Glamourising Gunchester

At this point, I think I’ve made it a bit clear that Manchester is one of my favourite cities. I love so many things about the place – the history, the culture, the people, the music scene – and so many of my favourite aspects of the city have been greatly influenced by the Madchester movement. Madchester is even one of the main reasons why I decided to spend a semester living over there.

Madchester is even one of the main reasons why I decided to spend a semester living over there. Most of my favourite bands were involved in the Madchester scene and really, I just find the entire movement very interesting. However, I often forget that a great deal of Madchester is simply nostalgia and it may not have been as great as I always make it out to be.

It really hit me how much I had been glamourising Madchester last year when I interviewed Peter Hook, the former bassist for New Order and co-owner of the Haçienda. Although he was incredibly lovely throughout the interview, once I said something along the lines of “you were one of the people responsible for sparking the Madchester movement“, he very seriously responded with, “don’t blame me for that“.

As much as musicians, Hooky included, generally look back in fondness of Madchester, not everything about it was all that great. The drug trade in Manchester was growing day by day and took over clubs like the Haçienda which was really the heart of Madchester. Along with the drug trade came drug-related violence and as Johnny Marr explained in his autobiography, Set The Boy Free, “gangs started to take over, and became self-appointed kings of the nightlife, especially in the Haçienda, which by now was the most notorious nightclub in the world. Manchester had become Gunchester.

Ultimately it was the drug trade and violence that was the demise of the Haçienda and Madchester as the legendary nightclub closed its doors for the final time in June of 1997, marking the end of Madchester.

Looking back on it in 2017, Madchester seemed like the best thing to ever happen to the north of England. To an extent, it really was. Johnny Marr explained,

The impact of the Manchester scene could be seen all over the country as more and more people flocked to the city to join in the ‘Madchester’ experience. Suddenly it was the hippest thing in the world to pretend that you’d come from the most socially deprived areas of the city and speak as if you were a barely educated urchin from a young offenders institution.”

While it’s great to look back on this time with nostalgia, it is also important to remember that not all of it was as great as we like to make it out to be now. Drugs, gangs and violence took over a large part of the Madchester scene and if it’s not forgotten about, then it is definitely glamourised. Certain aspects of Madchester should be celebrated, but other aspects certainly shouldn’t.

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Has Classic Literature Overstayed Its Welcome?

I’ve been studying English literature at third level for almost three years now and only recently I’ve begun to hear other students in my course complaining about studying classic literature. To be fair, I thought I would hear it a lot sooner than this but the same comments seem to be coming from every other person every day.

Before starting our course, everyone was fully aware that we would be studying a considerable amount of classic literature, especially at the beginning. However, it is now getting to the stage where many people are questioning if we need to study it so extensively, or maybe even at all.

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There are plenty of obvious and valid reasons for classic literature being taught in universities. Students need to learn the history of English literature and why it is the way it is. English teacher, Sally Law, summarises this in an article for the Guardian by saying,

“…studying classic literature from the Western canon (Shakespeare, Dickens, Orwell and so on) affords students of English the opportunity to understand, analyse and evaluate language quite different from their own. Structures, trends in punctuation and in the way we speak have evolved through the ages and being aware of these developments really helps us to understand better, language in its current context.
If we didn’t read and study texts from the past, and only looked to the best seller list, how would we know of this evolution?”

However, with this being said there is more to English literature than “Shakespeare, Dickens, Orwell and so on“. When I first began my course, I thought that we would only really be studying classic literature for the first few semesters in order to understand the context and history of fiction but now, almost three years later, not much has changed and we still study almost exclusively classic literature.

I believe that we need to keep classic literature as one of the main components of English literature courses, but we also have to start incorporating more modern texts as well. As important as classic literature is, we need to keep students interested in what they’re learning and that won’t happen when they constantly have to translate a text from old English to a more modern form of the language.

I don’t seem to be the only one with this opinion either as Sally Law continues, “While we must safeguard the teaching of classic literature or risk depriving our young people of the wealth of knowledge, enjoyment and sense of heritage and history to be gained from our classics, we should also be open to the idea that more contemporary texts, of varying titles and formats, have a justifiable place in the curriculum too.”

The New Woman and Her Questionable Morals

Feminism, as we know it, has been an essential part of Western societies history since first wave feminism began in the 1800’s. Now that we have entered third wave feminism, there is a lot of debate around the negative aspects of modern feminism. One of the main arguments is that western women do not need feminism. While I do agree that third-world feminist issues should be addressed first, as I have discussed before, feminism is definitely still needed in first-world countries as well.

Many modern feminists look up to the New Woman figure of the 1800’s and take a very keen interest in New Woman fiction that was published during the first wave of feminism. I myself am one of these people, so when I discovered that I would be learning all about the Irish New Woman in my Victorian literature module this semester, I was more excited than I would like to admit.

The term was coined by Sarah Grand and as Sarah Ledger explains, the New Woman was, “variously, a feminist activist, a social reformer, a popular novelist, a suffragette playwright, a woman poet; she was also a fictional construct, a discursive response to the activities of the late nineteenth-century women’s movement.

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Sarah Grand, 1896.

 

While sitting in a lecture about the Irish New Woman, I was admittedly much more attentive than I usually am. It was then that I heard my lecture mention something, almost in passing, that I became quite fixated on. Although what the New Woman writers did to help women’s rights and to change the perspective of women was incredibly admirable and necessary, they had some other questionable ethics that are often forgotten about.

The best example of this comes back to Sarah Grand who is often considered to be one of the most important Irish New Woman writers, despite being born in England. It is widely known that Sarah Grand believed that women and men should be equal but the fact that she was also a strong believer in eugenics is often left out. As Angelique Richardson explains in the book “Love and Eugenics in the Late Nineteenth Century“, “Sarah Grand was a committed exponent of biological determinism and eugenic feminism.”

She even suggests these views in her work. An example of this is seen in her novel, “Two Dear Little Feet”, as she says, “African Negroes, Bushmen of Australia, and, indeed, all low savage races, have broad, flat feet, thick ankles near the ground, low heels, and badly-formed calves to their legs; while in higher races the feet and legs are well-formed.” These racist and classist views were not only that of Sarah Grand, but they were very often shared by other New Woman writers as these views were commonly seen amongst the higher classes in the 1800’s.

I don’t really believe that these views held by Sarah Grand, or any other New Woman writer, are enough to completely disregard what she did for feminist literature. However, I do find it incredibly interesting that these details are often left out when discussing the views and opinions of the New Woman.

Maybe this is a very odd version of the saying, “you should never meet your heroes“. Instead, you should never research your heroes too much.

Presentations – Problematic or Problem Solver?

In my twenty years, I cannot recall a single time where I have enjoyed public speaking. Not one. Now that public speaking has actually become some bit of a necessity to me in the last few years between university work and real world work, I still can never feel myself improving at it.

Thankfully, presentations have never been a huge aspect of my university course as I have to do, an average, one each semester. However, that doesn’t stop me being awfully afraid of them as I am terrified even thinking about it for the days leading up to it.

I’ve given some pretty bad presentations in my three years of university. I’m fully aware that the rest of the class probably didn’t find my presentation as terrible as I did, but that never stopped me from feeling horrible afterwards.

One of the worst instances happened while on Erasmus in the University of Salford, I had to join a module late due to a timetable clash. On my first day in this new class, I found out that half of our grade was dependent on a group presentation. Although it’s not my ideal assignment I didn’t really think much of it until the lecturer told me that all of the groups had already been formed and it was too late for me to join any of them. Instead, I had to do an entire forty-minute group presentation on my own on a text we were studying that was deemed to be too difficult for a group of four people to research. On top of that, it was in front of a huge group of drama students who seemed to be incredibly critical of everyone’s presentation and made sure that the students presenting were aware of every detail of every mistake that they made. As you can imagine, I really didn’t feel great after that one.

Don’t get me wrong, not every presentation I’ve done has been as bad as that one. I’ve been in some really great groups for presentations with people who were really interesting and incredibly motivated which made me feel much better about the whole situation. However, I’ve also been in some awful groups and I’ve conducted some terrible presentations myself.

Although I never really feel like I’m improving my public speaking skills, when I think back to some of my first presentations back in my first year of university I was not half as decent at them as I am now. Three years ago, I was incredibly shy and could barely look a stranger in the eye. While some people may still consider me to be quite shy, I’m nowhere near as introverted as I was back then. So I guess that’s something.

Sometimes I genuinely do think that presentations are problematic and cause a lot more anxiety and stress than they’re worth but when I think about it realistically, public speaking skills are something that I will always need. I might as well practice them now in front of a group of students who probably aren’t even listening and are scrolling through Facebook instead, rather than in front of a group of professionals who have years of experience.

Practice makes perfect, I guess.

Thank You, Mr. Manchester

As much as I tried to push it to the back of my head the last few months, now that I’ve begun my second semester of third year I’m faced with starting my Final Year Project and in preparation for that I, of course, have been enrolled in an FYP preparation module. I think it’s safe to say that I was really dreading having to come up with a plan for my thesis so naturally, I blocked it out of my head until the last possible minute.

The last possible minute came when I arrived back from Manchester at the start of February and I suddenly discovered that most of the people that I know on my course had already planned their FYP’s and found a supervisor. Here I was, trying to adapt to being back at home after an incredible few months away, trying to catch up with the first few weeks of college work that I had missed and out of nowhere it felt like everyone might as well just have their entire thesis done already and not a single idea for my own had even crossed my mind in the last few months. Great. To add to it, I found out that a lecturer that I had before that I had so much in common with was only accepting proposals for the next three days.

Determined to not fall any more behind with my work, I spent my first weekend back in Ireland pulling an FYP proposal out of thin air in order to get the supervisor I wanted. When I was trying to think of what I would be interested in researching for the next year a few things came to mind – Manchester as a cultural city, the ‘Madchester’ movement and several bands from Manchester. Then I realised that one thing linked all of those together and that was Tony Wilson.

Whenever anyone asks me what I want to do once I graduate I tell them that I basically want to be a female Tony Wilson. Born in Salford, Wilson was a journalist for the BBC and Granada TV, the co-founders of Factory Records which signed bands such as New Order and Happy Mondays and the co-owner of the iconic Haçienda nightclub which was at the heart of the Madchester scene. All of this led to him receiving the nickname, Mr. Manchester and it was easy to see why after living in Manchester and seeing the impact that he made in and around the city. So, for the past few weeks, and this week especially, I’ve been researching the work of Tony Wilson and his impact on Manchester for my FYP after successfully getting the supervisor that I wanted with my very rushed proposal.

During a four-year degree, it is inevitable that you will end up having to study and research some topics you don’t like, and some that you just can’t stand. However, now I can say with a massive sigh of relief that I’m back to being genuinely interested in my college work.

So, thank you, Mr. Manchester. I hope I’m not sick of you by the end of this.

English Without New Media

As of Tuesday, January 31st 2017 I could no longer have my ‘current city’ on Facebook as Manchester, United Kingdom. Well, I could, but it wouldn’t be very accurate.

I recently moved back to my hometown of Limerick after spending several months studying at the University of Salford as part of the Erasmus+ programme and let’s just say it hasn’t been easy being back. There are plenty of reasons why I want to go back but for now, I’m going to instead talk about the reasons why I wanted to go there in the first place.

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I have almost three years of a BA degree in New Media and English under my belt after deciding years ago that I wanted to be a journalist or simply work in the media industry in one way or another. This is the same reason why I decided to go to Salford for my semester abroad. With one of their university buildings planted right in between BBC and ITV studios in Media City, Salford provides some of the best hands-on experience for media students. I couldn’t go wrong with my choice, or so I thought.

I couldn’t go wrong with my choice of university, or so I thought.

Only a month before making the move to England I discovered that due to the agreements between the two universities, I was only permitted to study English at the University of Salford and not media. There’s all of my experience in Media City out the window.

Nonetheless, I still managed to have an amazing time in Salford, even with my English modules. In a way, it did also lessen the blow of coming back to Limerick as I was excited to get back into the New Media part of my course, including Writing for New Media.

Writing for media is what I love to do and since taking a break from writing for two magazines after two years, I’m excited to finally have an excuse to get back into writing in this way again, even if it isn’t in Media City.

Haunting in The Shelbourne Hotel

Four days after Halloween, my boyfriend Shane and I stayed in The Shelbourne Hotel. We were going to see WWE in the 3Arena that night so he decided to surprise me by booking a five-star hotel for the night. The hotel is a landmark in Dublin. It’s known for being the location where the Irish Constitution was first drafted and having some very famous guests including Charlie Chaplin, Elizabeth Taylor, John Wayne, JFK, Keith Richards, Charlize Theron and now us – I’m kidding, I swear. The Shelbourne has been around since 1824 so  it’s bound to have some stories.

When we went to check in we knew we felt very out of place. It goes without saying that it’s by far the fanciest place I have ever stayed in. I felt like I was inside the Titanic with its late 19th Century decor. When we were in line to check in we were behind Shane Filan from Westlife who was checking out so we knew that we were slightly out of our depth.

We were staying in room 373, a Queen room with a painting of Charlie Chaplin on the wall. I’m still not sure if that meant that that was the room that he stayed in when he was there, but I’m going to say that it was. Since it was an old-fashioned hotel we kept saying things like, “haha, bet it’s haunted“. Our stay there was great – the staff were more than lovely and we had no complaints about the room we were staying in. That was up until the early hours of the next morning.

Our room The Shelbourne Hotel - No. 373 - Along with the painting of Charlie Chaplin
Our room The Shelbourne Hotel – No. 373 – Along with the painting of Charlie Chaplin

It was about 6:50am when the first incident happened. Shane and I were fast asleep having just seen Seth Rollins injuring his knee in the ring the night before which would lead to him having to vacate his WWE title. We had no problems with anything in the hotel up to this point. However, before going to sleep, we were both a bit unsettled about the hotel room at night. Neither of us really said anything to each other but we both knew that we were both a little freaked out and we weren’t really sure why. The only thing we said to each other at that point was, “let’s leave the bathroom light on“.

Just for context, Shane and I recently got back from a week long stay in Berlin where every morning the housekeeper would knock on our door and say “housekeeping?” long before we were ready to wake up. She had a tiny, high-pitched voice which made her almost sound like a child. So when I heard a tiny little voice and a knock on the door of our room in The Shelbourne that morning, I woke up thinking that I was still in Berlin. I’m not entirely sure what the voice said but at that point I just assumed she said “housekeeping?” so I said “no, sorry” while still half asleep.

Whoever it was kept knocking and kept saying something in a little voice which I couldn’t hear properly. The only thing that I could really make out was that she was saying a lot of words starting with an ‘S‘. I also think that I heard her ask for someone, which made me think that she was looking for someone but it was very hard to make out what she was saying. At this point, I decided to wake up Shane because I had to idea what to do. Of course it took longer than usual for him to wake up and during this entire time the person kept knocking on the door. It seemed like it was going on forever. Eventually he woke up and having heard the person knocking and saying something, he walked over to the door and said “hello?“. The person behind the tiny little voice then said something that we both think sounded like “okay, sorry” and left. Our door had a peep hole but we didn’t think of looking through it at the time and now I’m glad we didn’t. At that point I didn’t realise what time it was and still thought it was housekeeping so I thought nothing of it and went back to sleep.

Ten minutes later at 7:00am, the phone started ringing. Since one of the phones was on Shane’s bedside table he answered it and said “hello?” but there was no one on the other line. We assumed that we were accidentally put on the wake up call list even though we asked for no wake up call. We tried to go back to sleep for the second time but we barely got a chance to as just ten minutes later the phone rang again. Again, Shane answered the phone but there was no sound coming from the other side.

At this point we were just getting really annoyed. I suggested that we ring reception and ask them to take us off the wake up call list but Shane was so annoyed that we wanted to go down and say it to them. So we did. They checked the list and confirmed that we weren’t on it. They asked if we knew anyone else in the hotel who may be trying to contact us but we didn’t. They obviously couldn’t do anything to help us so we just went back to bed.

We managed to sleep until 9am and after some struggle I eventually rolled out of bed half an hour later to go to breakfast. After completely raiding the buffet we went back to the room about an hour later. Of course, for the third time, the phone rang. The same thing happened again – Shane answered the phone, said “hello?” and there was no answer. We weren’t really sure what was happening. Surely if someone was looking to contact someone in a room near us they would have realised after the first phone call that it wasn’t us or they would have at least said something. Even if they were trying to prank us, surely they would have said something on the phone. We didn’t know if it was the same person who was knocking at the door earlier and we still weren’t really sure what that person was saying.

We checked out soon after and being the paranoid person that I am, while on the way home I decided to google if The Shelbourne was haunted. It was the only answer that made sense of the whole situation and unsurprisingly, it supposedly is.

The story is that a seven year old girl called Mary Masters haunts the hotel. She used to live in one of the buildings which The Shelbourne was built over. She died from a cholera outbreak in 1791. She’s usually seen or heard on the sixth floor and the basement. Even though we were on the third floor, it still made sense of the tiny child-like voice at the other side of the door. There has been numerous reports of Mary haunting guests of the hotel, including actress Lily Collins in 2013 – she described the haunting while on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. She described hearing the little girl “giggling” and she hearing fire doors slamming. There have also been reports of guests hearing Mary crying during the night*.

That’s not what scared me the most. While researching Mary Masters I found out that she had an older sister named Sophie and there have been reports of Mary asking for Sophie. This is of course very creepy since my name is Sophie and I kept hearing her say a lot of words starting with an ‘S‘.

Of course this could all be coincidental, or it might not be. I know that Shane was very freaked out by all of this when it was happening but once I found out about Mary Masters he started denying it all. It could have been someone trying to mess with us but the story seems to fit. It could have been Mary Masters haunting The Shelbourne, but who knows?