It’s Grand Oop North! (Part 7) – Northern Civic Buildings

FIRST MOVEMENT

SECOND MOVEMENT

THIRD MOVEMENT

FOURTH MOVEMENT

FIFTH MOVEMENT

SIXTH MOVEMENT

SEVENTH MOVEMENT: Northern Civic Buildings

Sitrep: Saturday morning. Small hangover somewhere up north, not many brain cells dead.
I had a quick shower, changed, posted my new Profile Picture on Facebook (me outside the TARDIS) and went down for breakfast. It consisted of a hot and cold buffet. Job done! I had a long day ahead, so I decided to take full advantage of the catering.
0903 Breakfast includes smoked cheese – haven’t had that since Austria in 1980! #munchies
So it was that breakfast consisted of: two eggs, three hash browns, two pieces of toast, some tomatoes, a tump of mushrooms, a tump of beans (NOTE FOR YOUNGER READERS: a ‘tump’ is a non-standard unit of measure approximately halfway between a ‘pile’ and a ‘shedload’), two glasses of apple juice, a pocketful of wrapped cheese portions for lunch, and a couple of Danish pastries to wash all that quick-release starch into my arteries. (The latter included currants, so I reluctantly included them as part of my Five A Month.)
I found myself queueing next to a middle-aged Pakistani chap, who was doing his best to pretend the sausages and bacon weren’t there as he waited for his toast to pop. His wife was sitting at the window, doing her best to keep calm and carry on. Once again, the Holiday Inn staff were helpful without being solicitous, friendly without being obsequious, and welcoming without having the ‘Have A Nice Day’ culture forced down their throats in team-building sessions. It’s the way hotels should work.
After breakfast I gathered my stuff and made my way to the reception desk. That was when the lack of Post Offices on Friday night kicked in – big style! After my night in Satan’s Hollow I had about £1.50 to my name. There was fuck all in my Nationwide account, as I’d cleaned that out booking my travel tickets. (See A Farey Tale.) I asked the girl at the desk where I could find a Post Office. She told me to jump on the tram and get off at Exchange Quay; the Post Office was a few minutes’ walk from there.
I decided to take a few more photos of Salford Quays before I got on the tram. I haven’t Photoshopped any of them – it really was sunny!

When I told C— that it was possible to rent an ‘apartment’ here from £550 p.c.m. she nearly fell off her chair. I’m still very tempted to put the house on the market, sell up, and relocate to Manchester!
I walked across to the Lowry Centre, where there’s a reasonable shopping centre. My flawed southern logic had suggested Shopping Centre = Post Office. Along with my internal compass, my flawed southern logic had gone supine somewhere near Craven Arms. I was very disappointed, as there was an exhibition of paintings by Peter Blake opening that morning, and I didn’t have the cash to get in. Still, I picked up a flyer for a forthcoming touring production of The Arabian Nights, with a picture that made me think immediately of Vicki:
Not my niqab-wearing friend (I think!)
The wording on the back of the flyer was rather unfortunate, though, in the light of recent events:
‘And then she was shot by religious extremists and her school was burned to the ground…’
Not for the first time in my life, I wondered how on earth some idiots had been allowed to subvert a great world religion, the crucible of intellectual exploration during the so-called ‘Dark Ages’, and turn it into an instrument of oppression.
Anyway, having failed to find a Post Office, I returned to the tram stop. I didn’t have to wait long until my quiet conveyance to the city centre arrived.
I’ve come from Eccles! (And they didn’t even say it in a Peter Sellers voice…)
Note for future visitors: Exchange Quay on a Saturday morning is about as lively as Llanwynno on a Sunday afternoon. In other words there wasn’t a soul around. My question had been flawed. If Russell Davies had asked it in the studio the previous evening, we’d have been justified in challenging the wording. But I’d plunged straight in and asked, ‘Is there a Post Office nearby?’
Answer: Yes. (Correct!)
Whereas I should have asked, ‘Is there an open Post Office around here?’
Answer: No. (Correct!)
I was in Unknown Territory once again.
At Exchange Quay, having found yet another Post Office which kept normal office hours. I struck out vaguely northwards, thinking that at some point I’d have to hit either a bus route, a railway station, or some sort of village centre where I could reconnect with the civilised world.
I was approximately at the point I’ve marked near the bottom of the map. Unfortunately, I needed to be approximately at the other point.
I walked for half an hour or so along busy roads and through run-down housing estates, searching in vain for a Post Office. I found no end of corner shops and petrol stations at which I could have used my Nationwide card. But my benefit isn’t paid into that account, so by now I was running on financial fumes. The few shops I found were armour-plated; the few pubs I passed were boarded up and derelict. In the corner of one abandoned hostelry I spotted a sign which read CRAP CARS WANTED – £100 CASH OFFERED. It was only when I viewed the building directly that I realised the first word was SCRAP. It was an excusable mistake.
Eventually I found myself on the outskirts of Salford University. That would do for my purposes – I could (and did) walk from there to Salford’s ‘Shopping City.’ In spite of the name, it turned out to be little bigger than St Tydfil’s Square in Merthyr, and hosted most of the same retailers. Thanks to a kind gentleman at the bus stop, who (once again) offered me some unsolicited Mancunian advice, I was able to take money out at the cunningly-concealed Post Office and catch a bus into town.
With an hour or so to spare before my coach left, I decided to have a wander around the city centre. On Gold, Frankincense and Disk Drive’s second LP Lifecycle, Andy Tillison had written a song called ‘Northern Civic Building.’ Those very words suggest solidity, permanence and resilience.These must have been the sort of things he had in mind…
The Corn Exchange, Manchester
The Royal Exchange, Manchester
Much as I love Aberdare’s 1960s neo-Brutalist concrete-and-plate-glass creation, Manchester’s John Ryland Library puts ours in the shade…
Manchester Cathedral
Within a stone’s throw from the cathedral I found three pubs, all of which looked as though they could have entertained me for an afternoon:

I bought a copy of The Big Issue in the North from a friendly female vendor whose pitch overlooks these pubs. By now the clouds had gone and the city centre was bathed in early winter sunshine. I asked her if it was true that, after the IRA bomb in the city, the council had had to choose between installing trams or gondolas. In return, she asked me what it was like in South Wales. Fair comment!
I was talking to my pal Martyn E. on Sunday, showing him the photos of my weekend, and these two took him totally aback.
‘I never knew Chopin came to Britain,’ he said.
Neither had I – until I’d sauntered down Deansgate on a sunny Saturday morning:
A very unlikely Manchester hero…
But a Manchester hero all the same.
From Deansgate I caught the free bus to the Coach Station. I could feel the depression closing in on me already. I’d been in this incredible city for less than 24 hours, and I hadn’t even scratched the surface. I’d spent nearly a year of my life in London and I’d mastered the public transport system in a weekend, yet I’d never found a pub I felt comfortable in. Yes, I was a lot younger, but I really couldn’t imagine some random bloke coming up to me at a bus stop in Uxbridge and helping me get to where I needed to be. Florence and I had become friends under those circumstances, but to me it seemed as though we’d be the last people in Aberdare to meet like that.
1159 M’cr Coach Station. Dry, sunny, mild. Don’t want to go back, haven’t had time to see anything!
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It’s Grand Oop North! (Part 6) – Bright Lights, Big City

FIRST MOVEMENT

SECOND MOVEMENT

THIRD MOVEMENT

FOURTH MOVEMENT

FIFTH MOVEMENT

SIXTH MOVEMENT: Bright Lights, Big City

Armed only with the names of a pub and a club, and a rudimentary knowledge of the local geography, I made my way to the tram stop. The rain had stopped while we were in the studio and the cloud had started to break up. A good few hours had passed since I’d first arrived, and Salford Quays had changed into its night attire. By day, it’s a bold redevelopment of a post-industrial blot on the landscape; by night, it becomes the set of Blade Runner:

There was nobody else about, and it felt quite eerie to be walking about in this SF landscape without company. Weirdly, though, I didn’t feel uncomfortable or scared at all. I’d expected the Friday night trams to be like the Friday night trains back home – rammed with pissed-up and/or pilled-up youngsters descending onto the town centre. Once again I was pleasantly surprised. A few groups of young people boarded as we headed towards the city, but they were quiet and well-behaved. I got off in the centre somewhere (I didn’t really notice) and walked down towards Deansgate.
For a Friday night in a city centre, it was extraordinarily civilised. Restaurants and cafés were open and the express supermarkets were ticking over, just as they do in London. The clubs I passed each had one or two guys on the door, but they were just bantering with the queues of people waiting to go in. The Xmas lights had been switched on earlier in the evening, and everywhere I went there were couples or groups of friends enjoying themselves. The whole place seemed good-natured and totally unthreatening. Of course, being a small town boy, I’d failed to plan ahead in two important respects:
  1. I needed to take some cash out of the Post Office.
  2. I needed to take a piss.
Priorities, priorities!
After walking the length of Deansgate, I finally found a large street map next to a bus stop, with a YOU ARE HERE arrow to help me get my bearings. That was the point at which I realised that my personal compass had undergone a pole shift. I was totally adrift. North was South, East was West, and I didn’t know what the hell had happened to the centre. The tattooed girl had mentioned ‘Princess Street’ – or was it ‘Prince’s Street’? I couldn’t find either of them on the map.
I carried on walking to the apparent site of a Post Office. It was tucked in an unobtrusive side-street, and only the Moneygram logo betrayed its presence. Needless to say it was closed – and it didn’t even have a cashpoint! Never mind, I had about fifteen quid on me and I wasn’t planning on a mental evening! It was still an inconvenience, though.
As was the lack of conveniences!
According to the map, I should have found a WC on the corner about half a mile back in the direction I’d walked. I found it. It was closed. I had to duck into a car park and take advantage of the facilities there. It would have been just my luck to encounter the long arm of Greater Manchester Police at that point, but I emerged unscathed and continued my quest for Princess Street. I was pretty sure that the Girl With the Impressive Tattoos had mentioned Princess Street (and I’d found it on the map) but now I was questioning my own recollection of the conversation. What if she’d said ‘Prince’s Street’ instead? Was I heading in the wrong direction? Was there even a Prince’s Street? Would I end up in the Red Light District? Or the Gay Village? Or worse…?
I was two hundred miles from home, with less than twenty quid on me, not the first idea of where I was heading (at least I can sketch a very rough map of London from memory), and rather in need of a nice cold pint by this time. Not for the first time I was glad that Mother didn’t know anything about my mini-break. She would have freaked out entirely.
The overpowering smell of Chinese food from a hundred restaurants and takeaways assured me that I was heading in the right direction. Princess Street is in Chinatown, and so was I. I carried on walking past groups of students out on the razz, and found a pub on a busy corner. I couldn’t remember if it was the same one the Tattooed Girl had recommended, or merely a landmark she’d mentioned, but it would do…
2158 Pub called The Old Monkey. Quiet music, good mixed crowd, no bouncers, £2.80 a pint. Job done!
Considering that it had taken me over an hour to find the pub that the Tattooed Girl hadn’t even recommended, it was well worth the wait. I’ve never heard of Holt’s Brewery before, but they brew their own Crystal lager which went down a treat! The landlady was friendly and cheerful, the guys behind the bar were chatty and lively, and there was a decent crowd of older guys, couples, and groups of students. It had a big room upstairs and I went to chill out there, as it was starting to fill up in the bar. The first pint went down like John Mills’s pint in Ice Cold in Alex, and I had another one on the back of it.
A young couple had been sitting on the corner table, and when they left I headed for it. I was beaten to it by another young couple, and we laughed about it. They invited me to join them, but I had a seat a short distance away, and we chatted anyway. They were from Hull, in Manchester for a wedding, and I impressed them by mimicking their accent and saying that I should have spotted the difference.
It was time for another piss, and I made my way down an internal staircase to the cellar. I was standing with my hardware in my hand when the door opened and a girl walked in to have an argument with her boyfriend. I just said, ‘Don’t mind me!’ and carried on regardless, who was in the cubicle. Another couple of guys came in and we started teasing the mad bint, before one of the bar staff came down and asked her to leave the smallest room. Even so, they didn’t chuck her out – when I left to find Satan’s Hollow, she was with her friends, laughing about her brief visit to the Holy of Holies.
Satan’s Hollow was a stone’s throw from The Old Monkey, across the road and down a side street. If it hadn’t been for the small gang of people smoking outside, I’d have walked straight past it. I was expecting something like the old Bogiez in Penarth Road. Wrong again!
2240 Satan’s Hollow. A real Rock Club. £2 door, £1.80 a pint. Great fucking decor!
How’s that for a DJ booth?
I thought I might as well have another pint when I was in there. It was fairly quiet when I got there, but as it opened until 3am it filled up over time. I can’t remember the last time I drank until 3am. It might well have been a lock-in at one or other of my various locals. (Then again, it might have been the time I left Metros in Cardiff extremely late, took shelter outside the Goods-in bay of Dillons Bookstore – my place of work at the time – and ended up on the first train home the following morning.) If I’d been able to find a Post Office cashpoint and work out the Greater Manchester transport system ahead of time, I’d have been tempted to go for it. As it turned out, it was still the best night out I’d had for fucking ages!
1055 Barman’s from Barry! Utterly beyond belief! #incredibleshrinkingworld
Once again my mellifluous Welsh tones served me well. The guy who served me my next pint asked where I was from, and when I told him, we got chatting. He’d come to Manchester to study, met a girl, and decided to stay. I didn’t blame him. He stood me a pint and we nattered at the bar for a while. (He suggested a list of venues where Replaced By Robots might be able to get a gig. I only found the piece of paper in my wallet earlier on. I thought I’d lost it.)
2325 Liking this venue a lot! I knew I should have brought a collar up with me #improperlydressed
Needless to say, I was the oldest person in the venue, but it didn’t matter. I was having a fantastic time in somewhere entirely new, and enjoying every minute of it. I toyed with the idea of a sneaky last pint, but counted out my change and decided against it. I didn’t even have enough cash to get back into the city centre the following morning, but I’m a resourceful kind of chap.
[A digression: I once found myself in Swansea after the last bus to Aberdare had left, owing to a late running connection from the other side of town. I could have spent £40 on a taxi (as a mate of mine once did) and chalked it up to experience. Instead, I bus-hopped from Swansea to Neath and thence to Glynneath, where my pre-booked taxi took me as far as Hirwaun, and connected onto the Aberdare service. A few days later, a sharply-worded letter to First Bus in Swansea got me my taxi fare back. I know how the system works!]
Manchester was different. I didn’t know my way around. Not much happens at Salford Quays at the weekend. I wasn’t going to risk it. At about midnight I decided to play safe. I was still there shortly before midnight, though, as I had a flashback to Bogiez on a Saturday evening:
2353 Rage Against The Machine gets everyone moving. Just like 15 years ago
I finished my pint, said goodbye to my new mate at the bar, had a final piss and headed out into the cold night air. Outside there were about twenty guys and girls having a smoke on the other side of the lane. I asked some of them how to get back to the tram stop. The guys I was talking to turned out to be from Sunderland. They were highly impressed and amused when I called them ‘Woollybacks’, and we had a laugh while they were pointing me in the right direction.
I walked back to the tram stop and sent a last Tweet for the night:
0016 Heading back to hotel. Last tram. Still at least 2 hours later than we manage in Wales
Forty minutes later (if that!) I was in bed in the Holiday Inn. I’d tried to start this blog and failed dismally (wouldn’t you, at £1.80 a pint?) so I decided to turn in. I undressed and realised I’d come up without bringing my pyjamas. I sent a final text to C—:
I knew I’d forgotten to pack something important. I’ll be sleeping naked tonight. Good thing you didn’t come, you’d never have kept your hands off me! 😉
I set my alarm for 0800 and crashed out entirely.