There’s a lady who’s sure all that glitters is gold
And she’s buying a stairway to heaven
When she gets there she knows, if the stores are all closed
With a word she can get what she came for
I started blogging my Mancunian saga in 2012 after one of my rebellious strolls down Oxford Road to the University’s north campus. Rebellious because I willingly subjected myself to a 30-minute walk in the omnipresent rain, wind and morning chill despite possessing a bus pass. The unexplainable thrill of resistance against Stagecoach, or an unquenched need to take a ‘hippie’ approach to travelling weren’t prime reasons, despite social speculation to the contrary.
I loved it.
If Manchester is a melting pot (a melting pot that is constantly being rained upon, mind you), then the fusion is supremely coagulated at Oxford Road. I would embark on this odyssey of sorts from Hulme Hall, trudge through wind, rain, hail or snow, walk past the historic Whitworth Hall, through a barrage of auburn leaves doomed to fall, with ravenous stares at the world beyond the leafy curtain. Manchester was, and always has been, poetic.
All the world a stage, and I was still in the audience.
There’s a sign on the wall, but she wants to be sure
‘Cause you know sometimes words have two meanings
In a tree by a brook, there’s a songbird who sings
Sometimes all of our thoughts are misgiving
And it makes you wonder? It does.
The daily glum office-goers, the resigned, sleep-deprived students, people with vibrant, flashy attires, hairbrush-like mohawks wearing jackets borrowed from The Road Warriors. Tattoos that twirled and piercings that stood out, testimony to a society that celebrated individuality.
Of course, there was me as well - a similar resigned, horribly sleep-deprived (thanks, Ritz) bespectacled boy who might’ve featured in someone else’s blog post as the guy who hummed Led Zeppelin a bit too loud. If those are my five words of internet fame, I’ll take it.
Yes, there are two paths you can go by, but in the long run
There’s still time to change the road you’re on
The highlight of this odyssey would be at the junction of Joshua Brooks, where I was presented a choice of walking down Charles Street, or sneak through, Frost-like, along the road not taken - a shaded alleyway under an ancient railway bridge that led trains right into Manchester Piccadilly. Unlike the increasingly modernised state-of-the-art trains it carried (much love, Virgin Trains), this structure was like any other ancient bridge - desolate, worn and tainted with graffiti.
It was the home, and the graffiti the work, of creatures of the night.
And as we wind on down the road
Our shadows taller than our soul
It’s no surprise then that I always chose, ‘hippie-like’ if you will, the road not many took. Amidst the moss and weed, at times I could spot cigarette butts or empty bottles of liquor, probably thrown by the same hands that skilfully decorated those brick walls with graffiti.
There walks a lady we all know
Who shines white light and wants to show
How everything still turns to gold
As always, I looked for stories in the graffiti and found many. Be it a vibrant caricature of hustlin’, bustlin’ D-O-double G Snoop Dogg, or a heartbroken lover’s lament that involved his or her love’s name in a heart surrounded by the foreboding word ‘WHY?’. I was particularly fascinated by the individual who sprayed ‘The Vegetarian’, and slightly disappointed that no one had bothered notifying me that it was a character trait worth hyping into a nocturnal antihero.
Immensely intriguing, however, were the capricious designs on the walls. One fine rainy (surprise surprise) morning, I chanced upon the words ‘Home is where the hate is’, and remained transfixed. There was a story in those words, and I wouldn’t rest until I had played out all possible scenarios. Was it a teen fed up with home? Or a homeless adult cast away?
I didn’t know, and I will probably never know. But I wanted to. Way more than I ever wanted a Pepe’s Paneer Rice box. I never knew what happened to the artist, but a couple of months since its appearance, a new line had been sprayed over half the words - ‘You make it’.
Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. This was, after all, one of the many well-kept secrets of Manchester.
And if you listen very hard
The tune will come to you at last
To clandestine Manchester, amidst the ocean of raindrops and the English chill, I thank you for being the beautiful and homely place you wished to be. No place is ever the same, and no amount of future visits can bring back the life you once lived. Buildings vanish, streets get revamped and the people, for it is the people who truly make a place, move on. The man at Spice Kitchen who enjoyed our banter has disappeared, taking with him my inclination to delve into Lahori Channa. The walk to the Wilmslow Park bus stop, five years down the line, will be just that, as compared to the guarantee of a couple of conversations with people on the streets it was up till now. There shall be faces as always, but with names unbeknownst to the protagonist.
All that matters is the time we live in, here and now.
When all are one and one is all
To be a rock and not to roll?