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A night out in the Old Country

A night out in the Old Country

I say Old Country because the town in which one used to reside often resembles that backward immutable habitat which one escapes in order to alleviate the slow and painful asphyxiation brought about by the climate of intolerance and resistance to change; a bit like the Puritans heading to the New World to avoid persecution. I feel persecuted as I enter an old pub in the outskirts of town to watch the rugby and see my mates, those few who I have kept in constant contact with since attending university. These friends are not the persecutors since they have noted and indeed been part of the slow transition from chav to semi-quirky pretentious knob, often coming to socialise with me in my new student ‘digs’, house and then ‘trendy’ city centre flat. It is the older acquaintances that one sees only on a foray into the Old Country, that do the persecuting.

I stroll into the pub, through the back door by the beer garden, into a corridor of chest height wooden panels topped with dirty cream walls decorated with some manner of hideous textured wallpaper. On writing descriptively I often wonder at the depth of knowledge needed for adequate annotation. I marvel at the imagination of authors who can visualise so vividly with words alone. I know for a fact this sort of wallpaper will have a name but I haven’t got a fucking clue what it is. There are faded floral carpets as well; persisting from some past decade or other that reminds me of a childhood when they were already dated. Not the sort which has been plucked from obscurity and branded ‘retro’ or ‘vintage’, more the aged puke like depressing variety. Through the corridor door, cheap wood with frosted glass panels and I’m into the bar.

I greet my mates who are all crowded around the red-rimmed Winmau at the side of the room, betting with a load of scrotty chavs. Darts is possibly the scalliest sport of all; chucking mini spears at a target, reminiscent of a time when man needed to hunt for food. Professional darts is highly entertaining; it’s basically set in a spruced up working man’s club with a stage atop of which stand either two fat haggard old alcoholics or greasy fat young would-be alcoholics. Barry Evans off EastEnders a few years back always struck me as looking like the archetypal darts player.  Silky colourful short sleeve shirts are the order of the day, sometimes with flames, baggy on the faded tattoo smeared arms, tight on the paunch and plastered in beer sponsors. Accessories include enough gold sovereigns, bracelets and chains to stock a pawn shop. Often already inebriated they enter the stage with a ceremony akin to that of boxing, except for the woeful shirts, tacky names and cheesy intro songs. For instance, Phil ‘the power’ Taylor with Snap! – The Power or Andy ‘The Viking’ (or more apt, the fat fuck) Fordham who would sink a Viking Longboat if he ever set foot in one. He did lose a load of weight a few years back, now he’s a fat bastard again (if there’s any consolation, his mullet looked worse when he wasn’t obese). Darts players sometimes enter on the arm of a busty tart or a plonka in a white suit holding aloft St George’s Cross. I’m all for some gentle patriotism, but it looks like the vanguard of an English Defence League rally. The crowd is just as entertaining; the family of said professional ‘athletes’ are blind drunk cheering wildly, looking like the cast of Shameless with a splash of hen night fancy dress and soft topper hats.

My mates all have a streak of chav in em still but I love em for it. They’re in high spirits, having sunk a few pints and put a few quid on favourites at the bookies, £100 on Celtic, guaranteed win against Motherwell, £40 in the pocket. I’m wearing a red stripped cotton shirt, brown chinos, a green coat (complementing colours) and blue and brown boaters. I’m balding through stress and have rather large glasses on (spec savers; wayfarers/professor specs – yes I am a twat). “Fuckin ‘ell its Griff (my nickname), long time no see *chortle* what the fuck have you come dressed as, an old man?!”… “Fuckin ‘ell Griff, uni’s change you I tell thee”. This rather humorous hello comes from a lad with spade hands (he works at an engineering works man-handling cement mixers) and a wolfish grin, attired in a lemon Lyle and Scott jumper with sleeves not quite long enough to cover the chunky silver bracelet from Argos. Below the jeans are slightly baggy faded jeans, buttressed by a smashing belt with a colossal centre piece buckle. Budweiser or Kappa are favourites I believe; two naked wenches back to back usually worn on show with the t-shirt tucked behind the buckle and loose around the rest of the waist. Priceless. Next to him sits a sour faced big un’ from the countryside who doesn’t even engage in the humour, I think he’s genuinely bemused by my appearance. There is more than meets the eye with the lemon who laughed at my appearance however; he’s actually very talented on the electric guitar, the drums and vocal, testament to the multi-faceted nature of your average town youth.

I perch on a stool to watch the rugby on a 12” piece of shit in the top corner of the room (I was informed by my mates that there were adequate means of watching sport). Three odd middle aged men sit on the tables below the TV wearing anorak type coats. To the right are two filthy young hags, leggings and hoodies with sharp pinched faces, dyed hair a lashings of makeup. They appear to be the concubines of a surly looking prick with a polo shirt on, collar up, thick chain on show. He had a reputation at school, ‘ard man. He has a suitably ‘ard title/nickname which sounds like a male deer. Chavs have distinct features just like toffs do; instead of looking like a horse these characters have that quintessential face which always displays a frown or a grimace with pointy imp like features possibly brought about through a parental pregnancy eased with a few too many pint of London Pride. Another cause might be malnutrition resultant of an Iceland/Farmfoods diet. They look like goblins from the Mines or Moria, expect with a permanent squint. Goblins who reside in Finland for the summer.

A big chap with a straight immaculately gelled fringe (a bit like Frankenstein’s monster or Lurch) is on the life support machine in every pub; the gambler. He greets me, “ay up Griff, anna seen you for a while”. I’d forgotten his name. I don’t even know how to use a fucking gambler/fruit machine. To me it is the litmus test, the initiation of the urban underclass. It flashes up like a UFO, has innumerable buttons and always has an odd theme; Star Wars or a wild Amazon River adventure. The theme of course bears no relation to how the machine operates. Pictures of Death Stars and captions like “May the force be with you” or “ride on the raging rapids” do not impact upon gambler at all; there is always a lever and three or more randomised reels with poor pictorial approximations of items of healthy food which are never consumed by the gambler’s consumer, unless suffused into the flavouring of sweet sickly ciders. The reels are accompanied by a host of other seemingly pointless flashing buttons, the pressing of which infrequently leads to the rainfall of a few tatty pound coins. With his eyes still firmly on the screen and the right hand at the ready in the top corner with yet another pound coin, the monster scoops up the pounds from the tray (which he probably put in there earlier) and plays on mindlessly, until such time as he needs a piss, a pint or to use his pouch of cancer. In spite of it all, these gamblers look daunting in their complication. One can only assume that chavs have been training to operate them since the age of 4 when they first set knees in the pub, being held aloft by their 21 year old father, pressing buttons at random before working out a pattern over the succeeding years. I for one would never wish to expend money on learning the intricacies of the gambler. “At the end of the day” (a favoured chav expression) it is called a ‘gambler’ for a reason; ultimately all that complicated button pressing is meaningless as it’s a game of chance. Why is it that people without money love to invest it in something that isn’t guaranteed to give a return? As a caveat I am often amused by the ‘sound’ advice given to me about earning quick money by the proletariat;

I once visited Burnley, to buy a bookcase.

The seller said I’d be rich if I paid attention to the town’s notorious race.

In your garden he said, lay a rich inviting bed,

And grow Coriander for the hungry rag-head.

Of course he didn’t couch his casual racism in such poetry. I rarely if ever write poetry, so I thought I’d have a stab, when writing about a town where many girls wear the hijab – I’m on fire, like the ghastly gas fire in his house (the sort which indicates poverty). Truth be told, he wasn’t really a racist, he lived in his aged dirty white terraced house in a neighbourhood in which he has become a distinct minority. Driving through Burnley (a dreary shithole), all I was confronted with were closed pubs; a few corner shops and a mosque (with that lovely characteristic green lighting). Beset by vast change, the chap just quietly got one. Needless to say his Coriander concept hadn’t really improved his financial situation, as evidenced by his fire, that same textured wallpaper as the pub and a collection of awful ornaments, definitely not Dalton but nevertheless bound to make him money someday… He was however good with wood, making odd bits of furniture and the like. We got a free wooden bird box off him – good for me nan. He also gave us a Victorian/Edwardian iron, brass, which you opened at the top and put hot coals in. Perhaps his generosity was his financial ruin. He had all sorts of desirable tat like the iron in his house, the legacy of his job; emptying the homes of dead decrepit pensioner’s whose relatives had deserted them. Back to the pub; the quiz machines in many these days are an infinite improvement on gamblers, actually testing the mind with general knowledge. Groups of five or more cluster about in an effort to accumulate the brain cells of an average person, only to have their chances dashed by a taxing question; what is the capital of Brazil? “Shit, I always used to skive geography!”

A quick note on terminology; I use the term chav far too liberally in this piece I feel, not all of these lads are chavs in the pejorative middle-class/university educated snobbish sense. They are just town lads, they don’t rob houses or stamp on grannies’ heads (this isn’t a joke, several lads did stamp on a 94 year old granny’s head in my local town. High as kites they broke in and beat her blue and bloody. She subsequently died from her injuries). Nevertheless they share many traits with chavs; dress, humour, mannerisms, habitat, sport and leisure interests, political outlook and broadness of mind (untold amounts of uninformed pre-conceptions bordering on the medieval).

From behind me I get a great guffaw followed by “Fucking ‘ell Griff, if you had white hair you’d be like the bloke of the Weetos advert!” Chavs do have a cracking sense of humour. This line is uttered by the real deal. A lad from school who had epic skills at football, was an absolute joker and was also thick as shit. In support of this assertion he added “Still at fucking uni Griff, you’ll be on 80k soon. All I can say is how the fuck did I do so shite at geography? I copied you and I still got a ‘G’…for great”. This lad used to deck him sen out in Burberry cap, Henry Lloyd jumper, Adidas tracksuit bottoms and Rockports – the staple quartet of scally fashion which I myself used to wear (bar the Rockports which were ridiculously overpriced). He used to set fire to people’s wheelie bins in their drives, or conifers in the park. He used to smash car windows, kick wing mirrors off and shop lift. Many of these activities were put under the umbrella term ‘goin on a mission’ in which one would try to attract the attention of the police, before completing the mission by evading arrest. One of his more hilarious stunts was to chase down the milk float in the early hours after a night out, either robbing gold top off the back or worse, robbing it off someone’s doorstep. Regardless of his vices I have fond memories of our teenage acquaintance. One night after a party at the local football club, I and three others including this lad failed to locate a bed for the night. We first tried the leisure centre roof. My mate climbed up and informed us that there was a hot vent which we could all huddle by. I expressed concern about the legal ramifications of such a move. In addition I knew climbing onto the roof would be arduous. My mate was always so good at climbing and jumping in dangerous place, on our geography field trip to the Costa del Sol (a fitting destination) we filmed him doing amateur parkour. We ended up, all four of us, in a telephone box for the night. At four in the morning, freezing and unable to sleep, we noticed a short moustached man in a bandana walk past with a bike. My mate informed me that he had tried to steal that very bike not long ago. Little did he know that sound reverberated quite loudly from our metal stand-up mattress. Unfortunately the chap with the bike was also a known psychopath who only a few years before had taken his wife hostage with a crossbow. Subsequently he was responsible for threatening several lads with an axe before dying in a road accident in which he killed himself and the occupants of the car he hit. Well this chap threw his bike down, marched over and opened the door to four lads crammed into this phone box, whereupon he threatened to murder us. After displaying suitable levels of fear he fucked off.

Today my mate is wearing clothes that have changed only slightly; jeans instead of trackies and no cap. A red Adidas jacket today. I forgot to note the jewellery but it wouldn’t surprise me if his knuckles were still adorned with sovereign rings like they were back in high school. He still has his sense of humour; he reflects on his own receding hairline. He’s been forced onto that German caffeine shit. His fringe is immaculate like Lurch’s, but it’s very high up the forehead. Still he informs me that he’s not as unfortunate as his mate; he’s had to learn to wank with his left hand because he tried to dodge a taxi fare by throwing himself out of the window only to land on his head, leaving him a 1% chance of living… He miraculously survived but the poor bastard is a shadow of his former self; motor skills difficulties, speech impediment and all round fucked grey matter function.

There’s a nasty side to both of these lads though. Innocence at school progressed to impishness before reaching pure imbecility. I came across them one night when I’d come back from uni to catch up with mates. Both of them were threatening to beat the living daylights out of a hapless Harry Potter look-alike who’d recently graduated from Cambridge. He’d made some comment about being so hungry he’d bite above lad’s tongue off if it meant getting some of burger that he was munching. This innocuous act was the provocation for an animalistic alteration in attitude. They were for dragging him down an alley to twat him. I intervened and was confronted by above lad, and found myself locked in a violent masculine performance, my hand to his neck and his to mine. Suitably impressed by each other’s resolve the situation fizzled out. I subsequently gave my friend a lift home and asked why two lads I knew from school were going to attack some defenceless intellect. I was told that it was a matter of pride; if that intellect had been left unscathed after his infraction, word would have got round that my mate and above lad had behaved like pussies. Reputation would have plummeted. Ridiculous, but totally real in their minds. Subsequently I received the saddening (yet also side-splittingly funny) tale about how this situation (and many more like it) had arisen out of personal problems; a longstanding girlfriend had split with my mate (after shagging his best mate) – “she was on the only bird who understood me. Me ed’s fucked now, d’ya know what a mean? I need sort me ed’ out!”

Back to the pub and the rugby is over. It’s not yet 7 pm, my mates are staying out, will I join em? I decline. A night drinking in the same bars and pubs I used to at 17, except the local council have been cunts and ensured the best late night spots have been closed (it doesn’t fit with the picturesque image that they want to convey), seeing the same faces in the same clothes, hearing the same conversation (fighting, fucking, cars, and my odd appearance), and the same music. It’s too much to bear. It doesn’t matter if a bar gets renamed or new younger faces enter the scene, it’s always the same. The music is perhaps the biggest indication of abject stagnation; chart songs are circulated well enough, the few immediate classics are recycled and will be for the next twenty years, played over and over again – sometimes multiple times in the same bar in one night. What is even more disconcerting is the delight to such repetition evinced by young and old alike; 40+ slapper or 17 year old brapper. Riana followed by Bon Jovi, Bryan Adams and Build Me up Buttercup…Put a fucking bullet in me.

And what of this article? Aside from a humorous insight into this world what does it achieve? It delineates the depression of small town life, the monotony, the intolerance, the stupidity and the violence. It’s not all bad however. Indeed an infrequent foray back into this world is often crucial for one’s wellbeing. Bewildered by the pace of city life, the faddish fashion (the recent male vest phase for instance) and the facile personalities of slick city pricks, a trip back to the Old Country provides respite. There is continuity, familiarity and genuineness. You can easily navigate through the potential punches if you know people, leaving you to catch up with old friends and reminisce in dusty old pubs which serve obscure drinks like sweet damson wine (good for getting your trolleyed after a few glasses at £1.50 a glass). You then temper this sentimentality with a mixture of scorn and disdain which you use to buttress your own self-confidence. You gossip about who has ruined their life with premature pregnancy or drink. You are in the scene yet you are not part of it (unless you succumbed to the temptations damson wine). You observe the monotonous music and the clueless crowd who seemingly lack the gumption to analyse and question their sickeningly stale surroundings.  Those that do have the cognitive ability have long since drowned it in damson wine to dowse the pain. You share your disdain with those friends who are privy to observer status, and then, when you simply can’t stand it anymore you sink your last half pint of coke and skip back to the city, furnished with a fresh sense of relief at having left that rectum of a former habitat.

 

 

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Motionless Manchester: peace on a par with the Peak National Park

Motionless Manchester: peace on a par with the Peak National Park

Since my childhood days in the Peak District I have found great relief in strolling upon its rolling hills, down its silent valleys, along its leafy riverbanks, across its barren moors and through its eerie woods. All tribulations are torn asunder as the relaxing rhythm of one’s footfall causes vibrations in the body as if transforming into a vehicle atop of which the senses can separate to peacefully survey the picturesque scenery. There is a patchwork of fields with a plenitude of pigmentation; the green and yellow of the dandelion, the gorse bush, the buttercup and the multitude of grasses. Meanwhile the purple foxglove stands proud with bizarre protruding bells akin to the skyscrapers of some extraterrestrial metropolis. Even more enchanting are the barren heather moors which bloom bright from August to September into a sea of vibrant purple. Similarly the protected common Bluebell sumptuously carpets quiet corners of the hillsides whilst daisies dot the fields with flashes of white.

Easy on the eye, Britain’s first ever national park is also very easy on the ear with the gurgle of fresh water flowing around rocks in the small streams, where still and silent herons stand sentinel, stalking sticklebacks and bullhead fish. More clamorous is the squawking of cackling crows, whose cleverness is a sight to behold. A farmer with a walking stick provokes no panic amongst the beady eyed jet-black little bastards, however if that same farmer walks up the field with a shotgun, the skipping scoundrels scarper. Arrogant cocks and their panicky consorts also punctuate the silence, nervously prodding and nodding about their dull cliquey coup whilst crooning softly or gabbling uncontrollably like a load of gossiping pensioners with Victor Meldrew as the resident warden of their retirement home. With four feet and far less flare for flying are lugubrious cattle who gently low whilst dopily chewing grass with tongues lolling. One can also hear the hoarse bleat of shaggy sheep whose indignant malicious stare at being disturbed is almost as hilarious as a bothered bearded billy-goat who spits in anger whilst seemingly shouting the word “what!?” Pigs meanwhile are far friendlier, chortling whilst they amble over for a pat and some incomprehensible prattle. This leads us neatly onto the pleasant smells of the Peaks. Pig shit is not kind on the conk. Thankfully however, the Peaks don’t have many pigs. Conversely, cows are in abundance, producing a shit far sweeter than that of Napoleon or Old Major (it must be noted that appreciation of eau de manure is an acquired taste). More acclaimed aromas are of course the flowers and smell of fresh cut grass.

The only imposition of industry and all its commotion on this quaint countryside is limited to tiny bridges, aged walls, rusty gates, quiet roads and the odd hum of a distant tractor. Such intrusions cause no disruption; they simply strengthen the sedate spectacle. This is especially so with the tractor, heard and seen from afar by its colourful periphery and palpitating engine that shifts in pitch through heavy exertion. At a distance the tractor is delightfully disarmed of its usually diabolical level of decibels.  Paradoxically, when in close proximity to a fiery Massey Ferguson the peaceful bliss is totally trashed as this great earth churning red beast flows over the contours of rough country, gutturally growling as it often drags a body in tow flaying excrement forcibly upon the fields. Surrounding such fields are far less offensive fences which serve to flummox one’s freedom. A wall can be climbed whereas a fence is often barbed or worse electrified, giving pause or worse, pain to a pleasant walk.

Such trifling issues pale into insignificance when one moves to the city and all its cesspits with the sirens and the swoosh of timeless traffic or the jabbering of the masses living so tightly together in sin. Despite thus, there was still a sense of stillness to be found whilst living in Fallowfield in south Manchester where there were several parks and a cycling route shielded from the main roads. Nonetheless in Manchester as a whole one was undeniably hemmed in by hewn brick, stone and crude ugly concrete. In such an environment respite can nevertheless be found. Whilst writing my undergraduate dissertation I would abscond, to walk the quieter older streets of Manchester where the red brick architecture is amongst the most attractive in Britain. Inevitably one is drawn to the canals of Manchester, once the arteries of “Cottonopolis” which fed its Dark Satanic Mills. The closest to the University Library was the Rochdale Canal, next to which stands the Percy Brothers Ltd Hotspur press, a half-ruined red factory with modern piping pricking through walls and smashed windows. Just below is a foetid offshoot of the canal, festooned with human waste. Not a stone’s throw from the Hotspur and differing markedly are the Macintosh Mills, and the Rubber Works, fancy flats in redeveloped factories which still bear the marks of a former working life. Fittingly, Dunlop Ltd still has a goods division in part of the Rubber Works.

I always fancied a flat in this part of Manchester and I always wanted to tour more of the canals during my degree, but never found the time. On starting my PhD, I moved not to Macintosh but to near another group of mills, in Ancoats, heart of the city’s cotton industry. Indeed my new fangled abode is called the McConnell Building after the late 18th century industrialist who was instrumental in constructing the mills in Ancoats now collectively called the Royal Mills which still tower above the Rochdale Canal just down the road. The area breathes industrial power; impressive and oddly elegant red brick mills inlaid with sandstone dot the surrounding streets, many converted into trendy apartments. Ironically the area is remarkably quiet, save for the efficient acceleration of Audis and other such voguish vehicles, the wheels of which patter on the cobbles that have replaced tarmac to increase authenticity. All around are placards propounding the vibrancy of Ancoats, an area of Manchester destined for extensive regeneration. And yet, the pace is slow. During the day you open the window and the thwack of powers tools is present, a new flat block being knocked up. Yet aside from this, much stays the same. There are few if any shops, not even a newsagent, and old squalid small-scale businesses still inhabit and adapt buildings of the past whose industries have died since the end of the Second World War. Many buildings are still in a dilapidated and neglected state, some with quirky ‘peeps’ which give you a view into the interior of the building, and the remnants of its machinery.

Despite the painful pace of development in Ancoats which may never become part of the hustle and bustle on the other side of Great Ancoats Street, the city still interrupts ones thoughts. Shirtless men in high-vis vests and hard hats at a jaunty angle hammer away at some a pointless piece of concrete or whistle at office-working young women. Even more irritating is the slow whine of police sirens making Manchester feel like Manhattan. A siren which may herald someone’s tragic demise, or the acclaimed arrest of some callous criminal becomes nought but a nuisance, disassociated from the good deeds done by our men and women in uniform; recently I took especial enjoyment in Greater Manchester Police hit squads attacking rioters.

In search of solace on a bad day I decided to walk north on the Rochdale Canal. Here one can find peace on a par with the Peak District. On leaving the modernised apartments of Ancoats where the canals are being spruced up to compliment the redeveloped mills, one enters a rather lifeless area toward Miles Platting. The vista is punctuated by empty lifeless flat blocks reminiscent of the Communist East, surrounded by the wilderness of brownfield, or the weariness of modern-built terraced housing, horrific in style with tortuous prisonlike windows. As the city centre seeps into the distance one heads towards Victoria Mill which forms a sheer cliff face on the right hand side of the canal. Too far out to be new homes for hotshots the once fine factory has been functionalised by the NHS which ironically has a ‘Stop Smoking Service’, housed right next to the ruddy great red chimney. Moving on and one gets a true sense of serenity as the murky water trickles nonchalantly along the canal’s old brown stone channel and its rusty locks flanked by grassy green banks and drooping trees. Ducks cruise about cackling whilst Canadian Geese swagger about like mobsters. The scene then clashes violently with urban life as one observes the piles of rubbish choking the stagnating water with trolleys, bins and silt. Surprisingly, life still flourishes, evinced by two intrepid trout swimming upstream through the storm of human debris. Such trout struggle in scum only to become the favoured tipple of scum on the canal bank. By this I humorously refer to the tracksuit wearing inhabitants of Manchester who love nothing more than to sit on their camp stools, Stella in one hand, rod in the other, teasing the trout to take a maggot. Maggots also inhabit the canal, little urchins running along the top of walls above you where once a factory or industrial complex stood. They lob stones in to try and splash you, frequently shattering the silence with “Oi! Oi! Wanker!” The next load of loveable louts are already present too, mothers having a natter whilst pushing their prams containing impending pricks (the allurement of alliteration has provoked politically incorrect generalisation here – not all prams are occupied by “impending pricks”, but potential entrepreneurs and politicians who can break the power of patronage and the persistently perceived class system in Britain).

Whole families too, often fish on the canal side, an after school event with fish and chips, and chats with neighbours about one particular big trout or other. They live in grotty terraces with balconies over the canal, a relief considering the box windows and awful architecture; dirty brown brick or characterless concrete topped with vile curved European-like roof tiles.  Some chaps are walking dogs; you can hear the rasping breath and see the rhythmic yank on the tattooed arm which glitters with gleaming gold bracelets. A Staffie Bull no less, the talisman of titheads who prance about posturing power in their parochial pointless world.  Surprisingly a Staffie is a very good natured dog originating from a county which touches the southern tip of the Peak District where I was raised as a child. Its fighting days long gone, Staffies may look vicious, but in reality they are gentle, loyal and pleasing to the eye, especially the characteristic ridge down the forehead.

In the oddly comforting world of the canal, new industry has not in actual fact died. One passes foreboding hybrids of Victorian and modern factories; brick sides topped with zigzag dirty white roofing. There are also the new concrete slab walls, the sort that plonka off YouTube kicked through and looked to have lost his Lacoste footed leg. Sometimes triple layers of razor sharp barbed wire are pinioned to the wall and I almost feel like John Connor on patrol, surrounded by the hum and drum of malicious machines. Emanating from the walls are also reams of piping, pumping unseen liquids hither and thither for unknown and mysterious means. The smells are intense, hot metal, rubber and strange chemicals. There are also blasts of acrid invisible vapours from powerful vents in the old brick walls sometimes stained a lurid green which contrasts with the floras that are bent double and stained black with soot from the foetid fumes.

One reaches the “urban area” of Newton Heath which isn’t too fine a spectacle, aside from the actual heath on the left bank which is a rather unkempt patch of countryside interspersed with clumps of trees. More prominent are the battered grimy houses and a pub or two, including the New Crown Inn, new as in a poor approximation of a traditional pub painted in sickly Ambrosia rice pudding and protected in part by razor barbed wire. Monstrous magnolia. The library is even worse, a squat one-storey, glorified portacabin decorated with murals; Blackpool Tower and the Lancaster Bomber, behind which is a basecoat of beastly bright yellow. Still seemingly in use its puny panes of glass are dirty, shielded by wire and tucked back amidst a once ornamental but now overgrown perimeter of plants. A distinct smell of weed is in the air probably emanating from some youths on BMXs. Down the road is one of those elegant red brick and stone corner buildings, with Dutch-like frontal facades and a small tower. Surprisingly the building purportedly dates only to the 1950’s, built as a Co-Op department store. Now it is occupied by a furniture store which leaves the arched windows boarded up with red wood, attempting (unsuccessfully) to blend in with the brickwork. No doubt the building is used for storage but it seems a travesty that it is denied the more fitting purpose of housing the local public library. Further on toward Failsworth and the houses are of a more palatable persuasion, older Edwardian or even Victorian terraces set back from the canal. The comforting smell of a roast dinner wafts in the air. Failsworth itself is a tidy town with new a development on the wharf including a Tesco and a Morrisons, housed in rather unimaginative brick and glass which nevertheless sit easily with Failworth’s predictable yet pleasing industrial architecture. Here my ramble on the Rochdale Canal ends. I decided to walk back on Oldham Road which ruins the relaxed mood accrued on the manmade waterway. A main modern artery into Manchester, the road is constantly covered in cars and lorries shuttling past at shocking speeds. New lifeless industrial estates dominate the scene, having largely replaced older housing. The few that remain are blackened with soot and mostly deserted of inhabitants, so insufferable is the sound of traffic. Other modern impositions include petrol stations, hotels and an empty Ladbrokes bookie, where a fat cow courts cancer on the doorstep. I found an old newsagent and bought a giant multi-coloured crocodile chewy sweet like Haribo. Quality fare for fuelling the walk home.

Epilogue – to town

Having never fully walked the canal to the city centre, a few days later I decided to turn south and stroll hence. Passing underneath the bridge at Aldi daubed in some comical insults to lads and lasses from Accrington Stanley, one enters a redeveloped area in which the Vantage Quay apartments are situated. The canal is clean, both in terms of its water and works; the stonemasonry and the black and white locks and footbridges. A trendy bar called Moon is also on the edge of the Piccadilly Basin here, spilling out onto the waterside from the old red brick arches of yet another of Manchester’s industrial landmarks, the Jackson Warehouse. One then enters a strange subterranean section of the canal in which a suspended footbridge extends from the piss-stinking edges of the canal side under Dale Street. Murals decorate the walls but the scene is forever tarnished by the piss, produced by proponents of super strength lager, Skol, Carlsberg and Kestrel (evidential empty cans are in abundance). Heading underneath Ducie Street and the bustling city above, one reaches a short stretch of widened canal aside of the plot earmarked for the magnificent Albany Crown Tower, a gleaming glass sister to the Hilton. As of yet construction has not commenced. On the right bank are familiar features; the absence of walkways owing to the presence of red cliff-like factories, their chimneys no longer chuffing murderous smoke, but charming the scene with a sense of reassuring longevity. One certainly feels more hemmed in than when heading north on the canal but the walk is still an enjoyable escape. In the sunset light dances on the surface of the water or on the cobbles which become emblazoned like the Yellow Brick Road. Meanwhile couples canoodle in quiet nooks and crannies. Perhaps the most surprising and touching of such rendezvous was a young Muslim woman tenderly pecking her boyfriend on the lips whilst still attired in a royal purple hijab.

Up from Aubern Street and you emerge onto Canal Street as the walkway becomes disjointed and inaccessible, forcing you into civilisation. One wonders how many times people subconsciously remove the ‘C’ in this street. Of course this is a most crude and indeed sexist jest (it is still fanny funny however). Despite the slightly excessive display of gay pride (evinced by bars called GAY and QUEER with huge glitzy signs) the pedestrianised street and the wider Gay Village is a fantastic asset for Manchester. An assortment of clubs, cafes, bars and restaurants inhabit the right bank with chairs and tables covering the canal side like some Parisian or Amsterdam street. Suspended on the other side is the Eden bar and restaurant which is accessed by a green bridge over the water leading to a private terrace and a barge. Beyond Canal Street one encounters much of the same; old factories, new flats and even some low level offices where white collars tap away on keyboards with the water flowing past their windows. More terrace eateries and bars and interspersed as one gets to Oxford Street where my stroll stops.

In summary I feel my undeniably dramatised representation of rambling the Peaks and the Rochdale Canal has demonstrated that peace can be found in an urban environment on a par with the rural. It is of a different sort however, the rural being somewhat purer than the adulterated urban. In the countryside one can undoubtedly find more space to stop and survey the scene which often looks as if in perpetual stillness. You can sit for hours in a cosy spot with an impressive view. Meanwhile on the canals in the city the senses are constantly assaulted with the violent clash of town and country. The smells, the sights and the inescapable speed of the city of Manchester always prevails, nonetheless one can still find some respite and when a  return to a racy lifestyle is longed for, everything is on your doorstep in this diverse metropolis which undoubtedly contains much more than meets the eye. As a student I failed to perceive of this panoply promptly, and I would advise any new student or indeed any budding Mancunian, if in need of peace or exploration, take a walk on the canals of Cottonopolis.

Images:

Courtesy of Google and more importantly http://www.penninewaterways.co.uk/rochdale where enthusiasts have lovingly pictured their journey along the canal.  One can see the purple of Moorland in the Peaks, the Royal Mills next to the footbridge in Ancoats, the Eastern Bloc that is Miles Platting, the Victoria Mill with her ruddy red chimney, the Victoria Mill again with hybrid factories in the foreground, horrid housing on the way to Failsworth and finally the Piccadilly Basin with Moon at Jackson Warehouse, next the Vantage Quay.