Reputations and Points of View

Now that lockdown is easing I’ve spent quite a bit of time at my mother’s house in Wythenshawe which is a suburb of south Manchester. Wythenshawe is the site of a huge council estate once known as the garden estate because each house had a front and back garden unlike the terraced houses in Hulme and Salford where most of Wythenshawe’s tenants came from back in the 1920’s and 30’s when the estate was first started.

My mum went into a care home just after Christmas. She had been in hospital since early December suffering from a bad chest infection. For the past two or three years dementia has taken its toll on her but her increasing immobility had make it much harder for me and my brother to look after her despite having the assistance of carers coming at various times throughout the day.

Anyway, I tidied the garden of her house up as best I could and made a start on sorting out mum’s things ready for the inevitable time when we must give the house up. Recently I came across a plastic handle of some sort that was incredibly familiar but I couldn’t work out what is was. Later I found a blue plastic brush which fitted on the handle and it was then I realised this was a back brush that has always lived in our bathroom for as long as I can remember. When that memory came back to me I felt reluctant to throw the brush away. After all, I’m sure we had that brush in the bathroom when I was a schoolboy in the 1960s making it something over fifty years old.

Wythenshawe doesn’t have such a great reputation but from my point of view it isn’t really such a bad place. It isn’t, as far as I know, a haven of drug dealers and gangsters and the streets are fairly safe to walk, even late at night but when a place gets a bad reputation it’s hard for some people to see past that. I’m not sure what kind of reputation Manchester itself has in the world at large. Personally I think it’s a great city but then again, on a recent episode of the TV show Come Dine With Me, the announcer mentioned that Manchester had been voted the UK’s rudest city! Oh well.

Years ago I worked in Liverpool servicing and repairing cigarette vending machines. It was actually a pretty good job except that I had to get up early every day. The machines were all sited in pubs and bars so I tried to do the majority of my work before the pubs opened as naturally, I didn’t want everyone and his dog knowing what I was up to and that I had a van full of cash and cigarettes.

The cigarette machines were fairly reliable but they did break down now and again but as long as they were kept in good order callbacks as we called them, were minimal. At least they were on my round. I discovered early on that the big problem with vending machines are coins. Coins are dirty and greasy and sometimes sticky and every time a coin goes through the coin mechanism, it leaves behind dirt. That dirt will build and build until one day the machine just won’t work and then an irate pub landlord would be on the phone saying ‘Steve, we’ve got a big night on tonight, you’ll have to come out and sort the machine!

What I used to do on my regular visits was spend a few moments at each machine and give that coin mechanism (coin mex is what we used to call them) a quick check and clean and those few extra moments prevented the dreaded callbacks.

Every fourth week I had to work a weekend for my team mates and cover any problem calls that came in. I rarely had callbacks, they were always for my team mates who couldn’t be bothered to clean those machines. One weekend I got a call from some pub in the outskirts of Liverpool. I can’t remember exactly where it was but it was a semi country area, off towards Ormskirk I think. This was pre-google maps so I had to troll through my A to Z and find it. I remember cursing my team mate Joey about it. I had called him to have a moan and he said I had to be there before 11am or the Landlord wouldn’t let us in until the pub was open. I got there in time but it turned out the landlord was on holiday and the relief manager, actually a manageress, was a pretty amenable lady.

We chatted as I struggled to get the jammed coins free and she said it was clear from my accent I wasn’t from Liverpool. It turned out we were both Mancunians and she asked me whereabouts in Manchester I hailed from. When I said Wythenshawe she nearly fell over. ‘Oh my God’ she said, ‘it’s rough round there!’

I spent some time trying to reassure her about Wythenshawe and explain that it wasn’t such a bad place. Trying to change the subject I asked her where she hailed from and she replied ‘Moss Side’. ‘What!’ I exclaimed. Here was someone who thought my home town was bad when she comes from a place that makes it look like paradise!

Moss Side is an inner city area of Manchester and quite frankly, it is a very rough area indeed with more than its fair share of villains, drug dealers and other unsavoury characters.

Back in 1992 I studied video production and media techniques at the WFA media centre in neighbouring Hulme, and when I say neighbouring I really mean next door. We were in teams of three making short videos and after a week or two of filming in Manchester we moved on to editing. I loved editing and we spent a lot of time in the basement working in what was then state of the art editing suites. After further work there we had to put together a rough cut to show the rest of the school. Our video rough cut went down pretty well. It was a short documentary about taxi drivers in the city centre. One driver who we interviewed mentioned that certain places in the city were dangerous to visit, especially late at night. Places he said like, wait for it, Moss Side!

We were on a small stage and my two colleagues had nominated me to answer questions as the taxi idea had been mine. One woman condemned the taxi driver immediately for being racist as Moss Side does have a large black and Asian community but be fair I said, there was no mention of race, just people who did a runner when they arrived at their destination, people who wanted a taxi ride for free which obviously, didn’t go down well with the taxi drivers.

We weathered the storm which was only minor anyway and went back to our editing. My colleagues wanted to cut out the offending taxi driver but I wanted to leave him in. I can’t remember if I got my way but here’s the finished video if you want to check.

Nowadays, Moss Side has been regenerated and looks much nicer than it used to. Is it still a rough area of the city? Maybe yes, maybe no. Looking at the screenshot further back up the page about a Moss Side shooting I’m not so sure. I suppose it all depends on your point of view. Even though, I wish I could show the video to that Merseyside pub manager!

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