Saturday, 30 August 2008

Flats and House, Part 2

I’d fallen in love with my current building a long time before I lived here. I used to project all kinds of fantasies of success, wealth and excitement onto the residents of buildings like these. The round windows, sorry oculi, I thought were the most beautiful things I’d ever seen, and now I have two of them. The gruelling experience of getting here almost ruined me though. The first time the flat came up I missed it by a day, so when it came up again a few months later I was ready. I viewed it the same day and, even though it was littered with bongs, a foul smell and depressing heavy metal ephemera, I could see its innate charm and agreed to take it right away.

There began a three month long trauma of incompetence, lies and rudeness on a scale that makes me shiver even now to think of it. The agency I dealt with are a collection of the most stupid, disorganised and obnoxious people I’ve ever encountered. The day I get my deposit back from them (ha!) I will phone the poor clueless owner of this flat and tell him the very same.

I had packed my belongings and taken the day off work to move. The evening before, and for the third time, I phoned to ensure the key would be ready for me at the allotted time and that the flat had been cleaned. My deposit and agency fee were paid already and I was told once more that everything was ready to go. While I was waiting for the van to arrive the next morning they called and said I couldn’t move in. The tenant had gone AWOL and hadn’t moved out, in fact he hadn’t paid any rent the whole time he lived there.

I asked why nobody had thought to tell me, or warn me, about the situation. I was told it was none of my business how they conducted their affairs with existing clients. Amongst other things not fit to publish here, I told them that a) he wasn’t a client if he wasn’t paying rent, was he?, and b) how had they managed to get in to clean the flat if he was still in there? ‘We haven’t been able to clean the flat,’ was their answer. ‘So the woman who told me last night that the flat had been cleaned was lying? ‘No she was mistaken.’

And so this went on. At one point I asked them if I hadn’t been staying with my kind and understanding sister and had literally had to leave the flat that day, what would they have done? I would have been homeless. ‘That’s not my problem,‘ said devil woman. I’m ashamed to say I almost cried that day. They were bemused as to why I was even angry. ‘A verbal contract is all that’s been exchanged here,’ I was told, as she neatly overlooked the thousand plus quid they’d had from me. It was another six weeks before they could evict the guy and I was able to move in, during which time I lived out of boxes, couldn’t pay rent to my sister because they had literally all of my money, and was repeatedly told I was in the wrong.

Without getting the violins out I was plunged into something of a depression and made to feel helpless and exploited, multiplied by the fact I was experiencing a domestic crisis and was doing this by myself. So I went to the Estate Agents Ombudsman. By this stage I had over 20 unreturned phone calls to the agency. Quite literally the same hour they were contacted by the Ombudsman I was telephoned by the manager and called ‘Sir’. So contact the Ombudsman if things go wrong is my advice! I filed a complaint during my moving-in week but by this time I was so relieved to be in, so tired of being spoken to like dirt, and suffering from such bad stress (manifested as insomnia, dandruff (!!!), and bad dreams when I did sleep) that I literally couldn’t fill out the complaint form and write the letter. In the end they admitted they had treated me badly and unprofessionally, to the point they sacked the woman in question. God forgive me but I hope that bitch is still unemployed. But I made it home.

The fact is though I can’t afford to live here, but I don’t feel that, at thirty, I could make a success of sharing with strangers again, moreover I simply don’t want to. I can’t move in with my partner, and every time I get on a bus something vile happens that makes the prospect of commuting twice a day depress me to the point I feel like self-harming. So I cling on, experiencing a deficit every month in order to be somewhere that feels like home. A few months ago, prior to arranging his remortgage, the owner offered to sell this flat to me at the absolute bargain price of 112 K. But this would require deposit and fees amounting to at least six and half grand and when you owe that amount and more in unpaid debts and no savings, well, you do the maths. There is nowhere in town I could live that is cheaper than this flat, and my flat is beautiful. What am I to do?

Friday, 29 August 2008

Flats and Houses, Part 1

Inspired by Manchester Confidential’s debate about city living, plus the fantastic Renter Girl blog which I’ve only managed to find time to read now by neglecting work all afternoon, I thought I’d regale you with a portion of my Manchester history which I often overlook, but which has been essential in shaping my experience here; my homes.

I’ve been a resident of Manchester twelve years and this is my thirteenth address. It sounds a lot but actually it’s not that unusual a tally. Three student houses in three years followed by four addresses in Chorlton as friends moved to Manchester then moved out again to shack up with partners or get on the property ladder. (I still don’t earn enough to even pay off my Student Loans so a mortgage has always been beyond the pale for me, even at the height of the boom). Another address for when I moved in with my partner, and one more when we broke up. My next was as a lodger to help my sister buy her first flat when she moved back here from down south. The next, and current, for when I wanted to live alone again. Thirteen in all. It’s easy done.

My first address was Oak House, Fallowfield, student accommodation furnished by Swedish prisons and decorated to match, where everything had a thin layer of grease on it the day we moved in and a thicker one the day we moved out. The next two addresses were typical Fallowfield terraces, one well kept and recently refurbed, very homely and cosy, the other a disgrace, replete with damp, slugs, freezing cold, everything threadbare, and ironically the one that got burgled. We were well into a day of hangover TV and junk food when one of us piped up, ‘What used to be there?,’ indicating a suspiciously clean and vacant square beneath the TV set. It used to be our video player. They took that and a bag of sugar, and judging from the footprints in the kitchen, the latter might have been for the dog they brought with them.

All my addresses in Chorlton I loved and would move back to now. One of the things I love about Manchester is that, while buying in a place like Chorlton is only for the lucky few, you can have all the benefits of residents’ overspill wealth and culture for as little as £42.50 a week (at least in 2000 you could). The reason I recall that particular rent and not the others is because we had to leave it in a pile once a week at the bottom of the stairs for the landlord to collect. All above board though I’m sure …

After Chorlton I lived in Hulme (and had a forty-five second walk to work from my front door) and as a sometime Hulmeosexual it was also sadly the first place I ever got homophobic abuse in the street in Manchester (dauntingly, the first incident was outside a newsagent called GBH). I’d gotten the bug for living close to town though, so after that I moved in to the Northern Quarter, next door to the Craft Centre. I loved the location, a small pedestrianised street, far from any traffic, even though my room was tiny and all the doors were sprung so everything was soundtracked by slams.

Sharing with my sister at Lockes Yard after that was also great fun, I love that little area of town, Great Marlbrough Street, New Wakefield Street, the arches and bars, and I loved having a balcony in my bedroom with a gorgeous Japanese maple outside to mark the seasons. But the spectre of the sprung and slamming door was ever-present, coming this time from all around, and a noisy and unpleasant neighbour upstairs helped make my mind up to leave. I would leave notes for him after he stopped answering his door, such as:

“I have been knocking intermittently for the last hour. Either you can’t hear me because your music’s too loud, or you’re ignoring me because you know your music’s too loud. Either way it proves my point. I’m having to go out now to get away from you, instead of staying in and watching a film as I planned. If I ever have to do this again, I’ll call the police.”

My sister is still in that flat, the neighbour has thankfully gone.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Brenda: Part 2

Sunday is Club Brenda at the Ruby Lounge and very nearly every gay friend I’ve had in Manchester is in attendance somewhere which is the loveliest thing, and not a one of them wearing a Pride wristband pass for the Village. Thank god for Brenda and the like giving us an alternative to 3 days of monotonous house music in the rain to ‘celebrate’ our diversity. And only six quid!

The mighty Hidden Cameras

The Hidden Cameras play a glorious set, us down the front in this tiniest of venues and just SO exciting and sweaty with a little mosh pit in front of beautiful Joel Gibb and his lovely music. Dozens of sweaty queers shouting ‘Ban Marriage!’ is the highlight of my Pride weekend. We meet the band afterwards and they’re the sweetest, fun people, Joel is fawned over by everyone but remains modest and unassuming even when Thom tells him that he saw a bit of his cock and balls in the Attitude Sex issue.

Joel Gibb and me

The night takes a bad turn for me when, lured drunkenly into the Invest in Property DJ lounge to wig out, I think, God forgive me, to ‘Sussudio’, I have to thereafter repeatedly kick myself for missing David Hoyle. I know! Bloody Phil Collins. I’m absolutely furious with myself. I did get to see David MC a little though, looking amazing in fright wig and floral print frock, and he also took the stage to play tambourine with the Cameras. My disappointment was curbed a little when we went to his dressing room after and I had a lovely chat with him, we’re both Blackpool boys and it turns out he only lives down the road from Neil in Longsight. Such a wit, such a gentlemen and so full of the kind of free gay spirit that I love and that is sorely missing from Pride. God bless him. I’m going to get Neil to cook him a lovely dinner now that he has a dining table so at least one of my fantasy dinner party guests may actually come to pass in my lifetime.

Me, Sir David Hoyle, Neil

Soundtrack: Belle & Sebastian, Hidden Cameras, Babybird, ‘Wired for Sound’, Connie Francis

Brenda: Part 1

My Nana Brenda had her 80th birthday party at the weekend. Born August 1928 she was a teenager in Lancashire during the War and, as we periodically do in my family, we all neatly hit the zeroes at the same time, me 30 this year, my sister Clare 20, and my Dad and Auntie Dee both 50. The whole family is in attendance plus a gang of Nana’s amazing friends, most of whom I’d never met. About seven women but just the one man (being in their eighties the men are thin on the ground nowadays). Turned out to be great fun and quite an emotional day. My Nana is a well-loved lady and deservedly so, as my Uncle David’s speech rightly said, she is “one of life’s givers”.

My parents bought her a beautiful silver frame with a photograph of Nana aged seven taken with her Dad who was 38 at the time and has the same stern brow that my Dad now has. Nana shed a tear or two, as did we all when one of her lovely friends, with the broadest Leicester twang you’ve ever heard, got up and sang Connie Francis’ ‘My Thanks To You’ in the most beautiful soprano. “These foolish words of mine could never say how slow the hands of time when you’re away …” Sniff.

Isabelle, the eldest of the lot and just back from a cruise, recited from memory a poem about grizzly bears and wolves that she was taught at school several lifetimes ago which I’ve found on the internet and is called ‘W-o-o-o-o-o-ww!’ by Nancy M. Hayes. Then, once Nana’s devout Baptist friend (“she never married”) had left, Isabelle was up again turning the air blue with a mucky verse about impotence in elderly men, told not without some insight I’m sure. I was astonished she could recall word for word these poems she’d first heard decades ago. As Edna pointed out, “We’ve forgotten more than you lot have ever known!” The final turn was a brilliant re-write of ‘My Favourite Things’ from The Sound of Music which I’ve also found online and which I will leave you with:

All Bran and nose drops and needles for knitting,
Walkers and handrails and new dental fittings.
Bundles of magazines tied up in string,
These are a few of my favourite things

Hot tea and crumpets, and corn pads for bunions,
No spicy hot food or food cooked with onions,
Bathrobes and heat packs and hot meals they bring.
These are a few of my favourite things.

Back pains, confused brains, and no fear of sinning.
Thin bones and fractures and hair that is thinning,
and we wont mention our short shrunken frames
when we remember our favourite things.

Cardigans and cataracts and hearing aids and glasses,
Steradent and Fixodent and false teeth in glasses,
Pacemakers, gophers and porches with swings.
These are a few of my favourite things.

When the pipes leak, when the bones creak,
When the knees go bad,
I simply remember my favourite things
And then I don't feel so bad.

When the joints ache, when the hips break,
When the eyes grow dim,
Then I remember the great life I've had,
And then I don't feel so bad.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Tips, trips, chips ...

My multi-talented sister Clare is off to London to pursue her musical ambitions. She’ll be living in Hampstead the lucky bleeder and has a gig in Soho the night she arrives. It’s all just too exciting for words and my poor Mum is going to miss her terribly but success beckons, I just know it, I‘m tipping her for stardom. Check out her music and tell me I’m wrong.

I haven’t just been house-bound myself, oh no. Two trips away in two weekends thankyou very much, the first to see Sarah, Jono and the Georgeous Georgeling, Squire of Mond Street, Barnton. See, I can and do exist outside the M postcode barrier (minor anxiety … passing). The original plan for the day was for the more intrepid and let’s face it nerdier boys to go off bird-watching in the local wilderness while the rest of us head for the heated outdoor pool up the road and drink margaritas from a Thermos. I was in the latter gang, obviously. The rain soon put paid to our side of the fun and when we got to the spa the lifeguard was wearing a polo neck and jeans. Say no more. He gave me a withering look when I yelled, ‘Oh look! A squirrel!’ as if I’d never been off tarmac before.

We had a terrific day though, managed a dry-ish walk through the woods and along the lake, then a fantastic and elaborate summer meze meal prepared by Sarah which was just divine followed by a boozy evening watching DVDs of You’ve Been Framed and cheating at some electronic trivia game. Woken by a strange high-pitched chattering outside the window which turned out to be ‘birds’. The Council should move them on ...

Jaunt number 2 was even further afield, in fact abroad, to Newborough Beach on Anglesey for Charlotte’s 30th birthday. We made an emergency detour to Beaumaris when the weather threatened to confine us to an antiques fair for the entire day but then the sun peeked out and we dived back in the car. By the time we hit the sands it was a glorious if blustery day. Charlotte, Neil and I swam in the freezing, sea-weed infested sea and I felt amazing afterwards, the cobwebs and the grime blown clean away. I was not happy to get back to the city. I could write about postmodern urban anxiety from a cottage on the Welsh coast couldn’t I?

Special mention must be made for the horrible meal I subjected myself to at Kro Bar. Their vegetarian selection is weak at the best of times and given it was a drizzly and grim day I opted for the hearty and nourishing-sounding Danish Vegetable Hash. It transpired that this was cubes of par-boiled potato and carrot in a ‘sauce’ that was basically melted butter with pepper in with three slices of crinkle-cut pickled beetroot from a jar on the side. Grim. That plus chips and water cost me a tenner. Pretty disgraceful I’d say. Give it a wiiiide birth if you’re hungry.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

If I only had a brain, a heart, the nerve …

You get nothing for ages then a flurry of blogging activity all at once. What gives? Well first off it matters not because my compadre Thom has been doing some top notch blogging of late, including typically spot-on musical recommendations, check it out at once. And secondly my silence here is testament to the large amounts of work I’ve been doing on The Novel, at the expense of work, sleep, play, rest, fun, friends, food (well, no, not food) and Manhattanchester. I’ve made some pleasing inroads into the writing and have less than 10 short chapters to complete before I get stuck into editing proper. Unfortunately I’ve gone a bit mad doing it, in fact for the time being at least I seem to have lost my bottle entirely. In short, I’m no longer sure I can pull it off.

To get reassurances or at the very least, the blunt truth, I’ve sent chapters to various loved ones, none of whom are duty-bound to say nice things of course, and the responses have included the following:

“I was impressed”

“I read this last night and I want more! The characters are so well observed and the writing is tight, witty and involving. I haven't honestly read anything this good in ages …”

“I love her but I hate her too! I want to find out what happens …”

It is these precious words that will sustain me through completion of the wretched thing. It’s not even a 300 page opus or anything, it’ll only be about fifty thousand words all told, but when you have to commit yourself to it around the nine to five it can seem insurmountable.

So, I’m having a few days break from words and am off home to Blackpool to attend my lovely Nana’s 80th birthday. I’ve bought her a lovely lavender towelling dressing gown with a floral motif down the front. BHS, you just can’t fail can you? Then it’s back to Manc on Sunday in time for Club Brenda featuring David Hoyle and The Hidden Cameras. I’m more excited by this than I’ve been about anything for ages. It will be my only outing over the Pride weekend, about which I’m obviously feeling horribly cynical, though I’m glad it’s there too in a funny way, but there must always be room for dissent. I hate feeling like a target market and I feel about Pride the way I feel about capitalism in general, that if I didn’t have the money to spend I would be gladly left to die in the street. Aren’t I a killjoy? Lefty, can’t be helped. Somebody has written elsewhere that if one person contracts HIV over the drink and drug and unsafe sex addled weekend the amount of money raised by the whole event will sustain their care for abut 5 years. See? Some people are even more cynical than I am.

Anyway, as I planned to do months ago I intend to scour the writer’s blogs and see how fellow scribes deal with the pitfalls of fiction. I will report back with my findings. The Manchester Blog Awards are on the horizon too so I shall be on the lookout for nominees while I’m about it.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Pride: 10 reasons not to

1) Balloons are pollution

2) Three emails and a phone call to find out if they’d let me into the HIV/AIDS vigil without paying for a wrist band. ‘Yes, of course.’ If it’s that obvious why did she have to check with so many people? I’ll be bringing her printed reply with me, just in case …

3) Anti-gay laws in 80 countries and pride of place for the police on the march again. Talk about symbolic.

4) LGBT: The T stands for Trans, of the sexual and gendered variety, and where are the Trans events at 2008 Pride?

5) It’s the only Big City Pride that’ll cost you.

6) We’re ghettoised into the Village the rest of the year, and during our weekend we have to pay for the privilege. Why can’t the whole city be ours for one day?

7) Only 18 % of ticket sales cash went to charity last year. In fact Customs and Excise say Pride hasn't been a charity since 2003.

8) Supposedly half a million quid to charity for every EIGHTY million in additional profit to the city’s businesses.

9) What if you don’t like house music, commercial POP, alcohol, dancing, CAPITALISM? Keep out of ‘your’ Village I guess …

10) Because I’m ALLOWED to not like it, aren’t I?

Thursday, 21 August 2008

The Smiths and Morrissey Disco @ The Star and Garter, 1/8/08

Can it really be 11 years since I first flung myself around to Morrissey all night long at the Star & Garter? Blimey. I’m old aren’t I? Back in 1997 the not-very-well received Maladjusted album was still brand new (and mildly disappointing), You Are The Quarry and Ringleader still far off in the distant future, and I was 19, sexually confused, impeccably gawky and still going out clubbing in my glasses. How could I not love it? In true How Soon Is Now style I even went alone one night, though the Stressford Poet writes “There is a place for me and my friends, and when we go, we all will go, so I’m never alone …”

I guess when I’m tired of the Smiths night I’ll be tired of Manchester, nay life. The lovely, indefatigable Dave Cotrill still mans the decks, with an assistant this time, and the same friendly faces and arms welcome me like the big dysfunctional family we are. There are two perfect times to visit if you’re so inclined. One is right now while it’s the summer and the crowd is a little older and more discerning and it’s sticky and hot in there which is how things should be. The other time is when Morrissey is on tour and the adoration reaches fever pitch. During his 2006/7 tour I officially went too far. My Diary reads thusly:

Fri 5th Smiths night @ Star & Garter
Sat 6th Mum’s birthday. Morrissey @ Apollo.
Sun 7th Morrissey @ Opera House. Morrissey night @ Brickhouse.
Mon 8th Day off work. Morrissey @ Bridgewater. Smiths night @ Star & Garter.

Fri 22nd Shave my head! Morrissey @ GMEX. Smiths night @ Star & Garter
Sat 23rd Morrissey @ GMEX. Smiths night @ Brickhouse

Notice the slight insanity creep in around ‘Shave my head!’. It’s a tough furrow to plough as a Morrissey disciple but plough it we must. I’ve been a frequently infrequent visitor to the S&G over the last decade and have never not had a brilliant time. I’ve been punched in the face, lost my shirt at least once and my dignity several times, sustained hideous popper scabs, fallen off the stage and down the stairs, and fallen out with all and (if she was there aswell) sundry. But oh, the drama and the passion

Tonight is relatively quiet however, all the better to dance, but the atmosphere is like coming home. Somehow get stinking drunk (how does that keep happening?) and end up chasing Disko Asbo across town because I’m convinced that it’s at Charlie’s and then decide it’s at the Purple Pussycat so we end going to both and I’m still no more clued up as to if we actually make it or not but have hilarious time finding out. Sit up till dawn with my mate Jack eating toast and playing each other brilliant stuff on youtube (Janis Joplin, Stereolab, Ride). Great, great times. Viva the Smiths night I say, it’s the only thing worth missing Homoelectric for.

Soundtrack: Victoria Wood songs. Seems appropriate given she has more in common with Morrissey as a songwriter than anyone else does. Nice to see via youtube I’m not the only person who loves her music. Everyone else seems to fast forward through these when they’re on DVD. Shame! Listen to ‘Andrea’ or ‘Like Any Old Day’ and weep into your chips you scrubbers. When I used to watch The Two Ronnies everyone would go and make tea during Ronnie Corbett’s monologues but I loved ‘em. (Neil’s shorthand for when he’s bored is, to this day, to shout ‘Ronnie Corbett!). So it is with VW songs. Love ‘em. And those Corbett bits were all written by Ronnie Barker you know so sit back down

Monday, 18 August 2008

Body Worlds exhibit, Museum of Science and Industry

When you go out with a scientist, a surprise visit to see a selection of plastinated human remains can constitute a birthday treat in a way it might not do for ordinary citizens. If you haven’t been to see this in Manchester yet it’s too late now but numerous variations of the exhibition constantly tour the globe so if you’re ever in town when they are, you have to witness it. It was my first time visiting the Museum of Science and Industry, housed in the old Liverpool Road station buildings, which is frankly a disgrace after living here for twelve years. I was shocked by the size of the place, we had to walk miles down into the atmospheric recesses to get to Body Worlds. It was all worth it, even if the rooms they’d chosen were slightly too stuffy and harshly lit.

If you ever watched the live televised autopsy series that Gunther von Hagens did you’ll have gathered he’s the consummate mad scientist with unbridled ego to match. This exhibit shamelessly places his quotations alongside the greatest philosophers, writers and thinkers of the last few millennia. By the time you leave though you’ll probably agree the ego is actually well deserved, the techniques he’s mastered have made the kind of advances you really only see once every few generations.

As the history of anatomy is bound up as much with art as with science, the layout and context of the pieces repeatedly flag up tise connection to give a full chronological understanding of just how impressive what you are you looking at is. In fact the divergence of science away from art only happened after the first great leaps forward had happened in our anatomical understanding, hence da Vinci’s fascination with both art and autopsy. As part of their agreement to be used, donors sign a contract which amongst other things permits the use of their remains in an artistic context. (A touching example of one of these permission formed part of the exhibit). So you get elaborate Classically-influenced poses, or three guys sitting round a card table cheating at poker, or a swimmer in mid-stroke. Sometimes, being art, it falls flat aesthetically. The Venus-like figure emerging from a rock struck me as a tacky way to end your days, but you can’t win ‘em all.

So, the bodies. The fascination with the incredible amount of detail this kind of preservation allows outweighs any of the heebee-jeebies you might feel at being surrounded by corpses. The plastination and dehydration methods render the flesh in a way that basically makes them look like fibreglass. There is no gore, just the endlessly complex labyrinth of your own insides in astonishing detail. It’s all presented in layman’s terms too but without being patronising. The most weirdly affecting things are the seemingly simple pieces, the cut away layers showing lung cancer or the brain haemorrhage that killed. My resolve to never smoke again was strengthened and I overheard others talking about various cancers and strokes that killed loved ones. Witnessing yourself from the inside out means you leave slightly humbled by your own mortality but also amazed at your own impossible complexity. How egotistical is that?