PICCADILLY GARDENS MANCHESTER


One of my favourite places to hang around doing nothing for hours at a time until it was recently ruined for me by over-policing, is Manchester’s Piccadilly Gardens, the North West of England’s equivalent of New York’s Central Park.


The Gardens were once a hospital, the Royal Infirmary, which was relocated to its present location on Oxford Road, next door to the Eye Hospital. The hospital was a major landmark I the city from 1752 to 1910. Its large clock tower is mentioned in several ballads as a marvel of the age and quite a tourist attraction.


Demolition of the hospital left the city with a large open space, which was landscaped, into an ornate garden feature, which changed in nature many times.


I remember the Gardens from the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when it had a bandstand. Though only 45 now I can remember bands playing there it were strangely reminiscent of Trumpton, a kid’s show in which a brass band always played in such a bandstand as the closing credits rolled.


There was also a real World War Two sea-mine in the entranceway that had been diffused and turned into a charity moneybox for war heroes.


The bands stopped coming, and the stand stood derelict for a few years, slowly getting vandalized. The Rise of the Arndale Shopping Centre in the mid-1970’s killed many lovely smaller shops and businesses.  The Woolworths on the corner of Piccadilly shut after a tragic fire there killed staff and customers. The shop re-opened briefly but few went any more – the fire had upset the city badly. The store is now an amusement arcade, called Nobles.


Another store, Lewis’s, again facing the Gardens, was the place I got my first job at Christmas in 1981.


The bus square became the main bus station for the City, with an increasingly horrendous one-way traffic system creeping in. The buses constantly changed stops and bus stands. Car and cab drivers got hopelessly lost. The Gardens became nothing but a corridor between buses and businesses. The flowerbeds died and the area was regarded as both derelict and dangerous.


With the Metrolink tram system running through Piccadilly, the buses were pushed back towards the eyesore that is the Piccadilly Plaza building, one of the largest tower blocks in the city. Others stop at Oldham Street, or the new Arndale station near Shudehill, creating much confusion and congestion for buses and quieting passengers alike.


After Manchester was torn apart by the IRA bomb blast that miraculously killed no one, much of the city was given a massive revamp and architectural face-lift. The Gardens had not been badly hit by the bomb, but with the city awarded the 2002 Commonwealth Games, in compensation for narrowly losing the bids for the 2000 Olympics, the Gardens were redesigned by award winning Japanese Architect Tadao Ando.


Ando’s work was truly lovely. The Gardens now had a centrepiece fountain, designed for people to take chances dodging flumes that flow in ever changing patterns and heights of water. Around this was a circular ampitheatre seating area, a central walkway and rail inviting further viewing, and lots of grass areas for people to just lie down on to enjoy the sunshine.


While many adults enjoy the revival of fortunes of the Gardens, anti-public drinking, and fear of terrorism and paediophiles has made the police very heavy handed in patrolling the Gardens. People seen there too often and too long risk being moved on or subjected to stop-search investigation, as has happened to me.  People with camera have been challenged by the police and by vigilantes too, as happened to a chap on this website


While we should all be alert to the presense of nerdowells,  we should not be over-suspicious of each and every loner, or camera weilder – most are innocent. Some people will hang around places for long periods without having to be plotting a crime, rob a bank, or abduct a child – these people have rights too, so turning public open areas like Piccadilly Gardens into an Orwellian theme park where everyone is in everyone’s gaze and stared at constantly by security guards, 24/7 CCTV and police patrols is extremely unhealthy.  


A few weeks ago, after sitting by the fountains for a lazy hour before a regular job hunting assignment art a building within sight of the Gardens, I found myself openly accused of taking pictures of kids though I was able to show that I had no camera or camera phone on me to do this at all – the police recorded the search for such a camera as a non-search, and told me to go away.  My copy of the stop-search form makes no reference to such photo-taking – merely stating that a ‘man was seen’ watching children which I certainly wasn't doing. The form doesn’t specify him being me or even meeting my description and I saw two other men pulled up too, neither of who remotely resembled me or each other. The police also describe me as ‘Fat’ which is true but politically incorrect to the point of offensive – and say I have no face shape, or scars on my face, though I have 18 stitches in my left cheek. There are many other errors on the documentation too. I have no objection to being questioned. If the police, or some witness were worried by my presense they have every right to consult me, but it must be done sensitively, honestly and properly. That no evidence was found should have ended the matter.  I had attracted attention merely by being a creature of habit. I was there too long and too often for someone else’s liking. I am by nature a creature of habit – I have regular pubs, generally sit in the same row each cinema visit, unless other audience members beat me to it, and I have favourite chill out places. I have time to sit around for long periods because I MAKE time by setting out through life without hurry. ‘No hurry-no worry’ is my motto. Lack of good income keeps me from killing time in pubs, so sitting in public open air seating has become something of a hobby – sadly, it’s a hobby that attracts me some very unwelcome paranoia and attention from the authorities.


While the Gardens look lovely and inviting, enjoying them too much could prove costly. The irony is that the police presence deters the real neredowells. It is the innocent ecccentrics and individuals who the police will question and use their stop-search powers on, to justify their own ongoing presense there.


To me, the Gardens have tremendous nostalgic value, and serve as a convenient resting stop between appointments and errands in the City, and a better place to wait for a bus than the nearby bus stop itself. I like making time in life to do nothing at all, to loiter without intent – to just be. If I’m going to work or to work related interviews, I don’t like to rush in late, all stressed out. I take time to arrive early and chill out first. My views on time management are well set out in my article TIME (one of the first web pages I produced here from my old Humanism magazine editing days).  I am also a big fan of water features, including Fountains, so the presence of a body of water that constantly changes its patterns in the heart of my city appeals to me too. 


Sadly, the police seem to think any single male watching the water or enjoying the Gardens for more than average time, must be contemplating or preparing for a crime such as chasing after any children who happen to use the area – that a lot of  single grown ups go through and stay there doing nothing for long periods of time and I myself have also been there when there are no people around, (at all) and the water itself is not operating, rather nullifies such concerns, but the excessive policing makes me nervous that I could again be mistaken for the kind of people they hope to catch, and that keeps me away from a place I love dearly, for its buzz of activity, and paradoxically for its tranquility as well as the tremendous nostalgia the area gives me.  


One day, perhaps Manchester will get something right. .









                                    STOP AND SEARCH CONTROVERSIES




CRITICISMS OF RACISM BY POLICE USING STOP AND SEARCH Police have been heavily criticised for using stop and search procedures too much against immigrant individuals so now they are racing to target more Caucasian males to compensate in their statistics – many people are therefore being intercepted on increasingly flimsy evidence and supposition rather than with concrete evidence.


STATISTICS With a staggering 35,766 people stopped and searched since the laws came into force only 455 of them were arrested. As the article states –


“Under conventional law, you can be stopped and searched by police if they have any suspicion you have committed a crime.

But the Terrorism Act, when sanctioned by a senior officer, allows police to stop and search people even without suspicion - something that campaigners say is a throwback to the notorious "sus" laws of the 1970s. Shami Chakrabarti, the director of Liberty, said: "This is almost worse than the sus laws. The police have the power to change the law of the land in whole parts of the country.''

© Copyright. Arthur Chappell