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The Manchester Compendium

Jonathan Schofield looks at a new and unusual guide to Manchester from Ed Glinert

Written by . Published on April 22nd 2008.

The Manchester Compendium

The Manchester Compendium is not a standard guidebook. It doesn’t have hotel details or a listing of the best bars and clubs, but it does take an engaging sideways glance at the city and its history and buildings.

Glinert, who was one of the founders of City Life magazine in Manchester in the 1980s, has a very individual way of achieving this. His chosen method is by following the streets and districts of the city seeking out the interesting facts associated with the various places. If you’re a flaneur, a stroller, then it will be perfect for you, combining the big story and the juicy moments of eccentricity. It’s very good on Manchester’s radical history and the city’s nineteenth and early twentieth century global significance and has a lot of ‘didn’t-know-that-moments’. His insights into recent political history are interesting too.

But the books does something else. It puts the knife into the City Council and then twists it. It gets to within about a millimetre and half short of calling all the leaders of the recent city, especially those in Planning, a group of talentless charlatans.

Some of the criticism is easy to agree with, such as that regarding Piccadilly Gardens, which is currently the focus of a debate on this website. Other things which annoy Glinert seem peevish, he’s too harsh on both Exchange Square and the Bridgewater Hall, for example.

His main problem is with hype.

“The PR machine,” he tells Confidential, “seems to have worked so effectively it’s even convinced the city itself that Manchester is getting everything right. The over-hype is frightening, out of control. Take design and aesthetics for instance, there is simply no understanding of these in the Town Hall. And there’s a lack of intelligence there too, or maybe a lack of awareness of the world beyond the city borders. The ruling Labour Party is very parochial and seems to have this attitude that we mustn’t let anybody else tell Manchester how to do things.”

He has a point of course. But his pessimism is generally misplaced. Fact is that Manchester in 2008 is an easier city in a multitude of ways than it was, say, twenty years ago, particularly with regard to culture, food and drink, and architecture – despite the council’s admitted lack of sophistication on the latter. Just ask the visitors who now have a much improved experience in the city. Much of this is due to the actions of Leese, Bernstein, Stringer and the rest at the Town Hall - although much has been achieved in spite of them as well.

Glinert’s Manchester Compendium was always meant to be a personal view of the city. Occasionally it's too personal, irritations and gripes which have been itching away with him surface too frequently. But don't let this stop you buying the book, it contains some fascinating facts and insights.

It's the sort of book you won’t half enjoy a good row with, and it's none the worse for that.

Nice Glinert story

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