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Showing posts from October, 2010

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell

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In the wake of the government's decision to cut £18bn from the welfare budget as part of its madcap experiment on the UK economy, there could hardly be a more appropriate time to review a book which reminds us why the welfare state was set up in the first place.

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is a story about a firm of builders and decorators in an English town at the turn of the 20th century. Britain is at the height of its imperial power, and never has it enjoyed so much wealth and abundance. But for the workmen of Rushton & Co life is a constant to struggle to survive. Even when times are good and there is Plenty of Work, they have barely enough money to house and feed their families. When the winter comes and work is all but impossible to find, they live a perilous existence, pawning everything they own and begging for credit from shopkeepers.

Robert Tressell chronicles the workmen's hellish lives in highly realistic detail, drawing on his own experiences to do s…

Jonathan Franzen at the Whitworth Art Gallery

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It's all gone a bit cultural in Manchester this weekend thanks to the efforts of the creativetourist website. Top of the bill was a chance to see Jonathan Franzen (he of The Corrections) in conversation with the writer and DJ Dave Haslam.

The event took place in the grand surroundings of the Whitworth Art Gallery on Oxford Road, in a room which appears to be used for exhibiting the world's greenest wallpaper. It held about 150 people and was sold out. There was a fairly broad mix of people attending, with ages ranging from student to fifty-something and demeanours ranging from quite arty to ridiculously arty.

The evening started with an impromptu comedy turn from Franzen, who is a tall guy and had to get creative with the very short lectern he'd been given. He then gave a reading from his new book Freedom. Despite a fair bit of flicking through I haven't yet found the passage he read from, which concerns a character called Joey facing the wrath of his girlfriend's…