We’ve been in Norfolk for 10 years this summer – tempus fugit and all that – and when we occasionally hitch up the camels to make the trek out of this remote corner of England, I feel frustrated with the isolation and accompanying journey times.
Amsterdam is closer to us than London, believe it or not (and probably quicker to get to) but this weekend, I went on a missionary trip to the north of England, bearing bottled water and delusions of grandeur to Manchester, no less.
The trip was business-related, but, as it was the north, business quickly became pleasure.
After arriving at 2.30pm after a 6 hour trek up the A1 and across Woodhead, I had time to just check in, ostentatiously carry my San Pellegrino into the hotel, watched, bizarrely, by a group of men in shorts playing football in the car park – the same group drinking heavily at 9.30am the next day with, I kid you not, Peter Kay masks on – what’s that all about?
After another 40 minutes fighting rush hour in east Manchester, I made the meeting with clients / friends, Adam, Sam and Gemma, with Adam stocking up on San Pellegrino – as my reputation precedes me.
Lovely people again, as most northerners are.
A 7pm handshake sealed the website deal and we headed out for dinner where the landlord, an avuncular type, warmed to me as I ordered bottled water in a refined Yorkshire accent, which wowed the locals as we chatted at length all night when the brilliant meal arrived.
Running the clients home, who’d generously made my meal free, I returned to the hotel and bed, wondering what I’d do on Saturday.
Despite this hotel facing a sprawling Tesco Extra, I was a bit disconcerted at breakfast not only to watch the aforementioned masked drinkers, but to be told they couldn’t get hold of gluten free bread.
I muttered, “the north, tut” under my breath and filled my boots with crap coffee, juice and a cooked breakfast whilst watching cans being poured down necks.
Heading out, I decided to leave the set of “Shameless” and head to the much-hyped city centre and its Northern Quarter.
Manchester has changed since I left there 22 years ago.
Much of it for the better, some for the worse.
Piccadilly might have had buses removed but in their place were homeless people or Spice smokers. I’d read about the Spice epidemic online and expected to see half a dozen milling around but in truth there were over 50. Poor sods. We’re a first world country with bankers being bailed out and tennis matches being arranged with £160,000 sweeteners but here, alongside posh shops and restaurants, was a broken tribe.
Now don’t get me wrong – I don’t have answers for the Spice epidemic but I do know these men need help and urgently.
After mooching around the shops, I decided that I’d turn back time and meet with colleagues from Failsworth School, a place I left in 1993, as a 28 year old teacher.
An old friend, Mark, was retiring and I turned up after not seeing many of these for 25 years – but it was like yesterday.
The humour, the bonhomie, the banter flowed as well as the bottled water in the Marble Arch, and from intending to spend a couple of hours there, I left for the hotel at 9.30 pm, after an impromptu meal with Gillian.
7 and a half hours after meeting these wonderful ex colleagues.
The drinkers had now disappeared from the car park and I also disappeared to bed to read – still grinning widely from the day experienced.
You see these were all old school teachers – the ones who you met most nights after work, with an ingrained distrust of senior management, something I’ve believed since 1987.
You could tell this lot stuff and you knew they wouldn’t shaft you, ever.
Sunday was the day I intended to travel back but I had a lunch date with two ex pupils, David and Steve, and an ex colleague and good friend Charlie, in “Dough” a marvellous gluten free pizzeria in the trendy Northern Quarter.
There was one more joy before I hit the A627, M62, A1M and A47 for the mammoth drive home.
Steve Grogan, who claims to be a favourite ex-pupil (and who probably is) turned up on a Mobike (after introducing me to Uber on a visit last year in August 2017) and captured me on video, which is apparently great for SEO.
Here’s the video and a link to Steve’s website, as he is a photographer nonpareil.