Degna’s response to Jonathan Greenbank’s Collection of Things sent from Liverpool to Newcastle.
There is a larger version of the image here.
Jonathan Greenbank’s collection of things for the Wondrous Place mail art project. This card was sent from Liverpool to Degna Stone in Newcastle.
There is a larger version of the image here
This is Make Your Own Liverpool, a very short film that Sam Meech, who is working on the Wondrous Place theatre production, made with a group of migrant children who had only recently arrived in the city.
The film embodies a great, simple process of drawing out how the city looks when it’s new.
The whole of the Wondrous Place blog has been that process, of seeing places again for the first time, or seeing new layers, like Hayley Flynn’s buildings that were never built. (read more here )
The guides through that process have sometimes been people who have lived there their whole lives.
Others have been people who have moved to cities in the North and stayed, going through a process of becoming from that place. That process led to Chrissy Brand finding the Manchester Businesswoman of the Year 1773, the story of the Working Class Movement Library and the man of a thousand gigs. (read more here )
It led to Natalie Bradbury’s recipes for vegetarian Eccles cakes and urban blackberry picking. (read more here )
And Degna Stone describing passing through, falling in love, and staying. (read more here )
“It isn’t important where you come from, what matters is where we are going together”. That’s a quote from Bashir Ahmad, a Scottish National Party politician who was born in Amritsar and moved to Glasgow when he was 21.
And there is a nice phrase that people in Madrid use: “If you are in Madrid you are from Madrid.”
We could recylce that and make it our own, I’m sure Madrid won’t mind.
If you’re in the North, you are from the North.
The north of England isn’t short of fantastic 19th and early 20th century architecture.
Some of it is grand civic buildings like St Georges Hall in Liverpool.
Others are the abandoned industrial buildings which have become a sort of new natural resource in the northern landscape like water power or coal.
These old buildings can be re-purposed into loft apartments or cheap space for new kinds of business, for example Bates Mill in Huddersfield, still run by the same family who owned it as a woollen mill.
We look at the grand civic buildings and think “no one would ever knock them down.” But of course some were, for example Huddersfield’s Piece Hall. If only it had been kept, like the one in neighbouring Halifax, it might also be getting a £7 million grant.
Over the last ten or twelve years there has been a boom in new civic and commercial buildings, such as the Sage in Newcastle. These have often been built as part of a regeneration strategy, following the model of the Guggenheim in Bilbao.
The Sage is fantastic, and it will never be knocked down, but has the regeneration of northern city centres cost us some new favourite buildings that might have grown to a noble and well-loved old age?
In Sheffield, Missy Tassles wrote about the “hole in the road”, a subway below a roundabout that had a fish tank in the wall. It’s hard to think of anything more wondrous than than that.
Maybe subways could never escape from their sinister feel of 1970′s horror films, but Wondrous Place posts from Missy, Dan Feeney and Sid Fletcher, about Park Hill flats and Castle Market, gave such a strong feeling that the people who built the best things in the second half of the 20th century really did try and do justice to the history, geography and people of Sheffield.
I can’t wait to go to Sheffield again, and I’ll walk round it with different eyes. With so much care going into some new buildings of the last 50 years, would it be a shame if they weren’t around long enough to become old ones.
Photo credits: uknow-uk and Alexi Parkin on Flickr
I replace poetry with a perfect
understanding of the offside rule.
My voice becomes smoke, drifts
to the ceiling and swirls until
it sails through the door,
joins the mist that forms
on the street ‘round midnight.
Now even though I’d been caught up in the excitement of the creativity of the people I’d met in Fenham, it took a little while longer for me to find my own thing. I might have pottered along indefinitely, but luckily I met two people who helped me to reconnect with the ambitions that I had when I was much much younger. I’m very happy to introduce to you [drum roll please]…
Julia was an inspirational poet, playwright, novelist. She was also writer in residence when I first started working at Live Theatre in 2001. I loved the spirit of the plays she wrote, her poetry was elegant, vivid and real. And you’ve got to love a woman who writes a play called Doughnuts Like Fanny’s haven’t you?
When I first met her I wasn’t writing (apart from drunken scrawls in a notebook and we all know that doesn’t count) but she just had a way of unlocking creativity in people. During the occasional conversations I had with her I tentatively mentioned that I sometimes thought about trying to write creatively. Just being around her gave me the confidence to voice that secret ambition, her gentle words of encouragement settled at the back of my mind where they slowly kept repeating themselves until I started to think about starting to write. It’d take a little while longer for me to actually write anything that I wanted to show anyone, but that kept me going for a little while.
Her blog can be found on her website here where you find out much more about her.
You can also read her Manifesto for a New City, a ‘manifesto of the disgruntled of Newcastle’ written almost ten years ago and which seems surprisingly apt at a time when Newcastle is threatened with the closure of vital facilities and 100% cuts to arts budgets.
Degna Stone reading Julia Darling’s ‘Indelible, Miraculous’.
Featured image: Julia Darling.
Sheree was writer in residence at the Lit & Phil in 2007, when she organised a series of master classes with the poet Anthony Joseph, and it was there that I really started to write. Pretty badly at first and then a bit less shit as time went on. After six months it got to the point where I knew I’d be happy to read one of my poems at the launch of Sepia Souls, the anthology produced in December 2007 to celebrate the project. It could have been easy to just put the poems I’d written in a bottom drawer and forget them, but there’s something about Sheree – once she sees that you’ve got an interest in something she’ll nurture and support you until that interest becomes a passion.
Now, I had hoped to get some time with Sheree to chat about her relationship with the North East but between the snow and the fact that she is one busy poet I just didn’t get a chance to do that. Luckily someone else had already managed to catch up with her, so if you follow this link you can read Nicola Moore’s interview with Sheree.
Sheree Mack was born in Bradford to a Trinidadian father and a Geordie mother of Bajan and Ghanaian heritage. She has lived in Newcastle from the age of ten. Married with two children, she works as a freelance writer and lecturer for the Open University and has recently completed her PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. Family Album is her first full collection.
_ _ _ _
That’s it from me then. I’d just like to thank Chris for asking me to take part in this blog – I’m an erratic blogger at the best of times so it’s been nice to have this focus to get me going. Thanks to all the guest curators who’ve made ‘A Wondrous Place’ such a fascinating read. Also, thanks to everyone mentioned in this blog for making the North East such a brilliant place to live, especially Kate Hodgkinson who let me sit in her gorgeous studio drinking tea and eating Tunnock’s teacakes.
I met Kathryn Hodkinson when I first moved to Newcastle. She’s not from round here either, so when I was asked to curate this week on ‘A Wondrous Place’ I knew I wanted to chat to her about what made her stay.
Kathryn Hodgkinson: Newcastle has a particular relationship with the graduates that come up here to study and don’t leave again. There are strong courses, but as far as I can observe, people who’ve studied English and science and straight degrees, they do their degree and then go back to where they came from, or they’ll go and work in what’s perceived to be a more prosperous city. But up here people stay. And people stay when they don’t mean to stay like you did.
Degna Stone: I studied in Bristol and I felt completely disconnected from the art scene – I was vaguely aware of what was going on but I wasn’t really a part of it, it seemed more pushy and I had (and still do have) a massive inferiority complex and it seemed hard to make your way into it.
KH: There’s the whole street art movement kicked off by Banksy. It’s being part of a group, so it feels more like there’s a persona that goes with being that particular type of creative person. Whereas I genuinely think up here there’s more room for complete individuals and people that don’t fit into a gang. If you get off the train it’s not full of swanky, cool people. It’s not…Shoreditch is an extreme example, but Bristol’s got a bit of that going on. There’s a way to fit in and a way not to fit in. I think in Newcastle it’s okay not to fit in, it’s easier somehow to forge your way as a complete individual. There is quite an established network, because it’s so small it’s easy to get around and to have a relative overview. There’s a lot more people doing things in little pockets and maybe that is about affording that kind of individuality and not having to be cool and being able to concentrate on what you actually do rather than how you look. I’m quite interested in the extent of people that do stay up here. There are little things popping up all the time like Heart Attack and Vine.
My involvement with Cobalt happened because the price of property is cheaper up here, or it was. It’s probably changed a bit now. There was certainly a time when it was cheaper than anywhere else, even big northern cities, way cheaper, and it’s meant that we do have a lot of studio groups that again give people opportunities. Brickworks, Mushroom Works, Lime Street, there’s Cobalt and then there’s a whole load of students from Northumbria who stayed and have taken over a massive office building.
DS: When did you decide you were staying?
KH: My external moderator from my degree had suggested that I applied to The Royal College of Art. I think she was called Elizabeth Swinburne and she called me to one side and said you should apply for the RCA, you’ll do well there, it will stretch you and you’ve got a good degree and we’d be happy to see an application from you. The RCA is the absolute pinnacle of an art career in this country and a bit of me was absolutely fascinated by this idea she’d put in my head and also really drawn to it and really flattered that she thought I could apply for it. But then I had this other side that was really aware that if I went to London I’d have no quality of life and that my need to earn money to put myself through that course would really inhibit my creativity. I’d worked at World Headquarters the whole way through my course up here, I hadn’t had any extra help and the grant wasn’t enough to live off so I’d worked really hard. I just had this sense that if I went to London I’d be really deeply stuck in a rat race.
I was living with a friend of mine called Laura Mundy, who’s brilliant, she’s moved to Leeds since, but she was really exciting to live with. She had a studio at Fusion and so I was meeting lots of creative people through her, I suppose, and she was really just excited about life and creativity. And I was excited about the opportunities in reach up here because you could live off so little and be able to do your thing. I was really, really excited about staying actually and I did very consciously think about this London/Newcastle opportunity.
DS: That’s what it seemed like to me when I arrived, there were a lot of artists and musicians staying around, just being really creative..
KH: Kathryn Williams was really good friends with Laura and her career was just taking off. She was doing gigs at the North Terrace and we’d go and see her, and Cath Campbell was playing cello. In those very first eighteen months it was really exciting hearing them: Laura Mundy would play the flute, Kath would sing and play guitar and Cath Campbell would play cello and they were all artists. I’d quite often find myself at people’s houses where there was some jamming session going on, beautiful music being made and people talking about what they were doing. There were jobs that would give you just enough money to get by. You didn’t need so much money because rent was so cheap. Then I saw a house on Gainsborough Grove that was 32 grand and I thought if I bought that my mortgage would be cheaper than my rent and I’d have a house… so I suppose that’s when my roots really went down.
DS: I remember that, one of the first exhibitions I went to in Newcastle was at Holy Jesus Memorial Hospital when it was still derelict. It was really exciting that these people who I guess were my peers were just doing it and not waiting for things to happen for them.
KH: It’s funny you forget… thinking about it now I do recall this massive wave of excitement, a real ‘can do’. We can stay, we can set up galleries. Everybody was involved with VANE (Visual Arts North East) and that was a big deal. It’s great looking back on it; maybe you take it for granted or just stop thinking about it. Jo Coupe was doing amazing installations at the top of New Cross House, Tanya [Axford] was doing her green carpet, Paul and Miles were setting up Workplace, we were setting up Cobalt, Newcastle was going for Capital of Culture. And then the Baltic opened. I remember a fortnight just after it opened I was watching the bridge open and thinking something’s happened here. It felt like an international city. I do say to people, I live in this city where I can be on the beach in 20 minutes, I can be on Hadrian’s Wall in 15 minutes, my children can whoop in the hills as much as they want, we know a bunch of country folk living in yurts and living in cottages up in proper remote countryside and then we’ve got a world class, free, art gallery, and museums – The Discovery and The Hancock and The Sage. To have all those facilities in such a small city and to be able to access them all. People who don’t come up here don’t realise that. The one thing I do think is that our council don’t recognise what we’ve got at all.
DS: If we have this 100% cut to the arts which says “D’you know what, it’s nice, but we don’t really need it”, how are you going to keep the people from leaving now?
KH: My work is all in regeneration. I deliberately stopped working in gallery spaces, and my own creative practice is about public places. I have a really profound belief that the public places we create have a real deep impact on the whole community, and the reason public art interests me is because it is for everyone. It’s accessible because people just come across it. It’s absolutely vital that we have vibrant creative things happening right across cities – that includes all of the libraries and the art services. If you take that away you’re left with an empty shell. And in this city in particular, what they can’t see, that’s under their fucking noses, is a massive group of people that have committed to it and that are creative and that are fighting to give this city a touch of what Berlin’s got, a touch of what Bristol’s got and what London’s got. There’s an integrity to these people because it’s not a transient population, they stay here, they believe in this city. Around 2000, with the whole Capital of Culture and the NGI, there was a climate of recognition and that’s how Cobalt happened. There are masses of papers written about how artists regenerate areas. There’s lots of evidence of what the arts do for regeneration and for economies and they just don’t seem able to maximise on that. There’s something really special here.
Featured Image: Kathryn Hodkinson’s studio.
The first thing she does is rush to the sea,
fully clothed she runs too fast to be caught —
wet sand flashes like lights beneath her feet.
(Don’t let the title of this post fool you. I just wanted to shoehorn The Animals into this somehow.)
It was a good summer, not like the ones we’ve had for the past couple of years, the weather was kind. Sitting out on the roof at Graingerville while the traffic on the West Road oozed past, heading down to Jesmond Dene for a barbecue, listening to the peacocks in Pets’ Corner screeching and showing off, getting on the metro and slinking off to the coast on a whim. On a whim. I could be at the coast, the proper seaside, in 20 minutes.
That’s the unique thing about Newcastle, just how easy it is to get away. That might sound like a massively back-handed compliment, but no matter how much you love a place if you can’t escape it when you want to it’s going to drive you mental. You’ll drink more, or eat too much, or spend your spare time vegging in front of the TV. If the city boundaries start to feel like the walls of a very small, windowless room then the air is going to start to feel stale.
That first summer we drove out to Bamburgh and spent the night on the beach. I don’t know if we were allowed to be there but we stayed. It’s about 50 miles north of Newcastle on a coastline that them living in the North East have been trying to keep secret. Crafty buggers. White sands and blue skies and stretches of beach with hardly anyone on them. Towards the end of the summer the room I’d be living in rent free would soon need a paying tenant. After that visit to Bamburgh, stopping off at Seahouses on the way home the next day for fish and chips, I knew I wanted to stay.
This place was just what I needed. It was easier to settle in. There was no hassle. I’d spent my final year at uni in Bristol in a haze of Jack Daniels and fluoxetine. Arriving in a northern town with almost no friends to find a welcoming group of people who have their eye on something other than pay cheques, something other than just working for the weekends was just the thing.
And then there’s the nightlife. Not the stuff of stag and hen legend but the places away from the Quayside and the Bigg Market. We headed for the pubs that had good beer, amazing music and relaxed atmospheres. The Tanners, The Telegraph, The Tyne, The Trent House… mmm, didn’t realise there was an alliterative thing going on there… sorry about that…The Cumberland, The Bridge, The Forth, The Free Trade (which has the best view of the Tyne and it’s bridges ever) and The Head of Steam. We often topped the night off at the old World Headquarters – there was nowhere quite like it. The downstairs room was papered with a massive scene of Mohammed Ali visiting South Shields and on a good night (and every night there was a good night) you could barely move. Upstairs you never left the dancefloor – the thing that made this place special was that the music was everything. Get that right and the chilled out vibe was a natural side effect. My favourite memory – dancing to Talking Heads as the room was warming up doing my best David Byrne moves to ‘Once in a Lifetime’…
That was then of course. Now? Well, I fell in love and had kids. That’s the usual pattern isn’t it? And for me, this was the right place to do that. This place, this bit of the North has everything.
So these are the places I’m most likely to go now that my time’s not quite my own and I can’t spend days & nights just going from one place to the next. One pub to the next. One shop to the next. One museum to the next…well, maybe I can still do that last one with kids in tow.
So this is a super quick whirlwind tour of the places to go when you’ve done your bit for the propagation of the human race (or you’re babysitting for some other poor sap whose life is no longer their own)…
The Laing Art Gallery and the Baltic both have interactive areas where the kids can pretty much run wild whilst still somehow absorbing the art by osmosis. The Discovery Museum which is probably due an overhaul has got the quirkiest exhibitions (the story of Newcastle is a treat), lots of sciencey contraptions that you can mess on with and a geet big boat, The Turbinia, in the main hall. The Great North Museum is another favourite of ours. It has dinosaurs and mummies. What more could you want?
The Ouseburn is really great for kids. There’s a city farm there and you can take your kids into most of the pubs, Gavin Marshall (one of the first people I met in Newcastle) has just opened a new place, Ernest. He’s shifted his focus from making beautiful glass to creating a family friendly restaurant with good food, good atmosphere and good music.
It’s independent, it’s different and it’s just round the corner from Seven Stories, although I think it’s called the ‘National Centre for the Children’s Books’ now. It’s a magical place for kids and adults. Especially if you’re interested in the process behind writing for children. Lots of the exhibitions have correspondence from editors and publishers to their authors, sketch books, works in progress and early versions of the completed art work that ends up in finished books. You could lose yourself in the place while the kids explore the exhibitions playing dress up and weaving in and out of the displays.
I arrived (with less flourish)
just after the Angel came.
My first view of Newcastle,
the West Road at night —
the neon-lit tracks of a rollercoaster.
Given what’s going on in Newcastle at the moment, I will have to talk about the impact of the proposed cuts to arts funding and libraries at some point during my week’s curation of ‘A Wondrous Place’. But first off I’m going to let you know what’s kept me this far north for so long.
When I came to Newcastle in 1999 I knew one person. But that was okay because I wasn’t moving to Newcastle I was just visiting. For the summer. Then I’d be heading somewhere else. Nothing concrete, but I was sure the North East was just a stopover rather than a destination. I just needed some time away after a fairly disastrous third year at uni and Newcastle seemed far enough away to do that. It was definitely just temporary.
So it’s a bit of a surprise to find that it’s almost fourteen years since I found myself being driven along the West Road just as dusk darkened into night toward my new temporary home. A big old house sandwiched between a dentist’s and a youth hostel on Graingerville North. Apparently Mark Knopfler from Dire Straits used to live in that house back whenever it was likely that Mark Knopfler would’ve been skint enough to live in a run-down shared house in Arthur’s Hill.
I didn’t stay Billy-Nearly-No-Mates for long. Within minutes of arriving I’d doubled my Newcastle mates and after a cup of tea we headed out to meet some more. I was lucky. The one person I did know knew a lot of people. All still in their mid-twenties (or thereabouts) so the groups that had formed during uni hadn’t quite dissipated into nine-to-fives & parenthood. I just stumbled into a new ready-made group of friends that included musicians, artists, designers and makers.
Creative people were at the heart of my first interactions in Newcastle, the cultural revolution that had begun in the nineties meant that there were opportunities that kept them in the area rather than seeing them all head south. They set up their own studios and became part of the visual arts landscape and the music scene. So during this week I’ll introduce you to a couple of the people that influenced my decision to stay and let you know about some of the places that make this region such a brilliant place to be.
And to get things started I’ll answer last week’s guest curator Chrissy Brand’s question:
“If you were to host a festival to showcase north-eastern culture to the world, who and what would be on the bill?”
Well to be honest I’m going to cheat a little on this one… I would probably get the brilliant Melanie Rashbrooke and John Challis at Trashed Organ to organise it for me. They put on arguably the most exciting and oh so very entertaining nights in Newcastle and they know just about every talented musician and spoken word artist in town and beyond.
When these guys started producing music and spoken word nights in 2010 it really shifted expectations. The nights are raucous, playful and eclectic. They’re very, very good. If you’re in town and Trashed Organ is on and you don’t go along – you’re a muppet.
So back to the festival… We’d have music, theatre and spoken word popping up around the city, but centring on the bourgeoning Ouseburn.
Obviously it’d be brilliant to have Maximo Park, Everything Everything and The Futureheads. If we could tempt the phenomenal Peter and David Brewis to cut short their break from Field Music activity I’d be immensely happy. Other must haves: The Baghdaddies, Matt Stalker and the Fables, Bridie Jackson and the Arbour, Kathryn Williams, Gem Andrews, The Unthanks, The Lake Poets and The Cornshed Sisters.
Newcastle is rife with fantastic poets and performers and if I tried to list them all I’d end up missing somebody off so I’ll leave that entirely in the capable hands of the Organ Grinders.
It’d be lovely to have a bit of theatre too so I’d ask Kate Craddock at GIFT to curate a programme of theatre – hopefully she’d invite Unfolding Theatre, Tender Buttons and Zendeh to produce well, whatever they wanted really as they’re all really exciting, innovative theatre companies.
So there you go. I hope you’d come along.
Eddie and Ruth Frow were a married couple from modest backgrounds. They shared a life-long passion in documenting the true unsung heroes and heroines (i.e. the workforce) of the industrial changes in the north of England. This has led to a quite remarkable institution – the Working Class Movement Library.
I met with library manager Lynette Cawthra in a room steeped in the history of true local heroes and heroines – the workers whose labours put the epithet of ‘Great’ into Britain. Over a cup of coffee I soaked up the history: a claret and blue banner of the West Ham electricity power suppliers union to one side, a banner of Lenin to the other, and the collection of Clarion chairs. These were from the Clarion Cafe on Manchester’s Market Street – The Clarion was a thriving socialist movement which had clubs, meeting rooms and a newspaper which started in 1891.
Eddie and Ruth got together in the early 1950s, having both been involved in workers’ struggles in their early years. Eddie took part in the Battle of Bexley Square in 1931. This was outside the old Salford Town Hall, when a peaceful demonstration of workers, enraged by government cuts, were set upon by the police and a battle followed which saw Eddie amongst others imprisoned.
With a shared interest, Eddie and Ruth’s joint collection of political and historical books and pamphlets started small, filling a single bookcase. Their insatiable appetite for both the rare and the more mundane manuscripts soon become apparent though. They would travel the country scouring bookshops in far flung towns, spending happy evenings perusing their purchases and sleeping in their van. The books often became an impromptu mattress. As time went on they moved to a more comfortable and practical solution of a caravan, towed by a Czechoslovakian car – a Skoda.
As married life moved on, their collection in Kings Road in Trafford grew and grew. Their archive of working class history became well known to historians and researchers, students and politicians. Banners and photos, prints and journals took up so much space that in 1987, with council funding and other donations, the collection moved to Jubilee house in Salford.
Thousands of visitors cross its threshold. Researchers, actors, artists, students and even politicians have used it as an important resource to further their understanding of how working class culture shaped Britain today. One week’s visitors included a professor who had come from Japan to research silk weavers’ unions, and a wrestler who needed help with his first writing project, the story of his mother’s growing up in Ancoats. On a visit in 2009, veteran MP Tony Benn called it “one of the greatest educational institutions in Britain”.
Lynette Cawthra says: “Our founders started the Library in their own home, driven by the belief that working people should remember and value their own history. Together they rescued countless items which would have otherwise been lost to the future. In these turbulent times, that history has never been more relevant – and the survival of the Library will depend on the generosity of our supporters”.
The collection dates back to 1760 and has 130,000 items, including volumes of the Plebs Journal and board games such as Class Struggle (I had this game myself in the 1980s). A reading and research room, exhibitions, a room full of commemorative crockery and pottery and a shop full of wonderful books and information published by the North West Labour History Group and the Working Class Movement Library, make it a place of wonder and learning. I could literally feel the history, which led to many hours where I quietly reflected on all the hardships of those Salfordian and Mancunian workers.
And with that paean to us ordinary and honest hard working folk of the north, my week’s curation has come to an end.
It’s been terrific fun researching and writing for you and I hope you have enjoyed the trips in my time machine – next time around maybe my time machine will be powered by graphene (useful for fast electronic devices). Two Manchester scientists won the 2010 Nobel Prize for Physics for their pioneering work on graphene, which is being pioneered in Manchester as I write.
It’s time for me to hand the creative baton onto Degna Stone in the north-east. My question to her is, “If you were to host a festival to showcase north-eastern culture to the world, who and what would be on the bill?”
Today we climb to the top of probably the most iconic of Manchester’s buildings.
The neo-gothic masterpiece that is the jewel in the crown of Manchester’s 19th century architecture is topped off by the clock tower. Building of the Town Hall was started in 1868 and almost 20 years and £1 million later it was finished. Alfred Waterhouse’s design was the most practical, if not the most popular, of over 130 designs that entered to win the right to build.
Ever since, it has been the heart of Manchester’s civic pride, a logical end point for demonstrations and rallies. Festivals and markets, sport and music are all held here. In fact, it seems that there is rarely not a cultural event either in place or being set up. Tourists pose outside for photos looking up at the 286 feet (87m) high clock tower.
Once inside, there are amazing mosaics which include the Manchester Bee – the city’s symbol for its industrious work – and statues aplenty, including Roman Governor, Agricola, who founded the original fort of Mamuciam. But it is the clock tower and the bell of Great Abel that I am focussing on here. I went up the clock tower recently, which is only open at certain times of the year, so it was a privilege and one I recommend to all Mancunians and others who are able to climb the claustrophobic spiral staircase.
The bell tower has 23 bells, with the clock bell named Great Abel after Abel Heywood. It first rang in New Year’s Day of 1879 but cracked and had to be replaced. It is inscribed with Heywood’s initials and the Alfred Tennyson line Ring out the false, ring in the true.
Heywood from was from a poor background but rose to great heights. He ran a bookselling business on Oldham Street for many years and was imprisoned in 1832 for four months for refusing to pay a £48 fine stamp duty which would have suppressed mass publishing. He later went onto become Mayor of Manchester twice. His interest in publishing for the masses continued throughout his life. Seeing as there were no affordable travel guides for workers to take advantage of the expanding rail networks, he began to publish a series of Penny Guides, short travel guides that covered such places as Buxton, Bath and the Isle of Wight.
It was decided to recast the bells (apart from Great Abel) in 1937 to commemorate a new King, which proved to be a costly error. The bells were engraved with the title of ‘King Edward VIII’, but Edward then decided to abdicate, so they had to be re-engraved for the King who replaced him, known as George VI (not that many people would ever have seen the engraving).
The clock face bears the inscription Teach us to number our Days and once you reach the summit and wander around outside you can almost reach out and touch the city’s four guardian angels with hearts of stone. It is quite a moving moment.
The views on each floor of the tower’s innards are fascinating – the mechanism room and the dial room are steps back in time and ascending the many stairs is not for the faint hearted. Glimpses of the triangular town hall’s design can be seen at certain points, and an ever distant Manchester looms below. On a clear day you can see out to the wonderful countryside surrounding the city, on a gloomy day there is a sense of history and industrial heritage in the air. You can imagine the atmosphere chock a block with soot and pollution in its heyday when the local mills and factories belched out fumes and destroyed the lives of the workforce within, whilst city elders basked in comfort in their palatial and modern Town Hall.
To this day the town hall clock issues forth its evocative chimes on the quarter hour, resounding across the city, although chimes are switched off at 9 p.m. for the night as they disturb residents and hotel visitors within earshot…What would Mr Abel say?
Today we look at a Manchester movement which has a global reach: vegetarianism.
The Vegetarian Society spreads the message of a healthy and cruelty-free lifestyle across the UK and beyond, from its base in Altrincham, just south of Manchester. While avoiding a meat-based diet had been a choice by many for centuries, it was the early 19th century when the genesis of an organised vegetarian movement came together in the UK.
It was at the Christchurch Chapel in Salford’s King Street, just across the River Irwell, which divides the two cities of Salford and Manchester, that Reverend William Cowherd declared in 1807 (nine years before his death) that the congregation should not eat meat. His theory was that eating meat was sinful. At the time, due to economic oppression, the poorest ate cheap cuts of meat that would have done them little good and Cowherd set up free medical services, a library and a soup kitchen to sustain his followers. Being a man of some wealth he was able to fund the building of his Swedenborgian church as well as provide the people of Salford with a printing press and a school.
As more people questioned the morality of killing animals for food, the Cowherdites (as Cowherd’s followers were known) went from strength to strength and Joseph and Mary Brotherton continued the debate which eventually led to the formation of the Vegetarian Society in 1847.
Mary published the first vegetarian cookery book in 1809 and in 19th century Manchester, as today, there were thriving vegetarian restaurants throughout the city and the rest of the country. In the early 20th century, on the site which later became Lewis’s Department Store, there was a large vegetarian restaurant aimed at providing the workers cheap and healthy food.
The Vegetarian Society is the oldest of its kind in the world and promotes the cause through information packs, talks, cookery demonstrations and other events. Its HQ also houses the Cordon Vert cookery school where professional chefs and ordinary people are taught to cook extraordinary vegetarian food, as well as training hospital caterers and others how to provide nutritious meals without meat.
They run National Vegetarian Week each year (Monday 20 May – Sunday 26 May 2013) to raise the profile of vegetarian issues, alongside campaigns like Butcher’s Cat and Silent but Deadly. As a vegetarian of 30+ years I can vouch for the benefits of avoiding meat, both on moral and health grounds.
Everyone has their own reasons for becoming veggie and today’s movement is a far cry for that envisaged by the Manchester and Salford chapels of 200 years ago. But I imagine the Cowherders would be impressed and would agree with the reasoning.
Vegetarianism is better for animals. Around two million land animals are slaughtered every day in the UK alone, just so that people can eat their flesh. It’s also more sustainable. Growing grains and pulses to feed to animals is much less efficient than eating them ourselves. The livestock industry uses huge amounts of land, water and fossil fuels, while producing 18% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and other pollution.
Manchester has long epitomised the wonderful variety of vegetarian spirit and culinary: the mouth-watering delights of the two stylish restaurants named 1847 (in the city centre and in Chorlton cum Hardy); On the Eighth Day serving wholesome food and quality products in its café and shop on Oxford Road in Manchester since 1970; Earth Café next to the Buddhist Centre in the Northern Quarter – a lunchtime stop to brighten any day, as is the bohemian Oklahoma opposite it; the elegance of Greens in Didsbury for over 20 years; plus the two Greenhouses – one in Rusholme that opened in 1983 and sadly closed in 2012 when owner Robin retired, and the other, separate Greenhouse on Oxford Road in Altrincham which again is a great lunchtime stop.
Going to gigs invariably starts in your teenage years but it doesn’t have to stop when you hit 30 years old. Unsurprisingly a city of Manchester’s size (and popular musical pedigree) has a choice of gigs pretty much every night of the year.
Someone who has seen many a band, and many a venue, rise, fall, reform and break up is Dave Eckersley from Springhead (see image above). An avid gig-goer since the 1960s, Dave can regale you with musical tales all evening long.
He was there for a famous occasion in 1964 when the blues and gospel train came to south Manchester. Wilbraham Road station was renamed Chorltonville – (itself actually a lovely area of Chorlton) whose name was thought to lend itself to the feel of the southern States of the USA. Muddy Waters, Cousin Joe Pleasants and others performed on the platform and with the audience grouped on the other, a storm rolled in and a legendary musical Manchester moment unfolded. Granada TV’s Travelling Eye filmed it for posterity.
Dave was also a regular at other Manchester 1960s hangouts. The famous Twisted Wheel club and coffee house opened on Brazennose Street in 1963 and was where many a blues act performed, including a young Georgie Fame. Other musical Mancunians to grace the venue included John Mayall, Elkie Brooks, Spencer Davis Group, Alexis Horner, Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, The Dakotas and Freddie and the Dreamers. The Twisted Wheel moved to 6 Whitworth Street three years later until it closed in 1971. The building at 6 Whitworth Street is disgracefully due to be demolished in 2013 (to make way for yet another hotel).
The Twisted Wheel northern soul concept will not die, however, and has been holding regular nights since a revival in 1999. In 2013 Twisted Wheel has regular nights in Manchester at NQ Live on Tib Street and a radio show on North Manchester FM 106.6 on Thursday evenings.
The Oasis Club was another 1960s Northern Beat coffee and dance club (nothing to do with a certain Manchester band who named themselves after a cafe at Manchester City’s Maine Road stadium). Oasis evolved into Rubens club in 1972 on Lloyd Street (one of the owners went on to run Slack Alice’s with George Best). The clubs may be long gone but the favoured pubs to meet in remain nearby – The Old Nags Head and The Rising Sun.
Dave recalls that the bands wouldn’t come on stage until 11 p.m. or midnight and after the gigs, “…We would sleep in Piccadilly Gardens – it was all grassed over then – waiting for the buses to start running again in the morning. When you woke up there’d be hundreds of people there having all crashed out.”
There’s probably not a music venue in the region that Dave hasn’t frequented at some point or other. From seeing Family play at a club in Oldham in the late 1960s through to the obvious venues of today such as Old Trafford, The Ritz, Apollo and the MEN Arena. He remembers the Electric Light Orchestra descending on stage in a giant space ship in the 1970s, bands at the Free Trade Hall, Queen Elizabeth Hall in Oldham and Bury Met to name but a few.
If I had a time machine I would have liked to have joined Dave at a 1967 gig at the Palace Theatre, where Jimi Hendrix headlined, Pink Floyd played “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun” and other acts the bill included The Move, Amen Corner, The Nice, Outer Limits and Eire Apparent. In 2010 Classic Rock magazine described it as the best bill ever.
I’d also like to know if the rumoured Pink Floyd free gig at dawn on Granby Row in the late 1960s did ever take place? Or maybe it’s best left as a mystery in Manchester music mythology.
Even in his autumn years, Dave’s still a regular gig-goer, be it to see the likes of Mostly Autumn at the Academy, the Enid at Band On the Wall, or up and coming acts at his local pub in Lees. He’s truly a north-west man of a thousand gigs.
The time machine has brought us here to look at a woman whose business acumen would have stood her in good stead in the 21st century, let alone the 18th. Were she alive today she would surely win a Mancunian businesswoman of the year award for her many successful entrepreneurial and community based ventures (and adventures).
Elizabeth Raffald was born Elizabeth Whitaker in 1733 (and died in 1781) but crammed much into her six decades of life which was spent mostly in the north-west.
Elizabeth is famed for her cookbook entitled The Experienced English Housekeeper: For the Use and Ease of Ladies, Housekeepers, Cooks & Co which was published in 1769, but this was just one of her enterprises.The cookery book was based partially upon her experiences as housekeeper at glorious Arley Hall near Northwich in Cheshire. Arley Hall was the stately home of the privileged Warburton family – Peter and Elizabeth.
Elizabeth married the head gardener at Arley Hall, and took his surname. Aged 30, Elizabeth and husband John moved into Manchester where she became a successful businesswoman, running a delicatessen shop in Fennell Street, while John became a florist selling seeds and flowers at a market stall. They also ran the nearby Bull’s Head pub during 1769 while John’s family later ran a Stockport pub on Millgate. (This was the Arden Arms which was built in 1815 on the site of a market garden run by John and Elizabeth and remains to this day).
In 1770 Elizabeth moved across the River Irwell to become landlady at the King’s Head Inn in Chapel Street, Salford. She established a post office in the King’s Head, and rented stage coaches which operated between Manchester and London. By 1771 she was part of a team who founded the first newspaper in Salford (titled ‘Prescott’s Journal’) and later became a joint owner of the Harrop’s Mercury newspaper.
In her final years John had become Master of the Manchester Coffee Exchange House and Elizabeth provided the catering. Anyone assuming that the coffee house explosion in the city is a 21st Century phenomenon should think again,
The Raffald couple somehow found time to have nine daughters (or possibly 16 children – the truth is patchy). Elizabeth also wrote a book on midwifery and opened the first registry office in Manchester, which allowed servants to get married. She even ran an employment agency for servants and could speak French.
As for her recipes, she was the first to document how to make icing and, all told, her ground -breaking book consisted of 900 recipes all based on her own trial and error. Having read some of the book there are some horrific recipes, and far too many are meat-based, including those which involve the cooking of turtles and hares.
But we shall look at a reaction to carnivorous diets in a Manchester Movement later this week. She is even credited with inventing the forerunner to the Eccles cake with her recipe for ‘sweet patties’ containing the ingredients which are used in the famous Eccles cakes. (See also Natalie Bradbury‘s posts on Manchester food).
The Old Foodie website is among many to quote Elizabeth Raffald recipes, and this one for Snowballs looks worth a try: “Pare five large baking apples, take out the cores with a scoop, fill the holes with orange or quince marmalade. Then make a little good hot paste and roll your apples in it, and make your crust of an equal thickness and put them in a dripping pan. Bake them in a moderate oven. When you take them out make icing for them the same way as for the plum cake, and ice them all over with it about a quarter of an inch thick. Set them a good distance from the fire till they are hardened, but take care you don’t let them brown. Put one in the middle of a china dish and the other four round it. Garnish them with green sprigs and small flowers.”
Her grave is in Stockport Parish Church and a blue plaque is dedicated to her in Exchange Square Manchester. It reads: ‘Cookery book author and publisher of the first Manchester trade directory. Established a cookery school, shop and domestic agency near this site.’
An inspirational Mancunian.
Every city, be it north, south, east or west, is surely made up of the sum of its parts plus an added ingredient that’s made from aspiration, inspiration and perspiration. Architecture, culture, infrastructure all play their part in a city’s stature, but it is the spirit of the people who live there that can make a city great or fearsome, lively or desolate. Some people lead, others inspire, many are exploited and some watch from the sidelines.
So what is it that makes Manchester Manchester? Certainly its industrial heritage shaped the city’s politics and attitude. Factory owners and other privileged Victorian gentlemen may have headed the world’s first industrial city which came to be known as Cottonopolis – but it was built on the back of the workers. Through exploitation rose resistance and protest movements which took on their own momentum.
In my week’s curation of ‘A Wondrous Place’ I’m hoping to bottle some of that Mancunian spirit and present it under the banner of Manchester Movements and Manchester Moments. Join me as we journey from a Georgian businesswoman to a veteran gig goer, via a city landmark and two global institutions that came to fruition from the people and are for the people.
I must also credit and give equal billing to Manchester’s oft-overlooked neighbour – the city of Salford, ever a short stroll away over the River Irwell. At least three of my posts have strong Salfordian connections. The two cities have such an overlapping history, geography and culture and yet proudly remain distinct entities. I’ll not be the first (nor last) blogger to struggle for a satisfying solution to the two cities scenario.
There are many moving and notable examples that I could have chosen but have omitted, e.g. The Peterloo Massacre (which led to the formation of The Guardian newspaper) and the Suffragette Movement. Indeed, Manchester should surely also be known as Suffragette City, alongside its other epithets of Mamucium, Mancunia, Mamecestre, Warehouse City, Cottonopolis, Madchester and Rainy City.
So do join me tomorrow for the first trip in the time machine I have especially rented for the week – don’t be late!
But before we set off I need to answer a question from last week’s excellent curator Sid Fletcher, who asks:
“Chrissy, you’ve experienced living both in London and now Manchester… What sells Manchester to you over the capital?” I love both cities for different reasons – London for its quantity of landmarks and galleries. Manchester has its own galleries and landmarks too, admittedly fewer. But the smaller size of Manchester means that it is more manageable, quicker to travel around and also cheaper to live in than the capital. I find there are more opportunities here, you can be a bigger fish in a smaller pond. The city is small enough for you to be a part of it, to live, work and socialise and become a local in communities and areas, such as the Northern Quarter, Chinatown, etc. Unlike London, Manchester is surrounded by such diverse, dramatic and accessible countryside too – to get away from it all when you need to – the Cheshire Ring Canals, Peak District, Lake District and north Wales.
My final post as guest curator. As previously alluded to earlier this week, I’ll be making reference in this post to Park Hill and high rise living. Anybody familiar with me will know I’m a bit fanatical and passionate about this sort of stuff and Park Hill does feature quite heavily in my work (like the image above!).
Possibly Sheffield’s most famous building – certainly the one that causes the most controversy and arguments in pubs! I’ll try and condense what its all about, alongside my own thoughts and feelings about the old girl. I’m aware I can go on about this if left to ramble!
An enormous complex of just under 1000 flats, spread over a relatively small area of hillside behind Sheffield’s Midland Station, Park Hill was designed by radical young architects Jack Smith and Ivor Lynn in the post war years to provide high density social housing close to the city centre. Completely innovative for its time in its concept of ‘deck access’.
At that time other towerblock schemes had been built, but it was becoming increasingly recognised that these were quite isolating places to live in, with little interaction with neighbours, other community members etc. Taking inspiration from Alison and Peter Smithson’s Golden Lane estate in London, Smith and Lynn designed what was to become a much discussed and loved example of Brutalist Architecture. Among planners and fans of modern architecture, Park Hill is an icon of post war optimism, socialist chic and cool. Its historic importance is reflected in the fact that it gained listed building status of 2 in 1998.
Constructed between 1957 and 1961, Park Hill was built using a concrete frame with the walls made of bricks. The bricks were one of the great assets to the structure – they make the building of much higher quality than many of the substandard tower blocks from the same era, which were constructed using just large concrete blocks bolted together. These suffered from damp and poor insulation.
The brickwork of the original frame (red, yellow, cream and brown) also provided a splash of colour and identity to the estate. The names of four slum-cleared terraced streets that were lost to provide the land on which to build the flats are remembered in the names of each deck. The decks (or streets) provide access into properties at every third level, entering either at deck level, straight upstairs or straight downstairs .This is known as scissor and in its time was incredibly forward thinking.
The change in coloured bricks every third level reinforces the different identity of each street, which is given its own corresponding colour.
This original design feature – clearly marking different streets at every third level – has been replicated by Urban splash in their renovation.You can clearly see a change of colour every three levels:
The four separate curving blocks ( N-north, S-south, E-east and W-west ) are connected by bridges at three points in the estate, to continue each “street” into the adjacent block: Norwich Row(the highest); Long Henry Row; Hague Row; and Gilbert Row (the lowest). Below Gilbert Row, at ground level, a row of shop units make a further row: ‘The Pavement’.The top two ‘streets’, Long Henry Row and Norwich Row, cover the whole of the complex, Hague Row covers two thirds and Gilbert Row appears only in the bottom of the northerly tallest block. Further to that, the Northern block, at 14 stories, is so high that the bottom story forms an additional street - ‘The Pavement’. Essentially, you could start at flat number 1 of your ‘street’ and walk to the furthest point on your ‘street’ via the interconnecting bridges between the four main blocks, passing every property on your level – hence the term ‘streets in the sky’.
The roof height of the whole structure is maintained at the same height (above sea level) but the amount of floors decreases as it goes further up the hill. Famously, the landings were wide enough for a milk float to drive along each ‘street’ leaving fresh produce at each resident’s door (see below). As the flats get less tall further up the hill, each ‘street’ meets the ground, and the milk float was able to exit the complex via an exit ramp.With the exception of Norwich Row, being able to enter the vast majority of Park Hill from street level made the estate a radically accessible building for mothers with prams and wheelchair users. This design was forward thinking, modern and quite futuristic.
The flats contained four integral pubs, a parade of shops and two schools. It was truly designed as a complete community. I’ve always been a bit geeky and Park Hill still fulfills my childhood science fiction dreams of cities in the sky, clean brutal lines, raised walkways, utopian socialism for all etc. Even the Daleks could access Park Hill if need be!
I was born into an age when these planning ideas were still seen as exciting, radical and the way forward. Admittedly things did start to go a bit wrong for tower blocks in the 70s and 80s. They were an easy scapegoat and a convenient peg to hang all the country’s troubles on. Consequently, as I grew older, the inner-city and its tower blocks became the classic post-apocalyptic punk backdrop. Either way…sci fi-utopia or punk rock dystopia…it was good enough for me!
The listing of Park Hill is often a matter of incredulity for its quite vociferous critics, who see the estate as an eyesore and a huge representation of society’s many failings. With vocal nay-sayers demanding its immediate demolition, and many others, like my good self, wanting the building to be restored and continued for use as accessible urban housing. Park Hill divides opinion.
My argument to such miserable drizzlers and their catastrophising one liners is that they have an extremely discriminatory and misinformed view against such places and the people that (heaven forbid!) choose to reside there.
Possibly they believe that all sorts of misdoings and criminal, anti-social activities occur only in towerblocks and nowhere else. Almost as if you can’t trust people to live together in high density because they won’t be able to stop themselves misbehaving. The usual remark from a Park Hill critic doesn’t really go beyond two short sentences, with extreme remarks such as ‘full of druggies, prostitutes, low lives, dole scum’ and ‘should just knock it down’.
I always feel quite angry for the past and present residents at Park Hill, and indeed other areas with high density social housing, many of whom lived there quite happily for many years. I have met and worked alongside many people who have lived in Park Hill, whose comments about life there were pretty unanimous… “its a great place and community to live in.”
As a public servant in Sheffield during the past fifteen years, I’ve seen and continue to see far more grief and social problems in the larger 1930s estates than I’ve ever seen in Park Hill. I’m sure Park Hill’s detractors aren’t proposing that such huge estates get razed too…no, because there’re houses with gardens! Surely that’s a prerequiste for acceptable behaviour! I’ve counted the number of times a client from Park Hill has been referred to me in fifteen years: four times. Yes, thats not a typo.
The vast majority of Park Hill is presently derelict, with all entrances into unoccupied wings blocked up with steel doors. However, there are still council tennants in the west wing of the estate that borders Talbot Street at the top of the hill. The tallest blocks of the estate (North Block) are currently undergoing refurbishment by the Manchester based company Urban Splash (click here for a detailed account of their approach to Park Hill). New tenants have started to move into the new blocks and rather than the new flats being sold solely to private tenants there is to be a mix of tenure: Private, Social and Responsible Landlord (Housing Association).
This is a biggie of a Park Hill argument… Shouldn’t the flats be all given to social housing? Yep, I’d be up for that, but realistically, has this council got the cash to be able to do this, as we face crippling cuts for the third year on the trot? Park Hill is now over 50 years old and needs work doing to it, and unfortunately this building is somewhat of a big one to renovate!
Another argument is, “I’m not paying £90K to live next door to dole/ASBO scum from the council.” Try having a neighbour with anti- social tendencies who OWNS their home, believe me, pal, you really are powerless then. I’ve lived in flats and owned my home and there’s a lot more accountability and power over such things when the council is involved.
I make no bones that lessons have been learned about high rise living since its inception after WW2, but that doesn’t mean to say that we have to throw the baby out with the bathwater and eradicate such places as if they’re an embarrassing reminder of an optimistic past.
I do, however, have opinions about how such schemes like Park Hill could be managed better. Firstly, I go with the notion that people who don’t want to live in a tower block shouldn’t be made to (personally, my vision of hell would be stuck five miles out of town in an amenity-free housing estate!) However, this obviously has implications for homeless persons, who get given one offer of accommodation.
Secondly, the addition of a concierge helps to curb the access of unwanted vistors that may have less than honorable intentions. It’s an understandably British thing that we recoil from living in ‘gated communities’, but if you look towards other countries, particularly European, it is perfectly normal and acceptable to live in flats and apartments that have an element of security. Don’t think ‘gated community’…think Berlin/Barcelona apartment!
I’m glad that Urban Splash are taking the plunge (get the pun!) with Park Hill. New tenants are starting to move in and business space is being rented in the ground floors. It’ll take time, but new life will gradually breathe into this part of town. It’s time to put the old girl back to use!
Contrary to popular belief, Park Hill isn’t necessarily my favourite building, but its probably one of the only ones that’s still standing. Being as though its a mile from my house, it gets photographed a lot and I would recommend you get up close while you can. It’s a shining example of the post-war dream.The sleek glass and steel renovations by Urban Splash are breathtaking and the derelict parts are somewhat ambient and awe inspiring. Most of its cousins and extended family members are now hardcore – Park Hill is lucky to survive.
Before my week on ‘A Wondrous Place’ ends, there’s just time to leave a question for next week’s guest curator, Chrissy Brand, creator of the excellent Mancunian Wave blog:
Hi Chrissy… You’ve experienced living both in London and now Manchester… What sells Manchester to you over the capital?
Thanks to Chris at Northern Spirit and to everyone who has followed my exploits this week. Hope to see you again soon.
Alighting from the urine marinated ringroad subway, I deny the street hustler his request for spare change. I too am penniless. What does he expect? Its January: everyone here is more skint than normal.
My executive decision on engaging the short stairs up to street level, rather than walking around the long access ramp, brings a quick flare of warmth, temporarily curbing the worst excesses of the Northern cold. It is at this point I start to worry about older people. I make a mental note to reply to mum’s earlier text, where she was ‘wittling on’ about her winter boots which she can’t find.
Looking up to the sky at the huge Ziggarat-like layers of a government building, I’ve always been intrigued as to where the entrance is. My destination of The Moor is clearly visible through the arcade-like tunnel at ground level, but I am denied access to this thoroughfare by a 20 foot metal portcullis of a gate. Multiple no access/no right of way signs, and CCTV cameras on masts, reinforce this in case I was unsure.
Like Willy Wonka’s Chocolate factory, Its been chained off for as long as I can remember and almost the stuff of legend. Originally it was meant to be the terminus for the city Monorail, but apparently the closure of the thoroughfare was associated with the IRA homeland campaign of the 1970s. Hadn’t all that been sorted out now? Do the powers that be still not want this building to be at all vulnerable? What’s so important about it that it has to be a man-made barricade blocking the organic flow of human traffic from The Moor to London Road? Surely it would make a nice arcade of kiosks?
Contemplating the various criticisms of redtape, bureaucracies and other things beyond my control, I like everyone else am forced into circumnavigating around the obstruction. I enter into a pavement-wide bottleneck of mass human ambulation. With a sheer unrelenting wall of grills and concrete to one side and a main road on the other, this section of pavement becomes a metaphorical mountain pass. The pass is punctuated by several discarded cans of Tenants StuporBrew and a thoughtfully placed bus stop with resultant queue. I look towards the dizzy heights of the barricade for any sign of human activity that may make this inconvenience acceptable. I see no humans – only many pigeons, perched on the windowsills. I wonder if the pigeons can see any Oompah Lompahs inside the building making chocolate and other confectionary? I wish I could fly! As my eyes and thoughts are elsewhere I bump into a fellow man of similar age and size. He looks like his life has dealt him more blows than mine.
“Sorry mate, my fault!” I quickly inform him, as for a split-second too long he makes bloodshot eye contact in a surly manner. Saying nothing, he continues on his travels.
I am positive that my intrigue in the building has now been captured by its many electronic eyes. I resign myself to this inevitable fact, and the certainty my attention to it has been recorded in someone else’s interests for a future date.
There’s a throbbing at the top of my thigh… Shit. Its a blood clot! No, you idiot…you’ve left your phone on silent…its mum again… “Where’s my boots?” Mental note…sort that out…its annoying now rather than worrying. Right, now I’ve got bigger fish to fry.
In more senses than one. Walking onto The Moor, I’m hit head on by the pungently, heady stench of Anglo streetfood. Its almost as if decades of constant deep frying have embedded an essence into all the concrete – the sheen is complimented by an acidic combination of cheap ketchup and fried onions. Coupled with the feeling of now being enveloped by the government building on two of my sides, and the concrete precinct style shops on a third, I find myself yet again looking up to the gargantuan structure as if it’s commanding me to do so. Or am I just unable to stop myself?
Despite the skin exfoliating wind, a Union Jack seems to hang impotent and lifeless from a flagpole on its roof, as if any pride has long since been sapped from it. In front of the building a large Modernist public art sculpture, very much of its time, now looks outdated and obsolete.
Next to it is an untended flower bed. The sort that should serve as an occasional street bench, but is now festooned with used nappies and white cider bottles. From this bed rises a solitary lifeless tree. A grimy plastic bag snagged onto its branches champions over the Union Jack by flapping irritatingly in the wind.
This repetitive beat is interrupted by a young man, clad in grey sportswear, which has long since lost any former lustre. Demonstrating the art of multitasking, he simultaneously walks anticlockwise in a circular fashion, whilst holding his genitals and talks dutifully loudly to a seemingly interested party down a mobile phone.
“Just got it today, get keys tomorrow.”
“Gonna get mesen 2 Akitas an 3 Rotties. Stick ‘em in the garden.”
The observation that he looks barely able to feed himself, let alone five powerdogs, amalgamated with the fact that he is blissfully holding his sexual organs in public, brings me to the conclusion that this must be some kind of masturbatory fantasy of his.
There’s far too much going on here, plus my daily hangover has started to kick in!
I think I’ve worked out where the entrance to the building is. I make another mental note to try and get access one day. It’s the point where all the leaves, litter and general detritus get blown into and collect within this man-made cave. I see workers coming and going from the building, hence dispelling my Oompah Lompah theory. Like children walking to school in Autumn, they kick their way through the piles of aforementioned leaves and rubbish, but without the same joy and innocence that children have. People here look and dress older than they should. It’s as if they’ve resigned themselves to something less than they’d originally bargained for. Although not a fan, I’m bizarrely reminded of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ video.
There are a couple of Parisian cafe style tables and chairs outside a shuttered shop. Why? Were they were put there for civic reasons, as most people don’t want to sit in a wind vortex of grit and leaves next to used nappies and Trampagne empties?
I look round, as I’m bemused as to which shop they belong to. With the possible exception of the body building shop, and its promises of increased testosterone,sexual prowess and aggression, none of them seem to sell any kind of foodstuff. I abstractly ponder whether the table and chairs were placed there by people who’d just come to this place with bread to mop up the previously mentioned grease from the sides of the buildings. Almost like some post-apocalyptic picnic.
The shop, with complimentary table and chairs, is next to public conveniences, a sign outside of which warns in no uncertain terms against any criminal activity taking place within there. The shop has a large ‘To Let’ sign abutting from it. I mischeviously imagine placing a large ‘I’ inbetween the two words, thus producing a huge ‘TOILET’ sign. Maybe this would increase the public’s awareness of the conveniences and prevent said criminal activity taking place. Maybe it’d invite more criminal activity there? Maybe I’m just being somewhat puerile… I giggle about my personal joke whilst staring at empty tables and chairs outside a public toilet well known for illicit activities. A few people are starting to stare at me in a concerned manner. Keen to avoid psychiatric disposal, I make a scathing comment about the municipal mural on the wall between the ladies and gents and move swiftly on, acknowledging the trader who has eternally sold DVDs from a canopyless stall, without ageing or changing facial expression. She still looks the same.
Besides…I’m on a mission. The whole reason for travelling to The Moor is out of basic human necessity. Food. I need a maintenance dose of carbohydrates, fat and protein to quell the angry storm within my toxin laden guts. By far the easiest way of securing this would be via the medium of a pasty or two: better pastry/filling ratio than a pie, usually less messy. A king of Northern food.
Scaling up and down The Moor, I consider my options. Times are hard. I need to be careful with the little monies I have. Most of the businesses on The Moor reflect this, and give me some solace that it’s not just my problem. Pound Shops, Cash Converters, promises and allure of instant cash for anyone…only 3000% APR. We’ll buy your mobile phone from you because you’re desperate – pawnbrokers of the digital age. I feel angry.
I’d instinctively lied to the hustler before. He’s probably got more cash than me. Bet Xmas didn’t cripple him with his free soup kitchen dinner.
I once read a book ‘Pies and Prejudice’ by Stuart Maconie*. He proposes an academic hypothesis. That every decent size town in the North must contain a workman in Hi Vis clothing and a branch of Greggs. I wonder if The Moor would pass such a test on its own merits?
For a pedestrianised area, there’s a lot of vehicles and machinery going on here. Workmen clad in tabbards and helmets swagger around authoritatively,like boisterous boys who’ve bought the place with their own pocket-money. Continually shouting to each other about their most minor and trivial matters, as if all should take an interest in their daily and nightly conquests. I too am taken back to this metaphorical playground and remember the age old maxim about sexual activity – that the ones that talk about it; aren’t getting it.
I bet they’ve not read ‘Pies and Prejudice’. I wonder if their cultural capital is gained via DVDs as opposed to books. Anyhow, criteria number 1 is met.
They’re tearing up the pavement, leaving two telephone kiosks alone, lost and forlorn in a sea of rubble and muck. Its as if they’re hugging each other in comfort and hope, like the last people alive following the apocalypse. Inaccessible portals of communication to another world that doesn’t give a fuck about this one. Defiant and proud they stand. I need to stop this philosophical musing and prioritise the more basic instincts of human survival otherwise I’ll never get past dinnertime (that’s lunchtime for some folk).
I’m spoilt for choice here, with two branches of Greggs and leading competitor The Pound Bakery to choose from. Deciding that two vegetarian sausage rolls for a pound will be better value for money than a Greggs Cheese pasty for 95p, the Pound Bakery wins. The sales assistant asks if I want a drink with that and duly runs through several continental choices. Expresso, Cappucino, Latte… Maybe it was the Pound Bakery that put the table and chairs there? I also wonder if, for the majority of customers on The Moor, Latte has to be translated to ‘A Milkie’.
Opting for my usual morning tipple of Triple Espresso, I park myself onto a nearby bench to consume my acquired feast. They taste like stuffing wrapped in pastry, but they function well and serve their purpose. More quantity than quality compared with Greggs. Maybe I need to seek a new vocation as a food critic? I consider going back for two more, but wait a moment for things to take effect.
The street hustler shoots me a glare as he passes me, noting my discarded food bag and polystyrene cup. I smile back. Mum has just sent me another text, glady informing me that she’s found her boots. The pasties make quick work, extinguishing the raging storm in my stomach and I feel the simultaneous benefits of blood sugar increasing and high potency caffeine hitting my brain. I feel alive again. I’m also sure I can feel high levels of saturated fat entering my blood vessels. I’ll be paying this back with interest in years to come. The Moor does fulfill both aspects of Maconie’s theory. It is truly Northern in its own right!
Temporarily at one with the world. My attention is drawn to the activity of the Hi Vismen. I’m acutely aware that a futuristic honeycomb lattice structure appears to be taking shape in front of my eyes…..
- – - – -
There’s no doubt that ‘The Moor’, at the southern end of Sheffield’s pedestrianised zone, has somewhat gone to seed over the past few years.
However, here are links to new development proposals for The Moor:
The new Market Hall that is expected to open in late 2013 will sadly relocate the 700 year tradition of market traders from the Castle Market area to a brand new market hall and street market close to the proposed retail quarter. The intention, though, is to make the market somewhat of a foodie destination, allocating at least 50% of its stalls for foods. Given its proximity to London Road, and also foodie temple Waitrose, this could get pulled off.
*With self depreciating humour, ‘Pies and Prejudice’ is an authorative text and, when twinned with George Orwell’s ‘Road to Wigan Pier’, becomes a Northern masterclass. They’re possibly the only books to have any real meaning to me in a sociological sense.
Many thanks for my question from last week’s guest curator Greg Thorpe:
“Hi Sid, tell us about some of the most thrilling, awe inspiring or mysterious locations in your home town or city.”
Hopefully throughout my posts this week, and in somewhat of a usual Sid Fletcher digressing roundabout fashion, i’ll be answering this.
For an awe inspiring location you simply have to climb one of Sheffield’s seven hills for a city vista unlike any other – the city has several landmark buildings such as the Hallamshire Hospital, University Arts Tower, Moore St Substation (which is now illuminated at night!) St Paul’s Tower with adjoining ‘Cheese Grater’ car park and Sheffield Cathedral. A small amount of cardio-vascular exercise can get you to a lunchtime spot like no other – weather permitting of course. I would have to say this view is equally as stunning at night when all the lights are on and you can see the city glow.
In juxtaposition to all this – get up close to any of the post war Brutalist stuff like Park Hill- a trip in the new external glass elevator is well worth taking should you get the chance – it does take your breath away somewhat.
I’ll be airing my thoughts about PH in much greater detail towards the end of the week – no surprises there, eh?!
Incidentally…and in a bumbling Stephen Fry academic kind of fashion…a lot of thought was given to Sheffield’s cityscape in its replanning after the war. Great care was taken by the city architects to attempt to have a bold yet considered vision across the city. Tower blocks and other significant schemes were carefully placed to act as landmarks – a quote from the 18th century landscape gardener Capability Brown was applied as standard – “Flood the valleys , plant the tops.” Furthermore, and in order to provide some identity, the city architects were keen not to duplicate these schemes. In turn they applied different concepts and designs to ones that overlooked each other e.g. the tower blocks at Netherthorpe would have looked north east towards the deck accessed Woodside/ Pye Bank estate which hugged the contours of the bank, which in turn looked easterly towards the huge and domineering castle keep of Hyde Park/Park Hill, which in turn looked towards the towerblocks at Norfolk Park and Claywood Drive.
Yes, yes…that’s very interesting! Anyhow…back to the task in question…
Today I’m going to be telling you about the area in Sheffield where I’ve lived for the past 16+ years. Naturally it’s the bit of Sheffield I know probably the best.
Meersbrook is a smallish area, approx 1 and half miles south south west out of Sheffield, just off Chesterfield Road. Sometimes I jokingly refer to it as ‘The Brook’. It’s always been a popular choice for first time buyers and families.
Here’s a map of Meersbrook, illustrating the whereabouts of each point of interest that I’ll be sharing within this post. Just click on the map to enlarge it.
18 Byron House
11 Rude Shipyard
14 Les Amis
15 Honey Pie Tearoom
5,7 and 17 also have cafes within them.
Antiques, Vintage/ Retro and Arts
3 The Vault
4 The Pod / Time Warp
5 Sheffield Antiques Centre
6 Chapel Antiques
7 Sheffield Antiques Emporium
10 Heeley Bank Antiques / Corner Gallery
17 Hagglers Corner
Other points of interest
A Old Express Dairy, Art Deco building
B Metal sculpture to commemorate Tyzacks works
C Circle of Hands, community sculpture within a 21st century stone circle
D Snow gates next to River Sheaf, Saxon Road
Meersbrook has always had a bit of a more laid back, bohemian stereotype about it, compared with other sought after Sheffield areas such as Hunters Bar, Greystones and Broomhill. While circus jugglers, leftie activists and vegans discuss how best to overthrow Capitalism, nurses, social workers, teachers and artists happily co-exist alongside builders and other tradesmen…sorry… tradespersons! Don’t bother nipping to the newsagents for a copy of the Guardian after 11am – it’s usually sold out.
The name comes from the stream Meers Brook, a tributary of the River Sheaf. Its literal meaning is ‘boundary brook’. In ancient times this formed the boundary between the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of Northumbria and Mercia. It remained as the boundary between Yorkshire and Derbyshire into the 20th century. In 1873 the land adjacent to the Meers Brook was divided between future roads and allotments with the formation of the Meersbrook Land Society. The rules for building were strict, including rules concerning the size of the allotment, the quantity of stone and all houses had to front towards the roads. The rules also forbid corner shops and pubs on the south side of what was then known as the border. Hence giving a quick explanation to the local question as to why are there no pubs in Meersbrook. I originally heard it was because the area had something to do with the Quakers, who didn’t drink.Other similar explanations have been related to the Methodists. However, despite this lack of ‘essential amenitites’, Meersbrook is a relatively small area with several good hostelries along its edges, in which one can partake in a thoroughly good imbibing session. Basically you’re never that far from a good pub.
I’ll digress again .. because we’re talking about one of my favourite subjects…beer. Here’s my take on the pubs that most people from ‘The Brook’ drink in:
Technically in adjoining Nether Edge, but very quickly accessible from Meersbrook. It reopened in late 2011 after it had proverbially gone to the dogs for some time. An extremely popular, hip place to be, great beers, fantastic food, including huge veggie pies! All reasonably priced. Apparently makes more money than its equally hip sister establishments ‘The Forum’ in the city centre and ‘The York’ in Broomhill combined. It’s usually rammed, with standing-room-only late on.
The White Lion, London Road, Heeley Bottom
As much as I really love the newly revamped Broadie, this pub is probably my all time fave over my 22 Sheffield years. It is the official TowerBlockMetal ‘local’. For me it has perennially stood the test of time, wethered the economic storms, trends and various rocks (not physically) thrown at it. Its a normal pub, welcoming to both regulars and strangers alike, and has with no pretences as to being anything else – always a good atmosphere. Has live bands a couple of times a month and Slayer on the jukebox! Note the stained glass frontage with the N sloping in the wrong direction. Across the road, former Gentlemen’s conveniences have been adapted for use as an occasional artspace/pop-up gallery. A sign of Meersbrook’s creatives at work.
Sheaf View, Gleadless Road
Fiefdom on Sheffield’s growing Real Ale circuit, acting as a beacon calling to those who will always prefer a pint of Scrottocks Old Origible, and its resultant halitosis, to anything satanic like Carlsberg or Tetleys. A lot of folk swear by this pub and wouldn’t contemplate the notion of going anywhere else, let alone somewhere ‘trendy’ like The Broadfield, 5 minutes away. Bit of a Marmite pub really, you either like it or you don’t. Personally I have to be the mood for it and only really go if I’m meeting mates who insist we must drink there, because they won’t drink anywhere else.
Is it in Meersbrook or is it in Norton? Don’t care really! Another pub that was struggling until a recent takeover by Thornbridge brewery. It’s quite roomy, serves food and is nice – its a bit of a pint-earning trek up a big hill, though, so once you’re there, that’ll be where you stay for the night. Most people tend to use the other three pubs, as they’re all within 5 minutes walk of each other.
So that’s the important bits covered… what else has Meersbrook got to offer…?
A large part of the area is taken up by the popular Meersbrook Park. It is a typical municipal park, well known for commanding views over the city, which in my view are definitely worth checking out (see the above map). Within the park are two historic buildings: Bishops’ House (c1500), one of the oldest buildings in Sheffield, and Meersbrook House, built in 1780, which is now council offices. In close proximity to this, and originally part of the house, is the Walled Garden, which is almost like a set from ‘Midsomer murders’. It really is a beautiful place.
At the bottom edge of the park there’s also the Pavilion, which was originally built as a nursery to enable women to work in factories during WW2. Nowadays its used by several community groups and can be hired for a very low fee. James Green local printer has created a fantastic screenprint of the the Pavilion:
This is one of the main thoroughfares through ‘The Brook’, and if you’re post war housing inclined, like my good self, a convenient way to get through to the Gleadless Valley estate via the woods at Cat Lane. Albert Road is a favourite walk of mine, due to the hotch potch of different houses that seem to have been built on bombsites.
There are some redeveloped former tram sheds behind the Crown Inn at the Junction with Chesterfield Road. This is also the start (or the end, depending on what way you’re looking at it!) of Heeley Millenium park - a green corridor taking you past the White Horse of Heeley to Heeley City Farm. Underneath the railway bridge on the other side of the Chesterfield road is the River Sheaf and the Antiques Quarter.
After writing this paragraph, I realised that it classically demonstrates what is taken for granted living here – woods, rivers, City Farm, green corridors… You’re never far from some sort of green space or urban oasis in Sheffield.
Meersbrook continues to a very community minded, convenient and lively place to be. Over the past 18 months it has flourished more and more, with the long overdue opening of two cafes on Chesterfield Road: Des Amis and Honey Pie Tearoom. Both are well worth a visit.
There is also an ever increasing creative scene in Sheffield, with Meersbrook strongly contributing to this. Local artists and creatives regulary run very accessible workshops/ courses in printmaking, writing, stained glass, pottery and dressmaking. There’s a real ‘we can get on and do this’ approach about all this within Meersbrook, and none of the usual snobbery that usually makes these sort of things feel exclusive and distant. As this is my space for the week I’m going to plug these guys…you should check them out…
Stradling the border of Meersbrook, inbetween Chesterfield Road and Abbeydale Road, is a part of town which, for a long time, has been somewhat of a Brownfield site. However, over the past few years this area has been increasingly populated with antiques emporiums, reclaimation yards and vintage/retro type shops. It is now officially being developed and plugged as Sheffield Antiques Quarter.
Here’s a map of Antiques Quarter
The Quarter represents no more than a square mile, and runs from the end of the Queens Rd, along part of London Rd, onto Broadfield Rd, to the junction with Abbeydale Rd, and back towards town to Wolseley Road. Within this area are:
The Chapel on Broadfield Road
Langtons on London Road
The Heeley Bank Centre
Not Just Military
…all within a minute of one another on The Abbeydale Road. There’s also…
Haggler’s Corner (local arts centre on Queens Rd)
The RudeShip Yard (cafe and books)
and The Okey Cafe (60′s Mod Cafe), among others.
This is a nice place for a bit of an urban mooch and a great way of getting from Meersbrook into town, or just a good place to while away for a bit. One immediate selling point for me is that the River Sheaf flows through it. I always love the allure of an urban river:
There’s a few more interesting bits to note…
The Three Snow Gates next to River Sheaf on Saxon Road make an artistic addition to a previously industrialised area:
There are many other works of public art dotted around: Tyzacks monument at the Bridge Crossing from Broadfield Park onto Broadfield Road…
A somewhat abstract, community-based Circle of Hands, the centrepoint of a Neo Modern/Brutal Stone Circle in Broadfield Way:
Finally, there’s the Art Deco Express Dairy on Broadfield Road:
Leaving the Antiques Quarter anywhere on Abbeydale Road, you are now on the great thoroughfare from Southern Sheffield into town – London Road.
My oh my…how this place has changed over the past 20 years! And definitely for the better in my book. Due to its close proximity to Bramall Lane, Sheffield United’s ground, and the relatively large number of pubs it hosts, London Road has historically been the territorial domain of the hardcore football fan and its associated jingoistic subculture. Not the sort of place you’d really want to be looking out of place by virtue of coloured hair, peace slogans or asking for vegetarian food. Its always been gritty and rough, and I fully admit in the past I have actively avoided it on a Friday/Saturday night.
Nowadays, London Road’s main business is world food. Its a massive melting pot…sorry…crucible(get the local connection) of multi culturalism. In my view, London Road hosts the best concentration and choice of ethnic restaurants in the North.
The majority of these are Oriental in origin, but there’s a bewildering choice within 500 yards – this is what I counted on the way in today:
At least 6 Chinese restaurants, varying regions, specialities, price range.
Chinese cake shop/ bakery
2 Vietnamese restaurants
1 Falafel bar
4 Kebab houses
Traditional Fish and Chips (Assault n Battered – love it!)
Furthermore, if you turn round and head out of town onto adjoining Abbeydale Road, within a couple of minutes you hit a couple of South Indian restaurants, Bragazzis Italian and Tapas bars. Heading back into town again, at the end of London Road is the most Northern outpost of the foodie bastion, Waitrose.
I think the main reason for the cultural shift around London Road is the fact that there’s acres of students flats and accommodation within its immediate vicinity. That could also be said about the ever trendy Eccleshall Road But, London Road is much closer to city centre and consequently has much more of a transient ‘urban edge’ vibe to it – similar to Oxford Road in Manchester, albeit on a much smaller scale. Naturally, like Oxford Road, London Road has its fair share of (ahem) ‘street gentlemen’.
The pubs haven’t gone either, although a few are derelict or converted into flats.The Cremorne is a popular choice, with live music, The Barrel seems decent and unpretentious enough, Barry’s bar always comes across as…er…’lively’ and Delaneys behind Waitrose is worth checking out.
Could easily spend all my food allowance on London Road!
That should keep you going for today…gotta dash…picking kid up from school!
Featured Image: A mural on Albert Road, Meersbrook.
Apart from the Meadowhall bit, I’d concur with all that – even the 2 and half million trees - I’ve counted them! – only joking.
Naturally, if you either live in Sheffield now or have lived here in the past, all of this is old news to you and you are more than aware of it. Be that as it may, one final thing to prove that I’m not a complete Sheffield Sycophant….the roads are terrible…with more potholes than the moon with a bad case of acne. My father in law the right honourable Tom Cooper’s motto is, “Never buy a second hand car from Sheffield!”
1984. Of course this was the year that Nostradamus predicted the world was going to end in some sort of cataclysmic apocalypse or that we were headed for the totalitarianism suggested by George Orwell’s book. Indeed for a young more alternatively minded bloke, living in a Pennine textile town during Thatcher’s 1980s Britain, it certainly felt that way inclined – it felt like we were all doomed!
At that point in my life, my UK geography certainly wasn’t a strong point! Hailing from Rochdale I knew whereabouts Manchester and London where in relation to the town – I also knew three facts pertinent to Sheffield: that it was somewhere in Yorkshire, that it made steel and lots of cutlery, also lots of my sixth form chums were starting to talk about it as a university option- apparently it had a lot going for it! Anyhow, my ignorance of Steel city aside, my first encounter with Sheffield was on a Sunday afternoon in 1984 when we had been booked to provide the PA system at a punk gig.
Craning my stiff neck I looked across the road to see what Ross was going on about. I was instantly struck at the size of the sun blocking culprit…a block of flats – but this wasn’t any old block of flats…. no sir…..this block of flats was an unrelenting, half mile long, 14 storey, huge brutalist concrete citadel-like complex – endless lines of fenestration, angular cornered lift shafts, high-level illuminated walkways and external industrial like stairwells - I was staring straight at the now demolished Kelvin flats.
Hello ….I’m Sid Fletcher some of you may know me already as that bloke behind TowerBlockMetal and all the post war housing influenced paraphernalia and apparel that I bang out from there. Some of you may know me already personally … for some of you this will be our first encounter – hopefully not the last! You’re going to be flying with me as guest curator for this week on ‘A Wondrous Place’. I’m going to be telling you about my favourite bits of living in the sunny capital of the People’s Republic of South Yorkshire – the great steel city itself – Sheffield.
I do hope you continue to follow my week on ‘A Wondrous Place’.
Way back in 2007, during the Labour Party conference, Time Out published its first magazine guide for Manchester. For a Time Out devotee like me it was nothing short of thrilling to see our city’s listings rendered in that time-honoured typeface. The magazine was a one-off print run ahead of the full launch for Time Out Manchester scheduled for the following year. Here’s Time Out founder, Tony Elliott, talking about his grand plan for Manchester:
As you’ve probably realised by now, the funding never happened and the grand plan fell through, leaving the single issue as a sad (and possibly collectible) reminder that Manchester was perhaps not the global city you thought it was.
But I’m still in love with the idea of the global city. It’s a concept that takes Manchester out of potentially restricting contexts like the ‘North’, or alternatively puts something of the North of England on a global platform. Yes of course there are things that handicap the city when compared to places like Tokyo, Istanbul, New York and other Time Out cities (size, chain outlets allowed to run rampant, badly run and overpriced transport etc.) but culturally I believe we can hold our heads up with the best on the world stage.
So, for my last post (and thank you for having me!) here’s a whistle-stop cultural run-down of things to see and do just to prove that if you look for it, the world is right here in the city…
“The story and the mythologies of Manchester’s music are now part of a much bigger world of ideas and artistic activity.” Dave Haslam, 2012
Thanks for reading! The next guest blogger will be Sid Fletcher from Sheffield, author of the Tower Block Metal blog.
Hi Sid, tell us about some of the most thrilling or awe inspiring or mysterious locations in your home town or city…?
When I was nine I wanted be a writer, or an ‘author’ as we used to say before that particular Americanism took over. As with other childhood dreams (play guitar on Top Of The Pops, attend Rydell High, become an X-Man) nothing came of it, then grown-up things like University, relationships, work and partying took over.
Then I came back to the idea, wrote a short novel that was never published, then a longer novel that was never published. It became frustrating writing things that nobody would ever read, so I decided to start a blog where I could put all the stuff that wasn’t fiction, and hopefully people might even see it…
In April 2008 I started Manhattanchester, the name a fantasy hybrid of Manhattan, the place I dreamed of being, and Manchester, the place I lived and loved. I wrote about my life in Manchester and my obsession with New York and anything else that seemed interesting, kind of like an online diary.
My desire to write fiction surfaced again so I signed up to the MA in Novel Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. The course proved demanding, especially while working full time, but I didn’t want to let Manhattanchester fall by the wayside. The solution was something I’d had on the backburner for a while; an idea to interview residents of Manchester with a list of twelve questions:
This effectively turned me from blogger into editor, a huge labour-saving device. Luckily for me, the responses to my questionnaire proved to be fascinating, beautifully expressed, funny, curmudgeonly and endlessly entertaining. Over the last year it’s become one of the most interesting and widely read things on my blog. (And if anyone is reading who would like to be interviewed, please do get in touch! email@example.com).
The best thing about the ‘Manchester: In Residents’ series is that it showcases the breadth of people and activity going on in the city, and because it’s independent and unsponsored it lets people bitch and kvetch as much as they praise and admire. To date I have interviewed journalists, legal secretaries, publishers, photographers, academics, actors, DJs, curators, PhD students, designers, musicians and booksellers. Each time I read a new submission my excitement about Manchester, and sometimes my impatience with it too, is fully revived.
Here are some random highlights:
There are three major theatres right on our doorstep, which means whenever a show I want to see is on tour, I don’t have to travel miles out of the city to see it. I can go enjoy the West End’s finest without having to walk more than half an hour
For a city of over two million people, there are not enough visible hot single straight men and those that disagree should make themselves known.
There aren’t many places I can’t get to on my bike. Social circles are easily maintained, simply because no one has to travel longer than thirty minutes to find you.
Canal Street. I’m not one for banging on about ‘the good old days’ but it seems eternally stuck in 2001, which is so sad as it was once a pioneer in Manchester culture. It’s dated, dangerous (and not in a good way) and refuses to move forward in its ideology.
I remember the punks that used to hang around the entrance to the underground Arndale Market, and I remember the Northern Quarter when it was just fabric shops and disused buildings.
I love the way it’s quite easy to start a new club night, or open a new store, or make a little niche for yourself up here.
Bohemian Grove, Urbis Gardens, Piccadilly Gardens, Harvey Nichols and Selfridges, MMU, the Star and Garter, Soup Kitchen, Cord, Chorlton Green, Mint Lounge, Kraak, Common, 2022NQ…
I’m interested in the fact this series is called ‘Residents’ – the kind of peripatetic feel of the city (despite strong ties) is one of its strengths. There are people from around the world here doing fun, crazy, challenging and innovative things. It is also a problem, maybe. I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of ‘proper’ Mancs I know well and I’m not sure that I have any real sense of the city – its sprawl, its horror, its violence.
The area around Chapel Street doesn’t reveal its gems easily; it really makes you work for them.
Dear Manchester, your theatre’s rubbish…
Image: Dee, from ‘Manchester: In Residents’: ‘I remember having just visited and saying to my husband, ‘Why aren’t we living here?’ So we moved here…’
I have yet to do the questionnaire myself, but I will, sometime in 2013. In the meantime, I will respond to the previous guest curator Kenn Taylor’s question, ‘What hidden gem in Manchester would you recommend?’ It’s a toughie, not because there is a dearth of things to talk about, but because we are lucky in this city to have a plethora of bloggers and online listings to root out everything old and new that’s worth experiencing. They’re all nicely filling the gap where I still think a hearty, comprehensive and beautifully-designed listings magazine could and should be! (More of that in my next and final post). But as for Manchester tips I would say: try the eggs cocotte at Thyme Out in West Didsbury; try the guest ales at The Molly House on Richmond Street; try any small gig at Islington Mill; try anything with paneer in from The Spice Kitchen in Rusholme; try coming to either one of my parties at Kraak, Off The Hook for RnB and hip-hop, or Drunk At Vogue for disco; try cycling around the unfinished urban vision that is Ancoats; try finding a hidden gem, and be sure to tell me when you do…
Featured image: the hated Piccadilly Wall, learn more from ‘Manchester: In Residents’ here.
Northerners outside the North are often coerced into being somehow more Northern than their stay-at-home counterparts. We can all think of famous people who are, to quote Flic Everett, ‘professionally Northern’. Comedians, usually. But, as Victoria Wood pointed out, the majority of successful British comedians have come from the North. Why is that? What does it mean? Is there a Northern ‘sensibility’? And if we want to dispel clichés about the North but still hold onto the notion of a ‘sensibility’, aren’t we having our parkin and eating it too?
Part of the problem is what we attribute to ‘Northernness’. For instance, let’s say you have a mate from the same town as you who spins a wonderful yarn down the pub. He’s just a funny guy. That’s his personality. Transplant him as the only Northerner to an office in London and at some point you can bet his humour will be attributed to his being from the North. Context is everything. A Geordie friend of mine is repeatedly told that, contrary to his own lived experience, the North East is an exceptionally friendly place. When he moved to Stretford in Manchester he was weekly accosted by Mancunians in the Stretford Arndale who engaged him in amiable chatter until his shopping trips became social outings in themselves. He was told by other residents of Manchester that Stretford could no way be as friendly as he described… A Scouse friend talks of the special dispensation she has in London: she’s not Northern, she’s just ‘Scouse’. I guess because Northerners say ‘ee by gum’ and not ‘ah ey la’… Another friend from Billingham would scoff whenever I mentioned that I was from the North. As far as she’s concerned, Blackpool is practically the Midlands. If a Northern diaspora exists it would have to be premised on some kind of shared experience. I would suggest that such a thing does not exist, but what does exist is a shared position of being interpreted as Northern, and that’s something that happens to you whether you like it or not.
One of my very favourite ‘ex-pat’ anecdotes is told by Morrissey regarding his friendship with Alan Bennett. For a while the two Northerners (Manchester and Leeds respectively) were resident in Camden, North London at the same time, just a few streets away from one another. They struck up a friendship based on Morrissey’s adoration of Bennett’s work, and Bennett’s utter ignorance of who Morrissey was. Interviewed by Time Out Morrissey was asked if he thought that Bennett ‘voiced a particular type of Northern-ness’, to which Morrissey replied:
‘Yes, it’s largely the sodden gloom of the North – the walled-in lack-of-choice North that, really, he loves. The family is a battle-ground and every character trembles on the edge of confession. Sex is on everybody’s mind, but nobody says anything. This, I think, is Alan himself.’
It’s a lovely description, and certainly accurate for some of Bennett’s writing, but it’s also written by a very successful non-resident of the North about another, suggesting that distance is what’s needed to turn a keen eye to the North, or anywhere. It also contains the kitchen-sink blueprint that’s been awfully hard to shake off for subsequent generations. In order to sell the North back to Northerners it probably helps not to live there anymore. On the other hand, there’s nothing worse than someone who moves away from their hometown and spends their lives explaining how life was better ‘back home’. Having grown up in a family that could be classified as part of a deeply unsentimental Irish diaspora, I quote: ‘If you like it so much, go back there.’
I’d like to finish with another Morrissey/Bennett exchange. When asked if Bennett was a good neighbour, Morrissey replied:
‘Well, he didn’t turn up with steaming broth or anything like that… I would ask him about the daily obituary columns. I remember one day I knocked on his door and he opened it and I said ‘Peggy Mount’s dead’, and he said, ‘Oh, good – come in.’
Is that Northern? Is it camp? Or is it just really bloody funny…?
The Stone Roses’ Ian Brown said, ‘It’s not where you’re from, it’s where you’re at’, which has since been quoted ad nauseum in … well, in articles like this mainly. Ian, I love you, but I think you’re wrong. On a small, populous island like ours, where you’re from has a good deal of cultural currency. And while it’s certainly healthy not to get caught up in regional identity to the detriment of personal voice, sometimes, if you’re Northern, that’s not always an option.
You might have guessed from the opening quote that I’ll be mainly focusing on Manchester during my guest blog posts, but hopefully the things I’ll say will have some resonance for ideas about ‘the North’ generally. Just as so many ideas about ‘the South’ are reduced to a vague idea of social privilege, the Thames Estuary and its concomitant dull accent, ideas about the North are… well you know what they are, which is probably why you’re reading this post.
So by way of an introduction, and to challenge remaining notions that there is a definitive North; where am I from, and where am I at?
I was born in Douglas on the Isle of Man. Most people born there were born in the Jane Crookall Maternity Hospital. That’s true for me and also true for the Bee Gees, more of whom later. Not to blind you with geography, but the Isle of Man’s a funny one. Being an island, it’s not part of Great Britain, though I have a British passport, nor is it part of the UK, and hence not part of the EU either. It’s a ‘Crown Dependency’, a phrase that makes a Republican like me balk, but it’s not as ‘dependent’ as all that; the island looks a hardy little bugger sitting out there, equidistant between England and Ireland. That’s a little psychogeographical tick that I like about being Manx-by-birth: my Mum is from Dublin and my Dad is from Blackpool. The Isle Of Man sits in the centre of a neat little triangular trajectory between those places. I also like the spoken homonym, ‘I love man’, as said in my accent at least.
I digress. Because the Isle Of Man is not mainland, I am not Northern by birth, but by adoption. I grew up in Blackpool. (Another psychogeographical link: the Viking name ‘Dubh Linn’ translates as ‘Black Pool’). I’m not a true ‘sand grown ‘un’, as I wasn’t born in Blackpool, but from the age of one-and-a-bit, to eighteen, I lived on the Fylde Coast, either Blackpool town centre, or Poulton-le-Fylde. Just as you don’t really know that you’re a Northerner until you travel out of the North, you don’t really know what kind of Northerner you are until you go elsewhere in the North.
Generalisations about The North make little sense to people who live here. The generic Northern accent employed to indicate somebody is from ‘up North’ is some weird conflation of Yorkshire and Lancashire. You are assumed to be working class too. In the heyday of Britpop, the media interpretation of Oasis was configured entirely around their Northernness, which was conflated precisely with being working class. You only had to pick up the NME and see one of Liam’s ‘fuck’s transcribed as ‘fook’ to realise who was writing the music press and who they were writing it for. Newsflash: ‘fuck’ is spelled ‘fuck’ and is pronounced ‘fuck’ too, thank you.
I digress again. Blackpool is about as representative as Lancashire and the rest of the North as London is of the Cotswolds. The population is transient, the work seasonal, it’s statistically deprived and psychogeographically resplendent, and to be honest, a massive ball-ache to grow up in. From twelve onwards I got into films and music and grown-up books, and the idea of a life away from Blackpool arrived in my head. In unconscious defiance of Billy Liar I configured this new life around two places, and neither one of them was London (though also in defiance of Northern stereotypes, I would rank that city as one of humanity’s greatest achievements). The two places were New York, and Manchester. My obsession with both was eventually manifested in the name of my blog, Manhattanchester. The idea that someone in the North might want to run away to someplace else in the North seems as radical now as it ever did.
I have now lived in Manchester sixteen years, and while I might’ve grown up in Blackpool, I did my real growing up in this city. My forthcoming posts will try to sing up my reasons for being here and for staying here, and hopefully in the process I will contribute to a greater project to dismantle hackneyed notions of the North, though if one of those clichés is that Northerners are too passionate about their bit of the North, I might just leave that one intact.
Oh, and I said I’d come back to the Bee Gees, didn’t I? Not only was I born in the same hospital as them, but one of the houses I lived in in Chorlton was on Oswald Road, right opposite their old school. There’s no point to be made, it’s just really cool, isn’t it…?
In October 2012 our project partners New Writing North kindly invited us to embed ourselves within the Durham Books Festival, the North East’s biggest annual celebration of books and new writing. Their support enabled us to bring together (and actually meet in person for the first time!) four kindred spirits from four North of England cities who have contributed to the ‘A Wondrous Place’ digital space over recent months - Hayley Flynn, Amy Roberts, Amy Mackelden and Missy Tassles. We attended festival events together, did lots of tweeting and we jointly led a practical workshop with lots of lovely people from the region (more info here).
The workshop was extremely worthwhile and helpful. At the beginning we asked each participant their reason for attending - they told us that it was because they wanted to hear about, and be inspired by, a more positive perspective on the North. This felt encouraging! They also wanted to learn more about the positives of online writing and online communities – the guest curators were particularly helpful within this part of the workshop. The workshop also involved us engaging in writing exercises that explored, in a practical way, where we’re coming from with the project: generating a more positive and more surprising fictional expression of North of England landscapes.
Why do we want to do that? Well…
Those kinds of stories are certainly not the WHOLE story, are they? And stories that are located in this part of the world, and what they express about this part of the world, matter – they impact upon how we see ourselves, and upon how we’re seen.
So that’s what we’re aiming for with the ‘A Wondrous Place’ theatre show in the Spring: four compelling short stories for the theatre, written by four dramatic writers with a love for this part of the world, located within four vivid, contemporary North of England landscapes that avoid these four narrative cliches.
There are some fantastic precedents for where we’re coming from…
Jarvis Cocker interviewed Roger McGough recently on Jarvis’ Sunday Service show (this particular show has sadly been deleted) and Jarvis was talking about how much Roger McGough was an influence on his lyric writing. Roger McGough explained how his approach came about – he was tired of the ‘gritty realist’ style of representing this part of the world (“…the everyday doesn’t have to be grey or grimy”), and wanted to make his home and surroundings (Liverpool) seem as exotic and exciting as he felt that it was. He was provoked by two things: The Shadows’ tune ‘Stars Over Stockton’ and Adrian Henry’s ‘The Entry of Christ into Liverpool’ painting.
Take a look at this from Roger M, an early poem ‘At Lunchtime: A Story of Love’ . It’s an obvious inspiration for Pulp’s ‘Sheffield Sex City’ – see here – and ‘Wickerman’ – see here. (Incidently, fact fans, Roger M’s poem also directly inspired David Bowie’s lyric for ‘Five Years’ from the Ziggy Stardust album.)
And here’s a clip of Jarvis discussing seeing the dramatic in your own surroundings (with a rather natty acoustic version of ‘Joyriders’ an’ all): Jarvis Cocker – Songbook
During the weekend at the Durham Books Festival, Northern Spirit and the four guest curators who joined us also had the invaluable opportunity to pool our perspectives on the part of the world we live within and love. To share what we feel are the contemporary points of connection between Newcastle, Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool. We learned a huge amount from the experience: it was clear that Hayley Flynn, Amy Mackelden, Amy Roberts and Missy Tassles share a generosity of spirit, a desire for community, an enormous respect and love for their cities and are each motivated as bloggers, in different ways, through a desire to create change. It’s also obvious - by looking through the archive and taking a trip to their individual websites – that this ‘can-do’ spirit is shared by every one of the people who have contributed to this digital space over recent months.
That’s why this digital space is such an important part of the overall ‘A Wondrous Place’ project for us – as a way of being inspired by, and expressing a story about, a very real shift in sensibility - a more positive and surprising way of seeing this part of the world, driven by people who love this part of the world – that’s already happening organically across the North. We’re also very excited by how the eventual theatre show can be informed by and share a tangible kinship with this online space.
We’re very chuffed by what the space is generating and encouraging, and extremely grateful that New Writing North have enabled this to happen. We’re thrilled that more guest curators with surprising perspectives on this part of the world will be joining us from the 7th of January. A massive thank you to every one who has contributed their creativity to this space since September. And thank you so much for reading!
Have a lovely Christmas. See you in the New Year!
Featured photo: (l-r) Chris Meads, Hayley Flynn, Missy Tassles, Amy Roberts, Amy Mackelden.
*Read ‘Looking North – Northern England and the National Imagination’ – Dave Russell (Manchester University Press - an extremely well researched exploration of the North of England’s impact upon the national imagination, each chapter dedicated to different cultural forms such as film, music, prose writing, drama etc.
Creative challenge: “You’re a fugitive in your home city – you’ve got 20 mins to hide. Where do you go and why?”
I’m sure that among the collection of complicated minds that are my fellow Wondrous Place curators, I’m not alone when I confess that large chunks of my time are taken up by re-imagining my life as a story. My train of thought that was brought into the world with the sole purpose of deciding which crisps to buy eventually becomes a detective story – it takes only a minute or two for my thoughts to wind up here in my internal mystery, this imaginary film that my life becomes functions like a screensaver for my brain when its attention to the mundane has timed out.
Sometimes detective, other times fugitive, the scenario is still the same but what of the setting? Where in Manchester does my story pan out? Is it in the hidden rooms of an Oxford Road hotel where I chase my leads, or is it along the tow paths of the Rochdale Canal where it becomes lonely and its most ugly that I encounter my assailant?
Today I am a fugitive and I have twenty minutes to find a hide out, and I already know where to go. I start out on the canal, in those parts of it between the cafe culture of Canal Street and the yuppy culture of Castlefield; the parts where only three things decide to settle – crisp packets, used condoms and the burly blue heron that sits one-legged on the corner of Deansgate, the gatekeeper of the detritus. There’s nowhere to hide here.
Where I go is a limbo; a wasteland; an island. My island can be reached within minutes from here.
I leave the canal, cross a small car park and head for the hole in the iron fence. What surrounds me is a strip of railway arches. Some retain a sort of privacy with the remnants of old facades, and in the gloom of these particular arches I am cold to the bone, but the pathway linking each new geometric arc of brick and vanquished industry is lined with thick grass – greener than anywhere else in the city, a miniature meadowland. And finding the guts to walk further into the belly of the railway line, I find myself in brightly decorated caverns whose curved ceilings are pierced with angular reveals of sunlight.
There’s a unicorn down here, no, really. It’s bright pink, and if he’s gone unnoticed for so long then I’m sure that I will too. Beyond him, his graffitied form, there’s a curtain of blue and green – sky and grass, a gateway to the water and to an open stretch of land that is the island itself.
A pathway, broken up by weeds looking like the destroyed yellow brick road, leads along the water away from the city. I know where it leads to, but it’s more than my life’s worth to tell you…
All images by Hayley Flynn.
In 2000, I dreamed of going into the Big Brother house. In the school common room at break, we’d talk about applying, look up the rules, the process, plan out our auditions. This was by no means the first reality TV we’d seen – Jack had a penchant for ‘The Real World’ in the nineties, mainly because no-one else we knew had seen it, and I’ve not forgotten the summer defined entirely by ‘Bug Juice’, an American documentary-style show about Summer Camp. It was something we lacked. I wanted it. Just as Jack wanted to live in a house like ‘The Real World’, then ‘Big Brother’. We grew up on the Isle of Wight, so we dreamed of going somewhere else, anywhere without a ferry journey separating us from civilization. Perhaps why that first dream saw us isolated with a select group of strangers in a prison-walled house. And each other.
We ended up in Newcastle, not really together, not much of the time, but now, more than ever, our reality TV fantasy is a threatening possibility. Location-wise, the region has spawned a slew of reality show winners. South Shields’ Joe McElderry has won two ITV reality shows, some of last year’s X Factor winners, Little Mix, were from Newcastle and South Shields, and this year’s winner, James Arthur, is from Saltburn, near Middlesborough. And, of course there’s Cheryl Cole and that orgasmic hair, which must be a wig at least half of the time, and a fucking good wig at that. In summary, we’re bloody good at winning things, presenting things once we’ve won them and covering other people’s songs.
Jack can’t dance and I can’t sing for shit. I don’t have a routine ready for ‘Britain’s Got Talent’, no marketable idea for ‘Dragon’s Den’, but people I work with are winning breakfast TV modelling competitions and singing down the phone for Simon Cowell. Often overlooked for bigger, more cosmopolitan cities with better funding and job prospects, what talent would Newcastle win with if it entered ‘Britain’s Got Talent’? On a TV contest, what would the city showcase, surprise us with, which could beat a dancing dog? Apart from, you know, glorified karaoke that pleasures Gary Barlow.
The Winning North
Jack says talent isn’t teeth bleach. I know this, hypnotised by straight lines, shine and post-brace rows. But we’re TV taught that talent hoop-jumps are makeovers, outfits free, celebrity endorsements and exposés at right times: when voting is low or over. My offering, small, like the Frankincense king, can’t gazump gold, or compete, even.
The people we meet are dexterous, apt, have uncategorisable talents, wouldn’t read the script that Cowell sets. I ask Jack who he knows, what he does that no-one’s noticed, and I can tell there’s blood behind his eyes, swilling, and he sips his can, but this is not one of his talents, no disrespect. He knows I’d five star him. He says, “I have this friend who knits every present, personally, so that it’s clothes you need or something you love – like sharks or dogs. I’m serious.” I ask for more.
“I know writers who can’t shout loud like some people or choose not to, drummers without permanent fixtures, critics with no platform, musicians in day jobs, models in the wrong location, really: there’s a force London move in careers and there shouldn’t be. We’re rich, really, momentarily, although the plug drain means there’s no priority and Nicole Scherzinger said we’re talentless when she came here and I’ve not believed an understood word from her mouth, but it hurts. And the funding goes, like a natural resource, a relic we’d museum-frame, Christian Slater.”
Jack asks what I know, who I know, who should’ve moon-stepped, could pinnacle it. But the list’s too long. There’s not one talent. But X Factor can’t be it. I watched it. I won’t fucking lie to you. I enjoy getting angry, and there’s so much to get vocal for: Gary Barlow’s hypocrisy, Louis’ bigotry, Tulisa’s delusions of grandeur.
The city, though, iconic, sure, but it’s celebration, that’s it’s talent. The people I know, in the North, know how to celebrate something: a new job, day off, birthday, anniversary, snow. Annie organised a parade, and John camped at Monument, and Ted made a blog to talk about change, and Kim had Christmas at her house. Events every night you could go to and absolute institutions: Tyneside, Hancock, Pink Lane. Links and ties and drinks and a trustable accent according to market research, fireworks, exhibitions in parks in winter and summer fairs and the Town Moor.
Organising’s not a personal pastime, not always, but it’s the talent of the city and the people in it. That flair that mean’s there’s complete love of place. And I didn’t feel that first, where I was. But now.
When you truly, truly love a book – when you’ve read it cover to cover and back again, and until the spine is starting to split – you begin to see the entire world through that narrative. You start to recognise crucial locations of that story in your own city.
I realised that The Lisbon Sisters from The Virgin Suicides are very much real in this city, and that people are still not taking their concerns or their troubles all that seriously, and that Russian classic Anna Karenina becomes a satire on W.A.G and tabloid culture when you relocate it to the haunts of the Scousewives.
Words and Drawings by Amy Roberts (with thanks to my girl Laura Outterside for being my books & booze buddy x)
Characters: The Lisbon Sisters
Book: The Virgin Suicides
Author: Jeffery Eugenides
Original setting: Grosse Point, Michigan
“Everyone dated the demise of our neighbourhood from the suicides of the Lisbon girls…”
Cecilia was the first to go. At 13, she first attempted death with razors across the wrists. But, unsuccessful, she later jumped from the top window of the family house where she successfully and fatally impaled herself on the front fence (exhibit #2: fence piece).
Following the suicide of their youngest sister, the remaining four sisters – who were fourteen (Lux), fifteen (Bonnie), sixteen (Mary) and seventeen (Therese) – became disconnected from their peers and their schooling, whilst their home life became a staple of consistent local gossip in the area where they were to live out their short lives (Calderstones Road, and onwards to Allerton, Toxteth and Aigburth).
The four girls began wearing a uniform of black and started hanging out outside of The Law Courts and on Chevasse Park where they swigged the vodka and cheap wine that Therese bought for all of them from the offy. Mary once dyed her hair green in the toilets of Grand Central.
They spent as many nights as possible in the notorious city centre ‘alternative’ nightclub The Krazy House where a slew of teenage boys and men old enough to know better pursued and worshiped the sisters. There are love notes from this period (exhibit #4) in which men have written their numbers on the back of Smirnoff Ice bottle labels followed by meet up points and times (exhibit #4.6: “The Swan, tomorrow, 7:30. I’ll be sat in the corner listening to Sabbath”).
This was an activity that was reciprocated and encouraged whole heartedly by Lux, who at one point didn’t return home for an entire weekend but was eventually driven back by police who found her passed out and deeply inebriated in a stair well of a nightclub on Duke Street. Rumour has it that a drag queen called Lola who used to work the door at Society found her there and had called an ambulance because she ‘thought she was dead’ (exhibit #9).
Mr and Mrs Lisbon became increasingly reclusive following this event, and in an attempt to protect their remaining daughters from the rest of the World locked the house (and the internet connection) down into maximum security isolation and pulled the girls from school.
And then it didn’t take long for it to happen. Pills. Noose. Carbon monoxide. Oven. From four they had become zero – the living to the dead.
After the free reign of the suicides, Mr and Mrs Lisbon gave away everything they owned and sold the house to a young couple from Kensington. Allegedly they moved into an undisclosed location on the Wirral where they could ‘be alone, for all time’. The school across the road from the old Lisbon home put in a memorial flower bed (exhibit #12: photograph) in respect to the tragedy. There’s a rumour going round that teenagers have started having unprotected sex on the memorial piece because ‘there’s no way of knocking a bird up there since nothing survives on Lisbon land’.
Character: Anna Karenina
Book: Anna Karenina
Author: Leo Tolstoy
Original setting: Moscow / St Petersberg
“If you look for perfection, you’ll never be content”.
Anna became the center of national and local scandal after leaving her husband – a well known and respected politician – for an equally wealthy, but notoriously skirt chasing younger model in the shape of (likely premiership footballer) Vronksy. She immediately moved to Liverpool to be with him, and was overheard in hair salon Herberts harping on with grandiose statements about love filling her soul and the sacrifices for happiness. Keen to cash in on what seemed to be a predictable set up for derision, the rabid tabloids pounced on Anna as the new scurrilous It Girl du jour – eager to document and also instigate her messy demise.
Despite having it all – a massive house in Woolton, a never ending disposable income, free unlimited supplies of botox and a possible new reality TV show in the works – Anna still desperately missed the stability and social contacts of her old life. Sure, she had love but what of its reality? Despite her social position, and despite her money, the world still looked on her as being trash, and of ill, despicable and questionable morals. Proper women shouldn’t act in such a way, said Daily Mail and Express editorials for many months to come.
As a result of such pressures and public ruination, her partying spiraled out of control and further isolated her from the life she once knew and the life she craved to sustain with Vronsky. She lived it up with cocktails at Mosquito, champagne by the bucket in Circo, and a private booth in the Newz Bar. She attended Ladies Day at Chester races – spending the morning prior enjoying a champagne breakfast at the London Carriage Works with women of similarly wealthy but ill repute – before watching her partner’s horse fall at the first hurdle and eventually get put down.
Anna was caught between light and shade – a position where she could have everything, but also nothing. Her ex husband played his position – and that of Anna - up in the tabloids. She can always come back he kept saying but only if she stops the lies and deceit. Anything is better than lies and deceit! These were posted amongst shots of Anna – wild eyed and alone, platform heels in hand – wandering listlessly along the docks.
She even appeared as herself in several episodes of the soap Hollyoaks, leaving with the immortal line – once famously uttered by her once husband - Love those who hate you. She was not critically celebrated for her performance.
And then rumours began to circulate of Vronsky’s various infidelities. He was hardly ever home, and Anna began suspecting him of failing in love or lust with every younger version of herself that she came across. I feel a fool – as though I’ve given up everything for nothing! she glumly told her brother between mouthfuls of Key Lime Pie and a Cafe Cubano in Alma De Cuba one wretched lunchtime.
It was during this time that she began having recurring dreams about falling beneath the wheels of a locomotive. She would throw herself down onto the tracks into crimson and darkness. In her bag she always kept a small stash of cocaine neatly wrapped up inside a small vintage tobacco tin with a steam train on the lid and when she held the tin up to her ear like a shell she could hear the steam rising from the engine.
Much in the same way that there’s die hard Christian believers who take a moment in everyday life to think ‘What would Jesus do?’ (WWJD), I in turn occasionally find myself wandering around Liverpool thinking to myself ‘What the hell would Holden Caulfield make of all this?’, because I don’t believe in God, but I do believe in J D Salinger.
When you truly, truly love a book – when you’ve read it cover to cover and back again, and until the spine is starting to split – you begin to see the entire world through that narrative. You start to recognise crucial locations of that story in your own city. A dive bar in New York is suddenly right there on the corner of Duke Street, or you suddenly drive down a bland and orderly suburban street in Allerton where you decide that the ghost of a 13 year old girl in a wedding dress surely roams.
I began to think about this more and more and before long Liverpool was beset with tragedies, rebellions, murder and glamour. It became a stage, as well as an audience – stories and characters that I’ve loved for years were suddenly right there in front of me, off the page and onto the streets. Today I relocate Holden Caulfield to Liverpool to imagine the city through his eyes. Tomorrow I relocate the Lisbon Sisters from ‘The Virgin Suicides’ and Anna Karenina to Liverpool.
I discovered that barely anything changes for Holden Caulfield – he is ever present in many pubs and bars every day of the week muttering ‘phonies’ under his breath at hipsters and show offs.
Words and Drawings by Amy Roberts (with thanks to my girl Laura Outterside for being my books & booze buddy x)
Character: Holden Caulfield
Book: The Catcher In The Rye
Author: J D Salinger
Original Setting: New York City
The truth was that everywhere I went in this goddamn city, I could see those same escort agency posters dotted about the place. They were everywhere. Some woman in a Santa hat and little else holding a gift between her open legs. I felt like a fool. And then I felt real sleazy. And then I just felt depressed. But at least I didn’t actually do anything with the girl and you know, I don’t have a black eye or anything today, so that’s something.
Anyway, I headed to this greasy spoon called Kimos for a late breakfast. It’s a good place to go for when you just want to be alone. I swear, I could pour a bowl of beans over myself in this place and nobody would bat a goddamn eyelid. In fact they’d probably bring me a new plate of beans and a towel to clean myself up with. I ordered the Foule Mudammas – because I was thinking myself a little more cultured and exciting than I actually am – but when it turned up I probably only ate a fifth of the thing. If you really wanna know I spent the whole time watching a guy opposite me eat a full English. I regretted that all day.
I tried phoning Sally again, but I guess she’s busy or just doesn’t feel like talking. Technology really gives me the blues. It doesn’t connect anyone with anybody. It just makes me feel more alone than if I didn’t have it, truth be known. I was at a loss as to what to do with myself then. I was kinda planning on taking Sally out for a meal in Leaf or to catch a film in FACT or something, but I ended up going the Pilgrim and drinking a few double rum and cokes on my own in one of those booths they have in there.
I sat picking the mosaics off the table top (the one I was at spelled out the name LIPA) whilst a group of student types in rugby shirts talked about girls they’d screwed recently. I swear, I recognised half the girls they were talking about and know for a fact they wouldn’t be caught dead taking their knickers off to a bunch of bozos like that.
I was kinda drunk by that point and making a sorta scene, I guess – the way people do when they drink on their own. It just makes everyone uncomfortable. The barmaid started ID’ing me which I took as my cue to leave. I wandered just round the corner into a club called Bumper and they didn’t give me no grief about getting in or anything, which I took to meaning that they aren’t too picky about the sort of cliental they let in.
My god, you should have seen the mess everyone was in. I got myself a drink which cost me about three times the price of the ones in The Pilgrim and made me feel only about half as good, and went and stood downstairs away from the humping dancers on the dance floor. There was a girl crying in the corner. She had some vomit on the front of her dress and I felt real bad for her. A boy who looked younger than I did and was wearing some kind of an 80’s shell suit jacket with a t-shirt that had the logo of some obscure metal band on it or something went over to her and tried his luck. Man, I can’t stand phonies like that.
I started talking to my brother Allie whilst I was stood there. The music got louder, so loud that I could feel the bass in my stomach, and I started worrying about whether the ducks in the local park by mine were alright. I finished my drink and decided to head back to Crosby to check. Hang out with my sister, Phoebe. Maybe everything would be fine.
Tomorrow: The Lisbon Sisters from ‘The Virgin Suicides’ and Anna Karenina relocated to Liverpool.
In October 2012 New Writing North kindly invited us to embed ourselves within the Durham Books Festival, the North East’s biggest annual celebration of books and new writing. Their support enabled us to bring together (and actually meet in person for the first time!) four kindred spirits from four North of England cities who have contributed to the ‘A Wondrous Place’ digital space over recent months – Hayley Flynn, Amy Roberts, Amy Mackelden and Missy Tassles. We jointly led a practical workshop with lots of lovely people from the region (more info here), attended festival events together, did lots of tweeting, and had the invaluable opportunity to pool our perspectives on the part of the world we live within and love and to share what we feel are the contemporary points of connection between Newcastle, Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool.
Here’s Missy Tassles’ cartoon perspective on our time together. Click on each cartoon to see an enlarged version.
The above photograph of us grafting was also taken by Missy (that’s why she’s not in it!).
Tomorrow: ‘A Catcher In The Rye’ inspires Amy Roberts to re-imagine Liverpool…
His mind felt like it was cracking open, his eyes were puffy and red, and his skin itchy and sticky. He lay cocooned in his cheap, battered leather jacket and a t-shirt stuck to him by three days worth of sweat.
He held his head in his hands, keeping his burning, swollen eyes closed for as long as possible, only looking up occasionally to see the couple of Arab ladies opposite chatting through all his suffering.
The sound of the many washing machines turning was reassuring, though barely enough to drown out the brooding thoughts that threatened to career into his mind.
The laundrette had a stifling atmosphere. Strip lights on even in the day, walls plastered with brightly-coloured flyers advertising long past events and every surface covered with a thin, sickly-static residue of detergent.
He felt like he was breathing it in, the powder going deep, searing away at his already cigarette-abused lungs, slowly suffocating him as he sat beneath the grim yellow fluorescence. He put his head back in his hands again for a long time. Squeezing his eyes hard to try and take control of the throbbing, trying to take control of the feeling in his body.
When he looked up again the two ladies had gone and he found himself looking straight out through the large front window of the shop that looked across the junction of Upper Parliament Street, Catharine Street and Princes Avenue.
Cars, vans, buses, bikes and people all moved rapidly in all directions through the crossroads, all speeding along their own paths through the city. He felt a little better now, and continued to stare out at the never-ending flow through the window that was scarred around the edges with the dust and grease of a million washes.
He stared unblinking until his eyes started to stream and the Escorts and Polos and Hyundais and Transits began to blur. Blue and chrome became brown and plastic; the back of one car began to connect with the front of another.
As he watched, the pedestrians began to walk slower, their every action becoming long and fluid. Every single movement of every body could be seen in minute detail, dragged out and fractured. Eventually, their whole forms began to fragment and disintegrate.
The cars became viscous, their components stretching and flexing before losing their forms and turning into fluid shapes. These too began to flux and bend, breaking into pieces and floating off in many directions.
He saw a bird rise out of the now cracking tarmac on Princes Avenue, a Phoenix that struggled hard to free itself from the fragmenting road surface, eventually, violently, pushing its body outwards and turning the remaining tarmac to dust. It stretched out its brilliant red and gold wings as it rose away.
As he looked back to the road, he saw it had turned into a foaming torrent of a river, roaring forwards without pause down where the avenue had been. In it floated the last few forms of vehicles that quickly sank.
The Georgian terraces that lined the road began to crumble, their facades falling in on themselves to reveal thick jungle, soaring golden temples and, in the distance, jagged, snow-tipped mountain ranges.
The remaining people on the streets turned there, in the bright sunshine, into lions and stags and dragons and mermaids.
And, as the last vestiges of Liverpool 8 erupted, he saw the drive-in NatWest consumed by a waterfall and, far across the plains, the Renshaws factory was shunted aside by an emerging volcano.
Here were a million colours and forms rising before his eyes. Animals grazed on the rich plains and leaped through the surging waters now deep blue, then viscous green, now crystal clear.
It all became too much and, his eyes aflame, he closed them, squeezing them tighter than ever, but still he saw the colours on the inside of his closed lids, burning into his mind.
He concentrated all of his thoughts, all of his energy, on containing what he had seen: the sounds of the volcano; the continually rumbling drums from far away; the vivid, liquid brown of the stag’s eye; the flock of small, bright birds emerging from the dense, damp undergrowth.
All surged inside his head for what seemed like an age. When he eventually peeled open his dry, sticky eyelids again, he was confronted with only the dirty window of the launderette and a shrunken old woman gently snoring on the bench opposite.
Through the window, a Hackney Carriage honked and careered down Princes Road; but behind it, in the corner of his vision, he could see a Phoenix still rising.