Monday, 10 October 2016


You are the only hug

I have had this week

Well, the kind of committed clasp

Which people use to hold back each other’s grief or fear

You kiss my hair with toothless open mouth.

5am, stirring hands, you’re here

Round with routine to begin the work

Revealing the angles of my face

Pin the words ‘hygienic’ ‘sensible’

As if before I was rage and dirt.

-          And yet my hands complicit in the act

Helping you to set the scene

You come in packs, but only one

It takes to turn my being to


Sometimes elastic like that kind of shame

Held together flowers

From the petrol station.

Now we’ve broken natures gesture

From torrent to taper

Expression into


You remove the flowing confession of my years

Like a fist can crush

A bloom


Stop a voice

And yet I let you round my wrist

Against the veins whose soundless mumble

Propelled these same limbs at fifteen months

To reach out, asking for a bobble.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Mind, Body and Spirit session comes to The Whitaker

The Whitaker (also known as Rossendale Museum and Art Gallery), based in Rawtenstall, is fast-establishing itself is a cultural hotspot and creative space. It opens the capacity to not only explore the stories of the past (with a brimming social history section) but also your own story – with a ‘Mind, Body and Spirit’ afternoon recently announced, to take place on the 10th July!

Rawtenstall and the Rossendale area has a history of unlocking mysteries and engaging with the spiritual side of things. The name ‘Rawtenstall’ could be translated from a combination of Middle English roten (‘to roar or bellow) and the old English ‘stall’ (pool in a river). This suggests connections to water and turbulence, with of course the Irwell running through the town. In turn, the ‘Mind, Body and spirit’ event at The Whitaker is set to teach us how to channel the busyness of the day away, and bring is back to the flow of the natural world.
Expect calming sessions, spiritual lessons and a great atmosphere inside a beautiful museum setting.

This is a town surprisingly well-connected to spirituality and nature, after all. It’s home to the country’s last Temperance Bar, Fitzpatrick’s – which has claimed to be the oldest brewer both of sarsaparilla and dandelion and burdock. It also serves up a variety of alternative and natural remedies – I’d recommend their blood tonic – which certainly isn’t as bad as it sounds!
And it’s not just the drinks which are flowing for a peace of mind – but the river too. There is something soothing about the Irwell, which has given its name to the Irwell sculpture trail also running through Rawtenstall and also the Shoe Trail, which skirts the edges of Whitaker Park.
'Discover the layers and linkages within nature'     

The Whitaker has also shown its dedication to showing different perspectives of appreciating nature and the world; also in terms of one of its latest exhibitions of Barbara Cole’s artwork. The 10th June will be a chance to participate in an ‘Audience with Barbara Cole’ and discuss the work inspired by the layers and linkages in nature, with the artist herself.

For more information on any of the upcoming events and how you can get yourself involved in this cultural and creative space, you can visit the website:

Monday, 16 May 2016

ThEATre at The Whitaker

The most memorable meal in theatre? Where eating is all part of the act…
Wednesday 25th May 2016
7.00 pm
Meal and Theatre £25 (early booking is highly recommended)
Whitaker Park, Haslingden Rd, Rawtenstall, Rossendale BB4 6RE

Prepare yourself for a unique evening of immersive theatre at Rossendale’s museum and gallery, The Whitaker.

‘ThEatre’ is set to be a show where food and theatre come together, literally; dine away whilst the drama unfolds around you. It’s a brand new work from writer and Actor Neil Bell: known for his work in shows like ‘The Bubbler’ as well as programmes like ‘Peaky Blinders’ and ‘Downton Abbey’. He’s written and performed around the Manchester area for more than 20 years too.

This certainly will be a meal like no other – turning the audience into participants for a piece of cultural and culinary art. Expect incredible acting, gripping drama, and thanks to The Whitaker’s talented chef: some stunning food too.

The intimate settings of The Whitaker suggest that this will be a close, personal and powerful experience. Your usual restaurant seating becomes a stage, your cutlery crucial, your plate part of the performance.

So if you want a dinner thriller, action with your appetizer, mystery with your main and drama with dessert: then don’t shy away!

Just in case you need anything else to work up an appetite for this unique event (I am already too tempted!) why not take some theatre food for thought…

Some of the most memorable meals in theatre

·         The chaos of cucumber sandwiches – The Importance of Being Earnest – Wilde’s iconic play
contains a number of instances of food and eating: with ‘cucumber sandwiches’ right at the beginning
Algernon.  Oh! there is no use speculating on that subject.  Divorces are made in Heaven—[Jack puts out his hand to take a sandwich.  Algernon at once interferes.]  Please don’t touch the cucumber sandwiches.  They are ordered specially for Aunt Augusta.  [Takes one and eats it.]
It is this brief exchange alone between the young male friends which shows food as a symbol of sensuality; provoking touch – as well as double-standards.

·         A badly-seasoned casserole – The Crucible – the tension in the marriage between John Proctor and his wife Elizabeth is evocatively revealed by a rabbit casserole, which ‘hurt her heart’ to prepare. This feature in Arthur Miller’s dramatic play,  not only suggests Elizabeth’s selflessness: she  is willing to go through pains to please her husband – but also foreshadows the dangers of lying within marriage (both conceptually and physically, concerning John’s adultery.) In his single symbolic gesture John lies to Elizabeth ‘it’s well seasoned’, though adding salt himself – and in that, emphasizes a marriage unpicked by mistruths, turning what is potentially nurturing, into something nasty.

·         Sampling sweet things– A Doll’s House -   In the first scene of Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 play ‘A Doll’s House’, we meet Nora, a mother of three who is married to Torvald Helmer: a condescending, cruel figure who frequently trivialises her. His patterns of trivialisation and control are often characterised through food – for example his  addressing of Nora in the third person in relation to macaroons:
Helmer. Hasn't she paid a visit to the confectioner's?
Nora. No, I assure you, Torvald—
Helmer. Not been nibbling sweets?
Nora. No, certainly not.
Helmer. Not even taken a bite at a macaroon or two?
Macaroons are banned according to Helmer, and here we gain a perspective on how a sweet little
symbol an actually be the source of such angst: perhaps like Nora herself,

·         Strawberries in Shakespeare – Richard III – The Earl of Gloucester is particularly partial to the ripe red fruits it seems, as he reflects ‘When I was left in Holborn, I saw good strawberries in your garden there. I do beseech you send for some of them.” Pass the cream.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Ordsall Hall: A Poem

An old mind surrounded by new method

Hidden from the Irwell, my eyes a stinging pink
In November sun, Ordsall still slept
Stonework bordered by council brick.

Twenty-something miles from home
My hands a white against window panes
What is it about places of the past
Which turns the mind’s child from its restraints?

The Great Hall seemed bigger than before
Where a public slipped into the past
And looked in wonder at lights, the table set
Moving like dolls within a wooden house

The thrill of sight, of touch, enough again
No screen to show excitement in the blood
As we guide the tourism of childhood steps

Through the politics of growing old. 

Friday, 6 May 2016

The Whitaker and why you should go - a poem


Have you heard the word about the Whitaker?
A museum and gallery in Rawtenstall
From natural history, to intrigue and mystery
This place really does have it all.

There’s artistic inspiration if you need it
With a number of exhibitions
It is a great gallery, within our own valley
And getting here isn’t a mission!

We can tempt you with some of our great food
That’s right, a museum with restaurant too
Even a place for lessons, spoken word sessions
Or just sit and soak up the view.

Built in 1840 it has a history you can unlock
Whether you like architecture, art, or both
We’ve been encouraging artistic students too
-         Even making gallery walls their home!

Why not then check out what it’s all about
With a shrunken head and elephant on display
Free at the door, open Weds-Sun ten till four
We look forward to you coming our way.             

The Manchester Writing Competition 2016 opens – in a city of literary opportunity

Manchester is home to one of the biggest Fiction and Poetry prizes; with £10,000 up for grabs. Ready to investigate why writing matters so much here is Emily Oldfield…

Oh Manchester, so much to answer for...

Manchester is a city known for its wordsmiths. The lyrics of Morrissey come close to poetry, as well as so many other musicians, and the city has been home to a number of authors including Elizabeth Gaskell, Anthony Burgess and Howard Jacobson. The Manchester writing Competition seems proof of the literary legacy of this place. With a prize of £10,000 for each category – The Fiction Prize and The Poetry Prize - it is one of the biggest celebrations of writing around.

Established by Carol Ann Duffy in 2008, this competition attracts entries from all over world, and encourages new writers. The writing can be as experimental and expressive as people want; something I believe Manchester upholds more than many other cities – writing that gets close and personal.

For example, poetry and prose enter the streets – literally. Have you ever seen the Lemn Sissay poem ‘Hardys Well’ on the side of the Wilmslow Road pub of the same name?  Plus the sheer number of ‘writing workshops’ and ‘spoken word’ events show how the written and spoken form is well alive here. I’ve already discovered poetry nights as wackily named as ‘Transdimensional Space Goats’ and the ‘Fuel Word Cup’. Commonword organises many similar events; and as one of the largest community writing and publishing organisations in the North West based here, upholds Manchester as a place where people can find ‘common’ ground through writing.

Because here writing has been used to portray the plight of the ‘common’ man – think of Friedrich Engels’ (with input from Karl Marx) work on ‘The Condition of The Working Class in England’ in Chetham’s Library, as just one example, back in 1845. Writing has been used as a social tool both historically and for humour – take John Cooper Clarke’s ‘Beasley Street’. He’s the self-proclaimed ‘Bard of Salford’ and performance poet with lines like ‘The Hipster and his hired hat/drive a borrowed car’; mocking inner-city culture in a meaningful way.

Poets and writers are capable of giving voice to the otherwise unspoken in society after all – they uncover the layers, and add so much to the discovery of the metropolis which is Manchester. This especially applies to poetry - as Dr David Cooper, senior English Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University, reflects…

“'From Mrs Gaskell to Mike Garry, Manchester has long been perceived, represented and – crucially - reimagined by a diverse range of literary voices. Poetry (in particular) has played a prominent role in this multi-layered literary geography of the city. This seems to be particularly true right now as, every week, we learn of an imaginative new project, event or happening which celebrates poetry's potential to reconfigure our sense of what it means to be in the world.”

Poetry and creative writing has been standing out in a number of public ‘projects’ ; one of I Love Manchester’s recent stories showed how writer and performance poet Tony Walsh penned  a poem to
celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Alliance Manchester Business School.

Writing is part of the infrastructure of this place it seems, even at an institutional level. The chancellor of The University of Manchester is after all the outstanding performance poet and writer Lemn Sissay, whilst Carol Ann Duffy, the current Poet Laureate, is based at The Manchester Writing School – the host institution of the competition. In light of The Manchester Writing Competition, YOU can be next in terms of making sense of the city and connecting yourself to it, through writing. As David Cooper says:

“Clearly, we’re living through a period of great change in Manchester. For me, then, it’s more important than ever that we listen to what poets – ‘the unacknowledged legislators of the world’, according to Shelley –   have to say about the places and spaces in which we live, work and play.”

It seems fitting then that there is separate Poetry Prize and then a Fiction Prize; though in previous years the competition has alternated between the two, rather than having them as stand-alone. That means even more opportunity to express yourself – thanks Manchester. Entries are possible by post and online.

For more information about the Manchester Writing Competition 2016, you can visit the website:

Monday, 2 May 2016

6am, Manchester Victoria

I arrive at 6 am, Manchester Victoria
The station floor a drumskin I tick time over
In high-heeled shoes.
The smell of sleep in my collar, the evening news
Turning itself in a corner
Catching the light
Like a dead bird fallen through open ceiling

A skull-piece, snapped off
Easing the mind
Of this generation. The electric billboard wavers
And I become anyone, the commuter too eager
The family visitor.
 I smell disinfectant, the damp tang
Of vinegar, captured in other people's glances
I am acceptably ‘waiting’
 For assigned destination.
It is assumed, that I know the direction
Watching the flow of bodies through the barrier
This is what it is to be human
Flesh capable of destroying marriages, lives, each other
Clutch glibly at railcards, each ticket number.
Here I am ‘waiting’, the persona well-applied
I want to feel that excitement again
To run through the ticket-gate, flush faced
The sudden adrenaline
Arched in a cry
Coming from childhood

The tracks are live. 

Thursday, 21 April 2016

‘A British Islander’ sculpture and art from B.E. Cole at The Whitaker

Can sculpture show a new side to nature?  Babara Cole's impressive physical art suggests so:  connecting with the landscape and uncovering the incredible wild processes at work within. Her drawings and sculptures in particular capture the various structures of an evolving natural world: with an exciting exhibition opening at Lancashire museum The Whitaker on Friday 29th April at 7pm. If you think that sculpture is just ‘decorative’, you’ll be made to think again by the diversity on display!

Cole’s work captures the landscape: embracing the rough with the smooth, how it has been shaped over time – from fossil to forest, cave to castle. She uses a range of mixed media, including modern materials, to sculpt processes which the eye cannot typically see. Art gets behind the face of nature! Things like the formation of fossils, the work of micro-organisms, are uncovered: often in alluring patterns and strange textures. It certainly is unique.

'Questioning Our Identity'

Cole’s own exploration of natural environments – including over twenty years working on the Pennine Ridge – enriches her artistry. ‘The British Islander’ is an especially interesting title to this exhibit, especially as the dust of the Scottish Referendum is far from settled and discussions over the EU may lead us to question our own national identity. Her beautifully carved and moulded structures then seem to offer a kind of answer; look to the landscape!

The Whitaker museum and art gallery in Rawtenstall, Lancashire seems like an ideal place to enjoy this exhibition. The bold Victorian building allows light to billow in through big windows, making Cole’s designs shimmer and stand out. To see her work certainly is a powerful experience, as she is an Associate of the Royal British Society of Sculptors, with a number of works already acclaimed. It takes great skill to uncover the organic structures and secret processes in nature, and turn these into physical art forms which make us think, after all.

'A Comprehensive and Unique View in East Lancashire'

The Whitaker
Lancashire also seems like a fitting area to host this unique sculpture experience – as is a county recognised for its physical artworks, especially the ‘Panopticons’. You may not have heard of this title specifically, but it is collective term used to describe an artistic regeneration project here, featuring sculptures such as The Singing Ringing Tree and the Haslingden Halo. These Panopticons are structures designed to provide a comprehensive and unique view in East Lancashire – and the other two are The Atom and Colourfields, in Blackburn. It seems that Lancashire then is a place for iconic sculptures, and thus that Cole’s work is coming here is even more significant.

Originally from South Wales, Cole now exhibits not just on a national level, but internationally too - emphasizing the power of her creations. Examples of previous work include De Rerum Natura (on The Nature of Things) which is a biomorphic wax sculpture on a bed of dyed sand, mimicking the crushed creatures in sediment, the fossils in a rock face. Cole’s work is creative, uses cutting-edge techniques and is open to interpretation; so why not treat yourself to something unique and get down to the opening at The Whitaker?

 The Friday evening session gives guests a chance to get close to the art and enjoy the experience, as well as considering what it is to be a ‘British Islander’. With beautiful interiors and a fully-fitted bar, The Whitaker emphasizes the importance of art and public interaction with it: don’t miss out.

For more information you can visit The Whitaker website:

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Wordy Rappinghood in Lancashire? Spoken Word Wednesday at The Whitaker

The Whitaker in Rawtenstall Lancashire is not only a museum and gallery, but is bursting forward as a creative space and creator of contemporary culture. This is crucial – it doesn’t just preserve the past, but is working to fuel the arts of the future. Taking place the second Wednesday of every month is their Spoken Word evening, nicknamed ‘Wordy Rappinghood’. The next is on Wednesday 13th April at 7.30 pm and opens up the opportunity for any wordsmith, performance artist or interested individual to showcase their talent in a fabulous atmosphere.

Where else do you get this chance? Perform in a museum!

Whether you are keen poet, public speaker, storyteller or just want to go along to listen, The Whitaker welcomes your contribution. With an attentive audience and beautiful surroundings, you can be sure of a positive experience too. It’s the type of event which brings cutting edge talent to the surface, and I’d thoroughly recommend going along.
After all, who would turn down the chance to perform to an eager audience inside a museum which is over 160 years old? Surrounded by lovingly-restored Victorian interiors and natural history, and complete with a bar and restaurant on-site… it’s enough to inspire anyone! Beginners are warmly welcomed whilst practiced professionals can expect a well-organised and exciting event.

It captures the magic  

The tagline ‘Wordy Wrappinghood’ from the song by the Tom Tom Club actually made me think of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’! After all, The Whitaker was a big feature in the tales of my childhood – and to my five-year old self it certainly had a fairy-tale like feel.  An array of creatures, massive pictures and towering ceilings; it’s the stuff of magic! Crucially, The Whitaker has captured this atmosphere and sense of intrigue and used it to push a number of unique cultural events this 2016. Not only are there spoken word nights, but film screenings, acoustic evenings and beautiful themed meals in their greatly-recommended restaurant. It’s a form of artistic flair, made accessible!
A night at the museum becomes a reality in this place and it has certainly inspired me. Here a few of my own words on The Whitaker:


Words for The Whitaker

Are you ready to come down to The Whitaker?
It’s Lancashire’s cultural calling
Complete with parkland, and a welcome that’s grand
From a museum which is ever-enthralling!
Whether you want to see an array of animals
Or stride through their social history
There is much to be said, for the shrunken head
And artefacts filled with wonder and mystery!
There’s plenty going on in the evenings
With a bar and restaurant packing a punch
And get yourself to their spoken word nights
On the second Wednesday of every month!

For more information you can visit The Whitaker website: 

Friday, 8 April 2016

A Nursery Rhyme to Manchester

Hey diddle diddle
Manchester is in the middle
Of wherever I want to be.
It’s raining, it’s pouring
So let’s get drinks going
In Federal, Ziferblat, Rosylee.

Pat a Cake at Home Sweet Home
Or wind the bobbin back to the start
Go to John Ryland’s, an experience priceless
And enjoy Cathedral gardens, Whitworth Park.

From MOSI to Manchester Art Gallery
Whether wheels on the bus or tram
You can travel faster, than you can master
Singing ‘Mary had a little lamb’!

Baa baa black milk seems fitting now
The Afflecks café, cereal-strewn
Part of this place, where the scenery’s ace
And dishes run away with the spoons!

Why? – because after food comes drink
With bars like Odd, Walrus and Dive
If any Jack and Jill, are in need of a thrill
Manchester is the place to be alive.

It’s inspired a showcase of music
Even a Mary Quite Contrary will smile
At the likes of Clint Boon- with his 80s tunes
And Manc records – there is a whole pile!

So sing a song of sixpence
My nursery is this place
Complete with a rhyme, celebrating the times

It’s brought a smile to my face. 

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

A Lancashire museum of wonder complete with a bar and eatery? Welcome to The Whitaker

The Whitaker (once known as Rossendale Museum and Art Gallery) is based in Rawtenstall, Lancashire, set in beautiful parkland. It combines beautiful art, local discoveries and some of the quirkiest Victorian natural history.  Behind the bold Georgian façade, you can not only feast your eyes on a whole collection of preserved wildlife and antiquities, but enjoy restaurant-quality food and artistically engaged surroundings. It is an inspiring approach to modern museum management you need to check out - engaging people’s appetites and emotions.

There are a number of natural history features
I have been a visitor to the museum since being a child – and the dedication so many people have for this place highlights how relevant the Whitaker still is. It is a museum which crucially makes and sustains relationships with people – a powerful quality. From penny-farthings to preserved animals, archaeological discoveries and art through the ages; it uses artefacts to change the way we look at the Lancashire locality (as well as further afield). Especially striking is its archaeology collection, with specimens steeped in stories – there are flints and tools telling of much earlier ancestors, and even a shrunken head (!); within centimetres of your own

Active and changing displays mean that there is something for everyone including a contemporary art gallery, changing exhibitions and main galleries recently refurbished by The Whitaker Group.

'Landskipping' is an exhibition running until 24th April 

Old-fashioned charm meets a contemporary twist: A real night at the museum?

And if that’s not enough to intrigue you… what it helps to remember, is that this is a place where old-fashioned charm meets a contemporary twist!  It’s hosted a Bowie tribute event, acoustic evenings and is certainly is providing a bold presence for 2016; with a  luxurious bar on-site, dining specials and the chance to really engage with local talent – in the form of open mic nights and talks. Too often ‘local museums’ are stereotyped as stuffy and ‘shutting out’ many people, but here people are welcomed to contribute, not just consume. This is crucial.

Preserving the past, whilst providing a platform for the present; The Whitaker highlights what a modern museum should be all about.
The Open Mic Nights are especially exciting, taking place on Wednesday evenings until 11pm; with a number of musicians and poets already getting involved.

The bar, complete with fresh bakes!

History, food and unfolding the arts – all possible in one place

The Whitaker provides a charming place where you can uncover the past just as easily as you can engage with the present. Treat your tastebuds to their eatery selection, which features a modern menu – and Lancashire favourites served with modern flair. Taking local history and tradition into account, the Whitaker even makes their food an educated and immersive experience like no other.  Even just a ‘ham, cheese and pickle’ sandwich is transformed here; instead a tartine  featuring warm ham hock, pickled vegetables, Branston puree, apple, crumbly Lancashire cheese and black pudding! All food is
prepared with dedication and care – including their children’s menu.

This is far beyond the bland ‘refectories’ common to most contemporary museums; as well as being open 10am-4pm Wednesday-Sunday, ‘Foody Friday’ evenings, Sunday Breakfast and Sunday Lunch opportunities are also available. Seasonal evening options incorporate careful preparation and stunning presentation; ideal as a special treat. Plus their breakfast should not be missed; a full English complete with local Riley’s bacon and award winning sausage, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, black pudding and choice of poached or fried eggs with toast.

Can you believe that this is Museum food?

Covering the senses

In this light, the Whitaker seems to cover the senses; a modern and innovative approach to operating a museum which engages with people directly. This can be recreational – including the bar which is open until 11pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings – as well as educational;  not only in the form of the fascinating local history collection but a  refurbished conference suite, complete with multi-functional IT facilities.

It’s not too far from the M66 and therefore is a straightforward journey, even from Manchester. For more information about The Whitaker you can visit the website.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Factory Living

Photo credits: Lucy Oldfield
They’ve given me a week to dismantle the machine
And piece it sensibly back together
To unhinge the line suspending cheeks
To crack the hands, spine, feet
Into something better.
I bring the wire of hair, for children try
Swinging from into the street
And invite individuals passing by
To touch the sinew
Tied to speech

It’s not often you get to feel a machine
To unreel the film behind the eyes
The brassy chest, each lungful tense
With breath
Like paint, the staring dries.
Look within the ribcage,
The circuit of the sagging heart
Your fingers find, arterial lines
Which light, still damp
Against your arm.

Roll up
The thighs and cross the legs
And see the drain of oil
Into the bowl
-          The opening below the brain –
They call it mouth,
That mortal hole

The nails they pick away are old
The frame plastic, a tongue of leather
Buttons blend into the skin
Which people press
And say ‘it’s better’

So many fallen into disrepair
An industry open now
 As an exhibit;
The walkways churned up with applause
These factories burn
And still we live in.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Where to get a great view in Manchester (and soak up the sun/rain)

 There ARE places you CAN soak up the sun (or rain) and get a great view in Manchester... and many are free!

Following some inspiring sunny days and a popular picture of bathers in the King Street Townhouse’s rooftop pool, overlooking the Town Hall – it seems that Manchester is the place to be for enjoying some Spring weather! You don’t have to spend any pennies to get a great view and see a new side of the city too. Whether you want a lunchtime walk or even just a bit of something different, there are some great places to relax and catch the sun close to the city centre which may well surprise you:

1)      The National Football Museum  - this glorious glass structure close to Victoria Station is still often known as ‘Urbis’ and fondly referred to as ‘The Ski Jump’; plus it provides a great view which captures the sunlight! Whether you like football or not, admission is free (and there are some marvelous exhibits) plus  you can take the GLASS LIFT (if you dare)  – which provides a great vantage point over Exchange Square, down Deansgate and beyond! The surrounding gardens also offer an area to relax, looking onto the impressive red brick building of Chetham’s School of Music.

2)      Greengate Square – sip coffee in Salford, moments from Manchester! This is public space complete with seating, water features and a tiny, cosy Barista Bar in the style of a log cabin (The really popular Grindsmiths Pod); right on the border between Salford and Manchester. With views towards the Cathedral and Deansgate on one side, over the other you can watch the activity of a whole different city; Salford. Situated just at the corner of Chapel Street and Victoria Bridge Street, it makes a great little nook to escape to for a workday lunch or just a reflective moment. In its time it has been a car park and a bus station, but now it has been beautifully landscaped, with light-up fountains from where you can watch the word pass by.

3)      Parsonage Gardens; a little oasis on its own  - just off Deansgate, close to The House of Fraser (or Kendals, as it is still commonly known) you can find a little green space it is great to escape to. Complete with a little lawn, flower beds and seating, it is surprisingly peaceful as set-back from the main road and surrounded by some impressive architecture. Designated as a conservation area in June 1985, it makes an ideal place for a quiet few minutes in the good weather.

4)      The Clock Tower Tour – get the ultimate eye over Manchester, from INSIDE one of its iconic landmarks, the Town Hall clock tower. This is an adventure allowing you to soak up the sun on a good day, but is interesting rain or shine! Join one of the Blue-badge registered tours and  take to the spiral staircase leading up to the clock which has been a bold  presence in Manchester for 133 years. At a height of 85 metres, you can expect impressive views as you climb the tower – home to the legendary bell Great Abel. This is the hour bell and you not only get the opportunity to see this, but also the mechanism room, ringing room and dial room; a diversity of nooks and crannies usually obscured from the public eye! After delving behind the clock face you will come to the summit which offers panoramic views – particularly good on a sunny day!  Look out over the city, and even across to the Cheshire Plain, The Pennines and beyond!

5)      Imperial War Museum North  - Located in Salford Quays and opened in 2002, this is visually striking building, designed to reflect the disorientation of war – as well as how learning from it can inform our futures. This is what the view from the building reminds me of in particular; an educational experience which shows us the past as well as informing our present. There is the opportunity to stand atop the Air Shard; a large tower which lets you look out over the area and see how it has transformed over time. The angular designs, carefully crafted by architect Daniel Libeskind, add to the experience. Take in views of the urban area – including the Manchester Ship Canal, The Quays and towards the city centre - once devastated by war, now thriving with culture. It is a sobering experience.

6)      Piccadilly Gardens  - this is a classic space to  sit and watch the city go by!  Whether you want to sit at the base of the Queen Victoria statue, make the most of the grassed areas or watch over the fountains; it offers a recreational area surrounded by activity – ideal for people-watching. It also is known to catch some great sun in the afternoons and invites the alluring aromas of the food markets too.  Look up and see some of the city’s stand-out architecture, from a whole number of eras. There’s the City Tower on Piccadilly Plaza – the fourth tallest building in Manchester, and offering some of the highest available office space-  and The Thistle Hotel on the South-Eastern side of the gardens, which was originally three cotton warehouses, key to Manchester’s industrial history.

7)      Station Approach – this is actually mused over by the local band Elbow, in a song of the same name; alluding to the walk up to  Piccadilly station from the Gardens. It may not be the most scenic route, but a great vantage point can be easily reached, close to the station itself. There is a modern-looking pedestrian bridge which crosses over London Road. Stand on here  and enjoy the sun (if the weather is being kind) but also impressive views of the old fire station and the traffic as it enters and leaves the city

8)      Castlefield and conservation areas  -  At the end of Deansgate, past the Hilton hotel, you can reach the historic haven of Castlefield; home to the city’s Roman roots as well as an industrial legacy. Here lies Mamucium – the Roman fort after which the city is named – and a criss-cross combination of canals, bridges, red-brick warehouses and listed railway structures. There are also a number of bars and terraces; emphasizing how scenic the area can be, especially on a sunny day. After all, a lot of these sites are within the Castlefield Conservation Area and Castlefield Quay, recognised for their historic properties. There are also a number of outdoor seating opportunities, including stone terraces close to Liverpool Road, not too far from the Museum of Science and Industry. All are well worth a visit and give a great view!

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Why March is a month of unique events in Manchester

1)      International Women’s Day in Manchester – this is a city striving to  uphold equality, with International Women’s Day on the 8th March being turned into a month-long celebration of female achievement. A number of events have been organised which suggest Manchester as a melting-pot for women’s movements – after all, the suffragettes were established here by Emmeline Pankhurst in 1903. Expect events as diverse as the women being celebrated; from cinema screenings as unique as ‘Girl Gang Manchester #1: Mean Girls’ to the ‘Wonder Women’ exhibition taking place in the John Ryland’s Library. You can go to the Manchester city council website and find out more about events near you:

2)      Cosmosis –four stages of some of the best alternate music, thousands of attendees, and all inside a factory warehouse –Cosmosis arrives on March 12th. It’s a unique festival which not only celebrates the industrial settings the city has to offer – the Victoria Warehouse – but also a range of psychedelic and rock and roll acts from around the world. 2016 is set to include bands such as The Jesus and Mary Chain and Sleaford Mods; whilst also drawing attention to Manchester talent, such as the female-fronted PINS.  It highlights the city as somewhere associated with quirkiness and creativity; with the organisers Remake Remodel and Interstellar Overdrive keen to emphasize the free-thinking, fantastical nature of the event. An old warehouse meets new wavelengths!

3)      DERT – The truly unique Dancing England Rapper Tournament (DERT)is set to take place in Manchester, over the weekend of 11-13th March. What? It’s a form of sword dancing; a Northern specialty which combines a form of traditional mining dance with folk music and plenty of pubs! ‘Rapper Swords’ are involved – flexible pieces of metal which the dancers co-ordinate themselves around – complete with costume, creative storytelling, and even somersaults! It’s an energetic event which celebrates the working class community and legacy of industry; therefore ideally suited to Manchester. Even though the dancing itself is thought to originate from the pit villages of Tyneside, the complete costume is sure to be welcome here; especially as the competition is taking place within some of the city’s favourite traditional watering holes - The Apple and Apple and The Gas Lamp  for example.  DERT is a competition open to all rapper sword dancing teams and attracts a range of participants as well as audiences. Held annually in the UK, it has already made an impression on cities such as Leeds and Bristol – and with famous names such as ‘Red Mum Rapper’ from Denmark having travelled from overseas to take part in the past, it’s now ready to storm Manchester.

4)      FutureEverything - this is a festival in the form of a cross-cultural laboratory coming to life on the 30th March (until the 2nd April); and it’s home-grown too. Set up in the city in 1995, FutureEverything has been at the heart of exploring connections between society, culture and technology   - something Manchester, gaining so much ground through industry, is famous for. The Guardian has already named it as one of the top ten ideas festivals in the world and FutureEverything prides itself on fostering creativity as well as focusing on how technology can develop to address growing issues such as climate change. All-year round the festival supports innovation, as well as communicating through wider cultural events such as concerts and conferences.  Engaging the audiences this year include Addie Magenknecht, award-winning robotics artist Darius Laemi and the famous ‘annual Friday night party’; which consists of a series of improvisational performances at Islington Mill. Be prepared to be plunged into a festival at the forefront of the digital age.

5)      Designs for Living: New exhibition at HOME  - an example of a place celebrating advancement and excitement here, as well as simple city charms, is the contemporary arts venue HOME. Part of the First Street development, it is forging forward with an exhibition which celebrates the changing nature of construction and how it pushes the barriers of painting– ‘Designs for Living’ brought together by artists Claire Dorsett and Cherry Tenneson. From the 11th March, a range of paintings on building materials could be seen to show how attitudes to construction evolve in a city environment over time; including a celebration of the ordinary and turning the ‘everyday’ buildings we pass, into pieces of art. This exhibition allows you to experience your surrounds in a new way.

Saturday, 27 February 2016

The Whitworth Gallery, Manchester: opening up landscapes; from factories and film to far away places

Art has the power to unlock new experiences; and that is certainly celebrated in a number of installations in the Whitworth Art Gallery right now. Some of the most recent include work by  Ben Rivers and Nico Vascellari, opening up film as a way of engaging with landscape artistically… and to the extreme. Then there’s a collection of textiles designed by Tibor Reich – highlighting that even factories and industry can create impressive art. Be prepared to get inside wooden film sets and to wander through enchanted forests thick with mysterious music…

 Given that the Manchester Film Festival is due to start in March, the art at the Whitworth Gallery could be seen as especially relevant, right now. The visuals of video combine with ambitious exhibitions – as this is work which really gets the audience involved directly, through a range of film content.

 Take artist and filmmaker Ben Rivers’ latest project, ‘The Two Eyes Are Not Brothers’, which went on display at the Whitworth on the 25th February.  Within this, part of the gallery has literally been ‘taken over’ by unique viewing spaces Rivers has created for audiences to watch a series of short films.  From the outside they are sight to behold, ramshackle wooden pods built from old film set material, gathered to forge a new way we appreciate place and space. Whilst they may seem alienating on the outside, a wander within provides the intimacy of a film series; putting together a raw short story of a man travelling through the Moroccan desert. Sit in one pod and watch a man almost dancing in the sand, go and sit in another and see scenes suggesting conflict. It is an unnerving experience which puts us face-to-face with another culture.  Rivers’ art could be seen as that of playing with the line between fiction and reality, film and footage - and it turns part of the main Whitworth Gallery from viewing space into enchanted place.

Also opening on the 25th February was Nico Vascellari’s exhibition in the appropriately titled ‘landscape gallery’. The setting seems ideally dramatic – as to enter it you first walk past the full-length windows looking out onto Manchester’s own  Whitworth Park and gardens, before immersing yourself in a whole different side of nature altogether: Bus de la Lum. Here the artist has recreated the 'hole of light', the term often-used to describe an area of woodland on the Cansiglio Plateau, near the Northern Italian Prealps. Yet  this interactive exhibition seems to showcase the 'Jekyll and Hyde' of scenery: there is another side to this forest scene. Why?  Vascellari has also turned gallery into a gateway, or, more specifically, Darvaza (aka ‘Door to Hell'); a notorious cratered area in the Turkmenistan Desert. He links the two settings through the recorded soundscape - as these are both places crossed by culture and crossed by war; something the viewer grows to realise through walking round and feeling immersed.

 Allowing audiences to go from one culture to be immersed in another takes real skill – something Vascellari manages through linking standing installations of  patterned panels, glowing light and room to walk round and observe. The added layer of a soundtrack created collaboratively with Ghédalia Tazartèsln, a Turkish-born musician, contributes to the flair of the work.

Both the February features show how Manchester and the Whitworth are at the forefront of the modern artistic experience – changing not  just the content of art, but the character of gallery spaces themselves. In this light, the Whitworth’s many years of refurbishment appears well-considered; as this is artwork which celebrates the ability to change place, not just a different artistic phase or ‘face’. Another example of the gallery embracing changing places, is the ‘place’ of textiles in this city over time. Manchester is a city famed for its connections to textiles from the industrial revolution, yet it is Tibor Reich’s recent exhibition in the Whitworth which shows how Manchester is home to modernity in this material too. Reich was responsible for introducing interest and intensity to post-war textiles; with some beautiful colours and patterns covering the upstairs gallery.  Although Reich was born in Hungary and worked largely in London,  that his centenary exhibition is being held in Manchester shows that this is a place recognised for being at the cutting-edge of creativity. There are paintings, ceramics, photography and sketches too – so do get down to the Whitworth when you can! 

Thursday, 18 February 2016

The cabinet office pays for calf skin, whilst council cuts continue

No, Mr Reees Mogg, what tells us 'our laws are serious', is when they actively consider the people, rather than the parchment they are written on 

So we live under a political establishment which will pay for calf skin over local councils? This comes in light of recent news which has drawn attention to MPs efforts to save the centuries-old practice of printing Britain’s laws on vellum – usually goat or calf skin – with the cabinet office even offering to foot the £80,000 additional cost[1]. Tradition rather than transformation seems to be the sad state of much of Britain's politics. The events seem to confirm this is the case, as David Cameron praised the preservation of parliament writing laws on vellum – which had been due to end in April -  as playing an ‘important part’ in the House of  Commons and that it is a tradition which should be upheld ‘wherever possible’ (according to his official spokesperson). It’s a shame he didn’t have this apparent urgency for upholding institutions loved by the people; such as the great traditions of libraries and community centres, which he seems to deem as unimportant enough to fall under his austerity cuts.

 A government which prioritizes the appearance of its record, over the real lives of people – is the raw reality. It is still a segregated field, with a different system enjoyed by the elite than those they claim to represent. They could not bear the prospect of laws recorded on paper or computers, yet can stomach a series of strict council cuts.

Whilst the government seems content to go forwards with its austerity measures (with over £6 billion expected to be cut, considerably affecting local councils by 2019[2]) it still managed to have the time and money to come with agreement with the cabinet office and pay £80,000 annually for the calf skin. As supported by Cabinet Office Minster Matthew Hancock, writing laws on vellum is a great ‘tradition’ which needs to be preserved. This comes at the same time as the much more personal ‘tradition’ of community libraries falls victim to the axe of cuts, traditional children’s centres scrapped, support centres closed. Here in Manchester, the council is planning to increase council tax by up to 4%, whilst facing cuts of up to £13.8m from its budget, for instance[3].  I am not saying that the costs are comparable; obviously there’s a difference between £80,000 and the millions. But what I am saying is that this is a government with a seriously skewed perspective – willing to cut the services which mean something to a majority (i.e. libraries have the capacity to be loved by generations, children centres will always be needed), whilst preserving pomp and circumstances of a minority.

The material they are written on should not matter

Even a small amount of money can give community facilities the boost they need to come alive again; all some libraries were crying out for was an extent of refurbishment to encourage in a wider audience.  People weren’t even given a say over how the cuts were to be coordinated, as many have since come forward expressing their willingness to work voluntarily to keep local facilities living, but to no avail. Vellum is never going to come alive either; instead, it’s sickly appropriate that it is the product of awful exploitation itself – a dead calf. This says enough in itself.  Whilst some may argue ‘ah yes, but it is the laws that are written on the vellum which do come alive/into force’ -  and I am not disputing that -  it is not the material they are written on that should matter. It is the material gain/good they bring about which should be the priority; and right now, there has been little so far given to the social situations of Britain.

Some people may shout me down for lacking nostalgia and even offending history; after all, vellum is capable of keeping records and lasting for as long as 500 years. It is certainly durable and long-lasting; two terms I would not use to describe Britain’s ‘law makers’ at the moment. This is a government feathering its own privileged nest whilst seemingly content to let those of its people freeze over as ‘arbitrary’. Over the years and again in recent discussion, there has been apparent ‘outcry’ from MPs against the introduction of... shock horror... paper, instead of vellum. This ‘outcry’ has been instrumental to keeping the tradition going; so it would have been nice for such a level of passionate force to be placed behind complaints to Cameron’s cuts from inside government. Any respite from  austerity measures has seemed centred on the political nesting ground of Tory-led councils, especially in the South of England, some which have been given a significant amount of £300 million to help support them at a time of the spending cuts[4]; whilst Northern countries not as closely tied with the current political elite receive no entitlement whatsoever. Is this a case of old-school network, old-school values, topped off with vellum?

Furthermore, it’s hard not to get the perception that the current political elite still have different rules for themselves (again feathering the nest) than they do for the general public. Vellum, a high-price product, is a material for the  privileged few – and although it is capable of lasting a long time, yes – modern-day digital records are capable of preserving data for the long-term too, as well as being the network across which many people connect now. It would be much more cost-effective for the government to turn its hand to keeping itself and laws updated on computers – as well providing them with the capacity to connect more actively with constituents, which would be very welcome.

Embracing technology is not a bad thing. Yet recent events have confirmed to me that high politics still seems to turn its nose up at the ‘modern’ public domain; shunning social media, denying internet interaction, especially when it came to people’s argument against the cuts. I am of the view that a variety of media – involving press, print and digital – can get people involved and interested in current events, politics. The government crucially needs to use this, especially in terms of MP’s keeping up-to-date with their constituents, across the board. Vellum is a medium which will only ever be available to the select few.

The government goes for calf, whilst the NHS remains a cattle market

This is a government willing to pledge a lump sum to write on the skin of an animal, whilst funding worries for public services under excessive strain – such as the NHS – go under-discussed. Where is the cabinet office clamour over the sheer frequency of hospital bed crises, as well as figures revealed as part of Mental Health Week; that cuts dating back from 2010 have resulted in 8% fewer mental health beds and 5,000 fewer nurses for mental health.[5]

 This is a system where funds still seem to favour ideological aspects rather than actual incidents. The Guardian has been conducting a month-long investigation into the NHS, revealing that some trusts have been falling into debt by as much £60 million,  and yet the government seems to give more attention to cow skin than the complication. Hospitals such as Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge, has been losing an estimated £1.2 million per week[6].  Yet overturning what was an attempt to remove velum and replace it with paper seems like a bigger priority than addressing the removal of crucial funds from the NHS – where was the cabinet office and MP ‘outcry’ for situations like this?

It’s just another confirmation of cruelty. This is a political system prepared to deal death in order to keep its ‘traditions’ for the few alive; the process of writing on vellum won’t be the pleasure of many, I’m sure. Some may react and argue – well what about history? Vellum has its abilities, after all, to be incredibly long-lasting and has documented some important histories over time; think the Magna Carta, the Slavery Abolition Act. I have studied history myself and value historical records –and the most valuable records of all are of course those of the people. The current political state seems to be splitting apart its people rather than creating something worth recording. Some MPs turn their noses up at the thoughts of laws on paper or a computer and spend time agonising over that, whilst people’s local facilities and libraries can’t even afford to keep any such resources. There is a serious imbalance here.

We’re recording in the wrong way. Right now even, politicians don’t seem to be putting down the crucial points on how they’ll  keep the NHS moving forward, instead they are quietly letting headcount reductions go on, in order for the NHS to cut staff and save money; areas are judged in, budgets, savings. They’d rather make the record look fancy than think about the people themselves; announcing £1 billion investment for mental health for example[7], which rather than  proof governments greatness, is a  long overdue investment which  will largely go on propping-up currently crumbling systems. Waiting times for talking treatment as long as 20 weeks, missed referrals, and the rest....

Grandeur with the goodness scraped away – this government?
It’s easy to feel attracted by big numbers and assumed greatness, as it seems much of political establishment falls into. Its arguments for upholding vellum include that it looks impressive and has a life over 500, and yet here is the irony that we are faced with institutions like the NHS which in their current state will struggle to reach 100.  It’s a sad time when the government would prefer to pay to write on the back of a dead cow, than to put the equivalent into any area which requires funds as a public service; healthcare and councils as just some examples.

Finally, vellum is a vile thing in itself and this is what my point boils down to. I am against any living creature being used as means to an end, and vellum is an example of exactly that – the skin of an innocent baby creature used for no other reason than building up government grandeur. Grandeur with the goodness scraped away from underneath; which just seems like what this political situation is summarising.  When will they see the importance of addressing the people rather than keeping up appearances? When will they get into the people instead of hiding behind a butchered skin?