Naturally enough, the landscape between here and Glasgow changes gradually, well signposted by the mountains of the Lake District and the changing shapes of the hills. Still, even through a train window, it always seems to become unmistakably and “all-of-a-sudden” Scottish. The air, the water, the atmosphere. Even blindfolded, you’d somehow know you were back home. Nevermind the majestic scenery or the mists drifting over the Campsies; the proof of a Scottish banknote will really raise a smile on the face of an ex-pat. Well, everyone has a bit of Romanticism for their homeland, right? 😉 For me, living somewhere that’s really only subtly different as opposed to entirely “alien” is an illuminating process. Being Scottish in England right now also means being asked about my views on Independence. Again, it’s hard to resist the lure of Patriotism in favour of a more nuanced perspective; but certainly nobody is claiming that “breaking away from the Union” would be easy. Undoubtedly it would take a few years for the dust to settle and for new laws, new rules, new modes of interaction, to be properly defined and managed. The question is: is it worth it?
Well, it really all depends on your definition of worth, doesn’t it? Despite a well-argued case from the profit-driven and big business-seeking sectors on the perils of “divorce”, I do think it would be worthwhile seeing how Scotland would redefine, reposition and strengthen itself as a Sovereign State. That would never mean abandoning ties with the rest of the UK, or turning away from Internationalism and Globalisation. Quite the contrary. What Independence would do would be provide the Scottish electorate with a chance to more strongly assert and enact their core and long-held principles of social justice, equality, and public service, over and above those currently emanating from Westminster – not just “at home” but also abroad; not least when it comes to matters of War, Defense, and “deterrants“. Well, maybe. Independent or not, it all still very much depends – on the EU, on our electoral system, and on how much trust we put in the political class in general – whether that of Scotland, England, or any other country with which we do “business”. And let’s not even get started on the difference between DevoPlus and DevoMax! But as it stands, I’m not going to get a say in it anyway. 😦
It was nice to get back and find the sun shining brightly on Manchester. Worth remembering that many people down here would envy us (sorry – “the Scottish voters”) our chance to break away from the coalition…
I don’t think I’ve ever seen as many films in such a short space of time as I have since arriving in Manchester – and that probably includes four years spent as an Undergrad at the University of Glasgow! Actually, my whole time here so far has marked something of a “cultural revival”. Just this weekend I went to see Steve McQueen’s “Shame” – a complex and difficult film which manages to be aesthetically cold and narratively detached at the same time as arousing deep sympathies for its two troubled lead characters; and then to a small exhibition of photographs by Kevin Cummins, in a little Northern Quarter gallery not far from me. The works on display were mostly of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, another troubled soul who died (by his own hand) at just 23 years old. There were also pictures of Curtis’s personal notebooks, his Vox Phantom – and a few of desolate 1980s Manchester roadways and streets. This was a striking reminder of how much regeneration work has gone on in UK cities in the decades since Joy Division were hanging around. Revealing in a different way was the fact that although each Cummins print was identically and expensively priced (£995 if you’re curious), the photographer has insisted that the dense, glossy hardcover book accompanying the exhibition be sold at only £25 a copy. Maybe that still seems a lot but this is a volume that would usually retail at say, £50, with a gorgeous design by a very hip Swedish studio. So at least fans and admirers are able to go home with something reasonable!
Back in the world of cinema, and I can report with great excitement that all the posters for this Term’s TRAUMA screenings are now “in the press”. My first ever season is all about Scottish cinema, but I must say that the last season – Impaired Cinema, presented by Tony Boffey – is going to be a tough act to follow! Still, I’ll try my best – and a little Whisky in advance of introducing the films to the audience seems only fitting, right? 😉 One of my new jobs is putting the Trauma posters up on various walls around the University and (of course) in our favourite post-screening pub, the Sandbar. Would you believe that the MMU Vice Chancellor has apparently taken an intense dislike to the putting up of “unofficial” and “untidy” posters? This makes finding places to position the very beautiful A3 sheets (designed by resident Graphics Guru, Ben Wissett) tricky. I wonder if in future the sense of a vibrant, colourful, culture-dominated University and city centre so prevalent in Manchester will be replaced by a sterile and polished pseudo-corporate environment where only adverts for “student experience surveys” and private sector recruitment fairs are granted visibility on campus?
At the moment, you often find yourself walking past multiple hoardings around the perimeters of city centre building sites. These are covered in quotes from famous Mancunians and are all about the city and what it means to them. Much of this council-approved street art comes from musicians, including Noel Gallagher and Ian Brown. But right now, I think this quote from a former Manchester University lecturer and one of the 20th century’s most “brilliant historians” is pretty appropriate:
“Manchester has everything but good looks…, the only place in England which escapes our characteristic vice of snobbery.” – AJP Taylor.
It’s sad in a way, that the more you get used to a place, the less inclined you are to look around yourself. The walk home from MMU has now become so familiar that I’m sure someone’s been switching me on to autopilot. I barely realise I’m moving until – suddenly – half-way there! Navigating my way through most local supermarket aisles without missing a beat is similarly easy. Chocolate: Aisle 2 on the left. Red Wine: right at the back, pushing itself forward. The solution to this stultifying effect of habituation is to vary my route from time to time. After all, now that I’m a student again, what’s the big rush? 😉
The key is not being afraid to take the odd wrong turn. Getting ever-so-slightly lost now and then is as vital to staying connected with the world as becoming an expert at something is. Perhaps even more so.
Back in Manchester at last after a long and relaxing Winter break. Call me crazy – or just a nerd – but I am actually looking forward to getting stuck into my work again! I feel (slightly) bad for neglecting it this long; although naturally enough some renewed energy is often just what a project needs. 🙂
It’s a lot brighter and calmer down here than in Scotland, which was unfortunately hit by some of the worst weather in recent memory. On a happier note, the incredible gale force winds blowing around this week do offer some good news: to the country’s wind turbine fans – among which, by the way, I number. Yes! I would happily have one of these elegant, loud, and beautifully engineered functional sculptures in my backyard. Wouldn’t you?
In other news: over the holiday, I was excited to get a glimpse of the beautiful Onswipe and WordPress theme (designed to be “app-like” and touch-screen specific) that is now applied to WordPress blogs by default when they’re viewed on an iPad. Thanks for pointing that out, Jemster!
…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.
The pumpkins haven’t even been carved yet and Christmas lights are going up around the city centre. Still, even walking back through October rain their sparkle and glitter makes me smile. I suppose it must take time to sort out all that wiring.
Somehow our usual sense of space, place and time changes, when it gets toward November. Even people with no umbrellas seemed fairly relaxed amidst the downpour.