The phone buzzed. It was a Facebook message – I could tell from the tone.
I was sprawled out, like an ungainly heap on the sofa, reading Hillary Mantel’s book – ‘Wolf Hall’ – about King Henry Tudor and his headless wives. It is taking longer than anticipated to read. Perhaps it is because I feel sorry for Queen Katharine and want her to cling on to her position (I know that this is not logical – this book is based on historical fact – it’s not going to have an alternate ending). King Henry did Katharine wrong, when he decided to install that TROLLOP Ann Boleyn as his new bride. Mind the head though, Ann – who knows what is coming? It could be an axe.
I unscrambled my limbs into a more respectable position, and reached for my decrepit phone and swiped to read the message.
It was a simple request.
‘Want 2 go 2 Manchester 4 Pride on last wknd in Aug.?’
Despite my disdain for textspeak, my heart skipped a beat. I can forgive language abuse when it involves asking me to go on glamourous trips to the north of England, to the place where Deirdre Barlow first peered through those horn rimmed glasses and whispered ‘Oh Ken.’ A city where (fictional) women like Liz McDonald can wear a skirt that barely covers her conscience, while sporting hair with roots as black as her soul, is a pleasure for me to visit.
I first visited Manchester back in the 1990s when meeting an English friend, who I had worked with on a campsite in France a few years earlier. I think he was studying in Manchester. The specifics are blurry all these years later.
I recall visiting the set of Coronation Street set and murmuring ‘Tracy love’ under my breath – even back then I appreciated Deirdre Barlow as the heroine from a Greek tragedy that she actually was. I travelled the Old Trafford Football Club, as I’d been told that this was interesting. The less said about that the better.
And I took a wander down Canal Street – the city centre gay district. This was at a time before the television programme ‘Queer as folk’ had aired, so the street had not metamorphosed in a mecca for straight hen parties. It was not yet a place for girls to go ‘wild’ with gay abandon in places that weren’t designed to cater to that specific market. It was an eye-opener for me – so many bars and clubs and restaurants. And men holding hands. It almost gave me the vapours. You wouldn’t see that type of carry on in Dublin at the time.
I remember visiting an old style bar called the New Union on the street; and having dinner in a hipster café called Mash. Some wag had removed the ‘C’ from the street signed, so visitors would casually saunter into ‘anal Street’. I laughed like a drain when I saw it.
Some years later, I discovered that this whole area, had previously been a red light district. This is a tale as old as time when it comes to gay neighbourhoods. Back when being gay was a crime, the queers and the whores tended to hang out in the same districts. Neither gave the other group hassle – and in fact they could offer camouflage to the other from police harassment. The New Union had existed as a bar back in those distant days.
The next time I visited the city was about ten years later. I was well established in the Netherlands by this point. Some friends from Dublin were going to Manchester for Pride and invited me. A quick search on the Easyjet website found a bargain flight. I booked it. In typical style I packed my bags two minutes before leaving the house.
The following day we attended the parade and cheered, roared and hollered. I saw Peter Tatchell – the legendary activist who some years earlier had made a citizen’s arrest of President Robert Mugabe from Zimbabwe, when he was on a private visit to England. Tatchell looked as intense as his reputation promised.
Later at the outdoor concert in the square, while sipping on a Bacardi Breezer and cheering for Bananarama, I reached into my back pocket of my jeans.
What was that package lurking in there? Why, if it wasn’t a little green bag of herbal essences from Amsterdam, which in my hurry to get to my flight on time I had neglected to offload. I gave a little yelp of terror. What if I had been caught? How would my mother ever live down the shame of having a mule son?
I cheered up. I tapped my friend on the shoulder and told him. He gave a bellow of joy and kissed my cheek. The rest of the weekend was hazy.
I shall not be making similar mistakes on this trip. I am now a mature and responsible adult and such fecklessness would be unseemly for someone as respectable (like Mel and Kim) as I am.
Clearly Manchester Pride has grown – no longer is a cheap flight possible on this weekend. Instead I shall be making my way there, from Doncaster, where the airline tickets are much more affordable.
I may have to do some research. I’ve been to Georgia and California. But I’ve never been to Doncaster.