Nostalgic Wandering in Manchester

2012-12-13 13.56.23

I am in Manchester at the moment, visiting my Granddad, who has lived in the same house in Withington since before I was born. I’ve lived here myself on two occasions, and for some reason the last one particularly comes back in waves when I walk around this part of the city, despite being back around the turn of the millennium.

I’ve said dozens of times before that my relationship with Manchester, where my mum’s family are all from, was always a bit ropey simply because I lived here during a couple of the most difficult parts of my life and for some reason it’s always coloured my relationship with the place.

That changed a few years ago when I started to come down here regularly for music events, and met some brilliant, inspirational people in doing so. Now I really look forward to coming down to Manchester, and think of it as one of my favourite places in the UK, but for some reason wandering around Withington always brings back that strange period of limbo after I graduated from university when my life was perhaps as sensitive to small nudges in one direction or another as it has ever been.

I’ve always loathed the way adults describe teenagers or people in their early twenties as knowing nothing, but when I think back at how much more complete I feel as a person now, and yet how different the life I have led could have been but for tiny, tiny differences back in the Winter and Spring of early 2000, I do feel a weird sense of wanting to fill up my younger self with information, experiences, the benefit of anything I could give, really.

I had already missed out on some truly brilliant opportunities by the point I fetched up in Manchester just before the end of 1999, and perhaps that was a large part of the problem. I’d had some weird and awesome adventures which could have led to… well, I have no idea what they could have led to I suppose, and I guess that’s rather the point.

I almost got two industrial design jobs in Boston, but didn’t, almost got another one in Montreal but didn’t, almost ended up as a restaurant manager on Cape Cod, and would perhaps have stayed in Montreal to tend bar and wait and see what happened, had I not come back to Europe to interview for an awesome design job in Milan. Which of course I subsequently didn’t get.

So there I was in Manchester again, working briefly in a shitty gangster nightclub (literally – it was run as a money laundering business for the Moss Side gangs), and then at minimum wage in a nice old man’s pub in Didsbury.

I was pretty emotionally exhausted at this point by a combination of constant moving around, all these opportunities I so nearly managed to grasp, and severe sciatica which was driving me round the fucking bend. So I settled, for a bit. I stayed in my Granddad’s spare room, worked in a pub, made Sunday lunch once a week and tried to figure out how to get my kind of job in the UK.

The problem was that I really didn’t even know how to find them, never mind how to apply, and I ended up in a really demoralising kind of limbo, where I couldn’t really even afford to buy myself books or the postage for job applications, but had no idea how to change the situation I was in. I was considering applying for teacher training if nothing happened by the start of the new academic year, and I was forever being sent woefully inappropriate job openings by recruitment consultants with no real idea what to do with my rather ill-defined skill set.

I couldn’t afford to buy much music, and of course my Granddad didn’t want to listen to my stuff, so I could only ever play my small handful of CDs when he went out or really, really quietly when he went upstairs for a nap. My music collection had been left behind in Montreal, and because they were so few, those albums I did have at that stage stick to the memories of this time like glue. 69 Love Songs by the Magnetic Fields. And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out by Yo La Tengo. Spoke by Calexico.

Somehow, every time those jobs came through from the recruitment people, no matter how utterly unsuitable, I would walk to work fantasising about actually getting them. Getting a car. Getting a nice wee flat to myself. It was Spring time in Withington and beautifully leafy, and when the sun came out the red Manchester brick was absolutely gorgeous.

Of all those lives I imagined for myself whilst making that walk into work, none of them are anything even remotely like the one I ended up with, and certainly nothing like the one I have now and I suppose that is maybe the only justification for the ‘you know nothing yet’ dismissal. It’s not what you don’t know about the world, yet, or even about yourself, but about how the two will combine over the next however-many years to make a subtly different, more complete person.

I am only writing this because I made that exact same walk today, and even nearly fifteen years later, it all come flooding back so vividly. A lot has changed. The small flats being restored back then, which I idly imagined being able to move into, have since become under-loved and rather ratty rental properties, but there is one house which is deceptively large, not carved up into flats and clearly still loved and the garden still carefully tended by what I assume is the same family.

And so I don’t know what emotions I was feeling as I wandered along. Was it wondering about how different everything could have been, but for tiny, tiny changes in direction during this incredibly malleable period of my life? Was it a weird and pointless comparison between the person I was then, the person I was trying to become and the person I have become since. Was it a weird nostalgia for playing Yo La Tengo almost unlistenably quietly in my Granddad’s living room while he napped upstairs.

I don’t know. But for whatever reason, when I walk through the red brick, tree-lined streets of Withington I find the sense of nostalgia and wave of returning memories good and bad to be quite overwhelming. Maybe it’s because I come here so rarely, yet regularly enough that I seem to be marking off the progression of my life by the distinctly different haircuts, outfits, challenges and aspirations which have marked almost every single time I take that particular walk.

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