Mrs Mazza

Visits to the Lightbowne area of Moston in the late 1950s were a delight. My maternal grandad, a retired railway goods guard, lived on Hanson Road and one of his brothers on Hugo Street. Two more brothers were in Blackley and Collyhurst, with a sister in Harpurhey, but another brother lived on Attleboro Road, before moving to Eccles, and my mum’s sister was at Adrian Street: quite a little clan!The author, aged about four, in the back yard of 5 Hanson Road, Moston.

Every couple of weeks or so, we would stroll down Nuthurst Road, St Marys Road and Jackson Street (now Joyce Street) to perform our family “state visit” to Hanson Road, often spending an hour or two at other addresses, depending who was in.

My grandparents were the sort of people who always had time for the kids, and their house, though a humble two-up, two-down terrace, with donkey-stoned front step and a small back yard, was always spotless and full of interesting bits and bobs. First World War brass shell-cases, polished up as bright as gold, small but colourful flower-beds and hanging baskets, home-made rag rugs in front of the coal-fired iron range, and a lean-to kitchen that always smelled of Fairy household soap.

There was also a harmonium in the parlour but, as was still common in those days, we rarely went in there – that was for special occasions, like weddings and funerals! And, of course, children never went upstairs without being invited: Edwardian protocol was still very much in vogue.

The loo, if you needed it, was in a brick lean-to in the yard, kept brightly whitewashed. Once, my grandad took me upstairs for the view out of the front bedroom window, which overlooked Lightbowne carriage sidings and the engine sheds at Newton Heath.

If the adults had some serious chatting to do, I would occasionally be left to my own devices. My two sisters were usually there, too, but one was only a toddler and the other old enough to join in the adult conversations, so both tended to stay in the house. I would drift off, exploring the myriad back entries (no-one called them alleys, then) or kicking a ball around with local kids.

As I got a little older, I would sometimes be trusted with a message for one of the other nearby kinfolk, or sent on an errand to one of the shops that almost every street corner had.Mum crossing Egbert Street near Langworthy Road in 1940. Mrs Mazza’s was the shop on the left.

There was a cluster of shops along Egbert Street, not far away, the most memorable of which was Mrs Mazza’s ice-cream parlour, at number 33.  She would sell you a cone or wafer, of course, but her speciality was catering for parties or tea-time treats. You could take a baking-bowl and ask for, say, two dozen scoops, with or without raspberry sauce, to be dished out back at the house. It was proper iced cream, too, made on the premises and with a consistency like compacted snow, unlike some of the slithery synthetic stuff available nowadays.

Over the years, I have frequently been surprised at how many people still remember this shop – you inspired a generation, Mrs Mazza!

Sadly, my gran passed away in 1967 and, shortly afterwards, grandad elected to move to a retirement home in Eccles, close to his youngest brother. Not long afterwards, the southern end of Hanson Road, including grandad’s house, was demolished, along with part of Hugo Street and the whole of the carriage sidings site. Further house clearances continued into the 1990s (when the last shops on Egbert Street went) and only a few terraces at the northern end now remain.

The general layout and names of the streets have survived, however, with modern housing at the southernmost end. Alas, this new development incorporates no shops at all…

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“It’s the stretch zone where learning takes place”

I’m at the Simpson Memorial Hall, Moston to observe a couple of sessions of the LAB Project run by Chris Higham and Sarah Jones of the Proper Job Theatre Company. I’ve done my homework and this course would suit me down to the ground.

People start to arrive. It’s a small group of mixed nationalities and, for most of them, English is their second language. Like me they’re a bit nervous.

“Would you mind if I just join in?” I ask Chris. “Of course, stay as long as you like.” So, I do. The whole two weeks in fact.

First, the house rules, toilets, break times, etc., then Chris says “Try to take part in as much as you can. We ‘challenge by choice’ so if there’s anything you feel you can’t or don’t want to do, you don’t have to.” Then, it’s straight into an ice-breaker game.There‘s a daily workbook to fill in but otherwise there are no hand-outs, presentations, desks or lectures. Over the next few days we played various activities, listened, talked, signalled and even sang (and I don’t sing as a rule). We learned about each other, our similarities and differences, the importance of body language, feedback and learning styles. Also, about being in our comfort zone, getting into our stretch zone, avoiding panic… and, along the way, we all became friends.

Chris and Sarah were joined by a volunteer, Billie, who’d completed the course last year. They were incredibly patient and how they transformed a few shy strangers into a troupe of budding thespians in such a short time was simply impressive.As the school drama workshop loomed closer. Sarah outlined each role. “Who wants to be first to volunteer?” She glanced at us and we all glanced at each other, tight-lipped.

“Feeling nervous is normal, it’s ok.” Chris said. “It’s a natural emotional response but not a negative one. Learning how to manage nerves is what’s important. Think of that stretch zone and give it a go. If you don’t like it you can change your mind.”

“We’ll run through it without any scripts first. I’ll talk each of you through your part. Billie and I’ll do the actions, you watch and then you copy.” said Sarah. “Get the story into your head first. Learning any lines will come easier.” One by one the parts were filled.I have to skip a day and don’t join them again until we go to the school and perform the drama workshop. They told me later how nervous they’d felt beforehand but how elated they were afterwards. Their performance blew me away. The children loved it and so did the teachers.The project didn’t end with just a certificate, a gift for attending and a round of applause like most other courses. The LAB project concludes with a progression session. Various organisations are invited to meet the group and help them take the next step towards employment. They’re given information, signed up for further courses, training, work placements or voluntary work – whatever they ‘chose’ to do.What can I say? Was it the best course I’d ever been on? Yes – and I’ve been on lots. Do I still get nervous? Yes – but less often and I can deal with it. Am I more confident? Yes – and I’m so grateful.

For contact details and to find out more visit the LAB website. There’s video on there – it’s quite inspirational.

Celebration time for Fourteen

It wasn’t meant to be like this. Jane said I only had to say a few words about this blog but now I’m up on stage compèring the whole event.

She’s prepared a script so I start with that. It’s the last time I stick to it all evening. “Welcome and thanks for coming. Tonight is all about celebrating the amazing achievements made by local people, helped along by funding from the Fourteen programme through Spirit of 2012.”

We’re at The Miners in Moston and the place is buzzing with people from different groups across Harpurhey and Moston. Community co-ordinator Jane Ellis is up on stage too – a first, she says as she invites Helen and Graeme of Forever Manchester to the microphone.

“What I love about Harpurhey and Moston are the people who have the passion for this community and who want to get involved to make a difference,” says Helen. “So thank you for your involvement and thank you for coming along tonight.”

Graeme tells us how his role as Community Builder has been a real pleasure. “I’m not going to mention all the 60-odd projects we’ve funded,” he says, “but they range from a youth leadership programme to using hanging baskets to bring people together on a local estate and much more.”

We’ve got a packed programme for the night and young filmmakers Josh and David from Modify Productions come and tell us about the film they’ve produced about all the positive goings-on in north Manchester. They’re back here on Tuesday night with the premiere.

“I’d like to officially present Trish with the Another Music blog,” I say once I’ve explained how this blog will now be written totally by the local community, another of many legacies of the Fourteen programme. “Has anyone got a camera?” I ask as Barbara jumps up to snap us with an oversized computer screen. Thanks Barbara.

Local singer-songwriter Tyler J Bolton provides the first of our musical interludes followed by the Amani Choir whose 20-odd singers just about fit on stage.

“This is about bringing different communities together,” says Emmanuela by way of introduction. “At Amani Creatives we use art to create social change by providing opportunities like this choir.”

Following the wonderful performances including exquisite solos I encourage Barbara from Creative Community up on her feet. She’s keen to explain how Fourteen funding helped her weekly art group.

“Everyone knows that fundraising these days is difficult, so being awarded a grant for equipment and materials lightened, quite frankly, a heavy load,” she says.

Jane’s next up, telling us about the literally life-saving work of the Frank Cohen Centre on Moston Lane. She’s been instrumental in supporting this alcohol addiction service which is close to her heart. “I can barely find the words to explain their impact on people’s lives,” she says.

After the Tai Chi demonstration by 75-year-old David who gets everyone on their feet for a warm-up – this is no ordinary evening out – I encourage our host to the stage.

“I call you the Modest Man of Moston Louis because you get on and do all this stuff and you don’t shout about it,” I say. “You’ve won some awards haven’t you?”

“The first one we won was the Forever Manchester Most Inspirational Project, that was the best one, wasn’t it Paula?” We encourage Louis’ partner on stage. “Before that we’d never had any praise for anything. Then we won the Manchester Proud Awards for Best Community Project and the Best of the Best.” Whoops and cheers all round.

Jane finally thanks everyone for coming and announces Louis’ famous pies are being served. Phew.

I leave Moston full of meat pie and pleased I didn’t make a total fool of myself on stage, with a twinge or two of sadness as my time with the Fourteen programme and the Another Music blog is now over.

Over the last 15 months I have met, and written about, some amazing local people selflessly working hard, with dwindling resources, for the benefit of others.

It makes me cross to read negative stories in the local news about an area which is so rich in positivity and pride. Can those journalists not get from behind their computer screens and come and see what’s really going on here? Or at least read Another Music for some inspiration!