A Scuttlin’ We Shall Go

One of the very first posts I did on this blog was about this book that I read:

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It was about the 19th Century Manchester gangs, described as the very first youth cult, known as Scuttlers. (Search on my blog Gangs Of Manchester, as I still can’t work out how to post links on an iPad.)

Last night my wife and I went to the Royal Exchange to watch a play entitled Scuttlers, the initial inspiration for the writer being, of all things, the Manchester riots of 2011.

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It was the first time I had been in the Exchange since I visited with my English Literature class, back in ’88, to watch To Kill A Mockingbird, and I loved it. I think I could really get used to sitting there in the round.

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It was a great cast and a great production. I loved how, at the end of the play, the story linked those young gang members with the young people of today. After one of the characters dies in a clash, a girl implores the everyday people going about their business on the streets not to walk in the spot that he lost his life.

That is someone’s blood! A man died there! 

But nobody pays any heed, they continue to walk along the path where the victim had lay. Then, as the girl continues in vain to stop them, her voice decreases as those 19th Century pedestrians gradually become people wearing backpacks and hoodies, attention fixed upon their mobile phones and iPods, the setting morphing into the present day.

People still tramp those same Ancoats streets, unaware of those in whose footsteps they walk in, and as in this case, the very spot that they died in. It was very effective.

After the play ended, we left the theatre, and as we descended the steps the immediate sight that greeted us was a group of teenagers at a bus stop, shouting and kicking out at each other.

“Look-it’s the Twenty First Century Scuttlers!”

The connection worked. There is continuity.

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In The City

Some regard February as one of the bleakest months, a hungover, dog tired month following in the aftermath of all those lights and milestones and celebrations. But the streets of Manchester seemed as busy as usual, though there was a deflated air about the place.

Manchester is a city. Of course it is. But whenever we venture there, we remark that we are “Going into town,” which is what my wife and I, along with our son and daughter, did that particular afternoon.

Soon enough after a few retail stops, our stomachs began to dictate the pace, and we called in a place in Piccadilly Gardens for lunch. Although tourists seemed thin on the ground, from our vantage point we could see a few eager beavers clamouring aboard the Manchester Wheel. What to them must be a prominent landmark, convenient for getting their bearings, is to us but a regular sight. Familiarity may not breed contempt, but it certainly instills a way of becoming blasé about things.

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While we waited for our food, the kids gave colour to the grey day. The shadows grew longer, the afternoon frayed at the edges. Our conversation mingled into a myriad of accents and tongues, belying birthplace, roots, and levels of hunger.

image The food arrived. Believe it or not there is a plate under there. You could hold the pizza up to the window and block out that revolving wheel. Things could get a bit messy, though.

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My wife began to feel uncomfortable beneath the regular stare of a fellow diner at our neighbouring table.  He looked Greek, and was either bowled over by one of our city’s charms, or there was spinach stuck between her teeth. I had to cross my legs beneath the table as she would not allow me to go to the toilet and leave her there with the children, wilting beneath a stranger’s gaze. Eventually he left, and I was more relieved than her.

In the men’s toilets, above the hand dryer, was the following advice:

Enjoy your food the Italian way, with your (clean and dry) hands. Buono appetito!

 One of the more hygienic, and repeatable, suggestions I have ever read on a toilet wall.

After we had finished, we all fell back out into the dying day. It had grown noticeably colder, and everything appeared somewhat gloomier and hurried than before, so we decided to bring our visit to a close, heading back towards where the car was parked.

Evening was definitely arriving, yet the crowds kept on passing, and the wheel kept on turning.

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Rain. Damn It. Rain.

And what a waterlogged, rain sodden, school run it was this morning too.

The kids had their wellies on, each clutching an umbrella with all the faith of the staunchest Catholic. The elements were against us, the wind conspiring to send the rain in at an angle to try and breach the children’s defences. An odd crosswind attempted to deflect the flimsy but holding canvas covers away. But despite everything, we were doing okay.

Until four year old James tripped and sprawled forward into a large puddle. He remained kneeling in it, staring in dismay at his hands semi-submerged beneath the water, waiting to be hoisted up again as I got to him.

Again, that certitude of faith.

His trousers would need wringing out like a wet cloth in the classroom, and now there were tears and dirt to add to everything else. School days are traumatic, you know.

We finally arrived at the school and I dispatched brother and sister into the welcoming care of their teachers, radiator space at a premium. Turning back to face the downpour again, I began the journey back home. Head lowered, I was acutely aware that I was carrying the two umbrellas my children had used. I could always, you know, use one of them. Couldn’t I?

One was a Frozen umbrella (how apt) and one was a Dora The Explorer one. What would it matter if somebody spotted me skipping along beneath one of these colourful characters? As long as I was protected. It’s not like I have any street cred anyway.

But no. I continued on my way, umbrellas tucked beneath my arm, head bowed, hat flopping down over my eyes like a used chamois leather.

I know. I was vain. And wet.

Everyone else was using one, while it was raining cats and, you know.

Everybody else was using one, while it was raining cats and, you know.

In Books

It has been a few days since I lasted posted, but the time has not been totally unproductive.

I have walked the streets of Maycomb as tensions rose. Trekked the Mississippi Delta trails in search of a bluesman. Sat uncomfortably with a Manson family member. Drank cocktails with a foul mouthed Marilyn Monroe.

All the while glancing, reluctantly, back over my shoulder.

One day I may just sever that rope.

Let’s Make A Hillfort

I often walk the dog on the site of my old primary school. The sports field, scene of many acts of personal triumph, now lies overgrown and wild. To the side is a round wooden construct, made long after I left the school, for the then pupils to sit on when playing outside in rare good weather.

In its ruin, nature is claiming it. Whenever I see it, it always reminds me of the way ancient hillforts look to us, now. How our man made markers are consumed over time, leaving us but hints and traces.

This is our own Maiden Castle, in microcosm.

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