I identify with Morrissey and his endless walking and thinking. During my time at high school home was a grey place to be avoided. Often in order to escape, I’d board an orange double decker bus into town. During this journey I would be absorbed completely by the order of my own thoughts as I watched the city streets sliding backwards behind the speckled glass of the bus window. Headphones never left my hands, ears buzzing and hot with the music I felt spoke to me. The seat in which I’d sit would always be positioned towards the rear of the bus and my eyes would not move from the view until the bus brakes squeaked and hissed pulling in to Piccadilly station. There were the familiar sounds on reaching Manchester, the patter of busy feet, bus wheels disrupting puddles, in the background hummed the metro link and usually a busker, beggar or preacher’s voice was fighting to be heard.
One of my favourite places to visit was Castlefield with its dripping railway bridges and cobbled walk ways. I’d stroll along the canal paths under the watch of crumbling factories and graffitied walls, I’d walk, walk and walk some more. Sometimes I’d sit in the grass at the bustling Piccadilly gardens when the sun was high or sit and admire the city art gallery when it was drizzly outside.
Seeking sanctuary in Manchester continued throughout growing up and becoming an adult. It is a place for spending time alone, larking about in a crowd of friends or a hand in hand as a couple. You just turn up and there is always something waiting for you.
I can recall my first visit to the shiny new Bridgewater hall and I was impressed. I adored the way it had embraced the city’s history despite its exterior clashing with old arches opposite and the adjacent past punk venue ‘The Britons Protection’ where an aspiring Ian Curtis spent many Saturday nights. The new home to the Halle orchestra overlooked part of the Rochdale canal used for transportation during the textile boom, this was mirrored by the textile weave sculpture climbing the inside walls of the building. It appeared this city was growing up and maturing alongside the teen me and during this years summer that was to become more apparent than ever.
This July my eleven year old son and I took a train in to Manchester to see a play called ‘Zigzag Zigzag’ (directed by Innes Gori) which was part of the brilliant Manchester international festival. It is a story of intense childhood friendship and the pain it can bring to innocent hearts. We were gripped by the excellent acting and totally captivated by the experience, so much so it left me with a heavy feeling in my chest. Reaching the top of the town halls wide stones steps on leaving the building and looking out on to my favourite city, I realised I had been bitten with nostalgia.
I could highlight so many memories made in the corners of this city that flooded my mind simultaneously. The stretch of Oxford road where I went to uni with the gardens outside the library where we ate sandwiches complaining our tutors knew nothing and how we were going to do everything different in life because we had it all worked out. The museum that contained the ancient mummies, pickled fingers and for a time the lindow man which fascinated me. Seeing Oasis at Maine road when I was 15 or queuing outside of the Hacienda for an under eighteens night and thinking I was so cool for doing so. Meeting Ian Brown in McDonalds and having Tim Burgess touch my hand in the Academy. The wonderful feelings of camaraderie and friendship earned by countless hours on sticky dance floors. My first kiss under the railway bridge at Castlefield arena as a train rattled over head. Affleck’s palace where I completed my works experience which lead to a Saturday job and countless breaks smoking on the stairwell and planning what to have pierced next. Chinatown the place where I found myself eating a gigantic banquet for six at 4 am with the boy who had the most beautiful eyes I had ever seen just because we didn’t want to say goodnight. My heart missing a beat in Victoria station during the bomb blast that tore through the city. Standing on Deansgate carrying a car seat which held my precious newborn as I searched for the relocated registry office, feeling lost in more ways than one… To name a mere handful.
A whole decade later, I stood present day holding my sons hand baking in the hot yellow sunshine that beamed down from a cloudless sky on to Albert square. The place was unrecognisable from the winter just past, adios to the Christmas markets, gluhwein and endless treats. Hello to barbecued delights, paella, luxurious ice cream flavours reminiscent of a Charlie and the chocolate factory menu. Bars, booze, cocktails, deck chairs. The area was filled with the sound of children playing, running in the square. Laughter and a buzz of chit chat falling from smiling lips. Everyone loves the sun. Even more so the people of Manchester.
Walking in to this scene had an instant effect on me, it was as if I’d just stepped foot on to Barcelona’s Ramblas, only better, I was home.
I don’t remember the city centre being so welcoming or diverse when I was teen but the vibe, that has always been there. It was as if Manchester centre had morphed in to a picturesque sunny European city, its streets alive with activity. We were wilting slightly from the summers heat as we took in the sights and headed over to New York Street for lunch at the Alchemist. My son smiled broadly as he munched chicken wings out of a ceramic skull and sipped a virgin mojito bellowing with dry ice.
Leaving for the train we cut through a hectic Piccadilly gardens, long gone were the grassy planes and flower beds where I had once sat. Initially back in 2002, I was not impressed with modern assault/refurbishment of the Victorian gardens to say the least. I thought it as disaster and so did many others. Alas at this moment I realised that Manchester and its people had taken effect and shaped the soulless concrete space in to a place worth being. There was staged live music, buskers, musicians and break dancers alike. People packed in to the area to take part, some sat and ate lunch bought from the nearby food stalls. Others stood and nodded along to the music whilst squealing children and even a few young at heart adults dodged ice cold blasts of water as they played barefoot in the garden fountains. Maybe change isn’t such a bad thing…
I studied my sons face as he stood mesmerised watching a topless drummer thrash out a sound that vibrated through our bodies. I wondered what stood in store for him in this city, all this was now his. His future was laid out before him on the same ground I had walked. “I love it when we come to this place” he said, I asked if he meant the restaurant we had just left “no, this town with all this stuff” I knew just how he felt.
“Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”