A month by month account of the omnishambles that was 2020 up north
It was the year we finally learned to bake soda bread, finished Netflix and picked up a foreign language or two.
But it hasn’t all been good.
As we prepare - finally, to flush 2020 down the pan, Mancunians have good reason to reflect on the swirling ironies which have underscored our year.
For much of it, we’ve been regarded by the rest of the land as the nation’s lepers. Feckless. Monkey-walking. Larging it. Domiciled twelve-to-a-festering-terrace. Passing covid round in a bong. Flipping the Vs to public safety. In need of our own special rules and regulations. And less deserving of public money than a National Centre for Pan-European Friendship.
You name it, it could be ladled out of a window into a carton to be snaffled on the go by the discerning plague rat.
Now, with the South East having endured the holiday period in its own bespoke Alert Level, with its own bespoke financial package, on the crest of its own bespoke tidal wave of public health issues, the consequences of complacency and anti-northern prejudice at a time of national emergency are playing out like the just desserts sequence in a shit disaster movie.
The baked-in hubris with which our world is sold back to us runs through the Mancunian year like hipsters through an old cotton mill.
And as we know, staring at four walls and learning to live in your own head is hard enough without being gaslighted by every news-shitting smart device in the house.
Before we were ever even asked to ‘do the math’ on herd immunity, we were struggling to get our heads around Reynhard Sinaga – the overseas student who in January was convicted at Manchester Crown Court of more rapes than you could pin on a Carthage General - making him by most counts the world’s most prolific offender.
It was the story no-one knew what to do with, or could look squarely in the eye: the anonymous man from privilege in the Canal Street-facing flat who lived his life out online, finding validation on social media, sharing mementoes of his crimes on WhatsApp and taking the selfie to psychotic extremes.
Where were the Guardian think-pieces at the culmination of that episode?
We might have sensed End Times was going to be the look this year when in February the Trafford Centre put out an urgent appeal for cash.
The great shopping palace with its fake palms and plastic pillars had seemed the awesomest retail experience in Christendom back in 1998 - shortly before the internet found its feet and began to make it look like something Ronnie Barker would close up in time for Big Band Special.
The news that The Trafford Centre was sitting by the side of the M60, cap between its feet, may in retrospect have been an omen we failed to register.
It was a bad time, then, for a pandemic. Dumplington-wise. Everyone-wise. Though once the bug made landfall in March, that first hit of pre-apocalyptic high proved an interesting drug to those already so disengaged with the twenty-first century that a contemporary take on The Black Death wasn’t without plot interest.
Everyone piled into the pubs for one last guilt-free exchange of respiratory particles before the lockdown came in, and then it was 28 Days Later time as photographs began to emerge of the city deserted in the midst of rush hour. Market Street, St Ann’s Square, Piccadilly…all lonesome and empty as a banker’s heart.
You had to admit it looked cool: plane-less skies and nature-is-healing memes over Facebook as the GMP helicopter took to the skies with its thermal imaging camera to root out back-yard beer gatherings, beer-drinkers pointing giddily at them like Ready Brek fortified yokels at a crop-duster.
When this teen house party got busted, the youngsters decided to cheer up attending police officers by running round the back to be thrown out all over again.
Among older heads, isolation gave rise to philosophy: "Whatever happens, we can’t go back to the way we were," they said.
Six months later, of course, they said: "Please for god’s sake just let us go back to the way we were.”
Of the many ‘blitz spirit’ things that started to happen, one of the more credible was the Nightingale Hospital, as the armed forces were enlisted to convert the G-Mex into a mass convalescence unit. Just sixteen days it took, at the beginning of April.
Watching the exhibition centre being refitted by squaddies was a bit like having to eat spam and pencil-in stocking seams with gravy browning whenever we saw it flash up on our seventy-two inch television screens.
Reports from inside the repurposed complex said it was worse than when Spandau Ballet played there in ’86, and twice as busy.
Meanwhile, the footie was off. With Liverpool twenty-five points clear in the Premiership and on the brink of their first title since the skimpy-shorts era, what was needed was some kind of pan-global catastrophe to overtake the planet and… Well, a righteous campaign to have the season declared null and void may have come to nothing, but as the Scousers lifted the trophy we could take comfort in watching them celebrate in an empty stadium.
Big place, Anfield. Small podium. Borrowers-sized spectacle.
Real life began to creep back in. Residents holed up in matchbox apartments learned in May that they were ineligible for government assistance to have their fire hazard homes re-clad - despite having demonstrably bought them from clown-suited corporate psychopaths.
The actual cost of re-cladding an apartment - estimated at £115k - suggested their homes were about seventy percent kindling to start with.
Then in June Marcus Rashford wrote an open letter to the government demanding schoolchildren be given free school meals - prompting a fierce national debate about whether it’s better to feed children or risk demotivating their evil parents.
Businesses teetered, the economy tanked. Eat Out To Help Out went live. With the service sector now lagging behind the British blacksmith's industry, backs-to-the-wall thinking was the order of the day as the streets became terraces for al fresco fressing.
Parts of the Northern Quarter were like a gourmet soup kitchen. You name it, it could be ladled out of a window into a carton to be snaffled on the go by the discerning plague rat.
In July came news of the potential closure of Gorilla and the Deaf Institute and the city woke up to the possibility that there would be nowhere for Pretentious Noise Pollution and their mates to promote their latest download. Thankfully Tim Burgess and venue group Tokyo Industries stepped in to save the music.
Meanwhile, the property boom went under the microscope courtesy of the BBC’s Manctopia series - making a brown star out of Capital & Centric developer-cum-homelessness-guru Tim Heatley as he mentally mud-wrestled for our entertainment with the paradox of evicting people in order to sell homes to people with more money.
This came hard on the heels of the council’s controversial move to slim down its planning committee to just three key, frontline, rubber-stamp operators on the basis that councillors ‘didn’t have the training necessary to ensure they were ready for a change in process’. By which it was meant they couldn’t be trusted with Zoom.
You would be a fool and a communist, though, to suspect that this was so the stamp slaves could rush through twenty storeys of Deansgate shag apartments, the latest version of the Shudehill Shitshovel, and a residential block the size of Strangeways on Chester Road.
At least we got a new park for the city centre. God, how we realised we needed parks.
In August Hashem Abedi, brother of Arena bomber Salman, was sentenced to a minimum of fifty-five years for murder, attempted murder and conspiracy to cause an explosion in connection with the 2017 suicide attack.
There were gasps in court as the longest minimum term in British legal history was handed down - though Abedi himself wasn’t there to hear them, having refused on the day to emerge from his Old Bailey cell.
Similarly unavailable were intelligence chiefs to explain why they deemed it in Manchester’s interest for local asylum seekers to be encouraged to return to their native country to fight for Al Qaeda groups seeking to depose British ally Muammar Gaddafi.
When that particular Mensa convention finally meets, the local Hell’s Angels chapter will no doubt get the contract for doing security.
Silly season symptoms began to present around September. First, sparks flew as Haçienda DJ Dave Haslam and Madchester icon Ian Brown engaged in a heated zimmer-down over Brown’s controversial Twitter tirades.
“NO LOCKDOWN NO TESTS NO TRACKS NO MASKS NO VAX” quoth the Stone Rosetradamus as Mancunians divided between those derisive of the deep state conspiracy and those impressed at what can be achieved by growing your own.
October saw the unheralded publication of Tom Hazeldine’s history of the North South divide - which all should read if for no other reason than to arm yourself with the rage necessary to push back against Etonian Banana Republicanism.
Case in point - the Tier 3 compensation saga. With his all-new alert system, his threat to put Manchester in the naughty tier, and his determination to protect the capital’s unicorn pastureland status, the PM didn’t find time to consider the Mancunian businesses set to be obliterated the arbitrary shutdown of their trade - at which point Mayor Andy Burnham quite rightly lost his shit.
The spectacle which unfolded saw the government try to strong-arm the city into accepting chump-change and lint on the basis that Burnham’s ‘political positioning’ was risking his constituents’ lives.
When talks broke down with the two sides only £5m apart, city leaders were texted a £22m kiss-off on live television so the nation could see the faces of the northern monkeys as the rug was pulled from under their hairy feet. It was as if behind the door at Number 10 Winston Churchill had been politically reborn as a fourteen-year-old girl on the rebound from a boy named Liam.
Kicking off seemed to be the thing by that point. Certainly, it didn’t take long for the students to piss their pronouns after they got back from summer recess to find themselves locked down in halls of residence, many of them at their own expense.
‘HELP!’ 'LET US OUT!’ and ‘HMP MMU' were some of the banners stuck up in windows after uni bosses determined it their humanitarian duty to erect steel fencing for the little shits' own safety.
That one boomeranged when in November there were calls for UoM vice-chancellor Nancy Rothwell to resign after a first-year was racially profiled and told he ‘looked like a drug dealer’.
It took the fall of Piccadilly Gardens' famous Berlin Wall to cheer up hardly anybody as 2020 began to slam on the breaks, wrestle with the steering wheel and swerve blindly into what disaster analysts would call the present ‘teachable moment’.
Once upon a time, of course, there was a garden there, full of blooms in brilliant hue. But drunks and degenerates descended on it so they took the garden away.
With logic like that, Piccadilly Gardens is a problem which, like many others, we will never, ever solve.
All of which delivers us to December, and the uneasy sense that some people had been looking forward to the Christmas markets since the middle of February.
Those citizens were of course to be disappointed, this time out, as the markets went the sorry way of the Food & Drink Fest.
To soothe our worsted souls there was Lightopia.
Alas, at twenty quid a go, Heaton Park’s illuminations spectacular suffered a calamitous opening night when entire postcodes of the festive light trail failed to power up. Footpaths were plunged into darkness. Europe’s largest municipal Christmas wonderland eaten by shadow. Customers complained they had to use torches to find their way out of the park.
Lightopia? Manchester? Brexit? Covid? Britain?
Even Nobby Stiles dying.
It’s all one big metaphor, really, isn’t it?
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