All Across the Sands: And then, then we went to Wales.

Escape, escape.

I don’t know what happened in Wales during the last few ice ages, but it must have been pretty intense. The west coast of Wales pretty much consists of hills, mountains, mountain-like hills, rivers, lakes, estuaries, and sheep. I presume the sheep came after the ice age (who knows…), but everything else looks like it has been scrunched up and folded and squeezed and punched by incredibly powerful giant ice masses. This is also what I imagine the Welsh did with their language – scrunch the words, fold and squeeze them, add a few ls and ys and ds here and there to make it completely illegible.

I went to Snowdon last year, which, while certainly offering a decent walk in surprisingly nice weather, was rather unimpressive. This time we staying for a weekend, exploring the area around Barmouth (Abermaw in Welsh) and climbing Cadair Idris, which is Wales’ second most popular mountain. Well, ‘mountain’. To summarise the weekend: I ate honey ice cream, and saw sheep, and drank ale, and saw sheep, and went up on a hill, and saw sheep, and watched the sun set over the sea while drinking cider, and saw sheep, and learned Welsh, and saw sheep, and had pie and chips, and saw sheep, and went to Happy Valley, and saw sheep, and played with frog spawn, and saw sheep. I loved it!

I’ve been putting off this post for a week because I’ve not been feeling particularly chatty, but the pictures are really nice, so please enjoy the ensuing silence and look at some pretty photos while I’m gathering strength for a first class rant. Or a rabbit post. Or a ranty rabbit post.

The Middle: Adventures in Nottingham

If you put England in a big rectangular box, you may find that Nottingham is pretty much exactly in the centre of this box. Well, maybe after chopping after off some pointy ends… sorry Northumberland, but your north half is history… you too, Cornwall… and take Devon with you… Oh, just go with me on that one.

Just as its geographical location and its decidedly Northern feel* clash a little, does Nottingham clash with itself in terms of architecture. The city seems torn between preserving its medieval heritage with all its Robin Hood romantic, the castle, beautiful old buildings, and strips of cobbled streets, a weak attempt at converting these old buildings into the ubiquitous high-street outlets, and some pretty awful modern architecture – or whatever classified as modern in the 1960s. Visually, it’s just all over the place.

After Nottingham had waved a cold hello at me with rain and a rather dodgy looking subway, I found myself in Market square and suddenly realised what Manchester was missing: a central square! The bad excuse for basically everything that is Piccadilly Gardens, the lovely but out of the way St Ann’s Square, or Exchange Square, the, well, area behind Selfridges which I didn’t even know was considered to be a ‘square’, just don’t make up for the feeling of discovering a city’s central hub, buzzing with busy shoppers and newspaper vendors, showing off a fountain, a memorial or a landmark of some sort (Nottingham chose a big wheel here), trams and buses crossing, often overlooked by some impressive building – in the case of Nottingham the council offices.

Now that I’ve got the moaning out of the way, I can say that I did really enjoy the day in Nottingham, despite having come here on a Monday where the two main museums and galleries (the Castle museum & art gallery and the contemporary art gallery) were closed. Thanks to the magic that is Twitter, I received lots of recommendations from some lovely people (that is you Gem, Neil, Ian, Ian, Helen and Sophie!)

After a stroll around town, I tried to seek shelter from the rain in the Galleries of Justice where I went on a tour around the former courts of justice and the pretty miserable prison (or ‘gaol’ – learned a new word!) which had been in use since the 15th century, including an area of cells called ‘the pits’ – no explanation needed I guess. My navigating skills failed me once again and I got lost on the tour, walking through a maze of fire exit doors in search of a toilet and being too embarrassed to go back to the rest of the group once I had found myself in the foyer of the building. I found comfort in a hot bowl of soup just next door at a former church, which had been converted into a rather nice and incredibly spacious bar, and went on to have a look round the castle area – only to get sucked into Delilah on the way, an absolutely stunning deli (now go and sort out your dirty minds will you?) that is granted to give you a mild  heart attack at the till.

I spent the rest of the afternoon wandering round the castle, talking to a crazy photographer at a bus stop, failing to resist the urge to do a little shopping which then turned into a big shopping, and stuffing my face with incredibly delicious cake at The Walk, a cute little cafe hidden away at the end of some inconspicuous looking tunnel off Bridlesmith Gate, where the pretty waitresses wear white lace pinnies on black tops and chunky pearl necklaces as their uniform. Judging by the international clientele and the number of travel bags, I concluded that the cafe must be listed as one of the top places in Lonely Planet. After a lovely Girl Geek Dinner at Cape bar just round the corner, including pizza followed by even more cake and some great talks, I walked back down the hill to catch the last train back from, uhm, Nomingham to Manchester.

The journey then turned into a bit of an adventure as soon as the conductor announced that our train to Sheffield would have to make a short detour to get around a broken down train on the tracks, which led to my missing the connection to Manchester. After a short moment of panic, the station phoned a taxi for me and two fellow travellers, a cheerful Irish couple on their way to Oldham, and so we ended up on a midnight drive down Snake Pass, whizzing through the fog that seems to never leave the peaks, with the Irish lady happily humming and singing in the back seat.

The castle hill which is covered in holes and caves. Looks very much like the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona to me!

* Northern feel = awful weather and grey skies.

Stolen Mountains: the Lakes, Derwentwater, Catbells & icy rain.

While I’m still not the biggest fan of Manchester (cue ORLY owl here), I have started to fall in love with this country, or at least, some parts of it. Mainly the green ones. Pair beautiful nature, lakes, some woods and breathtaking views with a slightly pathological passion for outdoor activities* and you’re guaranteed some amazing weekends walking up and down hills, almost necessarily followed by yet another popular activity: pub.

For exactly this purpose, and to escape the only mildly appealing February weather in Manchester, I went on a rather spontaneous trip to the north western part of the Lake District. Due to a BBC documentary on Wainwright walks, I was intrigued by a fell named Catbells, situated on the shores of Derwentwater near Keswick, which the presenter was walking up in her perfectly shiny and neat hiking outfit. I only ever managed to watch that one episode, so I wasn’t particularly adventurous when planning the trip and decided to go for the obvious: up Catbells. Conveniently, there’s a YHA situated just on the opposite site of Derwentwater, which promised charming bunk beds, a waterfall at the rear of the building, and local ales. I booked instantly.

Highlights of the drive to Keswick included me gradually realising I had left walking boots, compass, spare socks, the camera battery as well as the SD card, and my phone charger at home, stumbling across a tiny little red book with  walks ‘from the easy to the adventurous’ in the Northern Lakes, buying Kendal mint cake (novelty!) and Borrowdale tea cake, and listening to Therapy. After a short detour to one of the many hiking shops in Keswick to replace equipment, we found the YHA and walked back along the lake into town for Saturday night entertainment: pies and pints. Veggie for me and giant ‘cow pie’ for my companion. Awesome!

8.30 on Sunday morning, pies and pints suddenly didn’t seem like such an awesome idea anymore. My head was hosting a samba party, the rain was pouring down outside, and the sofas in the lounge had actually been very comfortable the previous night. Nonetheless, we were there for walking, so we did what we had to do: walk. The little red book from the service station had told us about an ‘alternative Catbells‘ that promised a ‘satisfying’ 4 hour walk from the south west shores of Derwentwater, over Maiden Moor and Bull Crag up to Catbells.

Thanks to my excellent map reading skills, the missing compass and zero visibility we only got lost twice on the route, which caused me to first panic quite a bit, then feel like kissing the path once we found it after an hour of dragging ourselves up a hill. As we got to the top at Maiden Moor, the clouds cleared all of a sudden and we got some amazing views over the valley west of the fells. The last part of the walk was downhill apart from the short ascend to Catbells, which offered some good views over the lake, but felt much less spectacular and heroic than our previous odyssey through the mist.

On the drive home, we took the scenic route down the A road to Windermere rather than the motorway, past majestic fells, flooded lakes and through adorable little towns. Back in Manchester, it was raining.

When in doubt, eat. (Ancient German proverb.)

* I have observed that every British citizen needs to have a minimum of three pairs of special occasion shoes in their possession: wellies (for festivals, farming or simply crap weather), football boots (because everyone plays football… or ultimate frisbee), and a pair of hiking boots (for the odd trip to Wales, the Peaks or the Lakes).

A Different City: My favourite places in Berlin (Pt 2)

There you go, part 2 of Sam’s patchy and highly subjective guide to “Things you shouldn’t miss when in the German capital. Part 1 (art & culture) can be found here.

Food

  • Transit – Asian fusion cuisine in Mitte (U Rosenthaler Str.) and Friedrichshain. The menu comprises an array of small dishes for 3 Euros that you can mix and match – all dishes are available in veggie versions, too. The tasty food is served quickly, the waiters are lovely and the atmosphere is buzzing.
  • Luigi Zuckermann – Almost right next to Transit in Mitte is Luigi Zuckermann, a New York style sandwich shop and deli that’s open 24hrs on weekends. The guys who work there don’t speak German, which isn’t really a big deal in Berlin, keep themselves awake by blasting obscure music, and serve you rather expensive but rather delicious coffee and apple pie at 4am. Win.
  • Noodles & Figli – I have no idea what the name is about, but this inconspicuous restaurant in Kreuzberg is as simple as it is excellent. 3 courses form its Italian cuisine inspired and very seasonal menu are somewhere around 25 Euros, the open kitchen heats up the place to sauna-like conditions in cold weather, and the waiter is happy to sit down and have a chat with you.
  • Cookies Cream – A veggie fine dining dream come true. Located literally in the back entrance to the opera house near Französische Straße, you have to make your way past bins and discarded chandeliers to find the entrance of Cookies Cream. The food is both interesting and tasty, staff keep the wine coming (oh dear…), and the big “Ficken” print on the wall reminds you that you are in one of the craziest capitals of Europe.
  • Schneeweiss – Nice restaurant in Friedrichshain that serves modernised Austrian cuisine and looks incredibly pretty. Being extraordinarily attractive and looking good in a plain white t-shirt seems to be an important requirement to become a member of staff. Not that I would mind.
  • Burgermeister, Marienburger, Burgers Berlin and all the other independent burger places – Oh yes. The city has seen a massive rise in independent snack bars in the past few years, and they all offer tasty homemade burgers, almost always with one or several veggie options, home made french fries and sometimes organic. Have yours with a “Bionade” (hipster lemonade) and munch your hangover away.
  • Salon Schmueck – Lovely cafe that must have been teleported from the enchanted part of the Black Forest right into the heart of Kreuzberg. The breakfast here is colourful and filling, and there are blankets to keep you warm outside. The vintage clothes shop in the back is a quirky addition, but not really worth mentioning.

Other

  • Tacheles – Somehow this place reminds me of Islington Mill; there’s gigs, art, food, and other stuff going on. Worth a visit, for an event or just for hanging out.
  • Michelberger Hotel – Yes, this hotel IS pricey for Berlin standards. It’s pretty though, perfectly located for public transport, offers amazing “luxury” rooms, the staff are international, confused and lovely, the bar is open til 6am, the cocktails are ridiculously strong and the instruments (including a grand piano!) in the “living room” make for great entertainment including the odd  Ryan Adams performance by drunk Danes. Excellent.
  • West Germany – If you manage to find this old dentists practice on the top floor of an apartment block in Kreuzberg, you can call yourself lucky. The small gig venue is as run down as it gets, but the balcony offers exciting views over the area and a feel of big city life.
  • Photo booths – Ooooh no, you can’t leave Berlin without having your picture taken at one of the oldfashioned photo booths placed all over town. For a mere 2 Euros you get a strip of fantastic b/w photos that also make for great souvenirs. If you live in Berlin, you’re required by law to have at least one shot of yourself and friends squeezing into the tiny photo booth after a bit of a heavy night out stuck to your wall. The ones I know about are on Kastanienallee and two near Warschauer Strasse.

[Photos: Luigi Zuckermann – kygp, Salon Schmueck – Kristina M, Schneeweiss – Sang-hee, Michelberger Hotel – Matt Biddulph]

A Different City: My favourite places in Berlin (Pt 1)

Hello, Happy New Year, welcome back, etc etc. I hope you’ve all managed to get rid of your  hangovers by now and are looking forward to a promising and eventful new year. I’m not, but that’s a whole different story.

Since Berlin is probably my 2nd favourite place in Germany (after my hometown and only slightly before Leipzig; I love Leipzig and the three years I lived there were amazing, but in terms of things to do, Berlin just trumps any other place really), and every single Mancunian seems to have been to Berlin in the past year / has plans to go soon, I thought I might as well share my patchy inside knowledge with you lot. Due to the size of the post, I’ve split it up in two parts – food & other will follow in the next couple of days! And here we go, Sam’s patchy and highly subjective guide to “Things you shouldn’t miss when in the German capital – Part 1″. Part 2 – Food and other stuff – can be found here.

Art & culture

  • Schloss Charlottenburg – I do love them castles. Schloss Charlottenburg is a particularly lovely one in the western part of Berlin, and what makes it even better is the fantastic garden/park with a boating lake that reminds of Versailles. Well, a mini version of it.
  • Hamburger Bahnhof – This place used to be a train station (Bahnhof) and is now a huge gallery for modern and contemporary art. Unlike the UK, German art galleries and museums are usually not free, and this one in fact quite expensive. Totally worth it though.
  • Zoo (West Berlin) – One word: animals. Thanks to many glass windows rather than fences you can get incredibly close to some of the animals. There is also a panda, which seems to be asleep most of the time. For good panda views, go on a weekday when the weather is bad and check the feeding times when the carers trick the panda into sitting really close to the glass by putting his food right it front of it. Not that he’d be particularly bothered. Bless.
  • Bauhaus Archiv – Cause we’re all, like, totally arty and stuff. The Bauhaus Archive includes a nice little collection of Bauhaus related design, furniture and architecture, a gallery for temporary exhibitions (which are a bit hit and miss), and a shop with many pretty things that cost you many pretty Euros.
  • Gedenkstätte Berliner Mauer, Bernauer Str. – This museum and memorial for the German division is a good place to learn about German history without the silly “Ostalgie” (East German nostalgia) that is inherent in so many places in Berlin. I grew up in West Germany, I learned about the German division in my history A-Levels, then lived in East Germany for a while, where my friends’ parents told me about their lives, how they had to fight for their beliefs, how they claimed access to their Stasi-files after the DDR had collapsed*. And trust me, there is no room for nostalgia.
  • 100 Bus service – The 100 bus is almost like one of those hop on/off city tour coaches, but cheap. It takes you all around the city, along the most important sights like the Friedenssäule, Unter den Linden, the Reichstag…
  • Boat tour – They’re ace. Touristy, but ace. Seriously, you’re sat on a boat for an hour, someone tells you about the history of the city, and if you’re lucky, they even sell drinks on board. Order a “Berliner Weisse grün” (white beer with sweet woodruff syrup – bright green!) or a cup of coffee (don’t bother with tea. Germans don’t know how to do proper tea) and relax your feet. You can get on at the bridges near Alexanderplatz/Berliner Dom.
  • Film museum – A brilliant little museum in the Sony Centre (yawn) at Potsdamer Platz (YAWN). Not much hands on stuff, but props, scripts, models and costumes from some amazing films, alongside background information. Featuring a life size Darth Vader!

Phew. That’s it with art and cultchah from me for now. Check out part 2 – food and other stuff.

[Photos: Hamburger Bahnhof  – Regine Debatty]

* I’m getting well emo here.

We are nowhere, and it’s now: a trip to Urmston

Urmston. I mean, seriously. Just say it out loud a few times. Uuuurrrrmston. Apart from the general directon (Trafford-ish – which doesn’t mean that I have an idea where Trafford really is), sort of bottom left on my map of Manchester, I didn’t know much about Urmston. Having accidentally stumbled upon Beards of Manchester, Peter and Frances* asked us to deliver some calendars to their bookshop in Urmston – the perfect occasion for a little day trip!

The 23 Stagecoach took us from Chorlton to Stretford, down the seemingly never ending Urmston Lane which is lined with houses, houses, and some more houses. We passed the “Welcome to Urmston” sign which told us that it was not just a part of Manchester but an actual town, and when the bus dropped us off outside the library I said, to my own surprise, “it’s actually not as horrible as I thought it was!”

We didn’t have much time to explore the place, but came across a particularly classy furniture shop (see “shoe chair” photo above), “Isinglass” – voted one of Manchester’s best restaurants, Peter’s and Frances’ lovely little bookshop on Flixton Road, the Tim Bobbin – a very art deco-ish Wetherspoons, and the Green Room, a sports bar that also functions as the local meeting place for people with skinheads.

The tracksuits and shaved head-combo seems to be the latest fashion trend amongst the youth of Urmston – walking down Flixton Road, we saw dozens of teens in said attire, some of them suddenly running off in all directions. The police van and high-vis jacket wearing officers on the next junction who were talking to a similar looking group of kids and the proximity to a shopping centre didn’t leave too many questions unanswered.

The Steamhouse, a pub on the platform of Urmston rail station with the possibly weirdest table layout I’ve ever seen, was our last stop before boarding the train back into Manchester. Since it’s only a 10 minute train ride to Urmston, we’ll hopefully be back soon, with more time to explore the town (and by “town” I mean “the menu at Isinglass”).

* That is, Frances. She seemed genuinely excited by the Beards of Manchester calendar, while Peter only gave it, then us, a quick look that said something like ‘Ooookay. You two are clearly kray-zeeeh.’

Streamside: A trip to Hebden Bridge

I’ve been babbling enough in the past couple of weeks, so I’ll give you a break with a few lovely photos from my daytrip to Hebden Bridge, a small town in West Yorkshire – time for a photo post! While everyone was gushing how quaint and lovely the town is, I was more impressed by the surrounding landscape; even the train journey from Manchester into the hills is fantastic!

I also discovered one of my now favourite pubs, the Fox and Goose – a quirky* little pub right at the end of the town, with an open fireplace and hundreds of beer clips all over the ceiling.

Hebden Bridge from above.

Trees n stuff.

We met a painter on the path!

Stone circles. Possibly ancient. Probably not.

Yorkshire Soap Co. – I couldn’t resist and had to buy cupcake shaped strawberry scented bubble bath.

* Interior, barman and patrons alike.

Firestarter: My first ever bonfire night

Going out on bonfire night had always felt way too dangerous for me – the prospect of getting shot at with fireworks or chased by an angry mob with torches didn’t seem all that appealing. This year however, I was joined by fellow new Mancunian Paul (the gentleman who brings you Manchester Daily Photo) to watch fireworks, drink mulled wine and dodge some rockets.

The arrival at Platt Fields Park was somewhat overwhelming (Flood lights and police at the entrance! Thousands of people! Bright lights and noisy sounds from the funfair! Mud everywhere!), but we soon managed to find a nice place to watch the fireworks display which started out mildly disappointing, but grew steadily into an extravaganza of pyrotechnical awesomeness.

The music choice for the fireworks quickly convinced us that someone must have typed “fire” in their iTunes and hit shuffle. A trashtastic Eurodisco song with a lady moaning about her being a pyromaniac was followed by The Prodigy’s Firestarter – and I was convinced I could see some scallies raving their trainers off to those “bangin choonz” somewhere in the muddy puddles of Platt Fields.

Having blown up half of Manchester city council’s annual budget, the celebrations for Platt Fields  Park’s 100 year anniversary continued with Manchester’s own Poet laureate Mike “God is a Mancunian” Garryreciting “The Gift”, a lovely poem for the park – an effort that was completely lost in the murmur* of thousands of visitors. This was followed by a Mancunian cowboy-country-folk song praising the park with the chorus “Platt Fields, Platt Fields, you make me feel so true”, accompanied by a beatboxer. Yes, a beatboxer. A beatboxer who, at some point, broke into a five minute freestyle grime beat with the singer aimlessly yodelling “Platt Fiiieeeiiieeeellldsss”, turning it into a 15 minute monster of a birthday song. That was the point when, once again, I simply surrendered to the craziness of Manchester.

Playing for time while the Chinese lanterns where being lit, the speaker then began to thank supporters of the park and the festivities – one by one, a never ending list of names, which prompted the gentleman standing next to me to shout “Shut up” at the stage. If there’s one thing in Manchester that you can rely on, it is this: the rowdy mob never disappoints.

* Shouting.

[Lovely fireworks photos by Paul Capewell at Manchester Daily Photo]

Excellent things: Exploring lovely Levenshulme

As I promised (warned, that is) you last week, I went on a little trip to Levenshulme. As a loyal reader* of the South Manchester Reporter, I was aware of the existence of this area of Manchester, but could never really pin down what exactly constituted Levenshulme. Or what was happening there. Or who lived there. In order to battle my ignorance, the fab Helen from Love Levenshulme volunteered to put up with me for an afternoon and give me an introduction to the wonderful world of Levenshulme.

On a very lovely and very sunny Sunday, I climbed the stairs to the top deck of the 192, leaving behind Piccadilly and slowly moving down Stockport Road, past teenagers in sleeping bags camping outside the Apollo, through Ardwick and Longsight, finally getting off at Levenshulme rail station to meet my guide for the day. Our first stop was the absolutely brilliant POD deli which had its name from its location – a former post office! (Yeah that kind of stuff does get me quite excited.)

We spent almost two hours at POD, stuffing our little faces with delicious food and chatting away with Helen and her “almost next door neighbours”. “There are lots of families in Levenshulme!” they said, pointing at the children and prams squeezed into the tiny café. “Oh really?”, I replied. “I just thought it was well dodgy!”. I learned that, while certainly having its slightly more grubby areas, Levenshulme was full of families, a large student population, parks, and a lovely little creative scene, which was proved by the handmade cards and brooches displayed at POD.

We only just managed to drag ourselves off the chairs at POD and move further down the road, past a phone box that looked like it had been the location of a very long and potentially very interesting phone call, containingsix emtpy cans of Skol Super – a 9% lager. Welcome to Levenshulme.

We arrived at the mysterious “Antiques Village”, which, as it turned out, wasn’t an actual village, but an old council building that had been turned into an antiques shopping mall. We explored the little museum-like shops that had bits and bobs crammed in up to the ceiling, including a creepy self-inflating Michelin man, discovered the amazing Agaphantus Antiques shop (ooh! Shiny!) that Helen had only just mentioned on Love Levenshulme, and had a cup of tea from the little café in the village. And that’s where my trip to Levenshulme ended – distracted by lovely food, lovely chats, and shiny things, I didn’t actually manage to explore the dingy backstreets I had been hoping for. I suppose there is only one way to solve this (terrible, teeeerrrible) problem: I have to come back to Levy as soon as possible!

Special notice: Love Levenshulme are running a photo competition titled “Levenshulme Loves”. The deadline is on Wednesday 3rd November, so I recommend you pay a visit to Levy, snap some awesome pictures (i.e. better than what you see below…) and send them in as soon as you can. Fame awaits you!

* When we first moved down here, we used to put the South Manchester Reporter in the bathroom as toilet reading material. Now it just goes straight into the recycling.

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.