Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Out and about in Manchester

Wandering about in Manchester midmorning yesterday I took this photo of a reflection in a window.

There it was: the old and the new, ancient and modern reflected in the glass.

The curved-roofed building is the old Manchester Central Station, now an exhibition hall called the GMex centre, for a while anyway; it may have chan
ged its name recently. They do these changes to keep us on our toes. The other is the Hilton Tower, hotel, apartment and office building, the tallest in the North West of England by all accounts and certainly visible from miles around. It may be a marvel of modern architecture but it’s not really very elegant or beautiful, not to my way of looking at things at least. And when it’s very windy, the top of the tower gives off a strangely haunting siren noise. The first time I heard it, I wondered if we were under attack from aliens!

Midmorning Manchester yesterday was very pleasant. As it was Easter Monday Bank Holiday the place was remarkably quiet. Later on in the day there were lots of shoppers around but there was very little traffic. It was possible to stroll across major roads without any problems. The sun was shining and the air was amazingly clear.

In the sunshine, Manchester is a fine city. You have to ignore the ground floor of most buildings as they have been made anonymous by having brand-name shop windows and their displays imposed on them, making Market Street look exactly the same as any shopping street in any town in England. However, if you lift your eyes up from ground level, the buildings are worth a second look.

I won’t comment on the horrors of “refurbishment” that have been visited on Pic
cadilly Gardens but Albert Square, where the rather majestic town hall is situated, is splendid.

I had gone to Manchester to meet an old friend, someone I worked with for a good few years. We were both impressed with how nice Manchester is when it’s quiet. Because this is England in the 21st century, all the shops were open despite it being a Bank Holiday so we took a look around various places, ostensibly looking for an outfit for my friend to wear to her daughter’s wedding but not finding anything suitable and really taking the opportunity just to natter and catch up withhold gossip.

At lunchtime we unsuccessfully looked for a restaurant where my friend remembered having enjoyed the food. Could we find? Not at all. So we finished up in a Pizza Express where we ate a very satisfactory fancy salad and carried on gossiping.

Lunch over, we eventually went our separate ways, my friend to Victoria Station while I set off to trek across Manchester city centre to Toys ‘r’ Us in one of those retail parks just outside the main shopping areas. I needed to look for a present for my grandson who will be six on Friday and Toys ‘r’ Us was the only place to go.

They call themselves a toyshop but I really loathe the idea of taking a child in there. First of all because it is such a toy-supermarket of a place, aisles and aisles of toys stacked up to the ceiling, encouraging children to want one of everything. And then the displays which are set up to show what the toys look like, few and far between, usually displays of garden swings and other large ride-on toys, are all labelled “Do not touch” or “Do not allow children to play on these”. Definitely not a toyshop, it’s just a warehouse where you can buy toys but which destroys all the magic of playtime. There should be a notice on the door saying, “Adults Only!!”

Be that as it may, I managed to find the remote-controlled car I was looking for at a reasonable price and made my way homewards. This took me longer than I expected as the buses were running on Sunday-service. This meant that instead of there being a bus every half hour for the last stage of my journey, there was only one every hour. So I had a long wait.

But the sun, which had disappeared earlier in the afternoon, had come back to make even sitting a bus stop with a book and an iPod enjoyable. First rule of the public transport user: always have your book and possibly some music with you!!

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