Friday, 3 May 2013

Unfinished Business

If you're looking for a word to describe my relationship with the great northern city of Manchester, it's unrequited.  True, I graduated from Manchester University (class of 96) but the three years I spent were mainly in Warrington, 12 miles to the west as this is where our faculty was based.  I visited on many occasions and had a great time in the early Britpop years, and made great plans for a triumphant return after graduation.

I was working at a shipyard in Middlesbrough (who's got blue collar credibility?) and was saving up for my return. Every day when we worked into town for lunch, I saw the Manchester Airport train idling at the station, seemingly letting me know it was ready whenever I was and in January 97, I made the move back.  I got a room in Didsbury, the leafy suburb of choice for the young professional, had friends in town, and even landed a job at a business ratings company in Old Trafford, a stones throw from the cricket and football grounds.  Life was going to be great.

And it was until I broke my leg playing football as a ringer on my cousin's team on a Friday night and spent the subsequent six months in plaster up to my thigh. I had to let the job and room go and convalesced at my parents.  During the intervening 16 years, I've had a couple of other close calls about going back, jobs that weren't right, or I wasn't right for then, ,as John Lennon sagely observed, life is what happens when you're busy making other plans. 

This week however, saw an unexpected but welcome opportunity to revisit the old place for a job interview.  I took the train in from Darlington and was trying to conserve my battery as I thought I might need the map navigation when I got there. Ridiculous because as soon as I came out of Piccadilly Stations impressive glass fronted atrium, I could find my way around blindfolded through Picadilly Gardens and the new Arndale.  This is a city of warm memory for me - I had my stag do here, Stacey and I have had some great nights here going to the Lowry and cavorting round Deansgate.  It was here I met my old BBC pal and fellow Boro fan Paul for lunch at the Moon Under The Water, formerly my favourite pub in Manchester and scene of some delirious celebrations in 1998 when Middlesbrough contrived to win 3-2 against Manchester United.  In the days before mobile phones, my friends were worried they might not be able to find me in one of the biggest pubs in Europe.  They told me they could hear me singing as soon as they set foot in the door later. 

After a pleasant catch-up we parted and I made my way up Oxford Road to my Alma Mata, the University of Manchester, to the old Quad where we graduated on a rainy June day back in 1996.  It was having expensive refurbishment work done but it is always pleasing to read of the achievements of other notable alumni such as Anthony Burgress, writer of A Clockwork Orange, Alan Turing, father of modern computing and Ellen Wilkinson, first female Minister of Education and MP for Middlesbrough as well as being a great socialist.  My interview was here - at my old school.

It's a situation worthy of further consideration. I want to stay close to my friends and family in the North East but new media jobs are hard to come by in our enclave of The Far Corner, the title of Harry Pearsons' seminal 1994 book on North East Football, so I might find myself commuting farther afield.  Driving in Atlanta has given me an appreciation for the longer commute that most American workers take forgranted.  Manchester would previously have been off limits but there are some calls you really must take - and one from your old school, in the industry you love in your favourite city is one.  

Manchester and I have always had unfinished business and while I've been cautious about pulling on the loose ends of the tapestry of my life lest it begins to unravel, my link to Mancunia feels more tethered than most.  

For one reason or another, I may not end up back at the University but I at least have opened up another possible route back into employment and enjoyment and removed another self-imposed limit from my outlook and my life.  I've already done as Horace Greeley and the Pet Shop Boys once advised, 'Go West!', so maybe we'll end up doing it again and achieving a British manifest destiny of our own.