Tuesday, 25 September 2012

‘Manchester: In Residents’ … #19: Rachel

‘I spent two years trying to say the word ‘bitch’ with a straight face and writing a column about my imaginary cat, Tobey…’

What’s your name?

Rachel Dawn Winterbottom. I’ve always hated my surname because it means I have to frequently say ‘bottom’ in public (less fun than it sounds). At university I misguidedly tried to make ‘Rae’ happen for me, but, thanks to a school friend’s dad, it made me feel like a 40-year-old man with a handlebar moustache.

What do you do?

I am an Assistant Editor for the Centre for Pharmacy Postgraduate Education at the University of Manchester. This involves editing learning materials used by NHS pharmacists and pharmacy technicians working in England who have to do continuing professional development in order to stay registered within their profession. Although, when asked, I usually just say ‘I’m an Assistant Editor at the university’, because it’s cruel to expect people to feign interest for that long.

I initially started working at the university on a temporary contract in the Production department at Manchester University Press, around about the same time I began a Publishing MA at UCLan. The Dream was to move to London and work in science fiction and fantasy publishing, but apparently there are only two of those kinds of jobs available in the UK and they’re currently occupied.

I’m also a freelance writer and I’ve been writing film reviews and culture articles for Manchester Confidential for four years. After another fifty to sixty years of this I will have worked off at least part of my Creative Writing degree and made it all worthwhile.    

Where do you live?

Stalybridge. Which is sort of Greater Manchester if you’re terrible at geography and overreaching in your optimism. It’s a town that’s had its centre disrupted by the arrival of a Tesco but can still boast a Sandwich and Tripe Shop. It’s the sort of place that as a teenager you vow you will leave and never come back to, and then you become an adult and return with depressing inevitability. It contains some of the greatest people I know, and it’s home.

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

Despite my parents living in Tameside, thanks to some quirk of fate I was born in Saint Mary’s Hospital in town, so I started off life in Manchester.    

I moved to Wakefield for university, then afterwards I stayed in Leeds to be near my boyfriend. I didn’t feel any connection to these cities the way I did with Manchester. The streets of Leeds always felt so regimented and inflexible, like nothing could ever disrupt its grid-like structure or fill in the gaps between Nandos and Miss Selfridges with a bit of soul.

Then in 2007, with broken heart in tow, I returned home.

My first job back in Manchester was working for Our Dogs, one of the two pedigree dog newspapers in the UK, and Our Cats, not surprisingly the only cat newspaper. I got the job despite getting the breed of my own dog wrong in the interview and disliking all animals. I spent two years trying to say the word ‘bitch’ with a straight face and writing a column about my imaginary cat, Tobey (‘Through the cat flap with Rachel Winterbottom’). It was all very Sex and the City.

What’s great about this city?

I know that every city suffers its own particular mix of individuals, but Manchester doesn’t just humour her different types, she welcomes each one in as her own and sits everyone alongside each other quite snugly, despite the deceptively small space and variance of houseguest.

For a city that you can quite comfortably walk across in half an hour, it harbours a lot of different parts and you aren’t confined to any particular one. In Afflecks for instance you’re just as likely to find fresh-faced couples pushing prams that cost more than my car as you are teenagers blundering through their Goth phase.   

What’s not so great?

All the usual complaints about major cities. Plus, the new buildings that keep emerging with no correlation with the existing architecture, like the expansion of Chetham’s. It’s been shoehorned into its surroundings like Cinderella’s ugly step sister shoving her oversized man foot into someone else’s glass slipper. 

Do you have a favourite Manchester building?

The Rylands Building, aka Debenhams. Fun facts: it’s a grade II listed building that was built in 1932 for John Rylands, and was the biggest textiles warehouse in Manchester at that time. I worked there when I was a student and the staff would tell new starters that there was a ballroom on the top floor from back when it used to be a hotel. This is of course a lie. I once took the goods lift up to the top floor and found a corridor filled with broken windows that looked out on to the roof. Of the floor itself, all I saw was a good deal of dust and darkness, a wooden staircase in the centre of a vast empty room that led down and a distinct lack of ballroom. Still, this magnificent, brooding hulk of a building stands like Manchester’s tribute to Gotham City and I love it.

Do you have a favourite Mancunian?

Honorary Mancunian Russell T. Davies. He might be from Swansea but he lives in Manchester and he brought us Queer as Folk and revived Doctor Who so that we could all enjoy David Tennant in a suit and Converse trainers. He also owns a Dalek.

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

I recently took someone on a walking tour of my favourite Manchester spots. They had only been here once, at night, and couldn’t remember where. We started at Piccadilly Station, walked down Granby Row where my favourite wrongly coloured statue of Vimto sits, up to Sandbar and Deaf Institute, followed by a peek in the window of the Manchester Museum to see the giant crab (it has teeth in its claws!) and back down to the Cornerhouse for a drink and to people watch from a superior vantage point. The next stop was my favourite Starbucks on Mount Street (it just feels better in there) then on to Castlefield to go past the remains of the fort for a drink in Dukes 92. We then walked along Deansgate, passed the glory that is the John Rylands Library and into Forsyths music store for a play on the grand pianos. We then went across St Ann’s Square and up Market Street (which, apart from the cobbles, I actually detest) in order to go into Afflecks for a Twinkie and a play on Pac-Man. Then we had fruit scones in Sugar Junction and drank out of twee floral cups, whiled away a few hours in Fyg, where the staff and wines are just lovely, and finished with Porn Star Martinis in Thomas Restaurant and Bar. I now realise that most of my favourite places in Manchester involve some sort of food and drink.

What do you think is missing from Manchester?

Last year I would have said we needed a genre event along the lines of the London and San Diego Comic Cons. Now we have one and it’s succinctly called the MCM Expo Manchester Comic Com at Manchester Central (or the G-Mex, as it shall forever be known). Now all I think’s missing is some decent guests (San Diego gets previews of blockbuster films, we get the cast from Young Dracula).

If I was Mayor for a day I would …

… be a wildly inappropriate choice.

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

Eddie Izzard, another honorary Mancunian after he did Lost Christmas, which was set in a version of Greater Manchester that put the folding city of Inception to shame.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Manchester Literature Festival, 8–23 October

A typically packed and dizzyingly varied roster once again from this year’s Lit Fest. Manchester is book capital for the duration of this autumn city festival. Coupled with the annual boost in the concert calendar, you might find you’re out and about in the next few weeks more often than you were in the drizzly summer.

My top picks this year are these:

city-pick Manchester
Tuesday 9th October, 5.30pm
Manchester Town Hall, Banqueting Room

Iain M Banks
The Hydrogen Sonata
Thursday 11th October, 7pm
International Anthony Burgess Foundation

Pat Barker
Sunday 14th October, 6pm
IWM North

Kei Miller
Sunday 14th October, 2pm
Whitworth Art Gallery

Simon Armitage
Walking Home
Tuesday 16th October, 7pm
International Anthony Burgess Foundation

Is the Editor Dead?
Lee Brackstone, Peter Hartey, John Mitchinson, Michael Schmidt & Erica Wagner
Wednesday 17th October, 6pm
International Anthony Burgess Foundation

Fifty Years of A Clockwork Orange
with Dominic Sandbrook
Thursday 18th October, 7pm
International Anthony Burgess Foundation

Blog North Awards and The Turing Text
And the Turing Text
Wednesday 17th October, 7.30pm
The Deaf Institute

Manchester Poetry Prize Gala
Ian Duhig, Frances Leviston & Adam O’Riordan
Friday 19th October, 7.30pm
Baronial Hall, Chetham’s School of Music

Sex and the Cities
Anjali Joseph, Grażyna Plebanek & Noémi Szécsi
Friday 19th October, 7.30pm
International Anthony Burgess Foundation

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Drunk At Vogue: we are unified, we are together, we are One...

A few years ago I was resident at an 80s night at the now defunct Purple Pussycat. The venue was kind of raucous and fun. I’d gotten used to playing there and I wondered if I could pitch a night. I’d decided ‘Drunk At Vogue’ was the perfect name for a night the second I heard Carrie Bradshaw say it in Season 4 of ‘Sex and the City’. Also because of that show, and because it was one of my favourite songs as a kid, the now ubiquitous ‘Got To Be Real’ by Cheryl Lynn was the first song I put on the playlist. At the time, Horse Meat Disco threw intermittent parties at the Pussycat so I couldn’t pitch them a straight-up disco night. Instead I went for a ‘not dance music, just music for dancing’ vibe. The playlist was disco, 80s synth, vintage pop, electro, Italo. The idea was to treat dance tunes just like pop songs. Ronnie Dyson, Little Boots, Kid Creole, Chic, Eurythmics, Cristina… But the venue wasn’t into it, and the 80s night finished, and the venue closed down. Such is nightlife.

Soon after that I became resident at Off The Hook. After that night took a hiatus I decided to help resurrect it in a new venue, with a new vibe. It worked really well and we’re still going strong. Bolstered by that success I started yapping about Drunk At Vogue again. When I mentioned it to my friends Gary, Thom and James, they saw potential in it from the off. And not just musical potential either: videos, outfits, performance art, and a whole host of New York and Manchester references to play with. Suddenly there were four of us and the venue was obvious, Kraak; new home to Off The Hook, blank canvas, backstreet, away from the Village – but not too far – hard to find, sweaty.

You can spout all you like about what you want your night to be, but it doesn’t mean a thing until the place starts to fill. If it fills. What the punters play in their rooms before they show up, what they decide to wear, or not wear, the videos they post on your page the day before the party; these are all out of your hands, and they matter. Drunk At Vogue Party Number 1 filled up within the hour. The outfits were some of the best I’ve ever seen on a night out. Shoestring glamour and genderfuckery and fun and hot and funny. Larry Levan and Mai Tai and ‘The Boss’ and avante garde drag and Chris on the door in his underwear.

We threw a boat party on the Irwell this year. It was magic. Our ‘Gay Sex In The 70s Party’ for Pride weekend was our best night to date, and actually really emotional. We’ve set the bar pretty high for our first birthday. It’s on October 5th. Everyone is welcome. You might be surprised that something like this is happening here in Manchester. So come and see us. I’m never sure where all the amazing punters come from. But there they are. 

Legends is going to shut soon. We didn’t win that one. We have to invest elsewhere in the city. Manchester is changing faster than ever and it sometimes feels they like don’t want you to keep dancing, but you have to keep moving…

Thursday, 20 September 2012

New headphones ...

Is it just me or does everyone else end up buying new headphones every couple of months? I’m fed up of it. To date I have been through two of those little white thingies for my iPhone, a black pair of similar, two sets of those gym ones that go over your ears (lost the rubber ear-shaped thing both times), then I bust my lovely Sony MDR-V500s in a messy DJ brawl one Halloween. Now I DJ with some shiny Numark Redwaves but those bad boys don't leave the house unless it's for a  gig. So for everyday use I've plumped for some Sennheiser HD 201s. So far I like them. They’re sounding great from my stereo, my iPhone 4S and my laptop. They make the most of the volume and I'm hearing neat little treble detail I never heard before, plus they keep the bass in and the city out. I have a problem with weighty headphones that dig the sides of my glasses into my head. These do not; they are light, and the cushions line the outside of your ears so your ears can breathe and your glasses aren’t pressured. It would be better if they had the cable going to just one side of the headphones, but it’s a minor quibble. I’m taking extra good care of them...

Monday, 17 September 2012

‘Manchester: In Residents’ ... #17: Jenny

'Playing ‘Guess How Little My Rent Is’ with my London friends is easily one of my favourite games...'

What’s your name?

Jenny Oakenfull. As a child I remember being confused as to why my mum found it necessary to spell her surname to everyone she introduced herself to. Then I got older and realised if I don’t slowly reel off ‘Oh-Ay-Kay...’ with a distinct emphasis on the ‘Eff-You-Double-Ell’ at the end, it means sitting through a good five minutes of people asking if I’m related to that ‘Paul’ DJ, or at the very least, several mispronunciations. ‘Oakenfall’ and ‘Oakenfield’ are the most common. ‘Oakenfuck’ by far the most amusing.

What do you do?

I’ve just finished a Masters in Art Gallery and Museum Studies and am now the Charity Manager at Nexus Art Cafe in the Northern Quarter, which means I organise all the exhibitions, art events, bookings and creative things that go on there. Other side-projects of mine this year have included creative evaluation for a kid’s festival, helping produce a series of short films about Postgraduate study skills for the University, and running the social media campaign for Manchester Histories Festival. I like being busy.

Where do you live?

Whalley Range. We just moved here a couple of months ago, and it doesn’t quite feel like home yet. Having enjoyed my student days in deepest, darkest Withington, then graduating to Burton Road in lovely West Didsbury for a year, we decided we wanted somewhere a little cheaper and a little greener, so we landed here. I’ve been writing my dissertation for most of the summer so I’ve spent a lot of time indoors depriving my skin of Vitamin D, and I feel as though I haven’t properly explored yet, but what I have discovered has mainly been the proximity of our house to Unicorn, Pi, Jam Street Cafe, and a bloody massive park. I think I’ll like it here.

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

One day, a good eight years ago now, a fifteen year old girl in York was given a musical education by a boy called James. He was in love with all things ‘Madchester’ and taught her about The Stone Roses, The Smiths, The Happy Mondays, 808 State, Joy Division, Inspiral Carpets, The Hacienda, Factory Records, and the beauty of a good pair of Adidas Original Sambas. They took the train to the holy city for their first date, hopping around vintage and record shops in the Northern Quarter for a couple of hours before heading to a British Sea Power gig at Academy 2 on a Magic Bus that only cost 50p from town all the way up Oxford Road. Sadly, that particular relationship didn’t last beyond Sixth Form, but the girl’s love of all things Manchester was unquenchable, and aged eighteen, struggling to decide where she was going to go and spend the next three years of her life, a friend simply turned and said, ‘But Jenny, it’s always been Manchester, hasn’t it?’; and that was that. A light bulb moment that dictated a move to my spiritual home and the longest love affair of my life to date, with a huge, rainy, industrial city: Manchester, you beautiful thing you...

What’s great about this city?

I honestly don’t know where to start, and in a way, that’s just it; there’s so much going on here. I’ve found that with every new person I meet I uncover another secret corner of the city that was previously unbeknownst to me, and it’s always a good corner too. People moan about the weather but the constant drizzle just makes you appreciate those rare sunny moments all the more (and they’re actually not that rare, contrary to popular belief).

People sometimes say Manchester is ‘too small’ but whenever I bump into someone I wasn’t expecting to see, even mid-hangover on a Sunday morning, I count my lucky stars that I know enough people to bump into by chance. Even though it’s undesirable at times, it’s these kind of encounters that make the place feel like home. The size also makes things accessible, in all senses of the word. There aren’t many places I can’t get to on my bike. Social circles are easily maintained, simply because no one has to travel longer than thirty minutes to find you. Career-building contacts are straightforward to make if you put a little effort in the right places. There’s no way I would be able to do the equivalent of my job in London at this stage in my professional life, and that’s down to the fact it’s easier to get ahead and be known in this city because there aren’t quite so many people clambering on top of each other to desperately fill the same role. For this reason I often feel like we are the UK’s best kept secret, that and the fact it’s so wonderfully affordable to live here. Playing ‘Guess How Little My Rent Is’ with my London friends is easily one of my favourite games. If we can’t be smug about the weather, we can at least be smug about that.

What’s not so great?

For whatever reason, Manchester planners and architects of the past sixty years or so have repeatedly made terrible decisions. Why on earth they continually decide that tearing down beautiful buildings and replacing them with ugly monstrosities is a good idea baffles me. Or, equally criminal, replacing original interiors of buildings with generic, anonymous features. I admired the grandeur of The Midland Hotel for years; upon actually visiting it a few months ago, I was dismayed that some misguided developer had pulled out the entirety of the original internal features. There are too many examples of terrible planning decisions to list without getting horrendously irate, but I’ll give you a brief outline of my top three: Hulme, razed to the ground twice; the area that was flattened to make way for the Arndale Centre; and, perhaps the biggest travesty of all, Piccadilly Gardens. In case you are unaware of what used to reside in pride of place in this city, have a quick online search through the Manchester City Council Archives. I defy you not to weep at the beautiful greens, palm trees, and flower beds, now buried six feet under several tonnes of concrete.

Basically, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Elsewhere, I think we should shout a bit louder about the exciting cultural things that are happening here. Visitors are always surprised at how much we have going on. Maybe we did a bit too much shouting around the time of Madchester but it’s definitely time to start raising our voices again. We’ve got plenty to be proud of.

Do you have a favourite Manchester building?

Many! As the previous rant might suggest, Manchester’s architecture is one of the reasons I fell in love with this city. There are so many amazing ex-industrial warehouses dotted about, hardly changed. Hotspur House is my current favourite, framed through the railway arches on Whitworth Street West. I also, weirdly, really liked Student Castle whilst it was still half finished, all those red steel girders against the green apartments with the windmill by Oxford Road Station made it feel like some kind of post-apocalyptic, steampunk inspired, futuristic landscape (maybe I’m just getting carried away...). Gorton Monastery is beautiful, even in its half-ransacked state. Islington Mill is a really special place. There are too many to name. I recommend looking up above the shops and cafes and bars as much as possible, you never fail to notice something new. I have also discovered that urban exploration blogs are addictive and reveal a great many secrets; the ballroom on the fifth floor of Primark, Hulme Hippodrome and the interior of the Odeon on Oxford Road being prime examples.

Do you have a favourite Mancunian?

This is a tough one. There are so many people either from here, or who have made their home here, who inspire me that it’s hard to pick just one favourite. They seem to come in groups. There’s the music lot: Ian Curtis, Tony Wilson, The Smiths (even, reluctantly, Morrissey), The Stone Roses ... you know the rest. A lot of the people responsible for the Cooperative and The Vegetarian Society were here, and the Pankhursts called it home, so that’s the radical lot. Then we have the academics; Alan Turing and Samuel Alexander and the like. There are also countless cultural and business innovators spanning the history of the city, and many of the most inspiring are the ones who are active today. You just have to take the example of the Northern Quarter’s development over the past ten years to find some of the most interesting, innovative and creative people you’re likely to encounter, a little microcosm of change and forward thinking. Far too many potential heroes to pick one favourite.

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

As a student, trying to find the best of the above is pretty much all we did. Common was the first bar I was taken to, and though the days are long gone where you could get a pint and a ‘posh toastie’ for a fiver, the food is still brilliant and the beer selection is great. I seem to love and respect anything and everything the Trof guys do; much undergrad revision was done nursing a single cup of coffee in their Fallowfield outlet, and it’s a real shame The Corner had to go, but The Deaf Institute is still an amazing venue. The Lass O’Gowrie is a regular haunt, as are Oklahoma and Home Sweet Home. Nexus obviously has to get a mention and if you haven’t been yet then come see us soon; there’s a reason I love working there! As a lifelong veggie the city has always been kind to me; the halloumi salad in Fuel is out of this world, and Unicorn is a real haven. If you haven’t eaten falafel on the curry mile I urge you to do so immediately. Cornerhouse is always spot on for film, art, food and coffee. Aside from that, honourable mentions go to And The Dish Ran Away With The Spoon (although having worked there for two years I’m perhaps a little biased) home to seriously great cake, and Folk, just opposite on Burton Road, is probably the only bar that’s ever truly felt like my ‘local’ whilst I’ve lived here. Lastly, the best club night I have encountered here is undoubtedly Revolver at The Roadhouse. I went every single week for the whole of first year and it never got old. I took my Masters course mates a couple of times this year and it turns out it’s still the most fun you can have in a dingy little basement with glittery walls on a Monday night.

If I was Mayor for a day I would …

Make lectures on Manchester history compulsory for all university students here so they could take something more home with them than just their degrees. They should know that the city extends well beyond the Oxford Road corridor.

Stop all current plans to tear down any more beautiful old buildings, and restore Piccadilly Gardens to its former green glory.

Build some super bike highways so we don’t have to suffer the wrath of crazy taxi drivers and pothole-filled roads.

Oh, and have a party in the Primark ballroom of course.

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

My good friend Annie Hargis, who managed to fall in love with Manchester from all the way over in California and is still adamant that she’d rather be in the North West of England than the West Coast of America. And Dave Haslam too. Everything he writes about Manchester is fascinating. He knows his shit.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

Travel Diary: To London …

I’m packing on a stressful Wednesday night when I realise with perturbation that this will be the longest period of time that I’ve ever been off work. Ever. Packing for two and a bit weeks – four cities, one seaside town – is harder than you might think, especially as everything has to go into one rucksack so that I don’t have to pay any baggage charges when I eventually fly. I decide that the essentials are these: passport, credit card, contact lens solution, dancing shoes. And we’re off…

It’s hot hot hot when I hit London, especially in our tiny student room at the LSE. But it costs half a crown a night and is just a hop from Goodge Street so who’s complaining? We retire to the basement cosiness of the New Bloomsbury Set for Vedettes and on the walk home bump into the eminent Richard Dyer. What a gentleman, and such a perfect Bloomsbury encounter. I sleep hotly but soundly in the comforting hum of central London.

Next morning the sky is cloudy but the BT Tower soars over the breakfast terrace. Down on the street London is branded all to hell for the Olympics. The opening ceremony is this evening and the city is palpably excited, but oddly quiet, almost deserted in parts. On more than one street corner Olympic volunteers outnumber regular civilians. 

First port of call is the V&A exhibition, ‘British Design, 1948–2012’. Really beautiful and beautifully staged, if a little oddly chosen in parts (I suspect the interior of Damien Hirst’s ‘Pharmacy’ boozer doesn’t seem that important to many people outside London). Hats, furniture, platform games and Concorde all seem perfectly fresh and exciting in a new context, though the typography on the Festival Of Britain stuff is as perfectly executed as anything that came in the fifty years after.