Manx Death

A small announcement in a local free magazine this week made me rather sad. Apparently, Manx Life, the island’s longest running monthly, is closing . Officially it’s being amalgamated into another dying magazine, but in practice it is no more. I haven’t actually bought a copy in years, but I’m still sorry to see it go.

The thing is, I started my local journalism career as editorial assistant on Manx Life in its best era. It has had many – some good, some not so good, and at least two absolutely dire.

I got there just as a solid if dull version was bought by new owners, so was in on the creation of a Manx legend. The local magazine old guard were somewhat sniffy about us – mostly because the new management quite rightly decided to employ contributors who wouldn’t send the readership to sleep. Several of them went to work on rival publications, all of which repeated dire old formulas and folded within a few issues.

Meanwhile, we had well written, solidly researched, local history, in depth coverage of serious issues, great photography…oh, and wit. There was even a monthly walking column which covered out-of-the-way places in such a charming way that rambling made a bit of a come-back. One of my jobs was to (anonymously) write the introductory page, and it actually became something readers raved about as much as the ‘proper’ features.

I loved my time there, and only left because I was leaving the island. When I came back almost a decade later it was with the intention of carrying on where I’d left off. Sadly, that was not to be.

There was a six month gap between me arranging to come back from Europe and working out my contract elsewhere. In that time a business deal to take on a government publishing contract was sabotaged by the Celtic equivalent of the Stasi, so Manx Life had to be sold off to pay off the debts.

It was bought by a publisher who also produced Manx Tails – an in flight magazine for the local airline – and Sea Breezes, an equivalent for the ferry company. They tried their hand at something bigger and paid for, using their in-house hacks for material that was way beyond them. It was possibly the worst era in the magazine’s history. Meanwhile the airline folded, then the ferry changed hands and the new management saw no need for a magazine to distract seasick passengers.

Eventually Manx Tails was re-launched as an all-island free distribution job. Later, Manx Life returned to something like the model we produced, with some regular contributors but no real features or in-depth coverage of current events. If nothing else, it was at least a magazine with proper articles that went beyond 200 words, rather than advertorial intertwined with photos of drunken farmers and business louts.

Now, it seems, even that no longer sells. Maybe the attention span of readers has diminished to Twitter length banalities. Or maybe people just browse the net and don’t buy magazines any more. But for whatever reason both publications have been amalgamated into a single A5 mag with the odd 50 word chunter to fill out the spaces between ads for private pensions and new kitchens.

Can Manx people no longer read, or is it that Manx journos can no longer write? Either way, a sad day.

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Was that a week, or just weak?

It’s been an odd week. The best part is that I was only required to attend “The Unpleasantness” on three days, during which the management were so busy managing each other’s mistakes that I was left to manage myself. But enough of such drudgery.

Once it stopped raining, Tuesday was spent helping set up the Global Village for Tynwald Day. Then Wednesday morning I was back there, bright and early, to take my place on the Amnesty International stall for the day. And I really wouldn’t want to have been anywhere else.

The thing is, I have no interest in anything that happens around the main field. Each year my token visit there to check if I’m missing anything gets shorter and shorter. This year I was actually back on the stall within ten minutes, and feeling physically sick.

For me it’s a sad collection of colonial klingons, UKIP-lite losers and war-gamers. Tiny minds, no ambition beyond selling the next lame cow to buy a wide-screen TV. The mud, the diesel fumes, the attempts to crowd more and more paying punters into a smaller and smaller space? The increasingly desperate and clueless attempts to demonstrate “Manxness”.

Well…. thanks, but no thanks. If there is a Manx way of life, that field is not where you will find it. Quite the opposite in fact.

By comparison, the Global Village is a model of what we could have. The antics of some of the participants may well annoy or frustrate me, but it is the willingness to communicate with others not like us that has to be encouraged. There is none of that around the main event.

Last year things wound up with a sort of multicultural conga of performers, stallholders, and spectators of African, Bulgarian, Indian, Filipino, Manx and I-know-not-what other descent around the field. It was all totally spontaneous and totally infectious: the kind of thing that happens when people of very different backgrounds get together with a positive purpose. Nothing up the hill matches that.

Instead, we get dreck like http://www.manxradio.com/news/isle-of-man-news/church-service-resonates-with-tradition/ . Which is also, incidentally, inaccurate. On the quiet, even compulsory clergy attendees tell me that the entire ceremony bores them to tears and makes them wish they were somewhere else – just interacting with humanity. This is when you realise how bad things really are.

Thankfully, this year there was http://www.iomtoday.co.im/article.cfm?id=34684&headline=Silent%20protest%20over%20island%27s%20abortion%20law&sectionIs=news&searchyear=2017 , which rather put things in context. The last time anything comparable occurred would be 1991, when ACT UP popped in to protest the continued complete illegality of homosexuality, along with police and civic harassment of local gays. At the time police tactics were bad enough to drive some to suicide.

And then, a day or two after the main event, came https://www.gov.im/news/2017/jul/07/value-of-arts-and-culture-emphasised-as-strategy-is-published/ . Apparently, “A vibrant cultural scene boosts people’s sense of identity, assists wellbeing and contributes to the Island’s economy and international reputation.”

Well, it might well do if we actually had one. But this has nothing to do with culture, as in the everyday life of people, and everything to do with product that can be measured, bought and sold.

Rarities like the Handmaids aside, anything I would recognise as culture is not to be seen in the public eye. It exists on the Isle of Man only in the cracks between the official version, which it wouldn’t surprise me to know government has trademarked.