Sunday 6 September 2009

Liverpool: love it or hate it

This is my first life in a northern city entry and it is Liverpool. Over the years I’ve visited Liverpool – first times were to take the ferry to Dublin, so all I recollect really is the M62 and the trip to the docks, usually at night too so not much to remember. The next visits I made were for visits to friends, gigs, shopping and the art galleries for my OU course. I have mixed feelings about the place really, part fantastic and part really irritating.

Where do I start? Well the reason why I’m writing this is because I went to Liverpool last bank holiday with my other half. Whilst we were there we stumbled upon the Mathew Street Music Festival and managed to catch China Crisis do a short set. Believe me that was the highlight of what we saw and China Crisis were a little embarrassing to say the least. Most of the festival was just a collection of bad covers bands on stages across the city. The city streets were closed to traffic and were full of thousands of scousers drinking – it was all a little intense. What got me was that the council had organised this debacle. This was such a low rent festival any self-respecting council would have been so embarrassed to put this on. This would never happen in Manchester. There was a fringe festival attached to this festival and although we never saw any of it, I can imagine it was 100% better than what we witnessed. We went down Mathew Street itself and it really is a sad street with lots of 90s retro and Beatles bars, with the obligatory bouncers prowling the doors. All the joy and innocence that it must have been like in the 1960s has deserted the street and is replaced by cynicism and exploitation.

What I really noticed about Liverpool through this festival is how men and women in Liverpool dress. It’s such a working class town and it is old fashioned in the sense that when the working classes go into the city they put on their best. Women without fail had full make up on. Fake tan was the norm. They were all coordinated – nothing had been thrown on, their outfits were thought out, ironed and matching. A colleague had told me that Liverpool women swear by ‘The Look’ (said in a scouse accent). If you didn’t have ‘The Look’ you were nobody. This season’s fashion allegedly included the maxi dress. In Manchester I had never seen anyone sporting the look, however in Liverpool, low and behold the maxi dress was a look being worn. Young girls were dolled up to the nines - big Amy Winehouse hair, clubbing gear on in broad daylight and skirts like pelmets. Older women - full make up, manicured and highly colourful outfits. I tend to go for darker colours, but Liverpool women love their colour. I now understand the likes of Colleen Rooney and all those scouse WAGS, they are coming from a visual culture of the working classes, where it is important to look your best, despite of your circumstances. They have the money and they see it as their duty to look good. In Liverpool it’s an aspiration to have ‘The Look’ and they spend good money to achieve it from those on benefits to the multi millionaires. Me, well I don’t have ‘The Look’. I don’t wear make up, unless it is for a night out. I dress very neutral, often in block colours and to the silhouette. This is quite alien to the Liverpool Lady. The men as well have ‘The Look’ - pressed shirts, designer names and fully co-ordinated. I swear some men, who were clearly not gay, were sporting fake tans.

The natives of Liverpool can be a sentimental bunch. It is an immigrant town, with a weird singsong Irish / Welsh hybrid accent. The Irish influence is evident in its working classes, its music, its storytelling oral culture and propensity to drink and have a good time. Ireland has a weird schizophrenic attitude of catholic morality and living in the moment – often at odds with each other and I think this is reflected in Liverpool too. In many respects I think Liverpool and Dublin is one city split by the choppy Irish Sea.

I mentioned the storytelling tradition before and I remember I was made to do a turn at a scouse friend’s party in front of her friends and parents. It reminded me of Ireland where great storytellers were always welcomed and my family had its fair share of them. I always like having a good anecdote to hand for the benefit of friends and family. I always wondered where my love for writing came from and it’s from the Irish oral tradition I was brought up in. Liverpool has its fair share of writers including Willy Russell (Blood Brothers – my favourite musical), Alan Bleasdale (Boys from the Blackstuff / G.B.H. - legendary stuff), Jimmy McGovern (Cracker and my first introduction to the joy that is Christopher Eccleston) and Carla Lane (actually I don’t like her stuff – Butterflies, Bread and Liver Birds – I really can’t be doing with her winy writer's voice).

Liverpool is a loyal city too and the boycott of The Sun after Hillsborough a case in point. Although I think Liverpool can cut off its nose to spite its face and this can be seen in the messy political history of the city circa 1980s.

One thing I recommend any visitor to Liverpool is to look up. Bizarre I know, but look up at the buildings. Look above the street front facades and look at the architectural heritage that Liverpool has in abundance. The city is full of lush 19th century architecture. Obviously there must have been competition in the 19th century with all the great and the good of the Liverpool business community, who had made their fortunes through the blood, sweat and tears of the slaves and the working classes. Fantastic buildings like the Liver Buildings, St Georges Hall and the Walker Art Gallery are testament to those 19th century egos. In recent years there has been regeneration within the heart of the city, however it’s that featureless and functional glass, steel and concrete that dominates the architecture of now, for example Liverpool One shopping area (why is John Lewis always situated in these featureless developments?). It does not quite capture the imagination of the grand buildings. The old Town Hall had a balcony with people enjoying a drink upon it and through the window you could see the most fantastic chandelier. If I had the time I would love to explore these buildings and capture the beauty of these buildings for prosperity.

With all places I go I always check out the charity shops. I’ve been to Liverpool over the years and I have to say the charity shops are crap. Don’t bother. Scousers know the value of things. If it has a value, they flog it. Only the real crap goes to the charity shops in Liverpool. I do imagine the charity shops in the more affluent areas of Liverpool are most likely rich pickings. In the city centre however, I would not waste my time.

My reason for finding Liverpool fantastic is its art galleries. The Tate Liverpool is fantastic. I just love it - lots of gorgeous modern art to take the piss out of and admire in equal measures. There is always an exhibition I can drag my other half around as it has music connections – psychedelic exhibition a few years ago and this time the disco sculpture exhibit. My favourite modern art gallery is obviously the Tate Liverpool’s big sister the Tate Modern, but Tate Liverpool is always a pleasure and you don’t need hiking boots to get round.

I managed to get to the Walker Art Gallery for the first time this bank holiday and I was impressed. I’ve been to Manchester Art Gallery countless times, but the Walker Art Gallery was really impressive. It had the usual collection of Pre-Raphaelites, portraits of the great and the good and there was a Turner painting, which is a must for all northern art galleries (Turner is my favourite painter). There was a modern art section too with the John Moores prize winning paintings, which was a joy. There was a temporary exhibition of Cecil Beaton photography. I love photography and it is not often wall space is given to this type of exhibition in galleries like this.

I guess I should mention music really. The Beatles – well they are truly exploited in Liverpool and are a money-making machine. In my opinion their music is fine, but there is plenty of other musical geniuses out there from scouse land. For me music and Liverpool are Echo and the Bunnymen, Teardrop Explodes, The Lightning Seeds (Pure is one of my favourite songs), Clinic and most recently Shack have become my scouse band of choice.

For me Liverpool is a city that still trades on past glories – the 19th Century trading past and the 1960s Beatles phenomena. It’s a city that thought it could do no wrong and did not have to tow the line in Britain’s political life. However that stubborn streak has gotten it into trouble especially in the 1970s and 1980s. Seneca wrote about a dog that was tied to a cart. The dog had to follow the cart otherwise it would be strangled. If it followed the cart it could have some control of what happened to it, if it didn’t the cart moved on and strangled the dog. Liverpool during the 1970s and 1980s was the dog that would not follow the cart and was strangled in the process. Derek Hatton destroyed Liverpool and only now, 20 years on, is it now in recovery – the docks, Liverpool One, the 2008 City of Culture and the Echo arena all symbols of this recovery. Liverpool however is not really playing the political game - it's the worst performing council in 2008 and tops the indices of deprivation. Liverpool is a city that is poor, deprived and bears the scars with its depopulation and inner city deprivation in the likes of Kensington.

Saturday 13 June 2009


I could do Bury as a random trip to a random northern town, but the place has too much history for me on this occasion.

Bury... so much to answer for. It was the place of two interesting phases of my life: Sixth Form College and my stay at Fairfield Hospital. The former spanned 1988 to 1990 and the latter span a couple of days in March 2009 - sort of.

In September 1988, after surviving high school without too many mental scars due to the fine people at Booth Hall Hospital (possibly another entry), I ended up at Holy Cross Sixth Form College. It's a catholic college and at the time was run by a formidable Irish Nun called Sister Mary Kelly.

I ended up getting a C in General Studies, a D in History and a N in Economics. Not brilliant results, but typical of my style of getting by on a wing and a prayer. If I'd dropped Economics instead of Government and Politics I'd probably ended up at Manchester Poly instead of Sheffield Poly and life would have been different. I do not regret it.

I met my best mate Shaun at Holy Cross College. We met through my car accident - I was the victim and he was the witness. Thing was I'd woken up that morning thinking how would I get away without handing in my essay on the Spanish Civil War (something I know little of to this day). I walked to the road I normally got my bus on, Bury Old Road, and thought instead of crossing at the lights, I'd just cut across the road. Last thing I remember was looking the other way thinking I'd be okay to cross. Apparently I went across the bonnet and ended up sprawed across Bury Old Road. I thought I was dreaming when I came to, but realised that it was real as I remember getting washed that morning. It is amazing what you remember being hit by a car. Anyway I remember trying to stay conscious until the ambulance came. I saw the roof of the ambulance and promptly passed out. Little did I realise it was not a proper ambulance, I was in fact surrounded by a bunch of OAPs on the out patient bus. I ended up at Crumpsall Hospital at 9am and was discharged at 12 noon. After the doctors worrying I had broken my hip, which I had not, I'd only broken my arm and cut my knee, I was discharged. Shaun, my soon to be best friend, went into to college to inform Sister Mary Kelly "Anne-Marie won't be in today as she was hit by a car!" Hilda the nosey neighbour came round to check I was okay - she brought me a v-shaped cushion which was a savour for me. As much as I didn't break a hip, I couldn't walk that well and was in a lot of pain. I was a serious shade of black and blue. When I went to Ancoats Outpatients next day to have my plaster cast redone, I was the slowest person on my feet. The 90 year olds could seriously outpace me that day - a rarity if you know my walking speed.

When I came back to college, Shaun introduced himself and we became best of mates. When he finally came out to me on the bench near the bus stop on Bury Old Road. I remember he said he had something to tell me, as much I wanted him as a friend, I didn't want him as a boyfriend. When he told me he was gay, I burst out laughing. I was so relieved. Shaun is still a fabulous mate to this day and he was the best thing that came out of my time at college.

What other Bury highlights? Oh the day my letter was published in the NME letter. In a daft moment I wrote a letter to the NME about how the music press were hyping the Manchester music scene - it was the Madchester period. I'm positive I wrote it in green ink - the shame! Thankfully it was wonderfully edited from it's rambling original to a tight couple of paragraphs. I've got a feeling it was either Andrew Collins or Stuart Maconie who edited the letter. Anyway I was thrilled and embarassed at the same time when I read the letter in the magazine and had to run a circuit of the college to express my nervous excitement and shame. Obviously these things get round college like wildfire and for a brief period I had notority. Apparently some of Pete's mates found out and I believe I considered cool. Not something I'm used to or lasts long in my life - not like I'm bothered anyway.

Music to me was pretty important in my life at that time as in any teenagers life. I had had a pop epithany in 1984/5 - hence my purchases of Hits 2 and Hits 5. My other half knows if I know a track from that period it is off one of the two albums. I'd had a Joshua Tree / U2 period (although Unforgetable Fire is my fave album of theirs), The Alarm and The Mission (briefly). The Smiths however won my heart and soul in 1987 and they promptly split on me. Damn them! Although my Dad now works with Johnny Marr's dad called Johnny Maher. My Dad is so cool in my books for that connection. I digress - Bury, music and Vibes Record Shop, which I'm glad to say still exists today [edit: sadly it closed in 2011]. Yes, that is where I made my musical purchases - singles were vinyl 12 inches - not a bad investment - and albums were on tape - doh! Although bless my brother for getting me 'The Queen is Dead' album on vinyl when I was laid up at home with a broken arm and barely able to walk. I may have cursed him at the time, but glad that he did. I bought Morrissey's first 5 or 6 12inch singles in there, The Charlatans, Stone Roses and Happy Mondays too. It was a good musical period in Manchester, however the extremely naive me never got to experience it. Only the odd foray into Eastern Bloc Records and Afflecks Palace, which I tended to do at a sprint as I was a nervous teen and it seemed scary to me at the time. Often I had to humilate myself in the shop to purchase for my Dad - Daniel O'Donnell records to be exact - taxi for my streetcred!

Over the years since college, my travels back to Bury have been limited. My ill-fated attempt at an English Lit A'Level at Bury College - got an N. If I had done a resit the next year I would have got it, however by then I was University College Salford (now Salford Uni) doing performing arts. Then there was the occasional shopping trip with my Mother. Otherwise I steered clear. Although when I did my Open Uni course in History of Modern Art I did explore the Bury Art Gallery. It did look like an old lady's parlour with over stuffed walls of 19th century art, although I did rather like that look. It is seriously worth visiting for Landseer's 'The Random Shot' and Turner's 'Calais Sands'. The Landseer is a heartbreaking picture and is arts version of Bambi, but with balls and no compromise. Also any excuse to see a Turner - I can spot them across a gallery at 50 paces - they just spring from the walls with the light Turner paints. For me Turner can beat all those French Impressionists hands down - he truly is the original impressionist.

So years have past and for the past couple of years I've been making regular visits to Fairfield Hospital dueto my faulty thyroid. Originally I had been at North Manchester General Hospital (Crumpsall Hospital - where I'd been born) as an outpatient, however my consultant left and my records were transfered to Mr Shepherd based at Fairfield Hospital. I have an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto's disease, which means my immune system attacks my thyroid, which reduces its function over time. Until this year I have had a goiter (lump in layman's terms). Anyway the consultant, in your typical arrogant doctor type, made me have a gentleman's agreement, which we shook on, to agree to have an operation if my goiter got bigger. I had a couple of ultrasounds over a year and sure enough it got bigger - there was a lump 32mm in diameter to be exact. This year in January, he made me honour the agreement. Believe me I was not happy about it as I have never had an op in my life and I'm very nervous when it comes to blood and needles. He said to me 'I'll sort out the paperwork, otherwise I know you'll walk out the door and not do it'. I muttered in response 'You know me well'. He was right, I would have walked out as I have done this in the past - I wonder if it is on my medical records?

So on March 2nd I had a partial thyroidectomy to remove the left lobe of my thyroid. Apparently you can function perfectly well with only half a thyroid. Anyway the day - I got there at 8am and within an hour and a half I was moved to another ward - ward 14. I had a window bed, which was fine as I like to be out of the way and can observe in peace. Throughout my time there they spelt my name wrong and kept calling me by Anne, which really pisses me off. Only 3 people can get away with that - My Mum, My Dad and My Brother.

I was brought down to the operating theatre at 10.30am and was given anesthetic. All I can remember was lying on gel pads and the anesthestist noted I was quite tall. It took about an hour apparently and it was the only time I was with my consultant.

By 2pm I had come too in recovery. What really brought me round was not the nurse but a rather full bladder - I'd had 3 litres of saline throughout my op. When I got back to the ward, I had my first experience of a commode. At the age of 36 I was not expecting this experience and by my second experience I had vowed never to do it again - the indignity of it all! I'd had a drain attached to my wound and my wound was stapled - I looked like Frankenstein's monster. Although it was possibly a look Vivienne Westwood would have considered in the 70s. High as a kite on the anesthetic, I had to psych myself up to get me and my drain to the toliet every hour on the hour. I went throughout the night too. I must have looked bloody scary to the rest of the ward with the staples and drain. It was a bobbins ward really. There was a really moaning cow in the bed across the ward. Everyone just popped on their headphones to watch the telly or listen to their ipods to ignore her. She complained about the food, the nurses, her boyfriend, her family, everything and everybody. The only person I spoke to was the poor woman who was brought in with gallstones that night. She was vomiting due to a reaction to morphine and on my noturnal trips to the loo, I asked if she needed a nurse. She nodded with her head in the sick bowl.

The food was awful. Why do people assume I am vegetarian? Cheese and milk gives me eczema. The nurses had ordered me cheese sandwiches and quiches. I was so annoyed. The first night I got Neil to get me a tuna wrap from Subway from across the road from where we live. I had my first proper throaty burp in years from it as I no longer had a lump blocking my throat. The next day I was in tears as I couldn't have breakfast - milk based, nor lunch - cheese based. I lived off my mum's grapes that day, which were going off because of the unbearable heat in the ward.

I had an awful experience with the blood pressure monitor too. The velcro strap they attached to your arm to take the blood pressure was worn and dug into your skin. It was so bad it made scratch marks on my arms. By 6am next day I was so pissed off I told them to take it off. Apparently they were worried my blood pressure was low - I was asleep so it would have been! Although I can have quite low blood pressure.

The tea lady kept calling me Anne and despite the number of times I corrected her, she never remembered. She seemed to take offence that I asked for hot water. I had brought my own decaf tea and fruit teas as I knew they wouldn't have decaf. For goodness sake people can be different and I'd even prepared for the fact they would not have anything like that! I know what I like and I'm not going to agree to having something that I don't like to maintain the status quo. Grr...

Anyway 8am next day, one of the consultant's minions was doing ward visits. They said I could have my drain out by lunch time and I'd be able to leave. From that point onwards I was counting down to get out of there. I was like one of those annoying kids who say 'are we here yet?' when they are on a journey. Instead I was saying throughout the day 'can I go yet?' Lunch came and they removed the drain. Although I did cause a fuss when I would not allow a trainee nurse to take it out. It was a good move on my behalf as the drain was done in an unusual way and they had to get a nurse from the ENT ward to remove it. It was a peculiar feeling, which still makes me billous to think about. It didn't hurt coming out, it was an icky feeling. Within five minutes of getting the drain removed I was packed and pestering the nurses to go. They gave me a deadline of tea time - 5pm. Dad came for afternoon visiting and brought me a sandwich, which I was truly grateful for. After the hour visiting had past, I hid Dad on the ward as I didn't want him hanging round on the corridor waiting till 5pm. By half four I was pestering the nurses to go. Finally I broke them and they gave me a bag of drugs and I fled happily from the ward, back to civilization. I really hate hospitals - they are boring, you can't get showered properly and the food is dreadful. When I explained my op to my dentist a few weeks later, he couldn't blame me for getting out of the hospital as quick as I did, more for not catching MSRA and CDiff. I think subconsciously I was worried about that too.

In the end I just spend 31 hours in hospital for my op, but as you can see from my post, it left a lasting impression. In truth I was probably the most healthiest person on that ward, despite the staples and the drain making it appear a lot worse than it was. Six weeks later I got my results from the op. I had a bit of a shock. The lump had been a tumour - a folicular adenoma - thankfully benign. If the consultant had mentioned the 'T' word sooner I would have said 'Where do I sign?' I would not have faffed around delaying the op. However the op has definately made a difference - I can burp, I can sit up in bed without discomfort, I can breathe better and my energy levels seem to be much more even.
Bury... so much to be thankful for, but it's still a bobbins place to shop.

Friday 22 May 2009

Bolton: it's really quite alright

Funnily enough having lived in Manchester practically all my life, I hadn't really visited Bolton that much until recent times. In truth it hadn't really registered on my radar. My first visit in recent years had been to the Council and another visit was for a Wedding at the Holiday Inn.

Recently, since the move to Swinton, my latest visits have been for shopping and I have to admit I like it.

I've been mainly parking at the market centre. Apparently it had been a covered proper market for years, until it had a makeover and moved Debenhams in (a minus point really) and lots of high street chains (another minus point). They have an odd parking token system and I always get lost trying to find the carpark. I could us other car parks, but it's right in the centre and in truth I'm a bit lazy.
High street shopping is good in Bolton, if you don't want to hike the trafford centre and Manchester City Centre. It's the usual suspects.

They have a nice big square in Bolton that is surprisingly grand for a Northern town. The last time I was there it was a very sunny day and it happened all the nutters came out. Then again northern towns will always have it's fair share of the mentally unstable.

There are some fast food stalls in Bolton like 'Wraps 'n Rolls' and the big sausage stall in the square where the young girl serving was more interested in checking out the local talent rather than serve customers. Fair do's - I would do the same if I was 16 and from Bolton.

The charity shops were okay too and lots of them too. The books were relatively interesting (my specialist interest) and there seemed to be interesting records for my other half to purchase and resell on the internet. Go to and support local record shops and my other half. Anyway Bolton does prove my theory of poor working class areas have the best, most resaleable musical taste. Believe me posh areas like Wilmslow and Alderley Edge have really shocking musical donations to charity shops, which you couldn't shift in a month of Sundays.

Another thing I loved about these charity shops were the people working in them. It amused me some old ladies in Scope objected to the MCing by some young people outside their shop. They wanted to find their loud hailer to block it out.

I liked the fact Bolton still has an old stylee independent department store called 'Whitakers' and the book shop 'Sweetens' opposite. I really liked 'Sweetens' - there is something I love about independent book shops and this has a lovely quirky feel that doesn't hide it's witchcraft section away in far flung corners of the shop and has a darn fine self-help section, which I am addicted to. They should have a serious gold star for still being in existence.

Obviously there is a Starbucks, which has some sixth form lad with a bad white man afro - not a good look that he will regret in years to come. My other half like the fact they do rather good extra chocolate milk shakes. It's in the market hall, which is nice. There are plenty of other coffee places on offer, but if you want a soya, decaf, caramel machiatto, it's good to go.
I've have been told Bolton has a lively night life. I cannot possibly comment on this, but with the amount of bars situated in the area, I reckon it could be true.

The recession has definately hit Bolton with some empty shops units including Woolies, but on a sunny day it had a good number of people knocking about and the cheap shops were buzzing.

Bolton is a surprising alright kind of place, which I didn't expect. It has decent shoping, an excellent theatre and didn't scare me in the slightest. Go on - do a random trip to Bolton!

Saturday 16 May 2009

Warrington: it's a bit boring

Yes, I'm sad to say Warrington is a bit boring. A few Saturdays ago I spent a dull afternoon in Warrington and well it just didn't excite me.

What can I say in it's favour? The council went a bit mental on the street art - all shapes and sizes that makes life different. There is a fab art shop with lovely 1950s signage, stripped wood flooring and a fab ambience.

What else? Lots and lots of roundabouts. Ikea - a joy to women and a hell to men. Half way between Manchester and Scouse land. The charity shops are okay - nothing brillant, but nothing too bad.

And the down side? It's very flat and it resides in a 1960s precient hell.

I could waffle on for a thousand words, but really only less than two hundred words will suffice. It's dull, so don't expect much - jump on a train as Manchester and Liverpool have much more to offer.

Sunday 26 April 2009

Cheetham Hill

Cheetham Hill is pronouced 'Che'um 'ill', despite the BBC journalists pronunciations in recent times. The Hill has many memories for me having lived on Woodlands Road, played on Esmond Road and shopped on Cheetham Hill Road.

As much as my Mum tried to convince me we lived in Crumpsall, we lived on the wrong side of the road in our Edwardian Terrace in Cheetham Hill.

I have quoted this many times, but in the 70s I lived in a very multicultural area of the Hill. The Edwardian terrace then was home to a Siki family, Irish family, Jewish man, Chinese family, us (Irish - both north and south), Italian / Ukrainian family and an Italian corner shop. Believe me today you do not get that type of cultural diversity in Cheetham Hill - it is much more ghettoised. When we moved to Whitefield in 1980 I was sadden by the lack of cultural diversity - it seemed plain weird to me at the time.

Back to the 'ill - Lindy Lou's - it was a kids shop my Mum made me frequent on an occasional basis. This is the place where my Mum purchased my Holy Communion dress. Like most things in my life being Catholic wasn't a straightforward thing - not for my Mum when she tried to marry my Dad. She was told by a priest to go and marry a good catholic man - my Dad was protestant - a Presbyterian in fact. Pretty hardcore given the times - 1970. Thankfully my Mother ignored this and found a more liberial priest to marry them. I seem to have inherited her stubborn streak. Anyway back to my Communion - there was a major faux pas that day - me and Angela Gill managed to wear the same dress. I did look better, apart from my natural prettiness and height, my neighbours (Italian / Ukrainian lot) gave me an enhancing underskirt and I had a fab head dress too. She was a bully though and made my time at St Anne's Primary School a misery. Still I won in the fashion stakes that day.

Clarks Shoe Shop was a strong memory for me of the 'ill. They had this machine that measured feet that seemed like it had been an ex monster in Doctor Who. I had such big feet as a child and adult and could never have the most fabulous shoes. I had to settle for the boring and sensible ones.

Woolworths, now sadly defunct, was a Saturday morning memory. My Dad used to take myself and my brother down to the shops. My brother would demand lego, and later The Specials and Madness records, whilst I stalked the stationary dept and Ladybird books. I was such a cheap date in comparision to my brother and I still am. Another memory of Woolworths was Seline, who was a glamourous lady who my Mum had taken in due to domestic abuse issues. For a short while she shared a bedroom with me and she bought me a pink, flump shaped pyjama case in Woolies. She also brought me attention as a five year old when she held my hand walking through Cheetham Hill - okay she brought attention to herself with her short skirts and glamourous good looks, but I basked in her reflected glory. She went to the USA afterwards where she found happiness and brought up her family. She was lovely.

The Co-op had many memories for me. It was where I first got lost as a child and scared the living daylights out of my Mum. It was the place where I learnt to lookout for the tallest lady in the shop as that was invariably my Mum. It was also the place where my brother Pete would have strops to get his favourite fairy soap.

My little bro Pete used to go to a nursery in Cheetham Hill on the corner of Greenhill Road and Cheetham Hill Road. Whilst I went to the nice nursery, he went to the scally nursery. Maybe I'm being a snob, but then again my Mum was a bit of a snob and did become slightly horrified he was picking up a manc accent whilst he was there. This may have resulted in our move to Whitefield.

One of my first pets was Rosie the rabbit. He / she (never too sure on that fact) was given to me on my birthday by Angelina from next door. I didn't realise at the time Rosie had been a rabbit at George's school and had been 'retired' as a school pet. It turned out Rosie wasn't keen on children, probably due to the abuse she received in the school. Within days I was scratched by Rosie and promptly I ignored her from that point onwards. She couldn't be housed in a cage and kept breaking out, just Steve McQueen in the Great Escape. One day I noticed she had gone. My Mum claimed she must have left the back gate open and she escaped. I organised a search party and scoured the streets of Cheetham Hill and Crumpsall. Unbeknownst to me my Mum had given Rosie away to the window cleaner two weeks beforehand. She had been fed up with looking after a rabbit that both myself and Pete had ignorned. Who could blame her? It took us a few years to persuade her a cat is a good idea - Sooty will come up in the Whitefield section.

1977 was the year I caught chicken pox. It was hot, but not as hot as the year before. I remember I had time off from school and was covered in calamine lotion, which was not a pleasant experience. It was the Queen's Jubilee that year but I don't remember it as my Grandad was dying of lung cancer at the time. We were dashing back and forth from Ireland and completely missed the celebrations. In later years my Mum, who was not a royalist due to her Irish upbringing, would always make sure we were in Ireland to avoid royal weddings celebrations, which possibly explains my republican outlook.

The Northern hospital was quite a feature in my life in Cheetham Hill as my Mum worked there as an auxiliary. It's high cellings and wide polished floors resonate in my memories. I often remember trailing after my Mum through the hospital when she was going to pick up her payslip. Sadly it is now closed down and converted into flats. The same has happened to Salford Royal Infirmary on the Crescent. It's a shame as it was a rather impressive building doing rather impressive things like saving peoples lives.

The Ukrainian Club has always been a bizarre memory with me. Sadly it has burnt down in recent years, but due to my mad Italian / Ukrainian neighbours I occasionally frequented the place for various do's. It had these rather strange freezes on the wall in a vaguely Sound of Music style pictures on the walls in rememberance of the home country. It was always wierd and delightful in equal measures as it reminded me of the family atmosphere that Ireland has for me.

Cheetham Hill has changed over the years. It has never been a glamourous place even in the 70s, but always diverse. You got to remember for over a 100 years Victoria Station in Manchester was at the end of Cheetham Hill Road. So it always has and always will be the first port of call for an immigrants to the UK, like my parents and many other people who reside in Manchester. It will always remain a multicultural area and it is a place I am proud to be associated with. Despite my British birth, I am in my cultural upbringing Irish and Cheetham Hill was a place where difference was the norm and where I felt I belonged.

Saturday 11 April 2009

Halifax is Lovely

After exploring what Lancashire could offer recently, I thought it would be interesting to head over the Pennines to God's Own County of Yorkshire - West Yorkshire to be exact. At Junction 24 I had a choice, head for Halifax or 'uddersfield. Not wishing to offend our Yorkshire cousins, I thought Halifax would be a safer bet and what a very pleasant surprise it was.

Halifax is snuggled in a valley and on the sweeping drive down the A629 you can see evidence of its industrial past with mills - now converted into apartments.

On parking in the heart of Halifax, you may think you are parking in a non descript town, with the usual high street shops, however you will be pleasantly deceived. There is no Debenhams, nor Starbucks: my usual indicators of high street saturation. There is a high number of individual, non-chain boutiques and coffee shops providing refreshments of a decidedly Halifax flavour.

The railway station is a sight to see as it looks as if it is straight out of a Jane Austin novel with it's classical design in York stone. It kind of melts your knees and you imagine Darcy could be waiting just for you.

The architecture of Halifax points towards a very monied Victorian past: the York stone buildings with its wonderful, rich and ornate carvings. There is an individual department store where you could take your Gran for tea and cakes, purchase very nice outfits and Chanel nail polish (a weakness for me).

The market hall with it's wonderful wrought iron and glass ceiling, underneath still sells obscure pork products - pork and black pudding pie to be exact. The fact a market exists below such a ceiling is a fabulous achievement in this day and age. You would expect it to be covering designer shops and high street chains, but no it does not, just local produce for local people. Fantastic!

There is a fab factor going on with it's charity shops too. First of all there are plenty of them and they are open at regular times. Secondly they sell fab things like Portmerion pottery, as I managed to purchase two rather lovely bowls for £6 when they should have been £16. There is a high quality factor operating in Halifax, which reflects the fact it is a rather wealthy place. Thirdly, Halifax has a number of obscure charity shops including Helping Hands & Greyhound and Lurcher Trust. And fourthly they are campaigning to save the demolition of their local library and make people to sign a petition to save it, which is for me is an ace thing. I want to go back there and very possibly live there.

What else has Halifax to offer? A museum, Northern Broadsides Theatre Company and a completely civilised shopping experience.

One of my ex-bosses resides in these parts and I wondered why he travelled an hour to two hours each day from and to Halifax. I understand now - it's a lovely place and very possibly a great place to bring up children. Okay as a teenager I may not have appreciated it that much, but it is a civilised distance between Leeds and Manchester, which would have been good enough for me.

On the nutter front, there are low levels of nutter activity, although near the YMCA there seemed to be some nutter activity.

Halifax is pretty sane and has a civilised Yorkshire personality - a kind of Michael Parkinson type of town.

Thursday 9 April 2009

Wigan is full of Nutters

It may seem like a broad and sweeping statement about Wigan and I do risk the wrath of its residents, but really, it is full of nutters. It's a statement that has already been confirmed to me by two ex Wiganites, so I don't think I'm on too shaky ground there.

So what possessed me to drive to Wigan on a dull Saturday afternoon in March? It was a dull Saturday afternoon, I'd never been to Wigan and I love driving. I seriously love driving - my ambition is to do the star in the reasonably priced car circuit on Top Gear. Don't get me wrong as much as I love Top Gear, Clarkson is an A1 tosser - I just watch it for its comedy value and seeing Clarkson nearly kill himself on a regular basis.

Anyway, were was I? Wigan, yes, parked in the council car park - a modern functional affair, with a quirk that you had to pay the man in the booth to let you out. A bit bizarre, when you can normally pop money in a machine which will pay for your parking. It must be a council thing.

Next... shopping... It has a market, which is obligatory for any northern town. No self respecting northern town can operate without a market, it's one of those ancient bylaws I think which insists they have to sell obsure pig products.

It has a Debenhams too, which I was surprised to see as I was brought up understanding they were only the preserve of the major conurbation. I think there is a plot by Debenhams to take over every possible town with is watered down designer nonscience, forcing out those quite frankly bizarre and old school department stores that have been established 50 years, where your Gran thought it was the height of sophistication. (Draws breath!)

A few years ago I used to think Starbucks was the benchmark of civilization for a town, now they are popping up everywhere like a rash. No longer can I take this as my barometer of how unlikely it is getting my head kicked... In Wigan it has a Starbuck, but the likelihood of physical violence is right high.

So apart from Debenhams and Starbucks, there is the usual array of high street shops you get everywhere across the country. It is a shame high streets are morphing into each other with the loss of local identity. However I did spot I very old school sweet shop selling sweets by the quarter out of big jars - they seemed to do 'Uncle Joes Mint Balls' - there must be factory round there. I was so transported to the 70s, where I accidentally got talked into buying a pound of pear drops instead of getting bread for my mum.

Now one of the things I love about visiting new towns is going into charity shops as you never know what you can find. I seriously think you can do a psychological analysis of a town by stepping into a charity shop. So what did the charity shops of Wigan tell me about the town? A little down at heel and working class kind of town. The item on display were functional and of little aesthetic value. Nothing extraordinary, although it's not a town for volunteering, which is a shame. There were several charity shops closed or with ridiculously short opening times - not a good sign in my books. There wasn't a great selection of records, but we found out there was one of those electrical exchange shops in town, so people were trading their record collections for peanuts instead of donating to charity - another great shame for the charities.

It is clear the recession has hit hard in Wigan - lots of shuttered shops and the cheap shops being popular. It's the sort of town in a boom time that would only just be alright, but as soon as money is scarces the shops disappears and has an air of depression. The posh coffee shops will be gone soon, and the cheap pie shops will loom large in this post industrial, recession hit landscape.

There must be some serious drinkers in this town - there are pubs everywhere. I know it's a rugby town, and naturally it has it's fair share of fast food joints that cater for this market, but there is serious number of pubs. It would take a harden drinker a long time to get barred from every pub in town if they lived in Wigan. Although I did notice one former pub, with beautiful red tiles on the outside, had been converted to a Thai restaurant. Is Thai the new Indian? Clearly in Wigan.

Now the residents... they talk at one level and that is LOUD! The teenagers are LOUD, the nutters are LOUD, everyone is LOUD. It's bizarre. There was nutter who was discussing LOUDLY his sexual health issues with the whole of the shopping precinct. And there was one guy who came up to us and asked us something, we thought he was drunk. He asked us the question again... he was asking us for the time. There is a really odd accent operating in these parts... I can understand why my mate who once resided in these parts was told by their parents not to speak like the locals - her parents were scousers and that is saying something.

I did say to my partner if I had been a teenager in this town I would have got the first train out of town in my goth gear on Saturdays and hung out in Manchester by Urbis with the other goth kids. I'm sure that all the goth kids who plague Urbis on Saturdays are from random northern towns like Wigan seeking the civilization of Manchester. I so feel for them...

So in conclusion, what can I say about Wigan, apart from it being full of nutters - its a town with personality. It's rare these days for a random northern town to leave a distinctive impression, especially with the generic morphing of the shopping and rash of coffee shops is erasing the distinctive qualities of a place, but Wigan retains some hints of individuality, albeit sectionable at times.

Wednesday 8 April 2009


Let's start from the beginning, 12th June 1972, when I was born in Crumpsall Hospital. Not the most glamourous starts in life. It's a rather sprawling hospital with new bits added onto rather scary looking Edwardian building. As much as I was born here, I don't fancy dying there - so I do try to avoid it as much as I can - even went to not so great lengths to have my most recent and only op at Fairfield Hospital in Bury. It was a partial thyroidectomy if your wondering - cracking scar too. Anyway I was born in Crumpsall.

Other Crumpsall connections:

Baptised at St Anne RC Church - a rather large and uninspiring modern build church. Spent most Sundays until the age of 8 trying not to fall asleep during the service - failed miserably to the consternation of my mother.

Had my holy communion there too. There was a major fashion faux par that day - Me and Angela Gill wore the same dress. Except I looked better - was taller, wore an underskirt provided by my mad Italian / Ukrainian neighbours that made the dress look better, had a tiara and was generally prettier. She did bully me though - moo that she was.

Nursery - Abraham Moss. Very awful 60s confection, that was raised to the ground in a stunning fire in the 90s. There was a lovely middle class nursery nurse and I used to copy how she spoke. She liked the fact I was learning the alphabet at such a young age. My mother made the mistake of sending my brother to a nursery in Cheetham Hill. She was horrified he was beginning to develop a manc accent, especially as I had such a cultured accent.

Abraham Moss swimming pool. The site of one of my first dices with death. I didn't consider the fact I could not swim wasn't a good idea when I decided to jump in the main pool, without armbands. I would have nearly drowned if my cousin hadn't hauled me to the surface. Still remember looking up at the surface of the pool thinking how do I get up there. Spent the rest of the session sharing armbands with my cousin Martina. I am still somewhat foolhardy.

St Anne's RC Primary School - my first school. Another badly designed school from the 60s - concrete upon concrete, with the obligatory portacabins near the railway line. Fairly fond memories - my cousins went there and Martina was in the same class. We used to get separated for talking too much - I apparently had a really deep voice as a child and so it used to carry. My voice is no longer that deep - I think I changed it at an early age as it caused me to get into trouble with talking too much. Nearly split my head open on the climbing frame - a health and safety nightmare that would not be allowed today, but great fun at the time. Got bullied by Angela Gill and her mates - should have hit her, the cow. Instead followed Mum's advice and walked away. That is why I find it difficult to deal with confrontation today.

Crumpsall Park - used to go there with my cousins who lived in Crumpsall. Fell off the roundabout and got chased by the parky.

My cousins - Lived on Moorside Road, near the park. It was a madhouse and they were great fun. First saw my brother in their house when he came out of hospital. Apparently I pushed through them and said 'He's mine!' I have long regretted that statement. They were in and out of Crumpsall Hospital so often, my dad on a saturday night would not have a drink until after 9pm, because he knew my cousins were in bed and he wouldn't be called upon to take them to hospital in his van. The hospital staff knew them by name. It was a cousin related incident that resulted in my first trip to casualty - I was chasing them and ran into a wall and knocked myself out. Got sweets at hospital - hospitals were great in the 70s. Mani from the Stone Roses lived on the next street I believe. Sadly my cousins left Crumpsall and the UK in 1978 and went back to Ireland after the death of my baby cousin Martin. They were my life, I missed them loads and a part of my heart broke the day they left. That was the first time I felt really lonely.

Chinese Chippy on Lansdowne Road - did a fab beef curry. Always remember the suspended celling with it's enclosed lights (very 70s), newspaper wrapping and the chipper machine behind the counter. My dad swore by the curry's especially when he had a cold as he said the curry would sweat the cold out.

Learnt to drive in Crumpsall with a mad ex-merchant seaman driving instructor. The instuctor had a rather bad case of road rage once. He jumped out of the car when someone cut me up and chased after them on foot. It was a bit of a sight and funny in retrospect. Passed on my second test in 1995 - I think the examiner had a good christmas and was rather generous as he passed me after I had made 16 minor errors - I think.

Crumpsall - now

It's got a tram stop, lots of speed bumps, Landsdowne Road had a face lift back in 2004 and sadly had it's own terrorists. It's a very multicultural area now. Crumpsall Hospital is a scary place and even my consultant agreed with me on that. Still it isn't as bad as the MRI in Manchester - you get mugged for your morphine there. As much as I have fond memories from the 70s, it's a place I would rather not visit on a regular basis as it has seriously gone down hill since then.

My Home Town

Well how do you classify your home down? I was born in Crumpsall; spent my formative years in Cheetham Hill until my mother decided she didn't want her kids to become scallies; moved to Whitefield, but hung out and delivered newspapers to the lead singer of The Fall in Prestwich; went to college in Bury; studied at uni both in Sheffield (dropped out and lots of hills) and Salford (I did graduate this time); lived in Withington, Chorlton and now Swinton; worked in Manchester City Centre, Swinton and now sunny Wythenshawe. You could say Manchester is my home town, but it's techincally a city. So Manchester is my home city, but what is my home town? You better keep reading my blog then, and in between my random posts of random trips to random northern towns, I will take you through my geographical autobiography.