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Symphony in grey

Jonathan Schofield tones down and explains Confidential’s precipitation policy

Written by . Published on February 14th 2011.


Symphony in grey

One of the first things I did when I became editor of Manchester Confidential was ban any writer ever mentioning Manchester and rain. Unless it involves Salford being washed away or some such.

In my mind to do so would be admitting we lack the imagination to write in anything but clichés. Yes, it rains in Manchester, as it does across the UK - if more frequently in the west than in the east – but so what?

Unless the subject is the weather, there’s always much more to say on any given topic than a temporary climactic condition.

There’s a direct equivalent in Twitter-land. People wake up in the morning and tell all their followers what the weather is like right outside their own windows when most of their followers live within a ten mile radius. That’s one slice of news we don’t need unless we live in a climate-controlled bunker several metres underground and only have Twitter to let us know what’s going on in the real world (can you imagine that – although I feel a reality TV show coming on).

You can see what people are doing: the weather comment is a pause for thought while they think of something more interesting. Not that that invariably follows. But professional writers should never communicate that pause for thought: small-talk is a waste of a reader’s time.

Oddly perhaps for some, most of the overseas visitors I take around when doing my other job as a tour guide, are surprised to find that Manchester has a reputation for rain at all. They think the whole of Britain has a reputation for rain: degrees of wetness scarcely register.

Still an advantage of our UK maritime Atlantic climate is the variety of sky action. Those quintessential British artists, Constable and Turner, chased and praised these atmospherics. Meanwhile closer to home, the late-Poet Laureate Ted Hughes wrote of the Pennines between Manchester and Bradford memorably, with lines such as: ‘Moors are a stage for the performance of Heaven/Any audience is incidental.’

Our own home-based painters have also fixated on drama above. Liam Spencer with hot, blazing sunsets and dawns, Adolphe Valette, with the permanent, physical world evaporated in moisture.

That oddest of Manchester artists, LS Lowry, made weather a representation of how he felt about humanity and his relation with it. This is clearest in his terrifying seascapes, where sea and sky meet in shades of grey with neither beach nor vessel to lessen the alienated and lonely chill.

It was grey at twilight at the Quays and MediaCity on a recent Saturday – appropriately The Lowry arts centre featured heavily. But instead of empty hills or wide open seas, there was colossal architecture in steel and aluminium, and the narrower waters of the Ship Canal.

Meanwhile the sky was giving out grey as though it were a specialist black and white paint factory showing off: all tones and shades between black and white were on display. It was simply beautiful, a balm for the eyes. Here are the pics folks, feast your eyes in muted tones, drown in subtle grey.

Writing about weather when it's the subject - as stated above - is fine. Some might pine for those Mediterranean skies and a rhapsody in blue, but they can be harsh and unchanging, in contrast to this British symphony in grey.

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Eddy BaileyFebruary 14th 2011.

Better than the ravioli pics.

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