Flowers in the other city

I often wish, when I am going about my ordinary everyday business* that I could see myself in the street so I could blog about what I saw me doing.

Saturday was an example of this. I met up with Rachel from Artyarn and That Roger and spent three hours wandering the streets of Salford decorating lamposts with flowers.

Photos by Artyarn

Us knitters at The Kings Arms had been asked by Sounds from the Other City if we would decorate the streets outside their venues with something woolly. Roger made an astonishing quantity of green knitted vines and the rest of us made a lot of flowers with pins on the back. Festival goers were invited to take a flower and decorate themselves. I hope you are wearing one.

* going about my everyday business: like the time (many years ago, before blogs) I decided I liked a rocking chair I had seen in a junk shop and me and my Dad carried it between us for nearly half a mile. Every time we saw someone, my Dad put the chair down and told them they could sit in it for a while for tenpence.


On Kent St Birmingham

On Kent St Birmingham, originally uploaded by ms_lilith.

I’m hoping this is Brum’s gay community being loud and proud and not someone being derogatory about Birmingham’s gay quarter.

And is it the same person who takes the C out of Manchester’s Canal Street?

Overheard on the royal mile

In one of the more select tartan shops on the royal mile (one of the ones that don’t sell Nessie hats) I was fingering a tartan cloak that wanted me to buy it. It seemed to be under the impression that once I left Edinburgh’s streets, evocative of history and romance, I would also be fine wandering around Manchester like an extra in Brigadoon. Luckily, I was distracted by a well-to-do sounding lady who wanted to know if she could bring her King Charles spaniel into the shop. The dog wagged its tail and looked up appealingly. The shop owner looked down at it and said,

“Och, well if he is no gonna winkle on the floor, he can”

My first and only ‘Och’ of my stay in Scotland. Brilliant! And yes, we called it winkle for the rest of the holiday.

Seen in the Christmas markets

A woman dressed in so much wrong fake fur she looked like an incompetent magician had tried to turn her into a teddy bear.

No photo tho. Would have been a bit rude of me, I thought.

Quiz time.


What is on the top of this moo-van?
I think it is a sock stretcher for giant socks but I’m open to other ideas

Happy Birthday! Friedrich Engels

It’s Friedrich Engels’ 190th birthday.

He said of the area where I now live:

“My description.. is far from black enough to convey a true impression of the filth, ruin, and uninhabitableness, the defiance of all considerations of cleanliness, ventilation, and health which characterise the construction of this single district, containing at least twenty to thirty thousand inhabitants. And such a district exists in the heart of the second city of England, the first manufacturing city of the world. If any one wishes to see in how little space a human being can move, how little air – and such air! – he can breathe, how little of civilisation he may share and yet live, it is only necessary to travel hither. True, this is the Old Town, and the people of Manchester emphasise the fact whenever any one mentions to them the frightful condition of this Hell upon Earth; but what does that prove? Everything which here arouses horror and indignation is of recent origin, belongs to the industrial epoch.”

Engels was sent to Manchester to stop him bothering his head with silly notions like sneaking into philosophy lectures. He was, I’m sure, a terrible disappointment to his parents.

I love this story, from the Radical Manchester blog because without Mary Burns The Condition of the Working-Class in England in 1844 would never have been written. No really, you think gentrified young German men could just wander about Manchester’s hovels taking notes and going ‘you lot live like pigs, oops sorry just stepped on your pig there’.  It was written because Mary took her lover off the beaten track and showed him what life was really like for her people.

Engels says:

“The town itself is peculiarly built, so that a person may live in it for years, and go in and out daily without coming into contact with a working people’s quarter or even with workers, that is, so long as he confines himself to his business and to pleasure walks”

it still is.  Happy Birthday Mr Engels. We still need you.

Or we need you. Step off the beaten track, open your eyes. Make friends with someone your parents and your society wouldn’t approve of. Mr Engels would approve.

My Great Neighbourhood

Last week I had popped out for some groceries, at the bottom of my street I overheard a young dad softy saying to the baby in his arms, “This is the Northern Quarter, son, and you can come here if you are young and trendy”. The baby was certainly young, and he had cool sticky up hair. If he had been a nerdy baby it would have been a cruel thing to say but it seemed that baby was happy enough being young and cool enough for the Quarter.

Today, the lovely Morag at the LRM told me the Northern Quarter had won an award for being a great neighbourhood. Tom checked it on his magic phone, The Great Neighbourhood Award was given by ‘The Academy of Urbanism

Read about it on the BBC

I don’t know how they decided it is a great neighbourhood. They didn’t ask me. They probably didn’t ask the homeless guy who slept on my doorstep last summer either.

But I do like living here. I like that there are little independent shops, places to buy crafts, comfy little cafes to meet my friends, my work, art galleries, gigs, places to buy that perfect little gift – all within a mile of my flat. I grew up in a village in the North East which had none of those things. Yes it had a strong sense of community, a sense of shared history, and churches and schools and whatnot. Stuff that Dave Haslam, DJ and author, thinks makes a neighbourhood:

“The fact is you never see children in the Northern Quarter – or old people. I imagine a perfect neighbourhood to have a school or a nursery, a park, somewhere for old people to sit and watch the world go by, and so on. In the Northern Quarter, there’s no mix of generations and not much ethnic mix either. There’s no friendly corner shop, no youth club, no church, no mosque, no synagogue. The Northern Quarter ain’t a ‘neighbourhood’. “

I don’t know where Dave Haslam goes – maybe to the bar I was in yesterday where I counted nine people working away on their MacBooks – but it raises interesting questions about what makes a neighbourhood.

Old and young: There are old people among my neighbours, and every time I go for coffee in Cup there is a cute baby in there. He is right, no children but how many neighbourhoods is that true of?

Shops: I’m sure the guy in my local shop where I buy milk would be shocked to learn there was no friendly corner shop. He calls me ‘gorgeous’, sometimes he forgets and I pull a face till he remembers and we laugh.

Religion: I’d like an ordinary parish church that wasn’t a cathedral but the Methodists on Oldham street certainly exist, and I like their community arts café. There is the Muslim Youth Foundation too, where regular prayer times are observed. And the absolutely gorgeous Buddhist centre. And I love being able to go to a theological bookstore in my slippers, but maybe that is just me. They make you coffee in there while you browse.

Ethnicity: There isn’t the ethnic mix I became used to in Birmingham but far more than I was used to back home. In one day in the Northern Quarter I probably see more people whose ethnicity is different from mine than I met before I was 16.

Can I add community organizations? Age Concern, a migrant workers employment advice service, Citizens Advice, an adult education centre, youth counseling, the Manchester Carers Forum and the volunteering charity where I work are all in one building. Refugee Action and Church Action on Poverty are a short walk from my front door.

Last month, I taught an Austrian man to embroider in Madlab, he and his wife had moved here from Vienna. He said he liked the city, because it’s creative, not conservative. He is right. I like the city because its creativity makes encounters like that possible. I love my neighbourhood. Not because it is like every other neighbourhood, but because it isn’t. What makes your neighbourhood great?