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In case you were wondering what Santa did for the other 364 days of the year, he was driving the 192 tonight.

Which means that Santa drove me home.

The guy upstairs vaping a cannabis flavoured e-cig I could have done without though.

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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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I genuinely thought that I was done with writing about the EU Referendum yesterday but, alas, it is not done with me…

Not having a smartphone I’ve been generally immune to the constant cycle of rolling news, petitions, social media updates, and collective hysterical meltdown. Or “chaos” as The Economist put it. But, like a fool, I decided to have a look at The Guardian while I was on dinner today.

I really don’t know why I still read The Guardian. It’s an occasional read, and I generally come away from their website feeling thoroughly frustrated and alienated. It seems increasingly to be written for the populations of Southwark, Hackney, Islington and Shoreditch exclusively. I had hoped for some sense from them this time, given the graveness of the situation post Brexit announcement, but no…

I knew about some of the petitions because I had emails yesterday about the TUC one and the Make Votes Matter one, plus a colleague had told me about the one for a second referendum, which the UK press have got all over their pages today. The Guardian also mentioned the one on Change.org for London to declare itself independent from the rest of the UK.

It was this last one that got me.

For several reasons…

To begin with, it is a slightly weird example of life imitating art because Radio 4 did a mock documentary last year on London declaring independence from the rest of the UK, and how they thought it might pan out.  Maybe they could organise a repeat of this in the light of recent events?

Secondly, James O’Malley, who started the petition, makes a number of sweeping statements in his summary, particularly this one:

Let’s face it – the rest of the country disagrees. So rather than passive aggressively vote against each other at every election, let’s make the divorce official and move in with our friends on the continent.

Whoa… hang on a minute there!

The rest of the country disagrees?!?

Has he cobbled this petition together without even looking at the breakdowns of which towns and cities voted for which option?

If we take the Greater Manchester area, the results were as follows:

Bolton: Leave by 51.89% to 48.11%

Bury: Leave by 54.12% to 45.88%

Manchester: Remain by 60.36% to 39.64%

Oldham: Leave by 60.86% to 39.14%

Rochdale: Leave by 60.07% to 39.93%

Salford: Leave by 56.81% to 43.19%

Stockport: Remain by 52.33% to 47.67%

Tameside: Leave by 61.14% to 38.86%

(All statistics gained using the widget on the Manchester Evening News referendum coverage)

This means that Manchester and Stockport form an island of Remain in a sea of Leave, handily complicating Mr O’Malley’s theory that everyone except London, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted Leave. Oh, and Trafford voted Remain as well: 57.7% to 42.3% so maybe we’re not so alone…

If we look at the London councils, and their results, using the Manchester Evening News widget again:

Well, for a start, London has 33 councils, not 8, so it’s not a fair comparison. That said, of those 33 councils, 5 of them voted for Leave. Which, while still a minority, blows a hole in Mr O’Malley’s argument. What’s he going to do? Expel those five councils, or take them hostage in the same way that Scotland (where every council voted in) and Northern Ireland (ditto) have been taken hostage by the rest of the UK?

Similarly, Wales is being written about as though the entirety of Wales voted to leave. This simply isn’t true: Cardiff voted to Remain by a margin of 60.02% to 39.98%, should it now, as the Welsh capital, declare independence from the rest of Wales?

Cardiff may have been in the minority but it wasn’t the only bit of Wales to vote Remain: Ceredigion did by 54.6% to 45.4%, Gwynedd also voted for Remain by 58.1% to 41.9%, and Glamorgan voted for Remain by 50.7% to 49.3%. Incidentally, Bristol voted Remain by 61.7% to 38.3%, so at least there’s a friend across the bridge…

If you want a snappy soundbite: Medway voted Leave, Manchester voted Remain, and Medway is a helluva lot nearer to London, geographically speaking, so blaming it all on the savages north of Watford just won’t stand.

Similarly: Leeds, York and Newcastle all voted Remain.

You can see a full breakdown of all the local results over on the BBC, and it’s easier than using the MEN widget.

In conclusion, while a certain amount of panic, anger, and looking for someone to blame is inevitable in these times. Can we all, please, do a little bit more research and preparation before we start slinging the mud about?

Scotland and Northern Ireland have both, in their very different ways, begun to explore the feasibility of remaining in the EU and/or gaining independence from the rest of the UK. Given that every council in Scotland and every council in Northern Ireland voted Remain, this is completely understandable. The fact that Belfast central post office today ran out of passport application forms (fact: As part of the Good Friday Agreement, those in Northern Ireland are entitled to both Irish and British passports) reflects this move.

But Mr O’Malley is basing his plea for an Independent London on the financial district, which, ironically, proved to be the downfall of the newly independent London as imagined by Radio 4 last year. This ended with another financial crash which London, now independent, had to absorb entirely on it’s own while the remainder of the UK looked on unmoved, shrugged, and got back to it’s growing manufacturing industries.

Appendix:

Full list of London council results, garnered using the MEN widget:

Barking and Dagenham: Leave by 62.44% to 37.56%

Barnet: Remain by 62.23% to 37.77%

Bexley: Leave by 62.95% to 37.05%

Brent: Remain by 59.74% to 40.26%

Bromley: Remain by 50.65% to 49.35%

Camden: Remain by 74.94% to 25.06%

City of London: Remain by 75.29% to 24.71%

Westminster: Remain by 68.97% to 31.03%

Croydon: Remain by 54.29% to 45.71%

Ealing: Remain by 60.40% to 39.60%

Enfield: Remain by 55.82% to 44.18%

Greenwich: Remain by 55.59% to 44.41%

Hackney: Remain by 78.48% to 21.52%

Hammersmith and Fulham: Remain by 70.02% to 29.98%

Haringey: Remain by 75.57% to 24.43%

Harrow: Remain by 54.63% to 45.37%

Havering: Leave by 69.66% to 30.34%

Hillingdon: Leave by 56.37% to 43.63%

Hounslow: Remain by 51.06% to 48.94%

Islington: Remain by 75.22% to 24.78%

Kensington and Chelsea: Remain by 68.69% to 31.31%

Kingston-Upon-Thames: Remain by 61.61% to 38.39%

Lambeth: Remain by 78.62% to 21.38%

Lewisham: Remain by 69.86% to 30.14%

Merton: Remain by 62.94% to 37.06%

Newham: Remain by 52.84% to 47.16%

Redbridge: Remain by 53.97% to 46.03%

Richmond-Upon-Thames: Remain by 69.29%

Southwark: Remain by 72.81% to 27.19%

Sutton: Leave by 53.72% to 46.28%

Tower Hamlets: Remain by 67.46% to 32.54%

Waltham Forest: Remain by 59.10% to 40.90%

Wandsworth: Remain by 75.03% to 24.97%

 

 

 

 

 

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Cards on the table, I will be voting Remain on Thursday 23rd.

I have always known I would vote Remain, and nothing in the past six weeks or year has made me change my mind.

I was heartened to read this extract of the Piccadilly Records mail out earlier today:

20 years ago today Manchester suffered its own terrorist attack when the IRA detonated the largest bomb ever exploded on mainland Britain. Luckily no-one was killed, but many people were seriously injured, and the bomb devastated the city centre. Our shop (on Brown Street back then) was also badly damaged, with the front totally blown in.

The Northern Ireland Good Friday power sharing agreement is one of the many things that might be in jeopardy if the UK leaves the European Union. The EU isn’t perfect by any means, and needs reforming, but surely, in a global economy, we’d have better bargaining power as part of Europe. Also, the money that goes to the EU then gets redistributed around the UK, rather than all going on projects in London. The tram network in Manchester was built using European money. The regeneration in Salford has European backing. 1000s of jobs in the North depend on us trading with the EU. Lastly, do you really want Boris and Gove to be the leaders in a Tory government? Just make sure you all go and vote next Thursday!

I’ve also been trying to find a guide to the issues that is intelligent and not just a collage of hysterical slogans, voxpops and celebrity endorsements, and I think the one the Economist has put together comes close.

I also read The Economist‘s matter of fact guide to just how we would leave the EU, were it voted for and I recommend that you have a read of it, it makes for a sobering, dispassionate read.

I’m ending by including a link to this video from The Green Party as it’s one of the view to discuss EU membership from an environmental perspective.

Please vote on the 23rd.

 

 

 

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Recently I have been reading Oliver Postgate’s excellent memoir Seeing Things while stuck in traffic on the bus. Often though, the bus is too crowded for reading and I get to thinking instead.

I’d like to say that I worry about the situation in Syria, and about the biggest mass migration of people since World War II, but I’m ashamed to say that I spent most of Wednesday’s morning commute considering the logistics of holding a ready to wear fashion show on a double decker bus. I’d almost nailed it by the time we reached Oxford Road as well, but it is admittedly a much easier one to figure out than the war in Syria, or mass migration. To which there are no easy answers, obviously.

 

 

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Snapshot moment one: On the Monday after the TUC march, I received an email from my mum who had been shopping in Marple with my dad earlier that day. They’d just sat down on one of the benches in the shopping centre for a breather when suddenly there were all these people in suits around them. They looked up and “It was bloody Boris!”, prompting the obvious question from mum to the waiting Marple air: “What’s he doing here?”

Snapshot moment two: Having attended the protest against mental health cuts in Stockport outside the town hall on 29th October, and the council meeting that followed, I can only conclude that while council meetings can be incredibly frustrating to sit through when you really, really disagree with the councillor speaking, they do also provide the odd moment of hilarity, intended or otherwise.

Snapshot moment three: The Morning Star has a better cookery column than Socialist Worker

Snapshot moment four: It is occasionally possible to walk down Heaton Moor Road and not get soaked playing that timeless seasonal game of Puddle Roulette.

Snapshot moment five: In a city notorious for its rain, it is very hard to find a shop selling umbrellas

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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.

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