Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Top 10 gigs of 2010 — with tunes

I like music. I hardly ever write about it, however, because a) it's really hard and b) to be honest there are lots of other people who do it better and with far more energy and enthusiasm (Pull Yourself Together and The Pigeon Post are good starting points). Even though I've not been to many gigs this year (having a 9-5 job pretty much destroyed any desire I may once have had to be awake after 10pm), out of the gigs I did go to these are the ones I enjoyed the most:

1. The Blow, supporting Jens Lekman, Deaf Institute, Manchester, August

One of the most intense but engaging performances I had seen for a long time (and now one of my favourite gigs ever, not just of this year). Khaela Maricich spent the gig, dressed in what looked like a cross between a nightie and gym wear, discussing her sexuality and telling a rambling, unlikely story about collaborating with, then getting dumped by, Lindsay Lohan that seemed to leave most of the audience completely bemused. Live, she's a one woman band who makes amazingly catchy, hard to stand still to dance-pop. I've been unable to get True Affection out of my head since the start of August.


2. Trash Kit, supporting Grass Widow, Trof Northern Quarter, Manchester, October

Trash Kit are probably my dream band a violin playing three piece punk band who make tight, taut, clean pop songs, almost always in under two minutes, where all the parts fit together perfectly with no unnecessary clutter. At their previous Manchester gig, in summer 2009, they were held up on the motorway and frustratingly only got to do a handful of songs, but what I saw gave the impression that they would be my new favourite band, and it was well worth the wait to see them again. I also love headliners Grass Widow, another all-female trio. They were great too, but somehow sounded slightly sprawling after the short, sharp assault of Trash Kit.


3. The Fall, All Tomorrow's Parties curated by Pavement, Butlins, Minehead, May

Most of my favourite gigs are by either bands I've heard very little of before, or people I love but expect to be terrible live, who then turn out to be the best thing ever (Neil Young epitomises this phenomenon of an artist being better than you could ever have dared to hope). I first saw (heard/jumped up and down to) the Fall in my heavily pregnant mother's womb. Despite having lived in Manchester for the past five years, it took until the eve of my 23rd birthday to repeat the experience, having been waiting for the right occasion for a number of reasons: their gigs are always really expensive, they generally play in horrible venues and they are notoriously bad live. So I would never have expected the Fall to be by far the best band at All Tomorrow's Parties. I thought they'd be obnoxious, noisy and abrasive, but I soon realised THE FALL ARE A BRILLIANT POP BAND, storming through song after song of keyboard hook driven tunes. An unexpectedly amiable Mark E Smith even returned for two encores. The most animated crowd I saw at ATP, and the most fun I had all weekend dancing and jumping up and down as part of a sweaty mass.


4. Jens Lekman, Sandbar, Manchester, August

Jens Lekman is my favourite pop star in the whole world, and I arranged my summer (which included a pilgrimage to Jens' hometown of Gothenburg, Sweden) so I would be in Manchester to see his unmissable double bill with the Blow at the Deaf Institute. After the gig, Jens decided the audience should join him for a drink, so we headed en masse to Sandbar across the road. The manager initiated a lock-in and promised a free drink each. Jens carried on where he'd left off at the gig and played some of his loveliest songs acoustic in a corner whilst we sat around him and joined in at appropriate moments. Several people lined up for a few moments of conversation with Jens, topics ranging from how nice Sweden is and Jens being notoriously unlucky in love to the merits of maths/physics and fanzines, all of which he took with a smile. I gave him a copy of the food special of The Shrieking Violet as a souvenir of his trip to Manchester and he seemed touched. He examined it, sniffed it because he 'loves the smell of Xerox machines' and said he would treasure it as he loves fanzines but no-one makes them in Sweden anymore.


5. La La Vasquez, Trof Northern Quarter, Manchester, March

Another female three piece there is a theme developing who make stripped down, rattling punk music for your feet and heart rather than your head. Over the past year and a half, I've discovered I really like Trof NQ as a gig venue, and a high proportion of the best gigs I've been to have been there.


6. Hotpants Romance, Valentines Day Prom, Islington Mill, Salford, February

There are so many reasons why doing anything to acknowledge Valentines Day is a terrible idea. Apart from the obvious sexual tension, social awkwardness, pursuing highly unsuitable people etc it's in February, possibly the most depressing time of the year, when it's cold and dark outside. Punk trio Hotpants Romance, undoubtedly the most fun band in Manchester, gave a reason to leave the house, for a confetti strewn and balloon decorated afternoon prom what school leaving discos would be like in a dream world. And they played in Hotpants, in February.


7. Pavement, All Tomorrow's Parties curated by Pavement, Butlins, Minehead, May

Given that they're one of my favourite bands, seeing Pavement was always going to be an anti-climax no matter how good they were (apart from the chance to sing along to Shady Lane, loudly and untunefully, obviously). Stephen Malkmus, who's a bit on the smug side onstage, isn't a particularly likeable frontman, but it was touching when Bob Nastanovich's wife joined him onstage for a dance and Steve West invited the crowd to a stonemasonry demonstration. And it was worth being wedged in a crowd so packed it was almost impossible to move when they finished with Debris Slide.


8. Best Coast, Deaf Institute, Manchester, May

When look back at 2010 and think about music I will think of Best Coast and how they were one of those bands who came along and perfectly summed up all my feelings at that time, specifically the line 'I hate sleeping alone'. By the time of the gig, Best Coast were all I had listened to solidly for months courtesy of a mix tape from my friend Dom. And I can still listen to that tape without getting bored.


9. The Raincoats, All Tomorrow's Parties curated by Pavement, Butlins, Minehead, May

The band who appeared to have the most fun onstage at ATP (despite playing in a nightmarishly claustrophobic, windowless, carpeted room with a low ceiling that may be a bingo hall or casino or something the rest of the year round) like your cool, violin playing middle aged aunty having a party onstage with her girlfriends. You had to smile.

10. Former Bullies and Boy or Bison, The Kittywake boat, Wigan, August

Between them, Boy or Bison and Former Bullies have played at most of the best gigs I have been to in Manchester this year. When they played together on a boat I thought it would be the perfect chance to fulfil two long-held ambitions: visit Wigan and see the pier, and go on a barge. Unfortunately, I had assumed the barge would be stationary and it hadn't quite clicked that the barge would be moving, on a four hour cruise, and wouldn't be back in Wigan until the last bus and train back to Manchester had long departed. It was a very surreal experience, gently gliding along the Liverpool-Leeds canal keeping half an eye on the scenery outside and half an eye on the bands. The bands carried on playing at the front of the boat whilst it stopped and started, waiting for the water levels to rise as we climbed over locks. I had to get a taxi back to Manchester as it was a week night and I had work the next day, at a cost of £40, making it the most expensive gig I've ever been to. The taxi driver chatted the whole drive back about how much he hated living in Wigan.

Former Bullies aren't on spotify but go on their myspace and listen to the song Planetarium.

Here are all the songs that are on spotify together in one place, like a mixtape: http://open.spotify.com/user/natalieroseviolet/playlist/4Xo2RokVXTZqMr36gdlUZ4

Other gigs I enjoyed include Levenshulme Bicycle Orchestra in the Kings Arms, Salford at Sounds from the Other City and Monkeys in Love and Nuzzle Muzzle at Fuel in Withingon.

Friday, 3 December 2010

The Shrieking Violet and Manchester Modernist Society joint event — Newspapers on Film, Saturday December 11

Newspapers on film

Saturday 11th December, 3.30pm-6.30pm

Manchester Modernist Society HQ, 142 Chapel Street, Salford M3 6AF


The Shrieking Violet fanzine and Manchester Modernist Society invite you to a seasonal gathering celebrating Manchester's media heritage through documentaries from the North West Film Archive.

There will also be some baked goods from recipes which have appeared in past issues of the Shrieking Violet fanzine expect shortbread, sloe gin, grape vodka, tea and an edible, highly glittered Daily Express building.


People and Places Around Ordsall

Salford newsagent, amateur filmmaker and onetime newspaper delivery boy Ralph Brookes documented the changing face of the inner city area Ordsall in the 1960s and ‘70s, making over ninety home movies about the community around him, documenting everything from his home, family, birthdays and Christmas to mingling with the stars for an episode of Coronation Street which was filmed in the local park.

Here is the News

Colourful, jaunty, jazz-soundtracked film about how the Evening News is produced. Made in 1968 to celebrate the newspaper's centenary, the film shows the 'daily miracle' that is producing a newspaper, from visiting the various departments in the newspaper offices to distributing copies around the city to be read in suburban family homes.

News Story

A day in the life of the famous Guardian newspaper in 1960 (four years before it moved to London), from meeting the journalists in the various departments which put it together to printing with linotype and hot lead and its distribution around the country.

The event accompanies a media themed special of Manchester-based fanzine The Shrieking Violet which looks at various aspects of Manchester and the media including Jack Hale of Manchester Modernist Society writing in praise of the innovative Daily Express building on Great Ancoats Street. The films in the North West film archive help give a sense not just of the labour and space intensive process that traditionally went into making newspapers, pre-digitisation, and the buildings in which they were made, but also illustrate the importance of newspapers in the city. The films, which each last around twenty minutes, provide fascinating insights into the time in which they were made: Here is the News is an optimistic look at the modernist city in the swinging sixties, whereas People and Places in Ordsall depicts the other side of life in the region, and the great changes Salford was undergoing at the time as part of slum clearance programmes.

Poster by Lauren Velvick.


Here's the edible Express Building — shortbread topped with readymade black icing from the Arndale Market, into which was embedded many silver balls. Sprinkled with black edible glitter.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Sloe Gin

This week, coinciding with the start of the freezing weather, I had the first taste of my sloe gin, which has been steeping for ten and a half weeks. Although it's a bit early, I wanted to bottle a small quantity to give to a friend for her birthday this week. It's a deep red colour, almost opaque, that glows warmly when you hold it up to the light. The consistency is smooth and glossy, thicker than gin, and there are two distinct tastes intensely bitter (perhaps because of the gin, or maybe because I picked the sloes early in autumn before they'd had chance to sweeten) and very sweet but with an overall fruitiness. It's so rich it invites being savoured in tiny quantities. I looked all over for the perfect bottles, considering some ornamental Vom Fass bottles from the Selfridges food hall, but it wasn't possible to buy bottles without the oil and I didn't want the problem of what to do with the oil. In the end, I bought a 250ml bottle of Devon apple juice from the chiller cabinet as it had a screw top, drank the juice, sterilised the bottle and came up with a colour co-ordinated, vaguely icicle themed label. The rest of my sloe gin has gone back in the cupboard to steep some more before I get it out again properly in December.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Ralph Brookes — Salford newsagent and amateur filmmaker

Ralph Brookes saw almost a century of Salford life. Born in 1900, he was a delivery boy for the Evening News and Evening Chronicle who then joined the navy, became a docker and went on to run the family newsagents on New Park Road in Ordsall. In the late 1950s, Mr Brookes, already a keen photographer of everyday people and places, took up a video camera and started recording life in inner city Salford on Standard 8 film*; the man who sold the official version of the news and had delivered the news to local houses started to create his own, informal stories of the neighbourhood around him. The resulting silent films show some of the radical changes the working class area underwent in the space of a few years as part of Salford Council’s slum clearance plan, which led to Mr Brookes’ newsagents being knocked down and him and his wife being moved into new housing.

The film People and Places Around Ordsall starts with Mr Brookes mingling with a crowd that has gathered to watch Coronation Street stars film a tug-of-war in Ordsall Park, which is later shown on Mr Brookes' TV screen as it is being broadcast. Mr Brookes’ shop and home stood in a row of other shops and houses bordering the park, in an area of traditional Victorian terraces not far from a real life street called Coronation Street on the New Barracks Estate.

Mr Brookes’ highly personal films are home movies and thus probably weren’t meant to be seen by a wide audience. They celebrate events such as weddings, birthdays and Christmas — showing his grandchildren dressed up smartly, the house decked out for Christmas and the table laden with festive food. But his camera also frequently visited the outside of the shop which, it seems, was a meeting place for local children who hung around and read comics or played games in the street. We’re also taken to the local nursery, full of smiling children and to the local swimming pool, as well as venturing into the shell of a church mid-demolition.

Mr Brookes also often travelled further afield, and showed the world outside his immediate community. It appears that he took his camera nearly everywhere: window shopping in a toy shop in Manchester city centre, admiring central library, taking us round the exhibits at the zoo, even on a daytrip to Liverpool on the train to look at the Christmas lights — Mr Brookes spent the train journey glued to the window, his camera speeding through the snowy landscape outside.

People and Places Around Ordsall is a collage of snippets of film spanning the seasons, shot across a wide time frame, which leads up to a scene showing the empty plot of land where his shop once stood. Though there’s no commentary explicitly stated in words, by choosing to take us into his bathroom earlier in the film, and showing us how the floor tiles match the bath, with a carefully co-ordinated checked towel hung neatly over the side, you get a sense Mr Brookes was proud of his home. Mr Brookes’ camera closes in on the compulsory purchase order made for his property in 1969, returning several times to the value of £5 which was to be given by the council in compensation.

I watched the films People and Places Around Ordsall and Christmas Streetscenes; Manchester and Liverpool in the North West Film Archive.

*There is a fascinating essay by Heather Norris Nicholson comparing the films of Ralph Brookes and Michael Goodger from 1957-1973, and their differing representations of Ordsall, which can be read here.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Swimming in history: Historic bathing opportunities in Manchester

My friend Catriona has started a local history society (www.manchesterlocalhistory.blogspot.com) at Manchester University. I have written a guide to interesting places to go swimming for a zine she is producing for the society:

There are few types of exercise more pleasurable, relaxing and energising than swimming. Forget the modern Aquatics Centre, though: Manchester has historic swimming pools which can help you explore the stories of the city at the same time as getting fit. Some date back to times when the provision of public baths was not just for leisure, but part of a wider effort to improve public cleanliness and hygiene, and some are in buildings that are symbolic and influential to the city’s history.

Local authorities across the country started to provide public pools and laundries for their citizens after the Public Baths and Wash Houses Act of 1846. Even into the twentieth century, many people had no water in their houses, let alone an inside bathroom. In Manchester, a number of public swimming baths and wash houses were built in densely populated residential areas by the city’s Baths and Wash Houses Committee to give people the chance to wash their clothes, have baths in privacy and enjoy the comfort of hot water. Although many are long demolished, a handful survive, some of which still function as swimming pools.

The most famous and celebrated swimming baths is Manchester’s splendid water palace Victoria Baths, which opened in 1906. Unfortunately, it ceased to open as a swimming baths in 1993 and the water was drained from the pools.

This guide covers, firstly, historic public swimming baths in which it is still possible to swim and, secondly, a couple of opportunities to swim in some of Manchester’s most luxurious historic buildings.

Levenshulme Swimming Pools, Barlow Road, Levenshulme

Levenshulme Public Baths and Washhouse opened 1921. An early claim to fame is that, in the late 1920s and early 1930s, Sunny Lowry from nearby Longsight used it to train to swim the channel, becoming the first British woman to do so in 1933.

Nowadays everyone enters through the same old-fashioned gates and wooden doors, but the exterior of the building still displays signs of the social hierarchy of the time, with lettering saying ‘Men’ and ‘Women’ marking where there would once have been separate entrances for the sexes. Inside, the segregation would have continued: Levenshulme Baths has two pools, one large pool which would have been reserved for men and a smaller pool for women.

Although it’s unprepossessing from the outside, inside the building’s most striking feature is a beautiful black and white chequered tiled floor in the entrance and hallways. The dramatic effect is heightened by walls tiled in white, cream, black and grey with various combinations of decorative stripes, bands, crosses and geometric patterns. Like Victoria Baths, Chorlton Baths and Withington Baths, the pools are lined with glazed brick — white with grass green bands — that glistens rainbow colours when it catches the light. Lines of cubicles face each other across the pools under a curved ceiling.

The local community has fought threats of closure to keep Levenshulme Baths open, and it has recently undergone refurbishment — although a few years ago it attracted some controversy when it started offering naked bathing sessions for gay men.

Withington Leisure Centre, Burton Road, Withington

Withington Baths is a bit like Victoria Baths on a smaller scale, and the most ornamental of the historic pools which remain open in Manchester. Simple floral motifs adorn the brickwork outside and stained glass inside, shields and drapes pattern the tiles on the staircase, the entrance hall is paved in black and white checks and the council’s coat of arms is recreated in coloured glass above the wooden entrance doors. Light floods into the pool through a glass roof supported by a sloping wooden ceiling.

Withington Baths, which was built in 1911, was designed by Manchester’s first city architect Henry Price. As well as Victoria Baths and the also impressive but now sadly defunct Harpurhey Baths in north Manchester (which are in the process of finding a new, non-watery use as part of Manchester College), Price designed a number of other significant buildings around the city, including the pump house hydraulic power station that provided water to mills, warehouses, the town hall clock and opera house in central Manchester (the building is now part of the People’s History Museum in Spinningfields) and Withington and Didsbury Libraries.

In 1914, Withington Baths became the first baths in Manchester to allow mixed bathing, and it also made no distinction between social classes — often, pools also separated ‘first class males’ from ‘second class males’. Nowadays, the facilities have been expanded to include a gym, and there’s also a sauna just off the side of the pool. Customers have the choice of using either modern changing complexes or old-fashioned style cubicles lining the side of the pool.

Chorlton Leisure Centre, Manchester Road, Chorlton-cum-Hardy

Another Henry Price building, from 1929, which still featured separate entrances for men and women .

Although it has cubicles lining the pool side, Chorlton Baths is largely uninteresting on the inside, with a low flat ceiling and little in the way of decoration. The most interesting thing to see is a plaque erected a the time of opening by Manchester’s Baths and Washhouses Committee which lists the councillors present, including a Mr W Onions.

Radisson Edwardian Hotel, Peter Street, Manchester city centre

There are few places more important to Manchester’s history than the site occupied by the 5 star Radisson Edwardian Hotel. The modern, luxurious hotel (which is so comfortable Sven Goran Eriksson made it his home during his time as Manchester City’s manager) stands behind the facade of the Free Trade hall, probably the most famous building in Manchester. The Free Trade Hall, which has actually been built and rebuilt a few times, was erected close to the site of the Peterloo Massacre of 1819, a protest for democratic reform which turned nasty when mounted soldiers charged the crowd. The building has gone on to host events important to the city’s political and cultural history, from anti corn law meetings in the 1830s and '40s to the Halle orchestra’s first concert in 1858.

If Victoria Baths was the height of luxury in Edwardian swimming baths, then Sienna Spa, in the basement of the hotel, is the ultimate in swimming luxury today. Whereas Victoria Baths’ opulence is created by an ornate décor of tiles and stained glass, the Radisson hotel’s understated black and cream colour scheme is sleek, smooth and minimalist. The small pool glows electric blue, lit from beneath the water.

Swim laps, float on your back, bubble in the Jacuzzi or sit in the sauna and steam room whilst contemplating that, a few floors above, Christabel Pankhust and Annie Kenney raised the question of votes for women in 1905, Dylan dared go electric in 1966 and was heckled with ‘Judas’, and various Manchester music luminaries saw the Sex Pistols play an influential gig in the Lesser Free Trade Hall.

Midland Hotel, Peter Street, Manchester city centre

Just down the road from the Free Trade Hall is another luxury hotel with a health club in the basement.

The huge, redbrick and terracotta Midland Hotel is significant to Manchester’s history as it was built in 1903 by the Midland Railway company next to the Manchester Central train station and used by American cotton traders visiting Manchester on business. In 1906, Mr Rolls met Mr Royce at the hotel, leading to the foundation of the famous car company, and Adolf Hitler apparently once considered it as a potential venue for Nazi headquarters in Britain. Along with the Radisson, it’s taken over by politicians every two years for the Labour Party conference.

The pool is smaller and shabbier than the Radisson’s but overlooks the gym so, whilst you watch gym goers getting hot and sweaty on a treadmill, you can feel thankful that you are splashing around in warm water — a vastly superior form of exercise!

For opening hours and swim times visit:

www.manchestersportandleisure.org/activities/swimming (Levenshulme, Withington and Chorlton)
www.siennaspa.co.uk (Radisson Edwardian Hotel)
www.qhotels.co.uk/hotels/the-midland-manchester/leisure.aspx (Midland Hotel)

Monday, 1 November 2010

The Shrieking Violet Issue 11 media special

Issue 11 of the Shrieking Violet is out now. It is a media special I started with the aim of looking at Manchester media city then and now, considering the history of the city and print, but ended up focusing on a few specific areas I found particularly interesting.

This issue's cover is by Dan Russell of Manchester Municipal Design Corporation, which produces the Things Happen fanzine (to read the current issue, including my article about the Ashton Canal, click here).

I'm interested in the way old newspaper premises still leave a mark on the city, from the Printworks to the Daily Express Building. I interviewed Manchester Modernist Society in 2009 when they had just formed and, when I asked them each to pick their favourite modernist building in Manchester, Jack Hale chose the Daily Express building because of the way it combines form and function. I asked him to elaborate by writing an article on the building for this issue.

I've also considered free weekly titles Shortlist and Stylist, and their skewed perceptions of men and women.

Evan Cowen has written a tragicomic diary of week undertaking work experience that essential, yet often frustrating rite of passage for anyone hoping to work in the media at his local newspaper in Cumbria.

Manchester based artist, singer and performer Lowri Evans, who is currently living in Brazil, has captured a day in her life as a page from the São Paulo Folha newspaper.

Matthew Austin of Austin Brothers Films has written an account of the challenges of producing a feature film on a tight budget, and looks ahead to the premiere of their debut feature length film Cricket, which will close the Salford Film Festival at the Lowry Outlet Mall on November 14.

Other articles in this issue include my write-up of a visit to the North West Film Archive to watch documentary films about Manchester newspapers from the '60s and '70s, which are fascinating not just as portraits of the publications themselves but glimpses into the society of the time and Manchester in days gone by.

I am interested in not just the 'official' media that forms the narrative of the city, but also independent, alternative publications, and I have profiled publications that have inspired me, from the Salford Star magazine to local fanzines.

I have recently been asking Manchester based zines and magazines why they still bother to produce a print publication a very labour intensive form of communication when it is so cheap, easy and convenient to publish online. I have compiled a few of the answers.

Issue 11 also features illustration by Alex Boswell, poetry by Rachel Cranshaw and photography Manchester Daily Photo blogger Paul Capewell. Chef and film maker Rich Howe contributes recipes for banana soup and an Elvis Sandwich, whilst Norwich based singer Kayleigh Read has written a recipe for vegan moussaka.

I went a bit linocut crazy having recently rediscovered it!

Free paper copies of the Shrieking Violet will be scattered around Manchester city centre at some stage today and tomorrow. Likely places include the Cornerhouse, Piccadilly Records, Koffee Pot, An Outlet, Oklahoma, Good Grief fanzine shop in Afflecks Palace, Nexus Art Cafe, Magma Books, Manchester Craft Centre etc.

Download Issue 11 with the pages in the right order for printing here.

Read Issue 11 with the pages in the right order for reading here.

Back issues of the Shrieking Violet can be downloaded here.

To obtain a free paper copy of this zine or any back issues (free service), email your name and address to Natalie.Rose.Bradbury@googlemail.com.

To contribute to future issues email Natalie.Rose.Bradbury@googlemail.com or join The Shrieking Violet fanzine facebook group.

In an homage to the pointless lists Shortlist magazine loves so much, here is a list of trivia relating to things I did during the making of this issue:

Went from never having seen any of Sex and the City to having seen all of it apart from the second film.
Started watching Mad Men but only got as far as the first two episodes.
Read a copy of Nuts magazine, Zoo magazine and Glamour magazine.
Used my John Rylands University Library alumni card and spent a couple of hours pretending to be studious.
Was inspired by watching the films Beautiful Losers and $100 Dollars and a T-Shirt.
Cut my fingers open several times with lino cutting tools.
Discovered and fell in love with balsamic vinegar.
Attended two debates about the media, one about ownership of the media organised by the Mule newspaper which featured Stephen Kingston of the Salford Star, Dave Toomer from the National Union of Journalists and Nigel Barlow from Inside the M60, and an Urbis Research Forum on digital media and the city which had representatives from Creative Tourist, Manchester Climate Fortnightly and Future Everything on the panel and had a pessimistic tone but seemed to conclude that media works best when it is a complementary combination of new digital media and traditional print media.
Joined twitter because everyone else has.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Pumpkin vs. squash

Although technically a type of squash, I find the light, subtle, juicy orange flesh of the round, orange skinned pumpkin infinitely nicer, both in texture and in taste, than the bland, soapy, sweet, almost perfumey stodginess of something like a butternut squash. Unfortunately, pumpkins only tend to appear in this country in October and then disappear again after Halloween once their novelty factor has worn off, which is a shame for such a versatile vegetable which yields so much delicious food, both from its flesh and seeds. Luckily, pumpkin flesh is ideal for freezing, so it’s easy to eat fresh pumpkin around Halloween then freeze the rest (either in thick slabs or bite size chunks) to be used throughout the winter, in meals as diverse as soup, curries, risotto and lasagna — or simply just enjoyed roasted.

To prepare a pumpkin, I slice the top off with a long, serrated knife and remove the seeds with my hands, setting aside in a bowl (these seeds can be either cooked immediately or frozen). To maximise the amount of flesh I get out of the pumpkin — if you want to carve a face into your pumpkin, then you’re going to need to slice the top off then scoop the flesh out from the inside — I remove the skin with a sharp knife as if peeling a potato (due to the round nature of the vegetable, it can be easier if you chop it into smaller chunks). I then chop the flesh into cubes, and either cook immediately or place in sandwich bags or plastic containers and freeze. After it’s been frozen, pumpkin can either be left out to defrost if planning ahead, or thawed for ninety seconds in a microwave when needed.

Pumpkin and apple soup with cumin

This is the nicest food I know how to make. Pumpkin, apple and cumin really is a dream combination — all three flavours are improved immeasurably in the company of each other. Hearty, warming Pumpkin, apple and cumin is my all-time favourite type of soup — probably because, due to the limited availability of pumpkin the rest of the year round, I only eat it in Autumn when the idea of winter is still novel and before it gets too bitterly cold. Dark, early nights are softened by the cosiness inside, and crunchy leaves and the excitement of Halloween, bonfires and fireworks outside.

Serves 3

550g pumpkin, chopped
4 apples, peeled and chopped (no particular variety — I use the type that come, ten for a pound, in sandwich bags from the Arndale Market)
One large onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, chopped
700ml vegetable stock
350ml apple juice
1-1.5 teaspoons cumin
Six sage leaves, chopped
Salt and pepper to season

Sauté the onion in olive oil in a large pan for five minutes. Add the garlic, pumpkin and apple and sauté for a further five minutes. Add the apple juice and stock and simmer for 25 minutes. Add the sage leaves, season well with salt and pepper, stir in the cumin and remove from the heat. Puree with a hand blender, adding more water if necessary.

Roasted pumpkin seeds

These make a satisfying snack during the day or a crunchy alternative to popcorn to take to the cinema.

Simmer the pumpkin seeds, fresh or frozen, in lightly salted water for 10-15 minutes. Preheat the oven to a medium to high heat. Drain the seeds well, place in a shallow baking dish or tray and coat with olive oil. Season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper and cook for 20-25 minutes (checking frequently as there is a very fine line between just cooked and burned!), stirring every few minutes. The pumpkin seeds are done when they are crispy and starting to go brown around the edges.

Roasted pumpkin with gnocchi and rosemary

This quick and simple but effective meal is my favourite lazy convenience food, and one of my favourite dinners. Preheat the oven to a medium to high heat. Take the required amount of pumpkin cubes (described above) out of the freezer and defrost. Drain any water, coat with olive oil on all sides and place in a small, shallow casserole dish with a fat clove of garlic, chopped. Roast in the oven for ten minutes. Chop a few sprigs of fresh rosemary, to taste. After the pumpkin has been cooking for ten minutes, add the rosemary and roast for a further ten minutes, stirring occasionally, until the pumpkin starts to go golden and crispy around the edges. Meanwhile, bring a pan of lightly salted water to boil on the hob. Add gnocchi and simmer until the gnocchi rises to the surface of the water. Drain. Remove the pumpkin from the oven, stir the gnocchi into the pumpkin and its juices, season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper (and cumin if desired), grate cheese on top and serve in the dish it cooked in.

The above recipe also works well with aubergine, with the addition of honey and lots of cumin.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Masculine, feminine: Shortlist and Stylist magazines

Every Wednesday morning, two free magazines appear on the streets of several cities around the country, including Manchester (as well as airport lounges and French Connection stores). Left in piles next to the Metro newspaper, or handed out by men in yellow jackets, they’re designed to be grabbed by workers on their daily commute.

Why two magazines? Well, with its bold title in an unfussy font and covers in primary colours featuring prominent men such as Alan Sugar, Gordon Gecko, Russell Brand and Fabio Capello staring you straight on, with some cover stars, such as Tony Blair, so important they’re further emboldened in black and white, Shortlist is aimed at attracting the eye of men. The strapline promises that inside you will find ‘News, Sport, TV, Cars, Movies, Style’ — the same subjects you might see covered in the ‘Men’s Lifestyle’ section of a newsagents. Stylist’s decorative font, italicised to give the impression it’s a bit more thoughtful, and backed up by a palette of pinks and lilacs, is meant to attract the female sensibility. Its sleeves show cupcakes, shoes, handbags, a puppy with floppy ears, and singers and Hollywood actresses staring pensively into the distance or looking down shyly. Inside, is ‘Fashion, Travel, People, Ideas, Beauty’.

The two magazines are produced in the same building, and published by the same company, yet their whole premise is that men and women are fundamentally different. Rather than looking at the interests men and women have in common and producing a magazine anyone could find interesting, they focus on heightening traditional male and female pursuits and exaggerating conventionally male or female attributes until the two magazines display complete parodies of what is ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’.

The magazines’ content is primarily concerned with selling a certain, ideal lifestyle — something for men, and women, to aspire to, which often harks back to recapturing the values of an earlier era. In Stylist, interviewees are praised for their sophistication, glamour and mystique, and for being enigmatic — in comparison with what the magazine regards as the ‘laddish’ behaviour of some women today. Shortlist talks admiringly of the ‘hard living charisma’ of Serge Gainsbourg and the glamour of the Rat Pack, emphasising timeless elegance, from Savile Row tailoring to owning a decent watch — ‘The mark of a gentleman’.

Shortlist is obsessed with the escapist themes of adventure, endurance, war and danger, from endless articles about drug lords and South American gangs to reports from war zones, instructions about how to survive in space and lists of the most dangerous places in the world to trade in. Shortlist is also heavily biased towards technology, and keeping up to date with the latest ‘must-have’ gadgets. Interestingly, Stylist has more emphasis than Shortlist on food and literature (although it does liken Philip Larkin, hilariously, to a ‘grumpier, smarter Bridget Jones’), but Shortlist makes more of music, covering newer, 'hipper' bands compared to Stylist's recommendation of mumsy music like Robbie Williams.

In case you’d missed what’s being sold to you, Shortlist backs it up with adverts for beer that promises adventure, deodorant that will ‘give you balls’, face cream that ‘wages war on oily skin’, phones aiding survival and endless adverts for cars, watches, clothes and the Discovery Channel. Stylist, in contrast, is primarily packed with adverts for grooming products such as shampoo and hair dye, IKEA furniture, clothes and the occasional car or rom com film.

Each magazine has a regular columnist with whom we’re supposed to empathise and sympathise. Danny Wallace’s column, in Shortlist, is one of the highlights of the magazine, a feature that rarely fails to make me laugh as he fails woefully at performing everyday tasks, from ordering a sandwich to securing the services of a plumber. His well-written column reads like a piece of creative writing exaggerated slightly for comic effect. I don’t believe for a minute that he’s as hapless as he makes out. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for Dawn Porter, who was somehow given a column in Stylist magazine (which, thankfully, seems to have disappeared for the time being) despite being one of the least interesting women you can imagine meeting. Over the course of a few insipid paragraphs of fluff, Porter shares insights into her life such as being chased by a wasp, dying her hair and having PMT.

In her recent critique of contemporary feminism, One Dimensional Woman, Nina Power said ‘If the contemporary portrayal of womankind were to be believed, contemporary female achievement would culminate in the ownership of expensive handbags, a vibrator, a job, a flat and a man’. We can blame a lot of this on Sex and the City, which, in one of several Sex and the City specials, Stylist claims ‘shaped the cultural development of the 21st century’ and acts as a ‘champion of women…a platform for female independence, career success, a woman’s right to hideously expensive shoes…and made single life sexy’ (I couldn’t agree less with this description of Sex and the City — which focuses on superficial, self-obsessed, dull, needy women whose lives revolve around where their next man is going to come from). Stylist goes on to say that the biggest appeal of the women in Sex and the City is that they are ‘real’, managing to ‘tap into the pysche of modern, professional women brilliantly’, yet they are not like anyone I know or would ever wish to meet. It states that, unlike '99% of the female population', ‘men just don’t understand Sex and the City’ — ignoring all the women who, too, think Sex and the City is banal and shallow.

The biggest problem I have with Sex and the City (aside from its limited depictions of homosexuality and bisexuality) is the same I have with Shortlist and Stylist magazines — the distinctions they make between men and women, and the way they don’t even try to understand each other. The women in Sex and the City show little interest in anything outside men and each other; their level of political engagement is limited to sleeping with politicians, they have no heterosexual male friends and find it seemingly impossible to relate to men on any level other than sex — not that they want to. As Samantha says: “I’ve never been friends with any men. Why would I? Women are for friendships, men are for fucking.”

At the start of this century, David Gauntlett noted in Media, Gender and Identity: An Introduction (one of many studies of men’s and women’s magazines) that the men’s magazine market is relatively new as it had long been thought that “‘real men’ didn’t need a magazine to tell them how to live". Today, however, Shortlist magazine seems hell bent on reclaiming manliness from a perceived social and cultural assault on male values and pursuits. It runs articles with titles such as ‘Why it’s ok to be a man again’, and Giles Coren defending the barbecue as ‘the last bastion of masculinity’. Despite this, there’s just as much pressure on men as women to look after their appearance, from protecting their hair on holiday to ten steps to getting the perfect beach body.

Shortlist and Stylist magazines are inherently conservative. Writing almost forty years ago, in a set of essays entitled Ways of Seeing, the critic John Berger said 'publicity is the culture of the consumer society' — advertisements are the images by which capitalism sustains itself, selling the public an idealised vision of themselves. It manufactures glamour, which is described by Berger as the 'happiness of being envied'. Publicity shows people who they could be and where they could be placed within society if they make the right choices (ie purchases) or, if they already hold that position in society, it sells them the ability to maintain that position — one which is, in the eyes of others, enviable. Shortlist and Stylist magazine, despite masquerading as serious magazines which are read for their content, are in fact just publicity for the dominant, accepted lifestyle. Those who read Shortlist and Stylist do so either because they accept that the lifestyles the magazines portray are something to aspire to, or because they already belong to the social group that can afford such a lifestyle. They see their values reflected, so their place in society is therefore reinforced and confirmed.

I don’t, however, think that either magazine is bad — they both have several features I enjoy, and in both magazines there are whole sections I flick straight through (sport in Shortlist and beauty in Stylist). Shortlist magazine’s ‘Secret Genius’ quiz page is fun for passing time, and some of the ‘Instructions for Men’, such as ‘how to avoid showing fear in a job interview’, are useful. Stylist magazine celebrates female achievements, holds networking events for female entrepreneurs and prints women’s responses to topical news stories such as the Marie Stopes TV advertisements. Its ‘Elsewhere’ page rounds up world news stories relating to women around the world, often focusing on the quirky and bizarre, which I would otherwise have missed. I’ve also cut out and tried several recipes from Stylist magazine (Shortlist too used to publish recipes, but stopped for some reason). ‘Work Life: A one-day diary, from morning latte to lights out’, which looks at the typical day of a different career woman each week, from school teachers to paramedics to zookeepers, is a good idea — although it almost always focuses on women in London and the south. I admired Stylist’s election coverage, which looked at each of the main parties’ policies, and how they affect women, in turn, and even hosted a women’s question time.

Furthermore, both magazines, albeit separately, try to address issues affecting men and women, such as depression, bereavement, work life balance, housework and fertility, and sometimes even offer new perspectives on much written about stories — what it’s really like to be raised by a teenage parent, the psychological impact on men of women waiting longer to have children, the mindset of female terrorists and mafia members, and what motivates women to ‘kiss and tell’.

I’ve been reading Shortlist since it started in 2007 (Stylist is a far more recent addition to newsstands which hit the streets just over a year ago), for the simple reason that it has a sense of humour — it makes me laugh. Of the two, I’d say Stylist is the slightly better magazine — not, I’d like to think, because I’m a woman, but it has more consistently substantial, varied content than Shortlist which, as the name suggests, is full of lists of trivia aimed at a short attention span. Stylist has some good features, from a recent article about women graffiti artists to reports on the oppression of women around the world and pieces on serial killers and prostitution. The main criticism I’d make of both magazines is their homogeneity — the people and lifestyles shown within their pages are rarely anything other than white, affluent and heterosexual.

I don’t understand why, instead of patronising us with sexist, outdated notions of male and female interests, such as ‘a generation of women obsessed with shoes’, Shortlist Media can’t just produce one super magazine that will appeal to everyone, combining the intelligent, interesting, feature length articles and topical news stories of Stylist with the humour and factoids of Shortlist. I, for one, would definitely read it.


You might also enjoy my friend Olivia Singer's article about Stylist magazine and feminism.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

$100 & A T-Shirt — A Documentary about Zines in the Northwest US

A few years ago, a documentary was made about the Portland Zine Symposium, which takes place in Portland, Oregon, every year. As well as showing footage of the event, including a seminar conducted by Calvin Johnson, the film compiles interviews with zine makers from the city’s Independent Publishing Resource Centre, covering such fundamental questions as ‘What is a zine’, and concluding ‘zines are a visual medium we should try our hardest to make them look good’, ‘Who makes zines’ (’99% of us are all nerds’), ‘Why make zines’ not to make profit, but to have fun, educate and ‘alter people‘s perceptions', ‘How do you make zines?’ — something to have in the back of your mind is that ‘everything needs to be a multiple of four’, ‘Where have zines taken us and what’s next’ and, perhaps most importantly of all, ‘Why do people spend all their time in front of Xerox machines?’.

It’s a thorough introduction to zines, suggesting their spirit goes as far back as Martin Luther nailing his words to a church door, and can be identified in publications as diverse as the pamphlets of Thomas Paine, publications from the Labor movement, satirical magazine the Realist, the poetry anthologies of the Beats, and the punk and Riot Grrrl movements, when women made zines in their ‘hundreds and hundreds’.

The interviewees leaf through a zine library, picking out their favourite zines or the strangest, which range from the niche zines about collecting shoes and a publication about substitute teachers to the practical from a pamphlet dedicated to fonts to feminist zines offering advice on rape, sexual assault, the law, where to go for abortion advice and insight into mental health problems and the downright grotesque a zine about ‘the use of bodily fluids for revenge’.

There’s a strong community element, with zine makers sending zines all over in the post and receiving detailed critiques in return. The documentary’s charm is the enthusiasm everyone shows towards what they do, with one participant describing it as a ‘co-dependent relationship I couldn't break up even if I wanted to’ and others concurring ‘You have to find a way to produce it no matter what it takes’ because if you didn’t ‘you’d be standing yelling on street corners’.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Autumn, Pennine Lancashire and Panopticons

I have a mental list stored up ready for those fortuitous occasions, which happen about once a year, when I have an afternoon spare, it's not raining too much and I am in the company of someone with a car who will drive me wherever I want to go. High up the list of places I have wanted to visit for which a car is essential (or, at least, a lot more convenient than public transport) is the Pennine Panopticon trail, which consists of four monumental public artworks which were installed a few years ago in the hills above Lancashire mill towns.

We made it to the first three, but not as far as the final artwork in Blackburn. We started in Haslingen, walking up narrow country lanes from the town to what I thought was the least impressive of the Panopticons, although the country walk was lovely (bright green, mossy walls, yellow and orange poppies and marigolds growing out of cracks in the thin layers of bricks and leaves trickling down from the trees). Halo is a giant metal UFO which resembles a big children's climbing frame. Apparently it's lit up with green LED lights at nighttime and, seen from the motorway, appears to float over the town, but in the daytime it looked a bit tatty and worn where bits of the plastic hanging down from its structure were already snapped and broken.

Far more impressive is the Singing Ringing Tree high above Burnley, where the clouds hover above the top of the hills, which takes the appearance of a large, windswept tree shivering on the side of a hill. This sculpture interacts with its environment, as it consists of narrow tubes of steel of different lengths which are tuned to produce chords as the wind whistles through them. When you approach from a distance, it coos softly like birdsong, almost making you look out for a hidden chorus of seagulls. Close up, as you stand underneath, noises come at you from all directions, a sort of call and response which reminded me of all the instruments of an orchestra tuning up to A at the start of a concert, listening to each other and adjusting their pitch until they're in tune with each other.

I associate the word panopticon with the nineteenth century philosopher Jeremy Bentham, who designed a prison based on the concept of the panopticon; a place where the prison guard could watch the prisoners at all times, without them being sure when they were being observed (so, a place where everything is on view, and a form of psychological as much as physical control).

The artwork at Colne is based on a broader definition of a Panopticon as a place providing a panoramic or comprehensive view. Atom is a concrete oval structure perched on the side of the hill which has large viewing holes looking out over the hills and a shiny, round nucleus in the middle, which again distorts these views in its reflection. The irregular viewing holes make it resemble a washed up pebble which has been eroded over time by the sea, and the metal coating on the outside of the Panopticon itself is becoming weathered; its turquoise seams show and it's beginning to take on the bloomed, layered look of the landscape around, which is criss-crossed with old walls, dappled with trees and patches of brown and scattered with sheep.

I like the Pennine Panopticons because they aren't just alien interventions in the landscape. As well as being new additions to the spectacular hills that dominate the skyline all around, and being artworks which are fascinating in their own right, they make you look at and think about what's already there. It's impossible to see the Singing Ringing Tree without noticing the huge wind turbines blowing in the wind below; the same wind that produces music for the Singing Ringing Tree generates power for homes in the area. You're also always conscious of the ways that man has intervened in the landscape before, and continues to make a mark, from the dense rooftops of the towns beneath to the ever-present buzz of the motorway in the background.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Newspapers on Film — visiting the North West Film Archive

I first became interested in films about newspapers after discovering Wakefield Express by the Free Cinema director Lindsay Anderson, a portrait of the town’s newspaper commissioned to mark the paper’s centenary in 1952, which places the Express at the heart of the Yorkshire community it serves. Lasting just over thirty minutes, it’s a snapshot of Wakefield life, and the city’s expansion, which the Express was there to record at every moment — as the narrator notes, ‘the Express has grown with Wakefield’. It was rescreened in the town last year during protests against the Wakefield Express leaving its town centre offices and moving to the outskirts of town.

Similarly, films in the North West Film Archive document Manchester’s history as the ‘second city of newspapers’, where both northern editions of the daily national papers were produced, as well as Greater Manchester's own regional daily paper the Manchester Evening News.

News Story is a twenty minute behind the scenes portrait of the Manchester Guardian made in 1960, four years before it moved to London (and a year after it dropped the ‘Manchester' part of its name), which traces the history of the paper from its foundation in 1821 following the Peterloo Massacre to its status as an international paper.

The NWFA also holds two documentaries about the Manchester Evening News (like the Wakefield Express, the Evening News, too, has now moved out of town — from Deansgate in the city centre to Chadderton, Oldham earlier this year): Here is the News, made to mark the paper’s centenary year in 1968 and The Voice of a Region, from 1970-2, which celebrate the Evening News’ role as ‘an important voice for a famous city’ and ‘a strong heart for the community it serves’.

Lingering on the city’s achievements and admiring its new modernist architecture, they’re modern and optimistic, talking admiringly of Manchester’s abundance of supermarkets and self-service stores, panning past glamorous shop fronts, showing celebrities such as George Best and exalting the young people of the city. In Here is the News, bright yellow Ford vans glide around the city's roads to a soundtrack of jaunty jazz, distributing newspapers like rolled up rays of sunshine.

Shown being read in a suburban home by members of the nuclear family, the Manchester Evening News is ‘the family newspaper that is indeed a member of the family’. It’s a ‘pleasure at the end of the working day’ that's ‘read by all types of people — men and women, young and old, rich and poor’, and is ‘full of the sorts of things that everyone is interested in’, from the stock market, football, dogs and horses to fashion pages, recipes and hints for housewives and nightclubs, cinemas and jobs for young people.

The films rush around the different departments that work towards the ‘daily miracle’ that is the production of a newspaper; from crime reporters at the scene of the crime to clattering typewriters with hands dancing over the keys, splashing chemicals in the darkroom, pipe-smoking men in waistcoats, girls chattering on telesales headsets, the sawing of metal plates and the rolling of printing presses that could turn out up to 38,000 papers an hour.

The Voice of a Region visits the Evening News’ then new premises, purpose-built by the architects Leach Rhodes Walker next to John Rylands Library on Deansgate (where Spinningfields is now), praising the ‘striking modern building’ surrounded by courtyards and squares where the public can relax, ‘soothed by the sight of flowers’. It concludes ‘as the city continues to grow, so will the newspaper’.

Unfortunately, though, within decades the old ways of newspaper production were becoming obsolete. In complete contrast to the confidence of the Evening News films, The Way It Was comprises of grainy, jerky footage shot in Thomson House (now the Printworks entertainment complex) on Withy Grove, base of the Mirror and Telegraph, which was once home to the largest composing room in Europe.

Filmed shortly before the printworks was taken over by the press baron Robert Maxwell in 1985, maudlin classical music accompanies images of the massive machinery which has come to rest, zooming in on contemporary headlines and hovering over the word ‘redundancies’. Another brief film, New Newspaper Premises, shows old staff who made been made redundant being shown the new computerised facilities which replaced them.

If you're interested in seeing archive footage relating to any aspect of local history, you can search the North West Film Archive's website and make an appointment to go in for a viewing. Also look out for public screenings of highlights from the collection.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Aubergine and lentil lasagna

Serves 4-5

For the ragù

50g soy mince
100g red lentils
One medium to large onion
3 fat cloves garlic
One tin chopped tomatoes
5 tablespoons tomato purée
½ teaspoon cocoa powder
1 teaspoon sugar
A glug of tomato ketchup
12 tea spoons Bisto favourite gravy granules (veggie friendly)
One tablespoon dried basil
One tablespoon fresh basil
Pinch cayenne pepper
Pinch paprika

For the white sauce

75g butter
70g flour
500ml milk

Glug of olive oil
One medium to large aubergine
125g packet of mozzarella
Salt and pepper for seasoning

4-5 plain lasagna sheets
4-5 spinach lasagna sheets

Slice the aubergine lengthways and salt by placing in a large baking tray, covering with salt and leaving for 30-40 minutes.

Heat the oil in a large pan and add the onion, chopped. Stir for five minutes then add the garlic, chopped, cook for another five minutes. Add the soy mince and lentils and stir well to ensure they are coated with oil. Add the tin of chopped tomatoes and 200ml water. Turn the heat right down and keep stirring for another fifteen to twenty minutes, adding the tomato purée, ketchup, cocoa powder, sugar, gravy granules, basil (in whichever order you like) and enough water to ensure the mixture doesn’t stick to the pan. Season with nutmeg, paprika, cayenne pepper, salt and ground black pepper to taste.

Meanwhile, heat the butter in a smaller pan on a low heat and add the flour when the butter is bubbling. It should form a paste. Stir. Then, gradually add the milk and stir until absorbed. Repeat the process until you have the desired consistency. Keep cooking on a low heat, stirring all the time and adding more milk or water if required. Season well with salt and ground black pepper. Generously grate nutmeg into the sauce and stir.

Turn off the heat for the ragù and white sauce. Preheat the oven to 190 degrees.

Rinse the aubergine and pat dry with kitchen roll. Fry in olive oil for five minutes on both sides until golden.

Spread half the ragù evenly on the bottom of a large, rectangular baking dish. Add a layer of half the aubergines. Pour a third of the white sauce on top and spread out evenly. Place the spinach lasagna sheets on top, breaking off pieces from the corners if necessary to make the sheets fit the dish. Add the remaining ragù and spread out evenly on top of the lasagna. Add the rest of the aubergines in a layer. Cover with white sauce and spread out evenly. Add the plain lasagna sheets. Top with the remaining white sauce and spread the mozzarella evenly on top.

Bake for 35 minutes until golden and bubbling.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Story of the Salford Star

A few years back, you might have seen copies of free community magazine the Salford Star, a snapshot of life in Salford that was searching, biting, sometimes funny, often celebratory and always readable and well-written. It featured everything from investigative reporting — showing the other side of local ‘success’ stories such as the Lowry, Mediacity and Urban Splash regeneration — to chats with councillors, gig reviews and interviews with local musicians and artists — the role, in fact, you would expect a local newspaper to fulfil. The Salford Star, though, was launched as an independent project, written and produced by Salfordians for Salfordians, with up to 100 members of the local community involved, from a pool of writers and photographers to graphic designers in bedrooms all over Salford, and families distributing it around the city streets door-to-door.

Unfortunately, the chances are you've never got your hands on the Salford Star. Since starting in 2006, the Salford Star produced nine highly regarded print copies — the magazine was even runner up in the prestigious nationwide Paul Foot Award for Campaigning Journalism in 2007 — before it was forced online in 2008, due to a difficulty attracting advertising and what could be seen as unfair competition from Salford City Council’s own expensive to produce, self-congratulatory magazine Life In Salford which is distributed around the city’s households. The situation has resulted in a long and frustrating struggle for funding, with requests for public funding repeatedly being denied by council committees.

At a talk at the Working Class Movement Library in Salford during the summer, Salford Star editor Stephen Kingston set the scene, describing the backdrop against which the Salford Star started and the motivation behind it: “Salford is one of the most deprived areas in the country. The Salford Star didn’t come about by people sitting in garrets thinking let’s make a nice community magazine. We spent six months researching what our communities wanted and needed.”

Kingston and the other volunteers chose tell the stories of the city because if they didn’t, no one else would. Kingston has to fit it around working in schools and driving a mobile library: “I was up at 4am this morning investigating swimming and taxi ranks. It’s a full time job investigating what’s going on. We‘re not saying it's right or wrong, we‘re investigating it objectively - who else is there to investigate it?”

At a time when the newspaper industry has been struggling, with local newspapers across the country being forced to make redundancies, or in some cases even close down altogether, the Salford Star plugs an important gap in being able to look at stories in depth and perform vital functions such as holding the local council to account, which includes frequently making Freedom of Information requests and looking at where public money goes.

“Without independent media, there is no democracy. There is no investigative journalism even in the nationals anymore because of the cost of reporting it,” Kingston explained.

“The Salford Advertiser has five reporters and the MEN has one reporter covering Salford — they have no time. Why are there so many police stories in the Salford Advertiser/MEN? They’re written for you, they come with video and a photo. They’re there for you. It’s cheap and easy journalism.”

The Salford Star quickly became a political hot potato (“Those that supported us took copies under the desk with a wink. If we put it in the civic centre then 10 minutes later it would be in the bin — but they don’t tell you they won’t take it.”), with the Council denouncing it as biased, although Kingston insists it is non-political: “They can’t find evidence of us being political or unbalanced. We’re not anti the council. We gave John Merry [Salford Council leader] seven pages — we don’t wave flags saying burn the town hall down, we use it as a bridge. We have no axe to grind. We’re not anti Labour. Whoever was in power we would investigate and print anything we find.”

The Salford Star also shows off positive aspects of life in Salford. Kingston claims: “2/3 of it is positive. We have positive stories — actors, dancers, singers, local artists, football teams.”

He continues, “We give people a voice to tell their stories. The Salford Star gets phoned up at least once, twice, five times a day by people wanting to get their stories told.”

The Salford Star was free, as a cover price could exclude people. Thousands of people a month read the Salford Star now it’s online, from as far afield as London, Australia and Brazil, but Kingston is adamant that ‘it has to be a print copy’. The magazine is currently trying to raise the funds to return to print as “we’re updating practically every day, but 60 per cent of people in Salford don’t have the internet”. Kingston gets lots of encouragement from the people the newspaper serves: “We get supportive letters and we’ve had donations in 5 and 10ps.”

Kingston undertook research in the WCML for inspiration for the Salford Star, linking the magazine to a long tradition of radical publications: “There is a history dating back 300 years of communities trying to tell the truth. We ransacked past community magazines — the Northern Star, the Tameside Eye, Rochdale Alternative Press — every little town had one.”

“People have always tried to stop magazines, criticising them and stopping people from having a choice. In 1712, a tax on newspapers was introduced. In 1815, there was a 4p tax on 2p newspapers. In 1818, the editor of the Manchester Observer was jailed, as was the editor of the Northern Star and Richard Carlile, the editor of the Republican.”

The Salford Star editor may not have been sent to jail, but according to Kingston, censorship is still alive and well, working in far more subtle ways: “Censorship is national and international. In Mexico and Columbia they blow up the offices of investigative journalists. In Britain they do it with your wallet. Salford has a regeneration economy. There is no business in Salford — it’s dead. The only businesses we have can’t afford to advertise. Our potential advertisers would be the Lowry, PCTs, fire and police services, but we’re saying things they don’t want to hear. Any application for funding we make just gets ripped up.”

“Salford has nothing. It’s so hard to do anything in Salford as it’s so spread out. That’s why we need the Salford Star.”

To make a donation towards the future of the Salford Star, or to read the magazine online, visit www.salfordstar.com.

The Salford Star also offers journalism training. Email skingston@salfordstar.com for more information.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

The Shrieking Violet upcoming media special

Some time in the (hopefully near) future, there will be a media special of the Shrieking Violet fanzine. I have long been interested in Manchester's history as an alternative Fleet Street, producing northern editions of the daily newspapers, and the way the buildings of the old newspaper industry still shape the city, from the iconic Daily Express Building on Great Ancoats Street to the Printworks, formerly Withy Grove printing press. The Guardian famously started in Manchester as the Manchester Guardian, and the city also has a history of radical and alternative publications and journals, from socialist journal the Clarion to the Co-operative Women's Guild magazine Women's Outlook.

I would also like to cover good independent, alternative publications today and ask the question why do people still think it is important to produce print publications when it is so easy to publish online in an instant?

Although the Guardian Women's pages started in Manchester, something else I am interested in is whether, in the 21st century, these is still a role for specifically gendered 'men's' and 'women's' magazines, with particular focus on the slightly troubling Shortlist and Stylist magazines which are distributed for free in the city centre.

I have to admit I am feeling quite overwhelmed and have been suffering from writer's/mental block (for this reason, rather than writing anything I have been spending my time trying unsuccessfully to recreate the Daily Express building in lino cut form for inspiration). Therefore, if anyone would like to help me out or make any suggestions, please email Natalie.Rose.Bradbury@googlemail.com.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Sloe gin, blackberry and apple pie and other recipes from the Ashton Canal

Sloe gin

I developed a taste for homemade sloe gin at my grandparents' house at Christmas time, and I have been regularly consulting them for advice on how to make my own sloe gin. Here are some instructions.

First, identify a sloe bush (as I have discovered, this is difficult it took me ages, after going through a process of elimination with several other bushes with black berries. It helped when I found out sloes are a type of plum, as then I just squeezed the berries, which look like fat, purple grapes, to see if there was a stone in the middle!). I discovered a bush, conveniently enough, growing out of a wall opposite my favourite building along the Ashton Canal and spent a couple of hours immersed in bushes getting plucked and scratched by branches and stung all over by nettles.

Second, find your jars I spent a long time wandering around city centre shops in search of suitable jars, before finally settling on some biscuit jars from a pound shop (I'm sure you could probably do better than this by finding a demijohn or something). Then, sterilise the jars by putting them in a pan of boiling water.

Third, pick the sloes! All the recipes called for 450g per litre of gin but, even after doing some climbing to reach the higher branches I only managed to gather 350g (so I accordingly adjusted the amount of gin I used to 777ml).

Once home, wash the sloes and prick all over with a clean needle (I dipped the needle in boiling water). This is the most time consuming part.

When the sloes are ready, place them in the jar with the gin (I used cheap gin from Aldi) and 175g of sugar (the recipe called for caster sugar, I only had light brown sugar so used this instead).

Then, shake, seal and find a cool, dark place for the jars mine are in the cupboard under the stairs. I split the mixture across two jars so there is space to shake the liquid without spilling it.

Then, shake the jars every other day for a week, then every week for two months (or longer, depending on how soon you want the gin to be ready). After a week, my sloe gin has already turned a warm, red colour like rosé wine and the sloes are getting lighter and lighter, starting to leave the bottom of the jars where they all settled and float around the liquid.

If you don't manage to find any sloes, try grape vodka instead, following the sloe gin recipe above but substituting the gin for vodka, adding grapes instead of sloes and using half the amount of sugar.

Blackberry and apple pie

Shortly after I had picked the sloes, I found an apple tree laden with ripe apples sitting next to an abandoned, boarded up housing estate. Frustratingly, I could only reach one of the apples, although I managed to knock another down with my umbrella and picked a third, after inspecting it for maggot holes, up off the floor.

There were also several blackberry bushes nearby, so I also picked lots of blackberries.

I made a pie using two of the apples and about a dessert bowl's worth of blackberries. I had some pastry in the freezer from the last time I made pastry, so defrosted it. However, to make the pastry:

Place 112.5g butter/margarine in a large bowl. Add 225g plain flour and rub it into the butter. Add a little salt and gradually add cold water table spoon by table spoon until the mixture starts to stick together, and shape it into dough. If you like cinammon as much as I do, add a table spoon of cinammon. When the mixture has formed a dough, wrap it in clingfilm (or a spare carrier bag if none is to hand) and refrigerate for 30 minutes. It will then be stretchy pastry!


Chop the apples and simmer in a little water and 75-100g sugar for 15 minutes (a tea spoon of cinammon is also a nice touch), adding the blackberries towards the end.

Meanwhile, divide your pastry in two (with one portion slightly larger) and roll out two separate pieces of pastry, thinly, on a floured surface. Line a tin or small round baking dish with the larger of the two pieces of pastry.

Add the fruit to the bottom of the pastry, having drained off almost all of the liquid (retain these juices, add to milk, sprinkle with cinammon and allow to cool down for a delicious milkshake!). Then, place the other piece of pastry on top of the fruit to form the pie lid, removing any excess pastry from the sides. Fold the edges of the bottom layer of pastry over the pie lid to form a thick crust to seal the pie. Use any leftover pastry to make a blackberry or apple shaped ornament on top.

Cook for an hour (after 45 minutes, I added a glaze consisting of of 50ml milk, a tea spoon of cinammon and a tea spoon of sugar to the crust) or until the pastry is hard. Allow to cool down then serve with custard.

Apple porridge

The remaining apple I used in porridge for breakfast.


Chop the apple and simmer in a little water for fifteen minutes or so (depending on how late you are running for work!). When the apple is soft, add 50g porridge oats, two tablespoons of cinammon and stir. Add half a cup of milk and stir, adding sugar and more milk or water as required.

Friday, 20 August 2010

A Woman's Place and other films, Manchester Film Co-operative/Working Class Movement Library, King's Arms, Tuesday August 17

Films, especially documentaries, offer a different way of learning about history. They can take us beyond merely hearing about history being created and offer a peek behind the scenes of an event — we actually get to see history in the making and share in the hopes and fears, experiences and emotions of those creating it. As Bernadette Hyland from the Working Class Movement Library in Salford explained: “This is history told by ordinary people.”

In the late 1960s, a student in Oxford piped up during a history workshop and asked why they didn’t study events to do with women. She was told that if she wanted an event, she would have to make it. The young woman was Sheila Rowbotham, now an eminent academic, and she went on to help organise the first National Women’s Liberation Conference at Ruskin College, Oxford in 1970. An event was not only created, but documented, in a twenty minute film called A Women’s Place, which was one of the films screened at the King’s Arms.

The wide-eyed, excited faces of the hundreds of women who descended on Oxford for the National Women’s Liberation Conference shines though the blurriness of the video. We sense the hope and excitement they felt at being surrounded by other women who shared the same concerns as them, as they debate issues about men’s, women’s and children’s liberation — “women are talking again after there‘s been silence for so many years”.

As the narrator of A Woman’s Place admits, though, it’s all very inward looking, and the gathering of educated, eloquent young women contrasts starkly with vox pops of women on the street outside, who are oblivious to the conference taking place and seem unaware that they, as women, face any particular problems. Later on, though, the film shows a march in London "to let the public know who we are and what we stand for". Women, men and children march in support of for the four objectives set out at the conference: equal pay, equal access to education and opportunity, 24 hour childcare and free access to contraception and abortion.

Another film, produced by group of miners’ wives in Derbyshire, demonstrates the power of film to reach out to people across the country at a time when Thatcher used the media to control public opinion of the strikers. The miners’ wives are angry and defiant, filming their experience as a way of showing the hardship faced by ordinary families, as well as the absurdity of the scale of the police reaction to the strikes. A murmur of recognition passes around the crowd watching, decades on, from those who were there and can remember.

By the 1980s, the women’s movement encompassed broader aims, such as solidarity with Northern Ireland, and lesbian and black rights. A film about International Women’s Day is an all singing, all dancing celebration of diverse groups of women coming together.

These films show not only the attitudes of the time, but how far we have come — and how far we have left to go. In a discussion afterwards, one women claimed: “We’re going backwards, people think we’ve won.” But, as members of the recently formed Manchester Feminist Network explain, there are new issues to fight against now — the objectification of women, eco-feminism, female genital mutilation, pornography. The women’s movement is far from being silenced, with women still getting together today to hold events like Reclaim the Night and Million Women Rise — today's events, tomorrow's history.

This review was written for the Mule.

Manchester Film Co-operative
does monthly film screenings at the King's Arms, Bloom Street, Salford.