Thursday, 19 January 2012

Lost in Manchester

45 minutes ago, I was running like a loon around the streets of Manchester, hopelessly lost, terribly tired and desperately trying to find a landmark I recognised. Manchester is one of the last cities in the UK that I haven’t got to grips with. In the past I’ve always thought of it simply as a somewhat rainy place that tries a bit too hard to punch above its weight!
Every time I visit the city it seems a little bit more confident. A little bit shinier and more pleased with itself. It doesn’t quite have the charm of Leeds or Newcastle. It feels a little snooty I suppose. I think I probably need to spend more time here, but the project I’m currently working on, is taking me to an estate right on the edge of the city, peopled by proud Mancunians, but totally unlike anywhere else I’ve visited in Greater Manchester.

I love the Hattersley Estate. I love it passionately. I love the people I meet there. I doubt it would be possible to find a group of neighbours who care so much about one another. Everywhere we went today, little clusters of people were chatting; outside the credit union, inside the community centre, at the post office. They ask after each other. They offer help if they can. They turn up on a doorstep if they hear someone’s in trouble. Yet around them their estate seems to be struggling. The community centre is being closed down and replaced by a privately-run, multi-purpose space on the edge of the estate. The post office doesn’t have any merchandise. The only shop in the arcade is a Co-op. It’s very sad. It’s places like this that get kicked in the guts during a recession harder and more often than anywhere else.

Today, Paul and I went on a mission to gather the sounds of Hattersley. We recorded all sorts of noises; the hollow gasps of wind rolling through the train station, people greeting each other fondly in the streets, buses passing by, birds singing, two women squawking in the Co-op...

We spent hours in the community centre drinking tea, meeting new faces, hearing intriguing stories and watching 50 pensioners doing a line-dancing class. We interviewed a young photographer called Charlie, one of our main contributors and a very decent bloke. The musical film we’re making about him will be based entirely on spoken word; an incredibly daring approach and something which I’ve never attempted before.

A lot of what we’re doing on this set of films is new ground for me. If the extraordinary residents of Hattersley have taught me nothing else, they’ve taught me to be brave. Today we sat in June’s front room. Her story is inspiring. She has overcome so much in life and has used her experience to help others.  She is utterly selfless. She exists for others. She takes children in whose mothers have died. She runs community groups. Whenever I make one of these films I meet another June and every time this happens, I feel utterly ashamed for the hours I waste grumbling about my lot.

If you’re religious, or understand the bible, you might be interested in reading the first half of Pepys diary entry on this date 350 years ago. It was a Sunday. Pepys went to church. There was a sermon and he engaged in its philosophy. I skim read. Religion is not something to interpret. He returned from church and walked with his wife to see their friend, Mrs Turner, who was still ill with an unknown sickness. The Pepyses then went to visit one Mrs Norbury to discuss land for sale in Pepys’ father’s village of Brampton in Huntingdonshire. It turned out that Mrs Norbury lived next door to Pepys’ Uncle Fenner, who fortunately was out. Pepys had been avoiding his Uncle ever since he married a midwife called Hester, who was apparently “old and ugly.” How embarrassing for her!

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