Tag Archives: Stalybridge

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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The Book Has Left The Building…

5 Mar

It’s finally up there for people to buy.  My first fiction book. You can find it on Amazon here.

I allowed myself a small, self-indulgent moment when the first dribblings of tweets and publicity trails arrived.

I felt good about the fact that I’m honestly not out to make money from this book. It’s always been  about the process of creation for me. About the fact that I finally listened to my inner voice …. that I simply had a story that I wanted to tell and to share with others.

I smiled and I pondered as I looked out upon our beautiful valley here. It really has been a mammoth task – but so satisfying and so uplifting an experience.

So, I got ready to go out, to meet my fellow writers and to bask in the warm glow of their support and artistic inspiration.

And then my husband said; “I hope you’re not going out like that. The budgie shat in your hair and you never even noticed.”

Mind Games & Ministers by Chris L Longden (now available at Amazon and soon to be on all of the others of course...)

Mind Games & Ministers by Chris L Longden (now available at Amazon and soon to be on all of the others of course…)

Laugh? I was choked (or was I nearly strangled?)

22 Jun
Calm waters at Skipton...until it all went horribly wrong.

Calm waters at Skipton…until it all went horribly wrong.

Scene: Driving around Skipton, Yorkshire – trying to find a parking space. Radio 4 blaring out. We are discussing ‘those pics’ of Nigella Lawson and Charles Saatchi.

Him: Well, they say of course, that Nick Clegg gave a really unprofessional answer. Regardless of the truth of those photos. He shouldn’t have attempted to answer it at all. He’s a senior statesman and should have known better.

Me: Yeah. I would have said – hang on a minute… if you go to Morrisons we can park there for a couple of hours – I would have said, ‘I can’t really comment on this particular situation and I don’t think it’s fair to the people involved and….’

Him: Oh crap! I’ve just taken a wrong turn.

Me: No – no, don’t turn around…if you go down this way you’ll get stuck in the traffic…turn around – go on!

Him: No – I can’t. Oh sod. Hang on, I’ll go the other way.

Me: (back on subject) Yes – it is pretty weird that Nick Clegg tried to go down the path of giving people his overall opinion on domestic violence. And anyway. Why do we call it ‘domestic violence’ if it’s going on in public? That’s just bloody daft that is…Hey! You’ve made the wrong turning again! Honestly! How many times have we been to Skipton? You’re bloody’ useless at directions aren’t you? My dad was right….you’re like a…

Him: (interrupts me) Nyeh Nyeh Nyeh…. (with his best ‘stop nagging me’ voice)

Me: But also and just turn down this road here ’cause that’s the best way to Morrisons – I mean, also if you DID see someone slapping someone else about in public, then surely you would have intervened? Surely people in the restaurant would have commented amongst themselves and someone would have gotten to the newspapers or….here we go. There’s a space just over there.

Him: Well. You’d hope so. But this was Top Notch London wasn’t it? This was Another World away from the likes of you and me…

Me: (correcting him) You and I. And apart from all of that, surely Nick Clegg should have said that it was just … Well. Just Well Chavvy behaviour! I mean – knocking your other half around in public? In the Well Posh Side of London! I mean – those Rich People Of The Establishment sorts should be setting an example for the rest of us plebs….

Him: Sorry but you’re assuming the story that the media are spinning out here…Is this a One Way Street?

Me: No – there would be big blue signs if it was a One Way Street. And – anyway – For God’s sake! The woman looked scared! I don’t care HOW much dosh her parents had, how bloody loaded she is… and how much her husbands has – she looked well upset!

Him: Yeah, fair enough. But photos tell a different story sometimes. Those Charles and Di photos in the Guardian denied that they were about to split up….it was all ‘oh this is just how the media depicts the photos in the tabloids and they are well happy together…’ Oh shit – is this a new mini roundabout?

Me: Yes. You’ve driven here before. What’s the matter with you? We’ve parked here a million times before!

Him: I don’t know. It’s weird when the kids aren’t in the back and killing each other. I’ve lost all normal reference points Is this road next to the canal then? Anyway. All’s I’m not disagreeing with you. It’s a bit tragic. It’s like The Establishment can’t even comfortably talk about abuse – physical abuse or whatever we’re calling it these days.

Me: Well, I’m with you on that one. Just goes to show you how the whole story changes when the affluent are involved….

Him: Yeah. I reckon they’d all be okay to talk about it and have a smooth and really articulate opinion on it if it had happened in your Stalybridge Bismallah on a Saturday night. But not at some posh restaurant amongst the pig-sick rich in Chelsea….

Me: Look, just pack it in being rude about Stalybridge will you? You’ve got room to talk – you’re from Birmingham! And turn LEFT! For God’s Sake!! Turn Left!! What’s the matter with you?!

(We park up in Morrisons’ car park)

Me: Bloody here at last! The car park ticket machine is over there. Do you think you can find your way to it ok without getting lost?

Him: AARGHHHH! I CAN’T COPE WITH THIS ANYMORE!! (lurches over to me and grabs me by the throat – pretending to strangle me.)

Me: EEEEEK!!

(there is a knock at the window. He stops throttling me and winds the window down)

Man Outside: Er…just saw you pull up and wondered if you wanted my car park ticket. Doesn’t expire for a couple of hours y’see…

Him: Oh. Yes. Thanks. That would be really nice. Thanks!

Me: Awwww… That’s lovely of you! Thanks so much! That’s really sweet!

(Man leaves.)

Him: Wow. Just goes to show you…..that bloke didn’t bat an eyelid at us having a massive domestic!

Me: He just felt sorry for you because you’re crap at directions. And anyway. You can’t have a ‘domestic’ in a Fiat Panda. There isn’t the room.
****************
* Note to reader – Of course, we then nearly wet our respective car seats with laughter. Huge irony and Huge Silliness. But as always…. an important point.

As a person who works alongside people who have suffered terribly as a result of violence in the home – this little sketch by no means wants to make light of the whole issue. Rather, it aims to emphasise the ‘Niceness’ – that infamous ‘Politeness’ of the British…

1. Was the Oh-So Nice man who wanted to give us free parking really ignoring the fact that he had seen some kind of bizarre ‘throttling/choking’ motion upon a wee blonde lady in the passenger seat? Was he simply Far Too Polite To Comment?

2. Or was he a Nick Griffin Sort? (Ha-ha – throttling your wife is So Hillarious!)

3. Or was he ‘fast’ enough to see that we were Having a Larf?

Looking back on the entire Skit / Reality Dialogue – Option number 1 worries me the most. Yes I was laughing (me and the other half both were.) It was bizarre, surreal in the extreme. But both of us were left wondering this…

At what point do ANY of us feel comfortable with saying to a total stranger who seems to be involved in some kind of assault or even crazy-wrestle – ‘Hey- all okay there?’…

Dragons with Heart and Ethics

7 Aug

We have less money, more freedom, crapper clothes...But more friends. Probably.

Many of our friends and business/ charitable contacts know that myself and ‘that Ian’ have set up some very ground-breaking social enterprises. Stuff that has captured a hell of a lot of attention from around the world – i.e.  www.oromocoffee.org http://www.lyf.org.uk/programmes/ ….We have set this kind of thing up on zero funding – just a shoestring and calling in favours from people.  But the thrust of everything that we do has been about supporting developing countries to create sustainable livelihoods – whilst at the same time giving communities from disadvantaged areas in the UK the knowledge and experience to utilise their entrepreneurial talents.

We don’t really ‘do’ TV promo. We tend not to work with successful entrepreneurs who want to get their name ‘out there’.   But we DO like to watch Dragon’s Den and rant (at the Dragons) for being so bloody money and profit minded. For being so non-community and non-global-good obsessed. My own personal, frothing at the mouth moment was when Monsieur Theo ticked off an entrepreneur and creater of the You Doo doll (Sarah Lu) for using her Auntie to stitch the dolls (as opposed to outsourcing to the Far East). Silly girl!! I t would have added an enormous profit percentage for her if only she had exploited the desperately poor of the world in this way….

(Sheesh Theo! You might have snazzy specs and a swanky suit, but how the hell do you sleep at night??)

Us? I’m afraid that we are the entrepreneurs that the BBC doesn’t throw big wads of moolah at in order to draft in the TV viewers in their millions.  We tend to shop at the local hospice charity shops as opposed to Harvey Nicks or some London Fashion House.   Our kids are so used to second hand birthday presents that they complain if they have to unwrap anything that is wrapped in cellophane.  We choose to spend our holidays – sans Nanny –  in  a damp cottage rented off poverty stricken nuns in Whitby – rather than jet round the world, topping up  the carbon footprint nicely every time we draw breath.

Hey, we might be a *tad* self righteous. But at least we’re trying…’

Anyway. I just suggested to Ian that one of us should be the LATEST Dragon.  We mutually choked on our dinners and suggested that our standard line, would sadly have to be;

“I love your idea, I think your business plan is very sound.  I’d love to invest. But I’m poor as buggery. And I’m a bit more into making money for everyone else other than me. Call me an Idiot if you will.  Maybe my kids will hate me when my Last Will and Testament is finally read.  But I imagine that they will be in the slums of Calcutta, washing filthy beggars and being as happy as Larry.  So.  For that reason. I’m out.”

Launch of the OCC - Bishop of Manchester, James Purnell (then Sec of State for Work and Pensions) and members of the Oromo Community in the UK