Just before getting on the train at Euston central London, I realise I am without my mobile phone. 9am. The disaster is averted in that I buy a pay as you go phone £30 call TheJHournalist who has some of my important numbers and bobs your uncle. Sorted. Something about telephones this past two days.
Manchester. 12.30. The new city. The sleek architectural lines swoop from the outside of Piccadilly Station depositing workers into the shiney new office complex’s of this great and proud city. I walk on a downward swoop light on my feet to the nearby MalmaisonHotel drop my bags in my room and take an invigorating trek through the centre of Piccadilly down the maelstrom of Market St to The Royal Exchange Theatre.
I cross Piccadilly gardens. “hey brother”. Its sadaka my south African friend who gives out the free paper in the center of town. We catch up – he has since been back to cape town – and is setting up business there. How is it in SA I ask him. He passes a newspaper to a passer by while talking “ we are xhosa” he says “the same as Steve Biko he was Xhosa too”. He offers me a newspaper. I take it “and steve biko said we must progress at our own pace, not at the pace of the western market. We are Africans and we have a pace which is in line with our culture”. I know South Africa a little and we discussed the implications of that message from the late Steve Biko and its relevance to todays south Africa and the black working class. I say my goodbyes in Piccadilly Gardens. The same gardens that the builders commissioned me to write a poem about. Sadaka (known also as Nicholas) waves goodbye with the paper in hand and the bright yellow Manchesterevening news jacket on. I used to write a weekly column for that paper. I look at the front page of the newspaper “Bernard Manning funeral – hundreds attend ”. And I look at the pictures and they have something of a BNP fund raising event about it.
Four hundred Children parents and teachers await the four fifteen minute plays directed by Julia Nelson and written by Cathy Crab as part of Aim Higher, a government initiative to help promote University and further education to young people in schools. 1pm. The children are in the audience and in the plays.
There is also an award ceremony which follows the performances. My Job is Master ofCeremony In previous years I had written the plays that the children performed. But the speech given by the director of museums Bernadette, was a piece of powerful oratory. Bernadette tied the theme of the plays - the abolition of the slave trade act - and the place we were performing in - The Royal Exchange, who still have the trading board on the wall pertaining to the last time of trading, as memorial to its past. Slavery and The Exchange are inextricably linked. It was a master stroke of speech making and I have requested the text from Bernadette in the hope that I can share it with you. When I get it, I shall post it on this Blog under the heading EXCHANGE. Just tap it into the Search facility on the blog mainpage.
You may or may not know but I don’t drink alcohol any more. I spent twenty years in Manchester, yes working , but drinking too so it is with trepidation that I engage. Film Maker and friend paul Sapin come to watch the event at the exchange and it all goes smoothly. I have a glass of water and a red bull afterwards. Never had red bull before yuchhhhh. 5pm. And then it’s off to The Cornerhouse to meet the incredible Phil Korbell director producer and instigator of Manchesters radio regen . We discuss a very excitingidea that Phil has which includes the likes of Graham Massey and the lead singer of Elbow and myself as writer. It’s early days yet. It’s a quick meet and before I know it the doors of The cornerhouse are swinging closed and the traffic noise stole a goodbye.
This is a real nostalgia fest. I’m tingling with excitement at being in Manchester and seeing old friends. Throughout my journey to the theatre to the cornerhouse and now to the bus stop I am meeting old friends colleagues and adversaries. It’s brilliant. With one writer Anjum Malik whom I see on the street we discuss the home truth that there is no way around the fact that a writer must work hard. There is no magic pill, except for the excitement of the writing. Hard work is central to the creative process. “good enough ain’t good enough” as Millie Jackson once said . What I meant to say though was that thoughhard work is essential there’s another element – you write what you like. I’m not a career writer as much as a careering writer. And without making judgement of writers likeAnjum, I like it like that. I catch a bus.
It wends its way up the oxford road and towards fallowfield past the university, pastcontact theatre, through Rusholme. I spent a good twenty years deposited on different areas adjacent to this stretch of road, moss side, hulme fallowfield whalley range and I pass them on the bus relishing the memory like a child in a sweet shop. I see my poems punctuating the journey on the walls of this great street and a twinge of pride warms my neck. I love this city but I had to leave.
6pm I get off the bus in Didsbury and walk to my friends house. His name is Mark Atwood he’s an entrepreneur in the truest sense of the word and manager of topskips.com. It’s a very successful business. His latest campaign about to hit the streets are massive billboards advertising topskips.com that read DUMP YOUR LOAD. He’s a genius.
He calls it visualisation. He visualises it, his aspirations, and it happens. Visualisation/aspiration/focussed thinking, it actually has many names… For the business minded he could run motivational talks, a lucrative market itself. He’s ace and he’s a best mate. I miss him and his family. He brought Jo Nightingale, – the two first names of my godson – his godson out onto the street to meet me. Jo is the best and he’s wearing the Vancouver T Shirt I got him from Canada and the Arizona Sun Devils Peak hat I got him from er… Arizona. I like being the Godfather to this wonderful growing young boy. I tickle him joke with him and then he’s fast asleep on the couch so I can catch up with Mark who is also the producer of the radio comedy about a Doctor Who fan called Moths Ate My Doctor Who Scarf.
Mark kindly gives me a lift into Mancehster where I am meeting a truly wonderful woman – Shobna Gulati. at 7.30pm on Deansgate. As we walk to where her car is parked SimonCowell and Luis of X factor fame walk past us. While crowds wait for them across the street – it was a surreal moment. Shobna recognises and remembers the Paparazzi photographers clicking away past us and onto the present media fodder. The crowd, a wedding party, are screaming and I wonder whose wedding was disturbed to gawp at two men walking.
We zip to Akbars a lush Indian resteraunt near Granada TV. Shobna is in rehearsals for a play at The Royal Exchange and we talk the world non stop, through Biryani, kahari fish and potatoe and masala fish with a family naan and sauces. The family naan is ingeniously and comically held up on a sort of minature coat hanger thing. We finish off with coffee totally sated. I feel like I am with a sister. I've under written this part of my time because this is the most fulfilling - three hours and a half hours of fun and chat and food.Life affirming. Shobna gives me a lift to the Mal and I’m in bed by 11.30pm whereas normally I’d be in the bar!