Manchester, Feb 8th 2009

Today I went into town to ‘not-skateboard’ as a side-project relating to the central ‘Play in the City’ work.

This involved visiting sites where skateboarding is prohibited to make use of street furniture retro-fitted with anti-skate.

Anti-skate is any material fitted onto an existing structure to prevent skateboarders using it. Common materials include metal knobs on the edges of blocks, strips of metal across the top of objects and railings. The process is commonly referred to as ‘stoppering’, since it prevents movement across objects.

Spot 1.

I began, as usual, at Piccadilly train station. It seems to be where I always begin. At the train station they have an automated message, which plays out periodically amidst the information about departures and arrivals of trains on the platforms. The announcement states ‘It is not-permitted to cycle, skateboard or rollerblade inside the station’. Given this, I felt it was apt to at least walk through the station carrying my board.

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Spot 2.

On the corner of York Street and Lower Moseley Street is an area infront of a large multi-storey building, which has some stoppered blocks:

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Skateboard in hand, I moved across this block by hopping inbetween each metal strip, running down the length of it and jumping off the end, balancing on the edge one foot in front of the other and stepping up and down off the block whilst moving along it.

Spot 3.

I walked down onto Deansgate. Opposite the RBS building, outside the front of Starbucks and adjacent to the Press Club, an area of land contains three block-lined trees. The blocks have been stoppered with metal knobs, attached on the edges of the blocks:

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Again, with skateboard in hand I moved around each planter balancing on each metal knob, jumping over them and stepping up and down onto the blocks.

This location was the most visible of today and though it was hard for me to pay attention to people’s reactions to my activity, I heard two different people say something about ‘skatepark’. I have no idea what they might have been talking about. Perhaps they were remarking that the space I was using was ‘not a skatepark’, or perhaps they were saying ‘why doesn’t she go to the skatepark?’. I’ll never know. Someone else laughs at me. Lots of children stare at me, quite bemused.

Spot 4.

I walk on further down Deansgate until I reach the crossroads with John Dalton Street.

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This area has a huge amphitheatre space:

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It also has a ‘no skateboarding’ sign:

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I don’t actual do anything in this space. At this point, I’m getting this overwhelming feeling that I need to be doing this in costume, as Alice in Wonderland. I can’t explain why really, it’s just that the practice isn’t working as well with me just my carrying a skateboard around; I feel like it reads as if I’m just making a point about the prohibition of skateboarding. The clothes I am wearing masculinise me. I’m wearing these clothes (trainers, baggy trousers, my beaten-up, dirty parker) because it’s really cold again today, and also because – well, the truth is, i’ve arranged to meet someone later, to have a skateboarding session with them, so I need to wear clothes that will allow me to actually skate.

In terms of this research though, the clothing is restrictive.

Spot 5.

I walk further down Deansgate. I’ve been heading towards the (relatively) new Hilton, as there are some stoppered blocks out the front, on the main road:

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I don’t spend too much time here, I think my mind is made up that this isn’t working so well.

I jump from one metal bar to the next and off the end of the block, twice. Then I leave to go and meet Laura.

Spot 6.

I haven’t seen Laura for a few months. We had been meeting up to go skateboarding every week after I met her on an online skateboarding forum, but since we both got permanent, serious jobs it’s become harder to find time to skate. Plus Laura has been injured for a while and it’s even harder to go out skating on your own.

We met at a flat, open spot near Manchester University’s John Rylands Library. We decided on this location becuase we’re both getting back into the swing again and wanted somewhere easy, comfortable, not stressfull, not competitive:

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Here we are very close to the main road, but not close enough to be watched constantly by passing traffic. A surprising number of people walk through this space.

A guy on a BMX rides past and says ‘skater chicks; you don’t often see that round here’.

Another guy shouts to me ‘do a Kickflip’ to which I say ‘you do one’. He comes over and attempts a Heel Flip and tells me he used to skate when he was 15 or 16. I ask why he doesn’t anymore and he says because of his job.

Laura’s husband Mark usually comes out skating with us, but this weekend he’s gone on holiday so Laura and I are alone. I think we definately receive more comments and attention than usual, I can only suggest this is because we’re two women on our own.

Reflection

I feel my skate with Laura achieved much more, in terms of the research, than my earlier pratice today.

Skate stoppered street furniture is almost always associated with businesses of great commerical stature or architectural imposition.

Interestingly, as I embarked upon sites with skate-stoppered objects, I thought that these are the sorts of sites I would probably never choose to occupy myself, as a skateboarder, simply because I would not want the pressure of the impending attention from the consumers occupying these sites.

As I walked around looking for skate-stoppered obstacles I also found a great deal of obstacles that had not been stoppered. It made me feel that my practice was some sort of attempt at colonisation or control, which didn’t sit comfortably for me.

I also realised, when thinking about my skate with Laura, that there’s something quite interesting in just skateboarding around an open space. There’s no possibility of damage, since neither of us slid or grinded anything. we were simply rolling around and performing tricks on flatland. In many ways this is more of a ‘peaceful occupation’ of the site than my earlier occupations from today. When Laura and I were skating it felt more peaceful, non-competitive, playful, free and subversive of the competitiveness, drive, control and restriction of the capitalist city and it’s exclusionary measures.

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