Grim up North

After Friday’s nervy start to my latest Manchester visit, the nerves never really settled down. I spent most of Saturday and Sunday travelling around the city and its suburbs, trying to find things to do while my friend Robin was too busy to have me in the flat. Both days I set out with great intentions, hoping to see parts of the North West that I hadn’t seen before and thinking it wouldn’t be too difficult to do so. To begin with it was quite interesting exploring the northern rail network, finding out what small towns with well known names looked like after all these years of not knowing. Bolton, Oldham, Glossop, Rochdale – I managed to fit them all in. I saw their tall grey and brown buildings, their dual carriageways and old chimneys that tower above skylines, signs of the area’s important industrial past. By late yesterday I was tired of travelling around on my own. I didn’t want to be on my own any more. There was a mildly upsetting moment when I got lost in Rochdale trying to find the train station so I could get back to Manchester city centre. An hour later as I was getting off the train back in familiar surroundings I picked up the phone to call Robin and let him know I was ready to return to the flat for the evening. His response was disappointing, as he told me I couldn’t come back because he had just gone out. I managed to persuade him to turn back, by admitting that I was feeling tired and low after a bad day.

He told me he would be about half an hour so I went to Canal Street, a part of Manchester I know very well, to sit and wait. Canal Street is where all the gay bars and clubs are: it is Manchester’s version of Old Compton Street. Yesterday evening was warm and sunny and everyone was sat at tables outside drinking beer and wine. There was a real party atmosphere. In normal circumstances I would have loved it – in London I would have been thrilled to find myself in such a place. There is much less familiarity to Manchester, though, and yesterday I felt really out of place there. I was sweaty, my hair was all out of place, and I felt poorly dressed compared to everyone else, in my slacks and old t-shirt. I sat at a small metal table on the balcony of one of the bars with a cold glass of coke, and proceeded to try and enjoy the long view of the happy street in front of me. For some reason I kept catching the eyes of various people down on the street, and I felt as if I was committing an offensive act just by being there. It seemed like they were all watching me and judging me. When Robin finally called to tell me that he was back at the flat I got up and walked with resentment boiling in me. I had a good mind to tell Robin how I felt about being made to wait around in a strange city where everyone was determined to intimidate me.

Through Piccadilly Gardens I hurried as best as I could, trying to be invisible to the groups of teenagers all gathered on the grass with their alcohol and cigarettes. Groups of teenagers frighten me: I have had this phobia of them ever since my school days. Normally it doesn’t bother me that much, but whenever I am feeling generally anxious or resentful, my little phobias tend to come out. Teenagers seem to laugh an awful lot, and yesterday I was convinced that they were laughing at me. There is violence in their laughter, a violence against the poor misfortunate souls who happen to be in their view. Whether they are really making fun of me or not, there is this element of ‘look at how great we are compared to him/her’ in their conversations. I saw it every day at school, it’s just what teenagers are like, is it not?

I thought I had got over this great resentful fear of kids, but it seems to be getting worse. As I was approaching Robin’s flat some kid who had never seen me before apparently noticed the fear in my eyes and decided to swing a bag at my head. He missed by inches, luckily for me, but it was disturbing nonetheless. Are kids really evil creatures, or is there something about me that attracts abuse? Neither explanation feels exactly right. I think perhaps there is a case to be made for the idea that society has got kids wrong somehow; somewhere along the line in bringing them up, we must have fucked them up. Kids don’t have the same sense of moral responsibility as adults, and they are also more truthful than us. I think they reflect what is really wrong with society.

I was so disturbed and frightened by everything last night that I started to feel the strong need to come home. I got straight on the internet and booked myself a cheap coach ticket back to London for this morning. Robin sensed that I was upset with him and so decided not to talk to me at all. If he had given me a spare key when I got to Manchester on Friday, then none of these problems would have arisen, but evidently he still doesn’t trust me enough. He told me last year about a previous lodger who had had a key which subsequently went missing on Canal Street and led to all kinds of problems and complications. We’ve argued in the past about the issue of me not having a key which would enable me to go back to the flat without all the waiting around, and I didn’t feel like arguing about it again last night, so I said nothing. Realising that Robin will probably never trust me enough made me not want to be with him any more.

So I headed back to London first thing this morning, and I can’t tell you how much relief I felt at seeing the places and the buildings I knew so well again. I’d only been away for three days, but every time I go away and come back, for no matter how long, it is like returning to an old friend. A city I once wanted to leave and never see again has become my most reliable companion, the one that is always there for me should I need it. Today I saw places like St Pancras station, Baker Street, Hyde Park Corner and Marble Arch all for the millionth time, yet it felt like I was seeing them with fresh eyes. Every now and then I will see London with fresh eyes. I never, ever get tired of it. I am now quite sure that I will never leave it. I think the AA fellowship here is in no small way to thank for re-opening my eyes to the beauty of this city. How could I ever leave London when all my meetings and friends are here? Sometimes I think it might be a bad thing to be tied to one place: what if that place isn’t always like what it is now? Well, I’m sure London wasn’t any less of an amazing city 50 years ago, and it probably will continue to be in 50 years from now. If it isn’t, maybe I can find somewhere else. For now, I love this place.

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