Manchester Part One – Staying in a Pub, Writing in England’s Finest Library & Remembering

This is really a double-posting that may take the time of two to read. This was mostly written in Manchester at the John Ryland’s Library. I’ll probably re-do the writing in the future to make it more interesting to read. If you’re from Winnipeg, sorry that I didn’t like your city. But I really didn’t and that’s the truth.

MANCHESTER
PART 1

I like to write my first impressions to see how they might change during my stay or to see how my visit may have been impacted by the first events that happened in a location. Before they are coloured by further observation, it’s good to record them.

Driving from the direction of Haworth, north east of Manchester, what immediately comes to mind is the British tv series, “Shameless”. Low-end housing, lots of high-density rows and buildings of no architectural value. This isn’t specific to Manchester, most cities have their undesirable areas. I know my own Toronto does, and I love Toronto. As I continue on, my Sat Nav guides me in to the Northern Quarter where my pub accommodation is on Thomas Street. I like the location, very central. I temporarily park my car in pay and display and go to check-in.

The Millstone pub has some good life going on. Mostly pensioners and a few after-work tradespeople, I am perhaps the youngest person here (I’m 39.) I am pointed to a back room where an Eastern European girl checks-me-in alongside an internet radio station that is currently live, Bob and Bev’s Rockabilly Radio Show or something. They hear my accent and excitedly ask if I will do a station identity for them. “Hi this is Darren from Toronto, Canada and you are listening to . . . . .” They were so surprised that I was able to play-up the accent and do it with some drama that the three of them clapped. It was cute.

After parking the car in a garage I stop in the pub to use the WIFI and perhaps meet some locals. I don’t look like a local here. An outsider for sure. The middle-aged barmaid does her best to ignore me until I finally yell to her my order. I’ve stopped taking this personally, I have found over the weeks that when I make servers uncomfortable they seem to hope that if they ignore me maybe I’ll just go away. And they have been right sometimes, I have left places after accepting the unwelcome. But not today. The barmaid may not welcome my custom, but otherwise the locals here seem cheery and warm. I take my pint to an empty table were I am befriended by a nearby man in his late 60s who is chatting-up a woman who is also in hers. I overhear, “well, after my husband passed away. . . ” Another man and woman join me, sitting at very close proximity to share my table, and soon after the table has others join across and we’re full.

I had been working on my Haworth posting but I stop when I become engaged in conversations. I go for another pint and experience the same as before, I need to be rude to get served because she has served beside me and behind me before I finally need to bark out that, “I’ll have a pint of Guinness please.” This I am forced to do in an interruptive way as she goes from person to person skipping me over until she has served several people that were behind me in the queue. This isn’t the norm, to other’s she asks, “Wha’ wi’ ya ‘ave loov?” and I’m the invisible man. Back at my table the volume has gone up another notch. People are taking turns singing with the music man, a guy with an electric accordion and a synthesiser. So far only gentlemen have gotten-up to claim the microphone. They’ve rehearsed too, and dressed in their Sunday best for their performances. I notice now that I can predict who is planning to sing because only a few guys are wearing full suits and three of them so far have serenaded the crowd. It’s getting harder to understand people over the noise, conversations are moving towards brief comments now because of this. After this pint is finished I head out in search of dinner.

Apart from the barmaid, the people in the pub were really friendly. Mostly between 50 and 75 years of age, some have dressed-up to have their turn at singing as I mentioned, others are more casual. The women are more made-up than their age group would be in Canada, with their make-up and hair done just so. It is apparent that they have spent a great deal of time with curlers and face masks and choosing co-ordinates, no one has just thrown something on and left the house. Even the gentlemen take extra care in their hygiene and appearance; freshly-shaven, clean-cut, and well-pressed clothes. I feel like I’m in a tv or film set. Not that it’s glamorous, just that I’ve not seen this live, only on telly. It just doesn’t quite feel real.

I really like Manchester.

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I stayed above the Millstone Pub on Thomas Street in the Northern Quarter of Manchester. The pub attracts a mature crowd of very warm, friendly, welcoming Mancunians. Patrons enjoyed taking turns at the microphone all three nights I visited.

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Some of the gentlemen dressed-up ready for their mini performances. The women put lots of attention to their appearance, hair, make-up and clothing choices seemed very put-together. I felt like I was sitting in a scene from television. Not that it was glamorous, it wasn’t, but it was such a different feeling of culture for me.

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My basic room was clean and had an ensuite with shower. My first pub stay, it was definitely an experience to repeat. (Noisy, yes. But I carry earplugs all the time and am used to using them because that is very often a problem for me anyway.)

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There was lots of colourful street-art in the Northern Quarter, an area known for independent shops and cafes.

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Some views around Manchester during my first evening.

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As in Leeds there were quite a few disenfranchised youth who approached me for “spare change” but they seemed less aggressive here. Okay, maybe “youth” is not the right word, “people-of-all-ages”.

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_______________________

The next day I make my way past a mob of people, teachers on strike. They are entirely blocking the tourist information centre which I miss for them having blocked the signage. “They’re protesting pay cuts with the new government.” I am told. Teaching is a hard job and from my experience non-teachers rarely give teachers the credit they deserve.

People often bemoan teacher’s summer breaks, but when you teach you have to be “on” for your entire work day. You can’t have a tired day or a slow day. You can’t let yourself be feeling weak or vulnerable. If you haven’t slept, if you were up all night with your own sick child, if your marriage is falling apart, if your own Mother just died, you can’t sit at your desk and mope while you work at 70% your usual productivity. You still need to be completely on. The moment you lose your energy, you lose your students attention and it all goes to pot. If teachers didn’t have a number of weeks away from teaching each summer, they would certainly burn out and we would not have teachers. Or rather, we wouldn’t have any good teachers, the few who don’t care anyway would be just fine. And anyway, teachers are actually paid for their teaching days and their salaries are in-effect just spread-out evenly throughout the year.

So I support the teachers standing-up for what they deserve, which is remuneration that shows them a bit of respect. “We think that you are unimportant enough to lower your already somewhat-low wages.” No way, teachers are underpaid as it is in most countries including Great Britain.

I wonder if I will ever teach again. I continue to renew my Ontario Teachers License every year just-in-case but it is hard to imagine. There aren’t any jobs open now anyway, nor were there any when I graduated with my BED. Being a supply teacher was horrible and thankless, apart from the ESL department of Gordon Bell in Winnipeg where I was welcomed often enough to feel some purpose. The head of the department who has since retired, Beth McFee, had taken me under her wing when I newly arrived to Winnipeg and did my final practicum under her.

Apart from my days in the ESL department where I knew the students and other teachers, I mostly had days of power struggles, of teenagers trying to push the boundaries and seeing how far they could get with their temporary baby-sitter. Because I cared too much it was a bit soul-destroying. I remember one day putting myself between two guys who were having a fist-fight. They were probably 13/14, not that big, so I merely pushed myself between them to stop the fight which was very much out of hand. “You touched me! He touched me! You’re going to get in trouble!” one of them yelled and was right. I hadn’t touched anyone with a hand, but I had pushed my way in. I was warned never to touch a student in any way, not even on the shoulder. In the protection of children things have actually moved too far.

When it came to allocating punishment too, in many provinces teachers have become completely powerless. I could assign someone detention, but the school could not detain anyone so if a student didn’t go there was nothing a school could actually do. The students knew this in Winnipeg, that I had no actual authority to penalise them in any way. I could send someone to the office for a “talking to” but the office didn’t like that, it just reflected badly on me, it indicated that I couldn’t control the class.

The worst schools for me in Winnipeg were in the better neighbourhoods. The kids would talk-down to teachers because they knew that their Mom and Dad made more money than teachers did. I knew this too but I respected my teachers because my parents taught me that teachers deserved my respect. Maybe this happened more to substitute teachers when I was teaching in Winnipeg but I’d also overhear their conversations making-fun of teacher’s cars and generally expressing disrespect when visiting schools such as River Heights. But then many teachers in Winnipeg did tend to take no pride in their appearance whatsoever, many did not look like they were dressed for work and certainly didn’t dress professionally, preferring comfort over looking like someone who would command authority. Someone working at a bank would make less money but look a lot more professional and therefore possibly command more respect. Jeans, a worn T-shirt, and running shoes was probably the most common outfit for male teachers. Sometimes even sweat pants. I don’t care if you’re coaching soccer at noon, at the moment you are teaching math and that just looks terrible. You’re choice, but the kids do notice.

I’m not saying that people should judge each other by their clothes, I am just pointing-out that they do. At OISE/U of T I was taught to wear a tie everyday and I did, sometimes being the only one in an entire Winnipeg school to do so. The office would generally first assume me to be a parent when I presented myself, “No, I’m here for Miss.Warner today.” I continued to wear a tie because it was easier, the students treated me with more respect when I looked more respectful. And I didn’t go for that first-name ridiculousness. Our children don’t need to learn further that they are equals with their elders, they are not and they actually need to learn some respect which is incredibly lacking. It’s not right for kids to talk to elders without any respect, but it is becoming common and is even sometimes promoted in our school system. Some classes wouldn’t like it, so used to calling their teacher, “Jeff” that they’d bug me for my first name. “It’s Mister,” I replied over and over, “Mister Elliott. Or my nickname is Teacher.” I wasn’t their friend, I was their friendly teacher. There is a difference. If they are my equals then I am also not in charge. Guess how well that works.

My biggest gripe with teachers in Winnipeg wasn’t the way they presented themselves but that many had poverty mentalities. Teachers would consider themselves poor in a city where they were actually very comfortable. Many teachers would have a home and a cottage, which is very far from being poor. Try that in Toronto where you have a $400k mortgage or $2100 rent for your 2-bedroom condo and as a teacher only make about 20% more. Teachers of previous generations may have afforded a cottage, but not today. Winnipeg teachers were not poor but many thought they were so I suppose the kids weren’t really to blame when they picked-up on that. I got tired of hearing about their poverty too, and I was making much less than they were. The older teachers especially were sitting very pretty financially with well-appreciated homes, cottages, and great pensions in a city with a low cost of living. But many still thought they were poor, or at least they talked about it. “Look at these pictures of my new boat!” “Oh, I thought you said you were poor. Poor people don’t have new boats – in addition to their cars.”

During my eight years there I liked Winnipeg less and less until I had to abandon my life there because I could not stay another minute. I even felt guilty that I was able to escape when my ex-partner wasn’t, as if it were a refugee camp or a war-torn country. Some people really love Winnipeg and may be offended that it became my least-favourite city in Canada. But honestly, I would never use the words “moved away from” because “escaped” is truly how I feel about it.

When people asked where I was from when travelling during my years there, I was too embarrassed to say Winnipeg and I certainly never identified myself as a Winnipegger, such was the regard I felt for my townsfolk. Instead I’d reply, “Well, I grew-up in New Brunswick but now I am living in Winnipeg.” I felt like an outsider for 8 years. So I am probably just bitter about that. I have known some really nice Winnipeggers though, I don’t mean to say that there are none. It could be that with my partner we created the entirely wrong life for me there, certainly in a neighbourhood that, looking back, I never should have considered in the North End. I had agreed that we didn’t want a mortgage and we were both excited to get a fixer-upper to do with whatever our whims decided, but that meant that we never had anything in common with most of our neighbours and there were no business around that catered to our demographic. In case you are wondering, the neighbourhood was not full of people who bought their homes for cash to avoid having a mortgage.

I’ll never know what life may have looked like had we chosen somewhere like Osbourne Village, even if we had rented it would have been a completely different life. Where the young and trendy sipped lattes and rented foreign films and enjoyed a few local boutiques. Now I’d live in a Northern Icelandic town before I’d ever try Winnipeg again. Maybe I would have liked living in the professional neighbourhoods where I might have met more friends who shared interests and might have even engaged in meaningful conversations. I definitely don’t mean high society, I just mean an area where most people had some kind of employment. The North End of Winnipeg had a 90% high school drop-out rate at the time I was teaching if that gives you any indication as to the type of neighbourhoods I am talking about. I actually met some possibly-kindred-spirits at the very end of my time in Winnipeg but it was too late. Staying in Winnipeg just wasn’t my destiny, I wasn’t meant to want to stay. Apparently I was meant to want to run far, far away. And then keep running. Which means travel.

Unfortunately, because I did not live amongst peers I mostly knew Winnipeggers as retail customers from my work and as such they are well-known as possibly being the cheapest in Canada, so it was not a pretty-picture that was being painted from that perspective. Here again I remember listening to teachers talk of their weekend shopping trips to Grand Forks to save money on groceries and basic goods by taking their money away from Winnipeg’s local economy and spending the difference on gas, hotels, and restaurants in the US.

The door most-often slamming in my face when I carried stock in to St.Vital Shopping Centre is a memory that will stay with me. (My partner and I started a retail business with several locations.) Both hands full, someone would pass me to go through the door first and not bother to hold it for a second. Slam. I’d have to put down half of my bags, open the door, hold it with my foot, and go through. Repeat for the 2nd set of doors. (Cold climates have 2 sets with a space between.) Nearly every time. I generally brought stock there twice a week so I am talking about a lot of times. When someone did hold the door for me I’d always ask in surprise where they were from, inevitably they were in town shopping from Mordon or Steinbeck or some other nearby community. (Or they were an immigrant or were over 60, I guess that generation learned manners and consideration.) I was happy when they installed the automatic handicap buttons because I could never count on the politeness of strangers to help in that middle-class Southern Neighbourhood of the city. The rare time someone lets a door slam in my face in other places I always think to myself that they must be from Winnipeg. An unfair thought, absolutely. But, completely learned. I wonder if they hold doors for women?

Students losing marks for late assignments became against the rules (also true in Ontario), so there was actually no repercussion for turning things in late. This does not serve the student well who thinks irrationally that they will complete all the assignments “later” without any penalty. They eventually get impossibly behind and just end-up failing due to not doing any work at any time. The bureaucrats who create most of such ridiculous notions are mostly former teachers who have worked their way up into the offices. Often these are not the teachers who are passionate about teaching, these are the ones who were passionate about their careers and were happy to leave the classroom.

The computer would call in the morning to offer me a workday in one of the 99 schools then part of the Winnipeg School District. (I think it’s called Winnipeg District One now. Even then there were three others school districts within the city.) I was very fortunate that my business took-off so that I didn’t need to substitute teach for very long. I may have enjoyed a “real” teaching job, but perhaps I’ll never know. I loved teaching in Japan though.

My qualification as a teacher is as a High School Business Studies teacher, although the same skills apply and we can teach many other subjects. I preferred teaching English and ESL and even had the occasional fun day with music. I remember giggling as I conducted band, so out-of-practice with reading music and having never conducted. I don’t think the kids noticed the difference, well, apart from my giggles anyway. I surprised myself by how much instruction I was able to throw-in from my days sitting through band rehearsals. During my own high school days I played the trumpet in concert band and the saxophone in jazz band although mostly I was a singer. The music and drama departments throughout high school gave some meaning to my life. (I have written more about this era of my life in other postings.)

Back in Manchester, inside the information office I am disappointed to find that the walking tours I read about are only on weekends and bank holidays. I feel like Lonely Planet could have added that detail, them not being available for 5 days every week. Staying here Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday I am out of luck. I don’t blame them for not going on weekdays, if they were viable they would be, it’s a business just like everything else and I wouldn’t expect them to lose money for my visiting convenience.

Picking-out some postcards I learn that Manchester is the home of Coronation Street! So that’s the show I felt like I was sitting amongst yesterday in the pub! I’ve only seen it a few times with Dad and Jenny, but enough for Manchester to seem familiar. Not in specific buildings or anything but in the culture of the people. And pub culture is at it’s very heart, where people come together after work or where pensioners meet-up with their mates to share a laugh. I am surprised by how realistic that program must be if it makes me feel like real-life is a program.

I sip a burnt cappuccino at the John Rylands Library as I type this in. Some patrons like their milky coffees burning-hot in England, and the pressure to provide this causes many baristas to scald the milk. This decreases the sweetness and makes for a bitter, unpleasant drink, albeit as hot as tea for those for whom this is the main concern.

It’s raining very hard now, at 2PM, so I may find myself a comfortable nook somewhere to work on my postings further until it hopefully abates. According to Lonely Planet, this library is, “. . . arguably the most beautiful library in Britain”, so not a bad place to find oneself seeking refuge from in-climate weather. Manchester came in to it’s own during the late C18 and C19 when it was a very important town for having steam-powered cotton mills and was a textile centre. A widow whose husband massed a great cotton fortune built this incredible library in honour of her husband’s memory in 1824.

An American mother and daughter join me sitting in the leather sofa across from mine. Or they could be Canadian, I can’t tell. Many of our accents overlap, so unless they have a specific regional accent such as from Texas or Alabama, or more specific such as from Brooklyn, Boston or New Orleans then I can’t tell. Probably half of Canadians sound the same as half of Americans. I feel sneaky not revealing my North American identity to them. The mother buys a reusable shopping bag to protect her lovely purse in before they head into the not-yet-relenting rain. I take a photo of where I have been writing after they have departed and notice that my camera’s battery is about to die. I can’t just pick-up replacements, it is one of those thin square ones and the only thing to do is to recharge.

I make my way into the main of the library. I had been sitting in the new £16m expansion that includes a gift shop, cafe and probably accessibility features such as elevators I expect. I am in awe when I enter the main reading hall with it’s high Victorian Gothic ceiling. I decide that this is the perfect place to sit and continue my work. I sit at a table in the middle as to be able to take in the great hall, but there are wonderful little private nooks with desks, tables, and even computers alongside this level as well as the level above. Were I a regular here I am sure I’d have my favourite little section, mostly lit by the way the German Bottle glass windows refract the light. This afternoon is dark and overcast but the daylight in this room is still plentiful. I understand there to be a very impressive collection of rare books contained within the stately glass-doored bookshelves throughout. What a legacy Mrs. Rylands has given Manchester.

Mancunians must love their books because this cathedral of books is not the only game in town. The nearby Central Library (1934) is an impressive edifice itself, resembling the Roman Colosseum it is Britain’s largest municipal library. Currently undergoing some refurbishment, I won’t be able to enjoy it this visit. It should re-open later in 2013.

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Teachers with some placards stand in front of the tourist information office.

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The incredibly handsome John Rylands Library, arguably the most impressive in all of England.

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I start my visit warming-up with a burnt cappuccino in the new cafe expansion.

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As soon as I entered the original library I was amazed by the attention to detail of every gothic square inch as seen in this corridor.

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Gorgeous rooms of books kept in glass-doored cabinets.

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The main stairwell.

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A Cumbrian printing press on display.

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Looking-up in the main staircase.

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Wow. The main reading hall. It’s like a cathedral except warm and comfortable, probably warmer because this is not on the ground floor.

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These cozy study nooks surround the main reading room on two levels.

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Views from where I make home for a few hours in the middle of the reading room.

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What a treat working here!

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Manchester’s Central Library nearby is currently closed for renovations. I will have to try-out this impressive structure on a future visit. Manchester is quickly becoming a city that I want to return to.

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Join me next time when I continue my visit to one of England’s greatest cities, Manchester.

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