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.