glitzfrau: (lowry)
From about 4.00, [livejournal.com profile] biascut was getting a bit agitated on Facebook worrying about the rumours on Twitter. This struck me as a little too much social media fussing, so when she came home at five, I told her to stop being silly and to go out to her pottery class in the leafy suburbs. Sure if she would be safe anywhere, it would be in posh Chorlton! I sent her on her way, and decided to finish up work in favour of going to Boots for medicine for a very minor complaint. It's ten minutes' walk into the city centre from the houseen, and once I had crossed the boundary into the shopping area, the streets were thrumming with riot police. Glitzy Cathedral Street was filled with nervy teenagers and shoppers; all the high-end shops were shut up, apart from that palace of classiness, the UGG shop, smashed in and looted. Walking on, M&S had a smashed window, JB Sports was boarding itself up, and Boots was shut. Everything was shut. Well, shite. Home for me, dinner and more work.

Except as I came in, [livejournal.com profile] biascut came in too. She'd gone to meet her pottery chum @maerk for their ritual burrito-before-pottery at Piccadilly Gardens, locked up her bike, come out to find it turned upside down and the frame dented. Also, the busses to the leafy suburbs were cancelled. So that was that, and she was a little rattled. My father's hotel was on Piccadilly, and I started ringing him to no avail; probably, I consoled myself, he was in a lecture theatre, blissfully unaware of events.

The rest of the night was mostly Twitter, really, and trying to ring my father. I rang my mother in Dublin, who was maddeningly unconcerned, and said, 'Maybe your father is holed up in the university with a gun poking out of the castellated turrets!' Twitter told me Miss Selfridge was up in flames; the Arndale was broken into; Affleck's, the alternative market, was being looted; the shops under Brideshead Revisited's flat being looted (he was fine, but holed up in some alarm); Oxfam was being trashed; the police were chasing gangs of gurriers. Around eleven, I finally got through to my father, who had been at dinner in town only a few metres from the BBC's live riot cam.

'Do you want to come here, Daddy?' I asked, worried. 'It's quiet here, and I know it's hairy in Piccadilly'. 'Oh no, not after the Arndale!' he said. 'It's safer here... erm... there's a crowd of rioters running down the street outside my window... I've never seen so many... they must be organised... oh, there's riot police chasing them down the street... and now they're being encircled against my hotel...'

'Eek, you stay put!' I said, 'we're safe here at least... erm... is that smoke I smell? Oh look, a huge plume of smoke outside my bedroom window... erm... maybe I'd best investigate that'.

Damage done: a rather handsome but derelict Victorian pub set on fire at the edge of our estate, all the streets filled with smoke. I'm about to walk down Piccadilly to get the train, so that will be a little heartbreaking. My mother was supposed to come to Manchester tonight till Saturday, but she's not going to come now; the plan was to shop, and what's the point in that now?

In London, marginalised black people turned on their own areas in a horrifying exhibition of rage and nihilism. Here in Manchester, white kids came in from the suburbs to loot Armani and Ugg. Teenagers testing boundaries, as teenagers do, and going that little bit further than underage drinking in underpasses and smash-and-grab raids on parked cars. It didn't take these riots to tell me that there's an enormous amount of social deprivation and exclusion in Greater Manchester, sure there always has been, since the industrial revolution. Yes, UK society needs changing, and my friend English Thomas optimistically hopes that these events will unmask the bankruptcy of aristocratic rule, but the riots tell us nothing other than that teenagers running riot can go way too far. Shite.

I had grown so proud of the handsome fabric of Manchester and the ambitious building projects that even now, in the thick of the recession, were springing up everywhere around my house. I can only hope that the vandalism acts as a catalyst for renewal, like the IRA bomb. And the worst of it was thinking of my elderly nervy father, alone in his glass tower in the heart of the violence, and me unable to help him one bit other than being on the other end of the phone. Awful. I wonder if my parents will ever come back.
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We live right on the edge of glitzy New Labour Manchester, here. Five minutes to the south, Harvey Nicks, the Gomorrah that is the Printworks, Selfridges and the cathedral; five minutes to the north, Strangeways and a mass of rag-trade warehouses, empty parking lots with forbidding barbed wire surrounding it and armoured loudspeakers that bark 'Caution! Car thieves operate in this area!'. It baffles me, coming as I do from Dublin, where the inner city dissolves into tightly-packed working class villages, then redbrick villages, the suburbs and finally the industrial wasteland, three to ten miles out. Out of my window, which is situated on the very edge of the inner city, I should be looking down on a lively working class district like Leonard's Corner or Inchicore, not on... nothingness. It baffles me.

One time, driving into the city through the wasteland, I saw a sign for the Manchester Jewish Museum, and this grey moody Sunday I decided to visit. It's in the old Sephardic synagogue, ten minutes' walk north from here; full of relics of a lively Jewish community, complete, in that very British twentieth century fashion, with a flurry of self-improving organisations: schools, charitable organisations, amateur dramatic societies, working men's clubs, all the trappings of a lost community life.

But Jewish Manchester hasn't gone. I am sadly used to wandering around the Scheunenviertel in Berlin and its equivalents in other European cities, stumbling over the Stolpersteine and realising the extent of the lives and communities destroyed by the Nazis. Manchester, though, is still one of the Jewish cultural centres of Britain. So why was this area - Red Bank and Strangeways, as it is properly called - so devastated, so triste and empty where once it was full of working-class Eastern European Ashkenazis, Sephardic lords of industry and Gentile Mancunians besides? The guide at the museum explained that it had been designated a light industrial zone after the war, so the dwellings were pulled down.

"Didn't the Jewish community feel attacked?" I asked, the forced resettlements and ethnic cleansings of Europe on my mind. "Oh no," she said breezily, "people were upwardly mobile, and most of them had moved to the leafy suburbs already." The same story, then, as with Dublin's Little Jerusalem, full of Ostjuden in 1900 who had mostly become middle-class and moved to Terenure and similarly salubrious pastures by 1930. No tragic tale, then, just... rezoning. But Little Jerusalem is still an immigrant district, boasting Ireland's first mosque, full of halal southern fried chicken shops and callshops and African hairdressers. One set of immigrants moves up in society, another moves in; it's the multi-cultural urban dream, right? And the energetic clash of cultures and influx of new citizens keeps areas alive? Whereas this utter abandonment of a district within ten minutes' walk of the city centre to shabby warehousing, import-export businesses and decaying surface carpark is baffling to me.

Armed with a map of the old Jewish Quarter, I wandered around the district, and realised that it's not dead at all. There's the Sikh temple, for one thing, and the erstwhile Red Bank is now brimming with independent businesses - car hire or storage warehouses, but mostly the rag trade, with Asian names and hard-nosed discounts on the signs stacked up on the frontages of a wild array of disreputable buildings. These range from corrugated iron shacks, brave 1990s one-story brick buildings to mouldering palaces of industry of indeterminate age. And among them are the lost Jewish buildings: that is, those that remain and haven't been used and re-used until they've been condemned and replaced. I'm still bewildered by the mentality that sternly deems the area for industry only, not for dwellings or heritage or art or leisure, but that's the learning experience of emigration for you. Andere Länder, andere Sitten. And hey, there's always the inexorable onward march of buy-to-let apartmentland to revive the area, right?

traces )

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September 2012

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