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Too busy reading, writing and working to blog!

I haven't posted in a while. I've been up to my ears in the written word - be it in my PR day job, writing my PhD novel or simply reading - there has been too little time to post. And yet I often find myself thinking what the next post should cover. Last weekend I stayed in Manchester. It was a good weekend. My sister and I took our two nephews - 6 year old Keenan and 2 year old Caleb - to the People's History Museum. (I wrote an article on the PHM for the Guardian back in December upon news the government were cutting its funding - it claimed the PHM is 'regional', which is nonsense as it draws international visitors and is of great national importance). It used to be in the old TUC archives building but last year relocated a mile down the road into a beautifully refurbished old pump house. I must admit my guilt at thinking we may find only musty items relating to the socialist and worker struggles over the past couple of centuries. I'm glad to report that I was so wrong - and there is so much for the kids to do. There was the chance to make your own protest badge or even a stained glass window, a la Independent Labour Party, with magnetic coloured shapes on an illuminated background, which Caleb, pictured with his aunt Abbey, loved.

There were also installations of typical living rooms from different eras, which could be explored. There was also a range of workers hats that could be tried on. Here's me in a bowler:

Caleb quite liked the old fashioned telephone into which he had an imaginary conversation, yet when I copied him for what I assumed would be his amusement he said 'no-one there!'

However, whilst we were walking there we found ourselves joining in an anti-cuts march of around 2000 adults and children. It seemed right that we would join and march with them given that we were on their side, we were on our way to the PHM, and the route - down Oxford Road, along Peter Street (past the site of the Peterloo Massacre) and down Deansgate - was also the route to the museum. It was also a route I'm sure the subject of my book, Mary Burns and Friedrich Engels, would have traipsed on many a day. The spirit of this protest was palpable. Solidarity is a precious thing. As we went down Deansgate people actually came out of shops and applauded our efforts. The Granada TV news coverage later that night also interviewed members of the public for their reaction - and they all said it was a good thing. Keenan also loved it for he got to shout in unison with the others, pictured.

The next day my sister and I went to watch Howl at the Cornerhouse - Manchester's main arthouse cinema. The theatre we were in was tiny - about four short rows either side. It was a very moving film and gave a little more of the influences of Allen Ginsberg's famous poem - including his mother and his friend Carl Solomons. Later on I asked my sister if she would walk around with me as I was trying to get more fine topographical details for the book - it felt at times that I was seeing the city - or rather the edges of the centre - anew. My sister wanted to see what a dirty red plaque said. It faces Piccadilly train station and presumably always has - yet we had no idea what it even said - here it is:

It's funny how history keeps threatening to repeat itself. Maybe time is only ever cyclical in that way? I also got to spend time with my niece - Kya, pictured, who is Caleb's half-sister:

We met her and her and Caleb's Dad, Patrick, on the way back from the PHM. We stopped off at the Manchester Art Gallery. Keenan turned to Abby and said 'will we see that arter (sic.) Jack Pollock, which made us laugh. I'm sure Jackson Pollock would mind being called either an 'arter' or Jack from a 6-year old. Abby, the art history graduate, then gave Keenan the lowdown on his work. So, that was the weekend. Research, writing and family. But back in London the work continues apace.

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Who was Mary Burns?

On 7th January 1863 Mary Burns was found dead from a suspected heart attack. She was 43 years old. Since her death Mary has received barely any attention despite the fact that she spent over twenty years as the common-law wife of Friedrich Engels, one of the world’s most influential thinkers and the co-founder of Marxism.

Born in 1822, Mary was the oldest surviving child of textile dyer and factory operative, Michael Burns, and Mary Conroy, Irish immigrants from Tipperary. Mary’s parents had married at St. Patrick’s in an area known casually as Irish Town, one of few Catholic churches in Manchester at that time. The year of Mary’s birth and her infancy were significant in that Manchester was still dealing with the aftermath of the event that became known as the 1819 Peterloo Massacre, a peaceful protest of the working-classes on the site of St. Peter’s Fields in which several people were killed and hundreds injured. The Massacre occurred when magistrates, alarmed at the size of t…

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