Tag Archives: Manchester

The Vatican of Battered Books

Our favourite book stores series reaches ‘the Venice of the North’ as John Maguire finds treasure gleaming under the grey Mancunian skies…

Window designs for high street stores are generally clinically prescribed to the last detail. The retail Stepford mantra being retail is detail, retail is detail.

During my time managing a book store in the smog that is London (a chain that later went bankrupt); I was constantly up against the Universality of Bland.

One example of my battles with the fat men in retail, landed me with a verbal disciplinary for my inventive window homage to The Book of Bunny Suicides: Little Fluffy Rabbits Who Just Don’t Want to Live Any More (2003),  black comedy cartoons drawn by author Andy Riley.

bunny suicidesYet, when the book sold copious amounts, funny nothing else was said. The EXEMPLARY display was used in the end of year annual presentation, as a model of best practice. Irony with a capital I!

Another time, I was forced to get rid of the CLASSICS section to be replaced by BRATZ top trumps. A sorry affair! However, my anarchic streak kicked in; the punters of the store signed a petition that, of course they had decided to set up themselves. I mean, the General Manager would never have the audacity to perform such a ‘thought crime’, to indeed rage against the machine; biting the corporate hand that fed him, now would he? Anyhow, enough back story!

So present day: when I came up to the window of PARAMOUNT BOOKS, on a charcoal grey Saturday morning in Manchester, a smile did instantaneously plaster across my face. It was I believe bordering on Heath Ledger’s Joker. The glass plastered with an Aladdin’s cave of temptations.

Vintage BOXING WEEKLY, a DR WHO surplus of literary memorabilia, European literature, Old JUDY and DANDY comics and an entire BRUCE LEE magazine collection, ‘unread’ and ‘untouched’ since publication in 1977.

paramount books

A frame of originality!  A stark contrast to the generic high street windows, trying to be bang on trend. Stepping inside the store, classical music flooded the space and the question was simple,

Where do I begin?

The other retail mantra, eye line is the buy line is not the motto here, everywhere you look there are distractions: a cellophane-clad copy of Ian Fleming’s, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME, a haphazardly stacked  pile of NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, pulp horror and a scattering of books that makes up the poetry section, also to add to the charm there is a basket of fruit comprising bananas and garlic. A spell-binding cave that you could actually lose whole years, not just hours in.

I was delighted to find an autobiography by Dirk Bogarde. My appreciation for this phenomenal actor began when I caught a screening of VICTIM at Fact, Liverpool and was accentuated to another level when I saw the movie, THE NIGHT CALLER. I also didn’t mind the film adaptation of DEATH IN VENICE. I particularly loved this book, as I read it in Venice and for a fleeting moment I was momentarily back there on the Lido di Venezia.


This is what PARAMOUNT BOOKS does to you, it’s like the whole experience starts the monkey mind swinging from tree to tree, re-visiting memories and thinking about the past, the now and a feel of optimism for the future.

This kind of place exudes something that can only be labelled as magic. A good friend of mine tipped me off to it and it is this type of personal recommendation that keeps little hidden treasures like this haven being re-discovered.

For those who have not yet visited, I am envious because I guarantee you will recall your first time. It is I think the Vatican of Cool.


Filed under The Golden Country

Hints of Spring

Wandering around Tokyo over the last day or two and the weather has definitely felt a little warmer, not that we are breaking out the flip-flops just yet, but if you have to take off a mitten for a minute to get some change out of your pocket you don’t instantly feel the digits drain of blood, which is encouraging.  (Cue snowfall brought about by this post!)

Recently one of my students mentioned a poem by Shelley which she told me was very popular in Japan, and which ends with the words:

If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?

She told me it was also encouraging, because however much you feel as if you are in the depths of a Narnian endless Winter, the longer it goes on for, the closer you must be getting to Spring.

And bearing all that in mind, I was further encouraged when I looked into the poem, Ode to the West Wind, a little more (ok, looked it up on Wikipedia!) and read that it was written by Shelley in 1819, not long after the Peterloo Massacre.  The Spring he is anticipating is not only the temporal one, but also an awakening to reform and revolution, with the wind bringing a message of change as it travels.

So it is with a fervent hope that the events of this weekend can see a wind of change reach us all, along with the warmer summer breezes we have missed out on over the last couple of months.  And if that is not a perfect excuse to link to the following video, I don’t know what is.

Enjoy the weekend!


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Hate your job?

Hate your job?  Trying to use that hatred as fuel to propel yourself closer to where you know you should be?  Then you need to read Max Dunbar on The Two, The Five.  Expertly coalescing all those random thoughts you have on the commute to work into one glorious paean to why you should get the hell out of there.

The last line alone should have you running for the door, throwing your coat over your shoulders.  There has to be more to life, if you aren’t too crushed to discover what that could be.


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Alas, no time for a long post today, as I have to keep my ire in check for screaming at Lucas later. In the meantime, let’s all gather together to enjoy this:

The sending-off changed the game, no doubt about that. They would have never won if we had 11 men. They got him sent off — typical Germans.

They surrounded the ref and got him sent off. I thought they were typical professionals in the way they saw the opportunity and forced the referee. The ref wasn’t going to do anything but they forced him to get a card out. But we’ve seen that before from teams like that.


Poor old Fergie.
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Lark Pies to Cranchesterford

It has almost become a new blood sport to bait the BBC for its perceived failings. Left and right, Christian and atheist, lovers of Terry Wogan and those of Chris Evans, it seems hardly anyone is content with the organisation we were once happy to call ‘Auntie’.

And ten minutes hate is no different. Except that, being particularly sensitive to historical revisionism, I count expunging the records of some of this country’s most radical writers to be amongst the Beeb’s greatest misdeeds. Half-comatose on the sofa this Yuletide, unable to muster even the energy required to battle with an Aged Relative for the remote control, it was my misfortune to watch some truly insipid programming. My disappointment was made much the greater because of a betrayal of works which should leap as boldly from the screen as they did from the page before they had the choice meats of their stories reduced to a spam sandwich of an adaptation.

"Miss Matty, I'd like time off on Sundays and the right to vote, ta very much." "The impudence! I'll have you shot!"

At first glance, Cranford and Lark Rise to Candleford would not, I am sure, strike you as being hot-beds of radical thought. In fact, I am certain that you saw them in the schedules and thought ‘oh no, another bloody historical drama of no significance to me in my 21st century battle to keep the wolf from the door, the central heating bills paid and the snow from blocking the driveway’. But you would be wrong, dear reader, you would be very wrong.

The writer of Cranford, Elizabeth Gaskell, was no romance writer. She counted amongst her friends some of the most important thinkers of her day and was herself no slouch in the brains department. Her books were not set in some sleepy, picturesque hamlet but in the North West of England, at that time the crucible of the Industrial Revolution, home to ‘dark, satanic mills’ and the people who manned the machinery within them. She was no passive observer of the rich-poor divide but passionate in her support for education and other means to bridge that gap and outspoken in her fears for the future if it was not reduced.

John Barton, trade unionist and Chartist father of Mary, is a typical Gaskell character; mourning his wife and son he first forbids his daughter from working in a factory and is eventually reduced to extreme action by the poverty and inequality surrounding him. Barbara Cartland territory, it ain’t. Instead her tales are firmly rooted in the city where troops once fired on peaceful protesters, where a local girl founded the first Suffragette society and where conditions prompted two Germans to write books that would change the course of history.

Because, before it gave us evil football franchises and the near-nightly hysteria of Corrie:

Manchester changed the world’s politics: from vegetarianism to feminism to trade unionism to communism, every upstart notion that ever got ideas above its station… was fostered brawling in Manchester’s streets, mills, pubs, churches and debating halls

That eulogy from ‘Pies and Prejudice’, Stuart Maconie’s excellent tribute to all things Northern.

Admittedly, Cranford is set a little distance away from the belch and smoke of the factories and mills, but not too far: it is based on Knutsford in Cheshire, where Gaskell grew up. Cranford is an adept skewering of the attitudes of those who are not as close to the top of society as they would like to be and just a few slips or financial missteps away from the bottom. The ladies of Cranford would sooner die than admit to poverty and work hard at maintaining their values of ‘elegant economy’. However, to think of them as the idle rich would be a mistake. The mills of ‘Drumble’, the Manchester stand-in, loom on the horizon ‘distant but only twenty miles on a railroad’.

By contrast, although Flora Thompson, writer of Lark Rise to Candleford, did set her stories in a sleepy, picturesque hamlet, she was no writer of cosy, bucolic romances either. Writing from a perspective of 40 years after the events she was recording allowed her tales to demonstrate the seismic changes to a rural life previously anchored by the same seasonal events throughout generations. Mechanisation, better communication and urban expansion were to alter the countryside of Thompson’s childhood beyond the imagining of most of its inhabitants.

These changes were faithfully recorded and the stories shaped by Thompson’s background because, unlike many of the rural chroniclers, she was a member of the working class. Her father was a labourer in possession of thwarted dreams of becoming a sculptor and an interest in radical politics which occasionally made him unpopular with the neighbours. Some of her first stories and poems were printed in the socialist Daily Citizen. Instead of going off into service like so many of her peers, she began working for the local postmistress, a career woman with some daring ideas by the standards of the time, who would lend the young Flora ‘On the Origin of Species’ by that other higher thinker, Darwin.

For the characters of these two unconventional writers to be reduced to bonnets, forelock-tugging and ‘yes ma’am’-ing for a sleepy, Sunday audience is a travesty. The firebrands on the page are now simple creatures, homespun and happy with their allotted status in life. Perhaps the powers-that-be are hoping that a little of it will rub off on any potential modern day troublemakers? The nineteenth century saw a deluge of ideas in politics, science and literature alongside improvements in education, health and living standards. Ordinary people fought for, and gained, lasting social reforms that we enjoy the benefit of today, perhaps less valued as we don’t recall the manner of their winning. It is a shame and we are left all the poorer for this two dimensional view of life in that vibrant and radical time.

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Manchester views

A couple of pictures I took, when strolling around…
Channel M's Big Wheel

Channel M's Big Wheel

Channel M have a huge ferris wheel in town, by the Arndale centre.  They also used to have a music channel broadcasting local bands, but that unfortunately closed in May.  The story is here, and echoes a conversation we had on Thursday night after Kraftwerk about how Manchester’s musical past too often overshadows its future.  Everyone knows the legends, but who’s creating the new ones?

The Beetham Tower, looking moody

The Beetham Tower, looking moody

There have been a few changes to Manchester since I was last here.  It seems like every spare bit of land has its own block of luxury new build flats, at prices a Londoner could only dream of but alas, mostly empty.  The Beetham Tower is a hotel and apartment building with a bar at the top offering superb views of all the rain clouds (only messing, Mancunians!) and is home to Phil and Gary Neville, among others.  Although I took this picture from some distance away, so it looks like the entrance to Argos is the same size, the Tower dwarfs everything near it.  I like it and would love to see the views from the top, but I can’t help thinking it looks lonely and needs some skyscraper mates to hang out with!

Manchester in July

Manchester in July

This is really unfair, because it has been blazing hot sunshine most of the weekend, but hey, it wouldn’t be Manchester without the odd lashing rain storm, would it?

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We are the Robots

Kraftwerk at the Velodrome, Manchester

Kraftwerk at the Velodrome, Manchester

To Manchester!  The city sweltered in the unaccustomed sunshine, as the Manchester International Festival opened in style with Kraftwerk at the Velodrome.  The ‘living legends and globally revered innovators of techno pop’ (as noted in the programme) are also cyclist enthusiasts, so when we arrived to find the stage and standing section in the centre of the track, speculation mounted as to how they might use this unique space to full effect.  Sadly, they didn’t arrive at the venue on bikes as they have done in the past, but announced their arrival on stage with a boom from the speakers and a backlit projection of the familiar four figures onto the curtains drawn around it.  These then swept back as they launched into ‘Man Machine’.  The crowd, as you might expect, went wild. 

As ‘Tour De France’ began, all eyes began scanning the track, excited shouts going up at the arrival of four cyclists.  Ralf Hutter announced Team GB, with a wry aside to point out that their trainer is German.  The music was perfectly accompanied by black and white film of Tour cyclists toiling towards the crest of a lofty Alp and the gold-medal winners hurtling around the track.  The song ended to a wistful promise ‘next time we will bring our bikes’.

The rest of the set list took in ‘Trans Europe Express’, ‘Model’ and ‘Autobahn’, sounding at the same time retro and yet still fresh.  Then the curtains closed again before reopening for this:

We are the Robots

We are the Robots

Newer songs ‘Radio Activity’ and ‘Vitamin’ heralded the return of the human variants and a 3D extravaganza, all of us sporting the glasses like a 1950s B-movie audience.  As promised, it was a two-hour set, almost to the second but displaying a human and playful side to the men, alongside the ruthless efficiency of the machines.  Kraftwerk have influenced so many acts across all genres that seeing them live gives you the chance to hear the source material of all the music you have ever loved.  And you get to hear it played bloody loud on a great sound system while you dance like a madman.  The best kind of history lesson there is, I’d say.

To declare an interest, as I drank a fair bit of their champagne last night I feel duty bound to mention the utter aceness of the festival programme, which you can find here.  If I had a season ticket on Virgin Trains, I’d be back for the Durruti Column’s Paean to Wilson, Elbow and the Halle, Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed, perhaps also taking in Rufus Wainwright’s Prima Donna.  The weather has returned to predictable Mancunian inclemency today, but I’m sure that won’t spoil the party!

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It Felt Like a Kiss

I’ll be in Manchester this weekend, at the Kraftwerk gig (just had to mention… sorry!)

Now I’m also hoping I’ll be able to get tickets for ‘It Felt Like a Kiss’, a show put together by film maker Adam Curtis and theatre group Punchdrunk from rare archive footage.  There’s a taster available here and from the interview with Mr Curtis it sounds worth a look:

My aim was to try and find a more involving and emotional way of doing political journalism on TV.  I decided to make a film about something that has always fascinated me – how power really works in the world. To show that power is exercised not just through politics and diplomacy – but flows through our feelings and emotions, and shapes the way we think of ourselves and the world.

His film the Power of Nightmares looked at the way politicians create and then play on our fears to increase their power over us.  There’s an interview about it here, but in case you didn’t see it, the gist was that, like advertising which shocks you with a problem you never knew you had and then seeks to sell you the solution, politicians create bogeymen and then try to convince us that they are the only people with the power to save us from them.

The new one promises to include a look at America’s rise through the 50s and 60s, with pop, TV and film, and then show the darker side of the American Dream.  If I can beg, borrow or steal a ticket, I’ll report back next week…

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I had this perfect dream

Camp Nou Match Night

Camp Nou Match Night

The club of the people v the evil hordes from Castle Greyskull?

In the end, only one team turned up to try to win the game.  I thought that the Mancs seemed to have a sense of entitlement, as if it was theirs for the taking: ‘Barcelona were a bit lucky to be there’, said Cristiano Ronaldo afterwards, whereas I would have said that, after the yawnfest of last year’s final (John Terry’s slip being one of the few stand out moments for the ‘neutral’ who was hoping both sides could somehow contrive to lose) it was us who were lucky to have the Catalans there.

They were a joy to watch.  Messi had been given top billing before the game, but it was Iniesta who, to my mind, shone brighter than his team mate.  Alongside Xavi he bossed the midfield, keeping possession in the acres of space allowed to him by the United players.  Given their history it was difficult to write them off even at two goals down, so when Ronaldo had a cast iron chance all I could think was ‘here they go, back in it, the undeserving bastards’ but no, he fluffed his shot and the good guys came through to lift the trophy.

And make no mistake, although football tries very hard to be unloveable these days, Barca are the good guys.  From turning down untold millions offered by potential shirt sponsors in order to give away the space to Unicef, to acting as a rallying point for Catalonia during the darkest days of the region’s history, when attempts were made to supress the language and culture, to refusing to compromise on the silkiness of their pass and move game in favour of something more direct, Barcelona is definitely ‘more than a club’.

Truly, today, football was beautiful.


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