pros do but we were still in our shirts but really ready to give it all.
We had time to go outside for a stretch and a warm up before returning to the changing room and re-emerge on to the pitch to the cheers of the parents and families who had come to watch. I had had to return to my car because I forgot H’s football boots but touched them against my lucky stones that had belonged to his mother which he wore for the match.
We got off to a great start taking a 1-0 lead in the early minutes which helped settle the players’s nerves and we began to play some superb football threatening with pace down the flanks, moving the ball swiftly along the length and breadth of the pitch and showed a solidity in defence. We had made some changes to the team from yesterday and some of the players who weren’t at their best on Saturday were in top form for the final. Before the game I thought it was unfair that a professional academy side should be allowed to compete against our amateur sides with all the resources at their disposal but in the final our players peaked at just the right time and went into the half time break with our deserved one goal lead intact.
We started the 2nd half as we ended the first and doubled our lead following another attack down the flanks and a deft flick from our leading scorer to put us 2-0 up. Wow! This was going better than we had dared to imagine but we were soon brought back to Earth as Hearts pulled a goal back within seconds to set the nerves jangling again. But we needn’t have worried as our players redoubled their efforts and we were in dreamland again as we cleared a Hearts corner and set off on the attack for our striker to score a third goal for us with a superb lob over the stranded keeper and put us in dreamland. We restricted Hearts to some long range shots but as the referee’s final whistle blown we celebrated wildly what was one of the most amazing sporting triumphs any of us had ever had the privilege of being involved with.
For my son and me, we haven’t missed a game with the YM since our very first under 8s match and although we have won at least one trophy every season this victory in a game we very much felt the underdogs in was amongst the most satisfying. The Hearts coaches and players were gracious in defeat but after a glorious weekend and 2 days of football it was our honour to celebrate again on what was a day none of us involved shall ever forget.
Where I live and work in the St Annes-On-The-Sea part of Lytham St Annes, when this supposed summer’s day is beset by strong winds and drizzle, there isn’t really much to do during the lunch break other than have a browse around the local branch of WH Smith. It’s not one of their bigger branches but they sell a selection of books, magazines, cards and stationery, much as you would expect from any branch of the ubiquitous newsagent. I must visit 3 or 4 times a week just to kill a few minutes by browsing a book, flicking through a magazine or scanning a newspaper. It’s repetetive, certainly, and a long stretch from the days when I worked in cities such as Leiceter, Nottingham and Manchester with a myriad of shops and walks to make the lunch hour a worthwhile escape from the goings-on in the office. But if there is one thing that strikes me, even in the modest surroundings of our local ‘Smiths’ is the abundance of music magazines on sale these days. I remember when I was an avid music fan in the 1970’s you were pretty much limited to a choice between the New Musical Express (or NME as it became popularly known), Melody Maker and Sounds. Sounds used to be my paper of choice, delivered by the local newsagent on a Wednesday morning because of its coverage of rock and heavy metal which I was particulalry ‘in to’ at the time. Melody Maker continued to hang on to it’s pre-punk hippy roots and the NME, which by its own admission was late onto the punk scene made over-zealous amends for its past musical lethargy by becoming the paper for punks, post-punks and anything which chimed with two thirds of its abbreviated title, new and musical. There was also The Record Mirror but that didn’t seem to linger for long and if I remember correctly got swallowed up by Melody Maker. With the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, or NWOBHM, in full swing by the late 70’s and early 80’s, Sounds’s champion of all things heavy, Geoff Barton (or Def Barton to his mates) was the must-read music journo for all things metal back in the day; apart from his habit of awarding any Kiss output, no matter what the quality (Unmasked, anyone?) a fabulous 5 stars out of 5 including two awards of 6 out of 5 (seriously) for 2 of the 4 solo albums the Kiss members produced at the time (Paul Stanley and Gene Simmons if I again remember correctly).
By the mid-80s both the Melody Maker and Sounds appeared to have lost their way by hanging on to old trends whilst the NME which managed to keep abreast of the fast pace of youth culture of the period (The Smiths!) and as Melody Maker and Sounds disappeared from our Newsagents’s shelves, The NME had a near monopoly on quality music journalist publication. For the pop afficionados, Smash Hits ruled the shelves but it was the NME which spawned a host of fine writers that achieved the longevity which still sees it appear on our newsagent shelves, albeit in glossy magazine format today. Some of those old NME journalists went on to form new magazines such as Q which now captures that BBC 6 Music audience which crosses the divide between the best music of yesteryear while having the confidence to promote the best and worst of new artists amongst their output. A decade or so ago came magazines like Mojo which seemed to be aimed at the old Melody Maker crowd while readers of Sounds emigrated to its then sister magazine Kerrrang, aimed at the old metal heads. All 3 sit crowdedly vying for space on the shelves of a CTN (concectioner, tobacconist and newsagent) near you! I mean, just look at the photo…there are magazines for every genre of music, new and old, classical and pop with specialist publications for musicians and collectors. God knows what the circulation figures are for Acoustic, but there it sits alongside 4 other specialist guitar magazines…and good luck to it to, it’s good to see a wide range of magazines for sale in a sleepy seaside town catering for all tastes in readership in this digital age.
I don’t buy magazines as often as I’d like but there are some great choices out there amongst the music, fashion, food and lifestyle. I tend to go for Q magazine when I choose a music mag but I’m not an avid reader. The NME is still there even though I last bought it in Christmas 2011 but long may they sit there and be read, championing live and new music because it would be a lot gloomier world without them!
Blackpool is the town adjacent to where I live. It’s the largest town on Lancashire’s Fylde Coast with a population of approximately 142,000 but also one of the most deprived towns in Britain. Historically, Blackpool was the holiday destination of choice for much of the population of greater Lancashire including the North West region and Glasgow in Scotland. From further afield in the East Midlands my own parents used to speak in glowing terms of visits to Blackpool in the 1950s staying in boarding houses and B&Bs where the landlady was king and the Blackpool Tower was the enduring symbol of fun and freedom for the last pre-war generation and the working class baby boomers. That was then. Today I cannot help myself referring to Blackpool as a shit-hole. Old hotels and guest houses have become magnets to itinerant jobless where a once thriving holiday resort is now home to a community in which in large parts is both morally and socially bankrupt. A recent TV documentary series entitled 999 Emergency focused on the unending work of the emergency services in Blackpool and the repeat offenders and social misfits who cause such a drain on both emergency and social services. Most towns and cities in the UK have their particular problems but with one of the most dense populations in the country where many flock for the easy accommodation and life on benefits, Blackpool’s challenges are more prevalent than most. That is not to say everything is bad in the old town. Sure, a bulldozer to push it into the Irish Sea would be the start to a much needed programme of regeneration but the local council have spent £millions on sprucing up the tourist areas and although many of Blackpool’s visitors are the day trippers and overnight or weekend stag and hen parties at least the central sea front area is modern and attractive providing a handsome veneer to the grim realities of what lie just a few streets behind.
This week the sun came out in Blackpool and much better than usual it looked too. Blackpool is home to The Pleasure Beach Resort with one of the biggest rides in the world: The Big One. Here it is, I have still yet to take a ride upon it…it’s aptly named!
C and I walked further along the promenade and saw a helicopter taking off from the beach and giving people willing to pay a flight around the tower. It was proving a popular attraction!
And lastly, here is the beach with the tower in the distance.
I want to be optimistic about Blackpool’s future and gradually improvements are being made. But for every step it takes forward there seems to be some issue causing it to take a massive leap backwards. It looked nice on this bank holiday Monday and as we continued our walk and the crowds on the beaches expanded at least I felt that we were enjoying Blackpool, it’s doing its best and it still has plenty to offer. It has a long way to go and there are many good people here, I just hope it makes it one day and becomes a town that people on this coast can really be proud of.
The tagine had its first run out last Saturday night with a recipe for beef which I’ve already blogged but this week’s recipe was chosen by Carolyn on Thursday prior to her doing the weekend shop so from page 302 we were to have chicken with fennel, preserved lemons and olives. this is how it looked in the book:
The recipe was fairly basic, the only ingredient we struggled to get was green aniseed so I used star anise instead but I used the last of the bought preserved lemons from the fridge, C got fennel and green olives so along with 3 chicken quarters, an onion, garlic and ginger with a little parley we were ready to go. Interestingly, the recipe suggested soaking the chicken pieces in salted water for a couple of hours in advance, which I did and then after patting them dry I fried them skin side down in the base of the tagine until the skin turned golden. Out they came and in went the onion and garlic followed by the ginger, preserved lemon rind, saffron, star anise, 80ml of water and finally the chicken. on went the lid and it simmered for about 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, I turned the chicken pieces over, added the sliced fennel and olives and this time placed it in the oven already heated to 170 degrees C.
Here is how it looked when I took it out of the oven and removed the lid:
The chicken pieces here are upside down and here is is on the plate served with bulgur wheat:
This was a quite simple tagine dish to make but it didn’t lack for taste and flavour. The fennel and star anise imparted a subtle flavour of aniseed and the chicken was cooked to perfection. Moroccan food is still my best cuisine at the moment and with a whole new book to work through I’ve got a feeling it’s going to stay #1 for some time to come!
Are there such things as favourites? A favourite restaurant? A favourite song? A favourite movie or favourite food? Probably but I would say best things are better; the best song you ever heard, the best cocktail you ever drank, the best partner you ever had!? Favourites can be dangerous and become things you return to again and again; that song that you repeatedly play or that dish that you repeatedly cook – you like them, that’s fine but nothing is as good as the first time and every time you return to a favourite you are denying yourself the opportunity of trying something new that might just become your new favourite! A ‘best’ thing can always be bettered and having bests can inspire you to search for the better. So don’t have favourites, treat something you enjoyed more than anything else as the best in its class but don’t deny yourself the opportunity to try what might just become your next best thing!
The current best thing for me foodwise is my brand new Emile Henry (not Emile Heskey!) Tagine I received for my 50th birthday from my brother on 15th April. We’ve grown quite a liking to ‘tagine’ recipes even though up until the weekend we cooked the dishes in a regular large frying pan with a lid that was no more than convex. However, this Saturday saw my first opportunity to give my new tagine a run out and I chose a recipe from the Moroccan chapter of Jamie Oliver’s Jamie Does cook book – Beef tagine.
Here’s Jamie’s version from his book (copyright Jamie Oliver etc…)
Now, on this particular day, my wife and I had visited Manchester for a day’s shopping and didn’t arrive home until about 7pm. So it was a rush into the kitchen, get the recipe open and crack on! The first part of the process was to create a spice mix called ras-el-hanout which translates to top of the house and after a bit of research I discovered that this mix can contain just about any mix of spices you have to hand. So I bunged in everything I could find from cumin, to coriander, ginger, soumac, allspice, cinnamon, turmeric and loads more. With time running short I barely had time to give the meat a 20 minute marinade when the recipe called for 2 hours plus! Still, I fried some onion and coriander (cilantro) stalks in olive oil in the base of the tagine before chucking in the meat to brown off. I did manage to soak some chick peas earlier in the morning and I now had these boiling away in a separate saucepan but I poured in a can of tomatoes and stock into the tagine, popped on the lid and left it to simmer for an hour. After an hour, I tipped in the chickpeas and added some diced butternut squash and dried prunes. Although the recipe advised cooking it for 3 and a bit hours, I really only had a couple of hours otherwise we wouldn’t have been eating until way after 11pm! A few toasted almond flakes sprinkled over the top finished the dish and added a bit of crunch. However, as with all tagine dishes I’ve tried recently the flavours and tastes in the dish were superb, the only slight problem was that the meat wasn’t quite a meltingly tender as another 60 minutes simmering would have produced. Here’s my resultant dish which was washed down with a bottle of Chablis (we tend to do white wines when it’s late)
So tagines are my current best food and I admit can be counted amongst my favourites. They may not be my best for ever but I’ll certainly make the most of them until they aren’t!
Life's journey to discover tales of history, culture, and faith from New York to India and places along the way.
Life's journey to discover tales of history, culture, and faith from New York to India and places along the way.