Help the Aged: A field trip to Withington Village

Manchester is a city of many neighbourhoods, all with different reputations, ranging from “nice” or “hippieish” to “grim”, “dodgy” and “I WOULDN’T GO THERE!!”. Withington seems a bit lost somewhere in between the studenty madness of Fallowfield, and the civilized suburban middleclassness of Didsbury. There are a few rough areas as well as some very nice places like the vegetarian cafe, bar and gig venue Fuel, and my favourite underground boozer Indigo, but there seems to be no consistent opinion about this area.I thought I might as well go and explore it myself – and so I embarked on a little day trip to the hardly known, quaint little village called “Withington”, located in the South of Manchester.

Only a short bike ride away, I started my day with a hearty breakfast in the local eatery The Coffee House – “A place where friends meet when it’s time to eat”. This little gem of copywriting is surprisingly appropriate for the greasy spoon on Copson street, the commercial and social hub of Withington. The Coffee House seems a popular meeting place for the pensioners and workers of the village, while serving huge fry-ups that would make all you Koffee Pot fanatics weep from joy*. The four ladies who work at the cafe whip up bacon barms by the dozen and buckets of steaming hot tea for the hungry crowd, determinedly and patiently tracing all orders while whizzing through the cafe with wagon wheel sized plates in their hands.

Having eaten enough mushrooms, beans and toast to last until next month, I set out to explore what Withington is famous for: its charity shops. The NSPCC shop, right next to “Withington Fruit & Veg” (good & cheaper alternative to the Co-op), is possibly the cheapest of all, cramming in 25p vinyl singles, as well as paperbacks and records for 50p. While I’m rooting through books and scarves, the three ladies in the shop are busy discussing their last holiday to Blackpool: “I stayed in a hotel that was like a combination of Fawlty Towers and the Titanic! I left after one night!” I leave with a book and a Human League 7″. I don’t even have a record player.

At Age Concern next door, I find a nice big handbag in a bargain bin and move on to the Lighthouse Charity Shop, which doesn’t have anything particularly exciting on offer. Across the road, I visit the Barnabus Boutique, a Christian charity shop that houses a little cafe (read as “has a coffee machine on the counter”). I am tempted to buy a DVD titled “Caribbean Wreck Heaven”, butfeel a little disappointed after finding out it is only a DVD on deep sea diving.

Leaving behind the magical world of charity shops, I leave the main road for a quick peek into my favourite shop in Withington, the one without a name that simply says “CDs. DVDs. Vinyl” on its shop window. The place is packed up to the ceiling with, well, CDs, DVDs, Vinyl, books and Star Wars memorabilia, and I never fail to find something to spend my money on. Today, it is a Flight of the Conchords DVD, which the shop owner hands me wrapped up in a Sainsbury’s bag. Don’t waste a thing!

My last stop for today is the often overlooked Withington Library, which has put me off so far with its ugly exterior. But oh, how wrong I was! As soon as I enter the building, it feels like I have walked into one of those Harry Potter tents that look like huge mansions on the inside. The tiny library consists of only one, presumably octagonal, room with large windows and big, round skylights, with an almost airy feel to it. I wonder why I have never considered visiting the library, and I definitely know where to set up camp next time I have some writing work to do. On my way home, I make a quick stopover at Martin’s bakery on Copson Street for one of their strawberry tarts that found their way into my heart* with their gooey jelly like topping and pools of custard.

So, what is Withington? Is it just a strip of charity shops along Wilmslow Road? Well. It may be a bit rough sometimes, there are fights, drunks, drunken fights and the traffic can be a nightmare, but between the library and the shops on Copson Street, Withington is almost like a little village with a diverse community, if you look at it from the right angle.

* Stomach.