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I’ve been completely hooked this past week by the radio 4 drama A Steal by Mike Bartlett, which at first glance has the veneer of simplicity, storywise, but the more you hear, the more you listen and think about it, the more complex it becomes in terms of characters, in terms of plot, in terms of ethics.

Hannah is a highly intelligent shop assistant working in a high end clothes store in Liverpool One. She shares a flat with a nurse, they go out, they drink and have fun, but a customer has made a complaint about her at work and colleagues have complained to management that she is loud and gets in people’s faces, and lately… Hannah is thinking a lot more about life than she used to, about unfairness and inequality, about the haves and the have nots.

Back in the sixties and seventies, plays used to be written around characters like Hannah, but increasingly this doesn’t seem to be the case. There are no Shelagh Delaney’s, no Jack Rosenthal’s, and if Hannah is a relative of any character in theatre or film it’s probably Shirley Valentine. There’s that same sense of no regrets, as well as the Liverpool connection. Laura Dos Santos is electric as Hannah, and she’s well supported by an excellent cast.

The series raises all sorts of questions about corporate ethics, personal responsibility, poverty, gentrification, inequality, civil disobedience, changes to legal aid, class war, disengagement from politics and media manipulation. And it has a realistic ending, rather than a utopian ending. Which is a really hard decision, drama wise, to take, but for the drama to be credible and thought provoking it had to end the way it did.

A week after I saw Pride, I went back to the Cornerhouse, this time with David, to see Still The Enemy Within, a new documentary about the Miners Strike. It’s unusual because it doesn’t feature any politicians or ‘experts’, just the miners and activists who were involved. The idea being to have at the truth from the point of view of those directly involved, without the political and media spin.

It’s a very powerful film, and it doesn’t end in 1985 with the end of the strike, it covers the 1992 pit closures and goes through to today. Because 2014 marked the 30 year anniversary of the start of the strike, the 30 year rule meant that some of the government papers relating to the miners, and the strike, have been declassified, so the film has been able to make use of them also.

The film has been made by a small company, operating outside of the conventional film industry, and as such word of mouth, social media and crowd funding have been at the heart of getting this film seen and promoted. This is still the case and, if you’re interested in getting involved, I would recommend visiting their website.

2014 has been a year for anniversaries, mainly the start of World War I. The Miners Strike, being a much more divisive event, has not received that much attention, save for this film and Pride. As a colleague of mine put it, “There are members of my family who still don’t talk to each other because of the Miners Strike.”

I went to see Pride at the Cornerhouse last night, which was amazing. Also, the only film I ever seen at the cinema where people in the audience have applauded at the end.

It’s based on a true story, that of the London campaign group Lesbians and Gays Support The Miners, who raised money for the miners during the 1984 miners strike. When the mining unions don’t want to know, the group end up approaching a mining community in Powys directly, which doesn’t go smoothly but which does lead to friendships and respect on both side, as well as hostility and suspicion.

I love this film because it’s social history at its best, even though it’s a feature film and not a documentary, and also British film making at it’s best. It manages to be heart warming and touching without being unconvincing or mawkish. It’s also very, very funny, incredibly well written and researched, beautifully soundtracked and perfectly cast.

In this 30 year anniversary of the start of the miners strike, another film is due for release, a documentary Still the enemy within. The Cornerhouse will be showing the documentary on 6th October at 6pm and the film will be followed by a Q&A with Producer Mark Lacey and Cath Booth, who was involved with Lesbians and Gays Support The Miners.

Blog Mancunia

In the last couple of days I’ve been engrossed in reading two very different Mancunian blogs, the new soap blog (which mainly focuses on Coronation Street) All in a lather and the more established Now Here.

I’m not mad keen on the gubbins about bitcoins, but Now Here does feature some searing, often heartbreaking, commentary on the life of the unemployed/underemployed millennial graduate. It’s very much a personal blog, not a Manchester blog, the writer living in Manchester but essentially wanting to escape it. But the quality of the writing is excellent, including this thoughtful piece on Skins.

All in a lather is, on the surface, a lighthearted take on goings on in soap land, especially Weatherfield, but it’s less bubble and more Dorothy Parker, and as such can be read by anyone who yearns for an intelligent, and very funny read. Even if you don’t watch the soaps, it’s still a hilarious read…

On Saturday I ventured out into the tropical Manchester heat.

There was a slight hitch at the bus stop when the notable lack of 192’s heading up or down the A6 became noticeable. Eventually a bus homed into view, bearing the legend designed to crush every commuter’s heart ‘Sorry, Not In Service’

The bus, surprisingly, pulled up at the bus stop, despite some baffled ‘WTF?!’ shoulder and face expressions from me. The driver got out of the cab. ‘Stockport Carnival’ He explained, ‘The parade’s just set off’

Of course. Stockport Carnival is always (at least, I think always) one week after Hazel Grove Carnival, which tends to occur just after Marple Carnival. Entire families have been known to plan their Saturday shop and library run around Hazel Grove carnival, we even moved a birthday party because of it once. But I feel sad this year because Hazel Grove carnival has become a victim of budget cuts at Stockport Council, so this is the last one.

Another bus turned up a few minutes later, and I climbed aboard.

I headed over to Central Library as I haven’t been since it re-opened in March, and I’ve really wanted to see it. It’s very nice but they do still seem to be finishing it off. There are glass lifts and a strong focus on whiteness and large minimalistic spaces. In some ways, it reminds me of the British Library in St Pancras, London, which if it’s intentional, was a good choice of role model. The hand of modern architecture has left imprints akin to those seen at the Library of Birmingham and both Sheffield and Manchester Learning Commons’. It’s not as easy to find your way around Central Library as it was in its previous incarnation.

There’s a lot of new innovations to make room for, such as a media centre, and I’m not mad keen on the lending section being in the basement while things like BFI film booths, performance areas and the café are on the ground floor but it does reflect the way peoples priorities are going on a day to day basis. I’m sure there is stuff going on above the ground floor, but I couldn’t find a way up there.

So, having had a good look, I headed off back down Moseley Street and then over to Market Street to go to Whittard. For once all the various smaller groups of buskers, charity people and religious evangelists had been drowned out by a single voice: There was a Gaza protest going on. I think it was probably the SWP as they regularly pitch up outside Marks and Spencers on Market Street. Anyway, they were very vocally compelling, and were getting a good enough reception for me to be a bit uneasy about it getting out of hand. Not in a 2011 riots sense, but in a mild ruckus in an already far too crowded street sense.

So I decided to take a diversion on the way back to Piccadilly and go back via the Town Hall and Albert Square. In doing so I passed the march that was assembling, this group were a young, mainly Asian group, as angry as the contingent on Market Street, with the same slogans. We reached Piccadilly at roughly the same time, albeit via slightly different routes. The group marching was quite small but seemed to be being policed appropriately and not aggressively or disproportionately. They made up for their number by sheer volume and passion but, even so, the musicians and street market in Piccadilly, including a rather saccharine rendition of ‘Jesus loves the children of the world’ by the gospel choir, soon drowned them out.

 

 

 

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.

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