Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Short Short Story Slam (and why you should go see live literature in Manchester)

So. Manchester’s live literature scene, something happened to it while I was hibernating. It got awesome.

Last night was Flashtag Collective’s Short Short Story Slam at Gullivers. I’d heard great things about last year’s slam in Didsbury, but I wasn’t really prepared for the quality of the readings. Eleven writers all giving it their best shots, and there wasn’t a dud in the bunch. Standouts for me included Mark Powell’s surreal hijinks with Scoob and the gang, Mark Mace Smith’s deceptively simple stories, Joy France’s brilliantly filthy opener and runner-up Joe Daly’s bleak closer, which proved you don’t always have to go for the laughs. But there could be only one winner and Simon Sylvester was it with his strange, tightly crafted fictions and what was really a very fetching hat.

Much respect to these writers. It’s fucking terrifying reading your work before a live audience as it is, but to do so knowing that your story will be instantly judged right in front of you, that you will be either the winner or the loser... sheesh. And the Flashtag team were experts at wringing the maximum entertainment from the experience while also maintaining a friendly and supportive vibe throughout. It’s great to hear that they’re thinking of doing this every few months – judging by the big crowd last night it could do very well indeed.

But there's more. Next week, the ever-brilliant Bad Language is at The Castle next Wednesday, April 30 with Luke Brown headlining. Effed Up comes to The Castle on Sunday May 4 with a theme of outsiders’ views of Britain. Cabaret night First Draft is cooking up a special two-day showcase, Next Draft, at The King’s Arms on 5 & 6 May. Open mic  Evidently holds court at The Eagle in Salford every second Monday, storytelling night Tales of Whatever is at Gullivers every month…oh, I could go on. But you get the picture: it’s happening. Get in there.

Image courtesy of Flashtag.




Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A rant about girls and sport in Britain.


My daughter was in reception when we got the flyer about football sessions on Saturday mornings in the park. I got excited; my eldest daughter loves running around outside and has a competitive streak, this would be perfect for her. We bought tiny shin guards. We turned up, with a couple of her (girl) friends and their mums. Everyone else there, including the instructors, was male.

Molly did one session and told me she wasn’t going back. Neither of the other girls wanted to stick with it, either. It’s possible they just didn’t enjoy it, which is fair enough. But I’m pretty sure that at least some of their reluctance came from the message they picked up loud and clear beneath our encouraging pep talks: this was not the place for them. Where were the girls? Girls spent Saturday mornings swathed in pink, twirling in a ballet class, or maybe in gymnastics. But not on a muddy pitch running about with boys.

While I was writing this, my three year old daughter came up to ask for a cuddle. I gathered her up, kissed her peanut butter-smudged face, and asked: “Bell, do you think you might like to try playing football when you’re at school?”

“No,” she said immediately.

“Why not?”

She gave me an apologetic smile. “It’s for boys.”

When I was a girl I played soccer with girls and boys. I played baseball (see above) and pickup ice hockey, spent afternoons shooting baskets and roller skating. I grew up in America, in the golden age of Title 9, and I enjoyed sports, though I wasn’t good at them or considered “athletic.” In high school, I became one of the arty kids with too many rehearsals after school to go out for the cross country team, which I still regret. But in college, I rediscovered sports, playing intramural women’s soccer very badly but with great gusto. Since then, I’ve been as active as time allows, running and doing excercise classes. I do miss those things you only get from competitive team sports – the companionship, the spirit and the collective drive to win.

For girls to feel comfortable doing sport, they need to be shown that it is theirs as well – and if it takes girls-only football clubs, then that’s what we should give them. So I ask. There is some funding available for girls’ football clubs, I am told by one of the organisers of the boys’ sessions, but no girls seem interested. No one is bothering to try and get them interested, I point out. I offer to hand out flyers at the local schools for a girls-only session and help out with organising, but I am politely rebuffed. I live in Bury, where Sport England is spending £2.3 million on a big campaign, I Will if You Will, aimed at getting women active, and it’s fantastic to see all that’s on offer for us. But if girls don’t learn to love sport when they are young, teaching them to be active as adults will remain an uphill battle.

I feel bad for Sport and Equality Minister Helen Grant, who responded to a question that reflected some unappetising but very real pre-conceptions about sport, and promptly had her head bitten off, with commentators up and down the land quoting her out of context. It’s facetious to pretend that there isn’t something very wrong with women’s sport in this country, whether you like it or not.

But it’s a very welcome conversation to be having, the columnists say – maybe now people will start taking women’s sport seriously in Britain. Yeah, okay. Maybe now, they said, every time a women’s football or cricket team did well in international competition. Maybe now, they said, when female athletes won 22 medals for Team GB at London 2012.  Maybe now, they’re saying at this very moment, as women have won three quarters of the medals at Sochi.

While we wait, another generation of girls is learning that football is for boys. Another generation of girls is learning to value their bodies only for their visual appeal, not for their strength. Another generation of girls is growing up without learning the pleasures of physical activity, without building habits that will prolong their lives. Another generation of British girls is growing into women who will buy pretty pink ballet outfits for their little girls and football shoes for their little boys.

Apparently, it’s already too late for my daughters.

Friday, January 31, 2014

News flash: I am not cool


I am a fraud. I am misrepresenting myself, living a double life, guilty of perpetrating an online persona that is more than a little out of whack with reality. Actually, there is a gulf so big between the two things that you could drive a fleet of Mack trucks through it. But it’s so easy now, isn’t it? We all have these virtual aliases, a pocket full of glossy digital incarnations which only resemble our real selves if you squint really hard.

Writing about ‘what’s on’ is a young person’s game. Look at the Guardian Guide, with its slavish devotion to niche musicians you’ve never heard of and easy way with slang so laughably unfamiliar you suspect they’ve invented it (also see: The Skinny.) These publications are written by actual young people who care intensely about these things, with a few good fakers trying to hide in the back. And they should be. They know what they are talking about.

When I started this blog, I was young. I had just arrived in this city and was on a mission to map Manchester’s every hidden hangout, coolest surprise, weirdest place. I stayed up all night, so many nights, dancing around rusty machinery in an old cotton mill and then tumbling out into the bleak Mancunian dawn. I saw every important movie on release and plenty of not-remotely-important ones too. I had an insatiable appetite for new music, could go to three or four gigs in a week, and I didn’t even care if there was comfortable seating. Theatre press nights, restaurant launches, readings, art exhibition openings – any occasion attracting the same dubious band of Manc bohemians conjured, as if by magic, with the sound of the cork popping on a bottle of Barefoot (hey guys) – I was there, talking and swigging free horrible wine and going on to the pub to drink and argue and laugh some more, while smoking approximately 46 fags at once. But that was almost ten years ago. Much shit has happened.

So here’s my confession: I am not young. I am not cool, if ever I was. I am not urban. My finger isn’t exactly on the pulse. I listen to Radio 3 just as often as I listen to 6Music. I’m 40 years old, with two children who aren’t even babies anymore. I don’t really drink, and never do drugs or smoke anymore. I go to bed before 10, and get up at 6:30. If it's not on television before 10, I'm not going to see it until I grudgingly shell out for a secondhand box set years after everyone stopped talking about it. I watch Countryfile while wearing fleece (mostly for the excellent, in-depth weather report. But still.) Getting me to leave my house in the farthest reaches of exurbia on a January night, even for a trip down to the pub on the corner with some mates I adore, is like chiselling a barnacle off a rock.

The irony is, now that I’m settled in the hills, I get invited to everything. In UK blog years, Manchizzle (est. 2005) is like the Domesday Book, so I am on every PR list in creation. And then there’s the fact that my day job is also writing about interesting things to do and see and eat in Manchester. So for the past couple of years, the old/reclusive thing, plus the fact that I get paid to write Manchizzle posts for a living (just not here), has meant that I haven’t had much to say on this blog.

I feel like a fraud writing posts like this last one. Because those events were all genuinely enticing ways to spend an evening and I desperately wanted to go to each one of them. Just not as much as I wanted to sit in my perilously cosy red armchair and reread Gaudy Night for the 17th time. I didn’t go to them, and I knew I wouldn’t when I wrote that. But I still wrote about them, so that maybe you could go to them, if you wanted to. But there might be less of that on here for a while.

I’m not saying culture is only for the young. Hell no! It’s just that I’m hunkered down for the winter, and going through a hermitty time in my life, so it seems fake and distasteful to write a blog that doesn’t reflect that. I have no desire to break up with the 'chizz, and I miss blogging more often. So this blog may increasingly not do what it says on the tin.

How exciting.

Image: Guilherme Kardel via Flickr.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Good stuff: winter 2014


Lots of good stuff coming up in Manchester over the next month. Here's what's on my calendar.

January 22: Listen up! Radio geeks from In the Dark Manchester bring an evening of creative radio, soundscapes and audio documentaries from around the world to the Castle Hotel.

On January 23, ten-year-old Manc film collective Filmonik celebrate their 10th birthday by getting their first official home, in the vast Castlefield Gallery-run New Art Spaces site on Balloon Street.  But they need to raise money and collect stuff to furnish the place, hence this party. Bring that slightly wonky chair you've been meaning to get rid of, or just drink enough to buy a shitload of office supplies.

Scratch n' Sniff Cinema screens The Wicker Man at Cornerhouse on January 25. Watch with your own scented scratchcard enabling you to experience this classic of British horror with added sensory input.

On 2 February, #kittencamp comes to Manchester. You enjoy looking at pictures of kittens on social media, right (um, doesn't everyone)?  I'll admit that the title "Meme Master Meow" intrigues me. Also, there's free beer.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Manchizzle Manchester wish list for 2014


In 2013, some good things happened in this town. We got a listings magazine. We got our first playground in the city centre, beehives on rooftops and more trees in the Northern Quarter. We got several Mexican restaurants, the Rogan show arrived and you can now get a good burger all over the place (and pretty decent barbecue.) We had a glorious, sweltering, iced coffee summer. The Albert Hall opened, and last year's Manchester International Festival was a culturehound's wet dream. The Metrolink network expanded to join up different parts of the city, and though people complain about the trams ceaselessly we are pretty lucky from where I’m sitting. We also happen to have a council that seems to have its head screwed on properly most of the time, and a city that has (so far) weathered austerity better than many other places in the country.

I've already posted about some of the things I'm looking forward to in the city this year. But what would make me even happier? Well, here’s my wishlist for our city of Manchester in 2014. Equal parts possible, improbable and fanciful.

 1. Let the artists have it. What could be a more intelligent and creative use of an empty building than putting it into the hands of some artists who need space and will look after the place too (they’re handy folk)? The Tetley in Leeds looks set to be a huge success, and I’m very excited about the opening of Castlefield Gallery’s New Art Spaces Federation House in March. It would be great to see more happening along these lines around Greater Manchester, in everything from shopfronts to tower blocks.

2. Off-street eating. We suddenly have loads of amazing street food vendors who are based in Manchester, but our weather is still inconveniently shit. So what we need is a place in the city centre for street food traders to come in out of the cold, like Camp and Furnace in Liverpool, or Chelsea Market in NYC… though rumours of Manchester Hawkers and Guerrilla Eats developments in 2014 are worth watching. Also, could Manchester Markets please sort themselves out? I’m not talking about the Piccadilly ones or stuff like Castlefield Artisan market, I mean the big seasonal, “themed” ones. Why do they suck so hard?

3. Shelf improvement. This is the Hail Mary request, as I don’t know who'd be mad enough to open one in the current economic climate, but Manchester would be so much better if it had just one really good, quirky, characterful independent bookstore. Or barring that, some better secondhand options than those stinky, vaguely menacing shops around Shudehill.

4. More green space. Yes, I am always harping on about this. I think I even mentioned it waaay back in 2009 during my an early hashtag experiment on Twitter with #mcrneedsthis, but there it is. A big High Line-ish groundbreaking outdoor public space project would get Manchester attention and tourists flocking, but most importantly it would make the city a nicer place to live. And how about another playground while we’re at it?

5. A lido. Come on, how cool would this be?

6. Trams/trains/buses running later (at least on weekend nights). This curfew is getting ridiculous in a city that is perpetually gunning for “world class” status. And don’t give us that guff about tram drivers needing to sleep too. There’s always some night owl happy to work late for extra money.

7. A more engaged citizenry. Apathy is so freaking tiresome. Let’s all make 2014 the year we can be arsed. More debates, more talks, more protests, more marches. I want a city crackling with dialectic, bristling with informed debate, ringing with ripostes. Some of this stuff happens on Twitter. I’d like to see it happening more in the flesh. You may be angry or depressed about what’s going on in this country right now (I sure as hell know I am) but disengaging isn’t going to do us any good.

That's my list. What's on yours?

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

2014 in Manchester

Oh sacred magic eight ball, what will 2014 bring us? This year, Cornerhouse will empty out, that iconic curved marquee going dark or advertising cheap payday loans while the arty folk go west to First Street, where HOME is being built. Ah wait, no, looks like the opening has been pushed back to Spring 2015, so enjoy it while you can. I'm having a hard time warming to either the new name or the basic concept of  Cornerhouse not existing anymore, but who knows?  I'm also looking forward to seeing the new Whitworth expansion this Autumn, designed to blur the lines between the gallery and the adjacent, sadly underused park. For other arty upcomings across the North, see Creative Tourist's freshly minted Cultural Calendar.

Traditional pubs are closing, apparently. In recent days The Lass O' Gowrie, The Black Lion in Salford and chef Mark Owen Brown's Mark Addy gastropub have announced closures (at least temporarily.) The Fiction Stroker has a good analysis of the background to the first two closings and the consequences for the city's fringe theatre and performance scenes. What's opening this year? More Mexican, burger and barbecue joints, naturally. A new branch of the Leeds-based Red's True Barbecue is opening soon, and I've heard a rumour about a Pancho's Burritos restaurant that I fervently hope is true.

This spring the new Central Library will open. I'm pretty excited about this. Because, after all the controversy (Book purges! Public streets becoming glassed-in private property!) we get a new library, a more comfortable but still spectaculary old and fancy one with new space for events and children's activities. Let's just hope it's not the only library that's still open in Greater Manchester by 2015. How's yours doing? The little library in Ramsbottom, where I live, is going self-service, and they're apparently turning a substantial chunk of the big one in Bury into a sculpture centre. But hey, they're not closing. Yet.

Image courtesy of Modern Designers.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Which is mostly full of blogs

I am just emerging from a long period of work-related insanity to rediscover this blog. Well, howdy Manchizzle! Hello five remaining doughty readers. I've been busy working on the Manchester Literature Festival, where I have been doing digital marketing things this year, and also running the 2013 Blog North Awards. Since both of these roles involve reading, writing, thinking and talking about blogs and blogging so much, writing a post here wasn't high on the to-do list. But this hectic time was, as always, hugely fun and inspiring. The 2013 Literature Festival was definitely the best one to date, and you can revisit it over at the new MLF Blog Chapter & Verse, where our festival blogger team has reported on the festival in a series of thoughtful and entertaining reviews.

The Blog North Awards was a great event this year, with Chris Killen's commissioned story/film A Short Guide to The Future (above) the highlight for me. It managed to be funny, disturbing and moving all at the same time, and was most entertainingly read by the author wrapped in tinfoil. But the shortlisted bloggers were rightfully the stars of the evening, and you can read the full list of winning and shortlisted blogs over here at the BNA site. Definitely expect to hear more from these talented people.

So, I have two blogging workshops to tell you about. The first one is called Blogging for Artists. It's a short intro to blogging and social media marketing for the independent creative practitioner. I'm doing it at Castlefield Gallery in Manchester on 5 November at 6:30pm as part of their excellent CG Associates scheme, though it is open to non-members too. I think there are a few slots left; booking and info here.

On Friday 22 November I'll be teaching a daylong blogging workshop in lovely Cardigan as part of the Do Lectures. I'm really happy to be working with this always interesting, well-curated and inspirational series. Called simply How to Blog? it's a hands-on introduction intended to give you all the tools you need to start blogging. Booking and full details here at The Do Lectures site.

I've stopped organising blogmeets myself,  but I'm happy to report that that other folks have started running them around Manchester. Rachel from Well Worn Whisk is organising one at Parlour, Chorlton on 7 November; for details get in touch with her via Twitter.

Image: Katie Moffat