It’s an old topic for me, but do you ever take notice of the town you live in? I admit it’s something I do more since getting older and hitting thirty. Now I can’t get from point A to point B without standing for ten minutes and wondering what some palatial Victorian building used to be, before it was a Pound Shop. I can’t pass a post box without taking a photo of it and marvelling that it’s stood there for over 120 years with who knows how many different kinds of people popping post into it – World War One soldiers home on leave, Boar war wives posting fresh socks to South Africa and starving marchers walking from Jarrow in the thirties, sending a postcard back to tell their families they’re fine.
This week, with Manchester Meanders shortlisted for the MBA I discovered another shortlisted blog, The Pubs of Manchester which has certainly reminded me of the heritage surrounding us. Is it just me, of when you see the old black and whites of grumpy factories and bedraggled slate roofs, do you feel a sadness? When I see old industrial scenes I always remember the smell and feel of my late granddad’s old house in Withington, the dusty tea leaf kind of smell and the nicotine stained walls. Regime and uniformity were more important then, life was lived around rules, habits and schedules. Even TV stuck to certain schedules instead of the constant squirt of drivel we know today. I’m not saying the past was perfect (what a cliché) with its domestic abuse, drink driving, homophobia and other isms, but something about the fact a whole different world has almost completely disappeared makes me very unhappy. I’m not going to start wailing about Carlos Tevez and todays demonstrations in New York, it’s just that the past is important and I feel like I have to search Greater Manchester myself trying to make some sense of it. I have to try to patch together an idea of my ancestors and the lives they lived, and what they’ve passed on to me, meanwhile thanks to my comprehensive education I can talk for an hour on the Romans, the Vikings, the Nazis and the Spanish Armada.
I got in my car this afternoon, in this mood, and drove around Leigh, Westhoughton and Atherton, taking lots of photos and getting out and having a walk around too. In Westhoughton there’s a huge area of desolation where there used to be open cast mining. It’s the location, funnily enough of the oldest colliery shower-block in the world, and it’s still standing. I walked into the mucky countryside which the council have tried to establish on top of the slag-heaps and theundulating ground and there was a fire burning somewhere and it was raining and it all felt very depressing and atmospheric. And in the middle behind a mesh of barbed wire and over a very abnormally orange stream, there was a lonesome telephone pole and four horses standing still in silence. I know they’re not pit ponies, it’s the eighties since these mines were working, but it felt timeless. I fed them an apple and wondered how many people had walked into this landscape and wondered what life would have been like before our age-of-distraction.
Lots of cultures value the past and their ancestors but I get the feeling we’re not all that bothered. So I took some photos and tried to make them look retro, and I wrote a poem for your Sunday evening pleasure. Have you discovered your family’s history, your local heritage, your national past? Do you marvel at signs left over from another era, or do you think it’s best to move on, plug your I-pod earphones in and try not to think about anything? (A bias question perhaps?)History Lessons The kind of history schools teach is shite A history of facts and figures, and I ask what and why And it is Hitler – and they say ‘so we don’t forget.’ Instead of our past they learn Jews and Krystalnacht They can list Auschwitz deaths but not Pretoria’s or Peterloo’s They don’t know that their granddads died, what they did, or didn’t do So we won’t forget and repeat – but – since World War Two There’s been more killed than those five-point-two million Jews From the Polish pogroms when those Jews got home to more abuse And Poles living in their homes dispatched them in the woods. Russian allies slipped four times as much at least Up the Road of Bones, to the gulag cemeteries. In fifties China Mao’s Great Leap Forward And another forty million people dead. Then across to Indonesia five or six million died In the sixties – almost as many as Hitler’s genocide. What do you call four million Vietnamese? Burnt in napalm sweeps of jungle incinerating trees Over borders in Cambodia two million died At the hands of the Khmer Rouge nineteen seventy five. So genocide has happened ever since around the globe Genocide continued before the Jew’s had even got home So why do British kids not know their history? Of collapsing mines, closing mines, front lines and hard times Of means tests, unions, rationing and picket lines Of grandparents and their parents trying hard to make things better So their offspring won’t have to work as hard and suffer Forgotten – folks who built our roads, and tracks and trains and rivers Working six days and on the seventh thanking God for all he’s given. It’s sad about the Jews but what about voting, war and oppression Empire, cotton, pubs and parks and LS Lowry’s impressions. The school kids think evil comes in one shape and size It’s German, dressed in black and has bespectacled eyes And when America dropped bombs on Japan it couldn’t do otherwise And likewise it was for freedom when they fought the Vietnamese And now, the war in Afghanistan must be right? Who knows, since the history they teach in schools is shite. Thanks for comments etc.