During lockdown, with the prospect of travel seeming further away than ever before, a lot of us will be feeling an extra strong sense of wanderlust and nostalgia for our past trips and adventures. G You is happy to present a series of travel writings reminiscing on our community’s favourite and most meaningful trips to remind ourselves of the joys and growth travel can bring. To end the ‘Trips to the Past’ series, I reflect on how one city can begin to shape your life, with ‘Reflections on Manchester’.
Pulling into Manchester Piccadilly, the first thing you’ll notice is the shadow of Beetham Tower leaning over you. Asymmetric eyesore or testament to Northern design, the split of opinions on this hotel/apartments perfectly illustrates the little contradictions and contrasts that made me fall in love with Manchester when I moved there nearly three years ago.
It definitely wasn’t love at first sight – arriving the night before my job interview and trying to find my hotel on Portland Street in the dark at seventeen was probably one of my scariest inductions into adult life. Yet, within a few weeks of starting work, the city already felt familiar, defined by regular Friday night drinks at the Slug and Lettuce overlooking the river followed by the trek down Deansgate to Moon Under Water for food.
My firsts are all in Manchester. First proper job, first flat, first festival. It’s hard to walk through the city and be reminded of a time when everything was new to me. Every corner of Manchester holds nostalgia, from various client offices to bars I’d frequent with my year group. But there’s always somewhere new to go in Manchester: my favourite from last summer being the member’s club in the Northern Quarter that just opened where the bartender will make you a bespoke cocktail if you charm him enough; credit to my mate for that one – definitely check out the Daisy if you ever find yourself about.
You never know what you’re going to find in Manchester. One of my favourite finds was the People’s History Museum, a museum dedicated to worker’s history and the spirit of protest in Manchester. Walking through this museum, I’m always struck by Manchester’s spirit of revolution which endures even today. During my summer internship, the Medlock Street roundabout across from my flat hosted a rave to protest, decked out with industrial speakers (I still have no idea what they were protesting). A night out in Manchester is always full of surprises, and many a night has ended dancing on the tables at the German beerhall Albert Schloss fuelled by free hotdogs and saxophone covers of Britney Spears.
My memories of Manchester are always intrinsically associated with work: the regular coffee runs to Hardman Street Pret, falling asleep on the tram to the 7am trains out of Piccadilly to Sheffield, Leeds or Chester. From my first time meeting a friend at Font (home of the £2 cocktail), my friends smuggling a Colin the Caterpillar cake into the Tampopo on the corner of Albert Square or dragging a friend to VIA for their first trip to Canal Street, my anecdotes all seem to centre around Manchester nowadays. I still remember one of my last nights out in Manchester before I left, hands raised high in Patron to a remix of Candi Staton’s ‘You Got the Love’, feeling like I was about to lose some integral part of what made me who I had become.
Manchester has the ability to make you feel like a completely different person. I’ve spent summer days sat in First Street Square watching families revel in the sun, children dwarfed by giant chess pieces. My free time seems to pass slower, in a weekend daze walking down Oxford Road to the gym and back, sitting out to watch the cricket on the big screen erected outside Home cinema, sipping on takeaway wine or Kraken rum from Gasworks. It’s just a different life to being a student in Glasgow, periods of stress broken up by an after-work cocktail at Menagerie or the Ivy. After exams, drinks are held at Duke’s 92 instead of Beer Bar, bouncers ready to chuck us out of the river side beer garden the second our celebrations get too rowdy.
If I could go back and do my time in Manchester again, I wish I’d given it more. I don’t quite have the stamina for Manchester, never really making it to the 5am trips to Dive, the night after morning scran at the 24 hour Maccies on Regent Road, the afters at Mojo where all they’d play were football tunes. I got my first glimpses of Manchester’s soul in my year there, and my trips back helped show me Manchester’s depths. I’m not saying it’s my favourite place on earth, but nowhere else really measures up to Manchester’s spirit. After all, in the eternal words of Tony Wilson, “This is Manchester, we do things differently here.”