Three weeks and two days until Joe goes off to university, the psychological implications of which (for us all) remain unexplored. But at least we can get the logistics prepared, so he accompanied me to Manchester today to pick up practical stuff, plates, cutlery, you know, things that mean he won’t have to eat off the floor. Will this be the last shot of him in this particular city? Impossible to say what the future will bring.
Out in the harsh desert wastes of the Karakatarmakadam Mountains, the stark grey stonework of the Fortress of Rodblok stands astride the gravel flats, beside the dried-up river valley. Abandoned for centuries, the winter winds are now all that move through its lonely halls. No longer do pilgrims visit to pay homage to the great Red Icon embedded in its highest reaches.
Or, possibly, it’s a plastic object of some sort lying around in that roadbuilders’ yard on the way to Mytholmroyd. See it how you like.
The vast MECD, or Manchester Engineering Campus Development, is pretty much finished. In embryonic form it was first depicted way back in early January 2018. It now dwarfs the old Oddfellows Hall, which it has part-swallowed, yet what you see rising here is only a small part of the whole.
Thing is — and I am very sure that, having spent hundreds of millions of pounds on this new plaything, the senior management of UoM are keenly aware of this point — is this now the whitest and most mammoth of white elephants? And what of all the blocks of new student accommodation, and hotels, and office blocks, and all the other city-centre property developments that global capital has been poured into over the last decade or so? If you think the economy’s taken a Covid hit thus far, wait for the whole global commercial property market to go tits-up. This piece of economic elastic does not have infinite tolerance. I predict we’ll be coaxed back out into our offices soon enough: if not, they’ll hear the crash on Pluto.
Before the war…. or, I mean, before mid-March, I had installed a moratorium on any further pictures of building sites in Manchester. But as going to Manchester looks as if it will become an avenue of escape from further house arrest, I am inclined to lift the ban. This is all happening at least a hundred feet up in the air, as the crane helps with the completion of yet another huge office block in the centre of the city, one that probably looks increasingly like an elephant of the white persuasion.
The original Blade Runner movie was set in 2019 and in Manchester’s case is currently coming to look more and more like architectural prophecy. And those quasi-human replicants that infiltrate society and create havoc? We call them “Tories”.
A break in the moratorium on pictures of building sites in Manchester, but I was sat in my office all day and there isn’t otherwise a great deal to see in this city, a state of affairs which, as locals will know, has lasted years now. The Manchester Engineering Campus Development (MECD), vast in scale (this is just a small wing of it), grows up like an incipient volcano on Upper Brook Street: apparently it’s due to be finished at some point this century.
Back to the UK, and in Manchester, for the first time since 21st March. I had set an embargo on pictures of building sites in the city, but that doesn’t necessarily leave a lot to photograph: and this delicate crane did catch the eye this morning. It reminds me of the leg of some insect, or spider, reaching up to tap on the roof above.
So the first stop on my tour of Asia and Australia is Dubai, just for forty-eight hours. My colleague Alex and I were worked hard all day in the University of Manchester office that exists here, in the ‘Dubai Knowledge City’ — which like the rest of this place has been raised out of the desert over the last fifteen to twenty years or so. The towers in the background are the Marina Towers which apparently started the whole property boom off as this was the first place in which non-nationals had been allowed to buy freeholds in pretty much the whole of Arabia.
But though I don’t know this place, not after one day (who could) and so can’t call this a considered opinion — there’s something about it which just leaves me cold. It’s just the antithesis of things I like about the world, in so many different ways. The chopped-up palm trees are my attempt to somehow encapsulate these feelings. The symbolism is deliberate.
I’m tired of the endless destruction and re-capitalisation being wreaked on Manchester city centre. The yellow hoardings on the right surround what is to become a boutique hotel, called “Brooklyn” — or actually “BKLYN”, clearly this was exactly the configuration of letters which wasn’t already a hashtag — scheduled to open some time in 2019 it seems.
However, an objective assessment of the local building stock leads me to conclude that Manchester is already well-supplied with hotels, boutique or otherwise. What it seems to lack are beds for a growing population of rough sleepers, that anyone who walks through the city centre on a regular morning basis will agree has increased substantially in the last year or so.