First came the ulcers… They were painful but just before Christmas they went away. Nice! Then on Christmas Eve I had my first serious gas attack for six months; an attack that unusually came with a dose of vomit. On Christmas Day I was fine, if bored out of my skull. Then a few days after I get this horrible, nasty sore throat so bad I can’t swallow and I have to go to bed early on new years eve because I am that unwell. I’m producing so much mucus that I have to have carry around a special and disgusting spit cup. And somehow, during all of this, I manage to burn the skin off half my tongue. Then, just when I think its all over… SURPRISE MUTHA FUKA! The ulcers come back with both a vengeance and a series of headaches. And so after spending the majority of the past three weeks in some form of pain/illness I decide that when I’m better I deserve a day out somewhere. Blackpool perhaps? Nah. Too cold for Blackpool… Besides which a return ticket is twenty quid and for a single day that is too heavy. Manchester perhaps? But I’ve already done Manchester god knows how many times… What is there left to discover? There’s some stuff south of the city centre but I’m not up to going down that way right now. In the end I decide to just see where the day takes me, see what comes of it.
When the ulcer pain finally goes away I decide it is then that I will go and when I wake up from my paracetamol induced sleep on Friday morning, miracle of miracles, I appear to be better. No ulcers, no sore throat… My tongue is a bit rubbish still but I can live with that. I get up, get dressed, get out of the house and for once there isn’t any rain. It is mighty cold though, like being naked in the Arctic in the middle of a snow storm. But at least there’s no wind to bother me as I’m waiting fifteen minutes for an expensive bus. What is the point of that electronic display, I wonder? Eighteen months and it still hasn’t been repaired. That plastic timetable they put up a few months back has gone as well. Some chav probably took it home I expect. As I’m standing there some woman walks past and gives me a dirty look. Why? I have no idea. Then I get to wondering how many times I have stood here, at this stop, waiting for a bus. I work it out and it must be somewhere over five hundred times by now. That’s a lot of standing around waiting for a bus. There’ll be a couple more before I’m done but we are closer to the last wait than we are to the first.
Bad news is that I have to annoy the driver by paying with a wallet full of five pence coins. Well… I wouldn’t need so many if buses weren’t so expensive. I remember a time when this bus ride was a pound for a return. ONE POUND. It’s now almost three times that for one way. I suppose that’s Cameron’s Britain folks- Stealing the money from right out of your pocket. I settle into my seat and get my iPod out, opting to have this journey brought to me by the letter B- B for Backfire at the Disco, Baby Jane, Baby Strange, Baby Come Back… That sort of thing.
It doesn’t take long to get into town and then to the bank where I have a couple of cheques to pay in. And that takes ages because for some reason my bank has replaced all the human cashiers with machines and I need time to figure out how they work. Essentially the bank is now just a building with machines in. Cameron’s Britain folks- Where the bankers are so greedy they don’t even dare come out in public any more and have to be replaced by machines. By the time I have finished and got some money out there’s a queue behind and some angry looking women. So once I am done I get out of there lickety split and down to the station, arriving just in time to catch a rusty old crate to Oxford Road; an ancient inter-city pacer that demonstrates the real need for investment in the British rail system. The windows are so loose and the thing so rattly and creaky that I can’t hear my music, even on full blast.
I switch it off and turn to a book- Twilight in Italy by D.H Lawrence. This year (for the sake of it) I’m trying to read as many books as I can that have something, anything, to do with Italy and this is the first- Much of it centring around Lawrence’s life when he was living by the Lago Di Garda. I stop briefly to flash my ticket and then as I’m reading I notice this familiar throb starting in the corner of me. Oh no… Please, dear god, no! It is as I fear. The ulcer pain hasn’t gone completely. It was just lying dormant and now it’s decided to wake up. A bit of a rub with my thumb soothes it for a moment but the ache is still there. I’ve found over the last week that there is one thing that will solve the pain (without medicinal aid) for a decent amount of time- Food. Chocolate works very well. As I don’t have any I have to sit on this rust bucket, thankfully in a place where nobody can see me, and periodically stick my thumb in my mouth to keep it quiet. I then hope that it goes away and I can have a decent day out.
It hasn’t faded completely by the time I reach Oxford Road, not least because I am now surrounded by people who have boarded since the pain started and I don’t want to look like I’m sucking my thumb. The barrier then decides it won’t accept my ticket. It chucks it back out at me and I try again. Second time lucky, I get through, and as I make my way into the city the pain subsides. I make a decision to go and find Affleck’s, a boutique indoor ‘vintage’ markety type place that until just over a year ago I thought was a nightclub. That means heading towards Piccadilly. On the way I make a detour into Sackville Gardens to take a look at the Alan Turing memorial. Being January Sackville Gardens doesn’t look its best. The grass is patchy and muddy and it seems more like a patch of scrub in the middle of the city than anything else. Turing is in the centre, sat on a bench. The first thing I notice is the apple on his lap. Ok… He killed himself, supposedly, with a poisoned apple so that’s a bit heartless isn’t it? It essentially makes this a statue of Turing just before he killed himself. The official reasoning for the apple is somewhat convoluted. It has something to do with Issac Newton, a representation of forbidden love and something to do with the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The fact that Turing killed himself with an apple is mentioned somewhere in there however. It still doesn’t make it right that it appears on his statue though.
I do a bit of camera work here, take some pictures, get a few film shots for later use, and then head on in the direction Piccadilly Gardens and nearby Affleck’s. Around the corner I spy the building for the North West Film Archive but don’t approach. It reminds me of something I made up about a year ago, a disused tunnel between Oxford Road and Piccadilly station with an entrance just behind the archive building. I don’t think this thing exists but if it did it would, right now, lie somewhere beneath my feet. The streets around here are quiet. There are a few people but not many and there are lots of huge puddles to avoid, jump over and skirt round. It has, at the very least got a bit warmer and I don’t have to cling to myself for warmth as I cross over the Metrolink tracks and make my way past the ‘Smoak’ bar opposite to Piccadilly station- Every time I see that place I always, instantly, think of Felicity Smoak from Arrow. Don’t think they named the place as a cash in though. Couldn’t do them in harm to cash in now though. I decide to keep to this side of the street, wanting to take a picture/filmy bits of the Queen Victoria statue in Piccadilly gardens.
Good luck with that- You can’t reach Piccadilly Gardens from this side of the road without taking a serious detour owing to a road closure and no way across at the place where I arrive. I have to follow the line of the works down the street to the next junction, cross over and then make my way back to where I wanted to cross. It is a serious nuisance but one of those things we have to abide in life. There are tourists hanging around Queen Vic as well but I ignore them and get what I want before moving on into the northern quarter and Affleck’s.
I haven’t been down this way properly before and I almost walk straight past Affleck’s, thinking it the opening to some underground car park. It is dark, tiled by grey and there are people smoking outside. It is only when I look up that I see it as my destination. I poke my nose in and advance past a few little shops to the stairs, seeing in one the (I hope) plastic skeleton of some creature nestling amongst a rack of dresses. I think it might have been a dog. Heading up the stairs and seeing all sorts of music posters covering the walls I get the impression of a trendy nightclub, one that has live gigs. But that impression couldn’t be further from the truth as on the next few floors I find an intriguing labyrinth of clothes, oddments and ancient technologies that frequently catch my eye. There’s a display of fantasy dragon ornaments on the first floor, one of them huge and attacking a castle tower with knights running around trying to kill it. At seventy five pounds it is well beyond an acceptable purchase price but I like it and that is something I would buy if I had the cash to throw away. Further around the maze there’s a cabinet of old phones, the sorts with the spinning dial, and I decide that one day I want one of those in my office/library because I think it would be cool. A sign says they’ve been rewired and restored as well, always a bonus. Again though, they are well beyond the current acceptable purchase price. I then find another staircase and go all the way to the top floor before making my way back down, bit by bit and finding I like this place more and more as I explore. I pass by a huge expanse of comic book figurines, which are of an acceptable price, and I am tempted to purchase a Spiderman but abstain for the moment. I look at a steam punk clock and some metal signs and contemplate the purchase of an old fashioned, perhaps stereotypical, suitcase. God… What I wouldn’t give to live in that golden age of style and travel when that sort of suitcase was common. Maybe I should just live like that anyway. I might start something.
The only thing that scares me about this place is the market workers. They’re a bit cooky and leery looking. I want to avoid them as best I can. With just one look they make me feel like I’m intruding, like I’m some outsider who has entered into their world, that I’m not one of them. I’m sure they’re nothing like that in reality but that is the way they make me feel and at the back of my mind I’m worried that one of them will approach me. This is particularly evident when I’m looking at the suitcase and imagining myself boarding a train with that in hand. There’s a lady lurking behind me. I think she’s coming closer. She’s going to ask if I want to buy the suitcase, I just know it. She doesn’t. I get away without purchasing for the usual reason.
As I’m walking Affleck’s my little mouth enemy starts up again. I do my best to ignore it and continue to wander up the street outside. I find a Forbidden Planet store and go in for a look round. I’m intrigued by some Doctor Who stuff and shocked that a tiny Gizmo from Gremlins (no bigger than half my thumb) costs a tenner (Cameron’s Britain folks, Cameron’s Britain!) The only way I’d pay a tenner for that is if it multiplied in water and changed when you fed it after midnight. I find some Assassin’s Creed novelisations, think about buying one to see what they’re like (also because Italy) and examine the mug collection (how about a Game of Thrones mug?) before moving on to a record shop down the street where half the CDs are by people I’ve never heard of. The only name I recognize is Lana Del Rey. The vinyls perform a little better on that front but as I don’t have a record player… I could always pop back to Affleck’s and get one for a fee that I don’t want to pay right now.
By now the pain is full force and I need food. I head back in the direction of Piccadilly Gardens, looking for a place and passing loads of places by, and eventually end up going towards the Arndale centre. Nandos is on my mind, as is the corrupted ABBA song that goes with it (Can you hear the drums for Nandos?) but chicken is not the wise decision right now. I need something plainer, like a sandwich. Up reaching Arndale, I see a Viennese pastry café and am instantly intrigued. Should I? No. My diet has suffered enough these past few weeks and its time to get back onto something of a normal footing. Which means no Viennese pastry and something proper and beneficial instead- Something at least halfway to being healthy. I end up staggering, blindly looking for food, through Arndale until at long last I see an escalator up to the food court. And Nandos isn’t in this part of the building so I won’t be tempted. What is here though? Macdonalds, no. Subway, tempting. Taco Bell, Perhaps. Di Maggio’s Italian café? Now that speaks to my sensibilities. And they sell sandwiches too. I look at the board, decide on the mixed Italian cheese, go to the empty queue line… The lady behind the counter asks me what I want. I open my mouth to speak, start speaking and then realize she isn’t listening because she’s walking away. I follow to the far end of the counter, actually manage to get my order out and then she asks if it’s cheese and tomato I want. No… Mixed Italian! Turns out it was the same thing. I’m left feeling awkwardly stupid at a moment when I don’t need it… I’m in pain and I want my sandwich. Don’t confuse me like this!
I get handed a weird electronic buzzer thing and then sit down at a table to wait. I watch the red flashing light on the buzzer, feeling sorry for myself, and after five minutes the thing comes to life and starts going mad, lights all over the place. That’s the cue that my sandwich is ready. I like this thing. It doesn’t exactly look state of the art and they’ve probably been around for donkey’s years but I still like it. I take it back and in exchange for returning it I get a nice gooey toasted sandwich, a bit of coleslaw and some mystery orange dip. What exactly it is that I am supposed to do with the dip and the coleslaw without any cutlery is anyone’s guess. After a few bites I make the decision to dip the corner of my sandwich into the dip an eat the coleslaw with my fingers. I’m already having trouble with the melted cheese trying to cling to itself and coming away in long strands as I take each bite so I don’t look like that much more of a pig. Not that I care. Eating like a pig in public is becoming my speciality. The last time I came back from Wales I had a Waitrose trifle in my bag and no spoon- The reason was because I had gone in there looking for Jerusalem Artichokes (WHERE ARE THEY? WHY DOES NOWHERE SELL THIS VEGETABLE?) and came out with two of the trifles. I ate one in my hotel room and the other on the train back, first using the lid as a spoon and then flipping the bird to society and using my fingers like a proper uncivilized human would. I got some funny looks back then but I don’t see any this time and eventually leave the food court feeling a lot better.
My next stop is the People’s History Museum. It’s a good way to kill an hour and not far. On the way I pass a lot of fancy bars and restaurants and decide I want to dress stylish and ‘lunch’ in them in the old fashioned way, like you see people do in old black and white films. Basically I’m dreaming of going back in time again and since this is the second time today it is probably therefore something I should seriously consider doing something about. Anyway… I reach the PHM, dreaming of living in another era, and make for the exhibition space. The current exhibition is all about the history of money and the prospect doesn’t thrill me much but it could be worth a look.
Then it comes back… Again! Food usually stops it for ages but not this time. It’s come back far sooner than I would like. But I push through, finding a quiet corner to suck my thumb for a moment and then half heartedly wander through the rest of the money exhibition before going upstairs to the first gallery… Which is closed. There are only three galleries in the entire museum and one of them, the biggest, is closed because they are ‘replacing the banners.’ This is the second trip where this has happened and this time I am even less amused than last time. At least the second floor ‘democracy’ gallery is open. They have a puppet of Harold Wilson, Margaret Thatcher’s head and Michael Foot’s notorious donkey jacket in here. It’s an interesting little place and I can at least bear a short wander through it.
But the pain is growing worse and I can’t wander around like this. I know what I need… Chocolate! Heading back to the ground floor I scout the little shop for anything, find nothing, and then contemplate that the café might help. It doesn’t look like it so I head outside to look for some. I make my way through the streets back towards the station. I don’t care which, any station will do. I eventually find myself heading in the direction of Oxford road but don’t see anywhere that might sell chocolate on the way. There’ll be somewhere in the station though, yeah? Yeah! That’s if I can get into it. The barrier again rejects my ticket. One of the station guards pushes a button to let me through so there is no crisis but it is irritating. I can see a train that will get me home across the station but it is too far to reach in time. Besides which I need chocolate. I make for the nearest vending machine and it won’t accept my money. No matter how many times I try it just drops it straight back. This is turning into a nightmare now. Is there another vending machine or a shop somewhere? On the far platform there is… I get over there, get the chocolate and am settled, though it takes the entire bar to do it.
On the train, feeling glum, I overhear what is either a summary of the last three weeks of Eastenders, the plot of a really trashy novel or possibly just the most interesting real life story I have ever overheard. There’s a woman ahead of me, talking so loud it is impossible not to overhear, one of those management types and she’s peppering her conversation with buzz speak. I probably shouldn’t repeat this but I will because of how crazy it sounds. Apparently there’s a woman in a coma, thanks to a skiing accident or something, and her boyfriend has ran off with another woman. Then she starts going into all sorts of details about how this guy proposed to his last girlfriend because she got really upset that he didn’t propose, bought a seven thousand pound engagement ring and then broke it off and it wasn’t the first time he’d done it. Then she starts going on about how someone else lost a leg and couldn’t play football anymore and how this other guy (with the girlfriend in a coma) got really up himself and superior over the chap who lost a leg. I don’t hear anymore than that because I reach my stop. I wish I could have continued to listen in though. I want to know what happens next.
The bus back home is full and the ride is not enjoyable, not least because the driver gets cut up and swerves the bus all over the road whilst tooting his horn. It sets the ulcer off again. Damn. Never mind. Despite the pain it was a good day out.
Thanks for reading. If you enjoyed this then you can check out more of my travels on the Travelogues page, including all my previous Manchester adventures.