Coppers, Communists and a New Toothbrush

I hadn’t been on any grand old adventures in a while and it’s been even longer since I wrote about one. I think the last one I wrote about was Liverpool last april. Since then I’ve been to Liverpool again (though that wasn’t interesting enough to write about in the end, despite the fact I ended up in a place that looked like Castro’s Cuba) and I also did a video-travelogue thing about the science museum. (It’s on the JPCrocks Youtube channel). And since I’ve been working hard on Rebels and Dark Legend Volume 2 for the last few months I haven’t had a chance to get out much. So I thought that a nice trip somewhere would make a change… And I needed a new toothbrush. So I browsed around for somewhere to visit (where I could buy a toothbrush) and then I thought about visiting some as yet untapped corners of Manchester, the bits I’ve missed. And besides which, with railfares the way they are these days and having done almost all of everywhere else near this shithole it was the one place left to go…

But what was there to see that I hadn’t already seen? Well firstly there was the place where they filmed part of Captain America so that had to be checked out. Then there was the place where Marx and Engels formulated their economic theories so that had to be visited as well. I looked around for anything else I may have missed and came across the police museum. It looked interesting enough but sadly it only appeared to be open for one day a week, a Tuesday. As Tuesdays are, as a rule, shit, I decided I would wait a few days and set out on my quest the following Tuesday.

And things started out well. For a moment I thought I’d missed my bus but it turned out I hadn’t. I’d just rounded the corner and saw it pulling away but the bus driver must have seen me coming and he was kind enough to stop and open the door for me. And it’s moments like that which make life worth living. So more of them please… Doesn’t have to be anything major… Just something like the bus stopping and things like that. Then I thought my train was going to be delayed by ten minutes but that turned out to be absolutely incorrect and the train pulled into the station dead on time… Though whilst I was waiting I did get this morbid thought about suicide victims and platform announcements. I won’t bother you with the details of that one because, as I say, it was a bit moribund.

Anyway, this train only took me as far as Oxford Road instead of the much more appropriate Piccadilly but I didn’t see that as so much of a problem. After all, it’s not so much of a walk between the two. In fact, they’re so close it’s hardly worth there being two stations at all. Not to mention you’ve got Deansgate a little bit further along which kind of makes Oxford Road a bit of an unnecessary squatter sitting in the middle. Still, Oxford Road is a nice enough station and for today it’s unnecessary squatting is nothing more than a minor irritation. So I leave the station and start heading in the direction which I believe is Piccadilly, which is the easiest direction to go in without getting hopelessly lost.

Alas, my normally impeccable sense of direction gets me into a spot of bother as the direction I think of as Piccadilly isn’t actually Piccadilly. This is due to the fact that I get momentarily confused by the actual positioning of Oxford Road station. Somewhere in my mind I seem to think that the road which I would normally take when departing Oxford Road, the one that goes towards the science museum and the old Granada Studios and the library and Albert square and most of central Manchester, is going in the opposite direction to Piccadilly when in reality it’s at a ninety degree angle to that road. So instead of taking the ninety degree road I take the one opposite the road to the science museum.

It’s only when I realize that I’m passing underneath the railway line that I realize I’m heading in the wrong direction. The direction I’m going heads south towards the Manchester Museum and the universities… Nowhere near where I want to go.  They’re half a mile south at the very least. In fact they aren’t even in central Manchester… But rather than turn around and go back the way I came I continue on this direction as there’s a slight connection with why I’m in Manchester… Who knows, perhaps my subconscious guided me there, but between 1827 and 1847 this was one of the filthiest slums in the civilized world, Little Ireland. In all history you’ll be hard pressed to find many slums as bad as this one. Friedrich Engels came here in 1844 and he was disgusted. He hated the place. There was no order to the slum, only chaos. People lived in squalid, ramshackled houses with few windows (meant the landlords had to pay less tax). The place was seriously overcrowded and the mud on the streets was so thick that you couldn’t walk in it, you had to wade through it. Crime was rife and the phrase ‘Fool’s rush in where Angels fear to tread’ was never truer than when applied to Little Ireland. In fact… Go to Terry Pratchett and find a description of Ankh-Morpork. The same description could probably apply to Little Ireland. Under the bridge I enter the area as it is today. Little Ireland was long ago swept away and barely a scratch of the notorious remains. Even the name has long since faded. Today it’s all big twentieth and twenty first century buildings but as I turn and head along the direction of the railway line towards Piccadilly I feel there’s still this dodgy aura about the place, like the spirit of Little Ireland never really left, like it lingers on though now far too weak to do anything serious.

Dale Street: 'Cap' woz 'ere...

Dale Street: ‘Cap’ woz ‘ere…

Anyway, a short trip down the next road and I’m back the other side of the railway line and heading for Piccadilly. It doesn’t take long and very soon I know where I’m going. The road going north(ish) of Piccadilly leads directly to Piccadilly Gardens but just before I get there I take a left into the Northern quarter and head up to Dale Street, a place that has it’s own spot in movie history. You recall the Brooklyn Antiques store in Captain America? The one that hid the secret lab where he got the super soldier serum injected into him (If I remember correctly)? Well, it has been said many times that Manchester thinks it’s New York and at Dale street it is New York, at least on film. This is the spot where the exterior of the store was filmed. And even without all the set dressing Dale Street has an air of familiarity about it. Like with Little Ireland nothing remains of the time this was once a Brooklyn street but somehow, standing on the corner one half expects the antiques store to emerge out of the morning air and Steve Rogers to come striding out bold as brass. Once you know it was here you can’t help but smell the super soldier serum in the air.

But time is pressing on and I can’t stand on the corner of Dale Street all day and my next destination is calling me- The Police Museum. It’s a short way down the street and little do I know that I’m about to enter the loveliest museum in the world. There are two Victorian Policemen blocking the doorway so at first I approach with caution and they both glare at me as I ask if the museum is open. Then their faces suddenly light and they smile the sort of welcoming smile you only get in five star hotels these days. Once Inside I’m welcomed by what appears to a welcoming of modern day police officers… Actually they aren’t police officers, they’re volunteers, but the fact they’re dressed as Police officers adds a nice touch. And who knows… Maybe they’re retired police officers. I like the touch but what happens next as I properly enter the museum I am definitely not expecting.

Mugshots on the wall of a cell in the police museum.

Old mugshots on the wall of a cell in the police museum.

Now the thing about most museum volunteers is that they are like Gollum in The Hobbit… They’re all nice and friendly on the outside but inside they just want you to leave them alone in their cave with the precious (Or as they’re better known, museum exhibits.) Usually you have to go up to them and ask questions. occasionally if you stand staring at something for long enough they’ll come over and start explaining things but that’s rare. It does happen more often in stately homes than in museums but it depends on where you go. In some stately homes the volunteers are worse than in the museums. I’m expecting this museum to be much like any other and so when the volunteers start coming over and talking about the exhibits it comes as quite a shock, but a lovely one. And it isn’t just one volunteer being all nice and friendly… It’s every single one of them. They start pointing to certain exhibits and explaining about experimental hats, haunted courtrooms and how all horses in the Manchester police force are named after Dickens characters. It’s a bit overwhelming and strange at first but it’s something I get used to very quickly and as I leave (with two art prints for the wall) I’m quite pleased I made the effort to come and see the place, even though it’s open for only one day a week. Some people just wouldn’t bother at that, they’d take it or leave it, but it was definitely worth the visit. It’s one of the loveliest museums in the world and if in years to come I ever find myself back this way on that one day it’s open I’ll definitely make another visit.

Feeling quite good I head back along the road to Piccadilly Gardens and then make my way north. I bypass the Arndale Centre for now as I’m making my way to one of the places where modern history was born, the place where Marx and Engels forged their theory of communism. Now no matter what you think about communism itself you can’t deny that it’s one of the most important economic and societal theories in world history. It’s conflict with capitalism dominated most of the twentieth century and without it there would be no Russian revolution, no cultural revolution, no Stalin, no Berlin wall, no Vietnam, no space race, no Animal farm and no Cuban missile crisis. Then you have the whole school of history which it formed and the historians who devoted their lives to following it’s principles… It also cost me an entire degree classification but lets not go there right now. The place I’m headed for is just beyond the Arndale centre, behind the Football museum (which nobody has ever visited in the history of ever because football fans don’t tend to visit museums.) Back in the day of Marx and Engels it was the Cheetham’s Library and today it is still a library but it’s been integrated into the music school next door. Sadly, as it is part of the school, it means that being able to see inside the place is a bit hit and miss without an appointment. And I don’t have an appointment so I’m taking a gamble. That day, alas, the gamble fails and the closest I can get is the street outside as there’s a coach party going in. Still… To stand this close is enough though and although I can only see a little bit of the actual building it’s still worth coming to take a look because this is where the fire that forged the twentieth century was stoked. I’m a little disappointed that I can’t go in and take a look round but I expected not to be able to anyway.

Cheethams, where Marx and Engels forged their theory of communism. The coach party going in can be seen on the left.

Cheethams, where Marx and Engels forged their theory of communism. The coach party can be seen on the left.

Leaving the Library I head back the way I came and detour into the Arndale in order to complete my quest of finding a toothbrush. After slipping into Waterstones in order to check out the competition (I can’t help myself… I do it every time!) I find a pharmacy and go in to get my toothbrush. It takes me a few minutes to find the toothbrush section and I notice there isn’t really a lot of choice. In the end it boils down to two… One that is almost like my current toothbrush and another one. I almost go for the other one just for something different but then I notice that it’s got all these glittery bits embedded in the rubber at the base of the handle. That puts me off it so I end up opting for the one that is almost the same as my current toothbrush. I get it to the counter (after wandering around looking for the damn thing) I pay and then the cashier runs off shouting something about going to get me a bag. I’m left confused for a moment. Do I need a bag? It’s only a toothbrush after all and I’ve got a rucksack so… Naturally I peg it before the cashier comes back.

After failing to find somewhere I want to eat lunch (I’m not even trying in all fairness) I leave the city of Manchester behind me… It’ll always be there with me of course. Whenever people ask me where I grew up I will always say Manchester, mostly because it’s easier that way. And one day I shall come back… Yes, I shall come back. We will meet again, Manchester… but not yet… Not yet!

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