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

 

Mystery calls on my BT phone bill

Tonight I received the latest quarterly telephone bill from British Telecom for the house here.

I arrived here on 29 July. So, as you would expect, there are no calls listed on the bill until 29 July …

That is, except for two calls to the premium rate numbers 09066 361152 and 09066 361153, on the afternoon of 10 July. Total cost for the two short calls, more than £11.

This is most interesting, because there was no one here on 10 July. My dad is the only other person who has a key and he hadn’t visited. He lives by himself fifty miles away, hasn’t been driving any long distances recently and has his own ‘phone.

Furthermore, when I arrived on the 29th July, there was a massive pile of junk mail behind the front door, which wouldn’t have been where it was if anyone had entered the house less than three weeks before.

Phantom calls on my BT phone bill

The ‘phone companies and regulator like to make out that calls can only show on the bill if someone in the household has made the calls.

But here is a case where no calls were made from this number at all for a long period before 29 July 2006, except for these two premium rate calls to consecutive numbers in the space of 20 minutes on one afternoon. If this doesn’t clearly show that phantom calls can and do appear on a ‘phone bill when the household hasn’t made them, I don’t know what will.

I await BT’s response and will share it with you. Meanwhile I just found this:

Phantom phone scam hits another village.

And here’s a House of Commons debate about Premium Rate scams, from 2004.

Update (29 Sep 2006): It turns out the two calls were to adult services. BT has refunded the cost of them but says it can find no evidence that my line has been abused.

To be fair, they have handled this quickly and had suggested I pay the bill minus the two calls, until they finished their investigation.

They offer free barring of UK-based premium-rate calls, so I’ve had that restriction put on both my numbers, as I have no real interest in calling these numbers.

The whole incident has been quite alarming. But I have to be thankful that it was just a few Pounds and not several hundreds…

 

Skype says I ‘must’ upgrade and shuts down

Tonight a chat friend asked if we could talk on Skype, which I hardly use anymore. I started it up, but it told me I ‘must’ upgrade and then shut itself down. I tried again and the same thing happened.

What if I happened to be on dial-up right now and needed to have a quick chat with someone? Who wants to be forced to download a 10Mb file over a dial-up connection and install it before they can make a call?

I really don’t like control-freak companies. This is my PC and I will decide what ‘must’ be upgraded and when.

Furthermore new versions of software aren’t always better. They can be bloated, less stable and even have fewer features in some cases. In fact there are websites that provide old versions precisely for that reason.

I’ll think I’ll be sticking to voice chat on MSN from now on.

 

When cows attack (video)

I had an eventful five hour walk this afternoon. This is a short extract from a much longer video that I’ll be making about it.

I’m laughing about this but, with a calf on the track ahead of me, I wasn’t sure whether angry mum and dad and all their friends might be able to get out the field if they reached the corner before me.

There have been a few cases of walkers being trampled to death by cattle. Especially when there are calves: BBC report.

(Peter says: ‘get back to the city centre!’)

 

Man threatened with arrest due to ‘annoying’ gnome

The BBC reports the story of man in Cornwall who has been threatened with arrest due to having an ‘annoying’ garden gnome:

“Now police have served Mr MacKillop with a notice for “placing a garden gnome with intent to cause harassment”.

Mr MacKillop, 46, was woken in the night by two officers who warned him that the gnome was offensive to his neighbours.”

Interesting to see that the neighbour who has complained about it is a ‘former policeman’. And, reading this, you may suspect that the gnome is naked or obscene in some way. But no, it is dressed in a police uniform.

There does seem to be a certain theme running through this story.

 

Greg Palast on ‘The Fear Factory’

I’m going to tell you something which is straight-up heresy: America is not under attack by terrorists. There is no WAR on terror…

Greg Palast on why fear sells better than sex and how The War on Terror is the Weapon of Mass Distraction. Read it here.

Greg Palast’s investigative reports appear on the BBC, in The Guardian and in Harpers. However, research costs money and he ‘ain’t too proud to beg‘.

Work in progress includes:

1. The untold story of the New Orleans flood.
2. Shoplifting your vote: November 2006 fix.
3. The next oil war.
4. [Confidential.]

 

Here Come the Double Deckers

One of my favourite TV programmes as a kid.

As far as I can make out, this series has never been released on video or DVD in the UK (and probably not in the US either). The last time I remember it being on terrestrial TV here was in the Granada ITV region in 1990.

This is one of a vast number of British television programmes and films that remain unseen, languishing in a vault somewhere. There are British films that I’ve never been able to watch and there is no way to see them because they are not available anywhere.

As a content producer myself I understand the need for copyright. But, is it right that companies can deny us access to our cultural heritage and prevent us from viewing these for decades? Simply because they can’t be bothered, or can’t make a profit by releasing them.

There should be some way for people to see these. Either require the companies to make a copy available that people can borrow from a local library. Or make it legal to share non-profit copies of commercially unavailable material.