so manchester then

Saturday was Lisa’s promised shopping trip as part of her 16th birthday present, with a small coterie of her friends. I’d undertaken to do a bit of remote control chaperoning. Keen late September sunshine. I really should be back at school. Unbroken blue sky. Wyclef Jean and his comment on UK weather.

The approach to Victoria station is so different now. It used to be a patch of waste ground (at one point a makeshift car park) and then Chetham’s School Of Music. Now it’s grass and plate glass and water features and Starbuck’s and teenagers killing time. Chetham’s of course remains resolute and impartial.

Manchester is a harder City than Leeds. Now I know why my mates liked Leeds so much in the late 70s and early 80s. Friendlier and easier on the nerves. I’ve been in West Yorkshire for over twenty years now and I still find it strange that people say thank you to bus drivers. Thank you for what? Being miserable and complaining if you don’t have the right change. Those are my memories of Manchester bus drivers. Manchester is perhaps more honest. I remembered the feeling. I remembered the anonymity.

Gave Lisa a brief indication of the layout in the vicinity of the Arndale Centre and Market Street, and suggested that she might stray as far as Piccadilly if she was feeling adventurous. Said that she should be careful of the traffic. Had forgotten that Piccadilly gardens is now grass and young people and sedate trams. No more Victorian ornamentation; no tramps – just clean cut Big Issue sellers telling you to have good weekend. Later took a few photos of the Victoriana in Albert Square, and was devastated to find that my phone wouldn’t send MMS anymore. That stuff has the potential to blight a weekend, and in a sense it did. I’m better at perspective now though. Managed to pull myself around to something like equilibrium, eventually.

After they had opted for Pizza Hut, I ducked down to Shambles Square to check those two very old pubs that were moved brick by brick – or something. They don’t even ask you if you’re staying in anymore. All the vessels are just plastic. The whole of the outside is blighted by smokers. They need to stop. If I drink I don’t spray out a fine mist of 1664 that forces other people to drink. But they force me to smoke, Zippo or no Zippo.

Bean wrap and baked crisps from Boots – cheaper and less frustrating than pub food. Ate in a bus shelter opposite the Royal Exchange. Even then people decided to smoke at me. On to Albert Square where the MMS hiccup first emerged. Old Nag’s Head. Empty. The UK pub trade is dying. Saturday lunch. City centre. It should be ramming. Piccadilly gardens and the conversation with Judith. Seedy bar on the corner of Portland Street Bus Station. Empty and threatening. That little pub has gone. That bus station has seen so many painful partings. There is some circularity in this narrative. Joyce would be proud. Or not. Wrestling with TomTom and Streetmap to try and find Affleck’s Palace. Done, but worries about declining battery. Could have just asked someone, but that would be too easy. It’s a male thing.

Back over to Moseley Street and a quick look at the art gallery. Really wanted to see the Astarte Syriaca again, but it wasn’t there. I guess she’s resting in the basement somewhere, reminiscing, or maybe undergoing some restoration. I seem to remember being told that some of the Pre-Raphaelite stuff spends time down in Birmingham. Distinct memory of my friend Dave falling to his knees in front of that painting one Saturday afternoon. Admittedly he’d had a few. The new bit wasn’t there then – a rhapsody of plate glass glued on to the Victorian Stone. Spotted an interesting image on the bridge between the two.

Another empty sanded floorboard venue. The last of the sun in a backstreet. Some discussion outside a closing salon. Lock, cursory check; move on. Besieged by more smoke.

Wandered over towards Affleck’s Palace again, so as to be near if and when they decided to throw in the shopping towel. There doesn’t appear to be a joke shop on Tib Street anymore. Do joke shops in that sense even exist now? That whole area is quite depressed. Avoided The City because the smoking guard at the door looked like they were expecting some elusive sign of affiliation before you’d be allowed in. Opted for The Millstone instead. Old fashioned. From pensioners to the relatively young but opinionated. Football talk. Plastic fire enshrined three feet above ground in a fake fireplace. Plywood cutting off the chimney flue – if indeed there is one. Very thin old woman with dyed ginger hair in a turquoise suit and a white blouse. Traditional pubs that survive and thrive appear to be pockets of sub-culture. The others have bled their custom away to supermarket beer, sofas, central heating and Sky Plus.

Some miscalculation of train times after Starbucks and before the Printworks – which is really a very large, dingy, draughty shed. Trying to work out which bits were original and which were plywood. No phone credit between four people on the train home.