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Hats for Cats

Hats for Cats

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A trade timeline

Ever since they started appearing about a year ago, I have been fascinated by a series of murals that have appeared in Levenshulme.

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Flowers

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Sweet shop

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Gallery

The area behind the boards on which they have been painted used to house two shops, which were closed and demolished a few years ago. Up until very recently, nothing has been done with the land and, slowly, plant life has started to re-colonise the area, a process you can see in these pictures.

Cinema

Cinema

Aquarium life

Swimming pool

ChavsOwen Jones is about ten years younger than me, but we both grew up in Stockport, him in Edgeley, me in Hazel Grove. Economically, Stockport ranges from extremely poor to extremely rich and we both grew up with parents working in reasonably (but not excessively) well paid jobs in the public sector, and seem to have both grown up with an awareness of social class and inequality, probably because of where we grow up and an awareness of those around us who were not so privileged. I remember this sense of variety being less obvious at junior school than at high school, possibly because at junior school the catchment area seemed a lot smaller, but also because my high school seemed to take kids from all over Stockport, plus some bits of Derbyshire and kids who’d been uprooted and moved from bits of Manchester and Salford. At sixth form college the net was cast even wider and we had a significant Derbyshire contingent as well as a large group of kids from Parrs Wood.

All of this seems very healthy in retrospect but, at the time, it did mean our high school was a seething mass of snobbery, elitism, bullying and territorial behaviour, both as a result of class divisions but also geographical territories. I didn’t go to under 18′s club nights in Stockport town centre in the early to mid nineties, but a classmate who did talked of those from different high schools standing in different corners, glaring at each other mistrustfully. Regular end of term rucks with rival high schools on school turf were also a curious tradition at our high school which, given the irregular nature of the buses, showed a certain degree of dedication if nothing else.

Owen Jones was the only child from his primary school to go to university but, unlike Owen, I went to an ex Poly, not Oxbridge. My mum had been to university as a mature student to train as a social worker, she had been to a grammar school. My dad went to a secondary modern before doing an apprenticeship. Both of them were lucky in their career paths and, as such, could afford to pay for me and my sister to attend university at a time when grants were being scrapped and tuition fees were being introduced. Both of us now have jobs in what would loosely be described as “the service sector”, and we both earn less than £20,000 p.a. We are lucky in that we like our jobs and find them rewarding, something of a minority view these days.

When I was a teenager, the kids who bullied you at school wore spliffy jackets, Joe Bloggs coloured jeans and listened to rave. They were called townies, they weren’t necessarily distinctive of a particular class, they were defined by fashion, music taste, and a perceived aggressive narrow-mindedness towards other teenagers who weren’t like them. They were the natural progeny of casuals and skinheads.

After them came scallies, whose very particular dress code included Lacoste sportswear, the trousers of which were tucked into Reebok sports socks, and Nike trainers. The style was widely believed to have derived from scallies in Liverpool, who had started the sock and trouser thing. Stockport still has scallies, but we never had many chavs, at least, by the strict stylistic definition: We had a severe shortage of people wearing Burberry. Possibly because I don’t think many local shops sold it.

Owen Jones’ polemic, Chavs: The demonization of the working class suggests that the term ‘Chav’ has been used as a term of abuse to label and demonize the working classes, and that politicians and the media – two professions dominated by the upper and middle classes – have been particularly culpable in this. In the course of his book he systematically interrogates every single statistic, accusation, slogan and stereotype, revealing a very different picture of the British working class.

Points he make include: The figures for benefit fraud are eclipsed not only by white collar crime, but also by the amount of benefits that those on low incomes are eligible for but do not claim due to the bureaucracy involved and fear of later re-payment demands when the goal posts are moved by the Department of Health, HMRC etc.

That the racialisation of the working classes into “White working class” rather than taking the working class as a whole, across ethnic divides, has encouraged the BNP and UKIP and given them a platform in communities that have long been Labour strongholds but who have long since lost faith with a party they feel no longer represents them: If disenchanted Labour voters in the D/E social codes had voted instead of simply staying at home in 2010, Labour would have won the 2010 General Election.

Some of the books findings are less surprising than others: that the media and politicians believe the average persons income to be around the £50,000 mark, and ‘middle class’ people to be earning £50,000 at least is relatively well known, and it does seem to be an attitude shared by the BBC and the broadsheets also. Still, its good to know that Jones has noticed this in that, he effectively re-defines the modern working class, challenging stereotypes and speaking to those who are labelled as well as doing the labelling. He also finds allies in surprising places, for example Rachel Johnson, editor of The Lady and sister of Boris.

Social commentaries, social histories and sociology from the late 1960s through to the mid 1980s were all full of discussions of the working classes but, as the 80′s ground on, class, also notions such as society and community, were subsumed by individualism and naked greed as the economy improved and council housing was sold off under ‘Right to Buy’.

Britain has yet to fully address the legacy of the 1980s and 1990s, politicians in particular seem incapable of taking the long view of anything: They will not look to the past and learn from it, and they fear the future and, as such, no government for the past twenty years or more has thought beyond eighteen months into the future. This is a legacy we will have to deal with one day, sooner, rather than later.

Feral underclass against the Tories

A good banner is always worth a replay

Had Jones’ book been published in 2012 rather than 2011, he would undoubtably have discussed the 2011 riots and, perhaps, the Olympics. So far as the riots in Salford and Manchester were concerned, TV footage showed white children and teens in hoodies and sportswear smashing and looting, or riding aimlessly on bikes. When the Manchester Evening News published mugshots of those arrested and whipped at lightning speed through the courts, the picture was decidedly more complex. True, about 90% of those arrested were white, but a surprisingly small group were under 18. The localities of those named and shamed in the mugshots also revealed that those taking parts in the Manchester rioting and looting were from all over Greater Manchester not just areas close to the city centre, or previous crime spots. This suggested all sorts of interesting possible reaons as to why people were in Salford and Manchester at the time, whether they had come in especially, or were simply around and got caught up in events: A significant number of those arrested were middle aged men in their forties or fifties, a number of whom were listed as having ‘no fixed abode’, whereas another participant was a university student from Marple. In the first instance, this suggests homeless people may have been involved in the rioting, in the second instance, a radical leftist student faction inspired post Millbank. Also mentioned was the amount of alchohol some of the participants had consumed (including the student from Marple) further muddying the waters. What Owen would have made of it all, I can only guess.

Gay punks

Gay punks

On Tuesday I went to the Geoffrey Manton building at MMU to see Dr David Wilkinson do a re-scheduled guest lecture on the theme of punk and LGBT identities. The talk should have been held in February to coincide with LGBT history month, but it was scheduled for the night of the big storm and, faced with 80 mile per hour winds, MMU took fright and closed the building mid afternoon. I had booked the day off work on that occasion, and arrived at 6pm after a lengthy wait for a bus and slightly less lengthy bus ride, only to find the building locked. I then spent another hour and a half (most of it at the bus stop on Oxford Road, being very thankful of my new warm wind proof hat) getting home, eventually walking to the Apollo for a 192 that was rammed to the gills, largely (it seemed) with people trying to get home to Buxton.

Tuesday was a much smoother affair. Geoffrey Manton is my old department building, and I haven’t set foot inside it for 10 years, so it felt both nostalgic and exciting. They have installed a series of very beautiful olive trees in large pots in the atrium, and the building felt unusually smaller than I remember. I like how it’s been developed though, what with the trees and the new student hubs.

I enjoyed David’s talk, in which he very skilfully dissected and picked apart the received stereotypes around punk, as well as detailing the connections between punk and the seventies gay scene. He did a gay reading of the Pistols on the Grundy show, and the image of the Pistols and Buzzcocks, amongst other things, as well as featuring some very excellent footage of Liz Naylor and Cath Carroll critiquing Factory and Tony Wilson, which was contrasted with Wilson being interviewed in his bath by Gillian Gilbert, also in the bath… Eewww…

It’s interesting to compare this talk to the one David did at Manchester Zinefest on City Fun two years ago, as his style has become more fluid, confident and sophisticated since then, and I think he will do very well.

In the audience for David’s talk was Dave Haslam, who contributes very movingly to this taster video put together by Manchester Histories Festival regarding Peterloo.

Manchester Histories Festival is making a welcome return this year with a bill that includes Michael Wood.

The festival organisers, in conjunction with Stockport Council and Manchester Metropolitan University, are also collecting memories and recollections of Strawberry Studios, a site included on the Too Late For Cake Stockport musical tour a couple of years back, and a similar project is underway regarding memories of Belle Vue Zoological Gardens. 

I really enjoyed Manchester Histories Festival in 2012, so I’m looking forward to this years event, which runs from 21-30 March.

I spent yesterday evening watching the entire first series of Dinnerladies on DVD, which proved to be even funnier than I remember it being. When the first series went out on TV I was working as a catering assistant at Sunwin in Stockport so a lot of it rang true. Retail being what it is these days, Sunwin closed post credit crunch and has since been replaced by a Primani.

This morning  I walked round to the Co-Op for some milk and, upon entering the shop, was overwhelmed by the displays of cut price chocolate and discounted perfume sets. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it) I’ve reached the point where I can’t even look at chocolate without feeling vaguely queasy. The PA system was playing Blur’s ‘Coffee and TV’, which felt most apt for the post-Christmas, pre-New Year period. The sense of weary malaise that runs through it fits, much like the BBC’s genius decision a couple of years ago to show Hamlet on Boxing Day.

 

DSCN0188Overheard in Piccadilly en route to Liverpool Road:

“So, where do you stand on the badger debate?”

“Oh, I’m agnostic…”

I had a helluva time getting to Liverpool Road from Piccadilly because various police roadblocks thwarted my planned route again and again. I think I walked part of the route backwards before the march started because of this but in the end I encountered a load of the Unite contingent on Whitworth Street West and followed them.

The crowd at Liverpool Road was immense, both in numbers and in volume. At the urging of stewards with megaphones I made my way down a side street and round to MOSI (Museum Of Science and Industry) to get to the back of the march, which took ages…There wasn’t that much room to move in a lot of places because of how many people were already there, with their banners, ready to march, and this was confounded by people trying to go past them in both directions on the same side of them, looking for their mates/relatives/co workers.

Eventually I gave up trying to find the end of the march, or David and David’s mum and just slotted myself in in a convenient gap in between Bolton Green Party, some GMB activists, and a lovely and friendly group of TUC activists from Merthyr Tydfil.

We were stuck on Liverpool Road for ages, with everyone blowing whistles and vuvuzelas amidst lots of photographers. We were over half an hour late moving off, and when we did move off it was at a very stop-start snail’s pace. It took about half an hour to get from Liverpool Road to Deansgate. The woman who nipped off to the chippy on Liverpool Road en march had the right idea.

There was less chanting than two years ago, but there was lots of enthusiasm and good humour, and some good agit prop street theatre, including characters in V for Vendetta Guy Fawkes masks posed at intervals along the route, and an NHS campaigner in scrubs, wearing stilts and a cowboy hat and carrying a David Cameron puppet.

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It was a pretty long march in that we went from Liverpool Road to Deansgate and off round the town hall, to Portland Street, past the Midland hotel and GMEX, Princess Street, down Oxford Road to Whitworth Park. I think people were flagging a bit by Oxford Road as the gaps were wider and we spread out more.

The march was so huge that people were coming back from Whitworth Park before I got there, and the marchers were still going past as I came out of Café Muse and headed down Brunswick Street to the Apollo to get the 192 home. Oxford Road was full of coaches waiting to take people home, and tired, hungry and elated marchers eating hastily cobbled together late lunches.

The police presence by the Midland and GMEX was huge: Wall to wall physical barriers and police. Most of the police were poker faced; some were clearly amused by some of the placards. I noticed more lawyers (legal aid cuts: “Judge John Deed wouldn’t stand for it” was a particularly good placard) and teachers than I remember on the TUC march two years ago, and a banner for a socialist lawyers association intrigued me. Other highlights were the Women Asylum Seekers group, a choir near the town hall, brass band, kinetic drumming that gave the march back a carnival feel in the late September sunshine by Portland Street/Oxford Road, and the young lady on Oxford Road with a banner advertising an anti-cuts blog with the strapline “Iain Duncan Smith – My part in his downfall.”

Unfortunately my feet now don’t want to work anymore today.

Say it with blogging

Say it with blogging

The Working Class Movement Library, Salford

The Working Class Movement Library, Salford

I’ve been spending a lot of this week at the Working Class Movement Library on Salford Crescent. There are buses and trains, but I generally get the 192 to Piccadilly and walk it the rest of the way. This takes you through the bustling sensory overload of Piccadilly and Market Street, out the other side and over the bridge into Salford, past the rise of development and regeneration on Chapel Street and Salford Crescent. While the sight of yet another block of yuppie flats being built within screaming distance of Manchester city centre does depress me, the idea of them becoming the ‘Vimto flats’ does amuse me and take the edge off the depression somewhat.

Anyway, to the WCML. I can’t think of another library or museum where you would encounter the Manchester post punk fanzine City Fun, trade union history and Oliver Postgate. I am re-reading Oliver Postgate’s memoir at the moment, so was particularly pleased to encounter the Postgate exhibtion in the entrance hall in its display case. Like Postgate and Firmin’s films, it is small but perfectly formed. Bagpuss sits in the middle and, amongst other things, it is revealed that the folk singer Sandra Kerr provided the voice of Madeleine the rag doll and that Professor Yaffle was based on Bertrand Russell.

I originally started trawling through the collection of City Fun about two or three years ago when I’d first decided to develop the punk women series I wrote for The F-Word into a book, and I’ve been meaning to finish the trawl ever since. Like a lot of fanzines that went on for a long time, City Fun clearly started to believe their own hype after a bit, and to develop their own personal shorthand/language. But I think that they were very quick to spot when they were disappearing up their own arses, and to take steps to correct that. I think that showed a good dose of self awareness and maturity on their part.

City Fun, which (amongst others) featured writing, artwork and input from Martin X, Andy Zero, Liz Naylor, Cath Carroll, Bob Dickinson, Linder Sterling and a certain Stephan Patrick Morrissey, has, over time, proved itself to be a really good social document of the 1979-1982 period, particularly from a punk/post punk and mancunian history point of view. It’s also been digitised now, a sure sign of its historical and cultural importance.

Last night was film festival night at the WCML, so I stayed until 7pm in order to watch the Lindsey Anderson/Shelagh Delaney project The White Bus from 1967. It’s described as being “A prelude” to If, and revolves around a series of small adventurous journeys undertaken by an anonymous young woman around Manchester and Salford. At one point she is on a civic bus tour on the aforementioned white bus, which is dominated by the excessively forthright and jolly Mayor, played with gusto by Arthur Lowe. I liked the bits in Central Library: “You have some filthy books in here!” and the sly double meaning inferred by the juxtaposition of the new towerblocks in Salford, and the march of progress they represented, with the rather more picturesque houses of the famous and wealthy in the suburbs. It’s an odd film, but an interesting and enjoyable one.

Anderson, while probably most famous for If, also directed the video to Carmel’s ‘More, more, more’ in 1984. It was also filmed around Manchester.

The film festival continues tonight with Luke Fowler’s The Poor Stockinger, the Luddite Cropper and the Deluded Followers of Joanna Southcott. Which mixes archive footage and newly shot material

“in an evocative video essay that reflects on the life and times of critic, historian and activist EP Thompson. It captures a moment of optimism, in which Thompson’s ideas for progressive education came together with political resistance and activism.”

There’s also a benefit in aid of the WCML, which has been hard hit by cuts to Salford Council, on 9th June at Islington Mill, at 3pm.

Photo of the Working Class Movement Library by pandrcutts. Used thanks to a flickr creative commons licence

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