Back in September, on the back of a bad summer at work and an issue at Guides, I ran off for a short weekend in Manchester and Liverpool.
I took the direct train from Southampton – and it kind of astonishes me that there’s a direct train to Manchester from Southampton – first thing on Saturday morning, lost an hour at Coventry thanks to a fire alarm in the signal room just up the line, which meant we had to be manually permitted to pass every red light up to Birmingham so we were really late arriving in Manchester.
I’ve been through Manchester before on the train on the way to Carlisle and to the airport on the way to the Lake District and Edinburgh and possibly Aberdeen but I’ve never actually stopped in the city. And I was a bit nervous because Manchester is the epitome of “gritty northern town” and I was feeling very conspicuously southern.
I really liked Manchester! Finding a free city bus right outside the station was a good start – I’d looked up the route to the pub I was staying above but I hadn’t actually brought a map and I was vaguely aware that it was a little distance so I was delighted to just jump on a random city bus and get a tour of the centre.
Off we went up Deansgate and I jumped off right at the top and went to visit the cathedral. I didn’t even know Manchester had a cathedral – I mean, I’d have assumed it did if I thought about it but I didn’t really think about anything. And it’s a good cathedral. The interior is not the most flamboyant I’ve ever seen, I’d only have recognised it as a cathedral rather than a regular church by the size of it but it’s got several bright and beautiful stained glass windows and all the pillars were draped with blue and green flowers.
From the cathedral, I started walking down Deansgate, with half a mind to finding my pub. First though, there was the deep red and black Bugatti Veyron to notice, although it wasn’t hard to notice. That huge engine roars like the biggest and angriest tiger in the world and the owner drove it up and down the road two or three times with apparently no other intention than to show off. It worked. I took a photo the first time I spotted it and every subsequent time, I saw people stopping dead, mid-conversation, everyone turning to take a photo of this legendary car. At least, it was legendary last time I watched Top Gear, maybe it’s been outdone by now. And if anyone wants to give me a supercar, I’m very fond of the Ascari A10.
For a city that’s famed for being chunky and made of red bricks – and I’ve always had a very clear idea of what Manchester looks like – I was surprised how many Art Deco buildings there were. I also really liked the contrast between the red brick railway arches down Deansgate with that great big glass tower that should fall over but somehow never does.
There was football on that weekend – turns out there’s football happening most weekends – and my pub was packed, so packed that when I tried to go in, I was asked why I wanted to and asked for ID and to have my bag searched. Explaining that I’d booked a room, that was all forgotten and I was ushered in.
Upstairs I went to my little room in the eaves. It had a fireplace and just enough spare space to stand in and it was unbelievably hot. It was over the pub and had a lovely view through its frosted window of a brick wall and I could hear the football fans downstairs.
No matter. I wasn’t spending the rest of the afternoon sitting in there. I went back down the road and caught the free citybus again. I made my way on foot from Piccadilly Station up the library but with five minutes until it closed, I didn’t have time to go in. Instead, I turned my attention to the trams. I didn’t really know that Manchester had trams but now I was definitely going to have a ride. I consulted the map on the platform and figured out which line I was on. This train could go to Salford and I quite fancied that. I’ve never been anywhere near Salford and I didn’t realise how close it was to the city centre. So I bought a ticket (how great is it that they’re yellow!) and got on the next tram. I quite like a tram but they’re not all that common – somehow, trains and buses seem more popular than the train-bus hybrid. Although is there really much different between the Manchester trams and the DRL apart from that the trams run up the road instead of on separate tracks.
Salford is very pleasant – or at least, Salford Docks is. It was a hot, bright evening and there was sparkly water and ducks and people swimming in the canal-things that join the docks together. Oh, I enjoyed my afternoon wandering around the docks, an afternoon that felt much later than it actually was because by seven fifteen I had returned from Salford, sat on the floor in my room eating bread and walked down to the Comedy Store only to discover the show started at 7, not 7.30.
I’ve never been to the Comedy Store before and I’ve always been a bit nervous about going to a comedy club on my own – it’s a different atmosphere to a tour show at a theatre or the Edinburgh Fringe but it wasn’t like that. The one in Manchester, at least, is a pretty big theatre-shaped room and people were going in and out all night, backwards and forwards to the bar, so no one paid any attention when I slipped in nearly half an hour late. Who did I see? Sean Meo, Matt Green, Ben Norris, Felicity Ward & Adam Bloom. I was particularly excited about Adam Bloom because five or six years ago I had two dreams about him in very short succession (one I’ve forgotten, the other involved either murdering or being murdered with a hammer and it was terrifying) and yet I’ve never seen him.
The next morning, I scurried downstairs to breakfast. It’s been a long time since I’ve stayed anywhere with breakfast included. It was pretty quiet considering that every room in the pub was sold out. I was up pretty early – I had a train to catch to Liverpool – so maybe the others got up later. It’s always good to start a day with eight miniature glasses of juice and some fresh hot toast with mini Marmite.
The free city buses don’t run that early on Sunday mornings so I was condemned to walk back to the station. Except I didn’t. I walked down Deansgate to the tram stop on the bridge at the bottom, attempted to give directions to the Museum of Science and Industry to someone whose English was not very good and who probably knew Manchester better than I did anyway, and hopped on the tram to the station instead.
Question for the comments: is there a place in your own country you’ve never got round to visiting?