07.03.2009 - 09.03.2009 8 °C
My reason for coming to Manchester was a play on, in a theatre in the basement of the library – Sir Tom Stoppard’s Rock’n’Roll. It ran from 1968 to 1989, basically taking a prominent song from each year, and then having a couple of vignettes of life in the characters in that year. For those who don’t know, the significance of these years is that it represents the period the former Czechoslovakia was under communist rule. In England, we have old Max who is still committed to the communist cause, whereas back in Czechoslovakia, we have Jan who is ostensibly a communist but really only believes in rock’n’roll and the freedom to choose your own hair length. Both see him imprisoned under the communist regime. He would far rather live in Cambridge. So, there was a fair amount of politics in the play, and a bit of satire on what the freedoms of the UK have come to, but there was also lots of fun as well, and, of course, musical references – particularly Pink Floyd and Syd Barrett, the Rolling Stones (the climax of the play is when the Rolling Stones get to play Prague) and an obscure Czech band called Plastic People of the Universe, who are invested with huge symbolic value as intensely engaged with the battle for freedom. It is the kind of play I’d like to see again, or at least read its script, because it was fairly intense.
Going home, I had the pleasure of watching a group of young men give one particular young man a good kicking, to the point he wasn’t moving. The locals in the kebab shop with me simply commented “man down” as if this is routine for Saturday night in Manchester. To add spice, there was a major altercation in the hostel – some fellow who hadn’t checked in or paid still couldn’t understand that he couldn’t come in and hang out, wanted to tell the fellow on duty his life story. Things must have got sorted out – about three he came into my room.
Sunday, I went back to MOSI and had a good mosey. I struck it lucky – they have all the machinery of a textile factory onsite,
and I was there when they had it all going and made some calico from raw cotton. At least three words we might use today were explained as coming from the lingo used in textiles: trash is the bits of fluff that come off when raw cotton is first cleaned, then shoddy is the cotton strands not long enough to be used. Cotton gets incorporated into long soft ropes which are put into cans for transfer to the looms - the person who does this, guess what, carries the can.
Apparently in a big Manchester textile factory, they’d have 50 times the machines that are in MOSI and they’d be three times as big as this one
The John Rylands Mill at Ainsworth, for example, had 600 looms. Wow! (He was the biggest employer in England at the time.)
Here is a wee clip of it working - one of the most dangerous jobs in the factory was held by the fellow who had to nip in and sweep before it completed its cycle
The main function of the museum was to show how important Manchester was to the industrial development of England and the world - the planes I posted yesterday were all built near Manchester. Something else built here was the first stored programme computer - it doesn't look much like a MacBook!
Even earlier was the differential analyser, which I can't even begin to understand; all I could understand was that the fellow who made it was inspired by the loom
As part of the museum, they have the oldest surviving railway station in the UK, although the building has mostly been turned into a container for museum displays, rather than set up as a railway station. There was a wee train
I don’t know how they did it, but they even had smells appropriate for the displays – which I first noticed when I went into the sewage and toilet area. I was amused by the story of a pretty huge scam wrought upon the good people of Manchester in around 1810; they gave a contract to some peeps to lay water pipes. The Manchester and Salford Waterworks company decided upon stone pipes knowing that when water was run through them, they wouldn't hold the pressure. No worries, because they laid the various streets in stages and then found out that they didn't actually connect with each other.
One sequence of displays I liked was showing the development of the kitchen thanks to more sophisticated electrical products
This took much of the day, so I didn’t get to do much shopping, although I found that some of Manchester’s musical heritage is still in place – four local record shops are still going strong, and then there is this magnificent emporium run by a couple of old geezers,
Found a cool place for dinner, an underground noodle bar called either Tampopo or Tampopa, depending on what you looked at (“Manchester’s first and still by far the best” according to the quote from the Guardian plastered over the entrance) – big long shared tables, one of the best Pad Prik Gai’s I’ve had in years, with big juicy rings of chilli and Beer Lao. The staff made the place – very sociable, even if it meant they might spend five minutes yakking to a customer or each other.
Saw a French film in the evening, The Class, which took in a group of real school kids, 13 – 15. It is billed as fiction, based on a novel, but felt much like a documentary. No one involved was an actor - the teacher was played by the novelist (who had been a teacher) and then the kids were just regular school kids, although from various ethnic groups. It seemed pretty real to me – culminating in a big bust up in class, which saw one fellow expelled after he lost his temper and another student was injured. The most interesting feature for me was how teacher was always right, even though he was obviously in the wrong – starting the row by calling two of the girls skanks (or "putains" in French, which is rather less ambiguously inappropriate).
I scored a £4.50 ticket back home, but only by taking a night train so spent Monday working in Manchester – first in its public library, then in the John Rylands library, set up by his widow to remember him.
Curiously enough, I “know” John Rylands
in the sense that I have been teaching something involving him for years - he had a bit of a dispute with the neighbour about some water that escaped.
Wandeing around Manchester, I found another building that was as inconguous as the Hilton,
even more so when you know it is the Civil Justice Centre (courthouse to the rest of us) - it has the largest suspended glass wall in Europe. It is a little unfortunate; as I was walking around the end, it looked for all the world that the building was covered in scaffolding, which is not a good look.
Reading this week was Richard Powers’ The Echo Maker, which was only really alright. I’ve managed to collect several of his works on the strength of people raving about him, but this is the first book by him I have actually read. It starts with a major car crash – who or what caused it is a mystery which develops throughout. But it has an odd consequence for the driver; he wakes up with unimpaired memory, but when he sees his sister, he does not match her with his memory of her and thus thinks she’s an imposter. Maybe the slightest physical change from what he remembers does it, but he doesn’t forget all – just his sister, his dog and his house. The last two, he can accept as replacements, but not his sister – so he’s always asking “what have they done with her, where is she...”. This freaks the poor sister out no end, so that she doubts her own reality. Into this comes the celebrity shrink, he really does get involved at first just to have fodder for a new book, and has a bit of a melt down when he realises how far he has gone from the idea of heeler. Meanwhile, xxx is getting worse, thinking there is some huge conspiracy against him. As a counterpoint are the cranes which, despite having bird brains, can remember enough to navigate half way around the world every six months.