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PTDC0001I’ve been planning to have a go at the Bee in the city trail for several weeks now but kept putting it off. While it is possible to download the app and find the bees that way, I opted for one of the maps available from Central Library.

There are quite a lot of bees in and around Central Library as it turns out, both the full size statues and the “little bees”, which are half the size, and have been designed by children across Manchester and Greater Manchester. Each bee has a ‘sponsor’ and a theme, decided on by the artist and sponsor in collaboration.

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I didn’t get to see the Sylvia bee in suffragette colours at the People’s History Museum, but I intend to check her out at a later date. The Bling bee near Mount Street and the Bridgewater hall had a lot of children clustered around it, admiring it’s mirrored coat. Part disco bee, part intricate art. I got as many pictures of the ones I saw as I could but, with it being the tail end of the summer holidays, a lot of families were out bee spotting too and it felt like every time I got close to a bee I’d be mobbed by small children.

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I thoroughly approve of the whole Bee in the city project. I know that some people have reservations, in fact I overheard one of the mums near the Bling bee saying to another visitor that she’d had enough of bees by the time the art trail came round, but that seeing the statues has changed her mind.

Apparently the Bee app has various freebies and promotions attached to it that you can get when you visit and unlock specific bees. I’m guessing it’s done with QR codes, and it’s clearly a gameification technique, but I think of the bee art trail as being akin to a live action version of Pokémon Go anyway, so fair enough.

There will be some who will say that the money spent on Bee in the city could be spent on other things, that instead of traversing the city centre photographing bee statues we could go around photographing rough sleepers, that we’d probably snap as many rough sleepers as bees. I’m not sure what that would achieve but, yes, the numbers of rough sleepers, or homeless as I’d rather say, are extremely high in Manchester. And pretty much everywhere else in the UK at the moment.

Similarly, if the money hadn’t been spent on the public art trail, it’s not like it would have been spent on helping the homeless, or funding the NHS, or extending public transport. Because those things are funded differently.

You can talk of bread and circuses, the opium of the people, distractions from reality, but I only think that this is a valid argument if the phenomena in question is actually so all absorbing and distracting that it has a massive and distorting impact on society. I don’t feel that, however cool they are, the bees are likely to achieve that.

There is the question of sponsorship, of course, which invariably influences the content of the art. For example, one of the bees I saw today has been sponsored by Virgin Trains and has a pendolino theme to it, similarly Sylvia bee was sponsored by UNISON. But I think the stories that the bees help to tell (many discuss climate change and it’s impact on bees, many have ties to Manchester’s cultural, social and political history) cancel that out.

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Each bee has a sign attached to it’s base that advises you as to how to report damage to the bee in question. It seems sad that those signs have to be there but, unfortunately, some of the bees have been damaged. There is a dedicated team of workers who clean and mend the bees.

Similarly, there are signs on the bases advising you not to climb the bees as, to a small child, they do look rather irresistible in that respect. The no climb rule hasn’t stopped people from touching the bees however; I saw a lot of people, children and adults alike, gently patting or stroking bees that they had taken a shine to, and I think it’s a natural response to the art. The bees have very manga ish faces, with big eyes and a noble bearing. Some are quite smiley as well.

I have the map at hand and I intend to return to the fray in September. The bee quest continues.

Bee in the City runs until 23rd September around Manchester.

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Farewell annual System 1. You, and your monthly predecessors, have served me well these past twelve years. You got me through a particularly nasty and protracted bus war on the 192 route between 2006 and 2007, gave me access to the excellent TP bus service, a plethora of services running between Stockport and Macclesfield (admittedly, you only permit travel as far as Poynton, but still…) and Middlewood, not to mention the now no longer running but delightfully eccentric 62A service. In addition, you have ensured that I never have to pay extra to travel to Lyme Park.

I will miss you tremendously, and despite living in an area where Stagecoach have the monopoly on all my bus routes, I will, at times, make use of your System 1 Day Rider sibling to travel beyond my usual locations.

I first started buying the day version of the System 1 when I was working as a casual across Stockport in the mid 2000’s. Most of the places I’d be working were covered by bus routes run by Stagecoach, but if I was travelling to High Lane or Marple then, chances were, I’d be using Skyline, Bowers, or another company whose name I forget who were running the 394 and 391 at the time. And possibly Stagecoach if I ended up on the 375. To maximise all possibilities of optimum travel smoothness (always a bit of a pipe dream in Greater Manchester where imagination, ingenuity and prayer tend to be more common approaches to travel than any notion of an integrated public transport network) if I was travelling between Hazel Grove and Marple or Hazel Grove and High Lane, I needed a System 1 day rider, not a Megarider or Stagecoach Day Rider.

I appreciate this might sound a bit odd to any London readers, but if you’ve grown up with deregulated buses, privatised railways and a thoroughly un integrated public transport network, this is normal. I was a veteran of three bus wars on my local bus route before I was thirty.

What is a a bus war? A bus war occurs when two (or more…) bus companies decide that they would both like to run buses on a (usually very lucrative) bus route. This is not the same phenomena as a bus company ditching a route it can no longer make a profit on and the local council (or councils) then having to find another company willing to run buses on the route through a system of council subsidy. The two phenomena are related though.

Anyway, bus wars. Within the Greater Manchester area, most of the routes are tied up by Stagecoach, though First and Finglands also run a lot. Within Stockport, it’s mostly Stagecoach. At the time of the last 192 bus war (2006-2007) there were approximately ten different bus companies operating in Hazel Grove, thanks to it’s unique geographical location (it’s in Stockport but also borders Cheshire and Derbyshire) but the main bus route between Hazel Grove and Manchester, the 192, was run by Stagecoach.

Ever since bus deregulation in the 1980s, Stagecoach have had competition on this route. Firstly from GM buses, who they won the route off at the start of deregulation, then later UK North, then – lastly – an amalgamation of the two companies.

The 2006-2007 bus war on the 192 route led to both Stagecoach and UK North flooding the route with buses, a lot of aggressive driving practices (using two buses to block a rival bus in at a bus stop while another bus zipped ahead on the route to collect customers at the next few stops was a favourite), and the snarling up of Manchester city centre, not to mention increased traffic and pollution on the A6 between Manchester and Hazel Grove.

From a passenger point of view, a number of bus users were actively abusive to the (largely) Polish drivers recruited by UK North, who were themselves being exploited in a number of ways by their employer, and – since UK North were regularly the only one of the two companies on the route willing to run buses between Manchester and Hazel Grove (as opposed to the ‘part route’ options of going as far as Stockport or Stepping Hill) I was having to pay extra every night to get home from work.

After about a month of this, I invested in a monthly System 1. Which meant I could either get a UK North 192 from Manchester to Hazel Grove without having to pay extra, or get any 192 to Stockport bus station and get the Buxton bus to Hazel Grove without having to pay extra (I worked evenings so the Macclesfield and Middlewood buses weren’t a option at this point as they knocked off by half 5 or 6pm every night). Stagecoach were occasionally running 192’s on the whole route at this time, but you had to wait ages sometimes (like, half an hour or more some nights) so it was worth paying extra in order to get the first bus that turned up. There was the added bonus that the money from the System 1 went to Transport For Greater Manchester (who run the scheme) not to Stagecoach, who I felt very aggrieved towards at the time.

The 192 bus war finally ended in 2007 following an accident involving a UK North bus (not a 192, on another route) in which a man died. UK North were subsequently stripped of their licence and later banned from operating for life.

In the interests of balance, I should also point out that Stagecoach were banned from operating in Manchester city centre for a period in 2007 as a result of ‘bullying’ behaviour towards other operators in a different bus war. As such, neither side could be regarded as angels.

As for the Polish bus drivers who lost their jobs when UK North folded, many of them went on to work for Stagecoach.

Transport For Greater Manchester discontinued the annual System 1 last year. I did look into buying monthly System 1’s instead but the cost over the year was eye wateringly high. And so, with a heavy heart, I am now back to owning a Stagecoach only Megarider, albeit with the caveat that I’m not going to let it put me off travelling on non Stagecoach routes. I still want to go for walks in Lyme Park every now and then for a start, and that requires a System one or a ticket for Skyline.

 

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PTDC0003I booked today off work in order to make a pilgrimage to the Working Class Movement Library, along with David Wilkinson, to see Dave Randall talk about his book Sound System: The Political Power Of Music at the Working Class Movement Library in Salford.

Whilst walking through Piccadilly, I was struck by a piece of street art on the pavement that a Canadian visitor had left.

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I was particularly struck by the nod to Alphonse Mucha and Art Nouveau, as it’s a new development in post Arena bombing murals/artwork, one that I found equally as striking as the recently encountered Stockport Worker Bee.

Market Street was busy, as always, in the clammy heat and I weaved and dodged my way through the usual blend of surreal street theatre and miss-en-scene. This included a middle aged man in a police costume with a boom box who, despite not seeming to be doing anything, had drawn a crowd of curious teenagers. There was also an Ed Sheeran style singer/songwriter who had attracted a very enthusiastic man with a huge rucksack, who was doing a variation of the Bez dance.

At the WCML, Dave Randall was introduced by the excellent Maxine Peake, and quickly proved to be a very engaging and confident (in the best sense) speaker. He clearly has a wide range of knowledge about the whole area of music, politics and protest to draw upon and is coming at it from the point of view of a musician and activist, rather than an academic. He has a global approach and his talk touched on the history of Carnival in Tobego and Trinidad as well as the protest music of the Arab Spring, I was also pleased to discover that his historical approach runs over centuries rather than decades, meaning he is looking far beyond the well trod Woody Guthrie – The Clash – The End path. I like the fact that he’s not just talking about how protest movements have used music, or how the dispossessed have used music, he’s also talking about propaganda and how the state has co opted and used music.

The Q&A went well and he got some interesting questions from the audience, covering a number of angles from ‘Can music without lyrics be political?’ via a series of debates around jazz, songs sung today at protests that have travelled from one protest area to another (Anonymous to Anti-Fracking via ‘We Are The 99%’. ‘Build a Bonfire’, ‘Whose Strets? Our Streets!’ and the imaginative recent use of the Benny Hill theme to see off the EDL were not mentioned) all sorts. I think the WCML audience can be a tough crowd sometimes, but they seemed won over by Dave, and he seemed equally enthused by the audience, so the energy was really good.

He got mobbed for books afterwards, which is always a good sign.

After tea and biscuits, it was time to venture back through the increasingly sultry Salford streets into muggy Manchester to get the bus back to Stockport.

 

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It’s occurred to me this week that, while the Manchester worker bee has become much more widely known in the past month, many people may not be familiar with the history of the bee.

I did consider writing a blog post about it, but I figured it was highly likely that such a post would have already been written and that it would just be a case of looking for the right one.

In a nice surprise, I found the perfect piece courtesy of friend of Too Late For Cake, Natalie Bradbury, writing for Creative Tourist on this occasion. The piece (published in early 2013) provides you with an overall history of Manchester’s civic bond with the bee, but doesn’t touch on the cultural side such as Elbow’s song ‘Lost Worker Bee’, (which was, after all, not released until 2015) or the worker bee tattoos, which were very definitely A Thing even before the Arena bombing in May. (A casual trawl of tattoo parlour Instagrams in the Manchester area will back this up.) In the wake of the bombing, street art has started to appear, featuring the bees, and you can see pictures of some of these pieces here.

Transport For Greater Manchester meanwhile, in a very touching video, have unveiled The Spirit Of Manchester, a dignified and thoughtful response to the Arena bombing.

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Thanks to Manchester Histories Festival for this:

Manchester Histories is pleased to be working in partnership with Stockport Council to present the Picture Stockport project.
Follow the trail of 22 images displayed across Stockport town centre and vote for your favourite artwork of the borough.
Find out more and vote from 12th Jan – 12th Feb 2017 at picturestockport.com #picturestockport

I’ve had a look and there’s some really good ones, across all sorts of artistic styles. Some are surreal, some are Lowry like, some are almost like collages… Well worth checking out and voting for your favourite.

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On Saturday 17th September, between 9:30am and 4pm, The Working Class Movement Library in Salford will be hosting a conference on the subject of  Radical Women 1880 – 1914.

As their newsletter puts it:

This one-day conference will celebrate the battles and achievements of working-class women in the drive to achieve a fairer and more balanced society. The decades spanning the turn of the twentieth century saw an upsurge in female activism as women began to organise themselves into trade unions, take part in the socialist debates on social and economic change, and demand the vote.

Radical women not only battled against the gender-conservative males within their family or community but also those who claimed to be fighting for equality.

Speakers include Professor Sheila Rowbotham, University of Manchester and Professor Karen Hunt, Keele University.

Whereas:

Papers include the Cabin Restaurant waitresses strike of 1908; the life of Crewe tailoress, campaigner, activitist and author Ada Neild Chew; the forgotten history of domestic servants in women’s suffrage; radical women and the bicycle; suffragette Constance Lytton and the cause of prison reform; plus many more.

Full programme details can be found on the WCML webpages

Tickets are £20 (£7.50 unwaged) and include lunch and refreshments.

Book in advance from trustees@wcml.org.uk

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UoM%20scanned%20documentJust over a week ago I had the unexpected pleasure of visiting Everyday Austerity: An Exhibition of Everyday Life in Austerity, a collaboration between Dr Sarah Marie Hall of the University of Manchester and Stef Bradley the zine maker, which was drawn from research compiled by Dr Hall on the subject of family life and austerity.

This was a beautifully executed, simple but effective, exhibition that was both smart and thought provoking, but never, ever miserable.

People think of austerity in simplistic shades of sepia and grey, and in doing so, they miss the complex, technicolour reality of it: It was how the six families were represented that was the really refreshing thing.

Each section of the exhibition made use of written introductions to the families, their own particular situations, and how austerity had affected them. These were set alongside a carefully arranged display box of visual representations – photographs, carrots from an allotment, a recipe for a bulk batch of veggie chilli, a book on how to cope financially in times of austerity, which was due to be flogged on eBay along with old children’s toys to raise funds… There were lists of worries, lists of things to buy that could be afforded that week… and these visual items were equally as powerful, as thoughtfully placed, as evocative, as the notes, and sections of the interviews, which could be listened to on iPod mini’s.

The interviews themselves were frank, honest, candid and refreshing in their neutrality. There was no steering of interviewees towards a particular narrative, no aggressive questioning, because this is research, not journalistic vox pops, and it was part of the patchwork of field work, a long story, not a short, knee jerk story impulsively yanked from the unsuspecting.

We were asked to answer questions regarding our own views of austerity before, during and after viewing the exhibition, the idea being to measure if people’s views changed, and if so, how.  While my own views hadn’t shifted too much, what the exhibition brought home to me was the amount of creativity and ingenuity being brought to bear on the unyielding sanctions and limitations of austerity by those most affected by them. Oh, not in a Blitz Spirit ‘Let’s all pull together’ kind of way, more in a ‘Batten down the hatches, lets work through this bastard’ kind of way.

What this work does is provide a multi faceted, complex picture of austerity in the UK. It is not Benefits Street, but nor is it Das Kapital, it is – in many ways – refreshingly neutral. Which, as a position, is needed.

There are plans to create a zine from the exhibition, using the research, which might seem an odd concept but, in the context of the seismic shifts of perspective zine making has undergone these past ten years or so, with writers and creators increasingly focusing on areas such as psycho-geography, on cities and the writers relationship with the city in which they live, it perhaps isn’t so surprising to find a zine concerned with austerity.

Daniel Defoe’s A Journal Of The Plague Year, George Orwell’s Down And Out In Paris And London… Why not a documentation of the realities of austerity? State of the nation, or kitchen sink, dramas are no longer written. There will be no Love on the dole, or The Manchester Man, nor even no Ruined City, but Everyday Austerity: The Zine will fulfill a similar role. It won’t be done for entertainment, nor will it be done for titillation, or voyeurism, but for knowledge, for education, for remembering, for empathy and understanding.

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