Wednesday, 30 April 2014

‘Manchester: In Residents’ … #29 Julie

‘It sounds cheesy but I truly started to live my life when I moved to Manchester. It is strange in a way, as I am, and always will be, seen as ‘Frenchy’ in England, and ‘L’Anglaise/La Rosbif’ in France…’

What’s your name?

I have various nicknames, from Big Tasty to Shorty but my real name is Julie. I’ve also been called Fattesti, it’s quite funny I guess, given my family name…

What do you do?

I work as a manager in a language school in Salford, on a beautiful square just off Chapel Street. It’s next door to the New Oxford pub, which makes it very hard to concentrate past 12 o’clock on a Friday! The sound of beer kegs rolling on the floor and patrons getting drunk is usually my daily soundtrack. I’ve also put on a couple of gigs and still occasionally play music in bars with a good friend of mine: our night is called Paris is Burning, in Odd NQ.

Where do you live?

I live in a lovely house in Chorlton, near Beech Road, with another French girl, and two gentlemen, one from Italy and one from Nottingham. It’s a lovely area to live in, as you certainly all know, if you forget about the burglaries and fried chicken shops galore – mostly bad KFC rip-offs. I also spend a fair amount of time at my boyfriend’s place in Ancoats, which also is a great area to live. Both places are dangerously close to several amazing boozers.

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

Long story short, I moved to England about three years ago from my native France to work for Islington Mill and the Sounds from the Other City festival. Within my first week here, I managed to stumble over the pavement and end up at A&E. I wasn’t even drunk! It wasn’t great and I wanted to go home at the time, but five stitches and several booster shots later, I gave Manchester another chance and started to really enjoy it. I met some wonderful people, discovered some amazing places, did some amazing things. Manchester, and England in general, became my home and my close friends became like a second family to me. It’s not always easy to be so far away from your close family and friends, but I truly feel like, and it’s going to sound mega cheesy, I truly started to live my life when I moved to Manchester. It is strange in a way, as I am, and always will be, seen as ‘Frenchy’ in England, and ‘L’Anglaise/La Rosbif’ in France.

What’s great about this city?

There is a really long list of things I like about living in Manchester, but to be honest, I think I really like people’s mentality in general here. I somehow feel like I’ve been ‘adopted’ by Manchester and feel now more comfortable here than when I go back to France, where I kind of feel like a visitor. I like the Northern mentality, I like to try and identify all the different Northern accents – ask my boyfriend, he’s probably quite bored of my questions: ‘Where do you think this guy’s from? Sounds Northern…’ It’s great because at the same time, I still see Manchester with the eyes of a foreigner. I was dreaming of moving here, and sometimes, I sit down and start thinking how happy and proud I am to be an adopted Mancunian. Life is good in Manchester, people are relaxed in general - if you forget about that lovely man who called me a ‘foreign bastard ‘ on the train for speaking French... Nevermind. But yeah, people are cool, you can basically do whatever you want as long as it doesn’t bother anyone else. In France, people tend to judge you if you wear double denim or if you have a pint before 6pm…

What’s not so great?

There are a couple of things I’m not too happy about in Manchester. The city centre is really dirty, especially on weekends. Walk along the canals, and you’ll find a blow-up doll, cigarette butts, plenty of beer bottles and probably a dead body or two. The lack of a proper cycling infrastructure is a real shame as well. I really enjoy cycling and would love to commute by bike, but I’m terrified to do so in Manchester. And finally: have you seen the amount of takeaways and betting shops? It’s really depressing!

Do you have a favourite Manchester building?

It might sound quite silly, but I love terraced houses and red brick buildings! Before moving here, it was exactly the image I was making for myself of Manchester, and the places I’ve lived in before were really colourful. These endless rows of terraced houses are what struck me the most when I first moved here, and these massive blocks of buildings in the Northern Quarter, around Turner Street for example, remind me a lot of the old New York. I simply like to wander around and admire the buildings around me, even the scruffiest ones. I love Manchester architecture: no fannying about!

Do you have a favourite Mancunian?

That’s a tough one. I was trying to think of ‘famous people’ at first, since, like a lot a people, I came to Manchester because I was intrigued by its past. But frankly, my perspective changed really fast and Manchester quickly became my home and I sort of lost interest in the past because living here in the present is making me very happy. My favourite people are the ones around me, but none of them are actually from Manchester. My housemate is great, but she is French – she does all the house work in the house and doesn’t mind doing the washing up! My boyfriend is pretty awesome, but he’s a Scouser. I could tell you how he steals bottles of hot sauce from restaurants when he’s had a drink or two, but it would probably only reinforce the stereotype. My friend Camille is gorgeous but she’s French too. So yeah, these are probably my favourite people, they’re like my family away from home.

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

This one is fairly easy: the Crown and Kettle on Great Ancoats Street, just opposite the Frog and Bucket. They have an amazing selection of ales and really friendly staff. I also like 2022NQ, their ‘Beats, Bats and Beers’ night is amazing, and they do Happy Hours! Carringtons in Chorlton is one of my favourite places to buy booze. They sell wine that was made in the vineyard two streets from where I was born!

What do you think is missing from Manchester?

Nice parks in the city centre? Angel Meadow is quite nice but a little bit off-centre. There is also that patch of grass next to the New Islington tram stop but it’s nothing more than a patch of grass…

If I was Mayor for a day I would …

…completely rebuild Piccadilly Gardens. It looks like anything but Gardens, seriously, it drives me mad. It is ugly, grey and highly depressing. What were they thinking when they built that awful concrete wall? I’m sure it has its uses, but it does looks really ugly and it’s a shame as it is the busiest part of the city centre. I also wish it wasn’t so terrifying at night.

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

Funnier people than me? I’m really honoured and pleased I got to answer to this questionnaire but c’mon, it was probably not the most entertaining entry. [WRONG! – Ed.] Quite a few people I would have nominated have already answered this questionnaire, but I would be interested in seeing what Jackie Hall has to say. She is one of my friends and even though we are not that close, I’d simply be interested in what she has to say, because she is cool and humble.

On May 10th Julie will be moonlighting as DJ Eura-bitch at the you're a vision!: a eurovision party spectacular at Kraak, Stevenson Square from 7pm.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

The Creative Process Blog Tour

Emma Jane Unsworth is about to launch her new novel Animals. She has been tangled up in a blog-web entitled ‘The Creative Process Blog Tour’ in which you answer four questions about your writing process and then pass the baton to two more writers. I am one of Emma’s chosen two, how flattering! Below are my answers, here are Emma’s answers, and I have scored two terrific contributors for my part: Zoe Lambert, poet, and Alex Niven, poet and music writer, who will post their responses soon. And the chain goes on! It's lovely to be part of it. Hope you enjoy!

What am I working on?

I’m tweaking my novel The Shakespeare Girl. At this stage the notion of second and third drafts is no longer applicable. It feels finished but I suppose I won’t be able to leave it alone until an agent wrenches it from my badly paper-cut hands. So what I’m really working on is finding an agent. In terms of writing, my blogging and arts work is ongoing and thankfully about to increase. I’ve started the research for a non-fiction project which I’m already very excited about. I’ve finished the research for another novel about the Blitz Kids and black magic. But the next thing I’m actually writing is a play. I sound like Daisy from Spaced now I realise… Trust me, these things will materialise though! I recently saw two of my ideas turned into finished pieces by somebody else and it made me realise with a start that you can’t sit on your ideas for too long because they are all floating around out there for other people to pluck out of the air…

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

This is definitely a question for a more seasoned and experienced writer than myself. If I knew what genre The Shakespeare Girl was I would be able to find a home for it much easier I’m sure! Literary-comic fiction perhaps? And a bit of pastoral. Maybe ‘tragical-comical-historical-pastoral, to quote Hamlet. I have a good idea of who my readership might be at the very least, if not the genre of the writing.

Why do I write what I do?

It’s really the strength of an idea that compels me to get something down. The first thing I ever wrote was a silly novella about a couple of temps who fall in love and win a huge amount of money and go on an adventure to experience life all over the world. I was lonely and broke at the time, no passport, no girlfriend, no boyfriend, and the fantasy of the story was a comfort so I ended up writing it all down and it proved to be great escapism. With The Shakespeare Girl the idea of digging up the playwright’s grave is so tantalising, not just because of what we might find but because of how it might make the world react. The idea never fails to fill me with curious energy and it was sufficient to construct an entire narrative and cast of characters around it.

How does my writing process work?

I’m still very much learning the craft but for the most part I know what the final point of the story is and I try to move the story methodically towards it. For instance, character A needs to learn something about character B: what’s the best way to unfold that discovery? The funniest or saddest or most unexpected way? I try out various scenarios in my head, often involving dialogue that I say to myself. When I’ve settled on the ‘method’ I map the chapter and fill it with detail and then I write that in one sitting and edit the following day, and then it’s done. It won’t get edited again until a larger chunk of the story is written because the context is such a big part of it, you can’t edit in isolation. I’m a very good editor but a nervous writer; the initial writing incubates for a good while before it hits the page.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Dave Haslam, the 1970s, and me

I have long been of the opinion that the 1970s is the best decade in music, and I reckon I have at least some objectivity since I’m a 90s kid whose favourite band are from the 80s. Six years ago, in my first earnest and naive year of blogging, before Dave Haslam and I became friends, I heard about his book Not Abba. Newly enamoured of Abba’s The Visitors LP and of Taylor Parkes’ magnificent 1995 essay on the band, I felt it was unfair to peg the whitewashing exercise of the 70s nostalgia industry onto poor Abba. It wasn’t their fault, after all, that the egregious I Heart The 70s­ spectacle – in which professional no-names pretend to spontaneously recall loon pants and ‘Night Fever’ as if they hadn’t been prompted to death by BBC researchers who couldn’t be bothered to delve beyond the Top Of The Pops archives – had sieved an entire decade of musical culture down to their five worst singles and outfits. I dashed off a hurried defence of Abba and musical escapism and thought no more of it.

Being a writer, Dave can’t leave an argument unargued and I returned to the blog some time later to find that he had not only read the piece but had responded with a characteristically cheerful and carefully considered comeback which even now I blush to read. The blog entry has since been visited thirteen hundred times (my eighth most popular piece in six years of blogging, stats fans). Some time after this fateful blog incident I was introduced to Dave at a party to celebrate The Art Of Tea in Didsbury getting an alcohol license. ‘You haven’t made your mind up about me yet, have you?’ was his opening gambit.

If you want an idea of how long the backlog of my reading list is, I have just gotten around to reading Dave’s book now. I finished it an hour ago in fact. I haven’t been able to put it down. I wish dearly I had read it six years ago. Now re-christened Young Hearts Run Free (the new title is nothing to do with me, I'm sure), the book has an Intro, an Outro, and a chapter dedicated to each year of the 1970s. Forget about Abba and I Heart The 70s, forget about my blog entry (every point of which was already covered and expounded in the book), forget revivalism and all the rest of it. The book is about life as it was lived in the 1970s, the soundtrack to that life, how magnificently varied that soundtrack was, and how all of it was connected and entwined together. It’s also about the slippery, emotive nature of memory, and of nostalgia itself. ‘We’ve all forgotten a lot,’ Dave writes. Whether it’s the wilful erasure of hard fact, as exemplified by the Watergate scandal of 1972, or the simple fact Led Zeppelin don’t figure on nostalgia shows because they didn’t put out singles and didn’t appear on TOTP, the effect is the same.

The musical insight is exhaustive and a real education, but as always it’s the (extra)ordinary folk that people the story who are the real heart and soul of a history like this. Jayne Casey, a displaced, misplaced youngster, waif of Merseyside social services, is dreaming of like-minded souls, preferably boys in mascara. These arrive in the shape of Pete Burns and Holly Johnson and the musical scene at the legendary Eric’s which eventually spawned some of the best records of the 80s. Gay punk turned disco devotee, Alan Jones adds welts and fake blood to his Vivienne Westwood shirts and dances to ‘Paranoid’ in gay bars. Clover from Withington falls in and out of the burgeoning Rastafari culture, in and out of love, in and out of her parents’ favour. There are moments that, for better or worse, can choke you with pure evocative impact, whether it’s the BNP’s Kingsley Read responding to the murder of a young Sikh lad, Gurdip Singh Chaggar, saying, ‘One down, one million to go’, or John Lydon spinning ‘Born For A Purpose’ by Dr Alimontado on Capital Radio. Underneath all of this, the power goes on and off, bombs erratically tear apart life and limb in the pubs of Birmingham, an increasingly diabolical Met attempt to turn Notting Hill into a police state, and the unnerving voice of Wearside Jack murmurs and hisses from magnetic tape while the real Yorkshire Ripper continues killing women in allotments and car parks.

It’s also about England as it is now, or at least an England I just about recognise; tribal, energetic, indifferent, violent. Just last night I saw a very drunken and shabby guy harassing a girl at Piccadilly bus station, urging her to vote for the racist UKIP party, complaining about how many children the foreigners were having. The girl was too young to vote, too bored to care. As the bus wove its way through South Manchester, the same drunk guy rolled his eyes and tutted and sighed aggressively as a South Asian woman took a call on her mobile phone in her native language, a very ordinary Mancunian scene, but one that caused him bemusement, anger and discomfort. If only somebody could explain to him that it isn’t Asian women on their phones on the bus who have put him where he is – broke, drunk, hating – it’s other white guys, ones with lots of money. What’s changed in thirty-odd years I wonder?

At the end of the book we peer momentarily beyond the end of the 70s, through the dark door of the 1980s to March 1984 when the miners have just begun their epic doomed struggle. By a pure fluke the majestic nine and a half minute version of ‘The Power Of Love’ byFrankie Goes To Hollywood comes on my stereo, a Number One single in December 1984, the year I started school, the year ‘the miners fought the law, and the law won.' As I read and ponder the strike, the heartache, capitulations and police beatings, Holly Johnson sings, ‘When the chips are down I’ll be around,’ and for a minute it’s all a bit much and I have to stop reading.

I’d still fight for Abba, of course I would (okay, maybe not ‘Bang-A-Boomerang’) but only in the knowledge that there’s never just one story worth telling, and there are no happy endings either, not least because it’s not over yet. That’s what this remarkable book is about.

Coda: I have, of course, made a playlist to go with this blog entry which you can listen to on Spotify by clicking here. It’s not chronological or exhaustive, but all the songs are name-checked in Dave’s book and so it is at least wildly or widely representative of an astonishing ten years of music.

Monday, 14 April 2014

A London marathon

There’s nothing like going to London and overdoing it. On Friday night I put my second Off The Hook party on at Vogue Fabrics. It was a busier affair than my first party there, and a whole different crowd too I think, but just as much into the music, if not more so. Song of the night was ‘Overdose’ by Ciara. Very apt… I can not / will not leave that tune alone right now. I aim to move RnB away from ‘guilty pleasure’ to just ‘pleasure’ with this party. So many brilliant songs to play. I had a great guest DJ this time around in the shape of Mr Sina Sparrow who runs a terrific Bethnal Green party called Debbie. I’ve been a fan of Sina’s illustrations for ages. It was lovely to meet him in real life at last (and now I’m off to see him for coffee in Chorlton..!). You should check out his work here.

Saturday morning never happened. Instead we drag ourselves out of bed third thing in the afternoon to face a gorgeous sunny Clerkenwell day and take restoratives at Workshop Café. I recommend this place endlessly. Gorgeous coffee / staff and a beautiful living wall in the back. Try the corn fritters and whatever’s on the aeropress, it never fails. Next comes a chance meet-up with dear Anna at the Coach and Horses in Soho and her lovely friend Derek who is currently living in a converted school near Hyde Park and paying a pittance for it. I just adore London stories like this, the lucky devil. I Facebook a photograph of us from inside the pub and my friend of twenty-something-years Andrew, a West-end Wendy, currently working on what he refers to as ‘The Irish play’ (The Commitments, ha-ha!) only goes and recognises the pub from my photograph and nips out of the theatre to come and find me and say hello. Pints of Hopspur and a five quid (!!!!) cake in the patisserie next door then it’s back to Dalston for Long Island Iced Teas and Korean food and onto to Debbie at the amazing Resistance Gallery where I immediately run into a succession of friendly Manchester faces. By this point Oisín and I have all but lost our speaking voices. We manage an hour of dancing before we have to call it a night. It’s a great party and you should get it on your list, stat.

Sunday is another glorious day so we head to Potters Field Park for a street food festival with live music, both of which turn out to be great. Venezuelan wraps and South London rap and actual warm sunshine beating down on us. Oisín runs into a friendly face from his Limerick days thus proving that London is in fact a village of 200 people as suspected. From where we are we can hear the London Marathon runners passing over Tower Bridge and the crowd cheering them on. We head over to the bridge to give our support and it’s so unexpectedly moving that the pair of us have a little spontaneous cry. We see the oldest runner in the race pass by, followed by a wheelchair user, powering away with his incredible shoulders, and a guy dressed as a tiger, and we’re off again blubbing. I am re-inspired to do my own modest bit for charity, and if you’d like to help me raise funds for the Neo-natal Unit at St Mary’s, you can do so here! We walk down the north side of Thames, which I’ve never done before, occasionally crossing paths with the runners, the cheers and whistles floating in and out of our ears with the breeze off the Thames. London is truly magic on days like this. We meet up with Ted who takes us to the rooftop of ONE NEW CHANGE which is a grim glass shopping mall but the rooftop allows you to look eye to eye with St Paul’s and is breathtaking. I am singing ‘Feed The Birds’ of course and getting teary-eyed. We sink a rum and coke in the sun and it’s time to head home to Manchester. We don’t want to leave of course, but we are back in just a few days for this, so hurrah! See you soon London…

Thursday, 10 April 2014

‘Manchester: In Residents’ … #28 Bren

'It was an enchanted place and although no longer as it was, the vintage fittings and humidor cigar counter long gone, replaced by rows of Pot Noodles, I still visit in my mind’s eye.'

What’s your name?

What do you do?

There is something delightfully, incurably wrong with my head, fuelling a compulsion to create, dream and conjure the most ridiculous and absurd of activities, events and installations. I am powerless to resist the flow of ideas. In other words, I do stuff. I make things. I ask people to help me out and very often they do. On paper, I am a producer, curator and artist-maker, currently the Visual Arts Programme Manager at Cornerhouse and HOME, Manchester’s international centre for cinema, theatre and contemporary visual art. My background is in a mixture of arts production, including ten years at the BBC. In my day job I support an international roster of emerging and mid-career artists, covering experimental film and video, installation, live performance and public participation.
         It’s been a bumpy but incredible eighteen months following the relocation of a close friend to the lure of sunny Oz, coupled with an abrupt finish to a relationship. There’s a term I use, ‘raft building’, to describe the process of lashing myself to an all-consuming project to carry me through rough waters, when swimming isn’t enough to keep from floundering. Fortunately, it was at this exact moment I was asked to produce my first feature-length movie. Jamie Shovlin’s Rough Cut is a hybrid of fiction and documentary capturing the process of recreating/reimagining a 1970s horror movie that never actually existed. I even appear in it myself, as a polo-necked villain, and as a pair of hands inside a fog-wreathed cabin in the woods…

The project was reviewed in the leading cinema press – from Sight and Sound to a full-page feature in the Guardian Guide to Empire and Total Film – and selected for the Rotterdam International Film Festival, and continues to screen on the international festival circuit, most recently in New York. I’m exceptionally proud of what we achieved, and the memories of tramping about the Lake District, doubling for Argento’s Italy and slasher-camp America, will stay with me always: plagued by clouds of razor-fanged midges, clambering through quarries and caves, blowing up scale models on the moors and slathering a giant, monster worm with buckets of sexual lubricant for slime.
         I also squeezed in some projects of my own, including That Dame Upstairs, a noir-styled monochrome life drawing class and performance with The Sisters Gorgeous, and Nicho Nativity, a Mexican-themed Christmas grotto in the basement of Oklahoma, the latter thanks to a grant from The Paul Hamlyn Foundation. I kicked the year in the nuts with a sell-out 300 seat screening of my recurring Scratch and Sniff Cinema series, this time for The Wicker Man, with odours ranging from village orgy (crushed rosemary) to burning virgin (roasting meat). I did say I was compulsive…
         All rafts sink by the nature of their transitory purpose, so there always needs to be another one waiting. Before I reach The Other Side, I’m aiming for a personal best score. We only get one attempt at this game. There are no start-agains.

Where do you live?

In leafy Old Trafford, the nearly-Chorlton but most definitely not-Hulme neighbourhood where you get more square foot per butt. It’s close to the city and I prefer old Victorian housing stock to charmless, city-centre shoeboxes, plus I’m around the corner from the Hong Kong Chippy. They make the best chips and gravy in South Manchester with a free side of highly personalised criticism delivered in Cantonese.

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

I’m from here, raised in Rusholme and Salford, though no one seems to believe me. I lack the requisite accent (even though my vowels are distinctly Northern) and right from the playground I was accused of being ‘posh’. What this actually meant was that I loved to read, and because I was partly raised by my surrogate television family (Floella Benjamin, Derek Griffiths, Johnny Ball, Fingerbobs, Bagpuss) I unconsciously imitated them, particularly when called upon to read aloud, or at bedtime, hence ‘posh’.
         Somewhat incredibly, I’ve been attending Cornerhouse for over twenty years. This attendance was initially prompted by an older woman – we’ll call her Sylvia – who drove a Porsche and had a husband stashed in the attic. Sylvia befriended me at the video rental shop and would drive my friend Moira and I to watch French people shout at each other and have miserable sex (which describes about 80% of independent cinema, then and now). I last saw Sylvia when, as an asexual young adult, I was turned out of her house when her husband accused us of having an affair. ‘You’d better go,’ she urged, ‘I’ll call you tomorrow’. To my relief she never did call.
         Around this time I took a self-funded gap year to work as a teacher in Varna, on the coast of the Black Sea, which wasn’t as edifying as I’d hoped, underscored as it was by a diet of stale bread and Nutella. On returning to England I moved to Newcastle to study literature, working at Northern Stage as an usher and spending summers with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Office. From there I went to Belfast, a lonely period in which everyone seemed to return to their hometowns at the weekend, leaving me to wander around Belfast Zoo where more frequently than not I would be pursued by a rogue Pelican that took a dislike to me and would wait, hissing, around the corner of public footpaths.
         I’ve been back in Manchester for a long time now, and I think if I were to relocate again, I’d make it a big one – across the sea and far away. But Manchester will always be the soil that clings to my roots.

What’s great about this city?

It is a city in its truest sense, indifferent to human suffering or achievement, built on opportunism, greed, poverty and wealth, the unremarked-upon lives of the many, and marble-hewn egos of a few. It is an ill-planned, clumsy, mismatched patchwork of pre-war Victoriana and post-war concrete, dotted with boom-and-bust glass-walled hives of hipster drones. There are enough ‘quarters’ to create more than one whole, no skyline to speak of, and we are baptised nightly in bodily fluids as the populous knock back their over-priced cocktails and finish with a bollock burger on the way home. Despite, or because of this, Manchester is at the very least authentic; an ugly truth, a beautiful lie, and so forgivably flawed. It is a city of human scale that refuses to stop playing and come in for tea.

Do you have a favourite Manchester building?

There’s an unassuming shop front in the warrens of Rusholme that will always be a symbolic beacon for me. It’s my parent’s old newsagents, which I lived above as a child. The last time I paid a pilgrimage there it was dilapidated and near ruinous… the windows plastered with discounted phone card adverts. But the refuse sacks that litter the adjacent streets appear, to me, like a black-capped fairy circle, hinting at the residue of magic within. It was the late 1970s when we lived there, before the rash of supermarkets and out-of-town shopping centres, when corner shops were also the local toy store, and the stock changed according to season; rows of eggs at Easter, monster masks at Halloween, and ‘Standard Firework’ selection boxes in the run up to Bonfire Night. At Christmas I would sit on towers of Quality Street tins, reading about the application of natural yogurt as a cure-all in the problem pages of Just Seventeen. It was an enchanted place and although no longer as it was, the vintage fittings and humidor cigar counter long gone, replaced by rows of Pot Noodles, I still visit in my mind’s eye.

Do you have a favourite Mancunian?

My twin sister, Katie. She would never turn her back on me, nor I her, no matter our documented attempts to kill one another (the first when we were two years old, and I maintain that she pushed me down the stairs first). We have a shared memory as infants of a lampshade swinging between our beds, seemingly by an invisible force. Read into that what you will, but cross us together at your peril, and beware sewing needles that mysteriously appear in wet facecloths. Come the apocalypse we will stand back to back, wielding kitchen knives, making a detour into All Saints for slimming survivalist fashion, all the while arguing furiously about who is having the harder time of it.

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

There’s a small swimming pool where I swim most lunchtimes that I’m not prepared to promote the existence of, for fear it will be invaded by people with better bodies. But I’ll happily give the thumbs-up to Fred Aldous, The Briton’s Protection, The International Anthony Burgess Foundation, TwentyTwentyTwo and the Ray Harryhausen-like mural and statue of a terrifying, anorexic Christ in St Augustine’s Catholic Church, built of WWII bomb debris… and really, who can live without Stitches off Deansgate for swift clothing alterations?

What do you think is missing from Manchester?

Ask not what your city can do for you, but what you can do for your city. There’s far too much white noise nostalgia for times past, coupled with a lot of ‘what-if’ but very little direct action. I love what the Manchester Modernist Society and Loiterers Resistance Movement are doing, aiding interpretation and facilitating engagement, not placing the past underneath a bell jar. They should be championed as civic superheroes, instead of marginalised as black sheep. There’s also a growing, infuriating trend towards ghettoisation amongst audiences for live events of any kind, sticking to one venue or scene instead of getting out there. I’ve had people complain to me that they didn’t know such-and-such a thing was happening because they were not directly invited via Facebook. People need to seek out and support a wider cultural ecology with exposure to new ideas and unfamiliar disciplines. It is each and every person’s responsibility to make your city a better place.

If I was Mayor for a day I would …

Give that guy who works at Cornerhouse the keys to the little shuttered-up shop under a railway arch facing Monroes, beneath Piccadilly Station, and allow him to use it rent free as a sit-and-drift reading room, along the lines of the Prelinger Archive in San Francisco. There would be books, photo albums, VHS tapes, music mix cassettes, redundant media players, records, part-completed Panini sticker albums and shoeboxes filled with the ephemera of others, curated and rotated with the sole intention of encouraging the mind to wander. A bank of cubicles with curtains would allow privacy for those who needed a little cry for whatever reason, with a 50p sob box on trust to help pay for the electric. Outside, a neon light installation and quote from Shirley Conran’s Lace would read, Which one of you bitches is my mother?

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

Sharon of Sharon’s Flowers, next to Big Hands on Oxford Road, but you’d need to enter backwards holding up a mirrored shield. Do not look into her eyes.

Bren’s next project has been commissioned by the North West Central Film Hub, part of the British Film Institute Film Audience Network. In his first outing as director, a cinema audience will be plunged into total darkness for a filmic experience without visuals, instead wearing wireless headphones using binaural audio, a specialised method of audio capture that creates a 360º spatial soundscape, best described as a form of aural ventriloquism. The unfolding tale is that of a classic haunting...