Have I actually mentioned my bike? I’ve got a bike. The best bike in the world, to be precise. I got it from one of my favourite people, almost a year ago, and the first time I was riding it down a quiet and leafy street in Didsbury I started to cry, which was followed by a celebratory bottle or two glass of wine. A glorious day.
Anythatwasthemotherofallhangoversway, last week marked the beginning of my favourite time of the year in Manchester – the 6 months of “oh it’s getting warm…nope, not quite yet…but now!! No… no, still not warm enough to wear short sleeves. OH there it is, that must be it, Summer! No, no…false alarm. Whoops, it’s November again. Well that was that then, I guess. Better luck next year.” Highly determined to make the best of the few hours of sunshine I can get here every year, I put on a floral print dress – my official summer uniform – got on my bike and cycled down to Levy for some food at POD and a visit to the superawesome Laurie Pink, but more about that later.
The excitement had me as soon as I had caught a glimpse of the magnificent trees blooming on Fog Lane that stood bright and colourful in the Sunday sun. I cycled faster. We crossed Kingsway into Burnage. I gasped: My first visit to Burnage. BURN. AGE. Famous for being the home of the Gallagher brothers, Dave Rowbotham of the Durutti Column being murdered in his flat, and… uhm… yeah. That record shop, I guess. I excpected tumbleweeds, gunmen and saloon doors, but I only saw a wide tree lined road, a country pub-ish looking pub with the poetic name ‘The Sun in September‘ and several parks, including the rather vast Cringle Park, luring us in with the promise of seeing an ‘Indian Bean Tree’ that couldn’t be spotted – if anyone has managed to find the location of the ‘Indian Bean Tree’, please do let me know. The bike ride, the greens, the country pub-ish pub and the sun had made me so enthusiastic however, I even came up with a marketing slogan for letting agents who would like to advertise properties in the area: “Burnage – it could be worse.”
Having crossed Cringle park, we suddenly found ourselves in the heart of Levenshulme, only two minutes away from POD, which, once again, didn’t fail to amaze me with the tastiness of its food as well as the slowness of the ordering and food preparing process. But to be completely honest, I actually prefer anticipation up to the point of self-torture to the finished product – this is exactly the right place for me.
On the way back, we paid a visit to the wonderful Laurie Pink who I had met on my first trip to Levenshulme last year. The crazy lady had put herself through a 24 hour drawing marathon to create dozens of drawings for everyone who donated for Comic Relief – raising over £1300 pounds in one day. I had commissioned a royal portrait for my cycling companion, the mighty Robot Swan King (yeah… don’t ask), which we had come to pick up that afternoon. We were welcomed by Arthur and Smith, two incredibly lovely whippets, a pouting cat, actor/singer/comedian Mitch Benn, who was sat in the kitchen watching roller derby videos, and a room with walls covered in drawings as a proof of Laurie’s hard work*. Having swapped cake for drawings, we hopped onto our bikes and cycled back down south – not without stopping by at the ‘Sun in September’ for a cheeky half of fizzy apple juice. I’m living life on the edge.
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!
Aah, yes, public transport. My favourite topic to talk about in Manchester, always worth a good rant. In this case however, it’s less of a rant and more of an astonished and incredulous account of the most bizarre bus adventure I have had in the two years living in this city. It was so bizarre, I even created a new “Bizarre” category for it.*
And it came to pass in those days that a festival was taking place on the green pastures of Platt Field’s park, and the lone traveller (that’s me! Hello!) embarked on a long and eventful journey from Southern Suburbia into the heart of the Sacred City…
Up until Fallowfield, people getting on the bus were the usual Saturday night crowd, i.e. hordes of loud and drunk students. We were joined by a group of families who had just come from the Lacrosse tournament where Canada had been beaten by the US. Due to unforeseen circumstances (“What do you mean? Thousands of people at a festival at Platt Field’s could cause a traffic chaos? Naahhh…”) the bus got stuck at a traffic light just at the far end of the park. And this is where it all started…
“Mate, I’m not being funny, but you’ve got the biggest car in the road. Just drive!” was the first advice the slightly intoxicated gentleman in one of the front seats gave the bus driver, only seconds before the young men in the car next to us started blowing a vuvuzela. The gentleman on the bus decided to answer this call for his attention by climbing on the bus seat, pulling down his trousers and exposing his pale backside to our neighbours, gently rubbing it on the bus windows. The bus driver, surrendering himself to the fate of having to drive the Wilmslow Road route on a Saturday night, simply acknowledged this stunt with a gentle laugh, silently awaiting the end of his shift. As we had been stuck at the traffic light for almost ten minutes, the gentleman, now wearing his trousers in the right place and obviously having filled his bladder with several pints of liquids before the bus journey, asked the bus driver if he could open the doors for him to jump out and relieve himself in the wild.
On returning to the bus, he engaged in a conversation with the girls on the seats behind him (one of whom was wearing slippers because “it hurt. And… it hurt!”), only to rise again after a few minutes and announce:“Ladies and gentlemen! It’s Melissa’s birthday today! While we’re stuck on the bus, we might as well sing happy birthday for her!”, which lead to the entire bus, first cautiously, then enthusiastically singing a birthday song for our fellow traveller.
10 minutes and 10 metres later, the bus opened the door for another wee break. This time however, the gentlemen returning to the bus and running upstairs to the top deck did not resemble the two travellers that had been with us all night. “Oh GREAT we’re getting burgled on the bus because that guy had to go for a wee!” was my first thought. Turned out that, as the two chaps were kind enough to explain on exiting the bus, the drunk students on the top deck had been “shouting abuse” at them and they wanted to give them a slap on the wrist – fortunately, only figuratively. The worried bus driver was kind enough to ask the gentlemen who were returning from their toilet trip to check upstairs if “everything was ok up there”. They descended from the top deck with an “everything ok” and two cans of beer in their hands, which they happily opened and consumed straight away.
By the time we had passed the traffic jam on the infamous curry mile, everyone on the bus was either drunk and engaging in lively conversation / singing / further drinking, or mildly shocked and silently shaking their heads.
As we approached the final bus stop, a group of students coming downstairs quickly identified the families in the back as supporters of the Canadian Lacrosse team, which lead one of them to a weak attempt at consoling the Canadians for their loss by praising their magnificent country. And so the Finglands 41 service pulled into Piccadilly Gardens, accompanied by dozens of students singing the Canadian national anthem. The bus stopped. The doors opened. It was all over.
* Things like that get me very excited sometimes. The excitement lasts for about 7 seconds until I realise that I’m a sad, sad geek.
Despite it being Bugged month and me having vowed to give my newly developed love for wearing noise-cancelling headphones on public transport a break, I still feel that it is the music that makes traveling through Manchester attractive, interesting and sometimes simply bearable.
I noticed how dreaded journeys like getting the Magic Bus (see previous post) in the morning or walking down Market Street on a busy* Saturday can almost turn into a pleasure when accompanied by the right music. It makes me relaxed, helps me bury my head deeper in my book despite the hoards of noisy students getting on in Fallowfield, makes me feel cooler than everyone else, parading down the street with my headphones, throwing presumptuous and omniscient smiles at people who don’t see me anyway while blasting out and bopping my head to whatever’s coming onto my little black iPod (5 years old and still going strong, bless!), unknown pleasures that only I can hear.
In the prospect of getting sued, here’s my playlist with ten songs for some of the situations you may encounter in the streets of our rainy city – ready to download as a handy zip file. Let me know if you like it. Let me know if you don’t.
American Analog Set – Punk as fuck Hangover music. Not too loud. Don’t ever remove from player. Good for getting on the bus around midday when it’s sunny and fairly quiet, won’t help covering the noise of loud mobile phone conversations in the seat behind you. Which will happen inevitably.
Das Racist – Shorty said (Gordon Voidwell remix) Best soundtrack for busy Saturday afternoons on Market Street. Makes you think you’re down with the kids. Like, totally. Turn it up loud enough to drown out the guy with the creepy duck whistles and the crazy Christians shouting “JESUS CHRIST” at your face.
An Horse – Horizons Good for the rare sunny days in Manchester. Leave the house and walk to the bus stop, wearing large sunglasses that look ridiculous. Feel bittersweet, but happy, but annoyed, but ah well never mind. Oh yes I’m doing so well.
Talking Heads – Once in a lifetime Listen to nothing but Talking Heads for weeks. Go to Smile at the Star & Garter and get stupidly drunk on vodka while sitting downstairs and waiting for the first people to start dancing. Realise that you’re dancing on the benches two hours later. Ask yourself: how did I get here? Drop your drink on someone. Apologise. Drop your drink on someone, again. Fall down the stairs, blow a kiss at the bouncer, get nearly run over crossing the road to Piccadilly station and fall into a taxi. Same as it ever was.
Roisin Murphy – Ramalama (bang bang) Walk down Burton Road through West Didsbury on a Saturday night. Witness the drunken messes staggering home and sing “Ramalama bang bang flash bang bing bang bing bong ding dong dum dum du dum” to yourself. Imagine you are in a Disney musical and do a little dance. Hope that no one has noticed you.
Gui Boratto – Terminal Try to break your own personal record walking from West Didsbury to Fallowfield. Convince your house mate that it is absolutely possible to get to the post depot in 20 minutes. Take a deep breath and engage in 17 minutes of power walking while listening to Brazilian techno. Find a huge queue at the post depot. Swear.
The Smiths – Half a person Coming from Piccadilly Gardens, walk down Portland Street on a very gray and rainy Saturday, towards the Temple pub and down the stairs. See your friend through the window at the bottom of the stairs, wave and take off your headphones. Wonder how you’ll ever manage to dry your soaked shoes.
Tears for Fears – Head over heels Good soundtrack for a bus journey down the curry mile when it’s dark. Watch the people walking down the road outside the takeaways and curry houses. See the neon lights’ reflections in the puddles on the pavement and the rain drops on the window. Think about how 80s synth pop and neon go together so well.
The Shins – Kissing the lipless Get off outside the Sainsbury’s in Fallowfield. Walk into the shop. Try and time your movements with the music. Feel sublime if you manage to pick up your bread the second the music gets louder. Block the way in the isle with the crackers, the one that has a pillar in the middle, and don’t hear people repeatedly saying ‘excuse me’. Notice them. Feel guilty. Turn the music down.
Japandroids – Wet hair Walk home from Fuel after a far too boozy Tuesday night. Feel the warmth of the pavement that has been heated up by the sun. Remember the crazy hot summer in your home town. Think of your friends. Feel a bit upset. Hope that everything gets back to normal soon. Cross your fingers.