Oxford Road

Oxford Road

I had thought at first I was going to be late to meet Anne and her daughter Sarah, but the traffic and buses were in my favour for once. I’d agreed to meet them both at the Oxford Road end of Brunswick Street at 11:30, and arrived at quarter past 11 to find them both waiting for me. Prior to that, I’d walked past two empty police horse boxes on Brunswick Street (closed, much to the bemusement of residents) and seen the swathes of coaches transporting march attendees play merry hell with the traffic trying to run the rat run behind Oxford Road, which was also closed.

There were a lot of people already on Oxford Road as we walked down, and we found the Unison section assembling, as planned, by the Aquatics Centre. The atmosphere was rather reminiscent of an assembling carnival, and we even had a PA system and DJ (we think it was Clint Boon), not to mention John Robb as emcee and Billy Bragg playing live. This at once felt much more high powered and glitzy than the previous two TUC marches I’ve been on, but also much more carnival. Not that previous marches haven’t been entertaining and fun, but they haven’t had entertainment laid on. It was the difference between the Arena and the Academy: Sophisticated and innovative use of big screens and PA systems all along the line. There were also speeches from the head of the TUC, head of Unite, and head of the Students Union. Later, we also had the head of Unison, but his speech was timed to coincide with a point when the march on the move and the Unison contingent were going past him and the stage by All Saints Park. As we were trying to simultaneously navigate the narrowing road and the media block, this meant I was paying less attention to him than to previous speakers.

In the early stages, before we moved off, we all got a chance to admire each others banners. Given recent allegations about David Cameron’s antics as a young man, there were lots of pig related banners, inflatable pigs and so on. I overheard one man trying to explain the banners all around them to the young child accompanying him:

“Well, when David Cameron was a young man, he… was very… unkind to a pig.”

David Cameron pig banner

David Cameron pig banner

We had to wait an awfully long time on Oxford Road before setting off. The start time was 12, but it was nearly 2 by the time we set off. Anne’s knees are bad so we watched part of Billy Bragg’s set and the speeches from the vantage point of the window sills outside Geoffrey Manton building. While we were seated we had the unwelcome chance to observe innumerable people, including many small children, stumbling about as they tried to navigate the hostile architecture between the pavement and the windowsills, which takes the form of hedgehog spikes of upturned bricks.

When we did set off, the Mancunian Way flyover slowed down the huge balloons that at least two unions were making use off, which gave us time to take in the homeless protest under the flyover. A smaller spin off of the one in St Peter’s Square perhaps?

Homeless protest, Manchester Oxford Road/Mancunian Way Flyover

Homeless protest, Manchester Oxford Road/Mancunian Way Flyover

We turned off down Portland Street, then went left, down a series of side roads and side streets towards Albert Square and the town hall. It was at this point that I heard one woman say to a friend that their friends were in a bit of the march that was still on Oxford Road. There was some intermittent chanting, and I was pleased to hear ‘WHOSE STREETS? OUR STREETS!’ again. ‘Build a bonfire’ has been adapted, with the bankers now taking the place of the Lib Dems in the middle. Along the route we passed various people declaiming political polemics on various corners with an inspiring amount of conviction and passion, and as we headed towards Deansgate and Castlefield we passed a fantastic drum orchestra. We didn’t get anywhere near as close to GMEX, or even the Midland Hotel, as last time, or the time before, but we did get to make a lot of noise and sing along rousingly to Pulp’s ‘Common People’ as we drew towards the nearest possible point to the conference hall.

It was as Pulp segued into Oasis’ ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ that I realised how reliant the playlist had been on ’90s Britpop. Earlier on Oxford Road, there’d been some punk (Clash ‘Rock The Casbah’, Jam ‘Eton Rifles’), the Smiths, some standard rebel rousing anthems (‘Get Up, Stand Up’, ‘My Generation’, ‘Walls Come Tumbling Down’) and Billy Bragg was playing union friendly anthems like ‘Power of the union’ and ‘World turned upside down’, plus Woody Guthrie’s ‘You Fascists Are Bound To Lose’. It’s a shame there weren’t any more modern records though (surely the students could have provided some suggestions?) and it makes me wonder if modern pop is considered lacking in stridency, or made by posh people. Some of it is, certainly, but surely not all of it? Poppy and the Jezebel’s 2012 hymn to youth unemployment ‘Sign In, Dream On, Drop Out’ would have been a good start. And if they’d wanted a good, but less used, ’80s one they could have had Sade ‘When Am I Gonna Make A Living?’ I suspect Doyle and the Fourfathers ‘Welcome To Austerity’ would have been construed too downbeat though.

On the move

On the move

Overall, the atmosphere on the march was very carnival and jubilant. There was even a report being filmed in the midst of it all, near Deansgate. Possibly Granada Tonight. Some of the students ambushed it, natch. All along the route people have been handing out leaflets and newspapers, so I’ve returned home with a whole bag full of stuff, mainly socialist, some anti-racist, one for Animal Aid, one to do with NHS reforms in Manchester and Greater Manchester, plus Left Unity, The Morning Star, and the People’s Assembly newsletter.

The People’s Assembly were doing the rally at the end of the march, but we were a bit knackered by then, so headed home from Castlefield to Piccadilly via the bewilderingly genteel and gentrified King Street and St Ann’s Square, and the usual chaos of Market Street. We had thought that our bus stops had been moved for the day but the two day rave in Piccadilly had been shut down we saw, according to a screen with a rolling news feed on it on Market Street. What with the rave and the Britpop soundtrack, the day had a vaguely ’90s feel to it. This echoed the feeling of deja vu I had last week when I heard about government plans to restrict the length of cordoned off road allowed for ongoing roadworks to 1 mile at a time. I haven’t heard any more about this since, but my first thought on hearing the story was that it was John Major and the cones hotline all over again.

As we headed down Market Street we could see the progress of the rest of the march whenever we looked left down a side street, and we finally began to feel that we’d lost the police helicopter that seemed to have been following us since Oxford Road. The union bosses estimated that 80,000 people marched today but the 6pm bulletin on Radio 4 reported the police figure as being 60,000, which is still 10,000 more than the  police figure for the 2013 TUC march.

The view from Market Street

The view from Market Street

The People’s Assembly are running events all week during the Tory Party conference, and are putting attendees up in Sugden Sports Hall. You can find out about their events in Manchester this week by visiting their website. Their next event is The People’s Assembly Morning Briefing at 10:30am in Central Hall on Oldham Street, which features a speech from Natalie Bennett, and there are number of additional protests and marches planned tomorrow, and throughout the week.

Digital Camera

Went to see Florence + The Machine and The Staves at Manchester Arena on Friday night.

I’ve never been to an Arena show before, and was somewhat apprehensive because, traditionally, I’ve always been a Roadhouse (RIP) and Night & Day girl. When bands I like get too big for those venues (or the Deaf Institute), I’ll go and see them at the Academies, but that’s the biggest set of venues I’d been to until Friday night.

Because the traffic has been so awful this past week, largely due to the ongoing situation with the sinkholes in the Mancunian Way and it being autumn when the traffic is always awful, I used up my time in lieu so I could come home, change and get my tea before going out again.

I was braced for the worst, traffic wise, when I left at 6pm but it was a surprisingly smooth ride into the city centre, and I got in at about ten to 7pm. I then walked very leisurely over to the Arena, which was easy to find. Lots of steps and once you’re inside it’s like being in a cross between St Pancras International and the Arndale: Weird. Like a city within a city. There’s food, bars, merchandise, and the signage is like train station signage as you navigate your way to your block of seating, row, and then seat.

All the standing places had gone by the time I booked my ticket, so I had to go for a seat instead: Another first as I’ve never been to a seated gig before.

The Staves were the support act, and they were brilliant: Impeccable harmonies and lots of echo. They had a shrewd setlist as well, in that they opened with an acapella number (always a good way to grab a crowd’s attention, plus it showed off their gorgeous harmonies) and followed it with the strikingly guitar led ‘Black and White’. They ended the set with the irresistable Nashville esque sing a long that is ‘Teeth White’. In-between, they played a lovely set and did their damnedist to build up a rapport with politely interested but not ecstatic audience. One of the three sisters remarked at one point that she’d been a student in Manchester, and that she’d spent “Some of the best, and most hungover, moments of my life here” which was sweet. The band are returning to Manchester for their own headline gig at the Albert Hall on 24th October.

Florence + The Machine came on at about 9pm. From my seat I had a good view of the stage, but sideways on. This meant I got a good view of the comings and goings on and off stage during The Staves set (they gave the sound engineer friendly pats on the back as they exited) but less so during Florence + The Machine as they used a smoke machine (not excessively) and as such the band were only visible in silhouette. The band entered from my side of the stage, as The Staves had, but Florence walked across the area in front of the stage to say hello and make friends with the audience before going up the steps on the other side to join the rest of the band onstage.

The set was amazing, and Florence is a very lively, warm, and generous performer. She runs about the stage a lot, putting in dramatic flourishes, pogoing, and twirling like a ballet dancer with an interest in northern soul, and she loves invading the audience, she did this about three or four times, and security seemed up for this and managed to keep up with her. When she first got on stage, she brought with her a blue banner she’d been handed by one of the audience in front of the stage, and held it up. Later, she acquired more banners ( a very spangly ‘We Are Shining’ was particularly impressive), had bras thrown at her, and – at her own instigation – other items of clothing.

After three songs (‘What the water gave me’ was first, then ‘Ship to wreck’, then ‘Shake It Out’) she made everyone stand up for ‘Rabbit Heart’, which was particularly excellent as I’d wanted to stand up but no one in my block was doing so and I didn’t want to stand up if I was blocking someone else’s view. As it was, the crowd obliged, and I was then able to stay standing for most of the rest of the set (I did sit down for ‘Long & Lost’, which is one of the quieter songs, but only because my feet hurt) and generally treat it as a standing gig, which was cool. I had a bloody good dance to ‘Desdemona’ and ‘Queen of peace’, but couldn’t do the arm movements I’d do if I was dancing to them at home because I would have twatted the people in front and to the sides if I had, which was a shame. Anyway, I had a seat free next to me so I could go a bit mad, dancing wise, albeit not with my arms.

‘Shake it out’ was a highlight as we were pressed into service as Florence’s choir, and she conducted us for it. ‘Spectrum’ was another highlight, with everyone encouraged to dance to that one, and Florence ended the song with what can only be described as a northern soul pirouette, that is; spinning slowly but with one leg lifted slightly and pointed out at ankle level. She kept this up for about two minutes as the harp finished, and the result was very impressive.

It’s occurred to me that the band used the big screens either side of the stage in a fairly innovative way, both by having Florence lift up people’s banners on stage so everyone else could see them, but also so we could play ‘Where’s Florence?’ when she left the stage during ‘Rabbit Heart’ and legged it down the gap between the standing section and my side of the arena, over to, and up, the stairs in-between segments near the back. She sang part of the song from there before coming back down and invading the crowd in front of the stage. Very energetic. They played the balearic keyboard extension of ‘Rabbit Heart’ as well, which helped it build and allowed Florence license to roam, run and generally explore, all barefoot of course.

I also thought the approach to ‘Mother’ with Florence kneeling on stage in front of a backdrop of a big red sun was very evocative, and in the spirit of the song, which is very Monteray Pop Festival 1967 (Big Brother and the Holding Company, Jefferson Airplane..) The band then went into the blissful ‘Queen of Peace’, and followed it with ‘Spectrum’, which we all went obligingly berserk to, before concluding with ‘Dog Days Are Over’, in which the harpist got his own spotlight for what must be one of the most distinctive intros of recent memory, and we were urged to hug the people next to us and remove any items of clothing we didn’t need. I did think about doing this, but decided (after a brief speculative glance) that neither I nor the bloke next to me were up for hugging a complete stranger, and that I would get cold going home in only my bra, and wouldn’t part with my tiara because I want to wear it to work next week. Other folk were more obliging, but Florence didn’t take her shirt off as she did at Glastonbury, so I felt less guilty about not joining in.

The encores were the searing ‘What Kind of Man’, during which Florence dropped to her knees like she’d been shot when that ferociously distinct and jagged guitar kicked in, and ‘Drumming Song’. which is another great one to dance to. I emerged sweaty, with sore feet and achey legs, but blissfully happy and slightly disoriented when the lights came up.

Getting home was a bit surreal because I took the wrong exit from the Arena and ended up on Trinity Way, having to wade through hordes of opportunistic bootleggers flogging bootleg merch while also trying to navigate the hordes of similarly confused, disorientated, and – in many cases – bladdered, Florence fans. Then I realised I was going the wrong way and had to turn around and do it all again in reverse until I found the Hunts Bank exit, where I’d come in. I almost got it right from there, but somehow ended up going via Corporation Street and a whole area near Exchange Square that’s cordoned off for Metrolink works, where the walkway was very narrow and it was weirdly eerie and surreal, like some post industrial ghost town. Still, eventually the trail of Arena gig goers emerged at the junction of Cross Street and Market Street, and many of us continued down Market Street to Piccadilly.

It was while I was at the bus stop waiting for a 192 that I realised the downside of the Arena’s ‘no leaving the venue to have a fag’ policy because I ended up surrounded by fellow gig goers, all chain smoking furiously, plus a guy with a massive e-cigarette, the size and shape of the fattest cigar ever, who kept enveloping me in a cloud of vaguely blueberry smelling vapour every time he exhaled. As I was standing at least a metre away from him, this was quite a feat.

There was a lot of post gig chatter on the bus, and I think it reinforced for me the very female nature of Florence fandom in some ways, because the ones most passionately talking about the band were the girls. I am reminded of all those bras thrown at the stage last night, and the quiet, shy, red headed girls waiting to take their seats in the arena. Not to mention the ceremonial gifting of the flowery headband to the girl in the audience during ‘Rabbit Heart’.

As excellent as the gig was though, I did find being in the seated area an odd experience. I discussed it with a friend at work on Saturday, who pointed out that it’s not just at Arena shows that people treat a gig as a nightclub and spend equal time in the bar or in the loos as they do actually watching the band they’ve paid to see; you’re just aware of the scale of the phenomenon much more with an Arena show because you have to keep letting people to and fro past you.

The discovery of this phenomenon (or, at least, the scale of it) dovetails very nicely with a documentary I was listening to earlier today about Jacques Attali, who wrote a book called Noise in 1976, which predicted that the value of recorded music would crash, and that the music industry was on the brink of a crisis. The documentary discusses this ‘crisis of proliferation’ of recorded music, and how hard it is for musicians to make a living these days.

It’s been known for several years now that musicians are making more money from touring than they are from from record sales, and the proliferation of live entertainment, and the effort bands now put into tours and gigs does, unfortunately, perhaps account for the casual nature of gig attendees: Gigs are less of an event now, it seems, which is odd to me. If I care enough about a band to pay £40 for a ticket, I want to watch the whole show, not spend my night getting bladdered and going back and forth from my seat to the loos. Fortunately, Florence + The Machine are a band who believe in not only giving the audience a really good night, but also in engaging with and forging a connection with their audience, and that kind of optimism can, fortunately, penetrate even the most hardened dilettante.

Thank you Florence for making them stand up, and for putting on such a great show.

Tomorrow morning there will be a series of public protests at a number of railway stations around the country to protest the 2016 rail fair rises (which are officially announced tomorrow) and to provide support for the public ownership of the railways.

Protests are taking place within the Manchester and Greater Manchester area at the following locations:

Barrow in Furness, 6am – 10am

Manchester Piccadilly, 7:30am onwards

Preston, 7:30am onwards

You can see the full list and find out more at the Action For Rail website

Perhaps it’s been the impact of films such as Pride and Still The Enemy Within, but this year, Gay Pride will feature a fringe event following the main parade. The fringe event is Political Pride, and it features involvement from MMU and the People’s History Museum, amongst others.

Why do we need Political Pride? Because, as the website puts it, “Pride means more than a party in the village”

So, if you’re looking to capture that campaigning, agit prop spirit, or experience some (hopefully) meaningful and intelligent discussions, as oppose to just getting wankered and sun burnt (Ok, maybe not sunburnt, it is Manchester after all…) in hot pants, this could be the event for you.

I was on annual leave last week so I decided to do something I’ve wanted to do for years: visit the air raid shelter tunnels in Stockport. 

I was not at all disappointed, though I must declare that I do have an interest in all things subterranean, which definitely had a factor in it. The tunnels are naturally atmospheric but you are issued with a hand held device to take around with you, containing audio description and sound clips to enhance the experience and provide context. The audio description and the sound clips are really good quality, so it’s definitely worth making use the device as you travel around the tunnels.

I was very interested in the structure of the tunnels, and in how they’d been made. They were dug out of the sandstone over a period of about a year between 1938 and 1939. Sandstone is quite soft but not brittle. There is a lot of dust, and some damp, but the structures, aside from a bit of shoring up, seem to be pretty much as they were when they were last used as shelters.

The tunnels were equipped with a canteen, toilets (some flushable), benches, bunk beds, tools, Red Cross nurses station, ARP warden stations, and the workers from the Plaza would put on entertainments for those sheltering there.

The tunnels are all numbered, but it’s easy to see how you could become lost, even with signage, one tunnel looking much the same as another. Apparently people would sit with the name of their street on a bit of cardboard so that their neighbours could find them and they could all sit together. The tunnels became known as the Chestergate Hotel as more amenities and entertainments were added. You can see now how primitive the bunk beds were, how everything was functional rather than necessarily comfortable, practical and purposeful.

I’m so pleased that it’s been preserved as a museum because it is truly unique, and it tells a really interesting story.

The museum provide guided tours by night where you can see more, but you have to book pretty far in advance.

Stockport Air Raid Shelters are open Tuesday – Friday 1pm – 5pm and Saturday 10am – 5pm

Upon scurrying down Oxford Road this dinnertime in the direction of Blackwells, who were holding a copy of Tracey Thorn’s excellent memoir Bedsit Disco Queen for me, I chanced upon a small but eye catching protest taking place outside University Place.

Readers of the MEN will be aware that, post election, Manchester University is once again Occupied. The occupation is taking place in the Harold Hankins building at the Business School this time, a banner has been hung from the windows there to acknowledge this.

A similarly eloquent banner was being held up by the group of students outside University Place. It read:

9K Tuition Fees 4 years on: Still Shit.

Short, and to the point.

The MEN has reported that the students had occupied the Visitors Centre at University Place late this afternoon.

OK, I hold my hands up on this one, I didn’t manage to read both the Green Party and Labour Party manifestos before Thursday. I had unexpected overtime at work on Tuesday because we were short staffed, which cut my reading time significantly.

Next time, I’ll start reading earlier. As it is, I have had a look at the Labour manifesto since Friday and I probably still would have voted Green even if I had read it in time, so my conscience is clear on that one. As expected, Labour kept my seat (with an increased majority) and the council seat as well, so my voting Green made not a jot of difference. It just made me feel better. I have, since then, also signed a petition on Change.org that is campaigning to change the UK voting system. Which, again, may well not make any difference but makes me feel better.

I’d like proportional representation, the voting age to be lowered to sixteen, and I’d also like voting to be compulsory as it is in Belgium. Albeit with the caveat that there should be an option on the ballot paper for ‘None of the above’.

Similarly, I would support the idea discussed in the Economist in February for rearranged seating in Westminster to represent a political climate no longer dominated by two, or even three, parties. The house of commons is falling down, is full of rats (insert joke of choice here) and is going to have to be refurbished sooner rather than later. Why not do away with seats for the government and seats for the opposition and have a horseshoe arrangement as in the Scottish parliament? That would help discourage the current public school debating society culture of Prime Ministers Question Time and encourage cross party working which, in the current parliament, may well be an unavoidable option. Even if it’s not, anything that encourages MP’s to behave better and less like dicks is a good thing I reckon.

In terms of how Friday unfolded for me, I see now that it was a deeply upsetting day for all sorts of reasons (many of them not election related) and the regular updates received via work colleagues and the internet wove in and out of the events at work (which I’m not going to write about here) as a sort of melancholy ribbon amongst the general stress, exasperation and despair of the day at large.

Let’s start with breakfast: Normally I read either the Economist or Private Eye over breakfast, but as it was the day after the election I put the Today programme on instead to hear the worst. Not all the results were in at the time (this was just after 7am) and the Tories hadn’t got a majority at that point, but were certain to form the next government. As it was, I turned off just after Caroline Lucas had won Brighton Pavillion with an increased majority and Paddy Ashdown had been on predicting that the 2015-2020 Tory government would tear itself apart over Europe just as John Major’s administration of 1992-1997 had done. Which meant I left for work feeling, not exactly cheerful, but rather less depressed that I expected to.

I get in to work early on account of how the bus timetables work out, so I had time to look up the Stockport results on the council website before starting work and felt somewhat despairing to say the least: Both the Lib Dem seats went to the Tories, and the council results were still being counted at that point and weren’t declared until after dinner. When they were declared, an interesting picture of local vs national political allegiances revealed itself. Stockport was a Lib Dem council between 1997 and 2011, and the party should have overall control thanks to allegiances with Labour and the Independent Ratepayers. Pre 1997 it was a hung council for years, so maybe that partially explains it. Consequently, the Lib Dems didn’t do as badly in the council elections as they did in the general election, suggesting a mindset akin to ‘Trust them locally, don’t trust them nationally’. Not sure if the Lib Dems will think about this as they lick their wounds, but they should.

Throughout the morning, updates were passed back and forth as colleagues passed the desk I work on or I ventured into the communal admin area. A colleague arriving for work around 10 ish relayed Farage’s failure to win a seat, Milibands resignation was passed on by a colleague passing the desk, Clegg and Farage’s resignations came via the admin area again. All in all, we were talking about politics like mad on Friday at work, in amongst other more pressing dramas (of which there were many) and it was the same on the bus on the way home after more (pre-planned) overtime.

All in all, I cannot recall an election where the results and ramifications have been, verbally not virtually, so discussed, so dissected and disseminated by everyone I’ve encountered throughout the day, and it’s not slowing down. There is a lot of anger and despair out there, and people want to talk about it. The people who don’t seem to be talking are the people who voted Tory.


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