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







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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