Sep. 7th, 2011 03:25 pm
liv: cup of tea with text from HHGttG (teeeeea)
[personal profile] liv
I like Manchester very much. Every time I step off the train into the city I can feel a distinct sense of brightening. But honestly I don't know the city at all well; when I make plans to meet or take friends there and they ask me for suggestions, I often end up saying, dunno, I, um, just like walking around and soaking up the atmosphere.

For example, [ profile] megamole mentioned that he was in Manchester for a choir do, so I travelled up for the day. We ended up drinking in the very cute (but appallingly crowded) Mediaeval pub that happens to be right by the cathedral, and eating lunch in a pleasant but fairly nondescript pan-Asian noodle bar round the corner from there. Fair enough, but I am almost sure we could have done better if I'd known where to go. I keep going to Manchester and finding somewhere to eat and drink at random, and it's generally nice, decent value for money, decent food in the case of restaurants, decent beer selection and atmosphere in the case of pubs, but I haven't yet found anywhere so good that I have made a note of it so I can specifically go back. In some ways it's a sense of being spoiled for choice, I can just wander around in the city centre and be sure of finding somewhere above average.

After Mole had to return to choir, I wandered through the main shopping streets back towards the station. It was lovely to be in Manchester on a day when it wasn't Shabbat so I could indulge in a bit of shopping. I don't normally like shopping, but Manchester has such a good mix of big chains and original indie shops that it's fun. Plus I get this sense that I'm in the big shiny city (coming from Stoke, which can be a bit grim) and that definitely encourages me to spend money, even if falling for that trick does make me feel like a country mouse. Anyway, I found a very cute shop of brightly coloured Japanese kitsch, which was too over-priced to buy anything on impulse, but may be a good source of presents for friends who are into that kind of thing. And one of those hippy dippy One World fair trade shops, where I picked up a coin purse to replace the one my grandmother lent me ages ago, that was completely falling to bits. The new one is made of wool instead of leather, and it has a little stuffed owl.

And then on the way back to the station I found the most amazing junk shop. It lured me in with cheap books, and then inside it turned to be packed to the ceiling with piles of random old stuff. Most of it complete tat, some probably valuable to collectors who are into a particular hobby, and some just fun car boot sale stuff like old CDs and second hand books and so on. It seriously has everything from old porn mags to medals. Amazingly fun to browse and if I ended up spending a few quid on bookies, it was well worth the price of admission (though of course you could just go in and not spend anything, if you had enough willpower).

Then SA visited from Sweden (which was totally awesome, by the way!) and we spent a day in Manchester. I suggested wandering around Chinatown at random and pick somewhere that looked appealing. This plan was somewhat foiled because I managed to get stung by a wasp walking from the station (not a first time I'm particularly pleased about, I must say; I had no idea that wasp stings would be that painful!) and SA wasn't feeling too well, so we wanted to just sit down in the first half-likely looking place, rather than having the energy to make a decision. The first half-likely place turned out to be a fairly decent Thai outfit. Better than the mediocre Thai place in Newcastle, worse, but also rather cheaper, than the good Thai place here, Blue Chilli. The different dishes were not too greasy, and tasted distinct, rather than of generic Thai flavouring.

SA, in spite of being a foreigner, had a clearer idea what to do in Manchester than I did, so on her suggestion we went to the Manchester Art Gallery. This is a small museum but has a remarkably good collection of pre-Raphaelite stuff for a little provincial place. JW Waterhouse's Hylas and the nymphs is there, which made me nostalgic for [ profile] darcydodo's room in Oxford which had Waterhouse reproductions all over the place. Also DG Rosetti's Bower Meadow, which probably isn't actually a lesbian picture but we used to pretend it was one. I very much liked the way the galleries are curated, drawing out themes and connections that wouldn't be obvious if everything were just arranged by date. Although some of the blurbs were a little patronizing, written as if aimed at youngish teenagers who needed to be convinced that art is, dread word, relevant. There's also some cool stuff about the history of Manchester and the contemporary creative industries, fairly standard provincial museum fare but not badly done.

SA also wanted to see synagogues; the only one I know of in the centre of Manchester is Jackson's Row Reform, which is honestly a fairly unprepossessing building from the outside. (They have been planning to tear it down and build something nicer for ages, but the plan has been held up for various reasons.) I think most of the Ortho synagogues are out in the suburbs these days anyway. But we did see the rather magnificent Town Hall on the way there, which was worth the excursion.

Then over the Bank Holiday weekend I made plans to meet up with [ profile] lethargic_man, who was passing through briefly, and his old friend FB (whom I first met when they were living together in Edinburgh in 1998). Again, both asked me for suggestions for fun stuff to do in Manchester and I didn't really have any. Both keep strictly kosher and will only eat in purely vegetarian restaurants; I'm sure some must exist in Manchester somewhere, but I have never quite managed to find them. Partly because Google's new! improved! search function shows you every restaurant that mentions vegetarian options on its menu if you search for vegetarian restaurant, which is not at all helpful for finding actual veggie ones.

Anyway, FB is a completely lovely person, but also completely scatty and impractical! So we arrived and faffed about for half an hour or so due to slight miscommunication about the timings. And then FB had to go to a meeting he'd forgotten about; this was fine in that [ profile] lethargic_man and I were totally happy to sit in FB's flat chatting, but still a bit daft. Then FB returned and completely forgot to make lunch until about 3 pm; we tried reminding him a few times and he would start getting out ingredients, but then get distracted again. That meant that we didn't really have enough time to do any tourism before [ profile] lethargic_man needed to catch his train. We went to a park near FB's place, which would have been a lot more fun had it not been raining heavily at this point in the afternoon. And the park is really more interesting to young children (FB has two toddlers) than to adults, it has a great playground and a petting farm and stuff, which we didn't appreciate that much in the pouring rain, even though the llamas were kind of cool. So I took them to the aforementioned junk emporium on the way to the station, which was dryer and perked us all up a bit. Still, I feel we could have made more out of a day in Manchester if I'd come up with some specific plans.

I feel a bit silly about this; I live barely and hour away from Manchester, and I am a great fan of the place, but in practice I rarely go there. And when I go there, I don't take advantage of all the city has too offer because I'm too busy being awed by how cool the city is in general. I want to go to Manchester and intentionally drink in excellent pubs and eat in fantastic restaurants. I want to take friends to explore the city's culture, whether it's famous tourist destinations or little quirky out-of-the-way places. I even want to plan shopping expeditions deliberately, rather than just wander about looking for shinies. I want to get involved in the famous gay scene. (I totally planned to do Manchester Pride this year, but I just didn't get things together to go to Manchester twice in one weekend.)

And I want to maintain connections with the three progressive synagogues there. I have the closest connections with Menorah (Cheshire Reform), and they do some great educational events, but that's out in the suburbs and somewhat of a pain to get to by public transport. I'm fond of Jackson's Row, but the only way I'd get in is by playing on personal connections with the rabbi there; I'm not in a position, financially or time-wise, to actually join the community. And Manchester Liberal, the community I'd really like to work with because they're small and new and Queer-friendly (and the other week they did an accessibility service, how cool is that?), basically only meet on Friday evenings when I'm already committed in Stoke.

I think basically what I want is to live in Manchester (not an hour away). I've realized this may be part of why I was so keen for [ profile] lethargic_man to take up the offer of moving with his previous job to Manchester: for me, that opportunity would be a wish from a fairy godmother! If only I could keep my current job, which is perfect for me, with my current institution, which I really like and appreciate, but live in Manchester rather than here, my life would be basically perfect.

I need to figure out whether I actually want to move to Manchester even absent a fairy godmother. The pros would be that I think I'd be a lot happier living there; I'm a medium-sized city girl at heart, and Stoke just has too little going on for me. My Jewish life would be amazingly better. And even if I had to give up my current spacious semi for a flat, I think that would be worth it. The cons would be job stuff; I'd probably have to get a new job, and yes, Manchester does have universities but there's no guarantee that I'd get a job at all, let alone as good as my current one. Or else I'd have to commute from Manchester; that would probably blot out all the advantages of living there rather than here. And I am committed to my community here; it's not unthinkable that I could come up to Stoke just for Friday nights, though it would be a pain and I'd be less able to support them if I lived out of town. And Manchester is just enough further away from my friends in London and Cambridge that it might tip the balance. As it is I'm spending most of my fun budget and nearly all my leisure time visiting people in the South-East, and that's probably why I don't just pop up to Manchester and do fun stuff.

And when I start thinking like this, I start getting itchy feet in general. Do I really want to commit myself to spending the rest of my working life in one job and one town? Getting engaged kind of means I can't just run off on adventures at the drop of a hat any more, and part of me resents that even though I don't have any specific adventures I wish I was having. Moving to anywhere that was not Manchester would have all the same disadvantages, only much worse: I might not find a job, I would (most likely) be further away from SE England, I'd have to drop my involvement with the community here. I suppose this is what you call having roots, isn't it? Weird sensation for me, when I've always assumed I'd spend my life flitting from country to country on short-term contracts.
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Miscellaneous. Eclectic. Random. Perhaps markedly literate, or at least suffering from the compulsion to read any text that presents itself, including cereal boxes.

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