…and while, sadly, War still isn’t over, at least I can report that the atmosphere at Manchester’s wonderful Christmas Markets, which opened this week, is one of peace, happiness, and genuine “good cheer”. Lots of food from around Western Europe; many flavours of delicious mulled wine; artisan glassware; sweets; wooden decorations; and tonight (for one night only) a fabulous vintage clothing and accessories fair, hosted in Manchester’s Town Hall.
These markets are fantastic because without any pretension and without any slick PR campaign trying to guide people’s perceptions they draw a diverse crowd of people to enjoy an unusual and value-for-money combination of “commerce” (though somehow it doesn’t feel like it) and socialising in a makeshift market community.
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.