NORTHERN SPIRIT

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Letters by Train

October 31, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, TYNE AND WEAR, Wondrous Cities

Resize Thomas Spence

Newcastle is on the train route. Every day, old friends pass through. Many of them get a thrill of nostalgia when they cross the Tyne gorge, over the bridges that link Gateshead and Newcastle. Some of them think of me, as a part of their city. And for a few of them, I am thinking about them when they go past. The following fragment of a letter was written when one such person was about to pass.

For more about the freethinking quayside radical Thomas Spence, look here. For more about ‘Wor Diary’, look here. Apologies for spelling ‘millionaire’ wrong, but it was in a letter, so it’s okay. And to finish the story, I did go to the station. I did meet the train, and I did hand over the letter. The first snow of the year started falling as the train pulled up, and my eyes were welling up when I left the station.

Avatar of Mike Duckett

Mike Duckett

I live in my favourite city, I make lots of zines about my thoughts and my travels, and I try to get involved in every piece of underground beauty I can find. I think you should do these things too. And while I hate a lot of things about the way the world operates, I can testify that this is vastly outweighed by the love - real love - to be discovered amongst the music, ideas, creative endeavours and shared experiences we give each other. If you see me drawing somewhere, come sit down and draw with me.http://zine-it-yourself.blogspot.co.uk

The Senses of Manchester – TOUCH

October 26, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, MANCHESTER, Wondrous Cities

Resize wall

So, we reach the last day, the last post. A post about the sense of touch and feel.

Manchester feels like edges.

Some of the edges that are warm and nice to feel. Run your fingers over them, push your face into them. Snuggle up.

Some of the edges are a bit sharp. A bit rough. But you get used to them. It really wouldn’t be the same here without them, so don’t go wishing they weren’t here.

Manchester feels like the edge of a wall. The edge of a wall in Piccadilly Gardens.  Or, to put it a slightly different way, Manchester feels like the edge of the bony shoulders of an upset old man whilst you look at the wall in Piccadilly gardens. Let me explain.

In 2002, a brand new Piccadilly Gardens was unveiled, featuring a controversial concrete wall designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando. A few days after the wall was unveiled I stood there admiring it. I liked it a lot. l I touched it. Let my fingers drift over the cold stone. I walked around it. I smiled.

An old man in threadbare trousers and a black blazer stumbled over to me, and fixed me with a steel gaze. “This is horrible,” he said.
“I like it” I replied. “I think it’s good.”  Those words were also what my wife and I jokingly said to each other about the disease SARS. Although I think we actually ripped it off from someone else, but there you go.

“No. It’s awful,” he said, vehemently. He began to shake a little. “How long,” he continued, his mouth foaming slightly, like a rabid vole, “How long will it be until this wall is all around Manchester?”

He beat his puny fists against my chest for a moment and let out a low sob “How long will it be until they use the wall to keep us all trapped in here?”

I’m a bit socially awkward. I didn’t really know how to answer him. I felt a bit like giving him a hug, but I only put one arm around him, like I was helping him across a road or into a taxi because he was a bit drunk.

We stood there for a few seconds before looking at each other awkwardly and then walking off in opposite directions.

Even if he was talking metaphorically though, he was wrong. I’ve never felt that Manchester is a city that has barriers up to people coming or going. Everyone is welcome.

(Guess what?) Manchester feels like my City. (Join in now…) Because it is.

——————-

Today is my final post. It’s been a blast. Thank you to everybody who has looked at my ramblings. I really hope you’ve got something out of it, and I very much appreciate you taking the time to read. Thank you very much to Chris Meads for asking me to be involved. He is a man amongst men.  Thank you also to all the previous Guest Curators. I’ve enjoyed each and every post and I’m sure I will from those to come in subsequent weeks too.

Last week’s curator Jonathan Greenbank asked me: “Using the other cities’ Liver Buildings, Coles Corner and the Tyne Bridge as reference points, where are the most romantic places in Manchester?”

And my answer would be:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It’s not a cop out answer. It’s not.

My question for next week’s contributor Michael Duckett, writer of the marvellous Zine-it-Yourself blog, is this: “If you could bottle up the senses of taste, smell, touch, sight and sound of Tyne & Wear and sell it as a fine wine (or beer!”) what would you call it and why?”

Bye!

 

Avatar of Pete Collins

Pete Collins

"I'm a socially awkward Mancunian, drawer of what could loosely be described as a music blog: 'Having A Party Without Me', bass player for Flange Circus and Belgiophile."We think 'Having A Party Without Me' is brilliant. We think you will too - find it at http://partywithoutme.posterous.com

The Senses of Manchester – SMELL

October 25, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, MANCHESTER, Wondrous Cities

Deer

Smell. Regularly voted the sense that people would feel the least worried about losing.*

*(in a poll just conducted in my head).

Right, let’s get something out of the way before we get started. Yes, I know that the bit of Tib Street nearest to Market Street smells of wee. This is not what this post is about. I expect there are lots of cities and towns and villages that have areas that smell of wee. Don’t tell me what area that is in your city or town or village. I don’t want to know. I don’t keep that kind of information in a big book of wee.  Although you all now think that I do.

Other things I am not going to say Manchester smells of: Buses. Beards. Rain. Pigeons. Muno from “Yo Gabba Gabba”. That table over there.

With that out of the way, here’s something that might surprise you:

Manchester smells of parks. That might seem a bit strange, especially to those of you who believe that Manchester should have more green spaces (and I don’t disagree with you there). Certainly there’s no massive area to compare with anything like London’s Hyde Park, for example. But where does in the a major UK City? An immense part of my childhood was spent in Platt Fields. My uncle Charles told me that the mannequins in Platt Hall come to life and chase you (to clarify, he told me this while I was a child, not just last week or anything). The thought of that still makes me shiver. Brrrr. And it was only a shortish journey to Cheshire’s Lyme Park or Dunham Massey. Which one had the deer? I forget.

Yeah, we were always off in parks when I was a kid.

Manchester smells of biscuits being baked. It is always a pleasure to drive down Stockport Road past the McVities factory with the car windows open and take it all in. Similarly it smells like breakfast cereal, with the Kelloggs factory out near Trafford Park. Similarly again, it used to smell of jam with the Robertson’s factory in Droylsden, but this sadly closed down a few years ago.

Manchester smells of Freedom. The freedom to try. The freedom to create something that will make like minded people take notice.

Manchester also smells of coffee. So much coffee. Everywhere. Rivers of the stuff. I can’t take any more coffee. Stop with all the coffee now.

There has even been a ‘Manchester Smellwalk’ tour, conducted by Manchester University’s Dr Victoria Henshaw. I hope you don’t think I’m too lazy by linking to her Great Smells of Manchester graphic

I suppose I should probably say that Manchester smells like my City. Because it is.

 

Avatar of Pete Collins

Pete Collins

"I'm a socially awkward Mancunian, drawer of what could loosely be described as a music blog: 'Having A Party Without Me', bass player for Flange Circus and Belgiophile."We think 'Having A Party Without Me' is brilliant. We think you will too - find it at http://partywithoutme.posterous.com

The Senses of Manchester – SIGHT

October 24, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, MANCHESTER, Wondrous Cities

Resize Sirens

No prizes for guessing that Day Three is about the sense of Sight. Because it says it in the title just above this. That would be a very undemanding competition.

What does Manchester look like..?

…well, that’s not really an easy question. To borrow some gubbins from a wedding custom, some of it looks old, some of it looks new, some of it looks borrowed. Some of it is certainly blue. Which, let’s face it, is better than red (bye bye half my readership…)

…and some of it looks like Godzilla sat down on it for a while. Maybe had a little disco nap before going off to fight a giant mutant cockroach from Warrington.

It happens.

William Gibson started his debut novel ‘Neuromancer’ by writing that ‘The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.’ Substitute the word ‘port’ for Manchester and you’re mostly there. It might be grey, but it’s our grey and I’m very fond of it.

I used to always prefer the look of Manchester when it rained and was getting slightly dark, being able to watch reflected neon in puddles before they’re splashed by a bus. It was beautiful. But I was wrong. Manchester is best in the sunshine, when you can sit down in Piccadilly Gardens or St Anne’s Square and just watch the world go by. I love to people watch. Love to see the amazing characters pass. I enjoy making stories up about those people, where they are going, what they are doing, what ridiculous items they’re carrying in their bags. What their favourite swear word is. All that sort of thing.

Manchester looks like my puzzled face reflected back from the dazzling windows of new buildings. There’s a place for new buildings, though some are much better than others. The shine, the sparkle, the bright lights. I suppose that if I ever lose my sense of direction then the Beetham Tower will draw me home, calling like a Siren on the rocks (see image above).

Don’t get me wrong, I do like some new buildings. I love the future, I love innovation and shininess. I like chairs that look space age. But…

Manchester looks like old buildings, and abandoned buildings and empty streets. These are my absolute favourites. There’s an immense allure in an old mill that you can catch in it’s empty, vacant state before it’s picked up and turned into yet more (near) city centre flats, or a potholed road with a big rusty gate at one end and not a person in sight.

A lot of my favourite album covers feature empty buildings and empty streets, and if they happen to be in Manchester then even better. I’m just an empty street and building kind of person, and I won’t apologise for that. One old, semi-abandoned building in particular, the old Fire Station on London Road, is the biggest object of my fascination in this city. I don’t want to see it turned into a hotel or to just rot away without marveling at the interior, and I don’t know anyone else who does. I need to get in, need to experience standing in the yard, seeing the gas meter testing station inside. Need to see the rooms, which I believe are beginning to resemble the inside of rooms in the abandoned city of Pripyat near Chernobyl. This is certainly relevant to my interests.

This building, more than any other in Manchester, is my Wondrous Place (see what I did there?). Or at least it would be if I could get inside.

Maybe.

One.

Day.

You can probably guess what I’m going to write next:
Manchester looks like my City. Because it is.

Avatar of Pete Collins

Pete Collins

"I'm a socially awkward Mancunian, drawer of what could loosely be described as a music blog: 'Having A Party Without Me', bass player for Flange Circus and Belgiophile."We think 'Having A Party Without Me' is brilliant. We think you will too - find it at http://partywithoutme.posterous.com

The Senses of Manchester: TASTE

October 23, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, MANCHESTER, Wondrous Cities

Vimto Statue resize

Day Two, and we’re onto the Sense of Taste.

If you haven’t already (and you haven’t really got an excuse if you haven’t), you should first go and read Natalie Bradbury’s curation week about the Taste of the North.

I’ll wait patiently.

Make sure you come back though….

…Hello again!

Manchester tastes of rain. Yes, the rain had to make an appearance at some point in my posts. It might as well be now, we can’t ignore it. Open your mouth and drink it. It’s not that bad really. You’ll enjoy it. Go on. Open wide. Wider.

Do not drink from puddles though. That is just odd.

Consequently, Manchester tastes of Umbrellas. Umbrellas accidentally shoved into your mouth while you’re trying to taste the rain.  That is not quite as pleasant as tasting the rain itself, but a necessary evil when you’re waiting for precipitation to fall into your face hole.

Manchester tastes of Vimto. The fruit drink that kicks any other fruit drink square in the cubes. And I love the wooden sculpture of a bottle of it on Granby Row next to UMIST, near the site where Vimto was first produced (see image above).

Come to think of it, Vimto rain would really be quite something, even for just a few hours. I should write to the Council. Start a Twitter campaign. Hang a flag out of my car window. We can make this happen.

Hot Vimto, though, is an aberration. I don’t want that as a drink OR as rain thank you very much.

I must advise you that, just like drinking from puddles, it is not a good idea to try and drink from a giant wooden sculpture of a Vimto bottle either. Although I think I know why the nearby statue of Archimedes is really straining to get out of the bath..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Manchester (well, Salford really) tastes like honey (thank you Shelagh…)

Manchester tastes of feathers. And if you don’t know why, pick up a copy of Jeff Noon’s ‘Vurt’.

Manchester tastes like my City. Because it is.

 

Avatar of Pete Collins

Pete Collins

"I'm a socially awkward Mancunian, drawer of what could loosely be described as a music blog: 'Having A Party Without Me', bass player for Flange Circus and Belgiophile."We think 'Having A Party Without Me' is brilliant. We think you will too - find it at http://partywithoutme.posterous.com

The Senses of Manchester: SOUND

October 22, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, MANCHESTER, Wondrous Cities

Resize Tannoy

Is this on? Is it my turn now?

Yes. Yes it is.  Hello from Manchester!

Unlike a few of my fellow Wondrous Placers from previous weeks, I have not moved to my city from elsewhere.  I did not choose it. I was born here, and despite some attempts I have never fully escaped for any great length of time. And it really is a Wondrous Place, despite my escape attempts. It’s a place I have immense love and hate for.  It’s a place that stimulates all of your senses. Which is very lucky, as my posts are all linked by the five senses. Phew!

I always liked the Sensory homunculus. It looked a bit like this:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yes, I added a Mancunian twist. You can choose a different famous Mancunian face if you like. I’m not precious like that.

Somewhat surprisingly for someone who writes and draws what might be loosely described as a music blog, when I talk about the Sound of Manchester it’s not the bands or the tunes that I think define the sounds of city. There’ll be no eulogising about the same old bands, or name dropping new ones in this post.

I hear the sighs of relief. Yay!
(And those of exasperation too. Sorry!).

Manchester is the sound of differing accents.

I’m not just talking about the amazing diversity of cultures and races within Manchester. No, what I mean here is the accents of locals from North Manchester, East Manchester, South Manchester. All different (Don’t bring West Manchester into it though. That’s Salford, home of the Salfordian Clan, fiercely proud of their own city, and they don’t like to be confused with us Mancs).

And it brings about the debate about what to call Chip Sandwich from a Chippy (In case you’re wondering, the proper answer is “Chip Barm”).

Really. Don’t shake your head.

I grew up in South Manchester. Despite spending the last 8 years living in East Manchester (about as far as you can go east and for it still to be Manchester, before you drop the edge of the earth – because no one really believes Tameside actually exists, do they? It’s a story made up to scare young children), I still get accused of being a “Posh Manc”. In fact, as a girl from London whom I met recently put it:  “Are you sure you’re from Manchester? I can understand what you’re saying.” That surely ranks as one of the most absurdly back handed compliments ever.

What else? Well…

Manchester sounds like someone putting their hands over the ears and shouting “la la la la la la la la la I can’t hear you la la la la la” any time anyone says that there is a better city anywhere else, ever. It is an annoying trait, but I’ll admit to it doing it sometimes if the City is criticised by non-Mancs (even if I agree with them).

Manchester sounds like planes taking off. My parents used to take my brother and I to Manchester Airport when were were young, just to watch. Maybe have a cake. I liked the old dangling chandeliers in Terminal one. They looked like a giant had had a massive cold and that was what had fallen out of his nose.

My Grandad was one of the people who installed them, you know. And he made the lovely old wooden bar at the Briton’s Protection pub too.

Manchester sounds like hundreds of tannoys following you down the street, poking you in the back and then screaming in your face “Metrolink apologies that there is a delay of at least 12 minutes”. (See the image at the top of this post) It’s a strangely reassuring noise, and something that will always remind me of home.

Manchester sounds like the broken 3 stringed guitar of the Market Street busker who changed his name by deed poll to Marc Bolan. I miss him.

Manchester sounds like my City. Because it is.

 

Avatar of Pete Collins

Pete Collins

"I'm a socially awkward Mancunian, drawer of what could loosely be described as a music blog: 'Having A Party Without Me', bass player for Flange Circus and Belgiophile."We think 'Having A Party Without Me' is brilliant. We think you will too - find it at http://partywithoutme.posterous.com

5. All My Loving (This Bird has Flown)

October 19, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, LIVERPOOL, Wondrous Cities

LOVE AT FIRST SIGHT

The day came to an end. I’m a little disappointed that my tale didn’t end in the birds screaming to life, like those creatures in ‘Ghostbusters’, and wreaking havoc on the city below.

Or rather, quite relieved.

It was fun, and it made me re-evaluate one part of the city I now call home.

It certainly underlined the wonder of the birds and the city, due to the couples who live here and meet and hopefully fall in love, and I genuinely believe the intrinsic romance within essentially a perilous situation, should the birds ever be awakened, is part of what makes not just Liverpool but the north of England such a special place, due to the architecture, the folk tales that surround it, and most of all, the people.

Thanks Chris and everyone involved in this project, and to the internet, for introducing him to my streams of consciousness.

Thanks to all the other artists and writers who have made this such a success so far, may they continue to do so.

Last week’s excellent contributor Hayley Flynn, asked me:

Liverpool is a city born of the success of its port. What does the water mean to you?

Well.

Jung once described Liverpool as ‘the pool of life’ whilst George Harrison in 1980 apparently said, “Good place to wash your hair, Liverpool. Nice soft water.”

After nearly drowning in a lake aged three after a spaniel pushed me in, I never really liked water. However, Liverpool’s history as a port is indeed important and fascinating, and its legacy is felt not just in the buildings, statues and street names of the city centre but the towns and villages all the way up the coast and across the water.

It’s a strange feeling that has resonated with me in my other favourite places of the world, there are huge similarities with Naples, Barcelona and New York that must have something to do with the port’s goings on and the transience of the water coming and going. Even Lancaster, where I grew up, is on a river and has a maritime museum.

Through my story, I have touched on how the water is important to at least one of the Liver birds. The Mersey must have a certain quality, to have brought with it the special qualities the city and its people now share. Their talents, their spirit, their sense of humour – their romances.

To be described as the pool of life, water is clearly important to the city. Its importance to me and this project comes mainly from the wonderful view you get of the waterfront from across the Mersey, a trip I would encourage anyone visiting here to take, ferry or otherwise, but also my new home, and the statues of a naked artist seemingly about to drown himself that accompany it.

Thanks, Hayley.

Meanwhile, like the river we move on, and my question for next week’s guest curator Pete Collins is:

Using the other cities’ Liver Buildings, Coles Corner and the Tyne Bridge as reference points, where are the most romantic places in Manchester?

And, talking of romance, thanks again at this point to my wonderful wife for her inspiration, support and understanding.

Thanks too to The Beatles and Billy Fury for providing the soundtrack to my late nights writing up this submission, and their help with the chapter titles. And, to the plethora of influences I mentioned in my introduction: Morrissey, Shelagh Delaney, Stu Sutcliffe, Kes, Newcastle Brown Ale, rundown seaside towns, Willy Russell, local foods, Wallace & Gromit, questionable comedians, David Hockney, as well as others I couldn’t fit in but who are just as important: Richard Hawley, mercy, the Midland Hotel, my Uncle John, the Pendle Witches, Ian Curtis, Morecambe Bay Shrimps, Badly Drawn Boy, Everton Football Club, cotton mills, Lancashire Tea, Rufford Old Hall, Whitby Fish, Tom Finney, Eddie Stobart trucks, strange accents, Elbow, George Formby, birds of prey, The Courteeners, Mark & Lard, Kendal Mint Cake… the list goes on.

Basically, that’s an appreciation of the whole of the north of England, especially those people and places that mean something to me and my past and my family. Thanks to my family then, and my ancestors, for those all important roots and the basis of my appreciation.

Plus, of course, thanks to the buildings, landscape, museums, myths, and people of Liverpool, my adopted home, every last one of you, whose uniqueness continues to evoke awe and wonder… especially all those encountered or referenced in this tale.

And finally, thank you to our people and our prosperity: The Liver Birds.

 

Avatar of Jonathan Greenbank

Jonathan Greenbank

An avid collector of stories, objects & ideas, I am fascinated by those secret narratives unwinding within our cities, noticed only by those involved and observant onlookers. Working across a variety of media, from pencil drawings to scrapbooks, film & installation, even lasering my eyes to become a superhero for my MA. All this can be found on my blog www.jonathangreenbank.com

4. Girl / You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away

October 18, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, LIVERPOOL, Wondrous Cities

Resize Nerys

Where was I?

The Billy Fury fans were walking towards the Liver Buildings, yes. Talking of which, do you remember I also told you that the other (male) statue was looking over the city, watching on the women – the ‘other’ liver ‘birds’.

Many people will have already associated this whole week’s focus with a Carla Lane comedy series about a seemingly ever-changing couple of female housemates that was popular in the 60s and 70s and made a sort of comeback in the 90s. The only ones I know were the one who went on to be T-Bag, and then Nerys Hughes, the younger version of whom I had a minor crush on a few years ago, therefore I was thrilled when she sent me a message for my week on ‘A Wondrous Place’ (see above).

Few will know, however, of the all-girl band The Liverbirds, who hailed from the city and were unusually rock’n’roll and most popular in Germany in the mid Sixties. Their ‘best of’ album released a couple of years ago is a good alternative snapshot of the music of the time, well worth a listen.

Many people, though, will mostly have an idea of Liverpool girls in general, the clichéd, peculiar fashions and the care that some take in their appearance.

“I AM A LIVER BIRD!” once exclaimed Kim Cattrall, and famous other examples we see in the media don’t always cover themselves in glory, but there is a uniqueness that is maybe down to something in the water or the dominant male watching over them from above. Other films and TV programmes down the years have undoubtedly challenged or cemented people’s perceptions of Liverpool women. It was thirty years ago last week that ‘Boys From the Blackstuff’ was launched, and I would argue it celebrated its long-suffering women, instead questioning the role of the men of the city. Meanwhile, others such as ‘Bread’ (with matriarchal Ma Boswell) and movies ‘Letter to Brezhnev’ and ‘Shirley Valentine’, even ‘Blind Date’ and ‘Desperate Scousewives’ championed or even lampooned the role of the Liver ‘birds’ more recently.

However, perhaps the most famous ‘other’ bird is this statue by Tommy Steele of ‘Little White Bull’ fame (yes, really), old Eleanor Rigby:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Either way, whatever your view, on a personal level, a real life Liver bird enchanted me a few years ago, and this year we got married.

Lisa accompanied me on the visit to the town that I am documenting, and continues to support me through many a project, thankfully. At our wedding, our first dance was to Richard Hawley’s ‘Coles Corner’. The link with all of this is that said corner is apparently Sheffield’s meeting place for old and new lovers, and all of these thoughts I was having about the Liver buildings and its surroundings were suggesting to me that without ever realising it, I might just have unearthed the most romantic spot in our city.

I return to the notion that the birds are not allowed to look at each other – what a romantic idea, the two star-crossed lovers that couldn’t be together (‘Brief Encounter’, anyone?) in the grand tradition of film and literature – and how frustrating it must be for the birds, up there in the air, amidst such intimacy, knowing that each other is there but also resigning themselves to the fact that they know they can not be together.

I was thinking about the birds being the new romantic symbols of the city as we neared the buildings.

Before arriving, we popped in to the recently opened Museum of Liverpool, and immediately recognised the link with the romanticised versions of the past that lie within it. More than once described as a self-pity city, ravaged by the war and various negative events since, Liverpool and the birds have seen a lot, and their presence is there throughout the history of the city in this collection – indeed, there are several versions of them inside too, carvings, sculptures and statues, and a life size two dimensional cast. Standing next to it, in view of the real things, made them feel more real than ever.

It was time to cross Mann Island and get in their shadow.

Here was the time for their wings to flap, or more catastrophically, for them to fly away, should an honest man and virtuous woman pass by.

First, two teenage couples walked by, arm in arm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I looked up.

Nothing happened.

An older couple passed by, and took photos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A family crossed the road, and dropped something.

Still nothing.

I was dejected.

We had a drink in the quietly tucked away Oyster Bar. In there, a drunken girl prodded uninterested men telling them she was single and looking for action, a leery middle aged oddball named Trevor licked his lips. Perhaps there was an air of romance around here, after all?

We escaped. Couples in the early stages of their love affairs picnicked in the gardens of St. Nicholas’s church, burial place of many a sailor. I was feeling more optimistic. Then, by the building where eyes get lasered, I found a family photo, strangely discarded:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…and a post-it note, asking simply:

TREVOR?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Keeping hold of the moment, I immediately thought of two more of my favourite films, vignette-filled love letters to the cities of ‘Paris (Je t’aime)’ and ‘New York (… I Love You)’ and imagined all these intertwined narratives playing out around the buildings and the birds.

Stories that are played out every weekend, to the sounds of Billy and the Liverbirds and the Mersey, that will never be retold but might just be played out in the memory of the birds for the rest of time, whilst they themselves live in hope that they too might one day come to life and experience true love with each other.

Some people would probably be aghast at my description of Liverpool as an epicentre of romance: Courtney Love, for example, who said of the city in 1982 that ‘if it was a person I wouldn’t sleep with it’ and ok, so my experiment failed, and the liver birds didn’t respond to what passed by below them, and the city still exists.

There wasn’t so much of a shiver, let alone a flapping of those vast copper wings, on that day at least.

Who is to say though, that it didn’t happen when I’d gone? Or that it doesn’t happen every day, just when none of us are looking?

It is, after all, such a wondrous place.

 

Avatar of Jonathan Greenbank

Jonathan Greenbank

An avid collector of stories, objects & ideas, I am fascinated by those secret narratives unwinding within our cities, noticed only by those involved and observant onlookers. Working across a variety of media, from pencil drawings to scrapbooks, film & installation, even lasering my eyes to become a superhero for my MA. All this can be found on my blog www.jonathangreenbank.com

3. Help! / She Loves You

October 17, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, LIVERPOOL, Wondrous Cities

Resize Billy

So, I first did some reading around the birds and discovered some interesting facts about them.

I asked around some colleagues and family members about them first, to gauge what they knew, or had grown up believing, naively imagining that some Liverpudlian youngsters ‘believe’ in the liver birds just as others will in Father Christmas or the Easter Bunny.

It turns out that not many did. Some hadn’t even heard the story!

To widen the net even further, I e-mailed the local paper, the Liverpool ECHO (whose logo is a liver bird with a rolled-up paper in its mouth) to ask if any of the readers of their ‘Flashback’ nostalgia section every Saturday knew anything about this myth and where it came from.

You see, I have always been fascinated by the process of lonely hearts, or more specifically, those ‘once seen’ or ‘rush hour crush’ messages that people host in the hope of finding that person their path once or often crossed with, just in case it was meant to be. I really like how the Echo offers a lo-fi Friends & Families Reunited service too, called ‘Old Pals’, and thought this might help me trace someone who could shed more light on the story I was following.

Part of my message stated:
“…I really enjoy the ‘Flashback’ feature every week, particularly the ‘Old Pals’ section, and wondered if you had ever done a feature on this topic or wanted to? Or, at the very least, could I through the newspaper attempt to trace any couples who might have fallen in love by the Liver Building or the other two birds in the city, and discover their stories? Thanks so much for reading my e-mail and in advance of your reply. Look forward to hearing from you.”

I didn’t hear from her.

I then put the feelers out via social networking sites too, as everybody does whenever they need / want anything nowadays, also, to no avail.

There was nothing I could do except go back and visit myself.

It’s a strange thing when you live in a city like this and get used to what are essentially world famous buildings (still a UNESCO heritage site, regardless of recent and potential architectural erections nearby), almost taking it for granted. I am sure that many of the people who work nearby, and pass the birds every day, or even in the Liver building itself, have grown oblivious to their charms and mystique too.

However it was quite exciting embarking on a trip to just observe them and the people that passed by one Saturday afternoon in September.

Remember how I told you that the female bird was looking out to sea, keeping an eye on the men?

Those men include a statue of Billy Fury.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For those uninitiated amongst you, Billy (real name Ronald Wycherley) was a huge star in the late 50’s, a sort of Scouse Elvis, for whom The Beetles (later to be renamed) once unsuccessfully auditioned as a backing band.

Mine and Billy’s paths had crossed a few years back, when I embarked upon a series of covert trips to fortune tellers in Blackpool to record their messages and track what then happened to me. My research taught me that Billy apparently regularly visited a relative of one of ‘my’ psychics who told him he would die aged 42, which he did.

He was also a keen birdwatcher, and featured on the cover of the last single released by The Smiths.

Arguably Billy’s most famous song ‘Halfway to Paradise’ (he did of course also sing ‘Wondrous Place’…) became the theme of my MA show, and to this day, it remains my song of choice when we frequent a karaoke bar. It’s funny to see the older generation’s response to my poor attempts at replicating his fantastic voice and performances: generally it goes down well, and they share their stories about him.

Anyway there is a bronze statue there, overlooked by the female bird, of Billy in his famous stance. He is pointing back at her.

The day we visited the statue, someone who loved him had placed a peony in his hand and a bouquet at his feet (see image above), featuring a simple message:

BILLY
FORGET HIM NEVER
L.O.L.
SHIRL
XX

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My marveling at this sight was interrupted by a couple, still very much in love, of whom the wife was wearing a handmade t-shirt which simply said ‘BILLY FURY: A THOUSAND STARS’.

We got talking about ‘beautiful Bill’ – this could well have been the mysterious Shirl, or the peony donor, but I was too intrigued to ask.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As they left, she wanted her photo taken with ‘him’ before they wandered off towards the Liver buildings, hand in hand…

Avatar of Jonathan Greenbank

Jonathan Greenbank

An avid collector of stories, objects & ideas, I am fascinated by those secret narratives unwinding within our cities, noticed only by those involved and observant onlookers. Working across a variety of media, from pencil drawings to scrapbooks, film & installation, even lasering my eyes to become a superhero for my MA. All this can be found on my blog www.jonathangreenbank.com

2. We Can Work It Out

October 16, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, LIVERPOOL, Wondrous Cities

Resize Birds from the Museum

The liver birds are five and a half metres (eighteen feet) tall.

They are over a hundred years old.

They are made of copper and they were designed by Carl Bernard Bartels.

This much we know – however, we aren’t quite sure what they actually are.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The birds are either a cormorant, an eagle, or something else – a dove or a spoonbill perhaps, for the twitchers amongst us – maybe even a phoenix.

‘We have something no zoo has ever seen, no museums have ever secured, nor the world’s wealth can buy – the Liver Bird’ (Eric Hardy, 1934).

We can be sure that they have a sprig of broom in their mouths, or maybe it is laver (seaweed) and although no formal names have been suggested, they are unofficially called ‘our people’ and ‘our prosperity’ because ‘the liver is a mythical bird that once haunted the shoreline. The female is looking out to sea watching for seamen, while the male is making sure the women are behaving themselves and pubs are open…’

These myths, the wonder surrounding them, is what I wanted to focus on.

Despite their omnipresence and status across the city, the liver birds are not just the sole property of a certain football club. Indeed, they featured on medals and souvenirs produced by the city’s first team from 1878, also universities and the council.

Many I have spoke to have questioned their very nature and importance by seemingly not knowing their history, nor the tales that have been built up around them over the past century or so.

Peter Sissons once described them as ‘the most distinctive and recognisable civil emblems in the UK’ and Don McLean apparently said that ‘… those two Liver birds can sing, we just can’t hear them… but they are singing!’

However, the story that got me, the one which intrigued me the most, is the one that involves the remote possibility that they might fly away should they see each other / mate / fall in love. I had never heard this before, but it goes some way to explain why they are facing away from each other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ll be writing about this romantic notion later in the week.

Another, more sinister suggestion, is that they are like protective parents (‘they will be there, no matter what is happening’) and if they should ever fly away, the city would fall in to the sea.

Perhaps this inspired ex FA chief Brian Barwick to decide that ‘Liverpool without the Liver birds is unthinkable, unimaginable…’ That is to say that, should they fly away, or if an honest man and a virgin woman pass / fall in love (delete where appropriate) before the two birds, then the city would cease to exist i.e. fall to the ground.

Just think about that for a second.

A whole city, rich in heritage and character and fully functioning, to be wiped out in an instant, think of Pompeii, of Hiroshima, of those desolate, post-apocalyptic cities we marvel at in disaster or zombie movies.

Think of Planet of the Apes, and the buried statue of liberty.

Now, replace it with the two empty domes that the birds currently perch on.

It will never happen, of course… The disconcertingly vague versions of the rumour here is probably part of the reason why nobody believes it, and the fact that nothing yet has suggested this be the case.

However, a watered down version of this tale is just that if either the man or woman mentioned walks by the Liver birds, they flap their wings, I am not sure why, presumably in excitement.

But some people do believe, they talk about it at least, especially those who sing a little known chorus from an extended version of a famous local anthem – ‘In my Liverpool Home’ – in local hostelries:

Our Liverpool ladies will hug and kiss men
But a virtuous lady you’ll find now and then
Our eighteen foot lyver birds perched up on high
They flap their great wings every time she goes by
In my Liverpool home…

Now, I am pretty honest.

Also, I have walked down the Strand quite a few times.

However, I don’t believe I have ever witnessed a flapping of wings up to now.

A huge part of me still wants to believe the story though, because it does create a sense of mystery, of wonder, about the place.

Therefore, I decided to investigate further whether or not any of this could be proved, and if there was evidence of the birds having magic and potentially disastrous powers…

 

Avatar of Jonathan Greenbank

Jonathan Greenbank

An avid collector of stories, objects & ideas, I am fascinated by those secret narratives unwinding within our cities, noticed only by those involved and observant onlookers. Working across a variety of media, from pencil drawings to scrapbooks, film & installation, even lasering my eyes to become a superhero for my MA. All this can be found on my blog www.jonathangreenbank.com

1. From Me to You

October 15, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, LIVERPOOL, Wondrous Cities

Resize Exhibition

I’m only a paper boy from the North West
But I can scrub up well in my Sunday best.
How could I ever do for you?
Because I’m true and I’m real, and this is how I feel…

It might seem strange to introduce my first post from Liverpool with a verse from a song by a band from Manchester (The Courteeners, if you didn’t know) however I think it sums me up nicely.

And not just because I was once a paper boy.

My work, and in particular my writing, has often been described as ‘confessional’, so this week I will try to tell you how I feel about a certain aspect of my adopted city.

The short version of my biog that I initially submitted for this space was ‘… an avid collector of stories, objects & ideas, I am fascinated by those secret narratives unwinding within our cities, noticed only by those involved and observant onlookers. Working across a variety of media, from pencil drawings to scrapbooks, film & installation, even lasering my eyes to become a superhero for my MA. All this can be found on my blog www.jonathangreenbank.com’ but in hindsight, I probably need to do myself more justice so here is a more elaborate version of a bit of my life story.

I grew up in Lancaster, most famous recently for the unfortunate girl with the stomach problems after drinking liquid nitrogen. Thankfully that never happened to me there. I spent a year in Blackpool doing an art foundation course, before coming to uni in Liverpool, mainly due to my love of one of its football teams.

And I have never left.

After uni I was declined by the Royal College and St. Martin’s, wrongly believing it was because of where I was from. You see, being northern has sometimes formed a chip on the shoulder, and at other times made me feel like a chip in the sugar. Whilst being proud of my roots, it also served as a barrier, especially in the creative circles I have occasionally frequented.

Over the years though, that has changed somewhat. Indeed, as I have become more aware of reasons to be cheerful about being from the north, and exposed to some classic cultural references through music, literature, art and the like: Morrissey, Shelagh Delaney, Stu Sutcliffe, Kes, Newcastle Brown Ale, rundown seaside towns, Willy Russell, local foods, Wallace & Gromit, questionable comedians, Billy Fury, David Hockney… all of these and others have directly or discreetly inspired and influenced not just my work but the way I live my life, as well as presumably many others.

Meanwhile, over this time there has felt a national warming towards ‘us’. Specific events, buildings, festivals, museums, songs, people, restaurants, media organisations, have all helped shift focus, and change attitudes, allowing us to celebrate not just the north / south divide but also exactly that which makes us unique.

Part of that was Liverpool’s year as Capital of Culture, which was announced around the time my mates and I started our own less good version of Shoreditch T**t, which gained recognition from Antony Wilson (RIP) amongst others, and developed into a successful design agency that recently celebrated its tenth birthday.

I, on the other hand, went in a different direction and became a teacher.

Still making art work on the side for a famous band as well as the odd exhibition when I have had the time, I eventually made it on to a MA course, which resulted in a variety of projects involving fortune tellers, found passport photographs, and laser eye surgery, all of which was documented on my blog, which in turn led to a couple of other websites and writing projects. Recently I sent fake love letters to a stranger in Australia, painted a set of unfortunate animals for an alternative Noah’s Ark, and drew all 500 pages of ‘The Art Book’. ‘The Art Book’ was an exhibition at The Rag Factory in London in summer 2012. The image at the top of this post is taken from it and you can find out much more about it here.

The eye surgery was the scariest thing I had ever done (probably since overtaken by getting married, more of which later in the week) and I am still paying it off but also it was one of the best. It has helped me see things more clearly, especially as in the past couple of years I have moved out of the city centre where I had been ever since my arrival, twenty minutes up the coast by a lovely beach and a much more relaxed way of life.

The company that did my eyes are based in town, and the first thing I saw after leaving my initial check-up (when I could actually see, a few hours later the procedure) was the Liver Buildings.
It’s an image that will stay with me forever…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When Chris got in touch about my blog and invited me to take part in this exciting project, I immediately decided that my focus would be on that building, and specifically its topping: the emblem of our city, the Liver Birds.

 

Avatar of Jonathan Greenbank

Jonathan Greenbank

An avid collector of stories, objects & ideas, I am fascinated by those secret narratives unwinding within our cities, noticed only by those involved and observant onlookers. Working across a variety of media, from pencil drawings to scrapbooks, film & installation, even lasering my eyes to become a superhero for my MA. All this can be found on my blog www.jonathangreenbank.com

Cottonopolis: Above and Beneath

October 13, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, MANCHESTER, Wondrous Cities

Resize Cotton

The Cottonopolis City Planning Department (formerly the City of Manchester) is nestled in amongst the rooftop offices of Sunlight House, besides the Clock Face. Joseph Sunlight, head of the department, takes a seat in the window and looks out onto the city.

Between the skyscrapers are a series of elevated walkways that connect one building to another. In the Manchester 1945 Plan these walkways were put forward as a Le Corbuisier inspired method of segregating vehicles and people – and they were approved in the Oxford Road district. You can see a few which remain to this day as well as the ghosts of old connections between the first floors of neighbouring buildings.

The Royal Northern College of Music has almost removed all traces of its own walkway now but if you look across to the Business School you can clearly see the space where the connecting walkway once attached to it. There are examples all over Manchester today of elevated thinking, though not always complementing each other. Imagine for a moment all of these walkways spanning Oxford Road, taking pedestrians from site to site without the bother of traffic, then think of that greying arm draped around the South of the city – Mancunian Way. Where does that fit in to all of this? A motorway in the heart of the city that runs parallel to the walkways and at that same first floor height.

Another example of this sky-high future can be spotted over at the Mercure Hotel, formerly the Piccadilly Hotel. If you take a look at the building which sits on a podium above the street-level shops, you’ll notice that the original entrance is found up there on the first floor too. Bernard Sunley built this hotel with the vehicular future in mind, reasoning that everyone would arrive by car by the ’60s and no doubt taking inspiration from that lofty Mancunian Way. Sunley didn’t provide a pedestrian way into the building, the only way in was by the concrete car ramp.

These roads aren’t prevalent in Cottonopolis but they do exist, cars are still necessary in Sunlight’s future, but it’s the public transport that makes the city so successful. Sometime after this fanatical road building, a plan was proposed for Manchester’s own underground network. The Picc-Vic line was actually some way to being approved and when the Arndale Centre was built the foundations were made with this tube network in mind, so there’s a cavern underneath the Arndale, right below Topshop, and it’s a ghost station for a line that was never to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The tube network would eventually stretch right out to the suburbs of the city and stations were planned at Royal Exchange and St Peters, with a rather lovely reimagining of Albert Square that saw the cobbles outside the Town Hall replaced with a landscaped forecourt. In Cottonopolis, Sunlight saw to it that these plans were approved and by 1973 an extensive underground of high speed trains delivered the public across their rainy city.

Image by Andy Vine

 

I was asked by last week’s guest curators Amy Mackelden and Jake Campbell:

Manchester is often regarded as England’s second city. In what ways of you think it might deserve this title?

My answer is really a combination of all the things I’ve covered this week when reimagining the city. It has vision and its the home of many firsts, but when you take a look at who the pioneers of the city have been and who the lovers of the city are, then more often than not these Mancunians transpire to be not Mancunians at all. People choose to live here. They make their most important discoveries here. They want to give something to Manchester and are happy to be referenced as children of the city. I think it’s really this that makes it so important to me and deserving of that title. People adopt the city as their own; refer to themselves as Mancunians not simply a resident of Manchester. A city is as great as its people.

Thank you to Chris Meads for helping put all of this together, and to the wonderful Andy Vine who supplied artwork for this piece. I’m really looking forward to the rest of ‘A Wondrous Place’, and my question for next week’s guest curator Jonathan Greenbank is:

Liverpool is a city born of the success of its port. What does the water mean to you?

BYE!

 

Avatar of Hayley Flynn

Hayley Flynn

Hayley is the creator of 'Skyliner' (theskyliner.org), a Manchester-born blog that is dedicated to the pursuit of rare and fascinating art, architecture and histories. A lover of opening closed doors, microfilm, and architectural drawings. She fled the confines of an office job to work in the arts and spend more time exploring the secrets of cities, Hayley and is now a tour guide, location scout and researcher but above all things - a professional dilettante.

Cottonopolis: Horse Powered

October 11, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, MANCHESTER, Wondrous Cities

ResizePostcard

Yesterday we looked at Sunlight House, its creator Joseph Sunlight, and his plans to extend his Quay Street building with the addition of a 40-storey clock tower.  Now we continue to imagine the city with Sunlight at the helm of the city’s planning department, and what that might mean for Manchester’s skyline today.

In Sunlight’s Manchester it’s not all about sculpting the skyline into the future but also retaining the landmarks that fit in with this: his noir-novel of a city.

From these imaginary floors of the Sunlight House clock tower, in a room besides the giant clock face, Joseph Sunlight regards his city and gazes down the curve of Quay Street until it meets with the start of Oxford Street. Just beyond the curve that heads Southbound along the cultural and educational mile, a sign mounted high above a building catches his eye. It’s a circular sign, flanked by sculpted horses, and it seems to float independently of the building. It glistens and rotates and advertises the site below as Manchester’s Hippodrome.

 

The building was always theatrical, not only in function but in form, and the 54 feet wide proscenium arch, the very bones of the building, was moveable – it was a theatre with a sliding roof. Built to house circus performances with room for 100 horses, a variety theatre and, later, to screen films, the hippodrome didn’t limit itself to the confines of a regular theatre and housed a giant tank that could hold 70,000 gallons of water purpose built for ‘water spectaculars’.

‘A Foot to a Fathom of Water at the Touch of a Lever!’

The Hippodrome was an ornate but sturdy type of a building that fit perfectly into Sunlight’s world with its decorative but timeless style. It looked every bit at home in Sunlight’s Manchester of the future, the stony-white Chicago-inspired skyline with streets lined by great modern tributes to architecture, and inspirational updates to the relics of industrial wealth beyond just the mill conversions of today’s city.

In Cottonopolis – Sunlight’s Manchester – the Hippodrome remains. It morphs into a future version of itself and the circular sign comes to life; lights up; rotates. His Manchester is not purely new vision, but it’s a place bound together with the iconic structures of the past.

Manchester Hippodrome existed in Manchester between 1904 and 1935, when it then was rebuilt and became the Gaumont theatre, later Rotters Nightclub until it ended its life in demolition in 1990 to eventually be resurrected as a multi-storey car park.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Image: Old Photos UK)

 

Avatar of Hayley Flynn

Hayley Flynn

Hayley is the creator of 'Skyliner' (theskyliner.org), a Manchester-born blog that is dedicated to the pursuit of rare and fascinating art, architecture and histories. A lover of opening closed doors, microfilm, and architectural drawings. She fled the confines of an office job to work in the arts and spend more time exploring the secrets of cities, Hayley and is now a tour guide, location scout and researcher but above all things - a professional dilettante.

Cottonopolis: Sunlight in the Rain

October 10, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, MANCHESTER, Wondrous Cities

Resize Sunlight Stephen Richards

Joseph Sunlight was born in Russia but came to Manchester with his family in pursuit of a fortune wrapped in cotton, and Joseph grew up to become a prolific architect, soon becoming one of the city’s wealthiest citizens. When he died in 1979 he was the city’s biggest taxpayer. By proxy we owe a lot to Joseph Sunlight, but it’s likely that most residents don’t know who he is.

Joseph Sunlight had a vision for Manchester, one that’s evident in his art deco creation Sunlight House, on Quay Street (see the image above by Stephen Richards). The white Portland stone building stands proud on a street of unremarkable neighbours.

In 1932, at the time of being built, Sunlight House was the tallest building in the city and the first skyscraper in the North of England. Erected during the ’30s depression, when the city seemed to be set in aspic, when nothing changed, and the machinery of the industrial boom had rusted itself a place in the present. This great white hope of a building wasn’t a municipal location but merely the office of Sunlight’s property business. What’s so appealing about this place is how it’s something of an anomaly in Sunlight’s catalogue. He designed houses, and he built the elegant Sunlight House simply as a place to continue his practice of house design. This office – optimism in Portland stone – was intelligent and inspired, but in Sunlight’s mind it wasn’t complete.

The awe inspiring design stands at 14 storeys, but the architect had intended for its original reach to be more like 30. Walk down Quay Street sometime, head away from the city, in the direction of the Irwell, and take a look at this marvellous chunk of stone.  It’s so permanent seeming, as if a naturally occurring monolith. Now, look up to its beautiful row of windows high above the street, see if you can spot the art deco eagles on each corner. Now consider the height and double it. Just imagine what an impact something of such size and stature could have had on Manchester.

Inside of Sunlight House a unique vacuum system was in operation that made the task of maintaining the building more manageable. A similar one can be found in Liverpool’s Royal Court Theatre in which a central vacuum is plugged into by a hose via periodic holes in the skirting boards of the building. The cleaners only need carry a light, flexible hose with them and not an entire vacuuming contraption. Nothing at Sunlight House was about showing off, yet in its competence it did just that.

From all accounts is seems as though Joseph Sunlight was something of an eccentric. In in his lunch hour, in place of an attendant he would operate the high-speed lifts himself, and his wish was to be buried in a mausoleum on the roof of the building. Sadly, stories dictate that this was a wish Sunlight went to his death bed believing would be honoured, but it was never to be.  Perhaps, then, it’s Joseph who is the ghost said to haunt the building – ghosting the lift shafts, traversing the floors in search of a burial place never built.

Now recall that Sunlight House of earlier, the one that’s double the height of the building we know today, and then consider this – a proposal for an extension to Sunlight House was reported in The Manchester Eyewitness on 15 August 1948, and it read:

Manchester Skyscraper Proposed! Plans for a Manchester skyscraper, an extension to Sunlight House, Quay Street, are to be presented to the Draft Schemes Sub-Committee. It will be twice the height of the present building, and will be built between Sunlight House and the Opera House. It will be surmounted with a large clock tower. The £1m, 35-storey, 360ft building has been designed by Mr Joseph Sunlight.’

Sunlight House

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunlight took his inspiration from the solid, ornate skyscrapers that dominated the Chicago skyline. Few buildings adopted this style, but, if they had, Manchester might have been a very different city. If we’d had the bravery back in the ’40s to go ahead with Sunlight’s vision, if we could alter history and reverse what is perhaps one of the city’s worst planning decisions of the time, then we might have an ultimately more gothic and intriguing city; a city unrecognisable as British, but instead a city straight off the pages of a noir fantasy – solid and white, as if furniture draped in Manchester cotton.

Chicago’s Skyline by Otto Bettman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Avatar of Hayley Flynn

Hayley Flynn

Hayley is the creator of 'Skyliner' (theskyliner.org), a Manchester-born blog that is dedicated to the pursuit of rare and fascinating art, architecture and histories. A lover of opening closed doors, microfilm, and architectural drawings. She fled the confines of an office job to work in the arts and spend more time exploring the secrets of cities, Hayley and is now a tour guide, location scout and researcher but above all things - a professional dilettante.

Cottonopolis: A Skyline Reimagined

October 8, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, MANCHESTER, Wondrous Cities

Resize Skyline

My family are predominantly from Liverpool, and so it’s safe to assume I’m the black sheep of the family in my adoration of Manchester. I love it because I feel like I’ve made it my own. It’s a city where it’s very easy to do that and to carve yourself a place where you slot in and feel at home regardless of your roots. It’s also a challenging city to love because you have to work at it. There’s nothing immediate about it, it’s small yet spread out, it’s unremarkable in many ways, and you certainly don’t get that breath-taking moment of flinging open your hotel window and gazing down on an urban paradise – its not an easy city for a visitor to love.

Manchester was my blank canvas when I first came here and it remained that way for several years, just a corner of the canvas was filled in and it was rudimentary and pencil drawn. Then I realised that I hadn’t approached the city like I do all other cities; as a tourist – always asking questions about its history, its art, exploring the streets and getting lost in its dead-ends. I did this and my canvas became florid in its detail. I still explore like this everyday because there’s no reason, in any city, for that curiosity to ever wane.

I’ve adopted Manchester as a home and so it saddens me when a building I love is at threat, with that in mind I’ve looked at what Manchester could have been had these threats never reared their heads. What we’ve lost and what we almost had.

Over the years there has always been a kind of marvellous futuristic machinery at work behind the scenes of some of the major buildings.  In the late 19th century Manchester Hydraulics Systems supplied this brand new source of power to the air conditioning of John Rylands Library (in itself a ground breaking concept at the time), the safety curtains of the Opera House, the organ of the Cathedral, and the clock of the Town Hall.

The Palace Hotel on Oxford Road used this hydraulic power in a fashion not dissimilar to something you’d expect to see in the Coen Brothers’ ‘Hudsucker Proxy’. They installed a series of tubes in what was then the Refuge Assurance Building, and inside of leather-bound capsules they would seal notes before dropping them into the suction system and transporting them to another part of the building.

Sunlight House on Quay Street (see the image above) is perhaps something of a silent star in amongst all of these landmarks and ground-breakers. It’s a grand building on an otherwise bland street, it’s not a building whose name is instantly recognised nor is the purpose of it clear to the everyday passer-by, but it’s this building that’s inspired me to look at Manchester as it could have been.

There are lots of ways in which the skyline of Manchester could be re-imagined but I’m going to look at a handful of possibilities: of proposals that were never approved, and outstanding buildings that were demolished.

Cottonopolis, Manchester’s moniker during the industrial revolution, already conjures images of a Metropolis (be it Superman’s or Fritz Lang’s) but when you think of it realistically – a city born of cotton mills, well it doesn’t hold that same excitement, not the excitement that you’d experience in a city dominated by a behemoth of a skyscraper that’s made entirely of imposing white Portland stone. A skyscraper that looks down on a giant hippodrome that was built to be flooded so that it could ensure the most spectacular of shows. And how about the secret foundations of the city and the empty pockets of space underground that were intended for something a little more bustling.

Over the course of this week we’ll look at these eventualities and re-imagine the skyline of Manchester; Cottonopolis.

And it’s Sunlight House where the outline of a new city begins…

Avatar of Hayley Flynn

Hayley Flynn

Hayley is the creator of 'Skyliner' (theskyliner.org), a Manchester-born blog that is dedicated to the pursuit of rare and fascinating art, architecture and histories. A lover of opening closed doors, microfilm, and architectural drawings. She fled the confines of an office job to work in the arts and spend more time exploring the secrets of cities, Hayley and is now a tour guide, location scout and researcher but above all things - a professional dilettante.

Thanks and goodbye!

October 6, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, TYNE AND WEAR, Wondrous Cities

20121006-000327.jpg

Well, we’ve have had a great week posting on A Wondrous Place but sadly we have to say goodbye! Before we do, we’d like to thank a few people, and put a question to Hayley Flynn, next week’s curator. So, without further ado, thank you to Chris Meads for inviting us to work together on this project – it’s been both refreshing and challenging to work together. Writers often spend a lot of time slaving away in isolation, so for us to collaborate on a new project was a real joy and of advantage to our own separate writing projects! We’d like to thank Claire Malcolm at New Writing North for suggesting to Chris our coming together on this blog. Jake would like to dedicate his part in this work to the efficiency of the Tyne and Wear Metro system; a railway network which, despite all its flaws and detractors, makes getting to meet up with all the cool people he has met in Newcastle over the past 2 years somewhat less of a chore. Amy would like to thank Tom Cruise. 

We’ve both hugely enjoyed all the other guests’ posts and we’d like to ask Hayley Flynn, next week’s blogger, this: Manchester is often regarded as England’s second city. In what ways do you think it might deserve this title?

We leave you with a little present: a song by The Lake Poets, aka Martin Longstaff – a phenomenal singer-songwriter from Sunderland whose lyrics about trying to find one’s place in the North East in 2012 are a stellar example of the creativity, honesty and verve that are to be found in abundance in this region.

Hope you’ve enjoyed reading! 

 

 

 

Avatar of Amy Mackelden and Jake Campbell

Amy Mackelden and Jake Campbell

Jake Campbell is from the coastal town of South Shields. He graduated with Distinction for his Creative Writing MA at the University of Chester. In 2011 he won New Writing North’s Andrew Waterhouse Award, and in May 2012, Red Squirrel Press published his debut pamphlet of poetry, Definitions of Distance. www.jakecampbell1988.blogspot.co.uk Follow Jake on Twitter: @jakecampbell88 ; Amy Mackelden is from the Isle of Wight, and did the long distance thing with Newcastle for a long time before committing, which she finally did in 2008. She won a Northern Promise Award from New Writing North in 2011 and her daily microfiction blog, www.july2061.com, was shortlisted in the Blog North Awards 2012. Follow Amy on Twitter: @july 2061

Newcastle: My Heart In A Hashtag Part 5

October 5, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, TYNE AND WEAR, Wondrous Cities

Resize The Forth

The place gets really busy weeknights, weekends, whereas in the week you could read a book undisturbed, and the outdoor rooftop patio is fairy light-strung, and I’ve met many an eye line there, though nothing concrete, no-one who hasn’t upped and moved to London, or gone further north. So this is my place now, and it’s up to others to end up here too, or leave, but just be decisive about it. Right next to the Jazz Café, on Pink Lane, just pick the right corner.

The night that I find him again, I’m with 5 friends, some of whom have brought friends, who’ve bumped into other friends, so that we’re a tricky weave throughout a heave. He’s surprised, too, to find my shoulder, then face, though he shouldn’t be. We’ve inhabited similar spaces for years and those years have sped like a tape recorder high-pitched fast-forward screech.

I ask what he’s been up to and he shrugs like it’s impossible to summarise and I realise I couldn’t start either, to tell him what I did, what I’ve done, between those messages and now. The last five years have been a gorge, not a fast, and I’ve been retaining as much knowledge as possible in case I ever have to leave. I want to remember the plethora of options every night of another bar or show or reading. The feel of the theatre stalls, and the cabaret style candle-lit tables and the walks along banks inland, or at the coast, and the different kinds of light at both. The moments the train pulls across the bridge and everyone picks a side and stares, and the sheltered section of the station and the outside and the Mining Institute Library, stained glass that’s street hidden, and the taxi rank tunnel and the shopping trolley sculpture and the steps, like a cliff edge, the unprecedented steep drop to the Quayside and the Cinema, alley-tucked, with it’s red velvet seats and its coffee stronger than gin, and poster sales, all-night showings and the people I’ve met. Kerry and Jack and John. Hannah and Matt and Tim. And him.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was in The Forth after watching ‘Matt Stalker and Fables’ in The Jazz Cafe. I was taking a round back to the lads, looking down, concentrating on the 3 pints in my hands, when I heard a ‘Jake?’

It was Amy. Bloody hell. What had it been? 3, 4 years? More? We hugged, which was awkward, but it’s funny what the body remembers, what it reads like braille from another’s touch: the way her head perches on my shoulder, how my arm fits the small of her back, her perfume. We discussed the usual things: the storms, the last films we’d seen at the Tyneside, how rehearsals were going for her new show. But there were all these questions. All these questions I did and didn’t want to ask:
                                              ?
                                                            ?
                 ,                              ;                                      ?
and, of course,                                ?

 

All these questions, hanging, just out of reach, banging in my head, like doors rattling in drafts, like an itch you can’t scratch.
We said our “Yeah, it was lovely to see you”s, our “Definitely, coffee would be great”s, but I felt like I’d let Amy in on a big secret.
I sat down, took a sip of beer, watched her rejoin her friends. I remembered how we’d discussed film tropes – slow motion kisses in the rain, flipped cars that always landed on their wheels, as long as Jason Statham was driving, that sort of thing – then I remembered her favourite: the one in the bar, where the girl takes her drink in both hands, holds the straw to her mouth and turns, turns just enough to smile at the boy on the other side of the room. I waited, and her head was so far back in laughter, her hand reaching for the arms of others in her group, her head so far back in laughing, loving, living, and her back to me.
I smiled, said, “Next pub, lads?” I was greeted by a unanimous “Aye”, and before I knew it, I was out on Pink Lane, the whole of Newcastle spread out before me.
Avatar of Amy Mackelden and Jake Campbell

Amy Mackelden and Jake Campbell

Jake Campbell is from the coastal town of South Shields. He graduated with Distinction for his Creative Writing MA at the University of Chester. In 2011 he won New Writing North’s Andrew Waterhouse Award, and in May 2012, Red Squirrel Press published his debut pamphlet of poetry, Definitions of Distance. www.jakecampbell1988.blogspot.co.uk Follow Jake on Twitter: @jakecampbell88 ; Amy Mackelden is from the Isle of Wight, and did the long distance thing with Newcastle for a long time before committing, which she finally did in 2008. She won a Northern Promise Award from New Writing North in 2011 and her daily microfiction blog, www.july2061.com, was shortlisted in the Blog North Awards 2012. Follow Amy on Twitter: @july 2061

Newcastle: My Heart In A Hashtag Part 4

October 4, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, TYNE AND WEAR, Wondrous Cities

Resize Jake Board

Platform 7 at Central Station. A few years ago you could get over there without a ticket. Bloody barriers. Twelve minutes early.

Eleven fifty two.

‘The next train to depart from platform nine is the 14.05 Northern service to Carlisle, calling at Gateshead Metro Centre, Wylam, Prudhoe…’

Eleven.

You’ll be somewhere near Chester-le-Street now: that bit where the train screeches over the bridge above Tesco, Penshaw Monument standing vestigial against a backdrop of thick, North Sea Cumulonimbi.

Ten oh three.

I wonder what you’ll be wearing? Your avatar is a close-up of your eye, so that doesn’t give me much to go on. If I squint I swear I can see the outline of you holding the camera reflected in the flash hovering over your iris.

Must stop looking at the clock.

Birtley dog track; Komatsu; the Angel…

Eight forty four.

The Tyne Bridges; platform 7; me…

Seven fifty eight.

I want to go back, to watch your journey in reverse as you make your way down the ladder of the Pennines. Back in the taxi that took you to the station; back through the flat you left, your keys posted through its locked front door. I want to see what decisions took you here – what unfortunate set of circumstances it takes to send a girl four hundred miles up the country to here, to now, to me.

Five thirty three.

I want to see you grow young; watch you in school, with friends I’ll never know and you’ll never see again. I want to see your Dad hold you on his shoulders; the whole world sucked into that moment – me, eyes cupped in hands, pressed against the glass, peering through the porthole of time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Four thirty seven.

Check for texts. Nothing. ‘Hi Amy, at station now, waiting by WH Smith. See you soon xx’

Three fifty.

‘Train about to pull in, waiting on bridge. What a view! x’

Three ten.

Oh, balls, forgot to brush my teeth. No, it’s alright, don’t be daft, she won’t notice. And anyway, she’s not expecting a kiss. I mean, I’m not even angling for one. Well, I would, but…no, stop it. Stop it.

Two fifteen.

Something’s just pulled in. Loads coming over the footbridge now. Woman in flowery dress; man with briefcase; woman with Scotty dog; man going double denim (bad shout, mate); woman in stilettos (bit early, like, pet); woman in Geography teacher Mac…

One thirty one.

Is that her by Pumpkin? She definitely looks lost. Idiot: everyone looks lost in a train station.

One seventeen.

What if she’s really tall? Fat? (You shallow fool!) A rake?

Fifty.

What if she’s beautiful?

Thirty one.

That’s definitely her train pulling in.

Twenty.

Bloody barrier.

Sixteen.

What if she hates this? The cold; the back lane walls with their smashed glass set in concrete; the way we stare at the bloody river.

Five.

Is there anything more sad than seeing a life unfold in the blank time it takes the digits on a clock face to change?

Zero.

Can someone be real before you’ve even met them?

Durham Station

 

 

Avatar of Amy Mackelden and Jake Campbell

Amy Mackelden and Jake Campbell

Jake Campbell is from the coastal town of South Shields. He graduated with Distinction for his Creative Writing MA at the University of Chester. In 2011 he won New Writing North’s Andrew Waterhouse Award, and in May 2012, Red Squirrel Press published his debut pamphlet of poetry, Definitions of Distance. www.jakecampbell1988.blogspot.co.uk Follow Jake on Twitter: @jakecampbell88 ; Amy Mackelden is from the Isle of Wight, and did the long distance thing with Newcastle for a long time before committing, which she finally did in 2008. She won a Northern Promise Award from New Writing North in 2011 and her daily microfiction blog, www.july2061.com, was shortlisted in the Blog North Awards 2012. Follow Amy on Twitter: @july 2061

Newcastle: My Heart In A Hashtag Part 3

October 3, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, TYNE AND WEAR, Wondrous Cities

Resize Amy View

In this, part 3 of ‘My Heart In A Hashtag’, we also answer last week’s guest curator Dan Feeney‘s question for us: “I’m a real museum geek, and on my last trip to the North East I didn’t have time to go exploring any museums or galleries. What are your suggestions for the best places to drop into for a bit of a mooch, especially any unexpected gems?”

 

It’s impossible to gauge, really, how somebody feels, especially when any connection they have is with your username or icon, and emoticons are a half story which people type whilst their actual faces contort entirely different shapes. As a city, I knew nothing when we started, but now it’s the lilt of certain letters, the checkiness of your shirts, the music you listen to which isn’t all that different to mine, but I tie tracks to you and your city and imagine certain scenarios with the succincticity of a music video: in the Charles Grey, the pub overlooking The Monument, watching the charity workers tackle passers-by for their phone numbers, then standing at the top of Grey Street and seeing an entirely different architecture to the one I grew up seeing which was all cobbles and thatch and knockdown-able and, later, waiting for a train to the coast and not picking one place but starting on a beach and walking until we hit another Metro stop or station. This is where our experiences mesh, lap, because I could walk the circumference of the island I’m on; there’s no satisfaction like seeing a location merge with its neighbour.

The Charles Grey

You are merging with the city and I experience you both through screens, anticipating the up-close with a back mind apprehension, that you both might not be the expected, pieced from maps and Wikipedia and YouTube 3 minute clips and Joe McElderry’s back story. I imagine you with the nerves of an X-Factor contestant awaiting the executioner’s verdict, when I could find at any minute, you are not who you claim. And what would happen to the place, then, if you turn out to be another person entirely from the online photograph that I’ve been building around?

I pack light for the journey to Newcastle, which is six hours straight train from the first stop, no change, and my window seat connection is a landscape shift as I follow the country to its X spot, you mark the spot. And you text as I relay every city to you, and you say you’ll wait, be waiting, like every man in every novel I high school read, and the way I feel about you is so much more tangible than it deserves to be. Because even Skype is easy to fake, every photo is. I wonder what plan I’d have if you weren’t waiting. Would I meander without meaning around the city, take a City Sightseeing bus, its circular route explaining every plaque more than twice? Would I play Maximo Park on my iPod, as I went to each place they mentioned in one of their songs, imagining the potential of every person I saw.

Grey’s Monument

The terrain changes the closer I get, and I wonder if I’ve worn the right footwear. I scroll through pictures you’ve sent in preparation. The Sage elevated over the Tyne. The bridges in a line stretching where the river curves. The steepness and the wet streets, converted railway tunnels and towers. And the Baltic, once something else entirely, a mill, is a regular collection switch. The Great North and the Discovery, the museums we’ll go to and I’ll find what others found before me: things to be loved. The collections, which stretch through basements, are ties to other countries, places yet to go. As I ask about the animals, how you feel about taxidermy, you take my hand. The Library, all angles and glass, and the Settledown Cafe.

“Some things you preserve,” you tell me. “Some things are for keeps.”

 

Avatar of Amy Mackelden and Jake Campbell

Amy Mackelden and Jake Campbell

Jake Campbell is from the coastal town of South Shields. He graduated with Distinction for his Creative Writing MA at the University of Chester. In 2011 he won New Writing North’s Andrew Waterhouse Award, and in May 2012, Red Squirrel Press published his debut pamphlet of poetry, Definitions of Distance. www.jakecampbell1988.blogspot.co.uk Follow Jake on Twitter: @jakecampbell88 ; Amy Mackelden is from the Isle of Wight, and did the long distance thing with Newcastle for a long time before committing, which she finally did in 2008. She won a Northern Promise Award from New Writing North in 2011 and her daily microfiction blog, www.july2061.com, was shortlisted in the Blog North Awards 2012. Follow Amy on Twitter: @july 2061

Newcastle: My Heart In A Hashtag Part 2

October 2, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, TYNE AND WEAR, Wondrous Cities

Resize rock

Amy became the reason I wanted to stay, at least for a little while. They say it’s all about the people. Well, we’ve got our mix; just take a walk down King Street on a Friday night. But that’s not her scene, nor mine: bass, synth and roid-rage lads spilling from club doors, all Geordie Shore wannabes, pastiche of a bad pastiche, rattling down streets pocked with Wrigley’s Extra, seagull shit and a confetti of Gregg’s steak bakes. Tell you what, though: I’ve never had a bad night in Shields. There’s beauty in the most unlikely of places. When Amy comes, I’ll show her.

I’ll take her to The Groyne, watch fishing boats trundle in and out the Tyne. Wave at the DFDS ferry, voyaging to Amsterdam. I’ll take her in my arms, make a ‘Jack and Rose: Angels of the North’, spread out, welcoming the world at the very edge of England.

 

Herd Groyne Lighthouse

 

 

I’ll take her up the Leas to Souter Lighthouse, tell her the urban legend of the man who buried his dog there: its bark still biting throught the rasp of the wind. Try and spook her a bit: tell her how, on foggy nights, I sometimes hear it over the boom of the horn.
I’ll take her up to the old windmill on Cleadon Hills, the place I call the ‘hinge’ of the county, where Mackem rubs shoulders with Geordie.
“Time is like a ‘History’ folder on a computer,” I’ll say, “Nothing ever vanishes for ever; it just gets piled up so that all we see is what’s most recent. Just look at this…” I’ll point to the fields, the trees, the rooftops, splayed out like circuit boards. “Time was, when people would look out over this vista at a sky smudged by industry. Those days are gone, but the river runs on, the land still listens. It’s up to us to choose what it hears.”
“Amy”, I’ll say, “This whole world is spread out in front of us…”
And I’ll leave it hanging, hoping the enigma will seem mysterious, charming – enough that she won’t think of the final scene in Fight Club.
And she’ll take my hand, and she’ll squeeze it, and I’ll know that underneath those contact lenses, underneath her eyes, gleaming like Sprite cans, there’s fragility and hurt and longing.
“It’s beautiful”, she’ll say.

 

Tyneside Cinema

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Avatar of Amy Mackelden and Jake Campbell

Amy Mackelden and Jake Campbell

Jake Campbell is from the coastal town of South Shields. He graduated with Distinction for his Creative Writing MA at the University of Chester. In 2011 he won New Writing North’s Andrew Waterhouse Award, and in May 2012, Red Squirrel Press published his debut pamphlet of poetry, Definitions of Distance. www.jakecampbell1988.blogspot.co.uk Follow Jake on Twitter: @jakecampbell88 ; Amy Mackelden is from the Isle of Wight, and did the long distance thing with Newcastle for a long time before committing, which she finally did in 2008. She won a Northern Promise Award from New Writing North in 2011 and her daily microfiction blog, www.july2061.com, was shortlisted in the Blog North Awards 2012. Follow Amy on Twitter: @july 2061

Newcastle: My Heart In A Hashtag Part 1

October 1, 2012 in A WONDROUS SPACE, TYNE AND WEAR, Wondrous Cities

Resize Hashtag

I meet him on a _________ message board, when I have no-one to go with. I want recommends, lists, ideas of what to do alone there. And the responses are quick and his photo repeats down the page, and for every two others, Jake writes a post, to make sure he’s not missed. It’s the furthest I’ve gone to see _________, and Google’s told me some, but I want to go to places I’d regret not going, even if I’d never known about them. I’ll always wish I’d kissed Brad Pitt, despite the probability of it, despite never meeting.

I write out his suggestions in pen, thank him, but then he’s asking questions. Where am I from? What films do I watch? What year was I born? So I question him back. He doesn’t know Vanilla Sky is a remake or that Tom Cruise was married before, or before, or before that. Usually this would be my out. I’m always looking for one.

I reply anyway, because a bookshop keeps you busy but not busy enough, and the trouble with boredom is, you could fuck anyone before finding a single flaw. But perhaps this is what grown up is: finding the flaws and sinking yourself anyway. I ignore nerves, and type, “I used to watch Byker Grove, and I know that’s not only, but you’ve got to admit the iconicity of it is unforgettable.”

I stick a post-it over the laptop webcam, fold it over the lid so that Jake can’t see. Strange, to use a name, and not a pseudonym. But a face would be stranger. His picture’s a bridge, the pound coin one, and he says he’s on it if you squint. But I’m not falling for it. I say, “I’ll see you on it someday, when you take me to it.” He lols and picks a smiley face from a selection which sets off endorphins in me, and panic. Meaning he’s a kind of chronic disease brain reward.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He asks when I’m coming and I say, “I booked tickets already. Saturday. Nothing planned, ’til the evening,” and he says sure the gig, you’re coming for the gig and I say, “Yeah, just a regular groupie,” and he asks why no-one’s coming with me and I say, “My mum said don’t burn any bridge but I did. I couldn’t help myself. I like to teeter on a relationship’s edge, just when it could spin into another thing entirely.” And Jake says he gets it, but whether he does, I don’t know, because flat text has no intonation and I say, “There’d be no bridge problem in Newcastle, right? There are just so many. I couldn’t screw it up with all of them,” and he tells me which wouldn’t hold a grudge, says he doesn’t.

And between these late conversations, in which we ignore the jobs we go to when we can’t put it off longer, I go on Google Earth, see if I can spot him on Grey Street, in the precincts, at the coast. I check the beach especially because he mentions it, but the faces of those caught are blurred, dragged, or as I almost make out who it is, I realise I know no-one at that postcode, that street, that city, but Jake.

And for a while, Jake is all I know of the place. And I know he’s got an accent but my head won’t play it while I read each line. I’m not sure how to anticipate it, but I’m anticipating; the whole thing’s anticipation. The route finder makes the journey look long and the wish list of things to do while there – galleries, monuments, cinemas, metros – could be erased simply with a single suggestion. If he’s single. Or even if he isn’t.

The third night we speak, I ask if he’ll be there forever and he says he’s not sure. That somewhere’s so ingrained in you sometimes, it’s there wherever you are. I ask where else he’d be but he doesn’t know. I don’t either, because for every new place I try, I miss the first a little more. There’s always one person who, just like the information on an internet profile, the pictures, phone numbers, and updates, is kept forever even when you’ve hit the delete button. Nothing’s ever gone. Even when you think it is.

Grey’s Monument

 

Avatar of Amy Mackelden and Jake Campbell

Amy Mackelden and Jake Campbell

Jake Campbell is from the coastal town of South Shields. He graduated with Distinction for his Creative Writing MA at the University of Chester. In 2011 he won New Writing North’s Andrew Waterhouse Award, and in May 2012, Red Squirrel Press published his debut pamphlet of poetry, Definitions of Distance. www.jakecampbell1988.blogspot.co.uk Follow Jake on Twitter: @jakecampbell88 ; Amy Mackelden is from the Isle of Wight, and did the long distance thing with Newcastle for a long time before committing, which she finally did in 2008. She won a Northern Promise Award from New Writing North in 2011 and her daily microfiction blog, www.july2061.com, was shortlisted in the Blog North Awards 2012. Follow Amy on Twitter: @july 2061