Monday, March 18, 2013

The Times They Are a-Changing

Northern Quarter or Ancoats?
Yesterday I was in Manchester. I walked from the city centre to my parents' home in Gorton, about three miles. It was a route, up Ashton Old Road, that many of us took home in our younger days after a night pubbing and clubbing. Over thirty years on I found myself growing nostalgic and thoughtful, as well as more knackered than I ever remember being all those years ago on the walk!

The first thing I found in Manchester was the St Patrick's Day parade. I'm afraid my view is that we should have these parades only when the Irish start having St George's Day parades, hopefully never! I find something cheap and tacky about supposedly sane people dressing up as leprechauns and wearing ludicrous Guiness hats. As for the claim to Irishness of people after drinking a pint of Guiness, don't get me started on that one. If you love Ireland so much it's only a short flight or boat crossing away.

So I decided to get out of the way of all these Plastic Paddies and headed to Ancoats. Except Ancoats has now been renamed the 'Northern Quarter'. Northern Quarter? What is it a quarter of? A quarter of the city centre maybe? A quarter of Ancoats? It's a ludicrously pretentious attempt to make parts of Manchester, and other English cities, sound  a little more exotic and continental. Fine in Paris but bloody hell, Manchester? Sorry, no, it's still Ancoats and should always remain Ancoats. It was the heart of industrial Manchester where terraced streets lived in the shadow of great Victorian mills, while not wanting it preserved in aspic, renaming it is cultural barbarianism and an insult to our heritage.

As I headed down Gt Ancoats St., maybe soon to be renamed Northern Quarter Boulevard, I decided to see if a great old pub called the Moulders Arms had survived the recent massacre of the great British pub. But no, not only is it shut but it is now the derelict site you see above. This was the sad story all the way up Ashton Old Road where most of the great old Victorian pubs have either been demolished or turned into white goods superstores or tile warehouses. The Seven Stars, one of my old granddad's many watering holes, seems to be just about surviving, but for how long?

Urban wasteland or Beswick?
I just about remember the old heavy engineering and steel works along the road around Beswick and Openshaw. My Aunty Agnes lived on a terraced street running off the Old Road opposite the works in Openshaw and I remember the hooter  sounding and seeing thousands of men swarming through the gates on push bikes or on foot to hop on one of the old Manchester Corporation buses lined up to take them home. Now there are green spaces on one side with tiny lego type houses and flats while there is still a high wall on the other hiding huge mounds of rubble where the factories used to stand.

Going back in time the greatest shock to those people, long gone, who lived in this part of Manchester when it was thriving would be the demographic change. In the hour or so my nostalgic meander took me I must have passed twenty or thirty people. Not a single one was a native English speaker. The only white people I heard speak were Polish or from some other Eastern European country. I couldn't help wondering what they must make of East Manchester. I know what older people left in East Manchester, who were here fifty or more years ago, think of it in 2013, and it's not very much. At least I could pop into the African and Asian foodstore, another former pub, to stock up on jerk seasoning.

Sunny Gorton
I once heard Billy Connolly telling how, living in Los Angeles, he used to get strong nostalgic longings for the Gorbals where he grew up in Glasgow. Eventually he went back feeling rather emotional but, like East Manchester, he found it had changed. He then had the realisation that what he was pining for was not actually the Gorbals, it was for that period in his life when he lived and grew up there. I know exactly what Billy Connolly meant after my nostalgia filled promenade up Ashton Old Road.


Sean O'Hare said...

I have indulged my feelings of nostalgia by re-visiting places from my past on two occasions to my recollection. Both of them brought feelings of despair for what this country has become so I'm minded never to do it again.

wiggiatlarge said...

Your observations of places and times past ring a bell with all of us of a certain age.
Sadly it is something that can be applied to almost anywhere inthe country and it has to be said sometimes for the better, the area I last spent time in growing up in East London is now known as the "murder mile", how quaint is that !

Gregg said...

Murder mile? That's not good.