My flight was at the unholy hour of 8.30 on Friday. This required me to leave my house at 6am. I was not happy. Not one bit. Some people are morning achievers. I am not one of those weird people.
I was on the move again. This time to Manchester for the Pride weekend. It was a last minute affair on my part, having been invited to go only a few weeks earlier. As it is a massive weekend and party for the city, direct flights to Manchester were astronomical in price. Being a seasoned pro at souring a bargain however, I discovered that my best and most frugal option was to fly to the Robin Hood Airport in Doncaster, from where I could take a train trip to my destination.
Pride as an event is held in many cities throughout the summer. If one were so inclined you could attend a different one every week during the months of June to August, They are timed in each country so they do not clash with each other. This year in Ireland, there was a Pride festival in Dublin, Cork, Belfast, Limerick, Galway and Mayo,
In the UK, Manchester finishes the season on the August bank holiday weekend.
I am very fond of Manchester as a city. It’s the perfect size for me – large enough to be exciting and diverse, but not overwhelming like London, Paris and New York can be. I have visited several times over the years and always enjoy the experience. It’s a friendly, unpretentious place with a great music and nightlife scene.
My friend was not arriving until the evening, so I had a few hours to explore. I obtained a map from the hotel reception (while marveling at the throngs of homosexuals checking in – clearly news of my arrival in town had spread throughout the land) and went for a wander.
I turned the corner outside the hotel and noticed the canal. This could be my guide. The canal would (unsurprisingly) lead me to Canal Street – which is Manchester’s Gay Village. In the year 2017, it might seem slightly anachronistic that such places still exist. They originate in harder times though – when being gay was both a crime and dangerous. Nobody liked the queers, so we tended to congregate together in spaces where we could build a cocoon against the hostility of the outside world. These safe spaces (or ghettos) exist in many cities – Soho in London, Greenwich Village in New York, the Castro in San Francisco, Le Marais in Paris. Amsterdam – being advanced – had a few of them – Reguliersdwarsstraat and Warmoesstraat to name two.
Canal Street in Manchester used to be the red light district. The prostitutes and gay boys would congregate and socialise together. They colluded with each other to avoid police harassment.
Within three minutes I saw a sea of rainbow flags. Canal Street. Access to the village is restricted this weekend for reasons of crowd control. There’s a limit to the numbers the village can accommodate. You purchase a wristband which enables entry to these streets
As it was early, it was still being set up, so I was able to explore freely. My friend had the wristbands which we would need later.
We met at suppertime and headed to Chinatown for a Thai dinner. Very tasty. Afterwards with our wrists tastefully bedazzled with our bands, we dawdled into the village.
I knew a few people from Dublin that were also over for the celebration, so we met them in the concert space. The headlining act was Melanie C – Sporty Spice from the Spice Girls. My expectations were not high. I have to admit though that she was absolutely fantastic. Great voice, charisma, and stage presence. Along with a wonderful sense of humour.
‘Why did Adele cross the road?’
‘To say hello from the other side.’
Well I enjoyed it anyway. I laughed like a drain.
We ended our evening in a tavern called ‘The Molly House’. A ‘molly house’ was the nickname given to gay bars in the 19th century.
The Parade the next day began at 1pm and made its way through the city. Unlike in Dublin, this was more of a spectator sport. You didn’t march unless you were in a registered group.
It was highly entertaining. I gave a noble squeak of excitement when I saw the Coronation Street float. The cast members on board are national treasures.
As well as a very heavy corporate presence on the parade, there were also representatives from the police, fire service, nurse’s union, sports teams, political parties (the stony silence that greeted the Conservative Party as its tiny group scuttled by was quite telling).
The whole thing was really quite moving. So many groups. So much love and happiness. And the beauty. I’m feeling a bit faint as I think about it.
After the parade we spent the rest of the day in the village, soaking up the beer and the atmosphere.
My constitution today as I made my way back to Robin Hood Airport was rather delicate.
All told it was a wonderful weekend. In a wonderful city.