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.

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