Tag Archives: Manchester

The world of Winterson


Because Jeanette Winterson are I are close to the same age, I can remember the fuss around her arrival on the literary scene. Furthermore, I had a bit more interest in her than in other writers who may be similar but who came later. For example, in 1990, I watched the BBC adaptation of her debut autobiographical novel Oranges are not the Only Fruit, which is the type of “misery” text which I would normally abhor and ignore.

An audience should of course always concentrate on a writer’s work rather than on his/her personality, but Winterson was always a high-profile and intriguing public character. She was overtly lesbian several years before the celebrity of Carol Ann Duffy and Jackie Kay; she was fiercely proud of her regional and working-class roots but equally a successful member of the metropolitan literati from a young age, with her famous friends and partners and homes both in the countryside and in London’s historic and gentrified Spitalfields.

I had not actually read a complete Jeanette Winterson book until her recent Christmas Days,  which alternates 12 Christmas themed stories with 12 pieces of mixed history, personal reflection and recipes of Yuletide food and drink.

One of my two favourite stories is “The Mistletoe Bride”, in which I felt sure I detected similarities with the type of sensual fantasy story Angela Carter wrote in The Bloody Chamber. Interviews from earlier in Winterson’s career suggest she would scoff at such comparisons – she pointedly rejects the term “magic realism” which was often applied to Carter – and indeed it does look as if she was an independent player in such genres as early as her second and third novels The Passion and Sexing the Cherry .   

 My other favourite story is “Dark Christmas” , which seems influenced by the stories of  M.R. James, several of which were dramatized on BBC in the 1970s under the heading  A Ghost Story for Christmas.  It is possible of course that entertainment like that was not encouraged within the highly individual family Christmases which the young Winterson experienced with her Evangelical Christian family.   

Several parts of the book refer to the religious origins of Christmas, and Winterson’s knowledge of (and perhaps even affection for) the Bible shows in some vivid imagery like the animal narrator’s observation of the Nativity in “The Lion, the Unicorn and Me” and the perspective of the Annunciation  from one untitled story on her website:  An unmarried woman sits at a table…The table trembles…As she crouches (under the table) she sees beautiful feet, strong like an animal, bare like a dancer…”

 Until Christmas Days my most recent acquaintance with Winterson was her BBC Radio 4 series in 2014,  Manchester: Alchemical City , still available on iPlayer.



Three photographs which reflect topics covered in “Manchester: Alchemical City”: here, Victoria railway station, below, part of the canal network through the centre of the city, and, at the foot, the interior of the independent Portico Library.






My listening was prompted by a memorable visit to Manchester and I found the programmes overall a stimulating review of history and culture. The title summarises her argument that the people of Manchester have always been gifted with the ability to turn dirt and base materials into gold and riches, whether they were the medieval alchemist and scientist John Dee, the builders of the first ever canal the Bridgewater, the textile manufacturers and traders of the 19th century Cottonopolis, political visionaries like Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, the Chartists and the Suffragettes or Ann Lee, founder of the Shaker religious sect. (Mind you, the argument was stretched too thinly in her episode on popular music!)

Christmas Days led me to Winterson’s own website with its archive of her journalism. To single out only one, her piece about darkness has some alluring sensual details about different physical appetites for this time of year.  



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Good Friday in the city streets


Over the centuries, Holy Week and Easter were the focal periods for the creation and performance of many music and drama events. That this tradition was deeply rooted I could see during my first three decades of television viewing. That such programmes have become significantly rarer more recently is clear testament to our society’s chosen secularisation.

I thought that the BBC’s Manchester Passion was one of the better religious popularisations in recent years. When it was first screened in 2006, I was pleased at first simply by the idea of its live broadcast on BBC3 and the later repeat on BBC2 – then, as now, BBC3 was designated as a young person’s channel with an output which did not always appear substantial. Watching,  I was struck by how well many of these Manchester pop/rock songs worked in the different setting, led either by acoustic guitar or a broad bank of strings.   A third strength was Keith Allen’s narrator, exemplified by his grandstanding  introduction: “Manchester…founded by the Romans…bombed by the Nazis and the IRA”. Finally, the form of the whole performance:  the main stage in the centre of the city with the two peripatetic groups heading there through the streets for the inevitable conclusion and conflict; the actors playing Christ and his disciples, the real-life observers carrying in procession the Calvary cross.

Although songs and performances are not uniformly strong, it is a production which I have frequently returned to via You Tube, especially since my recent trip to Manchester gave me closer acquaintance with its city centre locations.



Albert Square in front of the Town Hall – the main setting of the Manchester Passion.



Jesus and his disciples first gather near Manchester’s Anglican Cathedral.



The procession carrying the cross passes near the Central Library as it arrives at Albert Square.




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More Manchester – the Royal Exchange Theatre


The National Theatre,  subject of much media coverage currently because of its 50th anniversary,  opened its building on the South Bank in London in 1976. That same year saw the opening of another theatre which is also still thriving: the Royal Exchange in Manchester.



The Manchester Royal Exchange was the subject of a great deal of building and rebuilding in its time, and this frontage actually dates from the time of World War One.


The auditorium is a multi-angled theatre in the round built inside the classical proportions of the former cotton exchange.  When I saw an Arena TV programme about the theatre at the time of its opening 30-plus years ago, it seemed like a really startling avant-garde design, and, on my visiting it recently for the first time, it fully lived up to my expectations.




The steel and glass auditorium inside the former trading hall, with some of the latter’s information boards still intact on the wall, complement each other sympathetically.





The Royal Exchange closed in 1968, but these trading boards were retained as the building changed its use.





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The reds of Manchester


Can it really be the case that most of the foreign visitors to Manchester are drawn to the home city of the globally famous Manchester United football club, rather than to its many other historical and cultural connections such as Peterloo, Marx and Engels, the Industrial Revolution, Pankhurst, Lowry, the Hallé Orchestra, the Smiths and the Stone Roses?

If so, then it is surely appropriate that the city’s brilliant Victorian and Edwardian architecture includes, in addition to classical and gothic stone exteriors, many buildings in red brick, whether huge hotels, warehouses and university buildings or more modest terraces.


The Midland Hotel, built opposite the former Manchester Central railway station.



Two views (here and below) of the Sackville Street building of the University of Manchester.



Lancaster House, a former commercial warehouse.



Formerly part of Manchester Grammar School, this building is now part of Chetham’s School of Music.



Although most widely known as a fire station, this building opposite Piccadilly railway station also housed a coroner’s court, a police station and an ambulance station.



St Mary’s Catholic Church, known as “The Hidden Gem” after a description by a bishop in the 19th century. This building dates from the 1840s, but the parish originates from 1794.



Part of Manchester’s Northern Quarter, with the former fish market on the right and adjoining shops.



Hanging Ditch Buildings opposite Manchester Cathedral.



From this direction, the red bricks of the former warehouse Chepstow House are somewhat overwhelmed by the green tiled facade of the Peveril of the Peak pub.



Finally, an unidentified warehouse on Princess Street across from Manchester Town Hall.


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