I’d not been to Manchester since I can’t remember when but I do recall going to a Rock Against Racism gig there which tells British readers of a certain age something. It was soon clear that the derelict, grimy city of those days had been replaced by a prosperous shiny updated version, at least in the centre.
Monday morning’s walk to the Jewish Museum through a rundown area of town suggested that prosperity only stretched so far. The museum is partly housed in a beautifully restored synagogue built in the 19th century by the Sephardic community who were drawn to Manchester because of the textile connection as the excellent volunteer, whose name I failed to ask, told us. They were part of the wealthy merchant class, hence the splendour of the synagogue, and paid a subscription for their place in the congregation which left a handy record on which to base biographies of each of them. Such an interesting museum with a very active educational programme, too.
What felt like a long, hot afternoon trudge through post-industrial Salford took us to Ordsall Hall, a little gem, parts of which date back to the fifteenth century. Home to the Radclyffe family for three centuries, it was meticulously restored over two years, reopening in 2011, complete with a pretty knot garden. Well worth the slog to get there and the exercise worked up an appetite for a meal with an old friend at Dishoom, always a treat.
After a jam-packed first day we decided to take it easy on Tuesday, wandering over to the Whitworth Art Gallery in time for lunch in their lovely café which overlooks a park. We were both a little disappointed in what was on offer in the exhibits although I loved Mary Kelly‘s Lovesongs: A Multi Story House, a glasshouse lit from within and etched with quotes taken from conversations about feminism. My favourite was ‘When I went to college, I couldn’t even boil and egg. My mother thought if she didn’t teach me how to cook, then I wouldn’t end up taking care of men… the way she did’. Smart woman.
We woke on Wednesday to find we’d dropped around twelve degrees overnight and the inevitable rain had finally arrived. The morning was spent at the City Art Gallery at Protest!, a Derek Jarman retrospective which followed his career from his early paintings through to his HIV/AIDS activist work and the glorious garden at Dungeness which we visited last year. Great to see some of his music videos again, not least the Pet Shop Boys’ It’s a Sin – they looked so young – but the most striking piece for me was ‘Andy — The Name of the Bow is Life, but its Work is Death’, a magnificent painting in oils, black with a lustrous golden sheen. Such a talented man. He died, aged only fifty-four. A brilliant exhibition and a much more satisfying experience than Tuesday’s visit to the Whitworth. Much of the rest of the day was spent on a long, enjoyable lunch with a dear friend at the excellent No 1 Canal Street.
There were light snow flurries on our last morning, the first I’d seen all winter, long gone by the time we caught the train south following a pretty route down through Shropshire and Herefordshire. We arrived home relaxed and engaged with the world again after another winter of Covid caution although that’s not over yet.
And the book? When the holiday started, I was just under halfway through Colum McCann’s remarkable Apeirogon which blends fact with fiction exploring the Middle East conflict through two fathers – one Palestinian, the other Israeli – who both lost daughters to the other side. The story of their loss and friendship based on a mutual desire for peace is told in brief episodic paragraphs interspersed with observations and digressions, all woven together into a novel which takes it’s structure from One Thousand and One Nights. Moving, tender and beautiful, it’s extraordinarily impressive.