Archive for September, 2009
We decided to spend our Sunday afternoon zedding. We had an invitation to go look at a brand new baby so we packed our knitted booties and fairtrade babygro, and like the guardian reading lefties we are, set off to walk there – thereby eschewing public transport and nasty cars. A pleasant stroll through some parks and… Gunchester!!! …Britain’s bronx!! The urban no go area that is Moss side!!!
Um.. sorry.. I don’t what came over me there. I seemed to think I was writing copy for a tabloid newspaper. A similar madness recently possessed Chris Grayling, the shadow home secretary, MP for… um I don’t know…somewhere leafy down south…
“Liam…could you google for me where the nice man comes from?”
“Epsom, Surrey” I’m blogging this in real time, Liam is reading me stuff about how many posh schools there are there. So to be fair, poor Chris must have felt uneasy coming this far north at all. For those of you not keeping track of Manchester news. The zedders were amused that Mr Grayling had recently suggested that there was an “urban war” going on in Moss side. It is “The world of the drama series The Wire”. This excited Liam, Liam loves The Wire, and now it is on his very own doorstep.
I haven’t got into The Wire, “What is about Liam?”
It’s set among gangland violence in Baltimore, a city with a murder rate the same as that of Manchester.. and Glasgow …and Liverpool… and Sheffield… and Epsom added together.
“What else happens Liam?”
“Sometimes opportunistic politicians exploit disadvantaged communities for political gain”
Nothing like Moss side then. Let’s go take a look…
There was an interesting religion sandwich on the A to Z: Church – Temple – Church. There was a Gurdwara, between a Polish church and an nice red brick church, a smiling family in pretty clothes were going to worship there.
we saw some pretty stuff outside a mosque.
Hare Krishnas later in Whalley range as well. Seventh Day adventists and then we saw the Brotherhood of the Cross and Star. Aim: Love one another. Nothing to argue about there.
We are all in favour of people having the religious freedom to love one another. “I’m gonna find them on the ninterweb when we get home” said I. Liam said that he didnt think they looked like they would be keyed in to the the web 2.0 generation. But no, The brotherhood of the cross and star are sooo on the internet. You can go read about how His Holiness Olumba Olumba Obu has been revealed (to himself) to be the reincarnation of Jesus. But you probably don’t want to.*
Liam wanted to show me these historic houses as he knew I’d like them, I do like them and can’t find out what they were. If you goggle the street name you can find lots of opportunities to help the police with their enquiries. What can I say to you? It felt like a nice stroll out on a Sunday afternoon, at no point did I feel like I would end up helping the police with their enquires.
Then we went into the grid of smart little terraces. They were the next model up in terraced houses from the one I grew up in. They had pretty tiles in their porches. Historically Moss side was a bit more well to do than more working class Hulme. The first Afro Caribbean immigrants to the city settled here. We were looking for Steve street, because we thought that was quite a funny name for a street. We couldn’t find it tho, a friendly man asked us if we needed directions, which we politely declined, I just couldn’t face explaining. Liam says he remembers noticing how ethnically diverse the area was. People of all colours were out on the streets, unlike similar areas of Birmingham where sometimes I notice that I am the only white person in the street. Interestingly, when I first moved from Birmingham to Manchester I remember noticing how the people in the city centre were mainly white, which gave me a sense of unease for a while, like a significant proportion of the population had just disappeared.
So we saw some boys on bicycles, according to myth, they should be drug running. If it was The Wire, Liam knowledgablely informs me, they would be called hoppers. They could of course, have just been boys on bicycles. They didn’t do anything to suggest they weren’t. We did however, find evidence of a crime problem in Moss side:
We can’t wait for the episode of The Wire about that.
We wandered, admiring the hanging baskets, we saw this:
“I like the way that the streets around here smell of hops”. And it does, Ms Finch is quite right. This is another story-fragment the city has given us. This and no more, we don’t know who Ms Finch is or why her delight in the smell of hops has been immortalised in street art. I love that it has tho. I hope she is a Moss side local.
We saw an ice cream van but it was too fast for us. Having heard the chimes, like Pavlovs dogs, we went into a shop a bought ice cream and sat on a grass verge to eat it. Liam’s ice cream fell off its stick which isn’t very interesting for you but upset him at the time.
Before we leave Moss side, I guess this is the place to say it, what we saw was that people cared enough about their houses to put hanging baskets outside, that they were willing to give directions to lost looking strangers, that ice cream was for sale and two Guardian readers can wander around taking photos without fearing for their lives. We don’t mean to be glib about the drug and gun problems which must have destroyed the lives of so many mothers’ sons; each one is a tragedy. What we do want to illustrate is that sometimes fear is much worse than the thing you fear. The people of Moss side have had to put up with being their area being talked about all over the national media as a scary place to be, yet they have been growing flowers and buying ice cream and falling in love and having babies and doing all the beautiful ordinary things of life. I went to Moss side. I saw flowers.
We walked through Alexandra Park. Its park keeper’s cottage is all boarded up, it must have been a nice house once when this gnarly tree was young.
The peaceful air was punctuated by the loud crack… of leather on willow. Yep. It is Sunday afternoon and the young men of Moss side are playing cricket. Just like they do in Epsom, eh Chris?
We saw a group of young men further up the path and, I’m ashamed to say, I put my camera in my bag out of sight as we passed them. As we walked by they showed no interest in us and carried on talking about the smell of their own farts.
Then we passed into a magical autumnal glade were golden leaves floated slowly to the ground. On that side of the park there is a wonderful promenade for the folks of Whalley Range to come out of their lovely villas and to march up and down seeing and being seen.
We saw a church that had been converted into flats and had it’s steeple truncated. Liam reckoned that looking at the cars he probably couldn’t afford the flats. He is looking to move if anyone wants to offer him a nice one bed flat with character in a nice area. Extra points if it has a spiral staircase or is in a converted church. Or a balcony, he says, but actually he is picky about balconies, he likes to be able to see how they are held up, sturdy buttresses only please.
Next door was Mayfield Mansions, which I had insisted we see because it was named the Mansions. It looked like the place Poirot lives, maybe he did, it had seen better days.
And there was St Bedes, which was gloriously excessive. It is a Catholic independent school, with some uncared for statues adorning the porch. There were carvings of things you might want to grow up to do like wearing a silly wig, or bad tights, or writing with a quill or unloading ships. There was a latin inscription that Liam attempted to translate, but some of it had fallen off, I didn’t even try, I went to a comprehensive. Doctor Who went to school here, or Colin Baker did. There were some very scary stone men watching us, I think they thought we were up to no good.
Just round the corner, where we were looking for a place to sneak into the school grounds, a sad looking little boy approached us and politely enquired where he might find a park near there. We were delighted to direct him back to Alexandra Park. We hope it cheered him up.
Then we headed to Trafford to see the baby. On the way we saw another even more truncated stepple. We didn’t get a photo but I swear we saw a sign saying “Spire hospital” obviously in great demand locally, maybe that is where the steeples have gone.
We saw a nice sunflower
And Lowry’s birthplace. Strange that Lowry, who was born in Trafford and lived and painted in Salford is synonymous with Manchester in the mind of the rest of the world.
We passed through another park, where we paused to write down a list of things we had seen on our travels on the back of a train ticket in case we forgot them. As we did this some boys of about 10 passed us talking about explosives. We did not report them to the department of homeland security, sorry. If there is a major terrorist incident in suburban Trafford next week you can blame us. We are not the sort of people who check our neighbour’s bins.
The list contains:
- shrieking public toilet
- mime getting someone to take his photo on a mobile phone
- whining dog on bus with very prominent testicles
- woman with purple dreadlocks on a bike
- dog crossing a road on his own
- tutankhamun doorknocker
- boys talking about their farts
Date zedded: 13 September
A to Z: Page 109 and 108 F3 E3 D3 E4 D4 C4 B4 B3 A3
Target square: G6
Getting there: Once again, one of the multitude of 42, 142 or 143 buses down the Oxford Road.
Squares this expedition: 9
Running total: 135
We have had a correction sent in by an eagle eyed reader of our facebook feed:
One minor correction: as I read their website (this reader did want to!), His Holiness Olumba Olumba Obu was revealed as the reincarnated Jesus not by himself, but by the Brotherhood’s founder, his confusingly named father, Leader Olumba Olumba Obu, Supreme Holy Father, sole spiritual Head of the universe, and perhaps (it is both hinted and denied) none other than God the Father physically manifest on the earth plane since 1918. (And as further evidence of their web-savviness, the Brotherhood turn out to even have a facebook page!)
So, our apologies to the brotherhood. It was revealed to his Dad that he was the reincarnation of Jesus. My misunderstanding was clearly silly. Thank you Robert.
The Shrieking Violet is another great Manchester blog. It’s anonymous so I don’t know if we’ve met the Violet herself in person.
Anyway, you may have noticed that we keep encountering gargoyles in our meanderings, but never manage to photograph the buggers. Shrieking Violet has captured many of Manchester’s best specimens on film, and eulogised them beautifully here:
‘If it stopped banging on about its football teams and its bands and its shops and its attitude, Manchester has something that it can be genuinely, enormously proud of, something that it should shout from the rooftops. Manchester changed the world’s politics: from vegetarianism to feminism to trade unionism to communism, every upstart notion that ever got ideas above its station, every snotty street-fighter of a radical philosophy, was fostered brawling in Manchester’s streets, mills, pubs, churches and debating halls.’
– Stuart Maconie, Pies and Prejudice: In Search of the North
Marie gave me this book as she wasn’t very impressed with it. It has its moments though.
Last night Liam and I enjoyed meeting lots of lovely people at a Manchester blogmeet. There was a moment when we wondered how one identified bloggers in a bar, what would bloggers look like? We tried the basement…ah ha..bloggers wear labels! We were warmly welcomed to the event by Kate from Manchizzle who gave us sticky labels of our own.
We met Parklover, who has a lovely blog, she recognised me from our pictures of our ditch zedding which was bit weird for me, not sure how I’d cope with the dizzy heights of fame.
Mindy has very nicely linked to us in her blog about the event
We met Richard from The Asparagus who does not blog about vegetables, but about foreign affairs. I might add he does so very readably, since I spent a while not reading about Asparagus as I ate my crunchy nut cornflakes this morning.
We didn’t get a chance to meet myshittytwenties but I love her blog.
By Liam, because Marie has been working for 125 hours and isn’t up to typing
Running across a big stretch of South Manchester is a very, very long ditch. Legend (and Wikipedia) has it that the Nico Ditch, or Mickle Ditch, was dug in one night, by men who were forced to dig it at swordpoint. They were protecting Manchester from the Danes, who apparently lived in Stockport. South of Manchester. Vikings. Don’t ask us, it’s a legend. Each man had to dig a ditch and build a wall his own height. Marie reckons this must have made the wall pretty wonky in places. Then they had a whacking big fight, which apparently gave the areas of Gorton and Reddish their names (Gore-town and Red-ditch, geddit?)
Spoilsports – sorry, archaeologists – suggest that it’s highly unlikely that it was built in one night, given that Manchester didn’t have so many people in it then and it’s a very long ditch. And Gorton means ‘dirty farmstead’ and Reddish means ‘reedy ditch’, nothing to do with blood or killing. And the ditch isn’t V-shaped like a fortification, but U-shaped like a boundary ditch. Which still begs the question – why did they need such a definite six-mile boundary? They must really not have liked those Stockport Vikings.
We have become so knowledgeable about ditches, fighting and etymology because at the Word of Mouth storytelling event recently, Marie heard the story of the ditch. So obviously, she came back and asked me if I wanted to go looking for a really old ditch. And obviously, I agreed.
Some of the ditch is now under our old friends the Audenshaw Reservoirs. Some of it runs through Denton golf course, which might have been a bit of fun trespassing but a bit dull otherwise. So we decided to visit the bit that’s in Platt Fields Park.
Now, I’ve gone running in Platt Fields Park in all weathers, and never seen anything resembling a millennium-old ditch. Admittedly I hadn’t been searching for one, but still. So we set off to explore the park as thoroughly as we could.
We realise that this is a bit cheaty, since the ditch actually isn’t shown in the A to Z – although we knew it had to be in squares G5 or G6 on page 109. We did a bit of soul-searching about whether this was a proper zedding, and decided that we’re the Manchester Zedders, dammit, the trespassers extraordinaire, and we make the rules.
We did intent to navigate the park using the A to Z – it shows the paths and the lake and everything. But when we got there, we found the park had such abundant signage and mappage that we didn’t need the A to Z at all. Naughty!
The first thing we saw was some roses and a fountain that belonged to the Queen. Something to do with the Jubilee. The Queen doesn’t seem to care about her fountain much, as it’s run dry. The roses were nice though:
Then I insisted that we go and see the ‘Veterans’ Pavilion’. We imagined this would be some phallic war memorial thing. Instead, it was a grubby hut/church hall which appeared to have lost its bowling green. Dusty, neglected and locked up. With plaques on the wall inside proclaiming former victories of the bowling club.
I have to say this confirmed my pacifism. I don’t want to risk my life for Queen and country if that’s all you get when you get home.
I’m afraid we didn’t get any photos of the Pavilion because there were some boys smoking just outside and we didn’t want to make them nervous. Or angry or violent. We do seem to spend a certain amount of our zedding time worrying about the risk of violence from teenage boys. Probably unnecessarily.
After the Pavilion we found a load of strange berries. I had a vague recollection of doing something gross with similar berries as a child, and felt compelled to investigate them. We can report that whatever these berries are, they do burst almost exactly like zits. Eewwwww.
Then there was a pretty avenue. Very Victorian/Edwardian feeling. We wanted to promenade down it wearing bustles and top hats.
As we progressed, we found a series of bright yellow arrows. They were very cheerful and they were clearly encouraging us to go somewhere, but we weren’t sure how. Or where.
Later on, we discovered that the arrows were indeed cheerful and inspirational. They mark the Sri Chinmoy Peace Mile. Later research establishes that Sri Chinmoy was a guru who died in 2007, and he was a dude. As well as preaching world peace and spiritual enlightenment, he lifted light aeroplanes, and practised long-distance running as a form of meditation. One of his followers went up and down Mount Fujiyama on a pogo-stick (and up and down, and up and down). So there are Peace Miles in his memory for people to run or walk on, in cities all over the world. We walked most of this one in our search for the elusive ditch.
There were signs telling us not to feed the geese and ducks, because then they would poo too much and algae would make the lake all disgusting and poisonous. But we were more concerned about the frankly terrifying goose in the sign:
We are a bit afraid of geese.
Beyond the lake there was a nice, but sadly neglected, eco-garden for kids. This was a good excuse for me to arse about a bit:
We particularly liked Wigglit the Worm:
There was a well-intentioned oven meant for baking pizzas. It had, of course, been used to burn Pepsi cans and crisp packets:
This plant had spikes on its spikes:
Next. we went off on a side-quest. We saw a sign saying that somewhere, we should be able to find a ‘teenage village’. I was keen to see what this could mean, although Marie insisted it would be like something out of Lord of the Flies. It turned out that the clever park people had noticed how teenagers like to hang around kids’ playgrounds in the evenings, perching on the roundabouts and drinking cider and copping off with one another. So they’d built the teenagers their own special climbing frame thingy, with little huts to gossip and flirt in, and platforms to show off on and impress girls.
Ironically, when we got there, the only user of the teenage village was a dad, playing on it with a little toddler. A kind of revenge/reversal?
Then, finally, we located the Mickle Ditch. Hurray! The bit in Platt Fields is not only a very old hole in the ground. Oh no. It’s a Scheduled Ancient Monument:
It was fenced in, and I was all geared up for some trespassing. But then we found there was a gate to get in, and it was unlocked! This was a bit disappointing, but I dived in regardless. And got a nasty surprise. While Marie tried to photograph me standing in the old ditch, I discovered I was sinking rather rapidly, and had to scramble free in a rather blurry fashion:
I can report that thousand-year-old ditches are full of really sticky mud:
Next, we went to the Shakespearean gardens, where there were some boys smoking weed:
Not sure why these gardens are Shakespearean rather than Elizabethan. Maybe something dramatic happened here. Actually, according to the A to Z, there should have been a bowling green here. Perhaps there was some high drama or tragedy involving the gardens, the veterans and their pavilion?
Just past the gardens was something described by the signs as a ‘cathedral arch’. It was indeed impressive:
We liked the fact that we couldn’t get past the fence to go through the arch, so whatever lies beyond remains a mystery. Even more of a mystery because the little sign, that should have told us what a cathedral arch is doing in the middle of a park, had been pretty comprehensively burned and vandalised. Post-zedding web searches haven’t helped a great deal, but it appears some wealthy toff pinched or bought a spare bit of Manchester Cathedral, perhaps in the 1870s, to display as a folly on his land.
Before leaving, we had hoped to drop in on the squatters who occupied Platt Chapel earlier this year, and see what leftfield/anarchist/artistic stuff might be going on. Unfortunately, it appears they’ve moved on or been evicted, taking their T-shirt factory with them:
There was a last, dry, bit of Mickle Ditch for me to stand in, though, so I was happy:
Location: Platt Fields Park, Fallowfield
Date zedded: 12 August 2009
A to Z: Page 109 squares F5, G5, F6, G6, H6
Target square: G6
Getting there: Catch one of the multitude of 42, 142 or 143 buses down the Oxford Road. But be prepared for a long, bumpy, slow ride down the Curry Mile.
Squares this expedition: 5
Running total: 126
The writer and film-maker Iain Sinclair is, like us, a fan of walking in cities. With books like London Orbital, he’s brought a literary kind of psychogeography to a wide audience. (Although he’s uncomfortable with the term psychogeography – he’s talked instead about ‘deep topographies’, which is a lovely idea – exploring the shapes and patterns hidden beneath what we can see.)
Anyway, we’ve had a couple of chances recently to hear more about his work. Firstly, he came and explored Manchester. For a special feature in Corridor 8 magazine, he did a walk from Urbis to the airport – covering some of the same ground as the Manchester Sunrise walk we took part in. You can now download an MP3 and printable guide from the Urbis website – Listening for the Corncrake – and do the same walk he did. I particularly like the fact that there’s a children’s version of the map, with psychogeographical colouring activities.
I got to go along to the launch of the magazine and hear him talk about the walk, which was great. A different kind of approach from ours, laden with references to art, history and literature. As a Brummie who’s enjoying getting to know Manchester, it was good to hear another outsider’s view. (Sinclair is very strongly associated with London, particularly Hackney where he’s lived for decades.) And a lot of Manchester’s other urban ramblers were there in the audience too.
Then Marie and I both got to see him at the Greenbelt festival, in conversation with John Davies, the vicar who walked the M62. (There was a nice psychogeographical theme at the festival – Jon Bounds gave a couple of talks on why Birmingham isn’t shit and the 11:11:11 psychogeographical bus journey. We enjoyed his celebration of the crap, the mundane and the everyday.)
The conversation was really interesting, picking up strongly on the ways that walking and exploring can be a spiritual, transcendental experience. In a nice contrast with our attempts to get lost in new places, Sinclair does the same walk through the area around his home every day. He had some interesting things to say about it:
‘Simply by doing exactly the same walk every day my radar bumping off things confirms my own identity, and if something’s changed then I change with it. And also your whole body, all the molecules, are shaken up a little and doing that same walk every single day, quite briskly, really does clear my head, allows the night’s dreams and things to settle, prepares you for the writing of the day, and so in a sense I do regard it as a kind of walking meditation, as a kind of reconnection with London in every sense. Practically it might be thought to be be boring because you’re seeing the same thing every day but actually it is the everyday becoming transcendent in a very simple way.’
Good stuff. You can download the conversation from the Greenbelt website (together with another talk he gave about London Orbital), and it’s certainly inspired me to go away and read some of his books.