Thursday, 9 February 2012

Manchester: In Residents ... #3: Ruth

‘I came to Manchester to go to university and I hated it…’

What’s your name?

Ruth Allan

What do you do?

I’m a freelance writer and editor. I am just launching Manchester Wire, a new, online listing magazine with Chris Horkan.

Where do you live?

I live in Hulme in the Redbricks.

Tell us the story of how you ended up in Manchester.

I came to Manchester to go to university and I hated it. I used to go and stay with my boyfriend in London every weekend. Finally, when I was in my third year, I started working at the Cornerhouse café and made friends with some cool people. This changed my perspective on the city – it gave me a way in, and a way to feel part of it. I’d lived in five countries with my mum and dad and at different boarding schools, and the whole time I’d never felt ‘part’ of a place. That finally happened here, and I was delighted.

I’ve lived here for fourteen years now and I love the fact I know more about the city’s history, culture and people than most people who are from here. As a ‘third culture’ person (someone brought up in one culture, coming from another) you have the ability to be both insider and outsider, which can be lonely, but in the case of Manchester so many of my friends came here and made it their home too, that I don’t feel left out for not having a Manc accent, or for not being a native. Sometime I think I would like to live somewhere else, but what I tend to do is relocate to places like Berlin for periods of time, and then come back. I’ve got a son who is at school here too, and as I went to so many schools, I would like him to be confident and relaxed about his ‘place’ in the world. Manchester is a good place.

What’s great about this city?

The people. There are so many imaginative, motivated, dynamic, friendly, unpretentious people that live here. Who can I say… the designer Savage Wolf, the producer Illum Sphere, my MA supervisor Maggie Gale and artists like Rachel Goodyear. These are just a few I know and love. It’s also small enough to be completely accessible: you can walk from one side to the other in half an hour. I like the fact that its near other big places too, like Liverpool, and that you can drive to Formby or North Wales with ease.

What’s not so great?

The fact that you can walk from one side to the other in half an hour. Sometimes I wish it was a bit bigger… that you could walk out and be mysterious, and not see people you know. That’s what I like about London and Berlin. Sometimes it’s good to be someone in a crowd.

Do you have a favourite Manchester building?

I like the Cornerhouse. I love its signs and lights and the big glass windows on the top floor in the café. It feels cosmopolitan. My least favourite building is probably ‘the Hive’. Its generic, dull and full of low, depressing ceilings; the kind of boring office space designed to be functional at the lowest level, rather than allowing its occupants to function at their best, surrounded by light, air and inspiration.

Do you have a favourite Mancunian?

Bill Campbell. He owns Islington Mill and has overseen its transformation into a world class centre for the arts. He’s inspiring to me, as he doesn’t let practicality or dissent get in the way of his vision. For example, he has built two houses, the Engine House and Paramatta on the Mill site, as well as four floors of studios, art galleries and club spaces. Architects have balked when he has requested triple height ceilings and unusual window shapes and so on, but he has not let that hinder his vision, and rightly so, because he has created a truly unique environment. When I first met him, he was living in the Engine House (later home to The Ting Tings) surrounded by pieces of modern art that the artists in the studios of the Mill had given him. Huge wooden tongues, concentric circles of concrete, little paper shoes. They didn’t look out of place. They made sense to me as objects for the first time through his curating and the context of this incredible house. He has taste and vision coupled with a fearlessness that I respect. He proves that if you want to do something your way, if you don’t compromise, you can succeed. I aspire to be brave like that too.

What’s your favourite pub/bar/club/restaurant/park/venue?

I love Common. It’s a cool place, day or night. I also love Mr Thomas’ Chop House. They made the best steak and kidney pudding, slow cooked, tender, satisfying. It’s the best food in the world right now.

What do you think is missing from Manchester?

Central parks, gold paving stones, wealth.

If I was Mayor for a day I would …

Cut the power. There is a lot more to life than shopping and the internet which is easy to forget when electricity is a constant.

Who else would you like to nominate to answer this questionnaire?

Ra Page, who runs the publishing house, Comma.

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