Stop,Look,Listen…my weekly selection of favourite films, books and events to get you out of the house


45 years
45 years (Home) is about older people and relationships, not the usual subject for British films. Kate and Geoff Mercer (Charlotte Rampling and Tom Courtenay) are a couple about to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary when a letter from Switzerland reveals the fissures in their relationship. Its a film about older people looking back and wondering why they ended up where they are and with that person. More people divorce at 60 these days so Kate and Geoff are not the norm in that they are reaching their 45th milestone. Courtenay is brilliant as the grumpy old man, obsessed with a woman from his past, and unhappy with everyone around him who wants to make him happy. Rampling is breathtaking as the wife who, it seems, has given him everything including agreeing to not having children. It is all about loss and it is incredibly sad, particularly in the last scene when they are at their wedding anniversary party.

we were not
and see a film about Italian women partisans during the Second World War: We Weren’t Given Anything For Free. Learn about the lives of Annita ‘Laila’ Malavasi, Gina ‘Sonia’ Moncigoli and Pierina ‘Iva’ Bonilauri, who were not just battling the Nazis but the chauvinism of their men. They played a key role in the fight against fascism and this film shows what that meant to women who were only in their early 20s at the time. Central to the film is the interviews with the women and indeed their comments about women and politics today in Italy. Well done to the organisers of the screening as it is only the third time its been shown in the this country. Get down to the Castle pub on Oldham St. in Manchester on 3 Sept at 7pm. Donations please to encourage the organisers to show more political films!
You can check out the trailer here
Further details of the screening see


dead dog in a suitcase
a new adaptation of the Beggar’s Opera; Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs), a production by Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse. If the show is as exciting as the trailer it’s going to be  tremendous. A play for our time, again, it’s a musical satire on corruption, greed and big business. They say; . Trip-hop combines with folk, Renaissance polyphony with psychedelia, ska with grime and dubstep, to create a gorgeous and powerful musical mix. See it at Home on 11 Sept-26. Further details see

the fishermen
The Fishermen by Chigozie Obioma (ONE Pushkin Press). This is a novel about Nigeria, and the hopes of dreams of one family. Set in 1993 the family in the book are not poor, their father is an employee of the Central Bank of Nigeria, their mother has her own business and the children go to school. The novel spins around the title. As their disciplinarian father leaves the family home, the four boys decide to break the rules; beginning with fishing in the local river. This first act of defiance leads the boys to fall out amongst themselves and the break -up of the family. But the novel is more than that: it has a lot to say about the state of Nigeria today. At one point in the book the boys become involved with MKO Abiola, a millionaire politician who it was believed won the 1993 election but ended up, not in power, but military detention. I love the way the novel is written, rooted in African storytelling, and reminds me of other great African writers such as Chinua Achebe. It is a story of great hope, by the father for his boys, but a bit like Nigeria, that hope is squandered despite the dreams of so many good people in the country. Chigozie says of The Fishermen it; “first came to me as a tribute to my many brothers, and a wake-up call to a dwindling nation-Nigeria.”

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Book Review; Mrs Engels by Gavin Mc Crea

mrs engels 2

Some people in the northwest might be a bit unhappy with a novel about the lives of local hero and heroines Fred Engels and Mary and Lizzie Burns. But in his first novel, Mrs Engels, Gavin McCrea has at least for me given a realistic portrayal of the Engels/Burns relationship.

Not much is known about the Burns sisters and that is what makes the novel so intriguing. We do know that they were probably born in Manchester of Irish parents and identified as such,part of a large radical Irish community in the northwest at that time.

Engels came to Manchester at the age of 22 to work in the family firm Ermen and Engels, which was based in Weaste in Salford. He may have met the Burns sisters there but there is no proof. Engels was a political activist and writer and, after meeting Karl Marx in the early 1840s, cemented a relationship that would last all their lives, both a personal and political one.

courtesy of Salford Star

courtesy of Salford Star

Engels used Manchester and Salford as evidence for his classic Conditions of the Working Class in England. It is unlikely he could have done this by himself as a well-off foreigner and most historians believe that it was the Burns sisters who made it possible that he could gain an insight into the dreadful lives of the poor in the 1840s.
The Condition of the Working Class in England

“Mrs Engels” is Lizzie Burns, the younger Burns sister who leaves Manchester with Engels. Her sister, Mary, is now dead and she is 50 years of age and faces the challenge of a new life as the wife of Fred Engels, a major player in the world of socialist politics.

Lizzie-Burns 1

Perhaps because McCrea is also Irish the banter between Lizzie and Fred crackles along throughout the novel. Lizzie says about Fred; “As foreigners go, he’s unusual fast at picking things up. His problem -the big noke- is letting things go when a thing is long done and over.” Fred says jokingly about her; “The Queen was right. That you are an abominable people, none in the world better at causing distress.”

But now they are in London the lives of Lizzie and Fred are closely intertwined with the Marx family. McCrea uses this closeness to create tension between Lizzie and Jenny, the wife of Karl Marx, to illustrate the massive differences between the two women. Jenny abandoned her aristocratic family and lived a life bordering on poverty when she decided to marry Karl, while Lizzie and Mary, although poor, were independent women who fascinated upper class men such as Fred and Karl.

Although much of the book is fiction McCrea does include some comments that Engels made in real life about the working classes of Manchester and Salford ; “I discovered poverty and degradation among the working people worse than in any civilised place on earth. But I also discovered a proletarian culture of significant intellectual elevation.”

But it is the Burns sisters who provide the core to this book: the banter between the sisters as they carve out a life for themselves outside the factory; their support for the Fenian movement; the sadness as Mary loses her child and Lizzie’s attempts to make her mark as the mistress of the Engels’ household in London. All set against one of the most dynamic periods of history in this country.

Mrs Engels is only a novel but if it encourages people to find out more about the Burns sisters and their significance to the bigger story of Marx and Engels then Gavin McCrea has written a significant book.
Find out more about the Burns sisters visit the WCML in Salford

Published by Scribe Publications
Price; £14.99

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Stop,Look,Listen…my weekly selection of favourite films, books and events to get you out of the house

the president
The President (Home) Set in an unnamed eastern European state the President finds that his time has run out and he has to flee (with his grandson) as his citizens revolt. He could be Gadaffi or Sadam Hussein and no doubt the director was influenced by events in Libya, Iraq or Eqypt. As the President escapes into the countryside we see how his rule has led to a country more representative of a 19Century feudal state. He is reduced to scavenging for clothes and food as the country falls apart. At one point he ends up carrying a political prisoner who was involved in his son and daughter-in-law’s murder. It is a grim story of war with the real victims being the poor, women and children.There is very little dialogue in the film but the relationship between the grandfather and grandson is touching and offers some hope of a better world.

To some reality theatre; Bagheads. Originally, a book by Manchester author Karen Woods, she has now adapted it for the stage and its being performed at the Lowry Theatre next month. Unlike many of her other works its not about working class women living on council estates instead the main character is Shaun Cook who is a heroin addict. Something that Karen knows about personally as her brother was a drug addict. But typically Karen it is the usual mix of grim reality laced with northern humour. Her plays are just as popular as her books so get your tickets now! Read my interview with Karen see


maid in london
Out about what it is like to be a hotel worker in London. They look like they are smiling when you book in but this blog tells the real story. See

The right to strike. They really want to reduce us to slaves and this bill will allow employers to employ agency workers during a strike or maybe the Job Centre will force some poor unemployed people to scab on the strikers. Watch this video by Frances O’Grady and join the campaign.See

reem kelani
To the wonderful Palestinian singer Reem Kelani. Catch her on her mini tour of the northwest. On 19 September she is at the Bolton Socialist Club and to buy tickets, people should e-mail or phone 01204 848 279. Or the ACE Centre Nelson on Thursday 12 November.Reem will perform alongside Al MacSween on electric piano.
Watch her at
Further details see

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Building a Socialist Library (12) ; Friends of Alice Wheeldon by Sheila Rowbotham

In 1993 I was involved with the Kate Magee case in Derby. It was “almost” a miscarriage of justice except that local people in Derby contacted organisations including the PTA Research and Welfare Association and the Irish in Britain Representation Group to organise a defence campaign for Kate. Other groups then became involved including trade unions and the Women and Ireland Group. Reading Sheila’s book reminded me of that time, the importance of networks of groups working together and that by challenging injustice we can make a real difference. For more information about Kate’s campaign read my book; Northern ReSisters Conversations with Radical Women.

friends of alice wheeldon

In the new edition of “Friends of Alice Wheeldon The Anti-War Activist Accused of Plotting to Kill Lloyd George” Sheila Rowbotham reminds us of the relevance of this case to 2015 “The story of the case and its political context is as relevant as it ever was…the use of undercover agents who not only spy on non-violent radical groupings, but actually provoke actions has been exposed.”

Alice Wheeldon was a 51 year old woman, married with three adult daughters and a son, who lived in Derby. She ran a second hand clothes shop, was active in the suffrage movement and known for going to meetings and selling papers. When the First World War broke out, she opposed it, like many socialists, and with her grown up daughter Hettie took an active part in the Derby No Conscription Fellowship, advising and supporting men who sought to get exemption from conscription.

Her openness and kindness meant that when she was approached by a government agent, “Alex Gordon”, to provide some poison which she thought was to kill dogs that were guarding the camps where men were held in detention, she didn’t realise that it was going to lead to her and her son-in-law and daughter being arrested and charged with conspiring to kill the Prime Minister Lloyd George. They were convicted and imprisoned.

Written in 1979, the play reflects Rowbotham’s own political activity in the women’s liberation movement. She defines herself as a socialist feminist, a term that is not so often used these days. For Rowbotham and many other women like her it was about being involved in grassroots activity, linking up community groups and trade unions, taking part in a network of women and men who wanted to change society through a variety of campaigns from shop steward to tenants groups.

Rowbotham was involved with the Greater London Council, investigating new ways of working class people getting democratic control of local council services. At the same time Margaret Thatcher came to power with her drive to reduce the state’s involvement in providing a welfare state. Reflecting on that period Rowbotham is astounded that today we are now desperately trying to hold on to services rather than try and change the system for the better.

Rowbotham’s own activism led her to research into radical women who were active not only in the suffrage movement but in left groupings in towns and cities across the country. Inspired by Raymond Challinor’s account of the myriad networks of opponents to the First World War, she decided to further investigate a period of history that was absent from present day accounts of that era. “It was evident that the war years saw an extraordinary shake up of ideas and political loyalties and the emergence of new connections among those who opposed the war” she says.

Alice Wheeldon and her comrades were to become a target of a state that was prepared to make their case not just a public witch hunt but one which would be used nationally and internationally to bolster British involvement in the First World War.

Since the first edition new secondary material has been published and some additional primary sources. Members of Wheeldon’s family have also come forward with new information about their family history while Derby Peoples History Group have campaigned locally to raise the case and reveal the true history of Alice Wheeldon and her comrades.

Central to the case is the question of why did the State throw all their weight at three people who were not central to the anti-war movement or the growing trade union discontent in industry? Rowbotham investigates the intrigues between politicians and government agencies and also highlights the particular treatment of the two women. “The Wheeldon women were portrayed as violating the accepted definitions of womanhood and the prosecution played on anxieties aroused by the suffrage campaign as well as women’s new roles in the war.”

The new edition provides a much more comprehensive view of the government’s attitude to the radical left: it also asks important questions about the role and response of the left to the workings of the state and how we can create alternatives that work.
It is in the play that the strength of Rowbotham’s research comes out with her recreation of the lives of Alice Wheeldon, her family and friends providing us with a window into a lost world where although life for a radical was tough, it was full of possibilities for the future.

For Rowbotham this vindicates the importance of researching an important aspect of radical history; “It carries a broader message; maintaining the precious right to make conscientious objection to injustice requires constant vigilance.”

Friends of Alice Wheeldon The Anti-War Activist Accused of Plotting to Kill Lloyd George. Published by Pluto Press. Buy it from

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Stop,Look,Listen…my weekly selection of favourite films, books and events to get you out of the house

cesar chavez
Cesar Chavez (DVD) made last year but has been given little distribution in this country. Cesar was an activist in the movement to unionise poor Mexican workers in the USA and this film reminds us of how difficult it is to get justice at work for some of the most vulnerable workers. Like many Mexicans Cesar and his family came to the farms of California to find work. They found poverty and exploitative conditions that resembled 19thC feudalism. But out of this sprang a great movement for justice, led by a truly inspiring man. A man, who was flawed like all of us, and the film shows the price he paid for his politics. Cesar’s son became a target at school because of his father’s radicalism and this led to a major break with his father. The campaign was a family affair with Cesar’s wife and the mother of 8 children, Helen, taking part in the protests. Cesar went onto to co-found the National Farm Workers Association which at its height represented 50,000 Mexican field workers in California and Florida. This is a truly inspiring film.

earth first
Earth First! Summer Gathering Wednesday 19 August – Monday 24 August. Learn some skills in grassroots ecological direct action, meet other activists and find out about campaigns including fracking. It all takes place over five days in the lovely Peak District. Further details see


In Search of Peace

In Search of Peace

At House Proud a fascinating exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery. In the 1930s the Gallery was one of the first to collect mass-produced or limited edition home furnishings. House Proud is made up of objects from the Gallery’s own Industrial Art Collection. It includes glass, metalwork and furniture. Some of them look very familiar as they were designed for mass production. Loved this slightly strange one by Louisa Hodgson, In Search of Peace.

pizza express
Low paid workers at Pizza Express. They say: No Justice: No Pizza!. They are only paid £6.50 an hour and PE then take an 8% “admin fee” to process the customer credit card tips through the payroll!. PE workers reckon the management are profiting by £1m. They were out picketing the restaurants this week and their union, Unite, has started an online petition
Sign their petition at
Or you could always pay the waiter/waitress the tip in cash.

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Stop,Look,Listen…my weekly selection of favourite films, books and events to get you out of the house


marshlandMarshland at (Home). Set in the south of Spain in 1980 this crime thriller has as much to say about the politics of post Franco Spain as the workings of the police and military. Two policemen turn up in a poor agricultural village to find out what happened to young women who have disappeared. The policemen represent the changes going on in Spain. Pedro is married, about to have his first child. and is critical of the old regime. Juan fits the stereotypical image of the police. He is a drinker, womaniser and happy to use any methods, including violence, to find out what is really going on in this very traditional part of Spain. But times are slowly changing  in this semi-feudal village where the workers are striking for better pay and the men need to work together to challenge old loyalties.  Generally I am not keen on films about murders of young girls and there are few positive female characters in this film but I think it has  a clever plot and makes  some important points about the politics of Spain with  the landscape also playing an important role in the story. Highly recommended.


reem kelaniTo this fascinating radio programme about the Dance of the Seven Veils. Palestinian singer, Reem Kelani, explores the history of the Dance of the Seven Veils and the myths around Salome. She traces the way in which the dance was interpreted and taken up by women in the West as a way of breaking free from the restrictions of society in the 1900s and its attraction today for people across the world. I love the way in which she incorporates traditional Palestinian women singing today with the story of  “Salomania”.
Find out more about Reem at


mary woSome history at this adult education course. From Mary Wollstonecraft to Womens Liberation. Radical Women 1790-1979 at Aquinas College, Stockport starts 14 September at 6.30pm-8.30pm. The course tutor is local radical historian Michael Herbert, author of “Up Then The Brave Women.” If you are a member of a trade union you may be able to get funding for the course. Please contact Michael for further details at


freedom videoFreedom – a collaboration between Kieran Hardiman, Alan Kenefick and Ciaran Plummer  and filmed by Brian Doherty. Some Irish dancing but not the usual sort. Filmed on the grounds of University College in  Cork, the music is Mind of a Beast by The Glitch Mob.The voiceover is from the “Great Dictator”(1940) by Charlie Chaplin, but the music and dance is definitely C21st. Brilliant see


kino filmsIndependant film and Kino Films. It has never been easier to make your own films and Kino give support to new filmmakers by providing a platform for their work. This month it is the summer awards at 3MTheatre -find out more see


gtr mcr sound archiveGreater Manchester Sound Archive at Central Library in Manchester. This collection includes oral histories of places, dialects, communities all around the Greater Manchester area, some as random as an interview with “an unidentified female worker”. Others feature national figures including Harold Wilson and Tony Benn. Or listen to the musical recordings of famous (and one of my favourite) local conductors John Barbirolli, or the lesser known local folk singers singing live.
It’s free, just get yourself down there! See

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Stop,Look,Listen…my weekly selection of favourite films, books and events to get you out of the house


best of enemies
Best of Enemies (Home) a documentary film on the series of televised debates in 1968 between the liberal Gore Vidal and the conservative William F. Buckley Jr. The debates were on live TV at the Republican and Democratic conventions of that year. Both men represented (or were seen to represent) two sides of American life. Vidal was a commentator and author who believed that America was rapidly becoming a right wing society. Buckley believed Vidal was part of a left wing conspiracy to undermine the real America. But of course whilst they were exchanging intellectual blows nightly on live TV the real politics was going on outside with fighting between anti-war protestors and the police and army. Buckley and Vidal to me seemed to be talking in a language as far away from the USA of 68 as the Middle Ages. They didn’t just sound the same, they also looked very similar, with preppy hair cuts and clothes. Buckley did go on to become a kingmaker in the Republican Party, supporting Ronald Reagan’s rise to president. Vidal was famous for his books and novels, his commentary on modern day America, but never found a home in the political system. Best of Enemies does explain why the rightwing has dominated US politics for the last forty years. And I include Clinton and Obama in my analysis.

Tameside 2
the first anniversary of the weekly picket at Ashton Job Centre. Poor people have been at the centre of the cuts since the “austerity” began. But some of the best campaigns have come out of this misery and Tameside against the Cuts is one of them. Each week they picket Ashton Job Centre, which is one of the first that trialled the notorious Universal Credit. TAC have been the witness to the way in which UC has destroyed peoples lives. It is not just about sanctioning benefits and depriving them of the basics to feed themselves but the wholesale persecution of some of the most vulnerable people in our community. TAC have not just listened to their stories but they have offered positive support through a weekly advice service at the local Ikea. Through her blog, The Poor Side of Life, Charlotte Hughes, one of the key members of the campaign, has publicised the stories she hears each week. It is grim reading but T ACoffers a network of support to people who are often living very isolated lives.

Join them this week Thursday 6 August from 1-3pm at Ashton Job Centre, 101 Old Street, Ashton-u-Lyne. It will be a celebration of how the poorest people can make a difference to their lives. And it will be fun with live music, singing speakers and food!


john pilger
Assange: the untold story of an epic struggle for justice by John Pilger. You won’t find this in the media, particularly not the Guardian, nor on television. Read the article and find out why not…..see
machine women

At Machine Women, a celebration of the lives of women who have worked in industry in this country. From the cotton mills of Lancashire (where one of the artists’ gran worked) to today’s workplaces. One of our local heroines, Betty Tebbs, is featured, talking about her life at work in the paper mills. The project is ongoing and will include women in Chatham docks and the Luton hat trade.Further info see

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