Apologies, dear readers, for allowing Boy Wonder to turn this blog into the Moustache Chronicles. I don't know what he's on about, I swear, I do not know what he's like.
I have, as some of you might have heard, been a little bit ill this past week. I caught, to quote my GP, a "nasty lower respiratory infection." And I completely lost my voice. I've never had this happen before, but it's been days now and my voice still isn't back properly. I've had more honey and lemon hot drink than I care to think about and I even –gasp– went to a doctor of Western medicine, and I am currently on a disgusting regime of antibiotics and painkillers. It's been years since I've been sick like this. Years.
Anyway, before I got sick, my dear, dear friend Emily came to town. I've known Emily since the 4th grade, Ms. Orton's target class, where we did "brainteasers" and wrote with battery-operated pens that wiggled as you wrote. We made a slideshow that year, about some twins: Polo and Solo. I think they saved a horse. Maybe the horse saved them. We don't remember much, which is unfortunate, because I reckon it had to be genius. It was the brainchild of me and Emily. Not in a gross, we had brain-sex and made a brain-baby way. We were only 9, for god's sake. Clean your mind, reader. Clean your mind.
Anyway, after high school, Emily went to Tulane, and I stayed in boring old GA. She moved around a lot and ended up living in Belfast, where she's been for five years now. Christ, remember when five years was how OLD you were? Then I was in Australia, and as the story goes, this is the first time, in nearly a decade, that we live close enough to each other to actually make a short visit.
And she did.
We hadn't seen each other in three years, since she last came home for a roadtrip. She barely recognized me, what with the hair and the way I dress these days. But once I showed her my passport and passed a rigorous on-the-spot quiz she insisted upon, she believed it was me, and we went on our merry way.
Here's how it went:
E: What are the names of the only twins we've ever created?
N: Solo and Polo (see above)
E: What is the nickname I sometimes call you?
E: And why on earth would I do that?
N: Embarrassingly, we were both totally into "Friends" when we were in high school. I'm a bit sarcastic, so you called me Chandler.
E: Why didn't I get a "Friends"-style nickname?
N: You did. (looks down, sheepishly) You're Phoebe.
E: And why's that? Isn't she the loopy one? What the hell were you trying to say, anyway?
E: Yeah, allright. I believe you.
N: (smiles, looks away, hopes she's never actually hurt Emily's feelings)
Okay, well obviously, that whole quiz thing and the conversation didn't really happen. But, by using the exciting dialogue format, you learned something about me and Emily, and you won't be confused by the rest of the post, wherein I keep calling her Phoebe! You're welcome.
I met her at Piccadilly Gardens, and we quickly set off for the Northern Quarter. I showed her Affleck's Palace, which is basically just Little Five Points, all crushed into one building. That's a reference for the Atlantans. For Sydneysiders...picture all the shops in the Newtown, shoved into one building. Ah. Same but different. We did a lot on the first day, walking around the Northern Quarter, eating at the hip hip Soup Kitchen, where we found a picture for Emily's very own Boy Wonder, otherwise known as Tom. I've left this picture at its original resolution, so you can read all the bottle labels. Just click on the picture.
And we walked down Withy Grove, over to Chetham's Library. I knocked on the door, and my friend Fergus answered! He's a librarian at Chetham's, and he took us into the nooks and crannies where they keep the kettle and teacups, and he even made us some tea. He showed us around the library, pulling a book that once resided on Ben Johnson's shelf, and showing us engravings of old Manchester. He pulled down the books that Engels and Marx were meant to have read (one of which was, somehow hilariously, titled Political Arithmetik).
He was very kind, spent over an hour of his time with us, just dropped everything he had to do that day to show us around. Particularly nice, because I hadn't given him any warning whatsoever. Brilliant. Emily had never been to Manchester before, and on this first day, it was making a very nice impression.
We walked down Deansgate, too, toward the Rylands Library, but it was closed. Pheebs found a photo opportunity, nonetheless. She likes E's, for some reason. I don't know.
We ended the evening with some nice pints (ok, one pint each) at the Knott Bar, which is still my favourite pub in Manchester, and returned to my hall. We then spent the night talking and giggling like little girls at a slumber party. Unbelievable. This isn't the first time this has happened in my adult life, and I should, I suppose, be accustomed to it. Two straight girls in a room for the night will end up performing a slumber party. Nevertheless, it always surprises me when I look at the clock, giggling, and realise it's 5am. It was just like that week I spent in Mexico with Judith. Entire nights talking about boys and comic books and funny bits of TV shows.
The next day, it took us hours to leave the hall, and we went straight for a coffee at the Temple of Convenience, which is a former public toilet, turned into a bar. Dead empty that time of day, but still a cool thing to show her. She's getting ideas about Belfast, I could see the gears ticking in her brain.
I showed her the sights I thought she'd like, and she obliged me by walking anywhere I suggested for three days. On her last day, we both caught up with Ryan and walked to the Working Class Movement Library in Salford– that's where my mate Michael works (he's the one who introduced me to Fergus!). Michael also graciously gave us some coffee and cakes, and showed us around the amazing, outstanding library. They keep nearly everything having to do with working class people, protests, movements, strikes and history. They have placards from protests, they have every copy of the Daily Worker ever printed. They keep photographs, books, slides, magazines, zines, badges, patches, coffee mugs. Tea towels. If it has something to do with the working class movement, they'll catalogue it and keep it. Except websites. They don't do websites. Still they'll do almost anything else, and it made me think of that Richard Braughtigan story, wherein the character is a librarian that accepts anything. Someone leaves a piece of meat wrapped in cellophane, the guy catalogues it and puts it in the refrigerated section. It's like a Braughtigan library for the working class. It's beautiful, and makes me wonder why I hadn't figured out living in Manchester sooner.
Ryan took this one of us, and it's the only picture of the two of us we actually remembered to take this whole trip.
Certain Monikas and Henrys might notice that I am wearing the very boots they helped me purchase, that sunny day in Wellington.
The library itself is housed in an old nurses' home, so it's laid out with character-- something like 38 rooms in a Victorian-looking mansion. Since some student protests just took place in Manchester, Michael asked me to collect posters and stuff, so I suppose I will soon be able to say I've contributed to the library! Oh, exciting days, I tell you.
Phoebe and I were lucky enough that night to catch the Christmas "Switch On," wherein MCR makes a big bloody deal of the fact that it has Christmas lights on the streets. Now, I love Christmas lights as much as anyone, and when lights in the shapes of bells and gift boxes arch and glitter over a street, I go a little melty, just like you. But having the winner from last year's X factor get on an outdoor stage singing "My Favourite Things" hardly puts one in the holiday spirit, does it? Does it? Having the casts of We Will Rock You and Coronation Street (or as Mancs lovingly call it: Corrie) get onto said stage and poorly sing a medley of Queen's greatest is not my idea of "festive."
But the fireworks they shot off the top of Town Hall definitely were festive. Pheebs and I were so close, ash fell on our heads. Fireworks over a clock tower. Just to celebrate the fact that they switched on the Christmas street lights. It must have cost thousands. This town has its priorities straight, my friends. Straight like a circle. Still, it was beautiful. I felt like I'd managed to show her some of the best of my new town, its weird gravestones and vegetarian co-ops, its old libraries and strange cavernous spaces. I think she liked it. I know she did. And I really liked having her here. Somehow, she brought a little bit of Atlanta, that Atlanta from when I was a kid, here to Manchester. And as we walked around this city, arm in arm, hugging each other and laughing, I realised it had really been three years since we'd seen each other, three years of just email and short, expensive, international phone calls, with one of my very best friends. I realised how much I had missed her.
On Saturday morning, at 5am, I put Pheobe in a taxi on her way back home again. And as soon as that taxi drove out of sight, I started missing her again. I stumbled up to my room, all misty and sad, and went back to sleep.
Woke up thinking, "I can't wait to visit Belfast."
take that, moustache!