Archive for November, 2010

I woke up to find that it had snowed at last, or should that be inevitably? It looked very pretty, but was definitely more than a little chilly, despite the bright sunshine.

Student protests

Bright snow, blue skies

Today was the second round of student protests, and I arrived at University Place at 12 midday on the dot. En route from Grosvenor Street I saw an awful lot of police, including several vans and a number of mounted police, which only increased in presence the nearer I got to University Place. The crowd by the tin can was somewhat sparser than last week, and the mood was a bit different too: a lot quieter, and not so eager or excited. The organisers tried to get people geared up with the chant “You say cutback, we say fightback!” plus there was a little bit of rapping, and a spirited new chant: “He’s got the EMA in his hands, and he wants the fucking lot!” The police seemed friendly enough, some were smiling and talking to students. I spotted some of the schoolkids from last week, who seemed wary but still dedicated. There were some excitable sixth formers who, bored with waiting for the march to start (this seemed to be an issue last week too) and, spotting some fellow sixth formers, began to chuck snowballs. The other sixth formers soon reciprocated, and it wasn’t long before the sporadic chants were accompanied by speedy and ferociously accurate volleys of snowballs: I detected at least one future England bowler in the ranks. Soon, the university students were joining in, and then, at last, it was time to march.

As we headed out onto Oxford Road, we almost immediately marched into a car that had stopped, unable to move now that a seething mass of protesters were heading towards, around, and past it. The youngish (20’s, 30’s) occupants wound the windows down and waved cheerily at us as we walked past. Some of us waved back. Shortly after this, I overheard an initially friendly, then increasingly cagey, discussion between one of the students and one of the police concerning a statement made by the GMP chief, concerning use of “reasonable force.”

The mounted police by Kilburn building watched us pass, and the bridge linking both sides of the Business School across Booth Street East and Booth Street West was full of people, some leaning out of windows, watching and taking pictures. As we approached MMU, I overheard a couple of the students discussing what could only be described as a new interpretation or meaning for the phrase ‘Riot Girl’: Apparently The Daily Mail had printed a picture of a girl rioting at one of the marches, and ran a ‘ladies don’t riot’ type story with it. Dear me, how quaint…

As we passed All Saints park, I came to be standing next to some very giggly male sixth formers, who had a large cardboard placard, written in Arabic. As we walked along, one of them giggled “Did you see her face?” and did a very good impression of someone’s jaw hitting the floor. “What’s on that sign?” I asked them, curious, and they showed me but I couldn’t read it. One of them very gravely translated it into English: It was very rude, and involved called Nick Clegg a prostitute, amongst other things. I lost track of them not long after this, and fell in in front of a couple of boys solemnly and intelligently discussing media manipulation and newspaper bias, proving that media studies, formally taught or otherwise, is rarely a waste of time. We arrived at the BBC not long after this, where more people were on the pavements taking pictures and so on. One of the quainter aspects of marching, I’ve decided, is the waiting at the traffic lights. It makes sense, given the traffic has to as well, but it does feel vaguely surreal: Like being part of a moving mass of people makes you a big lorry or something.

It was as we approached the BBC that I spotted my favourite placard of the day: “Save Defence Against The Dark Arts”. People in offices watched as we continued down Oxford Road, some friendly, some curious.

I’ve had to get my A-Z out to map the rest of the route I think we took, and I think I’ve got it right. If I’ve got it wrong, I think it’s only a few streets out, and I apologise in advance. If I discover from other people who were there that I am wrong, I will correct the streets accordingly.

We went along Peter Street, near Saint Peter’s Square, then along Mount Street, with mounted police at our backs as we came to Albert Square. Some of the protesters at the back weren’t happy about having mounted police right behind them, and someone made a few comments about horses, presumably not thinking that it isn’t the horses in charge, but the riders. I suppose if I’d had someone charge me on horseback, I’d be annoyed as well, but I grew up on the Cheshire border on a street with fields of horses very nearby: I like horses and I don’t have any bad experiences of them, so aside from being a bit nervous as to what might happen if the police decided to exercise a less relaxed form of crowd control, I didn’t feel anything much.

We passed by the Christmas markets in Albert Square, then we were onto Cross Street and heading for Corporation Street,  an enthusiastic chant of “Tory Scum!” went up, along with “Our Street, Our Street!” and “You say cutback, we say fightback!” and so on. Because this is an area where tourists and posh people tend to graze, our presence was met by aghast glances and appalled stares in the main. Well, it was near Selfridges after all… A small and rather optimistic section of the crowd attempted to get some of the fur coated, aghast middle-aged on side by calling out “It’s your children’s future too!” and a brief but spirited chant of “Join us! Join us!” went up. Needless to say, the invitation was not taken up, and many probably went home to leave “Disgusted of Nether Alderley” type comments on todays reports instead…

As we approached URBIS (or rather, what was Urbis, and what is soon to be the new football museum) I spotted a number of protesters up at the front who were waving large red flags with the communist hammer and sickle design. They seemed to be welcoming us to Cathedral Gardens, where we were shunted up a small hill onto a largeish bank of grass for the speeches.

I left at this point, as I had to get to work and didn’t fancy the speeches much, so I once again missed what happened next.

The Manchester Evening News has reported tonight that 5 people were arrested, two for public order offences, two for assaulting police officers, and one for breach of the peace. This all appears to have occurred post Cathedral Gardens, either on the return journey to Oxford Road, or on Oxford Road itself. They give the number attending the march as 1,500, which would make it half the attendance of last weeks march, which sounds about right.

I also have it on very good authority (ie – not from the MEN) that the Roscoe Building occupation now numbers considerably more than last night, as 400 people got in and many have “stayed to help out”.



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After the Whitworth, I walked back down Oxford Road towards 8th Day. Just before I got there, I passed a middle aged man who was sitting on the pavement outside one of the innumerable café/takeaways, reading a book. Just as I was passing, a woman stuck her head out of the door and told him his dinner was cooking now, and he could come in for it soon.

In Oxfam in Piccadilly, my browsing of the books, CD’s and handbags was soundtracked by the deliciously mancunian ‘The Hour Of The Bewilderbeast’.

On Market Street I moved swiftly past the bellowing evangelist, who rants rather than doing the more traditional catechisms, and soon came across a clarinet player, in his sixties at least I’d estimate, playing ‘Pretty Woman’ as a fifty something Bez lookalike in a hoodie, trainers and trackies did a sort of Bez like hip hop ish shuffle to it. When I was coming back, they’d switched to ‘Stayin’ Alive’, but it was much the same dance. The crowd they drew suggests a big local cult following.

The bus back home was packed, and had an alarming start when a scallie ripped open the emergancy door from the outside and started bellowing insults at his two friends on the back seat. After a couple of minutes he slammed the door shut, then appeared at the window on the other side, jumping up and down like a terrier, whilst battering the window and shouting. A particularly stern staredown by an older guy in a hoodie in front of the back seat only seemed to encourage him, he started jumping higher and more urgently whilst making ‘I’ll ave yer!’ type gestures. The bus driver closed the door about thirty seconds later, leaving him on the pavement with the luckless souls who’d decided to wait for a less full 192.

I did once consider doing a bus blog, but decided not to because it wouldn’t work if you use mainly the same bus route. It would have been better to do it when I was  a casual worker, travelling to lots of different bits of Stockport, as I used to get the 313 and the 11 on a fairly regular basis, and all the bizarre stuff that didn’t happen on the 192 usually happened on those two bus routes.

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I headed out on the 192 after breakfast, into an icy, bright, bitterly cold day. I got off the bus by Downing Street and headed down Grosvenor Street to Oxford Road, and then down Oxford Road to the Whitworth Gallery.

Before I continue, I should point out that I’m not an artist, and as such have no artist’s eye, no aesthetic eye for technique. I have an instinctive and untrained approach to art: I either like something, or I don’t like it, and I could never make an intellectual argument out of what I do or don’t like. I prefer oils to watercolours, a historical preference, but aside from that, am pretty much open to anything.

Olafur Eliasson has transformed one of the gallerys into a forest as part of the The Land Between Us exhibition on place, power, and dislocation, and I went with great hopes of this but was slightly dissappointed. I really, really liked it, but felt that it was a bit small and that the light from the surrounding galleries invaded the forest of trees too much, meaning it was hard to get the feeling of sinister darkness that I felt it needed. Having heard this exhibition reviewed on Radio 4 a while back, I wasn’t sure what to expect as I’d had great difficulty envisioning what the forest would actually look like, but it really is lots of spindly trees planted on the gallery floor, very close together, so that you feel like you’re inside a forest. There are paths that take you through to the other galleries, and paths that twist back on themselves, and it does work in terms of evoking a forest, but the daylight seeps in too easily.

I did enjoy Walls Are Talking: Repeating Patterns though, which explores gender and sexuality through examples of wallpaper for boys and girls, men and women. Examples include specially commissioned pieces, for example a subversion of a japanese print by Allen Jones, with sub manga figures in bondage gear. There’s also a print of sexy 50’s housewives, flashing knickers and suspenders in each pose, by Emily Dupen/Hopkins, and some feminist work, which is tied to either a birth of midwifery association. One of their prints showed white silhouettes of heavily pregnant women in birth and labour positions, which were made up into patterns, and repeated against a single colour background. This was very effective because until you really looked at it, it was possible to view it as a pretty patterned wallpaper, and only when you looked more closely did the intent become clearer. I have a necklace that I bought last year from Enigmatic at Afflecks Palace (a shop that does cute and dainty with a twist very well) which, when you first glance at it, appears to be made up of a series of little silver sequins on a fairly fine silver chain. You have to get really close to it to see that the discs aren’t sequins, but are in fact tiny silver skulls. I think this particular piece of wallpaper design worked on a similar level.

Elsewhere in the Walls Are Talking exhibition are a pop art-esque library of beer cans, and a deconstruction of a Bond girl wallpaper, on gold foil, which acknowledged the mode of death of the Bond girl in Goldfinger, and the eroticisation of a dead naked girl daubed in gold paint. There’s also Playboy, the Spice Girls, and either Power Rangers or Gladiators (I’m sorry, I forget which it was…). There were also some ‘women through the ages’ designs, including a really disturbing sepia one depicting the early seventies, in which a series of blonde women are depicted holding flowers whilst wearing white nightgowns. They all look doped up to the eyeballs, and it exudes a gentle passivity that is incredibly sinister… Barbie and Sindy were slightly further on from this, just before the Spice Girls.

The Land Between Us runs until 23rd January 2011

Repeating Patterns runs until 16th January 2011

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Today was the second anti-cuts, anti-tuition fees protest, but it was local protests this time, not a big one in London. Or not just a big one in London. The Manchester one assembled at 12, but people were there before then, so I wandered around for a bit outside the Tin Can (University Place), watching and listening, and looking for a friend of mine, who had been handing out leaflets the day before. Didn’t spot him, but spotted some good banners and placards (‘Cut Pizza, Not Education’ on a Pizza Hut box), several involving witty yet vulgar plays on ‘cut’ and ‘cunt’, plenty that simply said ‘Tory Scum’ (the chant of a generation, post Millbank), a Socialist Worker ‘Fuck The Cuts’ one… seemed to be a lot of nervy, gee-d up protesters, who were either new to it and didn’t know what to expect, or fairly new to it and for whom the novelty hadn’t worn off. There were also some sixth formers and school kids, looking very small and excited… Seemed like quite goodish numbers at this stage, and the idea was for the contingent outside the Tin Can to march towards MMU, and hook up with the malcontents there before continuing onto the town hall. There were a lot of police, even at this stage, and some GMPTE staff (for traffic reasons, presumably, given it was Oxford Road) and campus police from the University. It all looked pretty relaxed, and still seemed pretty relaxed when the march started at 12:30, but I didn’t get to see anything after that.

There haven’t been that many accounts of what happened next, but from what I’ve been able to cobble together from commenters on The Guardian, and the article that the Manchester Evening News did, then there was some kind of stand off near the train station, with students sitting in the road and being charged by police on horseback. Anyone who was in that bit of Manchester could tell you that the traffic was thoroughly gridlocked for a number of hours, but comments on both the Guardian and MEN articles would suggest this isn’t the full story, and that a full account has yet to emerge… if anyone would like to write and send me one, feel free, (cakemaiden@gmail.com) but I expect it’ll emerge on one of the protest blogs soon…



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