Tag Archives: East manchester

Neanderthal Nativity

1 Dec

Back in the 70’s me and my big bro’ never participated in all of that nativity biblical re-enactment stuff.

This could explain a lot of things for me and mine.  Like the fact that as a small child I hated those new-fangled advent calendars that came with crappy choccies behind their little doors. The ones that didn’t possess the ‘Jesus in the stable’ theme. Nativity was a rare story for us – not something to be trotted out, year on year.

And this might explain the fact that last year I felt the need to buy my mother a book on the Gnostic Gospels for Xmas (she looked at me as if to say ‘the usual packet of American Tan tights would have suited me just fine, love…’) And manger-deprivation may even tell us why my brother converted to Islam over twenty years ago (hey- sorry Our Kid, but I put it to thee that this lack of nativity-ing year in and out at school could have played a key influence on you too. Just don’t tell the BNP about this, alright? Or they’ll be calling for the government to enforce nativity plays across the UK as a cunning new anti-terrorist measure designed to rid our country of pesky muslims like you and your own wee family…)

We lacked Nativity. It led us to wicked and depraved lifestyles in later life.

We lacked Nativity. It led us to wicked and depraved lifestyles in later life.

So no. East Manchester 1970s. We didn’t get to prance about with teatowels on our heads. Or shout ‘THERE’S NO ROOM HERE’ at the audience (although come to think of it – I do remember hearing about a rather snotty-nosed little lad, many years older than me who was born into shed loads of dosh and who attended public school…went by the name of Nigel Farage.  Apparently always insisted on playing that Innkeeper role…)

Nah. The Three Wise Persons and all of that, were not a year in year out feature of our fledgling children-led productions. But this wasn’t because of a deliberate policy on our part. We didn’t opt-out of the nativity-ritual because of any particular religious preferences. And it wasn’t because we were home schooled or anything like that (I can hear my Ma laughing like a drain at the thought of that one…) Neither was our lack of over-familiarity with shepherds and angel throngs because we lived anywhere particularly exotic, where other more foreign cultures predominated (I mean – hello? I’m born n’ bred East Manchester. Eating sausage rolls on a Friday tea time instead of fish n’ chips was tantamount to pledging allegiance to Kaiser Bill himself.)

Nope. The lack of a stable and a star was simply because we grew up in your 70’s poor, urban area where Labour authorities prevailed. This was a place where schools were encouraged to try and be a tad bit more creative and a bit more experimental.  So we had … a Festive Tarka The Otter production. The French Xmas with Naughty Rudolph Who Swindles the Elves Show. David and Goliath (straight up. No funny or homo-erotica business, mind.)  The Jungle Book.  Pinocchio.  Peter Pan. Oliver Twist.  Proper Dickens’ style, mind. Today’s Disney-overkill or Pixar-mainstream gubbins simply did not exist back then. And finally… I remember clearly some weird Icelandic saga where I had to play the part of a boy (again.)

I’m glad about this. The bit about the lack of nativitying I mean. (Although playing the part of a boy was something that I also appreciate. It has helped me understand my own testosterone surges a little bit better.) And I’m grateful that I spent the first couple of years with a firstborn in Namibia. Where come December time anyone who can rub a couple of Rand together, buggers off to the seaside in order to avoid the blistering heat. Where talking about a chubby guy with enormous white beard who dons a sweaty red suit in the midst of this ice-cold ‘snow’ thing which no one has ever seen … just seemed downright stupid. And where talk of the traditional nativity performance just never – in four years that we lived there – seemed to hold anything like the sway that it recently has cottoned onto in the  UK.

A few people. Call them cynics if you like – have identified this uniform need to ‘do a nativity’ in schools with the growing adoption of USA customs and traditions (such as Halloween Trick or Treating…themed kiddy parties….and hell – even Black Friday Sales!) Such people are rather terrified that we might soon be quaffing dead turkeys TWICE in the space of a few weeks and  thanking the Lord that we got shot of the Royal Family and all things lovely and UK-ish. (Not me! I’d never say that kind of thing!)

So I won’t be commenting on that in this post. All that I want to say is that … Quite frankly – I find the whole nativity thing to be Ultra Dull.

In 1973 my brother's school were very creative. NASA astronauts met Tarka the Otter.

In 1973 my brother’s school were very creative about Xmas. NASA astronauts met Tarka the Otter.

Not because of the kids. The kids always carry the shows don’t they? Regardless of content. But I’m bored with the story. With the traditional way that it’s told. I want a fast-forward version… where the plastic dolly-Jesus suddenly morphs into JC aged 33 and he starts chucking over tables and chairs and foaming at the mouth about the excesses of our evil western Christmas pressie-culture.

I want a bit of controversy.

Which is why I was glad when I heard that – at last – my own very funnylad has a part in HIS school nativity! Excellent. Here’s a real chance for some thrills n’ spills and irreverancies (hope to Gawd that his teacher isn’t reading this.)  And this latest development has also provided me yet again, with an interesting insight into the differences between the boy and the girl.  I recalled a conversation with my daughter when she was 6 years old (the same age as the lad is now).  It went like this:

DAUGHTER:  It’s so not fair! I never get to be Mary!

Miserable looking Angel Gabriel? Or perhaps feeling spiritually superior to the rest of us.

Miserable looking Angel Gabriel? Or perhaps feeling spiritually superior to the rest of us.

ME: Who cares? You’re the Angel Gabriel! This entire nativity that you’re doing with school … the way that the teachers have written it… it’s all about the Angel Gabriel.

D: But I’m never Mary. It’s always the same girl who is Mary. Because she looks like a Mary. Why don’t I look like a Mary? It’s not fair!

ME: But you have the big song – all on your own! They’re even putting you high up in the church pulpit so that you pop up and surprise everyone with your performance! With a massive golden star! And a host of other little angels behind you! You’re… the leader!

D: But if you’re Mary you get to wear a blue dress and everything. And to be the mother of God. And I’m just like… some servant. Oh. You don’t understand.

(SEE YOUTUBE LINK below – evidence of her lack of Mary-ness)

Now. Compare this with the conversation of the other day with my 6 yr old lad:

SON: Ha! This is soooo coo-wul! I can’t believe they’re letting me be the donkey! It’s soooo coo-wul!

ME: I know! Well done.

SON: It’s ’cause I’m so brill at my HEEE-HAAAW! Everyone laughs! I’ve been doing it all day! HEEE-HAAAW

ME: Yes – it is a good one. Good braying there.

SON: All the teachers keep laughing and then they have to say – ‘okay now, let’s stop it with the HEE-HAAAAWs for a bit!’

ME:  Yeah. I bet they do.

SON: Because the more I HEEE-HAAAW the more Mary might fall off me. An’ it’s even better’n what I thought actually! Being the donkey. ‘Cause one of the other boys – one of my best friends – plays a snowman!

ME: A snowman? In a nativity?

SON: Yeah! And it’s well funny, ’cause I have to bite his nose off.

ME: What?

SON: ‘Cause it’s a carrot an’ that.  An’ I was thinking that it might be even funnier if I put my leg up…to the side. Like a doggy  – you know like when they’re weeing? An’ pretend to wee all over the snowman!

ME: No. I wouldn’t do that if I were you.

SON: (thinking) Yeah. Maybe not. Mary would fall off me again.

Studying for the part of Donkey. Even 3 years ago!

Boy studying hard for the part of Donkey. Even 2 years ago!

And there we have it. So much as I prefer a bit of a shake-up in terms of Christmas performance material for kids, the good old-fashioned nativity has reminded me of the differences between boy and girl. Or perhaps just this particular boy and girl.  Nothing other than the dizzy heights of headline billing (and birthing God Himself) will ever be good enough for my daughter.

Whereas my lad’s aspirations are to be the humblest of creatures. And to widdle over inanimate objects for a cheap laugh.

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You tube link below demonstrates my lad’s ambition. Over 3 years ago he was already employing Method Acting in order to prepare for his great moment. Note nappy and donkey costume. And tantrum, squealing and shoe being thrown at his sister. These artistic sorts always have a temper….

All Shook Up In’th Shops (part 1)

13 Nov

Some readers of this blog will know that I don’t really do shopping. Well, high street shopping I mean. I hate the same blandness that 95% of the stores here in the UK  represent these days. I despise the way that the big chains and the corporates assume that we’re a bunch of brainless, zombified sheep – sleep-walking our way to unecessary consumer tosh accruement and purchasing-oblivion.

I am a big fan of Quakerism. Of keeping the material things in our life plain and simple. Of spurning the constant need that many of us feel – To Have, To Be, To Own.  But a great number of Quakers themselves – were actually the leading capitalist-philanthropists of their day (I am talking pre-1950s here – I am talking the Rowntrees, Cadburys, Frys and hundreds more who were committed to Quakerist life and practice in business.)  So I can’t really blame the Quakers for my horror of anything that involves numerical transaction. They were quite happily pootling along – selling widgets to punters. In as ethically and perhaps as paternalistically a way as possible of course…

So, no. Instead, I nominate Bill Bryson to blame for all of this anti-shopping malarky. Bill’s ‘Notes from a Small Island‘ had a huge effect on me when it was first published. This book is one of our 20th Century travel and civic classics.  A must-read where Bill charms us with take on Brit-life but also comments on the monotony – the bleak and barren landscape which now forms the shop frontages of most UK towns. His hilarious anecdotes and sarky-arse commentary precisely depicted what I was feeling as I hung out in various abodes during my late teens and early twenties; “Bloody hell! Am I in Manchester or Oxford or Oldham or Birmingham? It all looks the sodding same, these days!”

Still one of the funniest books that I've ever read...

Still one of the funniest books that I’ve ever read…

And don’t even get me onto some of the crimes of the built environment that have been carried out here in the UK. The wanton destruction of stunningly beautiful architecture – some of them hundreds of years old – in order to slap a franchised ‘Coronary 2 Go! Geddit it Gulped!’ cladding for your latest fast food outlet. Yes, Bryson’s gripes got into my head. So much so, that I’ve been pathologically avoiding Britain’s High Streets for many, many years now. (Mind you, thinking about it – the man has clearly saved me a bob or two. Cheers Bill!)

But this aversion to all things-high street extends to my other half. And the kids too. A suggestion of “let’s hit the shops” in my family is tantamount to saying “anyone fancy a bout of gastroenteritis this weekend?” So yesterday’s little excursion messed with my head somewhat. I visited a department store…. I know! A business named ‘Harvey’s of Halifax’.

Now, not being a born n’ bredder of Halifax (me being an East Mancunian defector now living on t’other side of the Pennines)  I was informed beforehand by ‘real locals’ that this trip to the shops might be a slightly less traumatic experience for me than giving birth without pain-relief in the Kalahari (which happened to be a barrel of laughs, believe you me.)  “Oooh – Harvey’s is lovely!” one friend said.  Another neighbour told me that she was “reet jealous!” that I was popping out to this particular shop. My mother also said that she had heard of them. And my mother is a lady for whom Lidl simply doesn’t cut the mustard…

So, I was all set to visit the shop. And okay, the plan was to just have a quick brew in their cafe. But I was initially impressed by the presentation of the building. And oh…dear, dear reader – if you are at all interested in urban design and heritage – you HAVE to check out Halifax for some stunning examples, the Piece Hall to begin with of course, as a ground-breaking bit of architecture. But Harvey’s building is also rather impressive.  The business began back in the 1920’s. But today it stands proud – with three historical buildings merged – to form the modern-day Harveys.  Although, I have to use the term ‘modern’ loosely – because the minute I stepped into the place I was catapulted back into the past. A reminder of that wonderful store named Lewis’ in Manchester. Many childhood memories of accompanying my Granny there via her Datsun Cherry (one of Granny’s first jobs back in the 30s was as a shop assistant in Lewis’).

The original Harvey's store

The original Harvey’s store

Immediately, I breathed in….what was it? Old World gentility. But not old-fashioned. No – it was far more upmarket than the Grace Bros (anyone remember ‘Are You Being Served?‘) Meaning that Harvey’s clearly rings those top class bells.  But … without that sense of snootiness. Without making you feel that you can only shop there if you enjoy the feeling of Being Better Than Thou. So the place doesn’t possess the up-itself attitude of your Harvey Nicks.  Sure, it’s enormous in size, but had been designed so that you didn’t feel too lost (although you probably were – if you were me – it happens to me a lot. I have a tendency to walk round ten square feet at least fifteen times without realising it.) The place was utterly bustling with what clearly were very loyal customers.

And I can tell you why the customers were loyal. This is because it’s a 100% family owned and operated firm. I witnessed many sales staffs assisting customers. Dealing with them in such a way that was a zillion miles from the  USA-induced corporate Stepford Wives customer-service faux friendliness. And I also saw the owner and Chairman himself stopping and chatting to at least a dozen customers – filling in for his daughter who is MD of the business. I noticed the Company Secretary dashing over to assist a disabled customer, I clocked her getting read to help with clearing up tables in the restaurant…

These customers don't need free booze to stay loyal (although wesh frobably likesh it!)

These customers don’t need free booze to stay loyal (although wesh frobably likesh it!)

This was down to earth, genuinely-give-a-toss-about-people northern customer service. To date, the closest I have seen to this attitude has been – not from a high street shop – but from a social housing landlord (the award-winning North West’s Irwell Valley Housing Assoc.)  Irwell Valley’s Tom Manion will tell you that employee happiness levels are utterly transparent to the general public and convey immediately either very good or very poor management. Roger Harvey would probably agree with him. Of course, there is the off-chance that the staff at Harveys are not *truly* a happy crew and that they’re  just damned good actors (and are being bribed to put on a good show for the consumers as their families are actually being held at gunpoint in the lingerie section.)

But the bees-knees of this particular visit was when I learned about the charity work that Harveys are involved with.  Again – none of your off the shelf corporate big charidee names stuff. The store is heavily involved with a range of local charities and arts groups. Many of them being the smaller names that you may not be familiar with, but which (in my opinion) are more worthy of praise than the Big Guys in terms of bang for bucks. And real heart. Indeed, I happened to meet one of their latest recruits – a member of staff who had been part of a programme run by Halifax based charity ‘Project Challenge’ and who had been unemployed but was now working at Harveys and still dedicated to raising money for them.

And best of all the store is an INDIE!   Not part of a big chain. Independent…going it alone…sailing the seas of creativity and entrepreneurship. Like me in many ways. But with better underwear. Yes indeedy, inspiring people in an inspiring place. I came over all giddy. So much so that I actually ended up buying things from the place. Flexing the old plastic. Now, this is a dangerous practice for me. The flabby muscle of rampant consumerism was beginning to twitch. I was only saved from purchasing a new coat by the fact that I was about to wet my pants (excessive caffeine) and that my parking ticket was about to run out. And we all know how evil, twisted and jobsworth those West Yorkshire Parking Attendents are…

Modern day Harvey's.  Perhaps the only store in the UK that could make me blog about it. Without any brown envelope exchanges or cash for question deals...

Modern day Harvey’s. Perhaps the only store in the UK that could make me blog about it. Without any brown envelope exchanges or cash for question deals…

Driving back towards homeland, I realised that I needed to break this new buzz of mine. All recovering addicts know that if you feel a new, heady vibe – you had better get back on the waggon – quick.  Try a spot of ‘what used to work.’

So tune in for Part Two (“Breaking the Addiction – with thanks to a local charity shop. And the consumer demands of my budgie.”)

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Gym Bobbins

31 Oct

Over the years I’ve been a member of your UK swanky city-centre female-0nly places; your corporate-shop ‘love your boss – love your gym!’ deals. And plenty of East Mancunian Spit n’ Sawdust in-betweeners.

So I think that I do know my moolah’s worth – and that I’m good at judging the overall social-aggregate, when it comes to fellow gym-goers.

I know for a fact that I don’t want to be around the sort of folk who invest more in their lycra than in their love of fellow man. Or who think that they’re a cut above the rest of us.

So, I go to a friendly gym.  A proper, not up-itself gym. A place where a man some thirty years older than me will lend me a book because ‘”it’s like the sort of thing you were reading on the cross-treader here the other week. I think it’s a bit bobbins, like. But you might fancy it.”  A place where a woman will hand me a donation for the “charity thing that you’re doing with the African kids. Overheard you talking about it in the dressing rooms.” A gym where another fella will hand us a DVD (“Oh no, love – it’s not dodgy or ‘owt! But make sure that you check it first before the kiddies watch it won’t yer?  ‘Cause I can’t always guarantee that ‘Tinkerbell Two’ won’t turn out to be something that sounds a bit similar to the Disney version…but in’t…”)

And we’re an incredibly fit bunch because we manage to work out AND have a good gas at the same time (last week we covered – politics, religion, breakfast cereals, rat infestation, Manchester City, cruise control, salsa dancing, “smack the little buggers or not”, ‘the bin men’ and The Welsh.)

But this week I happened to overhear a conversation between three of the bigger, scarier looking fellas.  It went like this:

Man 1: Did you see that rainbow yesterday afternoon? Did you SEE it?

Sunset over Holme Moss. Be-yowtiful.

Sunset over Holme Moss. Be-yowtiful.

Man 2: Aye I did. It were be-yowtiful        [NB ***this is how ‘beautiful’ is pronounced in west yorkshire***]

Man 3: Yeah – about three o’ clock? It were stunning. Utterly stunnin, it were.

Man 1: It were like…. like one of those moments for me – like where you stop and catch yer breath and go ‘Eee – bloody ‘ell – I’ll have some more o’ that, I will.

Man 2: An I’ll tell you what else. Same afternoon – bit later – I were coming over the top of Holme Moss in the van and there were this light like – like shafts of light just peepin’ through the clouds down onto Holmfirth. Just as I turned the corner at the top. It were like… angel light. You know what I mean?

Man 3: Yeah – I know what you mean. Like – you just catch it at the right moment up there and it sorta dapples through.  Like little pockets of angel light or whatever you wanna call it – your little rays just pickin’ out the dark and the light in the landscape. And all o’ that.

Man 2: I know. It were that bad – well – it were that good. That I had to pull the van over and me eyes were just…transfixed. The light had this sort of almost greenish hue to it. You know like when your bronze … sort of…glows like that?

Small boy on Holme Moss. If this little chap turns out to be half as smashing as the Yorkshire blokes at the gym - it'll be 'Job's A Good 'Un'...

Small boy on Holme Moss. If this little chap turns out to be half as smashing as the Yorkshire blokes at the gym – it’ll be ‘Job’s A Good ‘Un’…

Man 1: Oh aye, I know what you mean.  When it’s like that – you think – well. Get me a pen and a bit of paper and I’m gonna write us a poem. Ha!

Man 2: Oh aye. I don’t mind tellin’ you. I cried I did.  In the van. Lookin’ at it all. I cried.

Man 1: Did yer?

Man 3: Yeah, I did. An’ the last time I cried was when I were watchin’ that ‘Britain’s Bravest Kids.’ I don’t cry often, me.

Man 1: Aye. I know what you mean, though. Be-yowtiful.

At this point, I do confess that I was wondering what precisely the gym owner had been injecting into the bottles of energy drinks on sale…

But all became a little bit clearer as I passed the guys (still waxing lyrical about the shafts of autumnal light across the peak district) and headed towards the exit doors.   “Here Chris!” said the receptionist. “If you’ve been looking for that Writing Magazine of yours – it’s been in the magazine rack all week.  You left it behind again. Take it home with you before they all start thinking that we’re gonna cancel the subscription to ‘Top Gear’ magazine…”

 

A magazine what'll up yer use of adjectives. Innit. Plus a pair of stinky old trainers.

A magazine what’ll up yer use of adjectives. Innit. Plus a pair of stinky old trainers.

_______________________________

Postscript:

I was especially relieved to have this magazine returning to me as bless ’em – the good folk at Writing Mag printed a letter from me in this (November 2014) edition. Copied below for those of you who are curious about as to why I get all hot and bothered about self-publishing versus traditional publishing etc…

DEAR WRITING MAGAZINE:

Leah Osbourne was appalled that literary agent Johnny Geller wouldnt view her as a serious writer – that she is more of a ‘hobbyist’ – because she is a stay at home mum and writes (like a devil!) between her other family commitments.

Virginia Woolf is a great point of reference of course – on being ‘the home maker’ and also being a writer. And I am with her all of the way when it comes to women and writing and childcare and ‘the home’ … And how women have been unable to be taken seriously as writers (especially ‘for income gain.’)
But I also have many male writer pals who would be as equally horrified at this demarcation between ‘professional’ and ‘amateur’ as Leah is.  Blokes who are damned good writers and who through circumstance are tied up with care for children, elderly parents, maybe even a full time job. A medical issue.

So even today (as any Marxist would chirply tell you!) the issue of who can afford to be *perceived by the powers that be as PROFESSIONAL’* versus the hobbyists … nearly always comes down to income. Or class. Or your ‘connections’ (not what you know…etc)

Some woman from Yorkshire. On a revolutionary rant.  Yawn. Pass the Pimm's,  Penelope!

Some woman from Yorkshire. On a revolutionary rant about writers having to doff their caps to the likes of us! Yawn. Pass the Pimm’s, Penelope!

What’s the answer? Well. We are living in writing-revolutionary times. For those who feel powerless – that the Big Guys are impossible to impress, to break into as a writer….Stop trying to doff your caps at them.  Go the self-publish route. Show them that you are serious about your art. And yeah this *does* mean  planning and pitching your work with the utmost professionalism. If writing a book for example, you absolutely can NOT afford to skimp on the professional editing. Don’t forget that indie publishing can be a two way process. You might well do a selfie and make a few bob yourself. But then pull in the agent or publisher who has stumbled across you via your indie status. As opposed to the desperado slush pile application.

Once you have been able to prove that you are ‘out there’ yourself …well. Then it’s totally up to *YOU* whether your writing is a ‘hobby’ or not.

As for biggie publisher and agent; Philip Pullman himself put it beautifully in the October edition of WM – “the market doesn’t know what it wants, until it sees what you’ve got!”

And I do have much sympathy with Johnny Gellar too. He is simply looking for guys n gals who can cut the mustard and deliver the goods. It is a scary new world for the agents and the publishing houses. We cannot blame them for wanting a simple way to sort the wheat from the chaff. The onus is on us lot to lead them to a new market – as opposed to one that reacts to their perceived ‘demands.’
Chris L Longden, Hudds
(Mind Games & Ministers – www.funnylass.wordpress.com)