Monday, 7 November 2016

It was a dark and stormy night


It was a dark and stormy night. Somewhere out of the rain stained window of the Uber, couched in the back streets, is Stretford Memorial Hospital, at the back of Old Trafford. Place of my birth, on a night not unlike this one, I came into the world by my mum, with the comfort of midwives. My dad was sleeping soundly on the sofa at her parents house. It's the ties that bind us, family and bloodlines, and the reason I'm back in the city of my origin after a break of some twenty years, dipping my toe in the past, squashed in the back of Mohammed's clean Toyota with my mother and daughter. Three generations of Lancashire lasses, although the youngest was born in another Northern city. It's my mother who brings us here, reliving her past, sharing her history with her granddaughter. I'm just along for the ride. It's a slow one at that, we reach a gridlocked Deansgate as the rain really settles in and I notice homeless camped every ten metres. That's new. It's not good. Locals on nights out, stop and chat to share cigarettes and change, there's a group of volunteers dispensing hot food later.

Our journey North had been epic, Virgin trains left Euston promptly and it was an easy ride up through an England wearing it's coat of Autumn, nostalgia bound past the Ovaltine factory, further enhanced by the warm Vimto dispensed by my godmother that afternoon, but the trains into London were awful. The next few days we wander Manchester streets, my mum remembering the city of her birth and breeding from the model post-war estate of Whythenshawe, where she grew up, and before then in the terraces of Moss Side. Her sense of place is discombobulated by demolition and change, buildings gone and new ones have popped up in their place, but she still acts as a determined guide.

Our hotel is next to Spinningfields, an area I don't recall ever being there. I used to alight at Victoria Station and walk the length of Deansgate to work at The Manchester Evening News, now dispensed as a free paper on every street corner. I don't remember the buildings of steel and glass, the bars and restaurants or the sweeping bridges across the River Irwell, but I do remember the bitter wind that came off it's waters. We wander up to the cathedral and The Mitre hotel, where my parents spent their wedding night. That's still there, as is The Shambles round the corner

Elizabethan style buildings that were moved several hundred feet some years ago, brick by brick, on rollers. Mum tells me The Shambles used to be the butchers area, the shambles would be the blood and guts they washed into the street. There's now a swish new Harvey Nichols nearby and associated chain stores, all clean and bright leading up to the mish mash of the Arndale. The Royal Exchange still thrives as a theatre and I'm pleased to see and Kendals on Deansgate, one of a clutch of Manchester department stores still in existence, although changing it's name. Up Deansgate and down King Street where the Christmas markets are setting up. King Street was the height of sophistication during my time in Manchester. Then the long, long walk down Oxford Road to the University and beyond, The Whitworth Art gallery is much further than I remember, until I realise I have been confusing it with the city centre Manchester Art Gallery.


It's newly refurbished, more steel and glass, and has a beautiful cafe that floats out into the autumn trees of Whitworth park. We wander through an eclectic mix of art, I find some sketches by Raphael and notice the walls are painted in Little Green Paint. I'm using that in our kitchen. We meet a friend and find a Spanish cocktail and tapas bar on Deansgate. It's happy hour. We're happy the cocktails are only £5, my daughter incredulous at the bar prices after living in London. In the evening we join the Manchester high life at the beautiful Tattu, sitting under the cherry tree and devouring their delicious food. My feet throb from all the walking, in time to the loud house music. I feel we should be in a club, but those days are gone.

The next days brings more memories, a wander through the Northern Quarter and to Afflecks Palace, Mecca of my student days. A wry smile that my daughter spends more time in the poster shop looking for Smiths memorabilia than I ever did. She buys vinyl, like I did, from Picadilly Records. She's the same age as me when I used to get the train from Liverpool to Manchester for shopping day trips, when the clothes were second hand, not vintage and the Northern Quarter didn't exist. My mum can go further back, she remembers Tib Street as full of pet shops, the cast iron kerbs are still there, to protect the pavements form the horses and carts.


We walk on to Manchester Art gallery, past the old Stock exchange where my father worked and would wave to my mother in the offices across the road, past Picadilly Gardens where they met. I'm delighted to see one of my favourite paintings is still there, the manic and colourful 'work'by Ford Maddox Brown





After replenishing our energy with tea and cake we walk on to the new People's History Museum. A informative and educational way to remember what made this city, and so many of our Northern cities great, the people. There's even time for a suffragette board game, Pank-a-squith. My mum proves to be a more effective suffragette than I, as does my daughter. Some things skip a generation. After our shared weekend experiences I resolve to re-activate my revolutionary fervour and plan another three generation weekend next year. I buy the board game at the shop, and leave it at the hotel. They have promised to post it on. Thank you Manchester.

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