Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Posts Tagged ‘Manchester’

Britain’s Post-War Demolition Madness

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 31st July, 2019

The Rovers ReturnGrowing up in Eccles, on the western outreaches of Salford, a few years after the Second World War, I was very conscious how drab and grey much of Greater Manchester was. Whereas the 19th century had seen an extraordinary industrial boom, propelling the city from a certain obscurity to global importance, the 20th century had witnessed gradual decline. Many of the magnificent city centre buildings had become soot-black, and stately warehouses and commercial premises were empty or abandoned. Even as a schoolkid, busing across both Salford and Manchester every weekday to get to Manchester Grammar School, I was aware that a lot of demolition was going on. Coronation Street — which really existed — and many other back-to-back housing districts were being “cleared” in the 1960s, just when the Granada TV series (launched in 1960) that had expropriated the name was becoming a national ITV favourite. The fictional street had a pub called the Rovers Return, and that name was also a steal: the real Rovers Return had been the self-proclaimed oldest “beerhouse” in Britain, in Shudehill, supposedly established in the early 14th century, but demolished in 1958. It may seem incredible to us now that such a piece of heritage could be casually disposed of, as the city’s socialist administration aimed to “modernise” and “regenerate” the urban environment. But that was the leitmotif of the era. Even as a callow youth I decried the demolition of some of the fabulous mansions on “Millionaires Row” near Hope that my bus passed daily.

Poplar 1950When I came to London in 1982 (after eight years in Brussels) I discovered similar things had been going on here, as housing estates and high-rise blocks of flats replaced more traditional forms of low-rise housing. When I moved to Bow, in 1986, I assumed that the blocks of flats on the other side of the road had replaced bomb-sites, but not a bit of it. There had been rows of late Victorian terraced houses, just like mine, that had been bulldozed after the War in the name of progress. These days, our side of the road is a conservation area, thankfully, but the neighbourhood opposite cannot be conserved because it has gone. Of course, German bombing did destroy a lot of Britain’s urban landscape, but was it really necessary to just continue obliterating the physical memories of the past? I believe not. At least trees are being planted everywhere in Tower Hamlets these days. But even their beautiful greenness cannot hide the architectural ghosts of the past.

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How I’ve Come to Love Manchester

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 23rd November, 2017

8619AE8C-F0AC-4C09-990D-BE3BBA7078DBI spent the first 18 years of my life in Manchester, the last eight of which involved a one-hour term-time daily commute from the (adopted family’s) house in which I grew up in Eccles right across the city to school. Hating both “home” and the school (as described in my childhood memoir Eccles Cakes), I endured a very dark period in my life, so seized the opportunity of leaving school early and heading off to Asia to find a different world. Some years later, after I had emptied the house in Eccles and driven the last van load of furniture down to London, I bid Manchester farewell for the last time — or so I thought. Quite apart from the bad personal memories I had of the place, the city at that time was suffering from serious post-industrial depression, the buildings were black and whole districts of back-to-back houses, Coronation Street style, were physically decaying or being knocked down. I vowed never to return. But fate had other plans. The school, with which I had had absolutely no contact since I walked out of the door in March 1969, suddenly wrote to me asking if I would speak to the sixth form about Politics and this coincided with the extraordinary reunion with my birth family, as recounted in an episode of BBc2’s Family Finders. So I started coming back to the city from time to time and found what has become a favourite hotel, where I am now staying. Manchester has changed to an extraordinary degree over the last 50 years, fundamentally for the better. Not only is it cleaner and blessed with an excellent public transport system these days but it is also vibrant. The huge student population has ensured that there is a lively club scene and without a doubt people are friendlier than down south. Of course it still rains a lot — though today there is a brilliant blue sky, as I prepare for the AGM of the Authors Licensing and ollecting Society (ALCS) that will be taking place in the Midland Hotel this afternoon — but whereas I used to wander the streets in gloom now I savour the vistas of grand 19th century buildings as I walk with a spring in my step. I don’t regret the fact that I now live in cosmopolitan London, but it is a wonderful feeling to have come to love my home town.

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Why Brexit Should Be Stopped

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 1st October, 2017

BrexitMany thousands of people are expected to demonstrate today in Manchester on the StopBrexit! March. I am sad not to be able to be with them, as I am preparing for the new academic year at SOAS that begins tomorrow. However, I am braced for a storm of abuse from Brexiteers, who will doubtless claim that I and other pro-Europeans don’t respect democracy, as last year’s European Referendum delivered an approximately 52:48 vote in favour of leaving the European Union. On the contrary, I do respect democracy, which is why I support wholeheartedly the Liberal Democrat position that when the Conservative government has agreed the terms of an exit deal with our current 27 EU partners this should be put before the British electorate asking them whether this is really what they want. By then the consequences of Brexit will be much clearer than they are now, let alone in the theoretical situation of June 2016.

Keep Calm and Stop BrexitAs it is, the signs are not encouraging. The pound has slumped in value and foreign investment in the UK is falling. Having been one of the fastest-growing economies in the G7 a year ago Britain is now one of the slowest. EU workers have already started leaving the country because of the uncertainty about their future status, causing staffing problems in different sectors of the economy, not least the NHS, farming and the hospitality industry. That situation is bound to get more acute. Banks and companies have started moving some of their operations out of London to Dublin, Paris and Frankfurt, thus diminishing the prime position of the City, which contributes so much to the UK economy.

The situation regarding the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland — currently effectively invisible — is intractable, as any restoration of border controls would risk reigniting civil strife. The imposition of customs regulations for goods from the EU at Dover and other UK ports would clog the ports up within days. Currently, the Government is arguing that there needs to be a transition period of perhaps two years after Britain in principle leaves the EU at the end of March 2019, but that will only delay the inevitable cliff-edge. And in the meantime, Britain’s international image and influence are being rapidly diminished. We are a far stronger player on the global stage as a member of the EU than we can ever be outside. Finally, let us remember what the then UKIP Leader, Nigel Farage, said just before the Referendum, namely that a 52:48 result would be “unfinished business”. He was anticipating a 52:48 vote to Remain, of course. But on this one occasion, at least, he was right. The outcome of the Referendum is unfinished business and it is only right and proper that the British electorate should be given the opportunity to decide, probably in 2019, whether they are really happy to see their country sliding downhill as a result of leaving the world’s biggest trading bloc.

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Young Lives Lost

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 30th July, 2017

gun crime smallLast night, shortly after dinner, we heard gunshots not far away from the house, followed by police sirens, and this morning the story was all over town. An 18-year-old youth had shot dead another and wounded a couple of girls. The attacker was in turn shot by police and wounded, but not critically. He will doubtless now end up in prison — which in Brazil all too often means a struggle for survival in an overcrowded and brutal environment controlled by its own, often vicious codes. It’s because of night-time insecurity that we hardly ever go out after dark in Fortaleza, but instead sit snug and safe behind locks and grills, reading. In the daytime, it is a different world, a sunny resort where families peddle up and down the promenade behind the house on various fantastic bicycles. But then comes the night. Gun crime is a serious problem in many of Brazil’s cities, but before Europeans feel superior about our own native countries’ relative security, it’s worth pointing out that there are areas of my original hometown, Manchester (notably Moss Side) where guns can be obtained relatively easily. In London, we tend to hear more of knife crime and there has been a depressing surge in attacks with knives in the city. Almost always, the victims are teenagers themselves, so just as with last night’s shooting here in Fortaleza, young lives are lost. before they have really begun. And in a sense the same is true for the perpetrators. Such a tragic and unnecessary waste.

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Democracy Must Endure

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 25th May, 2017

Election 2017Following the bombing atrocity in Manchester campaigning in Britain’s general election was suspended out of respect for the victims and their families, which was right and proper. Moreover the people of Britain needed a couple of days of quiet reflection for the news to sink in. Not that social media were as reticent or reflective; among loving messages of solidarity there was also much anger and some outright hatred, with people hiding behind anonymity to call for reprisals against Muslims, as if somehow a whole community were responsible for the evil doings of a young extremist indoctrinated by the propaganda of ISIS/Daesh. But the election is now only a fortnight away and it is important to demonstrate to the world, as well as to potential terrorists, that not just Manchester but Britain as a whole is unbowed and our democracy will survive and thrive despite this bloody setback. Local campaigning starts again today (and therefore I will be appearing, as planned, as the studio guest at the East London and West Essex radio station 107.5FM’s phone-in between noon and 1pm), while full-scale national campaigning will resume tomorrow. Inevitably the mood will be more subdued than one would normally expect during the fine weather of early summer. But I hope that the turnout on 8 June will be massive. Whoever people vote for, the very act of voting is an act of defiance to those who hate our British values and lifestyle. Democracy must endure.

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Manchester and the Viler UK Media

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 23rd May, 2017

Manchester-Arena-incidentLike many Mancunians who have spent most of their working lives in London, I was shocked and saddened by the news this morning of the bombing at the Manchester Arena that claimed 22 lives and injured well over a hundred other people, many of them children and adolescents. Nothing can adequately explain, let alone exonerate, such wanton barbarity. I was disappointed — but not surprised — by how many politicians described the bombing as a “cowardly” act; suicide bombers are not cowards but instead are driven by a degree of hatred and misguided conviction that makes them prepared to sacrifice their own lives as well as depriving so many innocents of theirs, in aid of a spurious “cause”. Social media predictably went into a frenzy during the day, fizzing with the anger with which most of us can identify, though some people who took to twitter to vent their feelings veered into the totally unhelpful territory of blaming all Muslims, seemingly deaf to the condemnations of the atrocity from Muslim leaders in the UK and blind to the acts of kindness and generosity by Muslim taxi-drivers, restaurateurs and others in Manchester throughout Monday night and today.

Katie HopkinsShamefully, rent-a-gob media pundits such as Piers Morgan and Katie Hopkins joined the fray, the latter disgracefully calling in a tweet for a “final solution”. Despite the sick referencing of the Holocaust that claimed the lives of six million Jews the implication (which, were she taken to court over the matter, Ms Hopkins would doubtless try to deny) is that Muslims deserve the same fate. At a time when the people of Manchester were rallying round, and a wave of support came from not all over the UK but from much of the rest of the world as well, the viler parts of the UK media were wallowing in the chance to be shock-jocks and their print equivalent. I am often embarrassed by the excesses of the nastier end of the British media, from the Sun to the Daily Mail and Daily Express, but others were jumping on the bandwagon today, spewing their bile. Katie Hopkins is still employed by LBC Radio, as well as several right-wing newspapers, and I was pleased to see that a number of “celebrities” are calling for a boycott of LBC until the radio station gets rid of her. But frankly I will be surprised if they do so, because being shocking  and offensive is now considered entertaining in this country, as it has been in the United States for many years. This not only debases political discourse, it also debases Britain. But this will continue until signifiant sections of the British public stand up and shout “Enough!”

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Back to My Roots

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 5th May, 2015

Jill, JF, DeniseOver the Bank Holiday weekend I had to take some enforced leave from general election campaigning to be in Manchester to take part in filming for a TV documentary about my childhood adoption and the recent reunion with my two blood-sisters. The past few months have been an emotional roller-coaster, from the moment my sisters wrote to me out of the blue, after tracking me down 63 years after our mother gave me up for adoption. The adoption itself was not a happy one and I could not forgive my adoptive parents for steadfastly refusing to give me any information about my mother, though they had met her and (as I have learned only recently) for several years she was living with my two sisters within walking distance of the house where I grew up. It was only after David Owen helped change the law in Britain, giving adopted children the right to access their original birth certificate, that I was able to start some detective work on my origins when I returned to London after seven years working in Brussels. I thus discovered my original identity was as Graeme Leslie Morton and that I had an elder sister; the fact that there was another, younger sister born after our mother remarried came as a complete surprise to both of us last year. Anyway, the story of our reunion was picked up by the Manchester Evening News (by a strange coincidence, the first newspaper that published my freelance articles when I was a teenage reporter in the Vietnam War), there was then a three-way Radio Manchester radio interview and now a full-blown TV documentary, filmed by Ricochet Productions, scheduled to be broadcast on BBC1 this summer. There were some emotionally tense moments during filming, not least when we visited our mother’s grave yesterday afternoon — the first “contact” I had had with her since she gave me up from adoption — but in many ways I feel I have achieved a degree of closure of many things that tore me apart as a child. Moreover, whereas I had rejected Manchester comprehensively because of my unhappy childhood I can now cherish my roots and appreciate my home town again. And for anyone who is in a remotely similar position I can testify: it is never too late to find out who you really are.

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Reconnecting with Manchester

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 12th October, 2014

Manchester Town HallAlthough I was born and grew up in Manchester, having had rather an unhappy childhood I was only too pleased to see the back of the place when I went off to university and later never even thought of moving back to the city. But I’ve been pleased this weekend to reconnect with Manchester, partly because of the invitation to speak at my old school, MGS, which I blogged about previously, but mainly because of the opportunity to meet — for the very first time — my two sisters here. I was adopted and placed elsewhere, but they weren’t. It’s been a bit of an emotional roller-coaster, especially when I saw pictures of my Mother for the first time, but also quite exciting and the beginning of a new chapter in my life. Moreover, Manchester itself has never looked better. Far from the dreary grey drizzle of my memories, the city has been bathed in warm autumnal light this weekend. And of course the old buildings look so much more impressive now they are clean. The Metrolink (a sort of super-tram) is superb and people really are much friendlier up North. As I prepare to leve tomorrow, many daemons laid to rest, I can even imagine myself coming back more often. Reconnected? definitely!

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İzmir’s Waterfront

Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 24th July, 2009

IzmirIzmir is Turkey’s Manchester, only much more attractıve in parts. I can admit that happily, as a born-and-bred Mancunian who moved away to live in Brussels and then London. The common factors are that İzmir and Manchester are both their country’s third city in size, with a considerable industrial component. But İzmir has the advantage of a huge, gently-sweeping Corniche, the Kordon, which is lined with waterfront restaurants and cafes. These truly come into their own on summer evenıngs, when the weather is stinking hot, as it is now. Like Manchester, İzmir doesn’t get all that many tourists, whıch means that the winding alleys of the sizable bazaar are packed wıth locals buyıng cheap clothes and food, rather than visitors being inveigled into buying carpets and brasswear they don’t really want. One long stretch of the waterfront resembles Thessaloniki, whıch is not really surprising as İzmir formerly had more Greeks and other non-Turkısh inhabitants than Turks when it was still Smyrna, a name that conjures up so much. Just how much of the past is still perceivable is why İ am here, preparıng a travel article on the city, though the more İ get to know Turkey in general, the more it intrigues me.

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