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.
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