I have recently taken to going into Manchester by bus and train rather than by going all the way by bus. The journey is only slightly quicker but on the whole a good deal more pleasant. I catch a bus from our crossroads to Greenfield station although on occasion I walk some or all of the way; it’s a 45 minute walk if you go all the way on foot so it has to be a day when I’m not pressed for time. There is a bit of a wait at the railway station but this is just as well given the unreliability of our local bus service. My bus can be up to 10 minutes late (and sometimes is) without causing me to miss the train. If the bus is on time and it’s a fine day, I get off the bus a couple of stops before the station and walk the rest of the way.
Unlike the bus station, the railway station is not a bad place to wait. The bus station in the town centre is a modern glass and steel construction, extremely draughty and, as I have said before, full of people who are trying to ignore the announcements that this bus station is a no-smoking area. It would seem that you get a better class of travellers at the railway station or at least fewer smokers. Those who do smoke retreat into a little smoking shelter at one end of the platform.
Otherwise, it’s just a nice clean little station. On a fine day you can sit in the sunshine and if it rains there is a covered area all the passengers can squeeze into.
What’s more, I can travel on the local train on my bus pass. The joys of free public transport! Whereas the bus brings me into Manchester at Piccadilly Gardens, which have been “modernised” into a rather bland if not actually ugly square, in my opinion anyway, the train arrives at Victoria Station. Now, this station has been described as one of the ugliest in Britain and I have to say that whoever assessed it is probably correct. It really needs a bit of care and attention. In the daytime it’s dingy but at night it’s gloomy, dark and rather threatening.
, the exterior of the station is worth a look with its old glass and wrought iron veranda, proudly boasting the destinations you can get to from there: Southport, Scarborough, Blackpool, Belgium. Belgium??? Probably not any longer or at least not very directly.
And arriving at Victoria does mean that I get to walk past the cathedral and through some nice bits of old Manchester. You also walk through the large open area in front of Chetham’s School of Music, a specialist music school in the city centre and a building worth looking at. You just have to ignore the rather naff water feature which runs through the square.
Early evening yesterday, as on many a sunny evening, the square was full of boys – no, young men – honing their skate-boarding skills.
What is it with young men and skateboards? Do they not grow out of them? Apparently not, judging by the numbers I see trying to execute fancy jumps and turns in any open place available. You don’t see young women practising complicated skipping games, seeing who can “run in” without disturbing the rhythm of the turning rope. Neither do you see them playing the strange game which involves attaching lots of elastic bands together to form a long stretchy rope which two girls hold around their ankles while others carry out fancy manoeuvres jumping in and out and through. And you don’t find pairs of girls trying to do intricate cats’ cradle patterns with lengths of string. No, on the whole we have moved on. Young women who want to get involved in sports activities are more likely to be jogging or off to the gym. But the male of the species still likes to play with the skateboard. I fail to understand it.
However, the square was very pleasant in the sunshine and there were lots of people sitting outside the old Shambles pub. Manchester can be delightful!
I was on my way to the Royal Northern College of Music to a fado concert with Mariza, the Portuguese singer. So I had a fair trek across Manchester to the concert venue but was worth it. I discovered Mariza a few years ago on television when she was featured in the Cambridge Folk Festival. Her dramatic performance captured me immediately and I went out and bought a CD. I find myself singing along in Spanish to her Portuguese songs or poems, as she insists on calling them. She has a perfect right to do so as many of her songs are poems set to music but even new songs written for her by one of her musicians are referred to as poems.
When I booked my ticket for the concert there were no seats left in the main theatre area; all that was left were seats in the “pit”. So that’s where I went and I found myself on the very front row, right up by the stage. The only way to get closer would have been to be seated at one of the tables on the stage itself. Someone suggested the people seated there might be students from the College of Music but judging by the age range I don’t think that was the case. I wonder how they were selected.
The aim was to recreate “Mariza’s Taverna”, with tables in a semi-circle at the back and seats for the guitar players in front of them. Eventually Mariza arrived, quite tall and made taller by high-heeled shoes, very dramatic in a long black dress, all net and ruffles and long lace sleeves. Her hair is still worn very short, white blonde and plastered to her head. Her face seems all cheekbones and dark eyes but when she sings her mouth is unbelievably expressive.
She sang songs I recognised and some I had never heard before, some sad, some happy, all full of emotion. The song which she told us was her favourite fado was the first song I ever heard her sing, Primavera, a song about lost love, inevitably!
She had the audience joining in and, not satisfied with the singing, got down close and personal, into the audience after she had managed to persuade the staff to help her find a way down. At this point she gently told off a fan who used flash (not me, I hasten to add), explaining that in the dark of the theatre the sudden flash effectively blinds her, even onstage. So, no flash.
She ended the concert by telling us that we were now part of “a minha gente” – my people. When she started her singing career, “a minha gente” were the people of Portugal and particularly of her own town but she now includes all those who make an effort to understand and share her Portuguese culture. And then she sang for us as she said she would have sung in her taverna; without microphones or amplifiers for herself or her musicians. She opened her mouth and filled the concert hall with her song. Simply astounding!