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Issue number 32Monday the 25th of August 1997

City centre canal side is the venue for the Mardi Gras festival. Trendy bars and cafes cater for an increasingly confident lesbian and gay community. They've come a long way since Dr Alan Turing, code-breaker and inventor of the computer program, who was working at Manchester University, was convicted of homosexuality. He committed suicide in 1954. Today a road in east Manchester commemorates him.

It's the August bank holiday here in Manchester, and as I write, the year's biggest and most outrageous street festival is in its third and final day.

The annual Mardi Gras festival, held in the Gay Village (the area around Canal Street east of Princess St) has turned into something much bigger and wilder than its organisers, the Village Charity, could ever have imagined. The event started on Saturday afternoon with a parade through the city centre. Last night the whole area adjacent to Chorlton St bus station down to Princess St and the canal, was jammed with thousands of people of all sexual orientations who had come for a gigantic street party.

A funfair provided dizzy rides, while in the thronged streets, people pushed through the crowds or stood in groups drinking, dancing, people watching, or indulging in more exhibitionist behaviour. Near Napoleon's night club, a group of hairy, moustachioed men wearing leather outfits, but with the seats of their trousers missing, stood with their backs to the crowd in a sort of animalistic display worthy of an anthropological study. The spectacle provoked giggles from passers by, particularly female ones.

Pairs of shaven headed men in leather outfits had been seen arriving at Piccadilly railway station for several days beforehand. Quite a few had come from abroad, particularly Germany, wearing leather caps which 50 years ago would have been discarded as symbols of Naziism, but since the early eighties, have been worn as part of a bizarre display of macho homosexual identity.

Lucky for me, there were, in amongst the crowd, plenty of beautiful Manchester girls in sexy outfits: the hedonistic and sexually ambiguous atmosphere tends to attract all kinds of people to the pubs, bars and clubs of the Gay Village, making for some of the liveliest and most "happening" night life of any city in the world.

Male couples wearing ear-rings, nose-rings, face-rings and just about anywhere rings, with flat-top hair styles, cut-off T shirts, tight leather trousers, tattoos, and Aids charity ribbons were very much in evidence. Only a comparatively small number of apparently lesbian couples, some strikingly masculine, others tantalisingly feminine, were to be seen. A few towering transvestites entertained the crowds with their presence. All in all the atmosphere was relaxed and friendly, and everyone was made to feel welcome.

The event is organised by the Village Charity, and sponsored by Manchester City Council, and among others, Citroen, said to be keen on getting the patronage of the "pink pound". Money raised during the event will go to HIV research and Aids-related charities.

Eight years ago, the festival didn't exist, and you had to go to San Francisco, Sydney or Berlin to find this kind of thing - but now it's come well and truly home to Manchester, and whatever your views on homosexuality, it's difficult to argue with the thousands of people who have voted with their feet and given their support to this, Manchester's biggest street celebration of the year.

The rest of the week has brought a more cheerful mixture of news stories than in previous weeks.

On Tuesday, Stockport couple Colin and Pauline Lye announced that they had won 2m on the National Lottery. And on Wednesday, Manchester's answer to Nasa, Steve Bennett, was thwarted in his attempt to launch his latest rocket 15 miles into the sky over Northumberland. The lift-off had to be cancelled due to a strong northerly wind, which might have caused the rocket to fall on houses to the south of the launch site. Steve, from Dukinfield, Tameside, uses his front room as a workshop, and buys some of his materials from local DIY stores.

On Wednesday night, Oasis featured on a programme on BBC TV broadcast to mark the release of their third album, "Be Here Now". During the programme, Liam and Neil talked about their career, their mother, Manchester City, their home suburb of Burnage, and Manchester itself, which one of them described as "boring". On a nostalgic limo ride through Burnage, a nationwide tv audience saw the boarded up shops and run-down back streets where the Gallaghers spent their childhood and where their mother still lives. Passing one corner, one of them nonchalantly remarked how he used to take drugs on that particular spot.

Recent controversy over the brothers' "bad boy" behaviour was irrelevant however to the crowds who camped out overnight to buy the new album on Thursday morning. The album was announced on the BBC Radio 1 Top 40 show yesterday as having sold 695,761 copies. Opinions are divided as to whether Oasis are a bunch of jumped up street urchins with a modest but over-rated talent, or the greatest band since the Beatles.

Tree protesters camping out in a small wooded area on Anson Road, Victoria Park (not Longsight, as reported in the media) have been attracting a fair amount of publicity. The trees, currently thick and overgrown, occupy a small plot of land just next to the Rampant Lion pub. The University wants to cut down some of the trees in order to build a student residence on the site, adding to the many student halls to be found in the leafy inner city Victoria Park district. The protesters say the rooms could be accommodated in the former Ducie High School, which has since moved to a new building not near Whitworth Park. The plans will now be reviewed by Manchester University.

A street market in Castlefield, near the Museum of Science and Industry, attracts large crowds

The midweek weather was hot and sticky, but then there was a fall in temperature and some rain. Saturday was sunny, but the first part of Sunday was drizzly. By the afternoon, the sun had come out again, leading to a dry but cool Sunday evening. Monday started cloudy but the sun came out mid-afternoon, brightening up not only the continuing Mardi Gras, but also a festival in Castlefield, with live music, and a busy street market.

This evening I returned for the closing night of the Mardi Gras festival and the streets were just as lively as before. At 10pm, a candelight vigil was held in Sackville Park, next to the canal, in memory of Aids victims, and there was a short but spectacular firework display above the roof of Shena Simon College. It was a fitting end to a unique weekend. So wherever you are, whatever you've been doing, you should have been here, because Manchester is definitely the place to be!
Candles are held aloft in memory of Aids victims, then, a firework display

Text and photos by Aidan O'Rourke

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