This time last year, my only experience of Manchester was a nailbiting three-hour trip to Old Trafford – where, regular readers will remember, Palace beat Man United after extra time in the quarter-finals of the 2011/12 League Cup. It was good, but it could have been in Slough and it would still have been good, and I wasn’t bowled over by Old Trafford itself, which looks a bit – well, it looks a bit like it might be part of Milton Keynes:
It’s better inside, but in the thrill of the moment I seem to have forgotten to take any photos inside.
Anyway, my next trip was back to the same part of the city, more or less, for last October’s Radio Festival, held at the Lowry Centre at Salford Quays, where I was delighted to find art and music and the fantastically interesting and thoughtful Daniel Libeskind-designed Imperial War Museum North all crouching greyly by the waterside. But apart from the inside of Piccadilly Station I hadn’t seen the city proper until I went there a few weeks ago with work, and now I have seen it, I’m cross that I spent 36 years not visiting it, because Manchester is brilliant. Whenever I visit a new city* I end up deciding I would like to live there, but the feeling usually wears off within a few hours, and certainly by the time I’ve spent a day back in London, with everything London has. But Manchester has quite a lot of what London has, and more besides – a compact, walkable centre; space for buildings to breathe and be viewed from all angles; thriving, mixed-use canalside and dockside areas in the city centre; a strong and convincing sense of civic pride – and the tallest residential building in Europe, the faintly terrifying-looking 46-storey, 169-metre Beetham Tower:
I became a bit obsessed with the Beetham Tower, and eventually figured out how to get at least partway up it to take some photos of the view – which you can see, along with the rest of my photos of Manchester, here. I even went and had a look at a flat for sale there, not because I was going to buy it, but – well, just to make absolutely sure I wasn’t going to buy it. (I’m not going to buy it. It was 75% amazing, but the bedrooms were poky and the service charge is THREE THOUSAND POUNDS A YEAR, though as at least some of that goes towards window cleaning I had to grudgingly concede that I’d rather pay than do it myself.)
The city is a mishmash of buildings old and new, just like London, but – at least partly thanks to the nineteenth century red brick, which really is everywhere – the contrast looks intended and appealing. And it has lively and unique arts, technology and gay scenes and a genuinely diverse population; all prerequisites for a great city. Every Londoner I’ve spoken to about it since has said “I didn’t think I was going to like Manchester, but actually it was really nice!” – and perhaps its middling reputation with other parts of the country is why it’s so proudly and distinctively itself, in which case please forget everything I’ve said and go back to thinking of it as middling. In the meantime, I’ll be planning my next trip.
*Exceptions to this rule include Norwich and Edinburgh, leading me to believe that perhaps I just don’t like hills.