Manchester is friendlier than London. Fact. I’ve been a firm believer in this for many years, when I first moved back to London after 6 years away I was always very relieved to hear a familiar Manc accent. When I feel unsure about what I am saying or about the person I am talking too my own Manc accent gets far broader. This hasn’t been much help professionally and as the years have distanced me from the home of Old Trafford, (C)anal street and the Nations’ most quaint but deadly soap, so has it from my accent, acceptance of strangers and manners in general. Manners in London sadly translate to ‘walkover’ as I discovered during the tube strikes in which it took me 5 hours to get home after work following packed train platforms dense with sharpened elbows and tongues traded with blunted niceties. I don’t know at which point I donned my rhino skin, but now I depend on it to get me through the heaving funnel tunnel of Stratford Market, to prevent losing ideas at work to savvier backbiters lacking in innovation and the constant battle against the issues Newham Council deliver to our neighbourhood on a daily basis. In fact so hardened have I become that any feeling and most memory of ‘anything north of Watford’ has sunk into a hot sticky defensive muddle of Chakras bubbling away in an undoubtedly disintegrating soul. (I hope it’s not actually so dismal, I think I’m still a half decent person really!)
A day seemed like it would never be enough time to travel all that distance, but with a packed week ahead I had little option. Delaying booking in the hope that prices would become unjustifiable, thus putting off this venture it was a disappointment to find return tickets at £50. Characteristically I made matters worse by deciding to take the dog. The dog who, after a diversion due to broken tubes on the way to Euston found she had an upset stomach and needed to get out at Finsbury Park. We got out on time, problem one dealt with, but a lack of bins in posh places made dealing with number twos far more complicated. But deal with it I did before a finely cut board on the Manchester bound train.
From that moment on life has been significantly better. Apparently beyond London (in any direction) there is a world of dog lovers. (!?!) This apparently means I too am far more likable/popular/obliged to socialise. It doesn’t take long for bemusement and suspicion to give way to the Manc me who actually likes people quite a lot.
My favourites today have to be the two girls, possibly late teens or early twenties talking easily and loudly next to me on the bus. They were dressed in all the latest fashion but with no designer labels in sight, the ginger one had long jet black hair betrayed only by her eyebrows and they both had such natural affinity with the baby in the buggy that I couldn’t work out who was mum and who was Auntie. They happily opened the conversation to tell me and the driver (who waited whilst one of them nipped into the shop) about their mates, current dramas and plans for the night and talked casually to the two year old who appeared to be replying ‘lights’ or possibly ‘like’ – they do get onto facebook young these days.
I even saw some old faces including a tramp that I remember from my door security days. He’s not doing badly for several more years of injecting, although he clearly isn’t clean yet. I always live in hope but in truth, no matter what opportunities Manchester’s homeless are given, their society is their life and most have no intention of abandoning the streets of Lowry.
The day didn’t go without hiccups and, if it had, then I would have never discovered how forgiving people can actually be. Making an irritatingly frequent error of boarding the wrong train home the ticket guy got a little stern. After the whole of about 10 seconds he sat down and played with Alexia (said dog) and told me all about his sky-diving holiday and fear of planes. I was given the option to pay the difference for my next ticket or to try talking to the ticket guy at Warrington Quays. He then wrote me along message to pass on to the next officer with a warning that I may have to pay full fare. Never, he said, had anyone mistaken the Liverpool train for London. Go figure.
A hike around the closed, desolate town of Warrington with Alexia pulling on the wrong lead and I found myself nervously (and caffeine pumped, bad Costa) boarding my new Virgin train. The reaction was pretty similar (MANCHESTER??) erm yea, I just saw ‘Liverpool St’ and thought it was London Liverpool Street Station. (raised eyebrows) And I handed my ticket to the lady who told me to board (slight nod) and the guy on the train gave me his ID number written… ‘It’s ok, no problem’. The relief was unprecedented. I have spent a whole day being treated like a human.