On this day, when Manchester wraps its arms around those who need it, I’m sharing a story I wrote last year for Womens Words MCR about my relationship with the city.
‘Let me tell you about love.
I lived in Oldham as a teenager, before I knew love properly, but regularly travelled to the city to buy clothes and records, and to hang out with friends. The excitement of travelling on the 82 bus and turning into Oldham Street stays with me today. Later I went clubbing at the Hacienda, I went to concerts at the Free Trade Hall and then at the Arena. It all adds up to a growing relationship that I didn’t even realise was happening.
But love. Let me tell you about my Manchester love. I was brought up in an age where love was about romance, about getting a man and keeping him at any cost. Isn’t that what all the songs said? Wasn’t that what love was about? But was it? I had watched my Ancoats born grandmother go through a terrible marriage and my mother followed suit. It almost writes its own story that I did too. But one day the buzz of the city woke me to something else.
I worked in a small office on Piccadilly, exhausted and depressed from years of hurt and fresh from an acrimonious divorce. I watched the city from my tiny office window, hour to hour, day to day, year to year, envious of the smiling people who played in it, and finally it called to me. The vibrancy, the difference, the absolute extremes of human life, it all made me want to BE THERE NOW. I’d hidden my heart away, but now it was time to love again. Not a relationship, a romance. No. I didn’t trust people. Not any more. But I did trust this city that was there for me every day, with things to do, art to see, food to eat, just to sit with me. Around me like a big Mancunian hug. So I went on a date with Manchester in my lunch hour every day. ‘Do something different every day’ I agreed with my new interesting preoccupation. I fell in love with the architecture, the hidden treasures skywards and the underground tunnels below.
And the bees, everywhere. I walked the pavements and searched the libraries and, eventually, the universities, for knowledge I knew must be there. I knew every inch of my love, yet there were always new experiences.I didn’t realise how deep my love was until I spent some time away and dreamt of the Arndale every single night. I sat in a hot, balmy climate for almost a year, pining for the Manchester rain. I didn’t know that love could be extended beyond people, that you could form a relationship with a place or a thing. Life doesn’t make that clear. But Manchester did.
But Manchester. Oh, Manchester. Like all love, there is hurt. I am fierce and strong with my city as a backdrop, but injure it and you wound me, deep. Like Manchester did for me all those years ago, I’ll step up and protect it any way I can, as any lover would. I am defensive and loyal, but fair, recognising the good and the bad and taking my part to address the balance.
Older now, and hopefully wiser, I go there when I can and still make memories. I go there in my mind, set my books there in its rich world of grounded reality, cobbles and brews. It changes, but inherently, Manchester is the same. It’s not about the buildings or the (wo)man-made features. The street art comes and goes and I am glad, because Manchester is a canvas on which souls are grown and developed into a collective experience of love that transcends the individual.
I always feel at home in my Manchester, my city, where being a woman has always been standing at the foot of a wealth of knowledge of the experience of the women who have gone before and are not afraid to give us signposts. Like all society, those with no empathy and an axe to grind will chop away at freedom, burying opportunity deep in prejudice, but the signposts are there, and, like it was for me, it may take a while for them to become visible, but they are there, embedded in my beautiful city.
Let me hold up a signpost here for all those who haven’t yet seen the Manchester light, adding to all the pioneering women who went before, to light the pathways to love, pride and freedom.
Let me tell you about love. Let me tell you about Manchester.’
My next novel, Perfect Ten, is set in Manchester. Available on pre-order, release date 6th September 2018 from Corvus Atlantic Books