Monday, June 29, 2009

Larking about

I was showing friends round town the other day and it struck me, yet again just what I like about living in Manchester.

There are plenty of big towns and cities with remnant Victorian and Edwardian infrastructures and architectures. And very fine they are, too. I like them. I'm a Mancunian but I like Liverpool, even though they've knocked down some of my favourite second-hand bookshops. But I prefer Manchester.

I don't want this to be a scouse-knocking piece: it gets to be a cliché and diverts us from the proper purpose of life, which is to take the piss out of the Cockneys. Having said that, I think the public spaces of the two cities reflect the differences in their character. If you visit Liverpool, once you negotiate your way out of the modern horror that is Lime Street Station you get a vista of Big Buildings. And they are truly splendid buildings and I like them. And I like the equistrian statues that litter the city. All of them cry out a warm "harrumph" to my inner brogue. And all out of keeping with the earnest, "laugh 'cos I'm a scouser and I'm funny" scally wit of legend. With the exception of the odd festival piece like the lambanana it's all a bit po-faced really. We should be grateful that the new statue of Ken Dodd has redressed the balance a tad. Thank God for Doddy!

At first sight Manchester is similar. No different to the 'pool or Leeds or Glasgow come to that. But if you take the time to look the mask quickly slips.

Take Piccadilly Gardens, for instance. I regret the passing of the original sunken gardens and the bus station (especially in the wet weather when you can't pretend that "Piccadilly Bus Station" is anything more than a not-so-glorified traffic island). And I hate that whacking big concrete wall that runs alongside the tram lines. But the joy is the fountain. This is set up on a three-part random sequence: you don't know which jets will go off; the interval between jets; and the height of the jets. You may just get the soles of your feet wet with a jolly little gurgling spring. Or a nine-foot tower of water may knock you off your feet. The kids love it. As do the grown-ups. I've seen workmen in donkey jackets playing in it in their lunchtime, egging each other on in games of chicken. The corporation has to switch it off at night during the winter lest some poor daft beggar goes down with hypothermia.

Thomas Street is a grubby backstreet of the city centre. Which may be why there's a big metal statue of a dustpan and brush. And down at Deansgate Station, opposite the G-Mex tram stop and in between two bus stops is a big statue of a bicycle. It was originally a celebration of cycling but those of us who commute to work have applied a subtext.

Manchester's universities are famous for pioneering work in atomic physics, computing and the sciences. Walking through the statue park outside UMIST you'll see Archimedes in his bath having a eureka moment. You'll see monuments to magnets and moebius strip cables. Poignantly, there is Alan Turing with his deadly apple. And, pride of place and the most striking thing you notice as you pass on the train is...

An eight-foot tall wooden bottle of Vimto. Really.

You see this stuff all over. The giant steel windmills opposite The Triangle because people though the new building for Marks & Sparks looked like a sandcastle. The exotic avifauna sitting for no apparent reason on brackets high up on an abandoned building in Red Lion Street. A friend and colleague insists that the statue of William Ewart Gladstone in Albert Square depicts him as "the king of the hokey-cokey." City Centre Manchester is a big soft kid's playground.

And therein is the difference in the temperaments. Liverpool is an essentially conservative city trying a bit too hard to seem to be friendly and chirpy. Manchester went through a bit of a phase of that in the Madchester years but has now settled back into its natural ways. It's a respectable old gent who should know better but is too busy playing with the grandkids to care much less.

† In Memoriam

My kettle died tonight, suddenly, at home. It will be sadly missed.

A boon companion, helpmeet and Trojan pillar of support in times of darkness and calamity, my kettle leaves behind a teapot full of tea leaves and a blown fuse in the kitchen worktop.

Its like will not be seen again until I get to the shops on the way home tomorrow.

Friday, June 26, 2009

If it has to be this bad, can't it be in black and white and have a decent soundtrack?

I'm tired and scratchy at the moment and I'm seeing the world without all the usual filters, pretence at civilisation for the use of. I sometimes do this on purpose when "I'm being creative," which can be interesting and useful. It's a bit unnerving when you find it happening of its own accord.

Mid-evening, on my way home from the nightmare factory, post-tea-time so the street's quiet. Or relatively so: two streets down a car alarm is going and someone, somewhere is playing an Abba compilation. The first jarring note came at the corner: I don't recall having seen that somebody had jemmied that garage door. The family's in the house, though: one of the kids is yelling up the stairwell at somebody or other. So that's OK then I suppose. How come the crisp packets you see blowing round the pavement are never any that you see in the shops? I happen to know that down this street there lives a ginger tom, a silver tabby, a sort-of-tortoiseshell with ginger ears, two silly-looking things with wide eyes and an excess of hair in the ears, and a Persian cross that looks like a Merseybeat wig on a bad hair day. Today all I see are black and white cats with Hitler moustaches, five in all. At first I thought it was one and the same, but then I saw three of them together, sat sitting on the front lawn like so many china shepherdesses. The new slates on the roof of the first terrace make a perfectly-regular lozenge. The discoloration of the slates on the next house spells 'Lido' in Palatine type.

And there's a deckchair in the middle of the road...

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Thursday singalong

Simon-Eddie-2-Sox has had this earworm mithering round in his head lately. You have to admire his taste.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Lotus Eaters

So there we were. I'm not sure why. The salt spray played with our senses and time itself became but an irrelevant abstraction. People we had never met before, nor yet would meet again, joined our party for no apparent reason and left with the same indifferent ease. A sense of becalmed aimlessness frittered away what little reason I had left and a numbing calm overwhelmed my soul.

All in all it was a real balls-acher of a bus ride.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Saturday singalong

Friday, June 19, 2009


I hate shaving.

For many years I hid behind facial hair, worried lest my boyish good looks somehow diminished my professional gravitas. Not only did this give passers-by the (entirely spurious) impression that I was someone of depth and probity like Grizzly Adams or Bakelite Smith's Uncle Arthur, it also spared me the daily morning ritual of leaving half my face and a good deal of blood in the sink before staggering out to work.

All good things must come to an end, alas. Overnight my beard went from dark, burnished splendour to tortoiseshell ginger and white. Colleagues at work sent me job adverts for Santa Claus at Xmas and one of the Branch Managers made a convincing case for my having been Edward VII's auntie. The facial hair had to go and I had to start shaving again.

Every so often I try to get away with it for a day or two. It's no use: you can't get away with designer stubble when your beard goes white. In the past, a bit of growth could lend me the rugged air of a Dickie Attenborough or Anna Neagle. Nowadays it just looks like my face has gone mouldy.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Reasons to be cheerful

It's Ian Carmichael's 89th birthday today. It gives me the excuse for these teasers.

I want one of those cars!


I mentioned a while back that my brother had bought me an aquaculture unit and I promised to let you know how it was going and I haven't. Sorry about that.

I'm growing the set of herbs that come with the kit.

  • Chives sprouted almost immediately but have been generally sorry for themselves. Not a success.
  • Parsley germinated fitfully and eventually, as parsley does. It's OK but unspectacular.
  • An early spectacular success was the dill. It loves the conditions but is a victim of its own success - dill wants to be a tall plant and my hallway is scented by its burning its leaves on the lightbulbs. The only remedy is to keep chopping and eating (it's a hard life). I like dill with potatoes, particularly with creamy mashed potatoes accompanying a decent sausage.
  • Thyme was a slow starter but does splendidly. This is a major success and I only wish I did enough cooking with meat to do it justice. It does well with a bit of mousetrap to make a decent cheese on toast.
  • Mint was another slow starter. I would have thought the conditions would have suited it to a T but it's frankly disappointing. Perhaps it's the variety. Perhaps it's the environment. Perhaps I've been spoilt rotten by the tub of black mint I've got out in the garden.
  • Basil took its own sweet time a-coming but was worth the wait. The pack included two varieties: an obvious Genovese and a probable Black Opal, which tends to lose its colour a bit under these conditions.

So all in all it's a pretty good show. Perhaps the best thing about it is that I can pick a sprig of something to chew in passing. Pretty good.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Feeling left out

It occurred to me that:

  • I hadn't been stopped and searched by the bogeys under the Anti-Terrorism Act;
  • My wheelie bin hasn't been microchipped under the Retention of Information Provisions Act;
  • My house isn't on Google Street View;
  • I'm not an illegal immigrant, a director of a failed bank or an MP on fiddled expenses;
  • I haven't slept with Paris Hilton or Russell Brand, nor been linked romantically with a reality television "star;"
  • Sensational dramas about my life have not been featured in Heat magazine, OK or World Weekly News;
  • I have not been featured in a kiss'n'tell expose in The News of the World;
  • I have not been erroneously charged with driving a vehicle I don't own down a street I don't know; and
  • My agents aren't bigging me up to Real Madrid.

I must be a great disappointment to my parents.

Monday, June 15, 2009


So anyway, there I was, wondering what to write. I had debated writing about the horrible coincidence of the commemoration of D Day and people voting Nazis into the European Parliament. I wondered if this would be the point where I held forth on my view that voting should be compulsory, the point being that spoilt ballots would also be counted and reported so that any politician who got a bit above themselves "by mandate of the people" could be reminded that they came second in the ballot. Or that if people can't find anything to vote for they should find something they can vote against (which is, I fear, precisely what many BNP voters did). It will be a cold day in Hell before I vote Conservative but given the stark choice between them and the BNP that day will have arrived and I'd vote Tory without blinking. I wondered if it was a forlorn hope that the election of BNP MEPs would give them the opportunity to expose themselves as thick-headed idiots, such as many of their councillors did.

I wondered all that. And then I thought no, it was a better use of my time on this planet to think about ladies' bottoms. So I'll write some other time.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Public Transport at its best

Titles: The Runway Bus

We've been having a moan about the state of the public transport systems lately so let us consider The Runaway Bus. A paradoxical film as it doesn't include a runaway bus. At all. At no point in the proceedings does the bus run away. Indeed, it doesn't often reach brisk walking pace. It is so good to see verisimilitude on the silver screen.

Margaret Rutherford being reasonable

The film is written, produced and directed by Val Guest. I don't subscribe to the auteur doctrine, never have, never will. This is as close as I get: one of the great British directors doing a splendid job of giving us a light bit of fluff with which to while away the time. And jolly good, too. I expect Mrs. P. spent most of the production scrouging gaspers off John Horsley.

some aeroplanes in one of those fogs we don't get any more

The basic premise of the film is that passengers are stranded at London Airport (Heathrow) by one of those fogs we don't get any more. A daunting display of Margaret Rutherford, complete with combat umbrella, results in a small group being put onto Relief Bus 13, driven by Percy Lamb (Frankie Howerd in his first starring rôle). They are to motor over to Blackbush Airport ("you can't miss it, it's just off the Southampton Road"), where the fog has lifted and planes can take off for Dublin.

our hero: Frankie Howerd

The business with Howerd trying to find his way about in the fog, aided only by a box of matches and a duff set of directions given over the 'phone in the security box is arguably the only piece of pure Frankie Howerd that ever made it to screen (cue boozy arguments about "Up Pompeii"). While we're there, give a wave of the hand to Sam Kydd.

Petula Clark looking winsome

What he and we don't know is that a bullion robbery at the airport has resulted in twenty thousand pounds' worth of gold bullion being hidden in the boot of the bus. Imagine our surprise to get a radio message from Inspector Henley (John Horsley looking impossiby young and craggy) telling him of his cargo.

Can our hero save the day and foil The Banker (the mysterious criminal mastermind) armed only with his wits and the winsome charms of Petula Clark in a flight attendant's uniform (sigh..)?

I'm not going to tell you.

the bus, a signpost accident and a confrontation

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Music while you work

That very nice Pat recently gave us the Teddy Bears' Picnic, which is pretty much what I need at the moment. The world is always a better place for a bit of the Home Service.

Go on, then: have us believe you didn't sing along with the second one!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Kubla Khan by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
as mediated by the spirit voice of Al Read

This literally came to me in a dream. It helps if you can hear the voice in your mind's ear.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure dome decree...
"A pleasure dome? A pleasure dome? What the thump's a pleasure dome?" - that's the wife from the kitchen.
"Oh, hello love."
"Go on then, what's a pleasure dome?"
"Well... It's like a big building and you go in there and you... well you go there to enjoy yourself."
"Oh aye? Just like you and your boozy mates in that shed of yours out in the back. Sat round supping ale and telling each other mucky stories."
"Well that's where you're wrong: it's not like my shed."
"I should think not. Going round decreeing pleasure domes. I ask you. And when are you going to do something about that shed?"
"What's up with that shed? There's nothing wrong with it."
"Nothing wrong with it? For one thing, the door's been hanging off it this past eight months. Anyone could get in there. Or anything. It's got so I daren't go in to use the mangle in case I find a fur stole I've not got."
"Well, I'm not doing anything with that shed. I'm busy decreeing my pleasure dome."
"And where are you having this pleasure dome may I ask? You're not digging up that rhubarb again. If was down to you we'd have nothing for our supper."

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
"Alf? Who's Alf? Another of your drinking cronies?"
"No, I told you woman: Alph's the sacred river."
"What sort of a name is Alf for a sacred river?"

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
Down to a sunless sea.
"And when are you going to sort out the damp in that cellar?"
"Oh, stop your wittling woman! I'm talking about the sacred river Alph, five miles meandering with a mazy motion through wood and dale."
"Aye, with ten pints of ale down its neck, I'll be bound! And I'm telling you now: pleasure dome or no pleasure dome if I find you palling round with any more Abysinnian maids with their dulcimers you'll be getting a thick ear."
"I don't know what you mean, love."
"I don't know what you mean, love? Well let me tell you, my lad, Kubla Khan? Kubla bloody can't. So pack it in!"

Monday, June 01, 2009


I'm going to have to stop my mother reading the Sunday tabloids. It makes me feel old. The latest story that caught her eye involved a lady with naturally unfeasibly-large breasts (a hundred-and-odd double Z).

The big problem for me is my reaction. Am I assailed by testosterone-fuelled thoughts of ladies with big tits? Or puerile titterings about Norma Snockers? No. My reaction was:

The poor woman. She must get shocking backache.