The things they say about Manchester
In September I accompanied my son to Manchester, UK. He was going to study in a university there. It was his first trip to the UK and the furthest he had ever travelled. For me it was my second. My aim was to support him in any way I could in terms of his accommodation, university registration and financial matters. We had a plan about what we wanted to do during my one-week stay there. Some went according to plan, others not so.
'The disposition and manners of this people ... are inhospitable and boorish ... In all of the manufacturing towns there is a jealousy and suspicion of strangers' (Samuel Curwen, Journal and Letters (1777))
After a 24-hour trip from South East Asia, we finally got to Manchester. Usually I would arrange for a hotel for any overseas stay but not this time. I decided to try airbnb.com. I found a place that was regarded as a 'rare find' on its website. I contacted the host, Delphine, and soon found that she responded very promptly, as advertised. She had a room for two people and breakfast was provided. There were more than 20 reviews and everyone gave 5 stars from location to cleanliness. The price of the week's stay was also within my budget. In fact staying in a hotel would have cost me 5 times more! I looked forward to staying there. We used the bus and the tram to get to the station where the house was said to be located. It started to rain (and I heard plenty of stories that in Manchester it rains a lot!). The tricky part was walking to the place. I sent a quick email to tell Delphine that we needed help. In the meantime I checked the directions she gave. I saw a sign, we walked in a bit more. We felt we were getting closer but did not find the road we were looking for. We had to ask someone for directions. The rain didn't help. My son got the luggage on wheels moving. I knocked on a door and a kind man said we were close. Relief! Finally, Clive, Delphine's husband, opened the door and welcomed us.
It was a two-storey house, enough for three or four people but it felt comfortable. The place was clean. Delphine talked to us later that night after work. In the days that followed, we started to bond.
We asked for an English breakfast and they obliged. The night before we left, Delphine prepared scones and tea. We probably had four good evenings of conversations learning about each other's interests. Bebee was one of them! They gave good tips about places to visit and the two places we decided to visit were the Manchester Museum and Chester, about two hours' bus ride from Manchester.
Chester, with its boat rides and beautiful Grosvenor Park, also has a Cathedral which needs 4000 pounds a day in maintenance alone. To do my small part for its upkeep, I bought a lego piece for one pound which was then laid with other lego bricks to form a structure of the cathedral. In a corner there is a quiet place to offer supplication to Mother Mary for help.
The end of the visit was actually the beginning of another adventure. Our bus, the National Express, was scheduled to leave at 5pm. We were at the bus stop by 4.30pm. Soon it was 5, 5.30 and then 6pm. A lady walked over to us saying that the bus had left. How was that possible? It turned out that the bus that had been waiting there all along was destined for Manchester but we did not know that because the destination on the bus said Leeds. I saw two other women making phone calls presumably to the National Express office. At 6pm our only option was either to take a bus back, a train or a taxi. There were six of us stranded. Fortunately there was a taxi nearby. He wanted 90 pounds but I haggled it down to 70 pounds. The others came with us and shared in the cost. I found that two of the women were a mother and her daughter (from Scotland) and the other two women were from Morocco and Italy. Although we were furious and unhappy with the treatment we got from the bus operator, we managed to find our composure and over more than an hour's journey back, we talked about work, travels and bebee! When we got back to the bus terminal in Manchester, we were told to contact the office for any refund or compensation. One of the women remarked that the customer service management was the worst she had seen. She seemed to know what what she was talking about because she works in the hospitality industry. I have since written an email but have not received any reply.
'Anyone educated in Manchester would certainly be dull and probably vicious'.
(Hylton 2013, p97).
Written in a newspaper in the 19th century this observation, if true today, would not attract the international students that make up about a third of the university's student population from outside the UK. Today, the university is anything but that. According to the QS World University rankings 2016-17, the University is now ranked 29th in the world. For the Brunei government that matters because students will only be sent to those places that are top in their fields and those that are competitive. Apart from my son and another student, the students in his course are all locals - an opportunity to interact and learn the culture of the locals.
'Manchester is irredeemably ugly. There is no spot to which you could lead a blindfolded stranger and say happily: 'Now open your eyes.' (AJP Taylor, Encounter magazine (March 1957))
(Hylton 2013, p152)
The Manchester Museum is remarkable. Hidden from the public's view due to ongoing renovation works, it is located across the road from the University of Manchester. It is where I got this little book and the inspiration for the title of this buzz.
Walking around the place filled me with a sense of wonder that I've not felt for some time about our own beautiful planet. I learned how each item has its own unique story. Did you know that Maude the Tigon came from its mother the lion and its father the tiger? Did you know that at the current rate of deforestation we could lose our rainforest by 2040? I didn't know either!
I had expected Chinatown to be a big enclave but it was not to be. The Chinese and Asian restaurants were good but were rather pricey. Fried rice with king prawns - 9 pounds anyone? An assortment of dimsum - 18 pounds for two people. It is a place for a good treat once in a while but my son has already guessed that any visits there will be more of an exception rather than the rule.
The football clubThe red half I mean!
That team went on to become Manchester United - a team founded by a Scouser! .
If you are a football fan, you will know that Liverpool and Manchester United have for many years been arch rivals in the English league. That is the irony of the statement above.
Manchester United FC is world renowned. During our tour of the grounds, I found that the Old Trafford stadium is the only one apart from Wembley stadium that is eligible to host the European Champions League final. Its facilities are ranked 5 star. The pitch cost 1m pounds to buy and visitors are not allowed to touch, smell and step on the pitch. Woe and behold if you did! One of the people in the tour got a verbal roasting from the stadium official for getting too close to the grass! In the dressing room, there is what is dubbed the 'Cristiano Ronaldo' mirror because it seemed to some that he was more concerned about his looks. No, it was not specifically installed for him. Sir Alex Ferguson, the manager at that time, would not have allowed that!
Manchester United's achievements and history are well documented. But there are still nuggets of information to glean from the Museum Tour. One of them is a report that the Hungarian legends of Puskas, Czibor and Kocsis made an offer to help the Club after the Munich air tragedy which killed some of its best players. According to the report 'Manchester United will say: Bless you for your kindness but no thank you. We will fight on the best way we can. It will be a struggle but then, we have struggled before.'
My son is an avid Manchester United fan. Don't ask me where that came from!
Time to say goodbye!
There's much to see in Manchester and other parts of the UK. If there had been more time, I would have liked to visit the Rylands Library, the War Museum, and the National Football Museum. That will be for another time.
What I can say about Manchester is that:
1. The public transportation system is very good. Well, the Stagecoach buses and the trams were fine.
2. There are many good places to visit if we ask the locals.
3. Generally the people are alright as you would expect in any country. You can argue that the stadium official was doing his job!
4. I may try airbnb again if I visit Manchester or another country.
See you again Mancunium / Mamcestre!
Hylton, S. (2013) The Little Book of Manchester. The History Press.
Copyright Vincent Andrew.
Vincent teaches A-level Business, mentors beginning teachers and carries out classroom based action research to improve the quality of teaching and learning in the classroom. He was honoured by the Brunei Government for his contribution to the teaching of Economics and Lesson Study (a professional development strategy) in 2010 and for Excellence at Work in 2006. He has presented and published articles on education. His interests include football (especially matters relating to Manchester United), travelling, and academic research in addition to raising six children according to the Catholic faith.