Saturday, 28 March 2009

Taking the outdoors inside

I made a brief visit to the Ordnance Survey Outdoors Show last Friday. Every year, I find it faintly ironic that the biggest UK consumer event dedicated to the outdoors is held at the distinctly indoor National Exhibition Centre near Birmingham. The show has been around for eight or nine years now and I’ve been to every one. In fact, I remember attending the meeting at the NEC when plans for the first event were announced. I was representing Berghaus and I’m pretty sure we were the first major outdoor brand to commit to backing the show, which has had the unwavering and substantial support of Ordnance Survey since day one.

The first show was pretty exciting. It was a new departure for the industry and no-one really knew what to expect. How many people would turn up? Would the various features work? Could the show become a regular fixture on the calendar? In short, the answers to those questions were; loads (too many as it turned out), yes and yes.

That year, the event was held in a pretty small hall with limited facilities, but it was a huge success. The organisers (a company called Brand Events) actually had to turn potential visitors away, which was unfortunate, but demonstrated clearly that there was an appetite for a show of this type.

Berghaus built a fairly ambitious stand just inside the entrance. Essentially, it was a square tower, on one side of which the Avon and Somerset Cliff Rescue Team put on live shows each day, demonstrating how they lowered stretchers down from treacherous heights in rescue situations. The Cliff guys were born entertainers and also very resourceful. Hidden underneath the tower, which was decorated with huge canvasses on each side, they conjured up a mini kitchen, complete with kettle, refrigerator and all sorts of goodies. I’m sure that the facilities team at the NEC didn’t have a clue what was going on under there and am equally sure that they would have vigorously waved a few health and safety papers at us if they had discovered it all.

Elsewhere on the Berghaus stand, we had a Gore-Tex testing tent which was a walk through area equipped with a shower. Visitors could use that to test jackets and footwear and experience Gore-Tex fabrics in action. The shower was, alas, a little short on pressure (okay I confess, it was more like a moderate dribble), but it was still a popular feature. And we also hosted an information and fundraising area for legendary mountaineer Doug Scott’s charity, Community Action Nepal.

That first show was quite a ride and the many ways in which visitors could interact with the various exhibitors (and outdoor celebrities such as Sir Chris Bonington) was the foundation of its success that year and for the next few. The Outdoors Show grew and grew and over time extended its footprint across three of the major NEC halls, but I have certainly felt that its lustre has been fading a little over the last three years. It’s a very different beast to the monster that was originally created and although that’s fine, I don’t think it’s as interesting an event as it used to be.

However, I still go every year, as do thousands of other members of the public, and there’s always something or someone there to hold my attention. The 2009 Outdoors Show was, significantly, held in one hall, so was much more compact than in recent years. Partly for that reason, it felt busier than it did in 2007 or 2008. I managed to bump into various friends, colleagues and contacts, including mountaineer Alan Hinkes, Country Walking editor Jonathan Manning, Michelle Daniel (also from Country Walking), Matt Swaine and Graham Thompson from Trail, Gill Wootton from Greenshires Publishing, and Angela Turley and Terry Stephenson from Berghaus.

I’m glad that I went, but I do miss the relative chaos and pioneering spirit of that very first Outdoors Show and I feel that back then, the event did a better job of bringing the true spirit of the outdoors inside.

Below, from left to right: one of many climbing walls at the show that were popular with youngsters; Graham Thompson, gear editor of Trail, dispenses product advice to visitors.
Bottom: Jonathan Manning, editor of Country Walking.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Pressing flesh and sniffing cheese

I’ve just returned from a couple of useful days in London. Along with colleague Louise Robinson, we spent Tuesday and Wednesday presenting the latest Berghaus products to journalists and other media contacts. We based ourselves in Berghaus’ flagship Covent Garden store and arranged a series of meetings with representatives from various publications and organisations. The event was a success – among others, magazines as diverse as Cooler, Zoo, GQ, Men’s Fitness, Travel & Leisure and Wired turned up to find out more about Berghaus products and sponsored athletes.

David Lindo also popped in to say hello and have a look at the latest kit. David, sometimes known as the Urban Birder, is a regular contributor to The One Show, other TV shows and numerous wildlife magazines. He’s been using Berghaus products for a while now and was keen to see whether there are any new bits and bobs that he might find useful.

We noticed that one particular product seemed to be selling very well. The GTX Cascade Hat was recently very much in the public eye, when worn by the nine celebrities who climbed Kilimanjaro to raise money for Comic Relief. Demand for the dark green (or Mallard) style has rocketed as a result and there was only one left in the Covent Garden, with enquiries still flowing in. Apparently, more hats are on their way soon - it was very satisfying to witness that PR efforts can have such a direct and positive impact on product sales.

Many thanks to the staff in the store for accommodating the Press Ahead visit. We’ll no doubt be back down there soon to spread the Berghaus word some more.

The Berghaus store is on Shorts Gardens and two doors away from what is possibly my favourite shop in the world – Neal’s Yard Dairy. I remember my first visit to the area many years ago. I walked right past this perfect purveyor of cheese without noticing it, but the aroma from within followed me along the street, grabbed me by the ‘olfactories’ and dragged me back.

I always pay Neal’s Yard Dairy a visit when I’m in the vicinity and it never disappoints. If you like ‘proper’ cheese, I recommend that you make the pilgrimage yourself some day, then pop into Berghaus to buy a bag in which to carry your pungent purchase.

Friday, 20 March 2009

"Brian Clough - football genius!"

Yes, I'm still thinking about Brian Clough, but this time I've been recalling the second occasion I met him, in 1994. For me, the events later that same evening, following our brief handshake, demonstrate once again why Mr. Clough had 'it' in spades, whatever 'it' may be. More of that below.

Brian Clough (who would have turned 74 yesterday) left Leeds United in September 1974 and four months later took up residence down the M1 at unfashionable Nottingham Forest (at the time sitting 13th in the second tier of English football). By May 1980, Forest had won two League Cups, the English League Championship and, most famously, two successive European Cups. I’m a Forest fan so I am biased, but I think it’s the most remarkable story in club football.

Of course, Brian Clough is the reason I am a Forest fan. Growing up in Sedgefield, County Durham, the vast majority of my friends followed one of the North East clubs, but at a young age I was seduced by Mr. Clough’s Nottingham Forest. And it was my support of Forest that eventually led to me choosing to study at the University of Nottingham.

I ended up living in Nottingham for almost five years. It seemed that most people from the city at that time had a Brian Clough story of their own. I am sure that most of these were apocryphal, exaggerated or plain fiction. I have one and it’s absolutely true (I would say that of course, but it really is!).

By early 1994, I was an elected sabbatical officer of the University of Nottingham Union (now called University of Nottingham Students’ Union). A big part of the organisation was the Athletic Union (AU) and each year they held a black tie/posh frocks ball. Many hundreds of students attended this event, representing all sorts of sports and outdoor activities. On this occasion, the AU decided to invite Brian Clough as guest of honour. Mr. Clough had retired at the end of the previous season and it was widely believed (if not confirmed) that he was drinking heavily and not a well man. Therefore, the guest of honour invitation was very deliberately not a speaking engagement.

I briefly met the guest of honour at the pre-dinner reception and I have to say he did indeed not look or sound well. Then everyone sat down for their meal. During the subsequent coffee and mints, the AU president got up on his hind legs and went through the formalities. He welcomed Brian Clough OBE, at which point Mr. Clough rose to his feet to say a few words. No-one was about to stop him, but equally no-one relished the prospect. The microphone was passed along the top table to Mr. Clough and he started to speak. He stated that he was happy that he had retired, as that meant he could spend more time with his grandchildren (a standard Brian Clough soundbite at the time).

Before he could utter anything else, a voice at the back of room called out: “Brian Clough – football genius!” Within seconds, the whole room had taken up the chant. This continued for what seemed like five minutes. Throughout, students were standing up at the various tables dotted around the room, but at the top table, only one figure was upright – Brian Clough.

Eventually, the chanting subsided, the students sat down and the room was completely quiet. Brian Clough slowly raised his head, looked around at the hundreds of expectant faces and said: “Tell me something I don’t know.”

The man was not perfect (who is?), but he was indeed “Brian Clough – football genius” – though that doesn’t tell the half of it.

I often wonder where I would be now if I hadn’t fallen for Brian Clough and Nottingham Forest in the late 1970s. I possibly wouldn’t have gravitated towards Nottingham University, or got involved in student politics and communications, or met Ed Fordham (now Godfather to my oldest son), or ended up working for Lynne Franks PR in London, or so on and so forth. And had the Leeds United hierarchy stuck with Mr. Clough, would I now be dreaming of my next pilgrimage to Elland Road rather than the City Ground? That last thought really makes me shudder!

I’ll sign off with another Brian Clough gem: “They say Rome wasn't built in a day, but I wasn't on that particular job." Which reminds me, I’d better get back to work.

"I certainly wouldn't say I'm the best manager in the business, but I'm in the top one."

I've been thinking about Brian Clough OBE a lot lately. In truth, for as long as I can remember, if I need to cheer myself up, all I have to do is trawl my memory for a quotation by Mr. Clough. I don't think I risk veering into a realm of originality by stating that he was a 'one off'. He would have turned 74 tomorrow, but, sadly, died in 2004.

At the moment, Brian Clough is headline news again thanks to the imminent cinema debut of The Damned United, a film adaptation of the book by David Peace. There has been plenty of coverage in the media, from numerous angles.

The book is very ‘dark’ and has been strongly criticised by the Clough family, who believe it to be a mis-representation of Old Big ’Ead (his self anointed alias, not mine). The Damned United is a ‘factional’ account of Brian Clough’s disastrous 44 day tenure as manager of Leeds United, in 1974. While the book may not paint a completely flattering picture of Mr. Clough, everything that I have seen or heard about the film points to it being a real celebration of the life and talent of a unique character.

As a Brian Clough devotee, I have been devouring as much of the coverage as I can, and some of it has been fascinating. Michael Sheen, the actor who plays Mr. Clough in the film, has given many interviews and time and again pointed out that although he completely understands the family’s hostility towards the project, he believes they should see the film as it’s a very affectionate portrait of the man himself.

Earlier this week, I listened to a great debate about the film on BBC Radio 5 Live. It took place during the evening sports show and, along with the presenter, featured Pat Murphy, Tim Lovejoy and a bona fide film critic whose name escapes me. I thought it was a particularly good discussion, because each contributor was able to articulate a distinct and valid take on the issue.

Essentially, it seemed to me that Pat Murphy was representing the Clough family. An excellent sports journalist, Murphy was (I believe) fairly close to Brian Clough and wrote a very readable biography of the man. I understand he remains in regular contact with the family. During the debate, Murphy regularly referred to the ‘17 factual inaccuracies’ in the film and he was, in my opinion, relatively hostile towards it.

Tim Lovejoy, the former presenter of Soccer AM on Sky Sports, represented the ‘average’ football fan (okay, so he’s famous, and probably rich, unlike the vast majority of fans, but you know what I mean). True to his name, Lovejoy loved the film – it took him back to a football era that he can barely remember (he’s 40) and brought one of the legends of the game to the big screen.

The bona fide film critic just did his job. He simply reviewed the movie as a piece of cinema and his conclusion was that it was a highly entertaining film with an outstanding central performance by Michael Sheen.

The discussion flowed well, covered many points of view, and was thoroughly enjoyable to listen to. Personally, I can’t wait to go and see the film and judge for myself. One thing I am sure of – from the clips I’ve already seen, Michael Sheen 'does' a fantastic Brian Clough.

More on Brian Clough very soon and an account of an occasion on which I met the great man. For the moment, I will conclude with his very astute assessment of the long ball game: "If God had intended for us to play football in the clouds he would have put the grass in the sky."

Friday, 13 March 2009

Do all first time bloggers start like this?

So here I am taking my first (and belated) tentative steps into the blogosphere. I wonder if all first time bloggers populate their initial post with fairly meaningless drivel like this? I'm looking forward to making a few schoolboy errors as I blog at will. Hopefully, my posts will become more sophisticated in their use of techniques, links and such like, and more erudite in content. But I can't promise that will be the case.

Hmm, I'm already running short on inspiration (It's Friday afternoon and the week has 'felt' long) - not a very auspicious start. My thoughts turn to tonight and I'm really looking forward to seeing this lot. They are performing at an Irish themed night at Hardwick Hall Hotel and I'm heading along with Catherine (Mrs Double Yellow) and a few friends. I worked at the hotel many years ago and we held our wedding reception there (er, pointless trivia, but it fills a bit of space). More on Hardwick Hall Hotel, Hardwick Country Park and a very controversial planning decision in the future...

Going out tonight means I will miss the Red Nose Day TV marathon. If this clip is anything to go by, it looks like there will be a few bits of comedy gold on offer, so I will probably record it. I've been watching the celebs on Kilimanjaro with some interest, in truth mainly because of the great hats that they were all wearing - As a dyed in the wool Berghaus boy, it was great to see the brand in the spotlight. Note to self (and everyone else) - make a donation!

And so my first blog is virtually complete and I return to the hackneyed phrases of a virgin blogger.

Right, I'll get it posted and have a look.

Double Yellow signing off.