28 June 2004

Welcome to M(e)anchester

Ah. The thrill of the Road Trip. There's nothing like driving 400 miles in one weekend to kill off the nerve endings in your buttocks. My friend summarised it well somewhere around Stafford after we'd been sitting in bolt upright positions for a couple of hours on Saturday afternoon "It is quite worrying that I can no longer feel my bum because I think I might need a wee."

My friend and I weren't just partaking of a road trip for the hell of it, it was the birthday of an old friend of ours from when we were all doing our A Levels in Cambridge, who emigrated up north with his boyfriend in February.

In the past, the few times I've been to Manchester, I've been quite impressed with it as a city from what little I've seen of it. And it's where Cold Feet was set (god I love Helen Baxendale) which alone is enough to give a city some kudos. I'm now less enamored.

This was the first time I've visited the city for a "night out". Of course, us tourists were shown the delights of Canal Street. So far, so Queer As Folk (well, except for the higher lesbian presence, obviously).

Our first stop (following the cocktails in my friends flat) was Auto Bahn. According to Dictionary.com an Autobahn is "An expressway in Germany and German-speaking countries." Our visit was certainly express, but still lasted longer than I felt comfortable with. The gay scene is reknowned for it's refusal to accept that, yes, cripples can fancy someone of the same sex too. Imagine my surprise when on our way there my friend said "it's accessible." Before I'd even seen inside the place I was planning my move up to Manchester away from London and it's pure inaccessibility. I was going to live in a posh flat like my friend, possibly even the same building, I was going to get the tram to work everyday....

And then we actually got to the door: "The lift's not working" said the surly female bouncer.

"Oh, never mind" I volunteered, "my friends will help me" and in we went.

"Have you seen the toilets?" I shouted at my friend over the noise of cheesy, mid-nineties Europop.

"There!" he responded by pointing at a door bearing the universal symbol for cripple.

A disabled toilet? In a gay bar? Surely not! By the time a member of bar staff had actually found the key for the door, and I'd made the discovery that the door won't lock from the inside I realised that the "disabled toilet" was truly appropriately labeled. To add insult to a full bladder, the toilet had no seat either.

Sadly, this half-arsed attempt at access seemed symptomatic of the city as a whole, as on our shopping trip on Sunday I learnt that places like The Arndale Centre and Selfridges have a similarly dysfunctional approach to breaking down the barriers which prevent a significant proportion of customers from parting with cash in their bar, store, etc.

And so we left. My friends decided to show me Manchester's lesbian bar - Vanilla. This seemed more like the kind of homosexual venue I'm used to, awkward but doable doorstep and no accessible toilet.

I felt almost at home for at least a minute. Until I heard the heard the gaggle of haggard, wizened, elderly lesbians with the collective personality of a solitary ice-cube start uttering phrases such as "oh my god! Have you seen the wheelchair?" in a tone so bitchy that most screaming queens could only hope to achieve mid handbag fight. The staff were most friendly and apologetic for the behaviour of their clientele, but, still... it put me off ever wanting to go there again. What happened to good old London style staring and ignoring?

So we left there too and went to find somewhere else. Somehow though it was now about 2am and most places weren't letting anyone else in. While we stood in the street deliberating over the drunken dilemma of "what shall we do now?" I was approached by a man who was probably of a similar level of drunkenness as myself.

"Do you need any help?" he asked me.

"No, I'm fine thanks."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes, really, I'm fine."

"Oh, it's just that I understand because I work for Otis lifts. I don't want to bother or offend you. I just wanted to check you were OK."

Oh joy. One of the "understanding" type.

"Right. OK. Well, I'm just going to get back to my friends."

At which point he turns to my friend...

"Does she need any help?" he enquired, pointing at me. Clearly he had no concept of things that are considered rude in British culture.

I piped up "I'm sorry. Did I not just tell you that I was fine?"

"Yes. But..."

While this was going on, my friends had managed to engage themselves in conversation with someone off Coronation Street. Despite my drunken earbashing Mr Lift Man still seemed to think that harassing me would somehow be of benefit to me. Perhaps I should be flattered that while my friends were harassing someone off the telly that I was similarly being harassed by a stranger.

Londoners may be thought of as rude for ignoring everyone. On Saturday afternoon whilst buying lunch for our road trip in M&S my friend and I actually got separated in the sandwich aisle because it was so crowded. After our reunion she said "Oh my god! People are so rude! Someone dropped his drink and I picked it up for him and he told me to fuck off!" in a way that it really shows that she doesn't live in London (she still resides in Cambridge). Still, give me that and a good old southern -

"I think you're so brave and wonderful for going clubbing even though you're in a wheelchair!"

"Really? There's nothing brave and wonderful about wanting to get pissed and stick your tongue down someone else throat, is there?"

- over a Mancunian night out anyday.

And for the record - the lift in my friends' building was an Otis one. I managed to refrain from spitting in it.

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