Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Robert Adam Crescent R.I.P.

I lived in a flat in one of the concrete crescents of Hulme in the early 1980s, with three other Manchester Poly students. The flat had been a squat before we rented it and was so beat up nobody else wanted it. The council had covered up the damage with shiny white paint the consistency of porridge. But even that couldn't hide the crucifixion-size nails and fist-size holes in the walls.

My room was a cupboard with windows next to the upstairs back balcony – just big enough for a single bed and a pile of clothes. I think it was originally designed, by whichever Corbusier fanatic penned that paean to brutalism, to be an ironing room. I had to scrape up a lot of pigeon shit before I could move in, and the pigeons used to wake me up at all hours with their cooing and flapping – they loved that balcony, high up on the outward curve of the building – but four pounds a week wasn't bad.

We boarded up the front room windows and lined the walls and ceiling with egg cartons, as one of the lads was a drummer and his band practiced at our place. The back of the flat had a decent view out of Hulme, west towards Liverpool – rooftops, clouds, grey skies, orange at night.

We played football on the lumpy grass below, where I dislocated my friend Geoff's shoulder. I used to park my old XL250 enduro down there, too, until one of the kids in the block hot-wired it and rode off, no doubt thinking he was Steve McQueen in The Great Escape. But he couldn't get out of Hulme, or didn't want to. The cops got him before I even knew the bike was stolen. They chased him off-road where he careened around the grassy knolls and abandoned shopping trollies before falling off as spectacularly as he could without a stunt double. He was unhurt and the bike was totaled, which meant insurance money for me and drinks all round.

There were snipers in the crescents – mostly just air rifles – and you'd get shot at from time-to-time. The weed was wicked, home-grown and full of seeds. It was strong enough to make you hallucinate – I literally saw pink elephants once. The pubs on the estate were pretty much a last resort on the nights you couldn't be bothered to walk to the city center or over to the Ha├žienda, but the Aaben cinema showed some decent films – Rumble Fish springs to mind.

The parties were frequent and throbbing – lots of people crammed into overheated, druggy, fuggy cardboard rooms. Hulme was also a great place (as was most of post-industrial, early '80s Manchester) to wander around taking black-and-white photos of bleakness and decrepitude. Mostly we were happy to live in the proverbial "morning after" all those "dark satanic mills" of legend, with our Boddingtons and Factory Records.

One crystalline memory from that time of concrete and rain was being alone in the flat, just back from a record shop, placing the needle down on New Order's Power, Corruption and Lies for the first time. To me, barely in my twenties, that album, perhaps more than any other, summed up the existential dread of Hulme, along with the sense of freedom and creative frisson it incited in anyone who could cope with the quotidian, thumping, jittering, wailing stink and sight of piss and shit in the stairwells and elevators and, well, everywhere – like a magic carpet of despair.

Pic from Old Hulme.

1 comment:

  1. A very interesting memoir, if you don't mind me saying so.