Monday, February 27, 2006

Paradoxical Manchester

Packing problems in head, sour and bitter feelings in heart headed to Manchester, a city in the North West of England with an old Latin name: Mamucium + castra (ceaster). The first part is the name of a Roman fort that stood there from 79 AD onwards and “castra” (ceaster, originally castrum) in old Latin means fortification or castle and among Romans “castra” was “a rectangular military camp”. However, the contemporary Manchester with approximately 450 000 population neither looks like nor reminds a military camp; an ordinary peaceful town with more skyscrapers than in London (at least it seems so!) with no signs of the Peterloo Massacre of 1819 webbed by River Irwell, River Medlock and River Irk. A rainy city with annual rainfall of 809 mm. This characteristic of the city made me regret for leaving my “hoody” jacket behind in London, while holding an umbrella among the youth in Britain has ostensibly outdated. Thus, I had to find a bit of poetic sense (or nonsense) of raininess (or love to the rain) left somewhere deep inside to enjoy my clumsy trip of a stranger around the town under drizzling clouds.

Our first impression (with my friend) was not pleasant though. I suppose you agree with me that confronting beggars straight away after leaving the station in a strange place is not a good feeling, especially if they turn out to be very rude ones. That was our first encounter in Manchester immediately followed by a similar one. Young white guys (not minorities) with intact pairs of hands and legs (definitely a couple of healthy eyes too; for they recognized us as foreigners straight away) asking for cigarettes and annoyed by our reluctance scolding us: “Why are you lying?” I had to prove that we were not lying. Arming myself with the same sort of rudeness had I to say: “We do have cigarettes dude, but certainly not for you”. And believe me it works.

But the search for brighter parts of the Manchester life didn’t take too long. People (except for beggars) seemed friendly and polite with coquettish Manchester accent, streets were broad and clean with less traffic jams and different minorities co-existing (seemingly) peacefully. I noticed many Arab shops with Arabic names like “Safad” and “Aleef”. In the first one we had a delicious vegi pizza with a falafel wrap and in the second one I bought some poisonous stuff (namely, Marlboro) in order not to give away to healthy beggars. And while stunned by the Madonna-prices of hotel rooms in downtown I overheard a large guy fallen on an armchair speaking in Persian to someone over his phone. (Subject: he was leaving the hotel straight away to meet his friend - or whoever was speaking to him - in Piccadilly in 5 minutes, while enjoying his comfortable chair further on. Five minutes were rather needed for him to get himself up and head towards the exit. He-he. I know I’m too nosy).

But another unpleasant happening just before midnight made me rethink my idea about the peaceful co-existence of minorities and the majority: in an infamous American shop designated for fattening slim nations (namely, McDonalds) an unsteady English dude was angry about something with the sales assistant. Security guard had to ask him out, but he was justifying his behaviour by stating that the sales assistant was a Muslim. Surely, most of the English agree with me that scum of the society like him bring them disgrace only. (As for McDonalds, I have to shamelessly admit that I had a pack of their chips! Presumably I was unsteady too to visit it after such a long boycott!)

Manchester night clubs made me fall in love with the city again. Have you ever seen club security guards joining their customers on a dance floor? Their counterparts in London have forgotten how to smile long time ago and I bet they rehearse their voices at home to make them sound huskier and tougher (but they end up sounding rather funnier). No doubt, they are also busy auto-training themselves in front of a mirror to maintain the bulldog looks or of a person who’s survived a sexual assault by you. But now I’m talking about Manchester club guards that seem absolutely opposite, as if I’ve granted them my Mercedes recently. (If I got one indeed? No, just dreaming on).

Oops, it seems I’ve ranted enough for now, while haven’t said everything yet. Just briefly: on the way back home (it’s still in London; for a couple of more days) popped in Birmingham too. The second biggest city of Britain with a huge shopping centre just opposite the station. The crave of shopotherapy dragged me into the centre and that was all I could see in Birmingham: Debenhams, Gap, Topman, River Island and many more loud labels. And the area around the centre; nice and modern with a tall tower in the middle. Not as impressive as Manchester’s post-modern buildings though.

Tomorrow I’m receiving people from a relocation company. They will collect all my odds and sods to send to Prague. I will follow them shortly, Ahura willing. Excited? Not even for a bit. Why? Too long to explain now. Maybe another day.

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