Why I Chose Manchester
These days I love my country in a way that makes most Brits uncomfortable, but I haven’t always felt that way. Four years before I moved here I was trying to leave for Chile, Proof: Yes, that was the libertarian compound named after the one in Atlas Shrugged that turned out to be a scam, but please don’t assume that being young and idealistic also meant I was gullible. Literally the first thing I did once I became interested in the project was to type “galt’s gulch chile scam” into Google. You can find lots of stories now, but there were no relevant hits at the time since the organizers hadn’t actually ran off with anyone’s money yet. (Fortunately I didn’t end up going as they stopped responding once they realized I didn’t have any money for them to run off with.) did I lose my sense of adventure?
As far as I can tell, it’s as strong as it’s ever been. What changed was the realization that the best place for my ambitions was so close to where I grew up. This was not a hasty decision, but my location choice has baffled many American friends. If it comes up in conversation they usually dance around the subject, asking if I was born here in a tone that suggests I’d have to be crazy to move here deliberately.
I’ll give them some credit, you have to be somewhat unconventional to spend years researching where you want to put down roots, and then trusting those conclusions when they lead you to a city in Northern England. It’s not exactly the kind of thing you do if you’re from a conservative place What I ultimately meant by this was that if you strip away the rhetoric, SF is far less liberal than Manchester. Using the word conservative to describe SF was meant to be both dramatic and confusing, and my intention was to resolve that confusion as the article progressed. I wouldn’t write something like this today as it relies on assumptions that are unlikely to be true, such as “the audience is giving you their undivided attention” or “people will continue reading to see if you can support this bold claim instead of hitting the back button”. like San Francisco.
I could present my conclusions with pure data, but I’ve learnt that few people will be moved by spreadsheets, emotionally or geographically. Intellectual-types are mostly moved by job offers, social groups and the perceptions built from a collection of thinkpieces. That last one is a problem, as until someone starts writing those thinkpieces, Manchester will remain coloured by people’s preconceptions.
Skeptical? Consider that when SF blogger and planning activist Devon Zuegel came to visit, she typecast Manchester as a declining rust belt town. Funnily enough I was the person who paid her to write the review. It was shockingly negative, but I don’t regret paying the nominal sum she requested as it gave me a lot of valuable information. Someday I might write a post that challenges the innacurate parts of her review, but it’s not a high priority right now.
“Manchester has a similar vibe as the dilapidated industrial towns of the Rust Belt. While their American counterparts have responded with depopulation, which brings a quiet melancholy to the streets, Mancunians have responded by getting plastered. They seem to be having a fairly good time, but it’s quite horrifying as a visitor.”
Devon Zuegel, City review: Manchester, England
Now there were a few signs this didn’t quite square with reality.
When a place is in decline, you wouldn’t expect its city centre to be packed with people having fun. You wouldn’t expect there to be net migration flows from nearly every city across the country.
Statistical visualization of the UK’s internal migration patterns
Nor would you expect so much new construction that the skyline has more cranes than any city in the United States.
- Manchester Count of 70 when I wrote this line in mid November 2018.
- News article claiming Seattle is #1 in the US with 65 cranes.
- Article image comparing Seattle to other US cities.
This is a cropped photo from a thread on Skyscraper city. While this photo was taken on September 14th 2018, which is approximately a month before Devon arrived, it’s pretty representative. On that date there were 63 active cranes, whereas there were ~68 when Devon visited, so if anything it would be a mild understatement of how much construction was happening at the time.
As for the heavy drinking, that happens everywhere in Britain, including London. While it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, our widespread intoxication can be more attributed to a lack of shame or past prohibition than a decline in moral values. The UK drinks 26% more alcohol per capita than the US, but we handle it far better.
- Consumption per capita
- Liver cirrhosis per 100k
- US drink driving
- UK drink driving
- Fatality percentage from drink drivers is 12.8% in the UK and 18.5% in Utah (the lowest percentage State) Compared to the States, we have 25% less liver cirrhosis and 89% fewer drink-driving fatalities per capita. Even on a relative basis, our drink drivers cause only 12.8% of our road fatalities, making Utah’s 18.5% seem almost barbaric.
Sometimes I refer to the UK as the United States of Civilization, but in some ways it’s really not a joke. Even in Silicon Valley, most supermarkets don’t allow online deliveries. You have to rely on third party layers like Instacart, adding ~10% in fees and offering no way of checking what’s in what’s in stock before you order. In the UK, things are a bit more civilized. Nearly all supermarkets have their own grocery apps, which show up-to-date inventories and charge a flat delivery fee of less than £2 at off-peak times, even in rural areas.
“So what if your supermarkets are a few years ahead of ours?” you say, but the reality, Mr. Yeltsin, is that our version of Walmart Tesco started doing online groceries back in 2000. Tesco was founded in 1919 whereas Walmart was founded in 1962. Old American companies may not be able to innovate, but their older British counterparts seem to manage it just fine.
There are patterns like this elsewhere, and while I love it here, they don’t quite explain the decision to base my project in Manchester. For that, I’ll need to cite Paul Graham’s writing on startup hub locations:
- Great cities attract ambitious people.
- Cities send people subtle messages about which ambitions to pursue.
- The message a city sends matters a lot. You would think it shouldn’t, but evidence says otherwise. Most people who did great things were around other people who did great things in a similar field.
- The message isn’t always what you expect. For example, Silicon Valley tells you to be more powerful rather than more knowledgeable.
- Because status is mostly zero-sum, each city sends different messages about which ambitions are important.
- Cambridge, MA wouldn’t be the same if it had nice weather. It’s only so full of smart people because only the people who care enough about being around smart people will make the sacrifices required to live there.
- Even though NYC has lots of smart people, they are harder to find since nerds in NYC are diluted by a sea of neanderthals in suits.
- Internet communities have some cultural influence, but the high bandwidth of the physical world gives offline culture much more salience.
- The geography of talent can change if ambitious people decide to move away from the current location. The startup “centre of gravity” shifted from Palo Alto to SF because founders preferred to live downtown.
- Startup rate per capita varies by orders of magnitude because most startups die by default and only certain places are able to save them. Startups are mostly saved by two things: background encouragement and dense talent networks.
- Background encouragement is a big deal for motivation. In most places people will treat you like you’re unemployed if you tell them you’re a founder, but in places like SV people will take you seriously.
- Dense talent networks mean that you often bump into people who can help you with tough problems by happenstance, and when you are doing something highly ambitious, you need as much luck as you can get.
- Once you have a high density of the right people they start helping each other out and shifting cultural norms towards the right things.
- Y combinator harnesses this effect by creating a “valley within the Valley”.
- You could reproduce Silicon Valley elsewhere if you have both nerds and investors.
- Investors aren’t just rich people, but people who can discern which nerds are the right ones to fund.
- Office parks don’t help, as startups don’t need them until the later stages. What you need is for them to get funded when they are still working out of an apartment in your city because they will root wherever they get funding.
- To get lots of nerds you need to be a place where nerds want to be.
- Since nerds want to be around other nerds, the only way to attract them in the past was to have a good university. This is less relevant now, but having one still gives a significant advantage.
- A good university isn’t enough. It’s just the seed, and it has to be planted in the right soil. The city needs to have other attractions besides the university. The city needs to be a place that tourists like to visit, and students want to stay after they graduate.
- The city needs to have personality and not appear mass produced. For this it needs plenty of independent restaurants and well-preserved old neighbourhoods.
- Startups are founded by 20-somethings, so the city needs to be a magnet for the young and optimistic.
- To attract those people, the city needs to have an intact centre and not have a large existing population of stodgy people. Reversing the fortunes of a declining town would be an exercise in futility.
- Since startups are basically made of odd people and odd ideas, any city that wants to attract them must be tolerant of those two things. A good proxy for this is a cultural climate that’s socially liberal.
- Silicon Valley was seeded by a tiny number of people. Nearly every company can trace their lineage back to the “traitorous eight” who left Shockley Semiconductor in 1957, it just took a while for that growth to compound.
- Any new Silicon Valley will have to compete with the original. While this is a challenge, it is by no means impossible.
- VCs are centralised in the Valley, but startups are getting much cheaper to start, which makes founders less dependent on outside investment.
- Silicon Valley ended up in Palo Alto partially because it was a nice place to live, now it’s a car-dependant suburban hellscape.
- To beat Silicon Valley, all a city needs is to be the place that the next “traitorous eight” look at and say “I want to stay here”.
- Pittsburgh used to be a poor location for a startup ecosystem, but there are some recent trends that could make it viable.
- Pittsburgh used to be a place that young people left, but now that trend is reversing.
- Nationally the percentage of 25-29 year olds is 6.8%, but in the city they make up 7.6%, compared to 7% a decade ago. This is a very good sign.
- The “youth-driven food boom” is something the government should encourage because independent restaurants and cafes give a place personality.
- But restaurants aren’t the prime mover, the prime mover is cheap housing.
- What’s special about Pittsburgh is not that it’s cheap, but that it’s a cheap place you’d actually want to live.
- You can’t be too strict about historic preservation. Don’t let developers tear down old buildings to make way for new ones.
- Pittsburgh has the advantage of density because it was built before the automobile era, but you should go further than that. Ideally, you’d make the city so bike and pedestrian friendly that you make San Francisco seem backward by comparison.
- The city has an advantage over Portland because it has CMU, a first rate research university, and it’s downtown, unlike Stanford or Berkeley.
- Another strength is the city’s socially liberal culture that’s both tolerant and pragmatic, which isn’t a coincidence, as Pittsburgh was the Silicon Valley of its time.
- The toughest part will be getting investors, but that is less necessary than it used to be. Startups need less money these days, and there are now things like crowdfunding and seed accelerators that can provide funding remotely.
- Becoming a startup hub won’t be easy, but Pittsburgh probably has the best chance for any city of its size.
In a sense my project’s strategy is like Y Combinator’s “valley within the Valley”. You take a place that already promotes something, and compound it by an order of magnitude. For Y Combinator, that thing is tech startups. For us, it’s more like social innovation. And Manchester has many elements that make it an excellent choice:
National (Federal)On its face, the UK’s legal system is a byzantine aristocracy managed by unelected bureaucrats Video clip:[A]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Westminster_paedophile_dossier [B]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yes_Minister#Receptionthat cover up elite pedophile rings[A]. But remember, the video clip in the sidenotes is from Yes Minister, a widely loved sitcom[B] funded by the British taxpayer. We’re not in denial about how our system works.
And work it does. This year, our advertising regulator thought it was unacceptable that British citizens weren’t getting the internet speeds that were advertised to them, so it forced companies to disclose them accurately. The Conservatives, who were dubbed the “Nasty Party” by their
current recent leader, have once again shown us they’re in the pocket of big business by banning all rental fees charged to tenants, nudging the more predatory agents into bankruptcy.
But what about our police state and lack of constitutional rights?
We have no first amendment, and our hate speech laws basically state that it’s a criminal offence to insult anyone by accident. In our current age of political correctness, even popular TV comedians have to “apologize” for crossing the line. Looking back, this joke was poorly executed. It required watching a video clip which the vast majority of the intended audience would have zero context for, and I actually end up providing the context for the joke later on in the article. The short explanation is that a comedian sarcastically apologized for a joke that would in theory be a criminal offence under some hate speech law, but in reality nobody cared because they were too busy laughing. The intended message from the joke is “our laws don’t work the way you (an American) would assume just from reading the legislation”. Further context for the clip can be found in this subsection.
We have no second amendment, but our police almost never carry guns either. The odds of getting shot by our police are extremely low, Headline: Police in Britain fired their guns just seven times in the last year and when someone does, the whole country riots in response.
As for Brexit, I’ll admit they’ve made an absolute mess of it At the time this was written, Theresa May was in charge. In September 2020 Brexit could still be described as a mess, but now it’s a functional mess with an end date, as opposed to the quagmire it was in late 2018 when MPs were trying to overturn the referendum. , but they’ve done one thing right by offering a founder visa that doesn’t require a degree.
Paul Graham, discussing the link between technology and liberalism:
“Without exception the high-tech cities in the US are also the most liberal. But it’s not because liberals are smarter that this is so. It’s because liberal cities tolerate odd ideas, and smart people by definition have odd ideas.
Conversely, a town that gets praised for being “solid” or representing “traditional values” may be a fine place to live, but it’s never going to succeed as a startup hub. The 2004 presidential election, though a disaster in other respects, conveniently supplied us with a county-by-county map of such places.”
Paul Graham, How to Be Silicon Valley
Central Manchester has been a “blue county” since 1945, fifteen years longer than Berkeley or San Francisco. Currently 94 of the city’s 96 councillors are members of the Labour party, so you could say it’s pretty left-wing.
But as with the national government, American assumptions only lead to confusion. If the Chinese can call their state-sponsored capitalism “Communism with Chinese characteristics”, I guess you could describe the local ideology as “Liberalism with Mancunian characteristics”.
PG on Pittsburgh’s youth resurgence:
“when I read the article I got even more excited. It said “people ages 25 to 29 now make up 7.6 percent of all residents, up from 7 percent about a decade ago.” Wow, I thought, Pittsburgh could be the next Portland.”
“Nationally the percentage of 25 to 29 year olds is 6.8%. That means you’re .8% ahead. The population is 306,000, so we’re talking about a surplus of about 2500 people. That’s the population of a small town, and that’s just the surplus. So you have a toehold. Now you just have to expand it.”
Chart source: Figure 4 in this subsection. Although the real shocker is how well it compares to Greater London:
It’s worth noting that Pittsburgh’s stats refer to its 58mi² central core, whereas Manchester’s 45mi² boundary area cuts off part of the city centre and includes a lot of the suburbs.
But I’m not sure I need to make any excuses about unfair comparisons: I’ve lost the sources for most of these figures, but they can be sanity checked with a few Google searches. There is a meaningful error in the Pittsburgh surplus figure because it’s sourced directly from Paul Graham. The mistake he made was large enough to undermine his whole talk, but it doesn’t meaningfully affect any of my arguments. My opinion of PG’s integrity is much lower now than it was when I wrote this article, and if I was writing it today he wouldn’t be featured so prominently.
|City square miles||58.35||44.6|
Unlike American cities, the density of the urban core projects out into the suburbs, so car-free transport is highly practical. Miscellaneous: Walk Score map of Manchester compared to various US cities.
There’s an overlapping tram and rail network running throughout the city, and It takes no more than 30 minutes to get to the centre from the outskirts. If you want to go further afield, high speed rail to London takes only 2h15m.
Manchester’s bus system is fully privatised, At present the bus system is privatised, but since writing this the city has decided to bring specific parts of the system under government control in order to make them even more efficient. If you have a 101 level knowledge of economics, you might think that’s impossible, but I’ve read through the summary implementation details and it looks credible. You can read it for yourself here, but the quick summary is that the government controls the routes, fare collection, timetables and quality standards and gets private bus companies to bid for contracts to do X on date Y rather than granting them permission to collect fares on a certain route. There are multiple advantages to doing it this way, (e.g. lowering barriers to entry for small bus companies, preventing monopoly abuse, increasing ridership by making buses more dependable) but I’m not going to go into how those mechanisms work because this sidenote is already pretty long. and it’s often claimed that one 5.5 mile corridor is the busiest bus route in Europe. It might not be true, but I doubt it’s that far off the mark. During commuting hours, a bus arrives about every 3 minutes, with no more than a 10 minute wait at any point during the day.
Not to forget the Airport, which handled 27.8m passengers in 2017 and offers direct flights to 230 destinations, including 9 of the 10 largest US cities. For reference, SFO handles 55.8m yearly passengers and offers flights to just 139 destinations.
We’re not too hot on bike lanes right now. Until recently there was a chicken-and-egg situation regarding demand, so there’s only a few traffic-segregated routes. But things are definitely changing.
Things have progressed since writing this but I can’t really afford to spend any more time adding minor updates to this article. But if you really want up to date information on any of the following, highlight them and I’ll elaborate in the annotation sidebar:
- Bike lanes.
- The buses going under state control.
- The bike hire app (Mobike).
- Why we don’t have electric scooters yet.
- Car free zones in the city centre.
- Transport changes in response to COVID.
Aesthetics & Architecture
There’s nowhere on earth that looks quite like Manchester.
While many American cities are quick to forget their past, their European counterparts often neglect their futures. Manchester does neither, green-lighting new skyscrapers throughout the city while taking care of its old buildings. And unlike Paris or London, Manchester doesn’t segregate modern architecture in “business districts” that are miles away from its historic centre, so Google Street Views often look like this:
(Tip: if you want to get a feel for the city yourself, clicking on the links below each screenshot will take you directly to the Street View location they were captured from.)
Corporation Street (looking north).
Corporation Street (looking south).
That last one is quite special, particularly on a warm summer evening: This is Shambles Square, home to Sinclair’s Oyster Bar and the Old Wellington Inn. These half-timbered buildings were built in the 16th century, so naturally there’s a bit of history behind them. What makes them particularly special however, is that until 1999, they were somewhere else entirely. After the IRA bombing in ‘96, Manchester’s government decided their old location didn’t suit their regeneration plan. But rather than demolishing these medieval pubs, they decided to take them apart beam-by-beam and reassemble them a couple streets away.
And of course, no showcase of Manchester would be complete without:
Lots of red masonry
Chetham’s Library, which has been open to the public since 1653.
Various bits of graffiti
David Bowie murals are usually popular with the general public (Stevenson Square).
…but not always (also Stevenson Square).
And other notable aesthetic things
YES, a 4-floor nightclub/restaurant/rooftop bar/live music venue. Multi-purpose venues seem to be a common thing in Manchester, I have no idea why.
Whitworth Locke, a luxury apartment/hotel building.
Ancoats Coffee Co., a combined roastery & café.
Chapter One Books, an independent bookstore & café that’s opens until midnight.
Manchester’s notability isn’t just confined to aesthetics. The city played a large part in:
- The industrial revolution (linked earlier).
- Women’s Suffrage.
- Building the first computer.
- Nuclear physics.
- The co-operative movement.
- Late Modern architecture.
- The discovery of graphene.
- Alternative rock music.
Although not everything is in the past:
The University of Manchester has 40,000 students, and depending on whose rankings you trust, they’re anywhere from 34th in the UK to 27th in the world. Source for that claim. I don’t have any inside knowledge about how these rankings are decided, but it seems pretty suspicious that Manchester’s domestic rank is lower than its global one. A less subjective measure of UOM’s excellence would be their number of Nobel laureates (25), which would put them joint 28th globally.
If you think winning ability determines the best “soccer” team, 538 thinks we currently have the best team in the world. (Man City, at the original time of writing.)
Alternately, if you take the Hansonian The economist Robin Hanson has an infamous catchphrase that takes the form of “X is not about Y” stance that “football is not about winning”, we have a different team which in 2018 was the second most valuable team in any sport. Manchester United is so popular that some questionable polls estimate the team has more international fans than the United States has citizens. The problem with pointing to these kind of statistics is that individuals and organizations don’t stay on top forever. At the time of writing this sidenote (Sept 2020), Man City is #2 in the rankings and Man Utd is only the 10th most valuable sports team in the world. This removes a bit of the shock value, but it isn’t worth the time commitment it would take to figure out who the city’s next big winners are every time the old ones slip a few places.
The best boxer in the world right now (Tyson Fury) is from Manchester,
whether the judges think it was a draw or not.Since writing this there has been a rematch. The first Fury vs Wilder fight was judged a draw, which was met with widepread allegations of corruption. However the winner of the second fight was much less ambiguous, as Fury had beaten up Wilder so badly by the 7th round that his cornermen wouldn’t let him continue.
Manchester arena had the 4th highest global ticket revenue in 2017, Source. and the local music scene is still going strong. The city’s most recent claims to fame are indie pop bands The 1975, Blossoms and Pale Waves.
The local newspaper The Manchester Evening News. has even managed to remain relevant in the digital age. Source.
Economy & Living Costs
Manchester’s economy is highly diversified. Globally, its rated as a Beta- city, on par with Helsinki and Seattle. It’s the biggest tech cluster outside London, and also home to sizeable industries in TV, law and finance.
Manchester has plenty of jobs, but just like Pittsburgh, jobs are not the killer feature.
“The prime mover, as the Times article said, is cheap housing. That’s a big advantage. But that phrase “cheap housing” is a bit misleading. There are plenty of places that are cheaper. What’s special about Pittsburgh is not that it’s cheap, but that it’s a cheap place you’d actually want to live.”
Paul Graham, How to Make Pittsburgh a Startup Hub
Manchester’s killer feature is that the average house price is £169k, a mere third of London’s. Source for 169k figure (2018). You can’t quite prove the one third claim with that source, as if you take today’s average price figure in London (£475k) and divide it by the one for Manchester (£174k), you get 2.73. However, if you browse Rightmove for the kind of houses priced at £450k in London, you can easily find equivalent houses in Manchester going for £150k. A two bedroom apartment in one of Manchester’s historic city centre buildings can be had for just £925/month Real listing from late 2018. This was not an anomaly, there were several properties just like it. . If you prefer suburban living, a quaint four bedroom house near a tram stop can be had for £900/month. Real listing from late 2018.
Berlin was cheaper a decade ago, but prices have shot up since then. The east German city once had a glut of Soviet-built apartment blocks driving down prices, but they’ve since been occupied. The trend towards re-urbanization has caused shortages in both cities, but their reactions couldn’t have been more different. Berlin’s government have introduced rent controls, Source. while Manchester decided it would fight its own voters to increase supply. The results have been quite different too. Manchester had a record-high price growth of 7.4% in 2018, but that’s nothing on Berlin’s 20.5% annual growth. 2018 was a boom year for both cities, but they were in line with overall trends. Using the following data for Berlin and Manchester, I’ve calculated that house prices in Berlin have risen 6.5% in the past year, compared to 3.6% in Manchester. Over the past 5 and 10 years Berlin prices have gone up by 69.8% and 207.5%, while Manchester’s have gone up by 28.9% and 40.3% respectively.
It’s worth noting that nominal salaries aren’t particularly high. The average advertised salary for programming is just £47,500 in Manchester Advertised tech salaries in the UK are also a bit misleading since it’s common for experienced developers to go freelance. If you want a rough number to compare with, IT Jobs Watch claims the median rate for a freelance software developer outside London is £400/day. , but it goes further than you might expect. Government healthcare is free, and it’s good enough that most people don’t bother with private health insurance. Approximately 10.5% of UK citizens have private health insurance. Public transport and ubiquitous online groceries mean you can survive just fine without a car. Entertainment is also fairly cheap. A pint of beer is about £3 in the city centre, and there are plenty of restaurants that won’t break the bank.
At some point I’ll have detailed cost comparisons at various expenditure levels, but a ballpark conversion of £1 = $2 could be applied for US tech hubs.
From PG’s Cities and Ambition:
“Great cities attract ambitious people. You can sense it when you walk around one. In a hundred subtle ways, the city sends you a message: you could do more; you should try harder.”
“A city speaks to you mostly by accident—in things you see through windows, in conversations you overhear. It’s not something you have to seek out, but something you can’t turn off.”
Manchester has quite a weird culture. It’s not known for its individualist ambition, so it wouldn’t fit Paul Graham’s model of a great city, but make no mistake, Manchester sends a message.
And just like the city’s politics, the culture doesn’t quite map to America’s ideological clusters.
I say quite, because most of the people who came to Manchester during the industrial revolution were the same “ethnic group” that settled in Appalachia: The Borderers. For the uninitiated, these were the immigrants from Ireland, Scotland and Northern England who went to America in search of liberty and material betterment.
These people loved their new home, but they were far from loved by other colonists. They were almost universally viewed as barbaric, clannish, lazy, stubborn, patriarchal, drunken and uneducated. One Anglican clergyman called them “the scum of the universe”.
If you look at the history books, it’s not hard to see why. Aside from being the wrong kind of white people, If you’re American and this reference doesn’t mean anything to you, read any of the Stuff White People Like articles found here until you see the phrase “wrong kind of white people”. those stereotypes weren’t generated in a vacuum.
Background: Albion’s Seed
Jokes aside, not everything written about them was completely negative:
The men had an eccentric dress sense.
“These new immigrants dressed in outlandish ways. The men were tall and lean, with hard, weather-beaten faces. They wore felt hats, loose sackcloth shirts close-belted at the waist, baggy trousers, thick yarn stockings and wooden shoes “shod like a horse’s feet with iron.””
The women wore clothing that exceeded the bounds of modesty.
“The young women startled Quaker Philadelphia by the sensuous appearance of their full bodices, tight waists, bare legs and skirts as scandalously short as an English undershift. The older women came ashore in long dresses of a curious cut. Some buried their faces in full-sided bonnets; others folded handkerchiefs over their heads in quaint and foreign patterns.”
They stood tall in the face of adversity.
“The speech of these people was English, but they spoke with a lilting cadence that rang strangely in the ear. Many were desperately poor. But even in their poverty they carried themselves with a fierce and stubborn pride that warned others to treat them with respect.”
“This combination of poverty and pride set the North Britons squarely apart from other English-speaking people in the American colonies. Border emigrants demanded to be treated with respect even when dressed in rags. Their humble origins did not create the spirit of subordination which others expected of “lower ranks.” This fierce and stubborn pride would be a cultural fact of high importance in the American region which they came to dominate.”
They had an intrinsic love of freedom.
“The backsettlers, no less than other colonists in every part of British America, brought with them a special way of thinking about power and freedom, and a strong attachment to their liberties. As early as the middle decades of the eighteenth century their political documents contained many references to liberty as their British birthright. In 1768, the people of Mecklenberg County, North Carolina, declared, “We shall ever be more ready to support the government under which we find the most liberty.”
“No matter whether they came from the England or Scotland or Ireland, their libertarian ideas were very much alike—and profoundly different from notions of liberty that had been carried to Massachusetts, Virginia and Pennsylvania. The traveler Johann Schoepf was much interested in ideas of law and liberty which he found in the backcountry. “They shun everything which appears to demand of them law and order, and anything that preaches constraint,” Schoepf wrote of the backsettlers. “They hate the name of a justice, and yet they are not transgressors. Their object is merely wild. Altogether, natural freedom … is what pleases Them.”
They raised their sons to resist tyranny of any kind.
“After the baby was born, parents began the process which the modern world calls socialization. For backcountry boys, the object was not will-breaking as among the Puritans, or will-bending as in Virginia. The rearing of male children in the back settlements was meant to be positively will-enhancing. Its primary purpose was to foster fierce pride, stubborn independence and a warrior’s courage in the young. An unintended effect was to create a society of autonomous individuals who were unable to endure external control and incapable of restraining their rage against anyone who stood in their way”
They had a sincere love for religion, but resisted anyone who claimed moral authority.
“After many adventures which might have flowed from the pen of Swift or Fielding, the grand climax came when this missionary fell into an “ambuscade,” and was captured by a gang of old-fashioned border reivers. They carried him captive to a secret settlement where they lived with their women and children. The clergyman prepared himself for Christian martyrdom, but when he arrived at their cabins his treatment suddenly changed. To his astonishment, the reivers began to treat him with “great civility,” returned his property and promised to restore his freedom on one condition: that he preach a hellfire-and-damnation sermon, which he heartily agreed to do.
That curious experience expressed a central paradox in back-country Christianity—its intense hostility to organized churches and established clergy on the one hand, and its abiding interest in religion on the other. This version of militant Christianity did not fit well with the plans of Britain’s imperial authorities, who intended that the backcountry should become an Anglican Garden.”
They drew tribal lines on culture, rather than nationality, wealth or social class.
“ “We are a mixed people,” a border immigrant declared in America during the eighteenth century. “We are a mix’d medley,” said another. So they were in many ways. They were mixed in their social rank, mixed in their religious denominations, and most profoundly mixed in their ancestry, which was Celtic, Roman, German, English, Scandinavian, Irish and Scottish in varying proportions. They were also very mixed in their place of residence—coming as they did from England, Scotland and Ireland.
But in another way, these immigrants were very similar to one another. No matter whether rich or poor, Anglican or Presbyterian, Saxon or Celt, they were all a border people. They shared a unique regional culture which was the product of a place in time.”
They treated all men as social equals.
“As these patterns of wealth and inheritance suggest, social stratification in the backcountry was a system of high complexity. Extreme inequalities of material condition were joined to an intense concern for equality of esteem. Visitors of exalted rank complained that they were not treated with the same respect as in other parts of British America. The Anglican missionary Charles Woodmason filled his journal with angry accounts of “ill treatment” by “insolent” and “impudent” settlers who stubbornly refused to display the deference which he thought his due. He complained that these people were “the most audacious of any set of mortals I ever met with.”
William Byrd, on his various backcountry rambles, also complained of undue “familiarity,” and a lack of deference to age, wealth, birth and breeding. Militiamen in the backcountry commonly refused to obey orders from their officers, unless persuaded to do so.”
These complaints rose from fundamental differences in social manners and expectations. In the backcountry, rich and poor men dealt with one another more or less as social equals. They wore similar clothing, and addressed each other by first names. They worked, ate, laughed, played, and fought together on a footing of equality. Many backcountry proverbs captured the equality of manners that coexisted with inequalities of material condition in this culture.”
The women were equal parts feminine and fearsome.
“Travelers in the backcountry often reported that women and men routinely shared the heaviest manual labor. Both sexes worked together in the fields, not merely at harvest time but through the entire growing season. Women not only tended the livestock but also did the slaughtering of even the largest animals. Travelers were startled to observe delicate females knock down beef cattle with a felling ax, and then roll down their sleeves, remove their bloody aprons, tidy their hair, and invite their visitors to tea. Females also helped with the heavy labor of forest-clearing and ground-breaking. William Byrd noted that women in the back settlements were not merely “up to their elbows in housewifery,” but also busy with what other English cultures took to be a man’s work.” TFW no bad bitch borderer gf.
…and were in need of a good slut-shaming.
“On the subject of sex, the backsettlers tended to be more open than were other cultures of British America. Sexual talk was free and easy in the backcountry— more so than in Puritan Massachusetts or Quaker Pennsylvania, or even Anglican Virginia. So too was sexual behavior. The Anglican missionary Charles Woodmason was astounded by the open sexuality of the backsettlers. “How would the polite people of London stare, to see the Females (many very pretty) …,” he wrote. “The young women have a most uncommon practice, which I cannot break them of. They draw their shift as tight as possible round their Breasts, and slender waists (for they are generally very finely shaped) and draw their Petticoat close to their Hips to show the fineness of their limbs—as that they might as well be in puri naturalibus— indeed nakedness is not censurable or indecent here, and they expose themselves often quite naked, without ceremony—rubbing themselves and their hair with bears’ oil and tying it up behind in a bunch like the indians—being hardly one degree removed from them. In a few years I hope to bring about a reformation.”
But when they shamed each other, it was pretty half-hearted—even for the 1700s.
“When prenuptial pregnancy occurred, customary responses in the backcountry differed from other regions. Where Puritans, Quakers and cavaliers launched formal prosecutions for fornication, the back settlers had a merry game and a good laugh. Kercheval remembered that a backcountry custom “adopted when the chastity of the bride was a little suspected, was that of setting up a pair of horns on poles or trees, on the route of the wedding company.””
They may have beaten their wives, but they had big hearts.
“Love and violence together were common ingredients of backcountry marriages—both expressed with an emotional intensity that rarely appeared in Massachusetts or the Delaware. Gilmer told another tale of love and violence in the backcountry family of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Meriwether: “His love for his wife was without intermission, and … his gallantry equalled his love. When she tired of sleeping on one side, and turned on the other, he always crossed over, if awake, that they might be ever face to face.
But Thomas Meriwether did not hesitate to use violence to dominate the woman he loved so deeply. Once he and his wife attended a camp meeting, and she began to be caught up in the process of conversion. “Tom Meriwether,” we are told, “became alarmed, lest his wife’s love might be drawn away from him, and placed upon what he took no interest in. He seized her by the arm, and led her forcibly away,” dragging her violently from the camp meeting.””
They made authorities to earn their respect.
“We tend to think of formal education as the enemy of folkways. But most societies have a folklore of learning which might be called their school ways. The backcountry was a case in point. It adopted educational folk customs which had long existed in North Britain. One example was the curious custom called “barring out.” This was a ritual of rebellion which occurred regularly before Christmas and sometimes at other seasons of the year. The larger students would forcibly bar the master from the schoolroom, until he granted them a long vacation. When he did so, the master commonly received small presents in return.
The custom of barring out was consistent with many aspects of border and backcountry culture. In this warrior society, even the most able scholar was literally compelled to fight for the esteem of the community. Even where barring out became merely a ritual, it preserved the old spirit of violence in a vestigial form.
The ritual of barring out was also an expression of restlessness under institutional restraint—an act which was sometimes violent in its form and always libertarian in its spirit.”
Sadly their descendants are not as free spirited as their forefathers. They haven’t drifted that far genetically, but structural economic changes have had a large effect on their phenotypic expression. Like today’s Japanese, the modern hillbillies are a shadow of their former selves, and most of their English relatives haven’t fared much better. It’s worth stressing that although they are genetically quite similar, the cultural effects you get in Appalachia from the talented and hardworking people leaving en masse are not anywhere near as present in Northern England, so the dynamics which were articulated in Hillbilly Elegy (summary) are much less pronounced.
Most, because Manchester still stands tall and proud. If you’ve ever spent much time in Britain, you’ll know complaining is basically a national sport. Even in the North, few people will say anything nice about their hometown, so I was shocked to discover how many locals felt Manchester was the best city in the world. Although I’m starting to see why. When I finished this article I was deeply puzzled as to why Borderers were so different, so I thought about it some more and did some research. Turns out the answer is that most of Ireland and Northern England have a terrain that is unsuitable for grain-based agriculture, which means that Borderers are a pastoral ethnic group.
In many places the Borderer spirit has been broken. Their attitude of defiance has become one of dejection. But in Manchester, that attitude was merely sublimated.
Now that I’ve established some context, I’ll return to this section’s opening question:
What Message Does Manchester Send?
- Stay true to your own heart.
- Don’t take yourself too seriously.
- Take no bullshit from anyone.
The city has other messages, but most of them appear as downstream consequences of those principles. After all, if everyone seems a bit weird because they’re being themselves, those weird foreigners don’t stand out so much, which creates a Borderer-flavoured tolerance as a byproduct.
These three messages seem to be heard by all Mancunians, but manifest in slightly different ways depending on age, gender, race, class and personal temperament. It would be a challenge to prove that statement with statistics, so you’ll have to settle for a number of case studies:
1. Liam Gallagher (Interview)
Context: Liam is promoting his solo album after Oasis broke up, yet he seems to be quite reluctant to be there. Although it’s hard to tell because he always seems a bit angry and miserable.
A quote translated into English:
“The grudge started off when [Noel] bought a stereo . . . and [I was about 14 and] I’d [been out drinking] and I got up in the middle of the night, and he had his little sound system, [and it was dark, and because I was really drunk] I was looking for the lights, and my head was spinning and that, and I thought “I can’t find the lights to go the toilet” and I thought “oh fuck it, I’ll just piss here” and I pissed all over his sound system. When you got to go, you got to go [haven’t] ya? And he’s woke up going “what you doing?” and that’s where [the grudge] kinda started from. And well listen mate, I said to him “it could have been worse, it could have been in your mouth” you know what I mean? [I think] he got away lightly.”
2. Karl Pilkington (Interview)
Context: Karl became famous because Ricky Gervais thought his bizarre combination of unflinching honesty, 85 IQ brains and 130 IQ common sense would make good podcast material. The world agreed with Ricky, making his show the most downloaded podcast in the world Source. , and eventually, a HBO animated series.
“[the show is] about me, my inner self, and we’re sorting stuff out. Little stories, 23 minutes each, 6 episodes, easy to watch. I mean, what else do you want to know? It is what it is. . . . The main thing I want to come on [this talk show] to say is if you’re thinking it’s like the other stuff I’ve done, don’t be thinking that because it’s totally different, right. So if you didn’t like the other stuff, this might be for you, if you liked the other stuff, this might not, so just give it a go.”
“[Making a new show] was just something to do [with my life]. . . . I [spent] about 6 months where I thought “that is it, I don’t have to do anything [anymore], I’ve paid for the house”. . . . I’d [been in a travel documentary] for like 5 series and I just couldn’t do that anymore. . . . It got to the point where I’d seen that much mad stuff that [it no longer shocked me], . . . [like last week when you had a woman dangling a tin of baked beans out of her vagina], because I’d seen stuff like that before I’m [thinking] “Oh, I know the [brand of those] beans”. It was like product placement.”
“When you say I’m a worrier, I’m worried about this [show] more than anything else I’ve done, . . . I really care, I’m grinding my teeth at night. I just want to put it out, let people either enjoy it or not, but it’s that thing of you’re trying to do something different, and I don’t know it’s… you’re not allowed to do something different, are you? Fans of things don’t want you to change, but if you don’t change, they [complain that you’re a] one trick pony.”
3. Tyson Fury (Press conference)
Context: If you haven’t already seen him on Joe Rogan, Tyson Fury is a Mancunian boxer who basically came out of nowhere to beat Wladimir Klitschko, the man who’d been world heavyweight champion for 12 years. (The longest period in history.)
Klitschko was king until Fury made a mockery of him. With rule #2 in mind, Fury turned up to the pre-fight conference dressed in the kind of batman costume you might wear at a stag do. And when it came time to exchange blows, he stripped Vlad of his titles while dancing around the ring and putting his hands behind his back.
The post-fight press conference with Wladimir Klitschko.
Synopsis: After Vlad’s unexpected defeat, a rematch was scheduled. Tyson being Tyson, he decided to tease his rival with some self-deprecation. After explaining just how little interest he has in boxing, Tyson says “it’s an absolute disgrace to call me an athlete”. He backs up this assertion by taking his shirt off to reveal his newly-acquired beer belly, and then tells the muscle-bound Vlad he “lost to a fat man”.
The rematch was cancelled for complicated reasons, and Vlad retired after losing to his next opponent.
4. Noonan Brothers (Documentary)
Context: The video below is a full version of A Very British Gangster, which was a 2007 documentary about the Noonan brothers, an organized crime family in Manchester.
(The following scene occurs from from 1:09:46 to 1:13:45.)
Scene synopsis: Dominic Noonan is facing 20 years in jail for organising the kidnapping of another Mafioso for a £500k ransom. During the trial the court gallery gets closed, due to concerns that his brother Desmond is intimidating the jury. In sentencing, five underlings are convicted, but Dominic walks free. As soon as he gets outside the courthouse, Dominic mocks the prosecution, and when his phone starts ringing he jokes “that’s the jury, they want to know where the payment is”.
After the trial, the brothers head straight for the pub. In a jovial mood, Desmond taunts “we’re not dinosaurs and we’ll never be extinct ne-ner ne-ner-ner!”. When the narrator asks if someone will ever kill a Noonan, Desmond replies “I hope so, I hope it’s me first. I’m fucking fed up of life. Got no money, not got a pot to piss in, got a shitty car, married, kids, mortgage. Fed up. If anyone’s thinking of taking the Noonans out can you make me first please. In fact, I’ll even come to you if I have to, just give us a phone call. I’ll meet you anywhere you want, and make sure it’s behind the back of the ear and it’s fucking clean, don’t let me linger for fuck sake, I’m a whinging bastard” to a chorus of Dominic’s laughter.
Shortly after, Desmond complains that the police reckon he’s committed 25 murders. Dom corrects the alleged figure to 24, Des says “No, I didn’t do 24” then flashes 8 fingers at the camera as if to imply the police are undercounting. When the narrator appears skeptical of Desmond’s innocence, he playfully protests “I’m a good Catholic, I don’t believe in life for a life” with a bashful grin on his face.
In the next scene, the narrator reveals that Desmond has been stabbed to death.
- This was over a decade ago, and since then most of the gangs from Manchester are now in jail.
- Manchester’s per capita murder rate in 2017 was ~2.5 per 100k population, the entire state of Utah’s was 2.4. (Then again, that’s partially caused by a lack of guns.)
- Despite his tough-guy appearance, Dominic has been openly gay since at least 2005 (33:53 - 34:10) inside a rather homophobic part of society.
- The reason I included this anecdote was not to trivialise their crimes, but to show that the city’s message is deeply ingrained. I’m not saying that even our gangs are better, just that you won’t see that kind of whimsical attitude if you watch documentaries about London or Essex gangs.
- You might assume that Dominic would be xenophobic based on his personality, but the case could be made that he’s actually rather fond of social justice. For example, you can find interviews of Dom protesting the occupation of Palestine.
5. 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown (TV Series)
Context: This is a popular(5) comedy panel game show (1) crossover (2) that’s filmed in Manchester (3) and broadcast on Channel 4 (4), a state-owned but advertiser funded TV network.
There’s a lot of context in that sentence, so I’m going to unpack it. When I wrote this section I was aware it was an excessive level of detail to explain why I live here and why other people should also move here. I decided to write it anyway to see if I could explain a piece of deep culture to an unfamiliar audience.
1. Comedy panel game show: Unlike most of our TV genres, America has no direct equivalent Anecdotal evidence to support this claim. of the British comedy panel show. It’s very popular here, but the format just doesn’t seem to work in the US. Of our comedy panel shows, many American nerds love QI, but it doesn’t really belong in the category since QI takes the game somewhat seriously. Normally a comedy panel game functions like a coffee date, in the sense that the thing you’re officially there to do is very much not the point. Like a cup of coffee, the panel game serves as a ritualistic interruption to smooth over the natural gaps in dialogue, or in this case, improv comedy. Because of this, the vestigial nature of the game is routinely acknowledged, with guests often questioning its purpose and refusing to take it seriously.
2. Crossover: The show’s concept is a combination of 8 Out of 10 Cats and Countdown, which are two shows that still exist, but have very different audiences. This is relevant because the spin-off borrows presenters from both shows. The vanilla 8 Out of 10 Cats is a comedy panel show just like its spin-off, but Countdown is a serious game show aimed at retirees with a resident lexicographer. The crossover keeps Countdown’s set, lexicographer and “numbers lady” (which used to be Carol Vorderman) who are not comedians, while borrowing the host and team captains from 8 Out of 10, who are.
3. Filmed in Manchester: Like other comedy panel shows, they are filmed in front of a live audience. Some jokes are scripted, but a lot of the magic comes from the improvised banter between comedians who are getting immediate feedback from the audience. For obvious reasons, most shows recruit them locally, and since most shows are filmed in London, comedians usually get their feedback from London audiences. While the show’s comedians are mostly British, the audience is Mancunian, and as a lover of UK panel shows, I’ve wondered if that incentivises them to be more edgy.
4. Broadcast on Channel 4: Like the BBC, Channel 4 runs in a similar way to America’s PBS. It’s owned by the Government, but due to its funding model it ends up accountable to the whims of both advertisers and the government.
5. Popular: This TV show is pretty popular with a mainstream British audience, At the time of writing it was the third most popular show on Channel 4, with 1.75 million Brits tuning in every week. (This figure excludes those who watch it online.) so it can’t get away with offensive jokes by hiding in obscurity. It’s also worth noting that this is quite a new show, and episodes are still being filmed. The clips you can find online are usually quite recent, with most of them being uploaded to the network’s official channel after 2016. The clips I describe below are not like celebrity tweets resurfacing from 2009 which they forgot to delete.
Clips, quotes and commentary: I’m aware that British comedy is often not funny to Americans, but I didn’t include links to show how objectively funny they are. I included them to highlight just how much cultural difference there is between Manchester and coastal American cities.
For that reason, I’ve described the clips in the way someone might do if they were writing a formal complaint to get the show cancelled:
Sexually harassing, objectifying and shaming women for their appearance.
- The host introduces Countdown’s numbers lady (Rachel Riley) by describing her blond hair and tight outfits as attractive enough to have killed many of Countdown’s older male audience via sexual overexcitement. (0:45 - 0:55)
- The host jokes that Rachel gives erections to the male retirees who watch the original Countdown. (1:17 - 1:25)
- Joe claims that he’s “fuckbuddies” with Rachel while she awkwardly stands next to him. (9:34 - 9:48)
- Joe reads a poem about his hobby of going into restrooms to look at unsuspecting stranger’s genitals. All of the British people seem to be in genuine fits of laughter, while the female Canadian guest pretends to find it funny. (1:11 - 4:03)
- Sean bullies a female guest for her outfit choice by implying that it’s something only a poor person would wear. (0:03 - 0:47)
- Joe claims the show’s professional lexicographer is a voyeur who sexually harasses the other guests (0:48 - 1:22). The host later insults her by claiming the books she’s written are so boring they put people to sleep, and then asks her what things she’s been researching recently, “other than glory holes”. (2:51 - 3:17)
- The host jokes that Rachel’s dress is too short, which bothers her enough that she responds by bringing up the host’s tax avoidance scandal. (1:38 - 1:57)
- Sean makes a reference to a female guest’s obesity. (6:54 - 7:33)
- The host shames the previous Countdown presenter for wearing dresses that were too small for her figure (again), and then shames Rachel for not laughing at the joke about her predecessor. (5:00 - 5:31)
- Sean tells Rachel he gave the wrong answer because her cleavage was showing. (4:27 - 4:58)
- Rachel subtly threatens the host with a sexual harassment claim. (7:29 - 7:46)
- Sean says Hitler wasn’t that bad. (8:21 - 9:02)
- Sean claims that “people would love it” if we brought back the Nazis. (0:00 - 4:01)
Insulting other nationalities.
- “This impression is going to be either Mexican or Chinese.” “Either way, it’s going to be racist.” (1:24 - 1:43)
- The host Insults a German guest “Henning does have a disadvantage playing Countdown in his second language, of course, maybe things would be different if his grandad had fought a bit harder.” (4:50 - 4:59)
- A Welsh guest “Rod is from Carmarthen in Wales, so he has a slight advantage in the numbers game: more fingers to count on.” (5:17 - 5:33)
- An Irish guest “Roisin is from a large Irish family, so every time she plays a gig she takes the roof off, and sells the lead to her uncle.” (0:32 - 0:39)
- And the Welsh guest, again “A person who illegally exports sheep is called an owler, unless you’re from Wales, in which case you’re a sex trafficker.” (0:39 - 0:47)
Making personal insults.
- The host repeatedly mocks a guest’s large teeth “When Rob got married his wife wanted to ride a horse drawn carriage to the church, but decided against it so as to not confuse the photographer.” (4:15 - 4:53)
- Sean mocks a female guest’s poor grammar and pronunciation. (2:55 - 3:33)
- A panel guest mocks another guest’s working-class background. “One thing that people might not know about me is that I went to school with Rob Beckett. Although he was in a different class to me. Socially.” (0:02 - 0:12)
- The host mocks a celebrity guest’s genuine lack of intelligence. (2:56 - 3:17)
- The host mocks a guest’s fat neck and leathery skin texture. (4:53 - 5:03)
- The host and Sean mock a vegan guest. (4:28 - 5:04)
- The host mocks a male guest for being bisexual. (7:39 - 7:49)
- The host mocks a gay guest for his effeminacy. (1:48 - 2:05)
- The host bullies John for being bullied during his school years. (3:43 - 4:22)
- Sean fat-shames his teammate by asking him “Can’t you sit still? You fat fuck.” (9:35 - 9:54)
- The host suggests John may have been cuckolded after he announced that his wife is pregnant. (5:01 - 5:18)
- The host introduces an obese guest by saying “If you’ve ever wondered what Type 2 diabetes would look like if it came to life and got a job in show business, it’s Johnny Vegas!” (6:33 - 7:05)
- Sean force-feeding Johnny Vegas in a skit that mimics child abuse. (10:25 - 11:56)
- Sean makes a joke about killing orphans. (0:56 - 1:17)
- A skit involving Lee’s cremated grandma and John being reluctant to finger her. (2:15 - 3:50)
- The host makes a £10,000 bet for charity that Sean can’t eat a large pot of sea snails. When he takes the bet, the panel guests take great enjoyment out of watching him suffer. (8:35 - 11:55)
- Sean suggests we should threaten to shoot children for failing exams. (3:36 - 4:07)
- Miles suggests to Sean they should make the game more competitive, and offers a £1000 bet for winning the round. Sean then makes him a counteroffer “Tell you what, I won’t spit on you when we’re having sex tonight.” (6:54 - 8:28)
- The host tells the Australian guest that he was their second choice because their first one (Rolf Harris) had been arrested for pedophillia. (4:12 - 4:20)
- The entire panel mock Prince Harry for being a privileged neanderthal. (0:00 - 1:58)
- Various people joke about Rachel stalking one of the older male guests. (9:49 - 11:08)
- Sean mocks a Hollywood guest (David Hasselhoff) for being reluctant to swear. (9:46 - 11:17)
- The host mocks a celebrity’s corporate sponsor and then the celebrity finds the joke genuinely funny. (0:48 - 1:42)
- Rachel draws a hairy scrotum on the whiteboard. (A sequence of GIFs.)
- Sean swats a fly and then eats it. (7:40 - 8:17)
- Sean decides to pour (real) soiled cat litter over his head to parody the ice bucket challenge. (10:20 - 11:30)
- A nude model comes on the show in the middle of a game, and all of the guests admire his “massive cock”. (11:10 -12:32)
Note: If you’ve only read my summaries, you would be forgiven for thinking the show is a brainchild of 4chan trolls that somehow bribed the TV regulators. The reality is that the panel guests are mostly left-leaning comedians, the host has 6m genuine Twitter followers and every bit of footage is run past a team of lawyers “The lawyers have to be involved to make sure some of it doesn’t go out, because it would end all of our careers.” to check if it’s okay to broadcast. After all, it’s shown on a government TV channel, they can’t risk saying anything too controversial.
6. Bugzy Malone (Music Video)
Context: Bugzy Malone is a black I suppose he would be African American if he was American, but he isn’t. rapper/grime artist from Manchester. With around 1 million Spotify listeners, he’s not particularly big on the world stage, but he’s also not particularly small either.
Bugzy plays up his gangster credentials like most rappers do, but there is some substance behind it. He made up armed robbery charges to generate album publicity, but he also spent his mid-teens in solitary confinement for gang related stabbing, so it’s not like he’s flashing gang signs from his middle class bedroom.
Synopsis: After robbing a jewellery store, the scene opens with Bugzy and his friends debating what they’re going to do with the treasure. Their conversation is interrupted when Bugzy receives yet another missed call from his girlfriend, who’s about to tell him she’s leaving. After another missed call, she informs him of the breakup by text. The news devastates Bugzy, and he starts to contemplate what he’s lost.
He explains to the fans how special this woman was. See, this wasn’t just some gold digger he’d met along the way, she’d been by his side right from the beginning. He reminisces back to when they first met, when he was battling his inner demons, when he was so poor that on their first date she had to pay for their cinema tickets. Bugzy recalls how unlikely it must have seemed when he told her he’d be famous, and how her unconditional faith helped make him into the man he is today.
Bugzy contrasts her loyalty with his own behavior, his rise to fame and the new sexual opportunities that came along with it. After she uncovers his infidelity, they split up and Bugzy delves deeper into his party lifestyle. He seems to be having fun at first, but eventually finds that casual sex with “ditzy girls” are a poor replacement for the woman he loves.
After coming to his senses, he vows to change his behaviour in order to give his ex-girlfriend the kind of relationship she deserves.
Notes: If you read the lyrics you’ll see the meaning isn’t buried in the subtext. In most of Bugzy’s songs he puts his feelings on full display, alternating back and forth between lyrics that reference both his criminality and his vulnerability. It would be fair to say that he brands himself as “the roadman with feelings”.
7. Matt Healy (Miscellaneous)
Context: Matt Healy is the frontman of The 1975. And while they record music as a band, it would be more accurate to describe their public image as Matty and the Boys.
In some senses, the 1975 is your classic boyband. They make relatable™ albums, Relatable and catchy, and therefore very popular. they’re all fairly attractive, and they have a worldwide fanbase of teenage girls. So much so that my first introduction to them was when one of those teenage girls bought me a drink just because she thought I looked like their lead singer. “Weird flex but ok” This happened several years ago, and I didn’t even look like him at the time. I wasn’t going to argue with a free drink though.
(Picture for reference.)
Now this lad wouldn’t win any modelling competitions, but being compared to him is a bit like being told you look like Benedict Cumberbatch. It’s almost a backhanded compliment, but hey, I’ll take it.
Digressions aside, Matty isn’t included in this list to show that Manchester can also produce soulless pop stars. He’s included for what makes him different.
Well, while Tay Tay and JB spent their teens being groomed for stardom by record executives, Matty and the Boys™ took a different route. And unlike the other celebrity Mancunians I’ve listed, Matty is solidly upper-middle class.
As the son of two celebrity actors, Matty was kicked out of posh private school and was demoted to the local government one. Although it was the local one in Wilmslow, which has almost as many famous people per capita as Beverly Hills. It was there that he met the others, and in 2002, The 1975 was formed and started playing at small venues around Manchester.
The band toiled in obscurity for a decade. Despite explicitly aiming for pop stardom, mainstream record labels didn’t understand them. They refused to stick to a single genre, so music executives dismissed them as a human jukebox. But they stood firm, and fortunately for Matty, the rise of streaming services meant teenage girls listened to music in the same ad-hoc way that he produced it.
After being rejected by every major label, their manager decided to found his own in order to sign them. This turned out to be a good idea, as their first album debuted in 2013 at #1 on the UK charts. Young fans loved their jukebox style, and they weren’t constrained by stodgy old men’s ideas of what a pop band were supposed to sound like.
That’s a song from their second album in 2016 that also went to #1 in the US. But again, this isn’t really about the music, it’s about culture.
“Culture, in pop music?”
Let’s review Matty against the three Mancunian principles:
1. Stay true to your own heart.
The band explicitly aimed to make pop music, they had no ego defence mechanism from staying “non-commercial”. Matty was pretentiously unpretentious about it.
“I know I am pretentious, but I’d be the first person to tell you that. And I’m not apologising, because I’m bored of indie bands that are terrified of doing anything that could be perceived as aspirational, so they don’t affect the status quo of their little cliquey band world; where everyone has to think that each band is as cool as the other band, and you’re not allowed to play to a show of over 30 people, and everyone has to be a fucking lesbian. It’s way more pretentious to pretend you don’t care about something.”
As far as his personal life goes, he goes into interviews and basically just opens his mouth and starts talking.
you’re never going to get rid of the N word in rap, because “phonetically, it’s perfect… a great sound.” He stops. “Sorry. That was a bit of a digression.”
Healy talks about a privileged childhood, but family life sounded pretty chaotic, I say. He smiles. “Mental family. Completely mental. We love each other so much. We’re so close, so tactile, and we kick the shit out of each other. And we throw things at each other, and my parents drank for years. I grew up in a very different house from what my [15-year-old] brother is growing up in now. My mother’s been sober for five years. My dad’s been sober for a while. But I grew up in a party house in the 90s. It wasn’t distressing. It was exciting.”
“It’s just interesting to me how interested the world is about Taylor Swift. The reason I mention that is because if I had [properly] gone out with Taylor Swift, I would’ve been, “‘F*ing hell, I am not being Taylor Swift’s boyfriend’. You know, “Fk. That. That’s also a man thing, a de-masculinating, emasculating thing.”
2. Don’t take yourself too seriously.
- He makes pop music, and he accepts the implications of that. If you watch the music video above, you should be able to see he is very much in on the joke.
- (cont.) You should also be able to notice that despite being a pop star, he still does his own thing. There’s nothing preened about his presentation. That video is shot 3 years after they first went #1, and yet Matty still looks the way he always did. He’s wearing chipped, punk lesbian-esque nail polish and his teeth are still yellow and wonky. Matty is still his flamboyant, faux-pretentious self.
- When the indieheads subreddit decided to roast The 1975, the top comment was “I would say something like “The 1975 is bland pop rock that tries to act like it’s channeling the zeitgeist in a way that isn’t incredibly trite” but I’m afraid they would steal it for their next album title”. I think this sums them up pretty well.
3. Take no bullshit from anyone.
Matty on local critics who’d like The 1975 to sound more like Oasis:
“We don’t sound like any other band from Manchester, ever, and that’s what being a Manchester band is.”
On boy bands such as One Direction who were groomed for stardom by record execs:
“Oh, well… they’re four guys who queued up outside an arena to sing in front of Simon Cowell. Do they really have any artistic credibility? That sounds like a mean thing to say, but it’s a good question. Like, do they?”
Matty on wokeness:
“It pisses me off. It’s trendy to be woke. You weaponize victimhood so anybody that’s had a tough time can win a debate. That’s not a critical course of action. All these debates we see about gender, trans people, racism … nobody ever mentions that they’re enjoying it. Nobody ever references how fun it is to be right. If you’re right, you get 400,000 lovely hearts. Could they be doing it for that? Possibly. A little bit. My favorite is on Instagram where the most beautiful person takes a photo of themselves looking beautiful and gives a speech about how their self-confidence has been low. I don’t get it.”
But what about regular folks?
All of the examples so far have been famous people. They have been cherrypicked to some degree, but my intention of using the most prominent athlete/comedy show/rapper/singer is to constrain my ability to cherrypick in a way that is transparent to the reader. If I have to pick the most notable person in a given domain, I can’t p-hack the anecdotes by selecting a person at #357 because they happen to fit my narrative. Something that’s worth noting is that if you were interviewing the average man on the street, or even the celebrities I’ve given as archetypal examples and you said “if you had to sum up Mancunian values in 3 bullet points, what would they be?” they would not give same the answers I did. One reason is because it’s very difficult for a fish to describe what water is like, another is that there’s a cultural disinterest in articulating things that appear self-evident. (Interview clip that demonstrates this.)
There is no such constraint on the regular people, so you’ll just have to take these anecdotes with a pinch of salt.
This photo wasn’t cropped in the original version of this essay, but I’ve removed it as a precaution now that it’s published on the wider internet. I’m usually quite an open person, so I’ll re-evaluate this decision once I have a better understanding of the risks associated with running this kind of website.
This guy would blend in at a Halloween party, but this picture wasn’t taken in late October.
It was taken on a random Thursday night in April, around 2am, in the outdoor part of a nightclub which will remain nameless. There was no fancy dress theme, or anything else that would’ve explained his outfit choice. He didn’t even bring any friends with him! He’d just decided to the club with a big wrap of unidentified white powder, and try to convince the burly doormen to grant him entry.
Because this was Manchester, the doormen felt this lone male patron dressed as Pablo Escobar wasn’t the type to cause trouble. He looked so innocent to them that they didn’t even bother searching him, which was fortunate for reasons that you can infer by looking at his face.
2. Strangers on public transport
Mancunians have what could be charitably described as a resting bitch face, but don’t let their demeanour fool you. Considering that 2.8 million people live here, the city is surprisingly friendly.
Manchester is known for being one of the friendliest cities in the UK, and nowhere is that more obvious than on its trams, trains and buses. This is a city where the person sat next to you or waiting beside you at your stop will make the effort to start up a conversation. Fair enough, that conversation is highly likely to consist of complaining about the late running of the service that you are both waiting for, but talking to strangers isn’t shied away from here. [get citation]
3. The Sacred Trinity Church
This church was built in 1635, and its congregation still worships there every Sunday.
In 2003, some goths thought it would make the perfect venue for a nightclub. Feeling they had nothing to lose, they asked the vicar. Being a man of god—and a man of Manchester—he thought it was a great idea. So on the last friday of the month, for the past 15+ years, a bunch of queer, goth satanists have been going to church. Admittedly, performing a special kind of worship that lasts until 2am and involves crates of beer, You have to bring your own drinks since the church doesn’t have a licence to sell alcohol. RGB lighting and hymns from Marilyn Manson.
If this sounds like fun to you, you can read more about it from the city’s tourism board.
4. The Local “College” Students
I’d be lying if I said that the local universities didn’t have a few snowflakes. Manchester University recently made international news when it was reported that they replaced clapping with jazz hands. The story later turned out to be fake, but I found it quite believable at the time. There are many sheltered Londoners who study in Manchester, and student unions aren’t exactly known for their Stoicism.
But what are the regular students like?
Well, enough of them take drugs that enterprising young gentlemen will walk down the street handing out business cards. This practice is so normalised that a student studying aerospace engineering at UOM Yes, the prestigious one. felt comfortable enough to review them under his real name. Unsurprisingly, he gave this one the top spot:
“I normally prefer powder…. WAIT WHAT IT’S FREE?
Sammi, Sammi, Sammi, you generous man. A free sample? Stapled to your card?
In a sea of paper and lighters, you are lighthouse amongst the rocks. Wish you’d told me the dosage though, now I don’t know how much to take.” In case this isn’t clear to some readers:
- A student journalist at Manchester University was walking down the street when a stranger hands him a business card with a free pill of MDMA(i.e. molly/ecstacy) stapled to it.
- The student then says that he prefers to take MDMA in powder form (because it’s easier to dose precisely with scales) and regrets not asking how much MDMA is in the pill he was given (because they typically contain anywhere from 75 to 300mg of MDMA).
- Since he doesn’t know the potency of the pill, he could be in for an unpleasant surprise when he takes it, which he plans to, as throwing it away would be a waste of free drugs.
Elsewhere in the student paper, Helena Young (UOM English Literature) ranks their student halls by the number of noise complaints made about them to law enforcement:
“Data obtained from the University of Manchester has revealed the halls with the most noise complaints last year.
It was a tough competition. Nine halls, including Denmark Road and Canterbury Court, delivered particularly shocking performances, receiving zero complaints between them. We’re disappointed, but not surprised.”
“Really, there could only have been one winner. Dominating the competition with a staggering 52 points, Oak House delivered a performance worthy of the many disciplinary hearings they no doubt received.
With an average of just over one complaint a week, the party giants were unstoppable, and truly earned the Loudest Student Accommodation, 2018 trophy. Well, at least they’ll graduate with something.
There you have it folks! If you’re disappointed with your hall’s performance, be comforted. With the start of the 2018/19 season, a new era is upon us. There’s still plenty of time to whack out the dub step, and start slamming doors like you’ve got a vendetta against locksmiths.
For now, let us end on a final word of thanks for the Res Life Snitches, those anonymous callers without whom, there would be no competition. Cheers, traitors.”
And when Rebecca Oakes (UOM English Language) isn’t writing sarcastic complaints about sexual harassment with her photogenic face in the article header,
How photogenic? This photogenic:
she’s lamenting the commercialization of an edgy student nightclub:
“Concerns began in September when it was announced via Facebook that they were introducing locks on the toilet doors in order to achieve “a more upmarket feel to the place”. I’m sorry, but what? An integral part of the true Antwerp experience is the three-man cover job required to piss in peace. If we wanted an upmarket night out, we’d head to Northern Quarter, not through a smoking area full of freshers in our muddy ‘Antwerp trainers’.”
In November 2018, the M.E.N reported that someone had sprayed penis graffiti on some student’s front doors. I could imagine American students might be offended by this patriarchal display, but their Mancunian counterparts seemed more disappointed by their lack of realism:
“Seriously lads, can’t you draw your own anatomy?”
It seems other students felt the same way. Of the 3,100 reacts shown on the Facebook post, just 7 were either angry or sad. Of the 288 comments, This group was the source for the post, but it no longer exists. there wasn’t a single person who suggested any malicious intent, although one commenter offered a biblical explanation:
I think it’s safe to say there aren’t many “snowflakes” at Manchester’s universities. And if there were, it wouldn’t be long before they ended up in someone’s nose.
Bonus round: guess which member of this Berkeley-based research group is from Manchester. You should only need one guess.
Can this city compete with Silicon Valley? Not yet.
There have been many attempts over the past decade to unseat Silicon Valley. On its face, it seems ludicrous to suggest that an industry that runs on nerds, laptops and cloud hosting must be chained to the most expensive city in the world. But as many governments have learned, it’s surprisingly difficult to lure startups away from San Francisco. The network effects of tech talent and VCs are so strong that $2000/month bedrooms, decaying infrastructure and shit on the streets just don’t seem to be enough to make startups leave.
So why have I put my project here, given the network effects of Silicon Valley?
I’ll admit that Manchester wouldn’t be ideal for scaling a VC-backed tech startup, but that’s not what we’re doing. Sure, we plan to recruit similar kinds of people, but low overheads and cultural tolerance of heresy were much higher on our list of priorities.
TL;DR / Recap
What Manchester can’t offer:
- Warm sunny weather. Although its winters are about as mild as Seattle’s.
- Six figure tech salaries.
- A large startup talent pool. Assuming you don’t count London, Oxford and Cambridge.
What it can:
Low cost living.
- Cheap housing. The average house price is £174k, 16% below the UK average.
- Free healthcare for UK residents, and Americans pay £400/year for full coverage.
- High quality public transport makes car-free living practical.
- Online grocery delivery is ~£2 with no extra fees and groceries cost 50-70% of what they do in the US.
- Direct flights from most major US cities (e.g. SF, LA, NYC, DC, Boston, Seattle, Chicago, Houston).
- 2h15m train journey to London (the startup capital of Europe).
- 24/7 bus service on all major routes.
- Fast train and tram network (sub 30 minute commutes for most people).
- Wide availability of tech jobs.
- Massive construction boom.
- Plenty of minimum wage jobs (£8.72/hour, effective PPP Purchasing Power Parity, i.e. how much you can buy with a given unit of currency in a given location, regardless of the official exchange rate. $18/hour).
- No DMV-grade bullshit. Most bureaucratic tasks are a single online form.
- Regular employees don’t file tax returns.
- Low level courts (sub £10k disputes) don’t even need lawyers.
- Far fewer malicious lawsuits because the losing party pays legal fees.
- Lower crime rate and yet policemen don’t carry guns.
- Government schools are satisfactory, private school isn’t necessary, homeschooling is legal and loosely regulated. Whereas it’s tightly monitored in France and outright illegal in most of Europe, including Germany. (Yes, that also includes Berlin.).
- Some bars shut at 4am on weekdays.
- Independent bookshops (like the one pictured earlier)
- Lots of major music festivals nearby.
- A massive variety of restaurants serving ethnic/vegan/paleo/whatever.
- There’s a strip of restaurants called the Curry Mile, which is exactly what it sounds like.
- A scenic national park right next to the city.
- You also don’t need bug spray to go out in nature, nor are there any dangerous animals.
- World class music and sporting events.
- 8 UNESCO World Heritage Sites within 100 miles
People and culture.
- Dense metropolitan area of ~3 million people.
- 90% speak English as a first language.
- Locals don’t smile like Americans, but they’re genuinely friendly.
- It’s the only place in Britain To my knowledge, at least. where people are patriotic to their city.
- There’s very little political correctness or virtue signalling. (Even in response to Milo Yiannopoulos.)
- The gender ratio is 50/50 and there are plenty of intelligent, bohemian women who don’t care for SJ dogma. This assertion can be verified by creating an OkCupid account set to Manchester and reading the first 50 profiles that come up.
Quality of life.
- You don’t have to work so much just to survive.
- People tease you for being right-wing, not try to get you fired.
- The median salary can buy a home and support a family without hardship.
What makes it ideal for my project:
- The low living costs allow us to be more efficient, which makes us more competitive and allows us to spend less time searching for sources of revenue.
- The availability of local jobs and low living costs Unlike expat hubs in warmer climates, which often have either 25% unemployment or entry-level jobs that pay $2/hour. mean that people who aren’t digital nomads can move here without our financial support and the inherent power imbalances that would come with it.
- The city’s aesthetic appeal and logistical practicality can help tip the scales in our favour when recruiting foreign candidates.
- The background environment has the best combination of traits to support our organizational effectiveness and future growth.
- Manchester’s 3 principles along with its anti-authoritarianism, non-materialism and inherent aversion to corporate progressivism make it much easier for us to maintain our internal culture.
- The nearby population There are ~11.4 million people within 50 miles of the city centre. A much larger proportion of them would also pass through basic filters like English fluency, internet literacy and cultural fit. means that brute force searches for raw talent/traits rather than industry experience could generate a candidate pool that’s 10x larger than similarly sized US cities.
If Manchester stays on it’s current path, I wouldn’t dream of going anywhere else.