16 December 2016

(Greater) Manchester - 2 - Now....

There Is A Light That Never Goes Out….

Take me out tonight
Where there's music and there's people
And they're young and alive
Driving in your car
I never never want to go home
Because I haven't got one


The Smiths - There Is A Light That Never Goes Out

Back in Manchester, forty years (and more) on, some things have changed, though the air still hangs heavy and dark over the city.  Media centres, flats and businesses rise high above the Salford Quays, though much of the inner dockland areas and the canals are weed-strewn and crying out for development.  The older buildings of the city centre jostle now with towering hotels and gleaming office buildings.  

Tiny scraps of history remain amidst the tramways and roadworks of the future, their chimneys out of place in the new green world, but their gutters filled with buddleia and assorted growths. 

Friday night and the city is waking up.  Only two weeks to party before Christmas and the populace is in strutting out.  

The centre is packed with (as the visitManchester website boasts) world-famous markets feature[ing] nearly 350 stalls spanning 10 distinctive market sites [Albert Square, Cathedral Garden, Market Street, Exchange Square, Corn Exchange, Exchange Street, New Cathedral Street, French Christmas Market in King Street, German Christmas Market in St Ann's Square, World Christmas Market in Brazennose Street], transforming the city centre in to a festive wonderland….. Regularly named one of Europe's best Christmas Market attractions, nine million people visited in 2014.]  The list is almost as exhausting as the reality, with endless strings of stuffed Santas, electric reindeer, and tacky stalls selling anything and everything. 


The pubs and restaurants are steaming. The Briton's Protection (opened in 1806 as a recruiting office for the war against Napoleon, but also the only place in town to commemorate the 1819 Peterloo Massacre) is rammed.  The Pev (full name, Peveril of the Peak, the title of Walter Scott’s longest novel) has burst and the crowd spilled onto the pavements.

I book a table at Mr Thomas’s Chop House (Est. 1867) and innocently ask for a quiet corner.  A pleasant lady informs me that it’s our busiest night of the year! And sure enough, I have to fight my way in through the crowds to reach the spot they’d secured for me by the back door, utilising the fore-arm smash that I learned all those years ago from Kendo (see http://www.richardpgibbs.org/2016/12/greater-manchester-1-then.html for the story behind that…..)

The morning after is as dark as the night before.  At eight a.m. one of the clubs in the Gay Village is evacuating itself, with clients swaggering and staggering amongst the jaded taxis; silvered ampoules litter the cobbles, a peroxide head leans forward and spouts peroxide fluid….  Further down the road The Midland Hotel (where Rolls met Royce) has rooms for one starting at £254 (without breakfast) but there don’t seem to be many lights on at this hour (you may be interested to know that, as their website says, The Midland provides some of the finest dining experiences in Manchester. The team of chefs work constantly to ensure every dish, be it our traditional afternoon tea to the award winning cuisine in The French by Simon Rogan, is prepared with love and passion and full of amazing flavours and tastes. Where possible, we strive to use locally sourced produce to enhance the offerings on our bespoke menus.)  

Too bad I chose a Lancashire Butter Pie at the Chop House.  I truly missed out on this bespoke menu…. And I wonder what locally sourced really means in St Peter’s Square…..

Across the street the pantheon-like Central Library sticks limpet-like to the Kafka-esque book depository (the Town Hall extension), which in turn is attached by sighing bridges to the fourteen million bricks of the Victorian Town Hall (encased in grimy Spinkwell stone).

Down Deansgate lies the John Rylands Library, built by Enriqueta Rylands with no expense spared as a memorial for her husband.  

It houses an exceptional collection of books (including, I note, several tomes entitled The Bible in Vence!  Tut!  Even my cat knows how to spell Venice! sic) and a hushed gothic reading room – What an amazing place! Opines K R Higgins, Brisbane, in her recent tripadvisor review.  This was like being in a Harry Potter movie! 

The Cathedral (the Cathedral and Collegiate Church of St Mary, St Denys and St George), is virtually empty,

and I imagine (though I am not an expert!) it is even more like being in a Harry Potter movie.....   

A priest intones the liturgy, almost to himself, while two Chinese girls admire the Christmas Tree.  

A statue commemorates Humphrey Chetham, whose Hospital School and Library (Charity no. 526702) spent £10M of its £11.3M income in the financial year ending August 2015.  Outside a sign points to the North Pole, and a carousel stands parked and fenced in (to stop the horses leaping away?)  

In front of the titanic prow of the National Football Museum,

a homeless man begs on the cold street.  He could be in the Cathedral.... except that no one would even pass him by in there.

In 1937 George Orwell wrote, in The Road to Wigan Pier, about how Southerners go north… with the vague inferiority-complex of a civilised man venturing among savages….  

He writes about the snobbish, effeminate, and lazy Southerner.  He identifies how, In a Lancashire cotton-town you could probably go for months on end without once hearing an ‘educated’ accent, whereas there can hardly be a town in the South of England where you could throw a brick without hitting the niece of a bishop. 

Things have changed.  No one in Coronation Street wears curlers or hair nets any more.  

The Whitworth Art Gallery [Winner of Visit England's gold prize for Large Visitor Attraction of the Year 2016 and winner of the Art Fund's Museum of the Year 2015] has been reconstructed and currently has Andy Warhol on display, 

as well as 'works' by contemporary artists. 

And on Salford Quays

there is Media City, where the BBC and ITV hang out, there's a branch of the Imperial War Museum, lurking like the Bismark, and there is this shiny MI6-lookalike just by the Manchester Ship Canal.

Quay West, just across the Manchester Ship Canal from The Lowry

In The Lowry, (two theatres plus galleries with works by L S Lowry and modern artists ina landmark quayside building) I wander free around L S Lowry – The Art and The Artist (A permanent display of the best of LS Lowry) and am astonished at the range and depth of the man. I realise he was still around all those years ago when I lived here, so feel a tenuous connection even.... though, like many a snobbish and lazy southerner, I previously 'knew' Lowry to be a painter of stick men and factories, where people come and go in a 'normal' way.....

but this really is something else. The building is spectacular outside as well as in.... 

And the range of the Lowry works, from early life drawings to mesmeric scenes of the North Sea, and from a vast portrayal of a Welsh industrial landscape to a slightly eerie portrait of a quiet woman, is breathtaking. One picture in particular catches my attention and I have been kindly granted permission to reproduce it here.....  

LS Lowry 
The Funeral Party 1953 © The Lowry Collection, Salford

As the official website explains, In 1957 the News Chronicle described The Funeral Party as 'a painting with all the love and compassion drained away.' Lowry himself entertained listeners with his explanation that the man on the right is being treated as an outcast for coming to the funeral in boots and a red tie.' {Read more at http://www.thelowry.com/ls-lowry/microsite/art/people/the-funeral-party/#QguaCFJidAQjAJjl.99}

The extraordinary thing about this funeral party is that it perfectly captures the people in The Union Inn, Levenshulme, when I returned there yesterday (again please see my previous piece for more of this.....)

On my way back to Piccadilly station, on my way back to the snobbish South, riding the brilliant Metrolink, then lunching through the now spacious and quiet Briton's Protection and The Pev

the streets are relaxed with people living their bright lives under the damp grey skies, as Lowry loved them. 

Morrissey (currently 57) sang:

There's a place in the sun for anyone
Who has the will
To chase one and I think I've found mine
Yes, I do believe I have found mine

Let Me Kiss You

Manchester is not quite my ideal place in the sun, but there is a light and it never goes out….  

Nowhere, not even paradise, is perfect [remember Peter Cook’s comment to Dudley Moore as they wandered amongst clouds with white hats and scarves?  Pete: Is this it then?  Dud: What?  Pete: Is this Heaven then?  Dud (quizzically): Yeah….  Pete (after a pause, sardonically): Bloody hell!

If nothing else, Manchester, Greater Manchester, has been an inspiration, as it clearly was to Chopin..... 

I return to the soft, fat, lazy, effeminate south, topped up with Northern grit and subtleties.... 

And no, I won’t look back in anger….

About suffering they were never wrong,

The Old Masters; how well, they understood

Its human position; how it takes place

While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;

How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster.....

Musée des Beaux Arts

W. H. Auden

Pip! Pip!


  1. You have a great knack of getting intimate and close with both people and places (and placing both in context) that is touched by your learning and the light you give them thereby. This, I think, matches the style and grace of Lowry himself. Keep it up! By the way how did you get that lighting effect of the choir stalls and organ?
    Love Phred

  2. Yes, you've excelled yourself with these great pictures.

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