By Kalman Dean-Richards
“It looks like the back of a fridge you know, Manchester,” my friend told me – part of his new collection Reasons to Not Leave Me Alone in Birmingham.
Aside from that, and football, and one messy night a few years ago that did anything but crystallise an impression of the city, I had no idea what to expect of Manchester when I moved in.
A couple of weeks later I’m sitting in the Central Library Café drinking an IRN BRU that was purchased off-premises, and not caring who knows about it, and I basically run the place.
There’s a little truth there – I feel at home.
The people are the first thing that make that happen. My subtle compound of Sainsbury’s and Netto (which is still around up here, apparently) food tins barely had time to gather a film of dust when the woman downstairs came at the mail flap with greetings, and cups of tea, and most excitingly: WiFi log ins – 2015’s most generous of neighbourly offerings, which my room-mate and I have abused with live football streaming and Rick and Morty downloads in the subsequent fortnight. In the north, it seems lending a hand is the standard.
“Oh you’re new t’citeh?”, asked my job agency woman – one of an archetype of short-purple-haired ex-smokers that remind me of an aunty I once had. “Oh come down to the office love – I’ve got loads o’ people be after you.” They’re blunt, kind. Sociable. There’s a team spirit Sky Sports would have you think divided itself in red and blue.
The vast numbers of homeless people makes this conclusion problematic. I’ll think about it.
The second homely factor’s the employment market. I might be skewed here because of sleeping with the agency woman the luck I got early on, but in under three weeks both me and the room-mate have full-time jobs. It’s like the good old days that your elderly relatives tell you about up here, where you walk out of your job as a plumber one day, and straight into another one as a toilet fitter the next. In the Midlands, there’s a statutory cooling-off period of six months in which you’re supposed to learn about depression and develop your weed-smoking game, but here it’s not so barren.
Maybe that’s skewed, like I said, and maybe I’m rubbing salt for some people. At the very least, there’s been less talk of people ‘taking a punt’ on a twenty-thousand pound Bachelor degree and twelve months work experience, which gives the impression that the system works better. That’s reassuring.
And finally – forgive me – there is the texture of the place. That vague sense of how it “feels” day-to-day, minute-by-minute, to live here, and to which both the jobs and the people obviously contribute. Especially in the city centre, it feels alive – whether that’s the grime on the old buildings, or the spit on the shiny yellow metros, or the complicated mix of the brown people and the black people and the pink people, in suits and in satchels, and in sleeping bags. I suppose I’m catching the end of summer/start of autumn, and that’s a decent time anywhere, but there’s energy in the variation in Manchester that seems like a year-round thing. Energy like there is in London, and in Edinburgh for the festival. And maybe in Paris. Although technically I haven’t been. It’s exciting, and it filters through, for me.
In places, Manchester does look like the back of a fridge – hello Oxford Road Station, hello endless unfinished metro tracks – and in places it looks some thing’s dropped out of the fridge and gone off, before getting eaten by a thrifty student, and vommed out on a £1 drinks night. Sure. But a couple of weeks in, I’m inside, and the light’s on, and the place is stocked, and you know what you’ve got in, and there’s good people and fresh cheese and things. And IRN BRU.
Kalman is a short story and novel writer, from Birmingham, and has moved to Manchester to complete the Creative Writing MA at MMU.