You know how it is. Monday morning. You wake up, rub sleep from your eyes and head out on your early morning commute to the office. As usual, you can’t get a seat on the train, everyone’s packed in like sardines, and you’ve got nothing to do but daydream about sandy beaches, clear turquoise oceans, the mythical phenomenon known as ‘sunshine,’ and something just that little bit more…exciting.
As you pull up the hood of your waterproof and step out into the city, it’s easy to dismiss all the great things that your hometown has to offer.
Hailing from Stratford-upon-Avon, famous for birthing Shakespeare, I know what it’s like to grow up in a tourist hotspot. I have lost count of the number of photographs I have photo bombed, or how you can never get a table at your favourite café during the warm months because of the swarm of visitors. It seemed weird to me that these people wanted to visit my little hometown and, like Maths or learning how to drive a car, I just didn’t get it. Now, as I get older and head back to visit, I realise that its a beautiful part of the country with its patchwork fields, cute houses and rich history.
As you dry your clothes once again
Upon the radiator
What makes Britain great
Makes Manchester yet greater
Beautiful South, Manchester
With this in mind, I often think about the importance of playing tourist in your own backyard every once in a while. Not only does it do wonders for local business – and I’m a huge advocate for supporting independents – but it highlights all the amazing things you’ve forgotten about the place in which you live. Like any relationship, things can get a bit stale. Think of it as going on a date-night with your significant-other.
We all get a bit short and ratty (Why is my train perpetually late? Why does it always rain on my way to work? What is that smell in Piccadilly Gardens?) or take each other for granted and need to spend some quality time together remembering that your beau is pretty freaking great.
Maybe it’s time to treat your home-town like your date and rekindle that spark?
I’ve made no secret of my love for Manchester. As I’ve mentioned, it isn’t my home town – I’m a faux-northerner, a Plastic-Manc like Serge from Kasabian – it’s the city where I feel most at home. I’ve lived in a few places, but Manchester will always be special; it’s the place where I grew from idiotic teenager to idiotic thirty-something.
Manchester is unique.
Yeah, the weather can sometimes be a bit tempestuous (I have lost count of how many umbrellas have been massacred during monsoon season) but that’s a small price to pay for living in such a brilliant, vibrant city.
After all, this is the place where the industrial revolution began, the first programmable computer was invented, and the Hacienda was spawned. It gave us legendary musicians such as Oasis, Elbow, The Smiths and – most importantly – The Stone Roses. It gave us chips and gravy.
It’s a place where people actually acknowledge each other, somewhere with all the big city attractions – excellent theatres, thriving industry, amazing bars and restaurants – with a far friendlier vibe than our capital. If London is like your achingly cool big sister, aloof, bratty and unattainable, then Manchester is certainly your best friend – co-conspiratorial, hilarious and cool as hell.
I didn’t realise how lucky I was to call Manchester my home until I returned from my six month trip to Australasia (No, I don’t mean the bar. The only bar I have been lost in for long periods of time is Black Dog Ballroom, but that’s a whole other story).
It’s like finally noticing how hot that good friend of yours really is, the one who’s been under your nose this whole time. I mean, how did you not realise? Why didn’t someone tell you? You can’t keep your eyes of it – I mean, HAVE YOU SEEN IT? – and your heart beats like you’ve ingested a whole jar of coffee beans. You feel the need to point it out to everyone because this must be what love feels like, right?
For me, there’s something about playing tourist in my adopted city that I love and my new-found wanderlust seems to spur this on rather than prompt me to continually pine after distant shores.
It’s the music, the cobbled streets, the artwork scrawled on shutters, walls and buildings, the theatres, the accent, the style (and we have it, people, in abundance), the history, and – most importantly – how multi-cultural and inclusive the city really is.
The North gets a bad rap for not being as progressive as London, for being “grim” and having a crap climate, and I think it’s about time we dispel this myth.
So next time you’re out and about, maybe shopping on Market Street, necking brightly coloured cocktails in the Northern Quarter, watching some DJ set in a dingy bar, or brunching at the many cafes in Chorlton, take a moment to look around you.
Yeah, the weather might have just ruined your make-up, you need to take out a loan to afford transport fees, and Piccadilly Gardens often smells like a mixture between really strong weed, sewage, and cottage pie, but isn’t it wonderful, this city of ours?
*This post is also published on my blog, Its Not Grim Up North, for online magazine Northern Soul. You can read it here.