It was hard to figure out yesterday exactly which city I was in. A rainy afternoon trip to the cinema was delayed by a traffic jam resulting from an Orange Order Parade making its way through the city centre. Did you have any idea that Manchester had an Orange Order? I didn’t – and unlike back home, I am not sure many of the locals did either! Or at least, not what it all might mean. One fellow passenger (yes, I was on the free bus again) explained to a foreign friend that this “was all part of a big Catholic tradition, mainly associated with Scotland, but also Northern Ireland. It commemorated the time when William of Orange and his men had “battled hard” against the dominant Protestants.” Well. Something like that. I couldn’t help but smile as my own distinct lack of knowledge on the subject began to seem like expertise. The bus driver radioed in to inform a depot manager (or possibly his wife) that he would be back late. I counted the number of policemen shepherding the marchers along their route. Just 3 of them. Wow! And not a single well-wisher to clap them on their way. Overall, I think I agree with the irate girl in front of me, whose frustration was conveyed down her mobile: “I mean, there are thousands of new students arriving in the city centre today and they arrange this ridiculous march! It’s the most stupidest thing they’ve ever done! See you in like, 5 hours!”
Eventually, I made it to the Cornerhouse cinema just in time for the late afternoon screening of John le Carré/Tomas Alfredson’s “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy“. Only, it was such a popular choice, the tickets were sold out. So I wandered around until the next showing, heading up towards Albert Square for a look at Manchester Town Hall and finding…a big red London bus parked outside the main door. It seemed to be part of a wedding – but anyone passing by was free to get on and pose for photographs when the Bride and Groom were inside the Hall saying (let’s hope) “I do”.
So: to Manchester via Belfast – or possibly Glasgow – and London. Then back to London, with some slight diversions through Cold War Hungary and Russia.
This was my second trip to the amazingly comfy red seats of the Cornerhouse (last week was Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In) – and the second film of Alfredson’s I have seen, after his version of the brilliantly unconventional and atmospheric vampire story, “Let the Right One In“. The characters in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy do not draw you in the way the characters in that film did. They are not meant to. However, his conjuring up of a particular almost spell-binding atmosphere is as good here as it was in Stockholm. For the first half hour or so I must admit to feeling that I was watching a series of beautifully composed studies and stills for an exhibition called: “Britain’s 70s”. Which was fine by me. Then Kathy Burke arrived (with her always slightly Eliza Doolittleish “posh” accent) and reminded me there was a plot I was supposed to be following – rather than just admiring lampshades, suits, cigarette packets, and lovingly recreated typefaces and fonts, some of which were deliberately privileged by the camera. Anyway: the acting was superb and muted and the characters almost pitiably pathetic and lost in a strange sort of limbo world haunted by the memories of World War II and Winston Churchill. As Ricki Tarr says to some of the members of the Circus (Tom Hardy as Tarr and his relationship with Russian Irina add a much needed touch of something approaching fire to the film): “Christ, I do not want to end up like you lot”.
The nicest and most unexpected occurrence of the day was being sold my cinema ticket by an old friend from my time as an Undergraduate at Glasgow University! To L&N: I’m looking forward to that drink! 🙂 I also bumped into my new colleague Jo Bates. It really is a not-so-very-large-after-all world!
At night, the little blue cubes of the Manchester Wheel look like they have been hand-drawn against the sky. It’s a great thing to navigate by, meaning that really, you can’t forget where you are for long.
Searching around Deansgate in the rain for an interesting place to get lunch and an espresso resulted in a short trip to the Museum of Science and Industry. The building, situated away from the main road so that it has plenty of room to breathe, is beautiful inside and out, making bold use of display screen technology in the “Revolutionary Manchester” gallery that introduces you to the museum’s themes.
Instead of using old-fashioned wooden and cardboard plinths to explain what the exhibits are all about, the museum incorporates (in places) iPads into its displays. Amusing little games can be played at the same time as you discover the history of science and technology via touch-screen interfaces. Even mid-morning and in not so great weather, people of all ages and nationalities wandered around, looking (as if almost to their own surprise) very much impressed. There were examples of early computers (including one recreated by Manchester University’s School of Computer Science) and a Ferranti Mark I logic door. There were also displays on the CERN reactor and nuclear energy.
Proof that people were taking things seriously came from the middle-aged foreign lady explaining eagerly to her friend who Ada Lovelace was: the theme here being women’s contributions to computing science. Apparently half of Ferranti’s programmers were, in 1951, women – chosen for their accuracy and reliability. I wonder by how much that percentage has changed today?
For the more “old school” museum (and of course aviation) fans out there – and for me, a little reminder of Glasgow’s Transport Museum in the days before it became the Riverside Museum – the Air and Space Hall is really worth a look too. Chock full of planes and one or two motorbikes (air and space?) it’s basically a big shed with a viewing walkway snaking around it from above. Exhibits include a Roe Triplane from 1903 and the Yokosuka MXY7 Ohka Mark II plane for the Kamikaze pilots of WWII. You may know that one by its far more romantic sounding translated name: “Cherry Blossom“. Lovely!
Anyway, there are 5 buildings and 12 whole halls with various themes to explore and today I only had time for a few. Not sure yet if I want to “take a walk through a Victorian sewer” as part of the Underground Manchester theme. But the next visit will definitely take in the Communications (“Connecting Manchester”) Gallery as well as the Power Hall for sure. Watch out for some pictures of retro telephones and cameras! Other pictures in (my) gallery above are of “The Avenue”, a fancy shopping centre (sorry, “luxury shopping quarter“).
Just don’t climb on the letters!
When travelling down to Oxford Road this morning on the free Shuttlebus service (it’s one of 3 covering the whole city centre) I was pretty surprised to see, on Deansgate, a “Church of Scientology” shop-front. Bold as anything, with a proud blue and yellow sign, it sits beside Hobs (By Appointment to Her Majesty the Queen) Reprographics, right on the corner.
The shop offers workshops, seminars, books, and who knows what else if you actually step inside rather than just staring in shock? The entrance looks welcoming and almost like a travel agent, enticing you to take a cute little wooden seat. According to the shop’s website, Scientology converts have in the past defeated that confusingly titled discipline “Science” to perform miracles no less impressive than the revival of babies and motorcycle crash victims from comas. Seriously: that’s what they claim. Follow the link. You don’t really need to be the wonderful Christopher Hitchens or (is he an Atheist?) Richard Dawkins to realise there is something a little bit “Trades Description Act” about that.
A Google search reveals that a few years ago an anti-Scientology protest took place outside the shop. Organised by the masked Anonymous network, it was only one of several held world-wide on the same day. Despite the best efforts of “V” and his followers the shop remains open for business…
Adding to its majestic property portfolio, the “Church” has spent over £3.5 million on a former distillery at Old Trafford. Sadly, they were refused planning permission to turn it into a “place of worship” and the building has been theirs, but disused, since 2007. See it described and rendered here in their video library as the “Future Manchester Church of Scientology” – accompanied by a voiceover that makes squirm-inducingly awkward references to the working class “machine” and the Georgian interiors. The Church of Scientology’s motto is, reassuringly: “Something CAN be done about it”.
Right now, I am starting to wonder if the photos I took through my bedroom window – in an attempt to capture the trains that move peacefully over the
red purple and grey brick railway arches – are proof that aliens really are here? I am also uploading (for purposes of comparison) a Photoshopped version of the image where the lights are notably absent. Not convinced? Think clearly!
Well, it’s time to start thinking properly again about the Research Proposal that brought me here. What better way than to kick some ideas around with my lovely new Supervisors? I met them this morning for a very productive exchange and a few cups of coffee. The building was strangely quiet since (swot that I am) I’m starting a little bit early. Well, quiet save for a procession of tidy-looking primary school children in blazers, who apparently were being shown around the campus!
The project that will (hopefully) 3 years from now secure me a shiny Doctorate is provisionally entitled ” New Media and Academic Researchers – Politics, Philosophies and Participation“. The idea here is that I will address the ways in which academics across disciplines perceive and make use of New/Social media within (and beyond) the research and possibly teaching lifecycles. This will be looked at in relation to theories of participation. Obviously ascertaining attitudes and perceptions is a delicate and tricky undertaking, so we are still thinking about what precise methodology will be most suitable. Repertory Grids are one strong contender, as is Sentiment Analysis. This is where my Supervisors, Frances and Jill, will be able to guide me through the territory. Whatever we decide it will be fascinating learning from them!
Key questions of the research are:
- How do the attitudes of academics in various disciplines, with regard to new media, compare?
- Can we use participatory theories (and a historical awareness of the role of scholar) to understand and analyse academic uses of/attitudes to new media?
- Is there a typology of users, attitudes and type of use, which can be identified?
- What are the implications for official and institutional policy, scholarly communication and the positioning of new media technologies?
There is going to be a lot of categorisation, classification, and data gathering involved in answering these questions. The end result should allow us to:
- Analyse and interpret the changing position and responsibilities of scholarship and scholarly discourse as a result of ‘disruptive’ new media technologies.
- Examine the extent of hierarchies, professional constraints or societal expectations of scholars on their relationship to new media.
- Construct a typology of users based on attitudes and as a predictor of behaviours analysed and interpreted under participatory theory (assuming that participatory theory proves to be a valid and useful lens for modelling).
As you can see it’s pretty ambitious! We will need to have more discussions (next Wednesday is Meet 2) on that. Whatever the nuances, it’s pretty much agreed that scholars and academics are vital to the public sphere – as they have been since the days of the Enlightenment. With the boundaries between the “public sphere” and the “private sphere” shifting, merging, and forming all sorts of intricate relationships in the online age, it’s more important than ever that we understand what exactly is at stake for academia within that picture.
Hope you will agree this is an interesting topic! Comments and thoughts appreciated.