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Literary News: The City of Optimists

The City of Optimists is an account of Julia Shuvalova’s life and travels in England between 2002 and 2013.

The City of Optimists was the name of a small article I wrote for a Russian magazine in 2003. Years after I had started writing essays about my life in England I finally began to publish these accounts in Russian in a draft electronic version of the book under the mentoned title.

I’m in the process of uploading different chapters, so there’re some chapters on Manchester, Liverpool, Blackpool, and London.

Manchester’s Urbis is on the cover; I took this photo in 2008.

The link to the draft copy. The full English title reads The City of Optimists and the rest of England, to say nothing of London. I don’t think I need to say what book title inspired it. Wales is not included, as I’m writing a separate book on it.

Other posts in Julia Shuvalova: Poetry and Prose

A Retired Easy-Rider

The English pensioners sometimes drive these motorised wheelchairs. They are quite expensive, so are more rarely seen compared to a usual wheelchair. This photo was taken in Stockport, England, but I recall narrowly avoiding a collision in Salford. I was slowly walking to a shop when suddenly I thought something was moving behind me. You know, a kind of a thriller movie scene when you feel someone breathing you in the neck. I looked across my shoulder and barely managed to jump to the left, to a fence of someone’s house. A typical English lady, complete with a pastel fleece zip jacket and permed lilac hair, confidently drove past me at a pretty high speed, without any warning. It took me time to come to terms with the fact that she nearly ran me over…

The Sights of Manchester Attacks 22-23 May, 2017

As could be expected, the explosion of what is thought to be a nail bomb in MEN Arena last night may be just one of the episodes in a series of attacks. Arndale shopping centre that you can see in pictures is now reported to be under attack, as people are being evacuated following a loud bang.

As you know, I spent 7 years in Manchester (although I travelled throughout England), so in a way this is a native city where I survived many a memory. So it is deeply saddening to hear about the teracts. I hope the police and citizens show vigilance and remain calm amidst the terror theats.

Personal Landmarks Disappear in Manchester

When you live in the city for a number of years, walk its streets, frequent the eateries and entertainment venues, it may be hard to see some of those places shut down. Crisis dealt fiercely with quite a few places across the city of Manchester, but the biggest blow to me was the news about the BBC Manchester building in Oxford Road being demolished. Last time I was in Manchester and had a ride on a number 2 shuttle bus I saw the bare foundations, and it was sad. No more Radio Manchester newsroom where I had had my first radio placement, with the walk down the corridor past the BBC Philharmonics studio. Neither canteen, nor library on Floor 2. Neither floor 4 where Entertainment department was based, nor Floor 5 with Religion and Ethics department. I know they have all moved to Salford Quays, but personal memories have been quite literally swept away along with the building. This is what it looked like.


Saying that it’s not possible to enter the same river twice isn’t quite true. In spite of leaving the Beeb in early 2007 I returned there already in February 2007 for the first meet-up of BBC Manchester Blog. After a session at the BBC Cafe we moved to ponder the future of blogging to Lass O’Gowrie pub at the top of the nearby street. Well, the pub’s recently closed with a promise to open in early February 2014. Considering its fame and the most recent win of The Best Pub in Britain in 2012, I sincerely look forward to having a pint there at the earliest available opportunity this year. Meanwhile, this is how it looked while I still lived in Manchester:


Here’s a story of the first BBC Manchester Blog meet-up.

Still, the saddest disappearance is that of Mark Addy restaurant. Again, it is set to reopen in February (for they do need to serve all those romantic Valentine dates, I suppose!), but whether or not it keeps the famous name is unknown. Apparently, the reason is the poor state of the building and the inability to meet the cost of renovation and refurbishment works.

I’ve never dined there, but on January 7th 2005 I was supposed to meet a female acquaintance who apparently never came. Fine. It was Russian Christmas, and I think I ordered a pint of bitter (or was it a glass of wine?) I sat there, looking at the cold waters of the river Irwell, taking a moment of calm to think of everything that was happening in my life since 2000, and especially since 2003. Then I made a decision that changed the way I spent the next 5 years. After a very tumultuous 2004 when I realised that I would most likely have to choose between myself and my marriage I had to decide whether to stay in England or go back to Russia. As I was gazing at the waters, the decision came. I even wrote it down on a piece of paper, which I might still be able to find. I decided to stay with the nation that was proud as a lion and hell-bent on winning, and has superbly succeeded at delivering great work throughout its history. Some people advised me to get on the door of a Russian company, just because I was Russian. At Mark Addy I decided to only work with the British. Indeed, if I had such a wonderful opportunity, why shouldn’t I have used it to the full, to learn from the best, to take my English to the next level of fluency, and to acquire the skills and experience that would benefit me in the long run?

The rest is history. Amidst all sorts of setbacks, including various losses, I fully realised the goal I had set at Mark Addy when I decided to stay in Britain. Thus when I eventually came back to Moscow in 2010 it was,  I suppose, a logical outcome of all years of “learning”. I returned because it was finally time to return.

I may be wrong but it looks like I haven’t ever taken a photo of Mark Addy. But I have a pic of the opposite side of the river Irwell near The Lowry Hotel. Interestingly, on this spot in the 19th c. there happened a boat accident that claimed lives of several people.


Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI) Is Under Threat of Closure

Like many other Mancunians, I have been unpleasantly surprised to hear the latest news.

The Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester’s Castlefield may be closed.


As it happens in England, the North-South struggle is on again. The closure may come as a way to keep London-based Science Museum open, Manchester Evening News reports. The National Science Group is said to be considering plans to cut funding to Manchester-based venue. BBC has more details.

The MOSI grew out of the old Science Museum and the Manchester Air and Space Museum, both were merged in 1986. The MOSI encompasses several buildings, including the 1830 Warehouse, where a part of exposition was dedicated to the Irish migration to Manchester during 19th c. I went to the museum many times, and it was often used as a venue for various events. In 2005 I was there with a BBC Bus and my old friend Paul as a story gatherer on People’s War campaign for the Beeb, in 2006 I went there for the opening of my first FutureSonic festival, and the first Social Technologies Summit, along with a few exhibitions, took place at the mentioned Warehouse. I did interviews with the artists there, and at one time a gallery assistant suggested us to use a baby changing room that was a part of a female toilet, although I was going to talk to a man. The last memorable exhibition I went to was The Body Worlds by the German Professor Gunther von Hagens. I could not make it to The Da Vinci Genius exhibition, but it was very actively prepared and promoted with the help of Social Media and Networks. On top of it all, this is a good place to practise photography 😉

The figures have it that the MOSI is visited by 830,000 people annually, which is no small number, considering that the majority of overseas tourists still gear towards London. One of my friends also mentioned on Facebook that her friend regularly brings school children from France to visit Manchester and always takes them to the MOSI. The museum is conveniently located towards the edge of the city centre, with a free shuttle bus going past it every 10 mins. Among the closests attractions are the Granada TV Studios, the Roman fort, the Beetham Tower and G-Mex, and the “Deansgate Mile”, as well as the fashionable Spinningfields area with the Guardian offices on Deansgate side and the People’s History Museum on the River Irwell’s bank in Bridge St. Oh, and don’t forget the Opera House in Quay St. St. John’s Garden is practically opposite the museum’s main entrance, having previously belonged to the church built by the Byrom family whose will ensured that the land was never to be built upon.

I don’t even begin to mention the amount of cafes, restaurants and pubs around the area. Suffices to say, there are plenty of things to do, prior or after visiting the MOSI. It has long been one of the main Manchester attractions that did not struggle to attract both adults and children. The story of Manchester scientific and industrial leap in the 18-19th cc. is mesmerising, but there is more we need to consider, than justs costs of running such museum.

Because I fear this is not the only victim of the funding cuts up North. For a literary piece that was loosely inspired by my visit to Heaton Hall and Park in spring 2009 I needed to pay another visit to the place. So when I went there this May I found that the Hall was not just closed for winter – it was entirely shut down. “Closed for the public” is not just the splendid mansion where restoration works helped to restore some of its bygone splendour. “Closed” are a floor-to-ceiling organ by Samuel Green from 1789, the only remaining set of paintings by the Polish architect Michael Novosielski (1750-1795), when he was yet a painter, a set of furniture by Gillows of Lancaster, and a magnificent suite of furniture that previously belonged to the Duke of Wellington who used to visit Heaton Hall and was very fond of its housemistress, Lady Wilton.

This is more than just an old building closing its doors – this is a whole part of history of the English North West, a resource that sheds tons of light on the tastes and habits of its people. Quite important is the fact that the Hall is a part of Europe’s largest municipal park and easy to visit: the metrolink tram station is exactly opposite the park entrance, and so are the bus stops to and from Bury. I did not investigate the reasons why the Hall was closed, but I would not be surprised if it was also due to “funding cuts”.

The MOSI is not in Prestwich, which may only be known in London if you are Jewish. It is in Manchester’s city centre and, as we saw above, attracts many foreign visitors, including children. As much as I love Arts and am not quite a techie person, I would be unconsolable if we lost the opportunity to study the technical and scientific progress of our nation close to our home. The MOSI surely provides this opportunity for the entire North of England, and this is what the London bosses might be trying to tap into. Perhaps, they think that, if the MOSI is closed down and its collection is moved down south, then people from Scotland and the North of England come to London more often. Of course, I assume that Manchester collection would not just be abandoned or sold by piece. But… it’s silly to think that this would increase a visitor flow to London museums. The costs of going and staying in the capital at the time of severe economic downturn are not going to be taken up by many, if any, Northern families.

And at the same time closing one of prominent Northern museums would severely impact the educational prospects. As a venue and a cradle of information and objects that can inspire future engineers and inventors, the MOSI is indispensable. With less things to learn and do, children are more likely to spend time in the streets, getting involved in gangs, drug abuse, and “anti-social behaviour” of all kinds. Instead of a Northern Rutherford or its female “version” we will get yet another drugged Salford guy with a pregnant teenage girlfriend, applying for benefits and living in a run-down council flat that can be taken away from them at any moment. And when this happens we as the society will shake our heads and wonder, at exactly what point the former glory of Britain went to the dogs.

Finishing now, I do not want this piece to come across as yet another helpless outcry. I think we should consider what measures we can take to save the MOSI. I am sure there are many people throughout Manchester who would gladly volunteer to help at the museum, if it struggles to maintain the staff. And if this means bringing the payment back for the time being, then why not? Just make sure it goes to the MOSI coffers, not elsewhere. I think of it this way: if it costs 4 quid to buy a bus ticket that is valid all day, then how much more can you afford to pay on top of that for a single museum visit that can last all day? And there may also be a family ticket, and an option for a child up to a certain age to go in for free, and maybe even a “frequent visitor ticket” or a “weekend visitor ticket”. It’s not something that we’d like to do, of course. However, I have come to believe that, whatever alleviations the government of any country is prepared to give to its citizens, people must not stop helping themselves, including financial help, be that for art venues, civil initiatives, or something else that directly affects their lives.


To finish off, here are some of the photos I took between 2007 and 2010 related to the MOSI and the surrounding area.

MOSI - Transport then and now
MOSI – Transport then and now


MOSI in the Streets
MOSI in the street


Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester
Entrance to the MOSI


Museum of Science and Industry, Manchester
Another view of the MOSI entrance

Twelve Advice For Christmas In Recession

Christmas season has started in Russia, too, although we celebrate New Year first, and Christmas follows in January.

I know many people suffer badly this year in Britain. Some lose jobs, others have to stretch their budget to stay on a healthy diet. I’ve come across this heart-aching article earlier this week – Food for thought by Miss South, which brought back some painful memories of 2008 when I was out of work for some 6 months when recession had first struck. Losing a job was easier than finding one, but we normally only consider the “job hunting” part of the experience to describe how badly we felt. Food and other kind of deprivation is often omitted, whereas it is the inability to eat well (and that’s not packs of Mars bars!) and to socialise and to attend the memorable events that makes one feel the most miserable.

I guess for quite a lot of my compatriots in Britain this Christmas is going to be sad, dull, and deprived of one or another lovely thing. So, based on my experience and reading, this is the advice I’d give to anyone in dare situation:

1. Do not put blame on anybody.
OK, it may be Tory, or better Labour, or even Thatcher, or maybe even the U.S. or God who is the reason why the world (or the UK, or you, for that matter) suffer. You cannot change it. Even if you change the government, you cannot change America or God. Do not blame anyone, this only strengthens your already negative thinking.

2. Find something beautiful in whatever you look at.
In fact, make it a point of your life. There is so much beauty in life that goes unnoticed simply because we always “look up to the sky” and see Titian coupled with Dali and Britney Spears. If you can imagine anything like this, you will agree it’s not beautiful at all. So start noticing beauty around you. It is there, very close to where you are right now. I’ve been looking at the thermoelectric station and a busy road for most of my life, but I never actually saw them. To tell the truth, I saw the English fields, the French castles, and at best – the sci-fi landscapes.

3. You only fail when you’ve stopped learning.
If you want to get anywhere in life, you have to make mistakes. No matter how many wise men prepared you for the journey, it’s a new journey in a new era in a new country in different circumstances. You are bound to fail at least once, so go for it and stop whining.

4. Albert Einstein gave this definition to insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.
Enough said. This involves asking some difficult questions. Whether this is about personal relationships or profession, it’s all the same. If you want to change the world, change yourself. Stop expecting a different result from the same thing. It doesn’t work, it won’t, and it shouldn’t. Otherwise everyone could do it.

5. Always look on the bright side of life.
I’ve lost two close relatives, I’ve been out of job, I look after a very elderly Grandma and have to help my disabled mother, and I also have to work. Yes, there are moments when I also wish things were easier and less complex. But most of the time I am grateful for my friends, health, peace in my country and worldwide (most of the time), and all the things I can enjoy. Legion is their name, from art to sport, through science, social disciplines, short-haul travels, and every new experiences, especially if the latter come for free. It’s hard for some (even my mother) to see my point, but the more interests you have, the more opportunities there are – either for work, or for lifting up your mood. As a matter of fact, I was unwell this week, but on Thursday night I’m going to the theatre with my best friend in Moscow. And it’s free.

6. Sex is not the only free entertainment available.
Back in December 2008, the majority of Brits were opting for some bed action as a free entertainment. Already in May it was clear that entertainment brought the most natural results. But it’s instinctive. For the record, I’ve not visited quite a few Russian museums because I got so unused to the idea of paying for the entry, I cannot bring myself to paying the fee, nevermind queuing outside, like they do at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. But in Britain where museums and parks are free, there’s no excuse. This brings you close to 1) Beauty, 2) positive outlook on life, and 3) opportunities.

7. Look for opportunities.
They say recession is the best time to start a business or learn a new skill. The fee is down to your negotiation. When you have the bills to pay and to support your family, negotiating some upfront payment for overwork would be OK for me. Yes, you must then live up to your own promise. The beautiful thing is you never exactly know where this may take you. You may get the job, or you may get the skill and experience, and an even better paid job. To start, just say to yourself “I’m taking every good opportunity”, or such like, and see what happens.

8. Do not wait for the perfect job. Make best of the one you have.
The mistake most of us make is described as “if I were paid more, I’d do more”. This is a typical worker’s attitude who does not count his or her emotional contribution to work. The truth is (and I know it very well) you cannot be successful when your heart is not involved. Remember also that you are getting paid for what you ask. If you ask to be paid for the job you never did, there must be a very good reason for a prospective employer not to turn you down. I knew nothing about PPC marketing when I went to work for Latitude Group, but I knew foreign languages. I could provide them with the skill they needed the most, and in return they taught me and initiated me into the industry, for which I cannot be grateful enough.
On another hand, if you ask to be paid for the actual experience, you will always earn less. This may be a short-term solution, but it’s best not to forget about it.

9. Learn to plan.
This involves both planning your day (week, month, year) and budgeting (i.e. money planning). Recession, being out of work, or just any kind of money difficulty is the best time to learn this important skill. Do you have a diary or a planner? Do you keep it, in that you actually do things you’ve planned? Do you track your expenses? The point is not to kick yourself for spending that extra quid on a pack of Mars bars. It’s about understanding at what point and why you decided to buy the Mars bars and finding a possible substitute to it. But don’t forget that planning underpins the success, so learn to do it now, not when recession ends.

10. Whatever you want to do, can be done here and now.
I recommend you read Essays on Travel by Robert Louis Stevenson:
It’s a mesmerising account of a Scotsman journey aboard a ship to the New World with many other emigrants. A kaleidoscope of characters, with the protagonist’s musings on personal behaviour, makes a brilliant piece of travel writing. Yet this is not all. At one point Stevenson says one important thing: if you want to do something, you can do this here and now. You don’t need to travel to the New World or elsewhere to make a difference. At least you can start here and now. We’re often thinking of the likes of Mikhail Baryshnikov who made it both in Russia and in New York (I’m attempting a pun on the famous song here). What we forget is that Baryshnikov had emigrated when he was already a well-known ballet dancer, not a disillusioned wannabe.

11. Learn any skills that you lack that can help you to manage things better.
This can range from the aforementioned planning to cooking, knitting, sewing, hand crafting – anything that can help you to save or earn money.

12. When Life gets in your way, don’t try to get on with it.
Having your goals and priorities in front of you can help you manage any recession or problem. Different to it, if your goals are vague, it’s easy to fall prey to the momentous pressure. If you have a loving relationship and a good family, the most important thing is to preserve it during the financial downtime. Don’t blame anyone, don’t do the same thing again and again expecting a new result, learn something new together and look for opportunities. Chances are, for you recession will end earlier.

Why, you ask? Because I know that the law of attraction works. The positive thinking can work wonders. And when two or more loving people unite their forces, a brilliant result is guaranteed.

I hope you have a good festive season this year.

The First Day of Spring (and a Short Report of My Travels)

Sandro Botticelli, Primavera (1482)

My congratulations to all of you on the occasion of the first day of spring! Today, in fact, was a wonderful day: I learnt that two of my former colleagues have got engaged at the end of January. I am very, very happy for both of them, it’s wonderful news, and a great way to start the season often associated with Love. Sandro Botticelli knew this well when he painted his famous Primavera that apparently served as a wedding gift.

Manchester from my hotel
 North Wales from the Great Orme

Last week I briefly went to the UK. After a full year in Russia I thought I would be treated to something new, but no, things don’t change THAT quickly. Fair enough, there’s scaffolding on St. Ann’s church, and a new building has sprung at the corner of Tib St, but the rest was more of less the same (except that many shops in Stockport have been closing due to recession). I visited Leeds and Llandudno and had the most relaxing time, even though I had to do a lot. Unfortunately, once again I didn’t get the chance to visit Manchester Jewish Museum, but I nipped in and picked up a visitor guide and a fridge magnet, and had a brief conversation with Sarah about Russia, its history and people. I need this “inner” information for one of the stories I’m working on, so I’ll now have to get by with the Russian sources.

Otherwise, everything is going great, especially since I climbed the Great Orme in Llandudno. The pictures you see were taken at the summit.

After conquering the Great Orme…


A Manchester of the Urals: Yekaterinburg and Cows

A Movable Feast
Manchester Hindu Cow, 2007
Yekaterinburg Cow, 2011

One of my early years in Manchester was marked by facing the cows. Painted creatures were awaiting me everywhere – pretty much like the penguins did in Liverpool in 2009. Little did I think that cows would be just as popular in Yekaterinburg – the capital of the Urals region that is incidentally nicknamed “Manchester” for its industrial past, rock music, and irreverence to glamour and standards.

Cow “under construction”
Yekaterinburg Cow

Sadly, the very first cow I met in Yekaterinburg was undergoing a little bit of overhauling; but another marked time by the Ratskeller beer restaurant. There are quite a few pubs in Yekaterinburg (yes, PUBs), some Irish, some Scottish, and one is Dutch, called Wallen Pub. I went into the latter on what was the hottest day during my time in the Ural (considering I was overdressed, too!) and had a pint of Irish ale. Which was good, actually.


The Button World at Manchester Art Gallery

A few years ago I wrote the text below and published it on a different blog. Although the blog is no more, the collection the article speaks about is still at the Manchester Art Gallery, so, if interested, you are most welcome to send them any inquiries.


Back in 2004 Manchester Art Gallery has bought the “button world” from the dedicated collectors, Gillian and Alan Meredith. The collection has since gone on display, but somewhat surprisingly is aimed primarily at children.

Whilst not disputing the fact that children enjoy buttons for all good reasons, the adults – especially fashionistas – enjoy them too, and there is no reason why they should not flock to the exhibition. Featuring diverse and sundry buttons, some of which date back to 1750s, the displays contain much to tickle one’s style buds. Or to make one wonder at certain things.

For instance, there you can see the display with ladies’ gloves. The white ones are for the day, and the dark embroidered pair is for the evening. Lovely gloves, but how tiny! The leather is so thin that it is hard to believe the material: you could easily imagine that you are looking at a cardon-board copy. Even less fathomable is how people’s proportions have changed since the 19th c. Of course, today’s ladies’ hands are elegant and delicate in their own way, but if elegance is to be judged by a size, then modern female hands are nowhere near their 19th c. “predecessors”. In addition, the very look at those tiny gloves might see you reconsidering the entire “zero size” problem we often discuss today.

Two other gems of the display are a pair of Victorian children boots (very small again), and a few sets of Dorset buttons. If you are concerned about the children labour being used today to produce clothes and accessories, have a good look at the Dorset buttons (1800-1830). These were made by women and children from villages around Dorset and were hugely popular all over Europe. At the start of the 19th c. it was the hit of fashion to adorn white cotton muslin dresses with these buttons, but you are not mistaken in thinking that the buttons are just too delicate. They really are, and, as a proficient user of knitting needles and crochet, I know how much strain this sort of work causes to the eyes.

There are many more amazing buttons to be seen: the “Long Live the King” buttons that celebrated the recovery of King George III from his long illness; the buttons featuring characters from Charles Dickens’s novels; the Guinness buttons (1950-1960); and the Rothschild family buttons (1885-1900). The buttons are not exclusively English: there is a set of five Fornasetti buttons made in Milan in 1922. The set is titled Life’s Pleasures (i.e. Love, Pride, Luck, Success, and Money) and is made of porcelain.

Many more buttons are assembled in individual displays by type, and there are wooden, diamanté, plastic, brass buttons of all shapes and sizes. Not only that, there are also some really exciting designs, like the pooch or flower buttons.

Thanks to the Merediths, Manchester Art Gallery has unbuttoned a superb history of one of the main fashion accessories. It would be a shame if the exhibition remained focused solely on children.

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