Street Life: Rain, rain go away…

In the olden days there was imagination. ‘Creativity’ was yet to be invented (possibly by Blue Peter). Indoor play took place in living rooms, consequently adults preferred activities that kept us sitting quietly at the table.

Many people have fond memories of Meccano, but mine are of Bayko. The construction set was the brain child of Charles Plimpton, and took its name from Bakelite, an early form of plastic, patented by Dr. Baekeland in 1907. Due to manufacturing difficulties, shades of brown were all that could be achieved initially, but by the 1950s the colours of Bayko’s miniature architecture were as bright as could be wished for.Buildings were created by sliding the modular brick tiles, windows and doors between metal rods inserted into a base. The only down side was that our creations had to be dismantled when the table was needed for meals.

Austerity was gradually receding and games like draughts, bagatelle and blow football were appearing in the shops again, as was the most prized of all – a compendium of games. Those games required at least two players, so a solitary child complaining about being bored, might receive the suggestion ‘go and find that lovely scrapbook Auntie Doris gave you’. Dutifully cutting up old greetings cards or coloured pictures from magazines, we stuck them in with flour-and-water paste.

Wartime paper shortages had put an end to cigarette cards but, in the 50s, Brooke Bond satisfied our collecting fever with their colourful tea cards. My favourite set was ‘Birds of the British Isles’, the dilemma was how to display them? To stick the cards in ‘that lovely scrapbook’ meant losing the description on the reverse. The alternative was buying a postal order to send away for the official album. This was a significant purchase when ‘poundage’, equivalent to a week’s sweet money, was added to the cost of a postal order’s face value.

Felt tips were things of the future and drawing or even scrap paper was rarely available. To us, crayoning and painting was simply filling in the outlines of a colouring book. Our paints came in a flat tin box containing small blocks of solid colour with names such as Alizarin Crimson and Burnt Sienna. Despite their exotic names the colours were disappointingly insipid, as were the chalks used on our slates and blackboards.

Possibly my most favourite presents ever were two McCall ‘Make It’ books. For many years I had to be content to simply read about the mysterious ingredients necessary for making a chemical garden. The stamp pads, glue, felt and glitter demanded for other McCall projects were less exotic, but they were still not common in our utilitarian world.Kids used to being feral soon tired of sedentary pastimes and brought scaled-down versions of outdoor games inside. In true wartime ‘make do and mend’ style we used our family’s laundry basket, a wooden crate with sturdy rope handles which normally lived under the kitchen table. On rainy days it could be transformed into a pirate ship or stagecoach under attack from ‘red Indians’, or anything else our imagination conjured up.

Two chairs and a blanket made a tent, and with milk and a few biscuits we were happy for a while. A table covered with the ubiquitous chenille cloth made a fine den. Sometimes adults forgot we were there and would discuss subjects not normally considered suitable for ‘little pigs with big ears’.

Every house had a button-box whose contents could be raided for games of shop and the like. We also used buttons to play a sort of tiddlywinks game. Each player chose a button to propel other, usually smaller, ones along the floor. The winner was the person whose buttons got to the edge of the carpet in the fewest number of ‘flips’.

Airfix kits were a popular pastime, but a cheaper way of making models was the cut-out books available in local newsagents. There was a whole range of these roughly A4-size publications containing brightly coloured things to make. They ranged from model vehicles to ‘dressing up’ dolls.Time and patience was required for the fiddly cutting out in those pre-sellotape days, when a slip of the scissors could spell disaster. The figures came printed on thin card and the paper outfits had small tabs which folded around the doll to keep them in place. My sister and I often combined forces to act out plays with our dolls as the characters.

Such ephemera ought to be long gone but my daughter, aged 47, is now the custodian of the family collection of cut-out dolls, complete with repairs done with 50’s sticking plaster or ancient sellotape.

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Maxine Peake at the Miners Community Art and Music Centre

I’m a Dinnerladies fan. Twinkle’s my favourite character.

She was played by Maxine Peake and the chance to watch one of her films ‘Funny Cow’ at Moston Small Cinema followed by a ‘question and answer session’ doesn’t come along every day. I struck early and got a ticket.

Maxine Peake: Dinnerladies (Twinkle), Early Doors, Silk, Coronation Street, Peterloo, Hamlet, Funny Cow and many more. BAFTA nominee and UK Theatre Awards Winner. Smug’s the one with the beard.

The film was intense, shocking, realistic and brilliantly acted. Afterwards, Smug Roberts asked most of the questions and the audience needed no encouragement to ask theirs.

Maxine told us how she landed her role as Twinkle, about working with Victoria Wood, moving back up north and being around places she knew in Bolton. Hearing about her time at RADA was fascinating.

“It’s a real leveller” she told us. “In my year, there was a really good balance including lots of working class Northerners as well as people from places like Oxford and Cambridge. It was a really good mix; it reflected the business with someone from every walk of life, from every ethnicity.”

“One thing I admire about you is you’re not scared of voicing your opinion.” Smug commented.

“When you do a job you have to do publicity and you get asked all sorts of questions.” Maxine replied. “When I’m asked about how I feel I like to be open about what my feelings are. I never tell people what they should think; I don’t force my opinions on them.”

The audience were smitten with her and so was I. She was very witty, warm and open. The whole evening was a pleasure.

She’d mentioning having to do publicity but Maxine wasn’t at the Miners on a cold November evening to promote her film. She was there to promote and raise funds for Lifeshare, a charity that helps meet the needs of homeless and vulnerable people in Manchester and Salford.

She wasn’t the only performer at the event either. We were also treated to a surprise live performance of ‘Human Touch’ by IORA (Holly Phelps). It’s available to download for a minimum £1 donation by clicking here  – all proceeds going to the charity.The evening at the Miners Community Arts and Music Centre raised a fabulous £1,300. To find out more about Lifeshare and the work they do, click here.

It’s nearly Christmas so thank you for taking the time out to read this blog.

For details of up and coming events at The Miners, including films at the Moston Small Cinema, check out their Facebook page.

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Cameras, caterpillars and cake

We met up at the Little Lavender Community Hub and kicked off the event with a brew and a slice of cake. I went for the vegetarian option. It was the best carrot cake I’d EVER tasted.

The ‘we’ is a small group of people on a Nature Photography Walk with photographer Rich Bunce. No-one’s met before but we have two things in common, we like walking and we like taking photos.Our route starts at Wrigley Head Bridge, takes us along the Rochdale canal near Failsworth, under the Metrolink bridge, over the lock and down on to Moston Brook. Then we pick up the path through the undergrowth and follow it along the edge of the brook until we’re back at Wrigley Head.

“Just before you take a shot, pause a moment and think. Would it be better from a different angle or is this the best? Does that make sense?” We nod at Rich and each other.

“Do you just delete photos that haven’t worked out as well as you’d thought? Instead take a moment to work out why and next time they might be better.” We nod at Rich and each other.

“Ever taken what you thought was the perfect scene but didn’t notice the plastic bag flapping in the tree in the background?” I nearly shouted “I know what they are. They’re witches knickers!” but nodded instead.Our cameras range from a top of the range digital SLR, to handy compacts to mobile phones. You don’t need anything fancy; it’s what you do with it that matters.

As we stroll along Rich stops now and then to explain something and the group gathers round to peer at laminated examples from his rucksack. He talks about making the most of nature’s shapes, lighting, reflections, backgrounds, colour and the impact of simplistic views. We hang on his every word. He sets us challenges along the way.

It all makes perfect sense and we get busy, clicking our cameras at everything, literally everything we see, trees, plants, spiders webs, paths, bridges, caterpillars and each other.Now and then other walkers go by in groups, nodding and exchanging a smile as they pass. I wondered who they were and wondered if they wondered what we were doing. I found out they were Co-op employees on a charity walk (the Hope Challenge). They were cheerful and made a good day even better.

Back at the Little Lavender Community Hub Cafe Rich got a well-deserved round of applause and we had a quick chat before he had to leave. I’d assumed he was one of a team.

“No it’s just me” he said. “I get about though. Do various photography sessions, walks and workshops in Yorkshire, Manchester, Leeds and even London. I held one once while I was on a family holiday. Once was enough!”

When I asked him what his biggest challenge was his answer surprised me. “Marketing” he said. “It’s so important but takes up a lot of time.” I’ve seen his website and I reckon he’s spent that time pretty well.As for time, we’d had a brilliant one, loved every minute and learnt loads. The weather was kind, we’d taken hundreds of photos…and not one with ‘witches knickers’ in the background.

A big thank you to the Moston Brook Project for organising the event and the Manchester Festival of Ageing for the grant to make it possible.

To find out about other events around Moston Brook check out their Facebook page.

Details of other activities and photo walks with Rich Bunce can be found on his website.