These Boots Are Made For Walking – We Invented the Weekend

Posted on: June 3rd, 2024 by mlpEditor

Walking or hiking are highly popular with many in Greater Manchester. Surrounded by hills in all directions, it’s no wonder.

The hobby has undergone a massive resurgence in recent years with large numbers of us heading to the countryside on weekends to spend time in nature or explore the city on foot. What do we get out of walking?

While walking and access to nature are, in theory, free, are they spaces we all feel able to access?

Has the rise in working from home seen less people engaging in active travel?

Is the rapid increase in younger people hiking driven by the ‘gorp core’ or ‘granola girl’ aesthetic, a product of lockdowns, or something else?

We explore these topics and more with Ebony Hikers, Girls Who Walk Manchester, and GM Moving, hosted by outdoor industry creative Neil Summers.

Thriving Communities – We Invented the Weekend

Posted on: June 3rd, 2024 by mlpEditor

A celebration of the vibrant cultural communities that have been created on our doorstep, to help us lead fuller, richer and more creative lives.

Weekends offer many of us the chance to spend time pursuing interests with others. Being a part of a cultural community enriches our lives and allows us to explore different aspects of our identities outside work. And these shared passions and interests ultimately make us happier and healthier.

This panel discussion will feature some incredible local people who have fostered very special communities right here in Greater Manchester. From cycling, to crafting, to running to chanting. Whatever your passion, coming together, getting out there together, and creating together is one of the best aspects of the weekend. Let’s celebrate that.

Poetry Boat Cruise – We Invented the Weekend

Posted on: June 3rd, 2024 by mlpEditor

Join celebrated Manchester poet Oliver James Lomax and Manchester Lit & Phil for a very special journey around Salford Quays on the Poetry Boat.

Oliver will perform a number of poems from his collection, drawing on themes such as the Northern Landscape, belonging and identity. He will help us celebrate some of the joys of the weekend and the history of our city through his inspiring and reflective set. Don’t miss this unique event.

About Oliver: Oliver James Lomax is a poet, educator, and trustee of the Working-Class Movement Library in Salford. He passionately believes in cultural equality and the power of the arts to enable everyone in society to have a voice. A regular performer on the spoken word scene here in Greater Manchester and beyond, Oliver informs us this will be the first time he will be doing a set on a boat. Read our interview with Oliver

Interview with Professor Rachel Bowlby

Posted on: May 30th, 2024 by mlpEditor

Rachel Bowlby has written several books about the history and theory of shopping, including Back to the Shops: The High Street in History and the Future. We had the chance to ask her some questions ahead of her appearance at the We Invented the Weekend Festival on Saturday 15 June.


Q: Historically, shopping has often been done in groups, with people participating in the activity with both friends and family. Today, internet shopping is an increasingly individual activity, with people browsing and purchasing alone. In this context, has the decline of the high street and the rise of internet shopping decelerated, or accelerated, consumer culture?

A: There are lots of questions here! To begin with, it could be said group shopping is a modern phenomenon, related to trips into the town centre or, more recently, the weekly shop at the supermarket. The core shopping encounter was one on one, a seller and a buyer across the counter, or at the market, or on the doorstep (the pedlar).

“What’s distinctive about internet shopping is that there’s no salesperson there – it’s not one on one so much as just one. That solitary situation began with self-service: just the shopper and the shelves, you pick out your items yourself.”


Q: Are there any historical parallels to today’s changing retail experiences that might inform the future of high street shopping?

A: One example is home delivery, which we associate with big chains but which was rediscovered during the Covid lockdowns as not necessarily large-scale or distant when local shops, small shops, started to do home deliveries, ordered online.  In other words, the tech and the the small scale aren’t mutually exclusive. And until the 1950s and 1960s – until supermarkets came in – that was standard for food shopping, all over the country. The local butcher or baker or greengrocer delivered to your door.


Q: What innovations in retail do you see as most promising for the future of shopping? How can these innovations address current challenges faced by the high street?

A: The rapid development recently of online platforms for second-hand buying and selling of clothes is a really exciting development.

“It’s a practical challenge to the culture of fast fashion which also transfers the initiative to consumers (who become sellers as well)…it’s a return to a one-on-one type of exchange.”


Q: Is ethical consumption possible? What might ethical consumption look like, and how might current examples serve as models for wider adoption amongst the public?

A: There has been a huge shift in perceptions of shopping over the past ten years or so. It can be seen in the way that every company now presents its environmental credentials, to show how it’s encouraging good consuming (recycling) or good production practice, from farming practices to the sourcing of materials to employee working conditions. That’s a sign of how norms have shifted. The other side of this is that everyone – we are all consumers – is much more aware of these issues.


Q: Many people today derive satisfaction from cultivating relationships with certain brands that ‘define’ their personhood. In this sense, can consumption be empowering to the individual? And, if so, should consumption be empowering?

A: This is another vast topic. Instead of empowering, it can just as much be said that brand loyalty is infantilising, encouraging us to troop along faithfully as the supporters of this brand rather than that one. A slogan like ‘The power to lower prices’ (a current Tesco slogan) is manifestly patronising. It’s obviously not customers who have that power!

The question of consumption being empowering or not has an interesting history in terms of gender.

“Back when ‘the consumer’ was imagined as a woman – a housewife – she was the opposite of empowered. She was passive, manipulated, brainwashed  (those were standard words in arguments against advertising in the middle 20th century).”

Then the image shifted, just when men started to be seen as shoppers too. The new consumer was no longer an idiot but a model of rational behaviour, someone with rights and choices. This was the ‘rational’ consumer, weighing the options and calculating the best option: the reader of Which?  magazine, say, or the user of comparison websites.


Q: How can consumers be encouraged to take more responsibility for their shopping habits in terms of sustainability and supporting local businesses? What educational or incentive programs could be effective?

A: By learning about the history! Which can be done in all sorts of ways. Reading about it.  And also talking to people with different experiences (different generations, especially). Everyone has theories about, and knowledge of, the history of shopping, because we all shop (or avoid shopping): we can’t not have a relationship to it.


Thank you to Rachel for taking the time to answer our questions. Rachel was interviewed by Isabella Parkes on behalf of Manchester Lit & Phil.

Professor Rachel Bowlby will be a guest panellist at the We Think Big talk, ‘We’re Still Shopping?!’, at the We Invented the Weekend festival, on Saturday 15 June 2024. Visit the festival’s website for more information.

Interview with Oliver James Lomax

Posted on: May 29th, 2024 by mlpEditor

Q: How were you first introduced to poetry? Did a particular poet inspire you?

A: It must have been 1995, studying Seamus Heaney at Secondary School. I remember my English Teacher Mrs Gaffney asking me to read out loud to the class his poem Mid-Term Break. I mumbled through it, embarrassed, my voice half-breaking at the time, but those ending lines did something to me emotionally that a piece of writing had never done before. The feeling and connection seemed to take over my whole body, that experience has never left me. Both ‘Death of a Naturalist’ and ‘North’ by Heaney remain some of my favourite collections of poetry.

As a teenager I became more than a little obsessed with Bob Dylan. Dylan references Paul Verlaine and Arthur Rimbaud in his song ‘You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’. I was so curious when I heard this that I headed out to buy my first ever book of poems, ‘A Season in Hell’ by Rimbaud. It certainly illuminated those early days living on a Bolton Council Estate. It was inspiring and overwhelming to me that he had written those poems when he was maybe only fifteen or sixteen years old.


Q: When you arrive at a new idea, do you ever find that poetry, in its pithy precision, can be a difficult way of communicating your thoughts? Why did you choose the poetic format?

A: Almost never. Poetry has become something of a verdict for me. I believe I lost the power of choice a long time ago. Of course, there are times when writing the work, that it is more difficult to come to terms with the theme and find the resolve. But that is the beauty of the journey, I never really know where the poem is going to take me, and I embrace this. I have tried to paint and sing but both of those moments are best left unsolved.

“I believe the oldest known poetic text dates back almost 3000 years, and for me poetry is more relevant than ever, as the most immediate expression of someone’s truth.”


Q: Much of your work looks to broadening literature’s reach and reappropriating it as a form of expression for the people, by the people. Why do you feel this is important?

A: I’m honoured to be able to connect with so many amazing young people every year when delivering poetry workshops, and I believe through sharing our experiences and writing poems we create a map of empathy.

“I see first-hand how poetry creates a sense of community, improves wellbeing, and offers young people the opportunity to find their own voice in what is a very challenging world.”

I’m proud to deliver sessions in collaboration with The Working Class Movement Library – their rare and beautiful archive inspires unique creativity, and importantly has the power to raise their class consciousness. It’s a privilege to be a part of this poetic journey and see young people become empowered by language.


Q: The Northern landscape, belonging and identity, are themes that run throughout your work. Can you explain why this is a pulse of intrigue for you?

A. I suppose these are just the things and places that happened to me, all I can do is respond poetically. Anything written in the landscape of memory is written here, and I’m not sure if my poems have a destination other than a sense of belonging.

“The ruins of Ladyshore Colliery on the banks of the River Irwell close to my childhood home continue to be a rich mine of spiritual and poetic connection for me. I find a real sense of otherness and elsewhere as I wander the site and it has offered the beginnings to many poems.”

My Nan, Margaret, is a recurring presence in my work. Her love, humour, and sadly her passing through dementia, are themes explored in my latest collection, ‘Burial of The Cameo’. I write about many things, but she is often the anchor. When I open the dialogue with her memory, I feel I can write with such honesty and vulnerability, that the poetic landscape seems to become vast and limitless. As Borges said, “Being with you and not being with you is the only way I have to measure time.”


Q: And lastly, as a mentor, if you were to hand down a book of poems to a pupil, which Greater Manchester poet would you chose and why?

There are so many wonderful Greater Manchester poets to choose from, but I would have to say Clare Pollard. Her first collection of poetry the ‘Heavy-Petting Zoo’ was written whilst she was still at school, and her most recent book ‘The Untameables’ is such a beautiful thing. Claire is an astonishing poet and writer, and like myself, a native of Bolton.


Thank you to Oliver for taking the time to answer our questions. Oliver was interviewed by our Trustee, Charlotte Lanigan.

Oliver James Lomax will be performing some of his poems on Manchester Lit & Phil’s Poetry Boat Cruise at the We Invented the Weekend festival, 15-16 June 2024. Visit the festival’s website for more information.


Made in Manchester: The story of the city that shaped the modern world

Posted on: May 20th, 2024 by mlpEditor

Manchester was the ‘shock city’ of the Industrial Revolution. Has it lived up to its early promise and can it now be a model for urban living in the 21st century?

Brian Groom returns to the Lit & Phil to tell Manchester’s story from the earliest times, based on his new book Made in Manchester: A people’s history of the city that shaped the modern world.

Roman soldiers who came to build a castle in this rainy spot on the Empire’s edge probably little imagined that, centuries later, Manchester would be at the centre of an Industrial Revolution regarded by many as the most transformative period in human history. It was a turbulent time, leading to the Peterloo Massacre of 1819.

No one knew whether these upheavals would lead to prosperity or starvation, but the city became the centre of the global cotton industry and a pioneer in engineering. It was a hotbed for radical movements such as Chartism, yet also spawned the employer-led Anti-Corn Law League, which made free trade Britain’s economic orthodoxy.

Manchester Lit & Phil Trustee Charlotte Lanigan will interview Brian, and their discussion will cover the sweep of Manchester’s history. This will include pioneering figures such as scientist John Dalton (former Manchester Lit & Phil President), novelist Elizabeth Gaskell, suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst, the team who produced the world’s first stored-program computer, politician Ellen Wilkinson and singer Gracie Fields. It will tell the story of the city’s late 20th-century decline and recent rebirth, including the role of sport, music and architecture – and the controversy over its skyscrapers and property-driven economic model.

Join us to explore what Manchester’s past can tell us about the city’s – and the world’s – future. Brian has quickly established himself as the leading authority on the history of northern England, and so too Manchester. Born and raised in Stretford, there’s no one better than him to peel back the layers of this ancient but very, very modern city.

*The Percival Lecture* – South Africa’s Modernism, Modernism’s South Africa

Posted on: May 1st, 2024 by mlpEditor

When and where does modernism begin?

Is it in Paris in Spring 1907, when Pablo Picasso, inspired by the African masks he has seen on display in the Palais du Trocadéro, returns to his studio to paint Les Demoiselles d’Avignon?

Or, is it in the semi-desert region of South Africa in the 1870s, when teenage governess, Olive Schreiner, writes her first novel: The Story of an African Farm?

In the first origin story, Europe is the site of modernist innovation. Here, African art is viewed as little more than a repository of “primitive” imagery, in need of reinvention by the European artist in order to become truly “modern”.

In the second origin story, a South African writer produces a highly experimental, already-modernist novel that establishes forms and ideas that would later appear in, even influence, the development of English modernist literature.

One of these origin stories is more widely known that the other because modernism is primarily associated with early-twentieth century European and American artists and writers. Familiar figures from literature include James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound. And writers associated with the Bloomsbury Group, such as Virginia Woolf and E.M. Forster.

Yet Schreiner wasn’t alone amongst her countryfolk in using innovative literary techniques to engage with conditions of modernity. Others came in her wake. These pioneers included Solomon Plaatje, the first black South African to write a novel in English. Others were H.I.E. Dhlomo, a pioneering poet, playwright, essayist and journalist; poet Roy Campbell, who became embroiled in friendships and feuds with members of the Bloomsbury Group; and novelist William Plomer, one of the most prolific writers for the Hogarth Press, run by Leonard and Virginia Woolf.

In this recording of Jade Munslow Ong’s talk – the 2024 Percival Lecture – she discusses a range of South African origin stories, taking in both South Africa’s modernism and modernism’s South Africa. She offers an account of the modernist aesthetics and politics established and promoted by South African writers. And she explores the debt owed by English modernists to the South African innovators that preceded, coincided with, collaborated on, and influenced their work.

Interview with Dr Cynthia Johnston

Posted on: March 4th, 2024 by mlpEditor

Q: The Medieval period is perceived by some as ‘the Dark Ages’, a period of economic, intellectual and cultural decline. Based on your research, would you say this is a misconception?

A: Yes, I would say that is a rather old-fashioned view, but I think it survives despite the evidence. The term ‘Dark Ages’ has a resonance of romanticism about it, as a period which was difficult to document due to the collapse of the communication networks established by the Roman Empire. We know now that trade routes and communication across cultures continued to flourish across the period. The influence of the Islamic world pervades the art and architecture of the late medieval period. We can see this influence in ceramics, textiles, architecture, medieval book illumination and especially in the ‘carpet’ stained glass windows of the great cathedrals.


Q: What is it about this period in history that has captivated you so much as to want to study and teach it?

A: It was the sound of the language of Middle English which captivated me as an MA student at New York University in the early 1980s.

“While I found Chaucer’s language very accessible via its close connection with the English that we speak today, it was the dialect of the Gawain poet from the North-West Midlands, that I found most beautiful and appealing.”


Q: You are a lecturer on the History of the Book MA at the University of London – could you give us an insight into what one might expect from your course? And which book do you most enjoy referencing in your lectures? (if you can choose one, that is)

A: The MA/MRes in the History of the Book in the Institute of English Studies is the oldest programme of its kind in the world. It studies the making, manufacturing, distribution and reading of books, and thus offers a unique way of understanding different literary, cultural, social, intellectual, and technological processes in history. The subject extends to include newspapers, magazines, chapbooks, ephemera, digital text, and all kinds of printed or written media. It also includes the manuscript book in all its forms from the pre-classical, classical, and medieval periods.

“It is VERY difficult to choose a favourite book as a teaching object but I would say that has to be the medieval psalter. These types of books show us so much about their owners, and often give us information about individual lives: marriages, births and deaths.”


Q: Many of our members and followers will be avid book collectors and enthusiasts. With the advancements in technology made over the last thirty years or so, should we be worried or excited about the future of books and the way we consume information?

A: That is a huge question, but I am very optimistic about the survival of the codex. In 2011, I chaired a conference entitled ‘The Future Perfect of the Book’ with my colleague Wim Van Mierlo. Many of the conference attendees were concerned that the rise of the digital book would spell the end of the book in physical form, and that book shops would become things of the past. That culture has proved robust.

“It doesn’t seem that we are ready to part company with the physical book anytime soon. Research on the cognitive differences between reading text online and reading print from a physical book seems to suggest that these are two distinct cognitive experiences that can happily co-exist.”


Thank you to Cynthia for taking the time to answer our questions.

Cynthia Johnston will be giving her talk – Getting Medieval with Stranger Things – at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation on the 7th March 2024.

Guest writer Jasmine Baines shares her takeaways from Mandy Barker’s talk

Posted on: February 22nd, 2024 by mlpEditor

On 19th February 2024, artist Mandy Barker delivered a poignant online talk on her evocative photography of marine plastic debris.

Introducing herself, Barker explained that she began photographing mass accumulations of plastic to draw attention to something that has become commonplace: litter on our beaches. Barker talked us through her projects, spanning a career laden with global recognition.

A number of her works capture plastic on a black background, arranged to mimic the natural world it is invading – dolphin pods, jellyfish, even plankton – reflecting how plastic permeates, altering nature’s very building blocks. Nurdles, for example, absorb oceanic toxins and are then consumed by wildlife, thus polluting fish and birds. I was shocked by the incessant, all-encompassing nature of plastic dominance that Barker’s work foregrounds.

Barker’s work has a scientific grounding, and her presentation reflected this. After attending a talk by a scientist that detailed the plastic-laden stomach contents of a 30-day-old albatross chick, Barker was shocked that this was not common knowledge. Determined to assist, she has worked closely with scientists since.

In 2012 Barker joined a scientific expedition sailing from Japan to Hawaii. Trawling across the debris field, they tracked plastic waste and rafting organisms still circulating from the Japanese tsunami a year earlier. Her emotive images emit the urgency her lived experience has instilled within her to raise awareness of the dangers of marine plastic pollution.

Emulating the Edward Degas quote, “Art is not what you see, but what you make others see”, Barker’s message was one of raising awareness – interestingly, she targets children, capturing Smartie lids, bath toys, and action figures of Shrek, Hello Kitty, and Mickey Mouse, speaking the globally transferable language of childhood.

A member of the audience echoed my thoughts when they queried if it would be more appropriate to target industrial leaders, responsible for causing, and surely correcting, the most damage. My mind wandered to the effects of instilling anxiety amongst children, potentially making them feel unjust responsibility. Barker responded simply that both audiences are crucial. And by educating children they will consume less, and place pressure on bodies wielding the power for large-scale change. As her work has been published in fifty countries, including within the school curriculum, Barker is certainly achieving her goal to educate and influence consumer choices.

When asked at the conclusion if the oceans can be cleaned, Barker explained we must first halt the stream of debris – “if a bath is overflowing, tackle the tap before you mop the spillage”. The awareness Barker raises is the first step – hopefully those in power are listening.

Plastic Ocean

Posted on: February 21st, 2024 by mlpEditor

In this recording of an online talk, we explore a photographic artist’s response to the worrying state of our oceans today.

Oceans are essential to life on earth. They cover more than 70% of the planet’s surface, regulate the climate, and supply the oxygen we need to survive. But every year, more than 8 million metric tons of plastic enters our oceans, affecting marine environments, biodiversity, over 700 different species, and ultimately human health.

For more than 13 years, artist Mandy Barker has created different series of work to try to engage new audiences with the harmful effects of marine plastic pollution. Captions alongside Mandy’s work detail the ‘ingredients’ of the plastic objects photographed, list brands, or provide descriptions about locations and countries and what was recovered there. The aim is to provide the viewer with a realisation of what exists in our oceans. It is hoped that raising awareness of the scale of plastic pollution that is affecting our oceans, through the passing on of these facts combined with scientific research, will ultimately lead the viewer to want to make change and take action.

Mandy writes:

“Art alone cannot change the world. But by bringing attention to marine plastic pollution in this way, it is hoped my work will help inform, and raise awareness about the overconsumption of plastic and the wider issue of climate change, and in doing so encourage a wider audience to want to do something about it.”

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