Wednesday, 29 August 2007

there's no place like home, there's no place like home, there's no place like home

or in my case, there's no place like away from home...

readers, i'm feeling a little discombobulated. expeditions that were intended to lend a little substance and empirical inspiration to my mullings on modernity, the metropolis and my attempts to cut a path through the tangles of progress, have contrarily but predictably only reiterated an underlying disquiet.

was it the ubiquitous cranes, the inevitability of another change in the skyline, or the ceaseless self promotion of the building site hoardings? whatever it was, my first reaction on returning to downtown manchester was dismay. it also probably wasn’t a great idea to investigate the shiny parallel universe/city that is spinningfields and the euphemistically named ‘left bank’ straight after the delights of avignon, residence of a string of 14th century popes, or maguelone, evocative ruin of the 10th century fortress-cathedral on the outskirts of montpellier…

i know it's a cheap shot to compare one's home town to the glamour and novelty of the holiday destination, but there's something about manchester, quintessential modern city, birthplace of the industrial revolution, and home to radicals, revolutionaries and incandescent talent ever since, that is increasingly depressing. plus, the knowledge that what i find disturbing is precisely what the city fathers, and the ever increasing 'triumph' of the relentless regeneration since the bomb, approve merely increases my distress, agitating my long overdue dyspepsia!

there seems to be an unlikely alliance between marketing manchester, journalists, cultural commentators and producers to wax lyrically and uncritically about the reinvention of the city, a version predicated on the implicit consensus that manchester prior to 1996 was simply a black hole of mediocrity, of dark age squalor. as i don’t even adhere to the popular myth of the actual ‘dark ages’ (preferring the notion of a vibrant culture not reliant on the written word) i’m hardly likely to be persuaded by a pre 96 dark age. am i alone in remembering that the 80’s and 90’s were actually quite fine thank you very much, and we managed rather well without 25 branches of starbucks, neros, and costa coffee? that we didn’t go naked before London deigned to transplant flashy, waggishly trashy versions of their stores onto the ‘millennium quarter’? and that endless identikit luxury loft villages on former ncp car parks are no substitute for metropolitan communities that are affordable, sound proofed, and bounded by leafy green space with which to take in some unpolluted air? pre-bomb life was undoubtedly more rough and ready, it was certainly less slick, less packaged, and definitely unpredictable after dark, but it was splendid in its adaptability, proud of its inventiveness, unique in its history.

what we have now amounts to an everytown, a commodified dreamscape that’s overpriced and overcorporate, an open air trafford centre. without some critical discourse we are in danger of losing the essential character of manchester, of ironing out the corns, bunions and scars that make the unique footprint of a well loved and lived in city. my travels beyond the ‘post bomb dream’ have reminded me of just what makes a city irresistible – the juxtaposition of shabby chic and opulent with historic and avant garde; the palimpsest of experience and history, the fresh and the faded, the gnarly and the new. my task is to discover that manchester, if its not too late…

so tomorrow i’m taking a last refuge in the classics and a train to york with my own latter day mr stillingfleet, dear friend, honorary bluestocking, stalwart classicist and assyrian enthusiast. we shall perambulate the walls, wallow in the faded grandeur of the museum and cathedral, browse in secondhand bookshops, and generally inhale an surfeit of antiquity,

after that its back to the tricky contradictions of postmodernism!

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