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.