Manchester Part 2 – Do I really Look 50?

This posting was also written on-location some time ago.

MANCHESTER
PART 2

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I find myself looking in the mirror a lot today. As I already wrote, Mancunians tend to be charming. But last night when I was having dinner I met someone visiting from Halifax, England, who was also dining alone. He asked my age. “Thirty Nine.” “Oh, I thought you looked Fifty. I think it’s because of your beard. Why do you have a beard?” Charming. I don’t quite believe him, but before I dyed my white hair last summer people did wonder whether there was one or two generations between me and my 15 year-old niece. “Well, I guess it’s good that I dye my hair then, ” I respond. “Why, what colour would it be?” Oh brother. “Purple.” Yes, I looked so very old with my naturally purple hair.

I think that 39 year-olds can grow beards just as easily as 50 year-olds, it’s not like a kid aged 16 looking 25 because of having a lot of facial growth. And I don’t let mine grow to a big poofy religious-looking mess, I trim it often and I cleanly shave up to my jaw line. I even dye my beard, which would be 2/3 white. It’s not a big deal, it’s like a shampoo that stays on for 5 minutes before rinsing out. I think I’ll keep this look for a year. Perhaps I’ll shave my beard in December. I grew it in Manhattan last November. As for having white hair again? I will turn 40 in October and I had been saying that having white hair before age 40 seemed too young. I’d like to be more fit before I let it go natural again though. I wouldn’t mind being a “silver fox” like Anderson Cooper but I don’t fancy being frumpy with white hair, no mater how distinguished it may be.

I bet I would have quite a different travel experience if people assumed me to be older. My apparent age confuses people. Too old to be a backpacker, too young to be retired. Some people don’t like that. Especially travelling alone as I am, what must be wrong with me? It does make some people uncomfortable, I don’t fit expectations so they don’t trust me. What is he up-to? Where is his family? How insensible must he be to pick-up and travel in the very middle of his life during the time when he should be paying-off a house and planning for future retirement. There is something suspicious there. I don’t like it.

People always assumed my Dad to be older than he was from his white hair and from his position in business. People see the boss as being older. And someone with mature finances seems older yet again. When Dad turned 50 his office was at an intersection called Rothesay Corner. It was the perfect place for a sign where everyone would see it, so that’s what his office staff did, they rented one of those big light-up commercial signs. Except someone had assumed his milestone was of turning 60. The entire community was misinformed when the bright sign displayed, “Happy 60th Birthday Ken Elliott!” I hope that doesn’t happen to me! More and more I see myself and notice how much I look like my father. Thank goodness he’s a good looking guy!

I celebrated my own 39th birthday twice. The opposite of what most people do though, I celebrated my 39th a year early. One year off isn’t too bad, except that it was my own mistake! My Mother had been amazed, how had she lost a year? “You’re not turning 39,” she emailed, “you’re turning 38!” Of course she was right. Birthday math confused the accounting teacher. Goodness heavens.

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Some views around the architecturally-rich city of Manchester where lots of old blends beautifully with lots of new.
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Chinatown.
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The Millstone pub has become my place to return to every day whilst in Manchester. Usually my “container” becomes a coffee shop. On my second evening in the pub people are taking turns singing karaoke. I work on my Haworth posting, the tedious process of downloading photo-by-photo. Unlike dropbox, where you can check a whole bunch of photos and click to download, using WordPress I have to separately add each photo – open the directory – scan down to the next one I want – wait for it to download – label it right then because in the editing function I cannot see which photo it is, I just see three lines of code – and again – going from start for each photo. I’ve only used the iPad app for this and using it is tiresome. I will try it on a laptop when I’m home and if it is much better I may have to break-down and travel with one of those rather than the very portable iPad.

Downloading a one minute video showing the 360 degree view of glorious countryside between Manchester and Haworth takes at least 5 minutes during which time I engage in conversation with neighbours. A nice woman from Leicestershire is visiting her Mancunian friend and they are happy to make acquaintance and chat throughout the evening. A hyper-friendly Mancunian around 55 or so is very enthusiastic that I should love Manchester. I’m going to call him Art, but I was unable to catch his name even when I asked him to repeat it twice. I’m drinking Guinness and for some reason Art assumes that I only drink Guinness. In fact, I have no loyalties to alcohol whatsoever. I had asked at the bar if they had anything from Manchester, they didn’t. I was familiar with everything that they had on tap and not having had dinner, I figured that Guinness would be a good choice. Perhaps people here are loyal to a drink and have their regular choice, but I choose something different nearly every time I order.

I am explained to about 9 separate times that Guinness is 1/3 food and that bitter is only about 1/4 food. Each time Art shows me with his finger on my glass what that proportion would be. He is adamant that I try some bitter and he doesn’t hear that I happily drink all the various drinks, bitter is not something new for me to try. Nonetheless he is pleased when I do have a bitter, as if I have just made some cultural leap. They have very common brands here, ones I would commonly see on tap in Canada. “Oh but they’re different.” Well perhaps not to a chemist and not to me, perhaps to a beer taster but I’m just an average Joe beer drinker. I enjoy the different tastes but I have no taste-memory to compare a Fosters pulled in Canada to a Fosters pulled in England or the like. It may be a bit different but since I can’t tell – why would I care.

I can’t tell if the super-friendly, very repetitive Art is drunk or mentally challenged. I think he might actually be both. The music is too loud and I can take no more by about 9PM again. He forces me to promise that I will meet him tomorrow here. I expect I will want to finish my Manchester stay here anyway, but I try not to promise in case other plans come up. He is relentless and pries until I finally agree, yes, I will be here tomorrow at 7. Really, I just need him to shut-up about it.

The next afternoon I am torn because there is a Beethoven concert at 7:30 on the other side of the city and he has bullied me into agreeing to meet at 7. “The people of Manchester, we will welcome you as one of our own and treat you like a king until you do us wrong. You know wha’ I mean? As long as you don’ do us wrong, we’ll welcome you like ya’s one of us.” This was another important piece of information that he felt compelled to share with me again and again. And again. I suppose standing-him-up when he basically forced me into agreement to meet could be construed as doing him wrong. It was interesting, but draining after a time, sitting with him last night. I hope we can meet others tonight to lesson the intimacy, I don’t want to have to entertain him by myself. I’d prefer to meet some other people at the pub without feeling chained to him. I wonder from how far he comes, I suspect he comes in from a more affordable district that is less central.

My last day in Manchester is another rainy one so this becomes another city that I don’t use my bicycle. I enjoy walking about the city, taking photos, and stopping here and there.

The central city of Manchester is a beautiful combination of the new and the old. It is a delight for my eyes as I wander about admiring the contrasts which are deeper than what is possible to exist in North America.

I do encounter too many people with clipboards interrupting passers-by in the main shopping zone as I did in Leeds. I feel like there should be a bylaw prohibiting that, it is nothing but a nuisance to be approached and stopped on the street for something which is probably not of interest. We get barraged by advertising and phone calls and messages begging for our attention too much already. Now to get our attention we are physically stopped on the street. How far will this actually go? Then we’ll get good at ignoring the people blocking our way so they’ll build actual barricades and only permit our continuation after we have received some unwanted message, conducted a survey, and listened to a plea for funds? I really do feel that this public canvasing needs to be squelched. It’s terrible for tourism too, although I don’t think Leeds or Manchester has much of that.

I absolutely hate it. I come upon a gaggle of them at an entry to the enormous shopping complex and decide to turn around rather than walk through being intruded upon. Because it’s a rainy day they’ve all concentrated under a pedestrian bridge attaching shopping to shopping. I’m not good with this kind of intrusion, my nature is too sensitive. I don’t like shrugging people off, I don’t like ignoring people and I don’t like dismissing them, but I also do not want to engage with them so this is a lose-lose situation.

Sitting at a sidewalk cafe in the Northern Quarter I am approached a few times asked for money or cigarettes. I don’t smoke anymore, and I really hate being approached on a patio for money so I never give in that case, I do not want to encourage that harassment. It causes me not to enjoy my lunch because I feel like I am eating when others are hungry. Again and again I find that giving on the street backfires on me anyway. Usually it’s fine, but sometimes you give and they decide that you can give them more and it all goes wrong. If I never returned to India it would be because of the unrelenting begging. But I am a glutton for the intensity of experience there so I’ll be back, but the constant pleading from beggars and harassment from taxi drivers and shop keepers does ruin a lot of days.

I buy a Big Issue and pay extra for it on Deans Gate and I give a pound coin to someone who is sitting on the sidewalk quietly asking for money. Just a pound because two pounds often encourages their want for more. It stands out as being different and they suddenly see extra potential. I drop a 2-pound coin on a guitar bag with some silver coins in-front of a busker, he’s a really good singer and buskers don’t tend to jump-up and suddenly ask if I can pay for their hotel room tonight or ask for a bus pass like in Leeds a few days ago. I notice the same man with a plastic recorder in several different places over two days. A young Indian man wearing a light-silver suit must be job hunting all throughout the city because I encounter him in three completely different areas. He stood out the first time in front of the Town Hall because his suit reminded me of one I had in Junior High School, when I was 14. The second time I greeted him, he recognised me too. Few people wear hats and most guys don’t have beards. The third time was when I realised he must not be working but looking for work. That is a hard place to be.

I learn that the first ever computer was built in Manchester and was called “the baby” even though it was very large. Manchester has a population of around 400 thousand but Greater Manchester has around 2.5 million so many people do probably live in high density housing such as what I first witnessed on my way into the city. The city exploded during the industrial revolution, increasing in population 5-fold during the 1800s. As I mentioned previously, Manchester was built on the textile industry and other synergistic enterprises. But the wealth was mostly kept in the hands of the few while the masses lived in very rough urban slums.

It’s 6:30 on my last evening in Manchester and I am dreading meeting up with Art. I want to upload this posting before I go to Liverpool tomorrow and the pub is too crowded for my comfort, in fact there were no seats left whatsoever and the volume was already too loud for me when I passed-through at 5PM. This is Friday, even though most of the patrons are clearly beyond working-age, I guess they still see the weekend as a time to let loose. I didn’t want to promise meeting, he could see that. He hounded and hounded until I agreed. I am not going to feel bound to honour that promise, made to make him leave me alone about it. I just hope I don’t bump into him trying to go for dinner, the rear exit for these rooms shares the hallway with the mens bathroom. I would go in to tell him that I’m not staying, but that would be pointless. He has already demonstrated that he manipulates to get what he wants. A shame we met. The other couple were so lovely as were the other people I met the first evening.

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Manchester Cathedral.20130628-194404.jpg
Manchester’s very impressive Gothic Town Hall.
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Close-ups of the Town hall.
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The Town Hall is open to the public although today only a small part of the main floor was available to appreciate.
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Some more views around Manchester.
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Click on the video below to experience some of the pub entertainment at the Millstone in Manchester.

The video below showcases another singer at the pub where I spent two evenings and above which I had a room.

Too late to attend the symphony. That's okay. It's great to meet people but it doesn't always work out well. You can see some of my challenges as an sensitive but outgoing introvert in today's posting. I'm not shy, but I don't recharge spending time in noisy, busy places or even in social situations. I enjoy social situations in moderation but some interactions can prove to be too draining for me. When I pass by beggars, whether I choose to give or not, it affects me. I am not the extraverted, exciting type that people assume me to be based on what I do. Visiting the pub in Manchester has been interesting because of it having such a different atmosphere than what I'm used to, but in the end my favourite time in Manchester was in the amazing John Rylands Library where I had a quiet chat with a curator about the history of the building and the family and then enjoyed some hours writing in beautiful surrounds.

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Cardiff – Story – The Friendly Pubs

Cardiff building front

Cardiff January 2012 Pubs

Cardiff seems to have a rather strong pub culture, with lots of great venues of various different themes and vibes from iconic traditional to modern gastronomic high-design flagships. I know I was attracted to the pub culture during my long week in this city, and no doubt drinking would take a considerable role in my life were I to actually live there. The role of alcohol to one’s enjoyment of Cardiff probably cannot be overstated.

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Not in a rush, I wait patiently at the bar while others are served. I don’t really care how quickly I’m served to join my party of one. A number of patrons cut ahead of me, I do stand out being taller than this crowd and a bit differently dressed, I am noticed but ignored. One could not look up and say, “Oh, sorry, I didn’t see you there, four inches taller than me and wearing a black fedora.” But I don’t mind the queue-jumping as long as I do eventually get a drink.

The barmaid does finally notice my permanent residence directly in front of her and addresses her known-answer question to me and a young woman to my left. “Who’s next then?” As I step forward the young lady, who had just walked up, makes a face and scornfully mutters, “He is,” shooting me an absolute look of death.

Am I inside some sad angry prison? Where have I come that people are so sour? Social interactions in this city are starting to feel like punishments.

_______________________Cardiff's Oldest Pub.________

A gentleman in his 50’s starts to sing-along with muted music, much to the dismay of his formally-dressed wife. A posh group of two couples, they are clearly having a full night on the town as I stand at a nearby counter, jotting down notes from the day. “At least he has a nice singing voice,” I console, I am standing directly next to the two women. Their attention turns to me.

“Are you a writer?” they inquire. “What are you writing about?”

“Wales.”

“Oh!” they lighten, “so what do you think?”

These seem like nice people. Probably not from Cardiff. I have to pause to be diplomatic after 6 days of wandering this town. “Well, last month in New York City I had 30 great days. One week here I’ve had one pleasant evening. So I couldn’t call it a smashing success.” (My pleasant evening was with two girls I met who were visiting Cardiff from a nearby town, Pontypridd.)

“Don’t you feel like we Welsh welcome you with arms wide open?” the man who was singing suggests while he gestures a big open hug.

“Nnnooooo,” I offer tentatively, “I’ve been surprised that the people here have been shockingly harsh.” I feel badly saying this to the nice people, but it’s true.

“Oh, you’ve met the wrong people then, ” posh woman number two states, who lived 3 years in Montreal with her husband.

“Yes, I certainly have.”
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At the Duke of Wellington I meet a homeless alcoholic who talks about his plans to soon visit Ireland. “Where will you stay?” I ask. “I don’t need anywhere to say,” he replies.
Oh right, of course.

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My flat rental came with an unexpected flat owner who assumed I wouldn’t mind if he stayed on the couch. If I had rented a flat-share it would have been far cheaper, less than half the amount I paid for an entire flat rental. Additionally, he didn’t tell me of his changed plans and that he would be staying. After giving me an introduction and showing me around, he just didn’t leave. So a couple days later I finally moved to a far more conveniently-located accommodation, a hotel which cost less money and gave me privacy. For some reason, the 5 minute walk to the city centre kept taking 25 minutes and this misrepresentation of the property I also found annoying. The agency refunded my money because they agreed, flat rentals are meant to come vacant, even if the owner does have time-off from his work which usually takes him out-of-town. “But I bought you fish and chips,” the deluded man argued after I’d left.

Anyway, one day while I was still staying there I decided to grab lunch at the neighbourhood pub near the flat. After finding a nice, amicable seat where I’m able to interact with others at the bar I discover that food is not on today. Since I’m here now, I decide, I might as well have a pint anyway, chat with the locals, maybe do a bit of writing and find lunch afterwards.

Before taking a sip of my just-paid-for pint I am shooed-away. Despite there being no drink, no coat, nothing to suggest this seat was already claimed, I am sent away brusquely as the trespasser I apparently am. There’s nowhere else to go but to a segregated table section that’s entirely empty. I take the nearest seat for a few moments and take another sip. This is pointless, I think, I didn’t want the drink, I wanted the experience of the drink. I walk-out leaving my full pint on the table.

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A social meet-up, four of us made RSVPs indicating our intention to attend a decent little spot in Cardiff’s impressive shopping district. I arrive on-time and find myself alone. I take a table for 4 and contrive a meet-up sign using my tablet, since I am here ahead of the organiser.

A little more than minutes later, a friendly man about my own age appears. A dweller of the countryside not too far outside of Cardiff, he attends organised meet-ups regularly as he enjoys social situations. He may enjoy them but he is not good at them. Socially gifted, he is not.

I am embarrassed to be with him as he holds service staff hostage to his endless pointless ramblings. The staff are fantastically patient. After twenty minutes pouring over the cake menu he still requires lengthy assistance before his final selection can be made. Deciding on the right sweet is a momentous commitment to this fellow, it is not a decision he takes lightly. Imagine going for dinner with him, I couldn’t abide it. Would I fake an emergency phone call and run out the door, leaving cash on the table in excess of my bill? Fake going to the washroom, pay and sneak away? The kind of man who just will not stop talking and does not pick-up on any social cues, it seems like I may end-up going through the payment process and finding myself awkwardly walking away from him still bantering on. I fantasise about escaping, ending this interaction, while he goes on and on and on.

The two other attendees never show and with portable internet I can see that they also never cancelled. Somehow it is 2 hours before I escape this man’s company. I nearly run as we part ways, early in the evening. He suggests he’d be happy to continue on somewhere else. I will continue on somewhere else, but only after he’s out of my line of vision and out of ear-shot. Whatever way he’s going, I go opposite, and in a hurry. “Which way are you going? . . . .Oh, I’m going this way, bye.” “But I thought you said you stayed . . . .” his voice trailing off in the distance as I round a corner and continue on to reclaim my happy-place anywhere he is not.

(Note: I am a nice person, not generally judgemental and I play well with others. He was simply exceptional, as was my landlord who I should have met briefly and never have seen again, according to my rental contract. Actually, thinking about it, there may be quite a few exceptional people in Cardiff.)

_____________________________Cardiff Sign

Cardiff is not Wales. When I have fully recovered from my stay in Cardiff I may try to visit other places in that nation to see if I can find the warm, friendly, down-to-earth Wales I had imagined.

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