Small town lass visits big city (I can’t say Village person, it doesn’t sound right). After more than two years, I finally get on buses and head west to the bustling metropolis which features bees on bins and is home to what is probably the worst football team in the English Premiership this season – Sadly also the team I have supported since the age of 10.
Manchester. It’s now a bus ride from sleepy Slaithwaite, to Oldham, then onwards. Why Manchester is always a culture shock I’ve no idea, but it’s rammed, noisy and cosmopolitan with music and dancing going on in Piccadilly Square, and I pass a lass with a microphone and a blaring ghetto blaster who may be either yelling song lyrics or some religious or political slogans in accompaniment, I have no idea as whatever it is is in another language.
My immediate concern of course, is coffee. I need to find a Caffe Nero as I have an app on my phone for free coffees every month which I don’t often get to use, straying rarely from the snug confines of my small Caffe Nero-less village.
The toilets here have a code and a way of turning the knob thingy to get in. Being coordinationally challenged, when I do eventually work this out it is opposite from the other side, only it isn’t and I almost lock myself in.
I stride confidentally up Oldham Road to Great Ancoats Street looking for a shop I’ve never been to. Fortunately I’m not too directionally challenged, and after being dazzled by the shop’s many expensive goodies, I come out an hour later clutching my new hiking boots.
It’s dinner time and I’m looking for a Greggs so I can grab a sandwich and a coffee and sit goodness knows where. I have a Greggs loyalty card of course, I must buy so’s I can get it stamped towards a free coffee. Greggs’s are everywhere. All towns and cities, even the smallest have one, sometimes loads. Not one can I find, maybe it’s me. My phone says there is one in the Arndale, a shopping centre which does get me bemused and befuddled every time I’m in it, which I have already been today. After a while of traipsing and thinking of giving up and nipping to Tesco Express across the road for a meal deal (takeaway packaged sandwich, crisps and a bottled drink for anyone not from the UK who isn’t familiar with this concept). I’m turning to find one of the Arndale’s several exits when I see the familiar blue and orange squares on the sign.
I eat my dinner squeezed on a small ledge opposite a Co-op (small British supermarket) outside the Arndale, as this is where the exit has brought me. I eat my baguette and drink my coffee watching people pass by – a loud-shirted group of ‘Stags’, a couple of Deliveroo fast food cyclists, family groups, a chap with braided hair, chunky heels and ripped fishnets, young people wearing what are now the latest fashions which seem to be Dr Martins with high platform soles (I had two normal pairs back in the day, a purple pair with multi-coloured laces and a black pair which I painted eyes on the front of in nail varnish) fashion moves on but it also comes back around in some form or other. I was wearing ripped jeans before some of these kids were born, and swanking around in heavy eyeliner, with either copious amounts of bracelets or leg warmers on my wrists and hair backcombed and sprayed to within an inch of it’s life. Manchester is really vibrant, diverse and cutting edge, but I suppose all large cities are.
When I arrive back in sleepy Slaithwaite, it too is a riot of noise and colour as the decent weather has brought crowds outside the village pubs. There’s even a live singer playing a guitar outside one of them and a pavement full of drinkers chorussing uproariously ‘Sweeeeet Caroline…du-du-dur…’ and ‘I love you baby…’
But for me it’s quickly up the hill to my quiet cottage where the only crowds are sparrows flitting about in the guttering.