So Much To Answer For
Today didn’t start nearly as early as planned. Frou-Frou wanted to head into the sprawling metropolis for stationery and to explore her new favourite yarn shop (that’s yarn, not wool .. hooo no …amazing the stuff you pick up if you mix with the wrong sort of people) so, for the first time in ages, I went for a mooch round town.
When I first moved down to Manchester, I’d spend every Saturday wandering round all the weird and tatty shops. Inside the Corn Exchange was a jumbled collection of shops that felt like they had been there forever. The piles of merchandise outside each one had spread until you weren’t sure where one shop ended and the next began, but it seemed to work. I’d start in there, then wander into the second hand bookshops round Shudehill and Hanging Ditch, extending my ToBeRead pile yet further. Afflecks had a couple of shops that stocked obscure magazines and film fanzines. Every now and then a bootleg CD or shady copy of a shady version of a shady film, could be had under the counter, if the proprietor liked your face.
Could never (and still can’t) resist Vinyl Exchange. I loved the way the shelves held piles of the slimmest possible CD enevelopes, each containing just the sleeve, and maybe a brief, handwritten note about the artist, maximising use of the limited space available. I loved the implication of it – that the people coming to buy there weren’t looking for a pop star’s face or a display unit to guide their selection. No, these customers were serious music fans. People who took delight in painstakingly working through a hefty pile of CD sleeves in search of a single obscure and unusual item. People who knew what they wanted. People who couldn’t leave without buying at least something. In short, my kind of people.
While Vinyl Exchange has barely changed, the rest is gone. After the IRA bomb, the Corn Exchange became Triangle, a glitzy stack of pricy, trendy chainstores. What used to be the labyrinth of back streets has been rebranded as The Northern Quarter – home to design studios, meeja empires and an expanding selection of strangely soulless shops trying far too hard to be the sort of places they are replacing. Where there was quirky, now there is homogeneous. The odd little items in one odd little shop can now be found in all the other odd little shops in the same range of colours, shapes and sizes.
Nostalgia is a useless practice. Manchester has always seemed to me to be a city in a state of flux – constantly rebuilding and remodelling; updating itself to stay interesting. I’m sure much of what bothers me is actually nostalgia for being 23, newly moved to the big city and with a wage packet to burn for the first time in my life, and it’s churlish to moan about change when that’s something I’ve always loved about the place. What saddens me is that recent change seems to be away from the individuality and originality that makes Manchester what it is, and towards the fashionable, mass-produced conformity of every other city in every other part of the world.
Maybe i’m just a grouchy middle-aged bloke, too old to get what the kids are up to, but I hope that someday soon Manchester will do what it does best – have a look round, raise two fingers to the rest of the world and carve its own path.