Summa: diary (April 7-10, 2023)*

A dream you have will come true (fortune-cookie wisdom, April 1, 2023).

Manchester Central Convention Complex, Windmill Street, Manchester (March 2, 2020).

April 7 (Good Friday) Manchester. I’ve not visited the city since March 3, 2020, thirteen days before the UK Government advised against non-essential travel and contact in response to the coronavirus’s terrifying momentum. On that occasion, I was attending a two-day UCAS Fayre, held at the Manchester Central Convention Complex, as a member of my university’s marketing team. Three years later, I’m staying with my younger son for the Easter weekend.

Platform 4a, Shrewsbury station & concourse, Manchester Piccadilly station (April 7, 2023).

9.30 am: I took the Shrewsbury-bound train. Having accidentally included my mobile phone yesterday’s clothes-washing cycle — drowning the device in hot water and detergent — my communications en route were circumscribed by the limits of a SIM-enabled iPad. A sun-blessed Spring morning, conspicuously out-of-keeping with that ‘great darkness [which] covered all the land’ at the Crucifixion. Today, I’d live in two contrasting worlds simultaneously. On arrival, the station was teaming with holidaymakers and a gang of intimidating shouty-louty young men. Trains were being either cancelled or delayed (mine included) in large number. The networks are broken. I headed for a local watering-hole for a cup of consolation.

The Manchester-bound train had only two carriages and an abundance of travellers requiring transport. I stood next to two tables of shouty-drunky middle-aged Welsh men on a stag weekend. The train staff appeared to be close to despair. This is the NHS on rails. The sight of the Jodrell Bank radio telescope as we trundled through the Cheshire countryside was a dish of delight. We were forcibly decanted at Crewe, and advised by the conductor to board a train run by another company — which is always a risk, in terms of ticket validity.

En route, I held court with two young men who were vinyl record and progressive music enthusiasts. They were talking to a relic from that past. Their record buying and playing culture was so much like my own had been: sitting on someone’s settee with friends, reading the album’s gatefold, listening attentively, and nodding heads approvingly. I was heartened. The train pulled in at Manchester Piccadilly over an hour late.

My younger son met me for lunch and, after recuperating at his flat, we headed for vinyl record shops in the Northern Quarter. The area reminds me of Soho in the 1980s, but without the sex industry: a bohemian vibe. Notionally, I spent a great deal on albums. I wish proprietors had the vision/audition to bring back listening booths. (The drunken Welsh men whom I’d endured on the train were still singing and shouting, outside a pub that we passed on this occasion.) We took respite at a cafe, where one of the School of Art’s former BA students — the artist Scarlet Mayer-Payne — introduced herself. She’s a waitress there. I was thrilled to hear about her efforts to establish a career in this part of the country. Scarlet was one of the bravest and most instinctive abstract painters I’d observed at undergraduate level.

Recently, I’ve had a recurrent dream in which someone whom I didn’t recognise comes up to me and asks: ‘Are you John Harvey?’ Today, it happened.

April 8 (Saturday). 6.30 am: A Salfordian/Mancunian morning.

9.30 am: Off to The Whitworth, where we saw the Althea McNish exhibition. She was a fabric-print designer of Caribbean origin who made a significant contribution to British design in the 1960s. Her work reflected stylistic traits associated with that period, naturally, while contributing colouration and motifs that are distinctively ‘foreign’. Fusion art of a high order. Some examples sit comfortably in that uncertain middle ground between utilitarian design and fine art. In this respect, I recalled Anni Alber’s textiles.

I also took in ‘(Un)Defining Queer’ and exhibitions on the theme of displacement. The Whitworth has an admirable and eminently visible principle of social inclusion. Although, I’ve never been comfortable with the term ‘inclusion’; it implies that it’s still the gatekeepers of culture who permit outsiders to enter. ‘Incursion’ is preferred, in my opinion. This suggests that the previously invisible and marginalised have stormed the barricade and set-up their flag in the occupied territories. The mix of ethnicities present in the building today strongly suggests the gallery has demonstrated its relevance to communities that might otherwise have felt disenfranchised from its programme.

Holding its own on the end wall of the exhibition space that looks onto the park hung Albert Irvin’s Honeywell (1990). He was my external examiner at undergraduate level. ‘Bert’, as he preferred to be called, was one of the finest abstract colourists of his generation, modest, encouraging, and a gentleman.

Althea McNish, Tobago (red) (1960) screen printed cotton crape & Albert Irvin, Honeywell (1990) oil and acrylic on canvas (with acknowledgment to The Whitworth).

7.00 am: Over dinner, my son, his partner, and I discussed the virtues of learning to draw objectively. Neither of them have any training in art beyond their secondary school education. Both are presently applying themselves to the challenge. The facility enables us to observe the world in ways that aren’t required when merely looking. Through drawing perceived reality, we enter the world just as the world enters us.

April 9 (Easter Sunday). 9.30 am: ‘Bells. I can hear bells’** From the balcony, I could hear Manchester Cathedral’s jubilant peel reflect off the surfaces of the surrounding high-rise offices and apartments. ‘He is risen indeed. Alleluia!’ 10.30 am: We arrived at the sound source for the service of Sung Eucharist. It was a rich occasion, with incense too (which always makes me cough). The building is now over 600 years old. Little of the original stonework remains. Over the centuries, parts have been demolished, built upon, extended and finally, during the Manchester blitz of 1940, damaged by a Luftwaffe bomb that exploded nearby.

Lunch was taken in the monthly market held in the Northern Quarter. A delicious hybrid pulled-meat toasty fuelled me until dinner time. Following an exchange of Easter eggs, my son and I bonded over a game of football: Arsenal (which he supports) v Liverpool. I know little about the game, and have even less interest in it. Nevertheless, I enjoy his commentary; I learn a great deal.

April 10 (Monday). 10.30 am: Off to the Manchester Art Gallery. Some years ago, I helped convene a symposium here in which art historians and biblical scholars stood before the collection’s biblical paintings and engaged in discussion. It was a fruitful exchange of complementary insights.

Today, we took-in the gems of the collection, the rather lack-lustre new acquisitions, and a fascinating exhibition about dandyism, while eyeing-up the gallery’s efforts to acknowledge and integrate artists representing displaced and minority communities. The Whitworth has stolen the march in this latter respect. Twenty years from now, the complexion of collections and installation policies of galleries across the world will be very different. Then, variety and quality will be in harmony. The cafe served a truly delicious chilli, carrot, lentil, and coriander soup. Highly recommended.

On our way back home through the Mancunian rain (of a type that my son says the locals refer to as ‘pissing’), I purchased a vinyl. Leaving this great city of myriad record shops without one simply wasn’t going to happen.

7.00 am: We’d a table at a renowned local Indian restaurant. The best I’ve ever been to; the food was spicy, hot, and full-flavoured. And, the naan bread … the largest I’ve ever eaten. ‘You could sail with that!’ In the season of Ramadan, the area’s Pakistani Muslims descend on the establishment after sundown to enjoy a break-fast nosh-up. Lovely to see. The place was heaving. As they say about Chinese eateries, you know that the food is authentic when Chinese people frequent them in large numbers.

* Kim Harvey, cover portrait Polaroid (April 7, 2023); ** Robert Fripp, ‘Under Heavy Manners’, God Save the Queen/Under Heavy Manners (1980).

See also: Intersections (archive); Diary (September 15, 2018 – June 30, 2021)Diary (July 16, 2014 – September 4, 2018); John Harvey (main site); Instagram.

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