Thursday, April 27, 2006

Sleeping Is Cheating...

A tale of two cities, perhaps not. But after a weekend in Manchester I can assure it’s a world away from London.

Manchester – the spiritual home of Northern Monkeys – got a visit from a couple of Southern Fairies from London. Me and my mate, Greg, made a spur-of-the-moment decision to journey north to the epicentre of modern British music to check at DJ from New York. Odd, I know, but it wouldn’t be the strangest decision we made all weekend.

It was a busy week up Norf, with the Grand National on and Arsenal playing Manchester United, so accommodation was at a premium. To be brutally honest, there was no accommodation anywhere in the city on the Friday night. But being a couple of plucky young lads we figured if we're gonna be in club till 5am on Saturday morning there was no point paying for a hotel room anyway; we'd just kick about the streets of Manchester until we could check into our Saturday night rooms at 11am.

So Friday night, and like a couple of eager beavers, we jump on the train to the promised land of Manchester. Alight at around 22:30 and head straight to the club – weekend bags in tow. It got quite embarrassing when the bouncer started rummaging through my toiletries in front of a long queue of Northerners but nothing to put me off a good night out.

And that it was. The DJ we had come to see, Joe Claussell, never plays in London – hence the decision to travel halfway up the country. His ability to EQ (or knob twiddle) is the stuff of legends. But seeing Joe in action is better than the legend itself. Picture a cross between Ralf from The Muppets and Bill Cosby: eyes rolled back into his skull, head shaking about as if he's getting an electric shock, and elbows out. As any good DJ knows, it's always about having the elbows out... Check some mobile phone footage here: – I’ve yet to see it so I hope I don’t play a staring role!

That night was drawing to an end so Greg and I prepared ourselves for a dawn tour of the City of Manchester. What we weren’t prepared for, as we emerged up the stairs from the club, was a snow storm! In April! When we’re homeless! Lost! In a strange city! Suddenly our spur-of-the-moment decision was starting to seem like a really, really stupid idea.

Shivering in the entrance to the club we surveyed our three options: We could 1) continue to huddle in the doorway like the bums we were; 2) we could try and find an after-hours bar, or 3) we could build a snowman. We decided on the second option; but were informed by the bouncers that the only after-hours establishments were to be found in the Gay Village, on Manchester’s infamous (C)anal St.

Slushing our way towards the Gay Village I had an inkling things were gonna get worse. But we were due some good luck… we stumbled on three locals lasses who were also looking to continue their night without being surrounded by hordes of crazy Northern queers. So after hours of wandering aimlessly through the back streets of Manchester City we resorted to the only place left open in Manchester… the train station.

It was there we sat for four hours. Self deprivation does funny things to one’s sense of humour and it’s amazing how much of a laugh we had at people trying to limbo under the pay barrier to the toilets or the Goths dancing to James Blunt on the PA system. If this was an insight in Manchester then surely they were the most comically gifted people in all of Britain. It was also and opportunity for Greg to teach me an old trick from New York where you feed your legs through your bag straps in case you were to fall asleep and get bum-rushed by the homeless.

My fondest memory of Manchester was our next destination – the OK Café. There’s your typical English Greasy Spoon café and then there’s your typical Manchester Greasy Spoon café. And the king of all Manchester Greasy Spoon Cafés is the OK Café. The moment we stepped inside I got the feeling that Britain's Food Standards Agency inspector must be blind, and probably had no sense of smell either when he paid the establishment a visit. And we may as well have been deaf – the owners had the broadest, nonsensical Manc accent I had ever strained to hear. They were characters all the same: the emaciated, ghostly grey, old man who took our orders had all but three teeth missing and the lady who brought our Builders Breakfasts’ to the table had a fag hanging from the corner of her mouth. This may all sound like Jamie Oliver’s worst nightmare but not even Coro St could capture Northern charm like this. And at £3 for two sausages, bacon, eggs, beans, tomato, toast and a Ribena we went away very satisfied customers. So satisfied, in fact, that we would return 24 hours later to the beloved OK Café… the King of Café’s.

Having killed a total of seven hours we finally got to check in. Onto the tram we jumped and off to our modest digs in Sale. The lady behind reception must have thought us crazy as we checked in and she didn't see us reappear for half the day as we tried to catch up on some sleep. Three hours max, as I was adamant I wasn't gonna miss the opportunity to see Manchester in some daylight.

Of course, when it comes to sight-seeing in Manchester I challenge you to name a monument, civic area, bridge, clock tower, statue, or other such significant focal point that is a must-see when visiting the pride of the North. Yup, there was only one place for us to go - Old Trafford. The sacred home to a football team neither Greg nor I support. In fact, I don't even "get" football. At least Greg went to America on a soccer scholarship so perhaps once in his youth he may have aspired to play at the Theatre Of Dreams. If that was the case, then I feel sorry for him because there was no way I was giving up £10 to the sickeningly rich Manchester United Football Club just to look inside their empty stadium. A team that can afford to pay a player £90,000 a week can surely allow a couple of sports nuts a look at their grass. We tried to sneak into the stadium through the museum but like a team of Mancunian Ninjas the security guards appeared from who-knows-where and turned as in the opposite direction. We cursed under our breath how no one likes their fat-cat team and we don't know why we even wanted to look at 70,000 plastic seats.

With some daylight left we headed back in to the city for a walk around. Having spent my last 10 months in the densely populated capital you forget that city centres should be spread out, with room to move, and no stampedes to avoid. If there is a term for anti-claustrophobic then a wave of that rushed over me.

Dinner time and we stumbled upon Matt & Phreads Jazz Club for what the sign outside claimed to be the best pizza in town. If I had a slice for every time I've read that statement then I'd be as big as Tony Soprano. To be fair, it was a quality pizza. Not a patch on the chicken and pine-nut pizza you get at Hell's Pizza in Auckland but tasty all the same.

From there we moved to a busy bar... one thing I noticed about Manchester is that it was hard to find a typical corner pub the way you do in London. It wasn't that I expected to stroll into the Rover's Return but we had hoped to find a nice public house to drink away the evening. That would have been the ideal scenario. Instead, many hours and many pricey drinks later, I found myself lost in the streets of Manchester yet again. I must have taken one wrong turn, my internal compass scrambled as I was the closest to the Northern Pole as I've ever been. Before I knew it I was wandering through the most destitute, barren and scary industrial estate imaginable. This was Manchester at its rawest all right, but not one I wanted to visit at 9 o’clock on a Sunday morning. Again, I'd love to have taken a photo just to prove how chillingly ghostlike this part of Manchester is but I feared more Mancunian Ninjas would pounce from the rubble and disappear with my camera. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Oasis’ Gallagher brothers were crouched in the window of one of the abandoned warehouses ready to hurl bricks at me. And if I survived that the Ryder brothers were waiting around the corner to kick me all the way back to Old Trafford. A lone car slowed as it passed me and I realised it was time to find some civilisation. The only sign I saw pointed me in the direction of Liverpool – who needs an internal compass when you see a sign like that you know it’s time to turn around and head in the opposite direction.

All's well that ends well, as the say, although you've never read that sentiment on a gravestone. After our return leg to the OK Café we had time for a little record shopping. I always enjoy second hand record shopping in a foreign locale because what another city generally thinks of as disposable music is usually what I like. "One man's treasure...", I believe, is the term best used here. Again, not something you'd read on a tombstone.

I'd like to say that Greg and I boarded the train home to London and slept the entire journey. Instead we continued to deprive our heads of sleep and did another direct trip from the train station to a club. You can take the boy out of London but you can't take London out of the boy.

That you can put on my gravestone. Hopefully no time soon. Although, escaping Manchester with my life I'm probably fresh out of luck in that department.


At 8:34 pm, Blogger Bee said...

It has been a long time but always worth it in the end.

You never mentioned rushing back to London to the fantastic job you love?

Hopefully I don't need to compile gravestone comments as which would describe you best?

Good to hear from you and take care, the kids would luv to see their unc again.

b, m, i, d

At 12:03 pm, Anonymous Phantom 48 said...

Phew, good to see you made it safely back to London with your life (and humour) still intact. When did you do a tour of graveyards to know all about those tombstones??
Like your sister - would like some info on your latest money-earning situation!!
Always interested on your take on the local food outlets. Seems you spend a fair amount of time sampling the various gourmet offerings.
Don't take so long sending your next blog - was getting extremely starved for your contact.
Luv as always - Mum xxx

At 8:04 am, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good to hear from you again mate.
Really hurt at the mo after reading your latest though, show some respect boy, those are the most finely crafted plastic seats in the greatest ever cathedral known to man. Can I get a hallelujah!!!
PS Me and neesh finily got engaged... will be in touch but March 07 would be a good time to come back to NZ.

Take it easy


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