Even the most confirmed country dweller needs an injection of city energy every now and then. Today I went into Manchester for lunch with an old friend. Sometimes going into the city overwhelms me for a while with its noise and dirt and crowds, and it takes a few hours for me to stop gawping at the traffic like a country bumpkin. You wouldn't think I had lived and worked in Manchester and London for years. Seven years up here on the hillside has created a world, internal as well as external, which is green and quiet and empty of rubbish and crowds and noise. But today for some reason I just slipped right into city mode like an otter into water.
It helped that the city was quiet this morning. I caught a bus into the centre after Ian dropped me off. At home in North Wales we walk or we go in the car. Public transport is thin on the ground in the country. It was a pleasant surprise to sit on a bus and watch the university buildings pass by. In a very few weeks they will be heaving with students, the confident returners and the new ones, wet behind the ears and loud and skittish with nerves, but for now the buildings are quiet, the cafes and refectories empty and gleaming behind their plate glass windows.
I had a couple of hours to spend before meeting my friend for lunch so I wandered slowly along the streets which were once one of my stamping grounds. I stopped for a coffee, not because I particularly wanted a drink but because of the luxury of sitting quietly with a newspaper watching people go by, with no jobs in the house or garden calling me as they do at home. If they were calling I was much too far away to hear.
I like Manchester. Manchester and London are my cities: cities in which I have lived and worked at different times for over twenty years; cities that I really know and feel at home in. London has that extraordinary energy and complexity and is probably my first love but Manchester is funny and lively, gritty and cosmopolitan at the same time. It is also a great size. It has all the interesting shops you would find in London but everything is within a walk. This is to exclude the horrors of the Trafford Centre, a huge synthetic temple to Mammon which I hate and avoid like the plague.
So I wandered about and I bought some black ankle boots and a linen shirt of startling pink. I gawped at the window of Harvey Nicolls and dawdled in East. I am not a shopper, certainly not a recreational shopper. I like to go in knowing what I want, find it, buy it and exit at speed. That worked beautifully because I had spent so long people watching in the coffee shop that I didn't have long to shop.
I didn't walk far but one thing that did surprise me was the proliferation of businesses offering all sorts of beauty treatments: tanning shops, nail bars, places offering teeth whitening and botox and dermal fillers and chemical peels. I am sure they have mushroomed over the last couple of years. Don't get me wrong. I am not a Puritan. I dye my hair and have done for years. I haven't been seen without mascara since the early days of the last century (well maybe a slight exaggeration but you know what I mean). But I think it has to be a bad thing to be so obsessed with how we look. If you feel that you are what you look like, you are on a hiding to nothing. We will age and lose our looks, however botoxed and peeled and teeth whitened and tanned we are. Let it go, let it go. We are not "worth it" despite what the adverts proclaim. Look ageing in the face, maybe just a quick sideways glance so as not to go insane, and buy a pink shirt. Do not set yourself up to fail by buying into the whole idea that you can be forever young. Nuts. I had my time and a very good time I had too. Every generation must give way to the next and the navel gazing which accompanies all this obsession with how we look doesn't help people to live well and happily. Whoops, that came out of nowhere at speed! Sorry!
Gets down off soapbox.
I met my friend at Cafe Istanbul on Bridge Street. We had a long, leisurely lunch where we ranged over everything from the porridge effect achieved by our upper arms, through post graduate psychology courses, growing mushrooms, the boomerang generation which brings adult children back home to live, the Paralympics and the delights and demands of families. We talked about serious stuff and laughed a lot.
Thank you Manchester and thank you S for a lovely day.