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Tuesday 7 November 2006

Why Guy Fawkes night is dreaded by many in inner-city areas of Britain

In Britain, 5th November is Bonfire Night. When it’s traditional to let off fireworks and burn a dummy of Guy Fawkes who tried to blow up Parliament in 1605.

It’s supposed to be fun. A colourful spectacle. But for many people in inner-city areas this has become a time of year that they dread.

The other night, on some spare ground close to where I live, youths and children lit a large bonfire. It was close to houses. They used fireworks like guns, pointing them at head height and shooting them across the neighbourhood. Some of the kids were very young indeed and, though fascinated, were obviously afraid that they would be targeted and ‘shot’ by others.

The fire brigade arrived to put out the blaze but they seemed to be intimidated by the abusive youths. The fire crew didn’t leave the fire engine. In other areas there have been incidents where fire fighters were attacked.

They left and, soon after, returned accompanied by the Police.

The BritishPathe website has some vintage newsreel footage of children celebrating Bonfire Night in 1957 and 1959 at a cinema that is just a few hundred yards from this location. How things have changed.


Filed under: Documentary,Manchester — GS @ 3:18 am
Tuesday 31 October 2006

A true story for Halloween

A couple of weeks ago I made a final visit to the house where I grew up. My dad had decided to sell and I had to pick up a few remaining bits and pieces.

Though I was actually born in hospital, I spent my years from zero to 20 living in that 1950’s semi-detached. In a small cul-de-sac alongside the former A1 — the main London to Edinburgh road — and just a couple of miles from Newcastle city centre.

(more…)


Filed under: Buildings,Personal — GS @ 6:00 pm
Saturday 28 October 2006

Noah’s Arc

My American friend Bill told me about Noah’s Arc, a series that is on the Logo network over there. It’s about four black gay friends.

We’d watched a couple of episodes and clips on the Logo website, but Bill doesn’t have the channel and I doubted the series would ever get a showing over here. However I had a gift voucher for Amazon so I bought Bill the three-disc DVD of series one and after watching them himself he sent the discs over to me. They were waiting here me when I got back to Manchester last Saturday.

So I’ve had a great week viewing it all: episodes, pilot and extras. I love this series.

You can watch the whole of the first four episodes of series one for free here.

And the first episode of series 2 here.

There are quite a few clips on YouTube including the pilot scenes they did to try and get a network interested.

I think Logo is missing a trick by not making this available to European viewers as pay-per-view. I wouldn’t have minded paying a dollar a show to watch it. Whereas, I doubt many people here are going to import it on DVD like I did. It’s a shame.


Filed under: LGBT,TV & film — GS @ 1:33 pm
Friday 22 September 2006

AA batteries that recharge by USB

Here’s a great idea. The top of the rechargeable AA battery flips to reveal a USB plug. You just plug the battery into a spare USB port on your PC and it charges up. Nothing else needed.

AA batteries that can be recharged from a USB port

I love rechargeable batteries. If you take care of them, they can last for years. I have four NiCad batteries that I bought on Old Compton Street in 1992 (was that electrical shop called Rayners?). I think they cost about £10.

For years I used them in my flash-gun. Now I use them in my digital camera. They must have been recharged hundreds of times and still work perfectly.

Imagine the damage to the environment if I had used standard batteries all this time instead and what would the cost have been? Maybe £500?

There are two types of rechargeable AA battery. The older NiCad type and the more recent NiMH. The secret to getting long life out of Nicads is to make sure you always run them down completely before you recharge. Otherwise they develop a ‘memory’ effect, which means you never get a full charge from them again. Whereas the NiMH type can be ‘topped up’ whenever you like.

In fact, my experience so far has been that, if they are looked after, NiCads seem to survive much longer than their NiMH counterparts.

These USBCell batteries are NiMH and cost £12.99 for two. Which isn’t bad if you get a few years of use out of them.


Filed under: Net & technology — GS @ 10:37 am
Thursday 21 September 2006

An inconvenient truth: Gay Manchester was better 20 years ago

Ad for Heros gay club, Manchester 1980's

I get tired of newspaper articles that make out that the gay ‘scene’ in Manchester used to be so seedy and bad years ago, but now it is so wonderful. It just isn’t true.

Take this article from 2003 which appeared in The Manchester Evening News — a newspaper that can be relied on to regurgitate hype about gay Manchester (just check out contradictory figures in the Evening News for attendance at Pride over the past eight years).

Here the Evening News quotes Iain Scott, owner of Taurus bar and restaurant in Canal Street who says:

“The last 10 years have seen the biggest evolution,” says Scott. “It has gone from three, maybe four, venues to over 30 venues in the Village Business Association.”

There may only have been a handful of venues around Canal Street. But if he is suggesting that there were only three or four in the whole of the city centre, then that is not true at all.

Flyer for Stuffed Olives mid-1980's with typewriter and magazines of the time

I moved to Manchester in 1982 and in the early to mid-1980s there were the following gay bars and clubs in Manchester city centre:

Stuffed Olives, High Society, No1 Club, Manhattan, Rembrandt, Dickens, Napoleons, The Union, New York, Heros, Archway, Thompson’s Arms.

A quick look at a couple of issues of Mancunian Gay magazine from the time shows some others that I don’t remember. The November 1983 mag lists: Why Not? on Ashton New Road and the Egerton Arms Hotel on Gore Street. The May 1984 issue lists Shadows on Union Street (later called El Cid). The June 1985 issue includes Paddys Goose on Bloom Street.

I make that 16 pubs and clubs. Not ‘three or four’.

‘Him Monthly’ August 1983 issue lists a leather/denim night every Friday at the Wheatsheaf pub on Camp Street (would you believe?) and there was the Poly gay disco also on Friday nights. And let’s not forget the Bloom Street Cafe and Gaze bookshop and Clone Zone which were also on Bloom Street.

There were two gay bars that we used to go to in nearby Stockport: The Baker’s Vaults and the New Inn.

Flyer for Heros gay club, Manchester, 1983

In those days, gay bars and clubs were almost entirely gay. There were no straight boys looking for a fight and no shrieking hen parties. On the whole, people were not on drugs and it was rare to see anyone drunk and incapable. It was really quite civilised and fun. You could enjoy a night out without worrying that you might have your face punched in or drink spiked.

Yes it’s true you had to knock on the door to get into some places. But that kept out the trouble-makers. These days they are inside the pubs and clubs.

Ad for Manhattan gay club, Manchester 1980's

In the 1980s some of the places were in better parts of town: Stuffed Olives and Heros were on the other side of Deansgate to Kendall’s department store. Manhattan was in Spring Gardens and No.1 Club was near the town hall. In fact, far less ‘seedy’ than Canal Street is now.

Ad for No 1 gay club, Manchester 1980's

Many venues were gay owned and run (unlike today). There may be double the number of venues that claim to be ‘gay’ now. But I reckon there are fewer gay men and women out on the scene now than there were in Manchester 25 years ago.

This isn’t just because everywhere is now ‘mixed’, but also because older gay people aren’t welcomed by and don’t ‘fit in’ to most places in 2006. Meanwhile, many gay youngsters reject what the scene offers and can socialise perfectly well without it.

Years ago, it really was like a family. You would see senior citizens in The Rembrandt and The Union alongside 18-year-olds. Out on the scene we had friends of all ages and some of the older ones were almost like aunt or uncle figures to us. We valued their experience and advice and enjoyed their company. They cooked meals for us (poor students) and threw the best parties in town.

But where do older people go in the wonderful gay village now, Evening News? Do tell… That public community has broken down and everyone is poorer now because of it. I would say, in general, there is more ageism, sometime bordering on age phobia (everyone aged over 35 is a paedo — it’s a well-known fact!) and perhaps fewer mixed-age relationships because those are less accepted (‘what will my mates think?’).

However, off the scene, mixed-age LGBT friendships are still very much around. Some of my dearest friends are aged in their twenties. But we rarely meet or do anything on Canal Street. If the gay village, scene and Pride don’t welcome everyone, what is the point of them? Are they a force for good or bad?

Ad for High Society gay club, Manchester 1980's

The old magazines also list a number of gay groups that met and there was the Gay Centre in the heart of things on Bloom Street.

The 1982 and 1984 issues list two clinics in the city centre area where you could get a sexual health check up. Compared to one today. In those days you could actually walk in and see someone immediately without having to wait up to six weeks for an appointment as you have to now.

The Pink Picnic 1990

The Pink Picnic 1990

Out, proud and very visible at the Pink Picnic 1990. It was held on a public footpath next to the Dovestone Reservoir at Saddleworth. No fences, politicians, marketing people, police or permission. All the money collected went to good causes.

And as for people not being ‘very proud to be seen’ until the gay village became over-commercialised and full of straight people in the mid 1990’s, with bars like Manto… What a travesty of the truth: tell that to the thousands of men and women who walked around the city centre (not in front of friendly crowds) and then packed Albert Square for the Section 28 rally in 1988, the Liberation ’91 march, or who took part in the Walk For Life every year.

They were out and proud on the streets. By comparison, how much courage does it take to go to a ‘mixed’ bar where you can pretend to be straight if anyone sees you there?

Liberation 91 march, Manchester

Watch historic video footage of the Liberation 91 lesbian and gay rally in Manchester, 1991

What is there is to be so proud of now? It’s all about money, youth, alcohol and hairless gym bodies. Our (non-political) Pride event excludes people who can’t afford to pay and the binge-drinking, drug-taking, self-destructive culture which it promotes results in many actually ending up with HIV and needing a lifetime of expensive combination therapy.

Raising money to help the fight against HIV and AIDS at a Jumble sale on Canal Street, August Bank Holiday, Manchester 1990
Raising money to help the fight against HIV and AIDS at a Jumble sale on Canal Street, August Bank Holiday, Manchester 1990
Raising money to help the fight against HIV and AIDS at a Jumble sale on Canal Street, August Bank Holiday, Manchester 1990

Above: raising money to help the fight against HIV and AIDS at a jumble sale on Canal Street, Manchester, August Bank Holiday, 1990.

Which makes a mockery of the relatively small amount that Manchester Pride raises for charity. In 2006 people with HIV were actually charged to walk in the Pride parade.

Currently, the gay village is something to be ashamed of, not celebrated. We have let big business and the City Council destroy the community that we once had.

Meanwhile the same people are behind this blatant rewriting of history because it suits them and their business purposes.

As for Iain Scott’s suggestion that in the 1950’s ‘all’ the buildings in the Canal Street area ‘were derelict’, this isn’t true. In a recent episode of BBC’s ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’, featuring David Dickinson, he revealed that in the 1960’s he worked in a building on Princess Street opposite the New Union. There were lots of businesses operating in the area.

Photo 1: from 1963, a shot of the site where Clone Zone stands now on Sackville Street. There are two neat little shops that are open for business. On the far right of the block is what is now Napoleons (then a restaurant) and beyond it a church which stood where the Bloom Street car-park is today.

Photo 2: The Rembrandt in 1962. The shoe repair shop next door was still there thirty years later.

Photo 3: this picture from 1973 shows a restaurant in the building that is now Thompson’s Arms.

Photo 4: a cafe and a couple of other businesses at the junction of Sackville Street and Major Street in 1962. This is the street that is between the CIS building and Bloom Street car-park.

In all, a thriving area I would say and probably with a wider variety of different businesses than there are now.

UPDATES: small additions were made to this article on 5 September 2009.


Filed under: LGBT,Manchester,The media — GS @ 6:08 am
Wednesday 23 August 2006

Birdlife

One of the things you notice when you come from Manchester city centre to a small village out in the country is the birdlife.

Sure we have magpies, pigeons, starlings and even parrots where I live in Manchester. But here there is just so much more variety and so many of them: swifts, swallows, thrushes, blackbirds, finches, wrens, occasionally geese and birds of prey and, unlike some parts of Britain, there is no shortage of sparrows here. All of these can be seen from the house. Recently I posted a video of a woodpecker that was outside my window.

When I lived here fulltime I had two cats and there were many others in the neighbourhood, with inevitable consequences. Now there are no cats and the birds are thriving. But it can still be harsh at times.

Last year I was watching a beautiful thrush hopping about on the lawn. An hour later I found it dead. It had either choked to death on something (a slug pellet from one of the other gardens?) or maybe it had just happened to drop dead for some reason.

I arrived to find the swallows nesting in the passageway between the houses, as they have done for decades. I could see three or four little beaks peeking over the edge of the nest and they were a few days from fledging. One year I got this great shot of them just after they left the nest.

Swallows just after leaving the nest

Sad to say, last week, I found all the chicks dead on the ground below. I don’t know what happened. There was no sign of any damage to the nest. But we did have workmen outside the house cutting up the pavement with one of those noisy saws. I wonder if that kept the parent birds away and when they returned the baby birds were dead, so the parents threw them out of the nest?

Nature can be tough. I’m starting to feel like the vet in The League of Gentlemen!


Filed under: Wildlife — GS @ 3:21 am
Tuesday 15 August 2006

30 minutes of sunset in 30 seconds (video)

30 minutes of sunset in 30 seconds - timelapse video

I’m up at the house near the England/Scotland border. The back overlooks fields, hills and crags and has always been a prime location for some spectacular sunsets. I recorded 30 minutes of one tonight and then reduced this footage down to the 30-second-long time-lapse movie that you see here.

If you want the technical how-to-do-it: load the video into VirtualDub (free software). Go to the menu Video > Frame Rate. There, set Source Rate Adjustment: Change To 1250.00 frames per second and Frame Rate Coversion: Decimate by 50. This will speed things up by 50x (this is working with 25fps PAL video).

Render the video out as a new AVI in the usual way.


Filed under: Environment,Video-making,With video — GS @ 2:44 am
 
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