Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Ship Canal

Quite possibly an acquired taste for many U.S. viewers, but I love this sort of thing. This is a 1985 Granada TV documentary on the Manchester Ship Canal. By the time the film was made, the canal was long past its working heyday of the 1950s and '60s, when Manchester was one of the biggest ports in the nation. Any notions of decline and layoffs seemed a "mythical threat" when business boomed, but just like in the States, the rise of containers meant layoffs for workers, and in Manchester, bigger ships meant less and less traffic on the canal's upper reaches. And industry decamped overseas.  By the 80's, many of the mills and other factories in the area were closing, and small craft like working barges had almost disappeared.  The Port of Manchester closed in 1982, but more recently the newer, neighboring Port Salford, also on the canal, has developed expansion plans, and hopes to re-invigorate canal traffic.

The film is rich in the recollections of workers, many of whom represent the last generation of boatmen and dockers working the canal.  A couple of men describe the traffic of waste - "it might be shit to you, but it's bread-and-butter to me" - and despite the nature of the cargo, talk of Chocolate Boats kept remarkably clean.  Over pints in the social, retirees assert Mancunian pride, comparing their own hard work to the "come-easy, go-easy" ways of the Liverpudlians. They also recall a time when workers were known not by their given names but by their nicknames: Jukebox Joe, Hell's Bells, Overcoat Billy & Barm Cake Arthur. One inseparable pair, never one seen without the other, was Love & Marriage.

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