Why do we let clueless southerners make cruel jokes about our brilliant city?
Fear of Manchester is Snobbery Dressed up as Humour
I heard a rumour a while back that some BBC workers who moved to MediaCity were literally commuting from London every single day, getting picked up after their shift millimeters outside the office door and zooming of down the M6 quicker than you can say Radio 1. I heard that this was because they were so shit scared of Salford and the surrounding areas. Was it the little old ladies out shopping for bargains at the Lowry Outlet Mall that drove such fear into their souls, I wonder? Or was it the families with matching anoraks out for the day at the Imperial War Museum with a rucksack of fruit shoots? I sincerely hope that this rumour is not true. I like to think that the men and women responsible for delivering us sound, well thought out and balanced news coverage don’t actually wet their pants at the sound of a northern, working class accent. However, the very fact that this rumour exists at all is testament to the ongoing “The entire vicinity of Manchester and Salford is a terrible, scary shithole” joke that people do not seem to be ashamed or bored of spouting over and over.
I once sat behind a girl on a train on the way to Manchester. She had never been to Manchester before and from what I could gain from her extremely loud telephone conversation, this was quite the little gritty adventure for her. “I might get shot! Or stabbed!” she squealed repeatedly down the phone to her similarly hysterical friend. Since she seemed to be physically incapable of embarrassment, I felt it for her tenfold. It is as if some, sheltered and affluent, people can separate places from the social connotations, as if “scariness” is something that merely makes an area less appealing, an eyesore, like a phone mast placed too close to your house. Manchester is viewed as being a traditionally working class city. In an age where we no longer have respect for the working class, this becomes shorthand for “socially undesirable” or indeed “chavvy”. I know people who are still hurt by the People like Us documentary where some Harper Hay residents were plied with free alcohol in order to perform like drunken monkeys for the camera, in a manner that was meant to representative of the area as a whole. What is less known is how hundreds of Harper Hay residents who came together on the night of the tragic Manchester Dogs Home fire to literally rescue the trapped dogs from the flames, bringing blankets from their own beds to wrap the traumatised canines in.
The reason I write this is because of Amanda Holden. Or more, accurately, because of the many, many people in the British Public Eye who are exactly like Amanda Holden with the same sheltered, small minded views. Privately educated Toffee Nose Amanda Holden is the latest in a long line of ignorant celebrities to poke fun at Manchester, describing it as “gruesome” during a rather embarrassing guest appearance on This Morning. This was despite visibly cringing presenter Phillip Schofield being an Oldham man born and bred. She follows on the heels of a proud tradition of Manchester bashing in the United Kingdom. Only two months ago, Girlfriend of Manchester United Footballer David De Gea and Eurovision Song Contest Contester, Edurne Garcia described Manchester as being “uglier than the back of a fridge”. This dismissive statement is not only derogatory but highlights the view that many people have that Manchester is irrelevant. At the back of society rather than at the front. By association, London is clearly the front of the fridge with all the nice shiny new fridge magnets.
This sort of uber snooty opinion is actually becoming incredibly dated anyway. Like it or not, Manchester is now pretty darn gentrified with all the rough bits tidied up and sprouting the sort of organic vegan cafes that supply copies of The Independent. You have to delve pretty far into the outskirts to find the sort of Manchester that Amanda and co envision. Even Hulme, which once the mention of was enough to chill you to the bone, is now packed with students and friendly, scruffy young couples with bikes. The tram tracks are spreading and in its wake the suburbs of Manchester is becoming rather uppity and middle class, thank you very much. You cant move on the trams for nice Mumsnet types listening to their Radio 4 podcasts, M&S canvas bags for life at the ready. South Manchester is all independent cheese shops and delicatessens with Chorlton, Didsbury and Altrincham being particularly leafy, affluent and desirable. North Manchester boasts lovely treelined Prestwich and quaint, pretty little Ramsbottom.
Whilst in the centre, the changes are even more pronounced. The hulking mills and factories that once shocked Engels have now been converted into luxury apartments for young Social Media Executives. The Northern Quarter has shone up like a new coin and is now a hipster’s playground of ironic tea shops and vintage clothing stores. The graffiti on the walls has progressed from primitive fuck you George Bush type scrawls to full on glorious works of art. Everybody has a beard and not even in the can’t-afford-a-razor type of way. These are full on luxurious groomed beards that would put the most meticulously ironic Shoreditch Art Student type to shame. Mixed in with the alternative culture is an undeniable current of wealth. King Street and Spinningfields are more than ladee da enough to tempt even Ms. Holden herself. Manchester, with its enviable abundance of bars and restaurants, has become a standard weekend away destination. Interestingly, I even recently saw it on a bloggers listicle of “top ten alternative romantic weekends away”.
However, even without all the recent poshing up, Manchester has always been a city to be proud of: grime, grit and all. Manchester is, and always has been, an architecturally beautiful city and this is something that is seriously underrated. The Rylands Library still takes my breath away. I love historic libraries but Rylands is my favourite thus far, and I say that completely without bias. The iconic Midlands Hotel is unarguably majestic. Moreover, you can’t move for blue plaques in Manchester so that every street, every building tells a story. We birthed Suffragettes and Revolutionaries. We create and mould music and cultural scenes and are a city of proudly working class bands and people’s poets. The Guardian newspaper for goodness sake began life here. Manchester University is amongst the best institutions in the world and has popped out Nobel Prize Winners like clockwork. It is a vibrant, exciting, ever evolving place to be and has never been and never will be at the back of anything.
The creation of Media City in Salford Keys has helped to diversify the BBC and offer real opportunities to Northerners. We shouldn’t let those in the South make fun of us and demean us. If there is one English city that can begin to rival London in terms of national and, dare I say, global relevance then it is Manchester. Manchester is helping to bridge the gap between north and south and to share out more equally the opportunities that before were only limited to Londoners and those who could afford to pack up their whole lives and move up there. We should be proud of Manchester and its lively, radical history of misbehaving. We should be proud that it is a city that has never been afraid to raise its voice. We shouldn’t for a minute see ourselves as any less important than London because we are littler and less polished.
Amanda Holden: I find London to be a pretty gruesome place. In fact, I might even say that I am a little scared of it. I am scared about the time that I witnessed a man falling down an escalator in the London Underground, and breaking his neck, and how none of the commuters had the time or the interest to even notice. I’m scared about how London hoovers up all my most intelligent friends like a portal to another world and sucks the rent money out of them like blood. Im scared of the bruises I get on my shoulders from suited and booted Londoners barging through me as if my jeans and t shirt mean I’m soft enough, or maybe dispensable enough, to pass through. England is too London Centric. From what Americans see in films, they probably think that Big Ben can be seen from Liverpool. All policy, all culture, all jobs, all huge news worthy events are formed around London and the surrounding home counties. The North, and Manchester included, is still viewed as the bleak, futile, shabby backyard of England. This attitude needs to change sharpish.