When Wombat met Jamie
What did we do before the internet? One thing we didn’t do is make friends with blokes from Michigan, and then meet them in Manchester for a day of their visit across the Atlantic. Here’s what happened when Jamie met Wombat.
Of course, he just had to be the last one off the train. A gazillion peeps poured out of the carriages and disappeared into the waiting city before I spotted Jamie, at the far end of the platform. Even though I’d only seen photographs on Facebook and Sparkypeeps, it was obviously him. The hair gave it away, more than anything – sort of a startled Stan Laurel effect.
Jamie saw me at the same time, and saluted. I waved, extremely goofily, and then we had a big hug. A tough one, of the kind Real Men do. No girly overtones at all, honest. And then we were talking, extremely comfortably, as if we’d been meeting up all our lives.
We walked through the sun-drenched city centre to Shambles Square (see the piccie on the right), where we sat a while and sank a pint or two. It was pleasantly warm, and the beer was tasty and refreshing, and we almost decided just to stay where we were for the whole day.
After ascertaining that his GPS worked, and that we could locate nearby geocaches if we wanted, we exchanged gifts. Like a magician, Jamie flourished his rather large backpack and produced a rather groovy T-shirt, while I in turn presented him with a lump of black pudding. Sorry, Jamie, bad swap. Oh, and a bottle of the world’s best single- malt!
We started chatting to the couple sitting next to us, who had their cute three-year-old daughter with them. The husband tried to persuade Jamie that Liverpool was the greatest, most beautiful city in the UK, while I chatted to his wife about kids and beer. She took a photo of Jamie and I with his camera, and we decided we’d better get on with the day and bade our farewells.
Jamie had mentioned in one of his posts from Glasgow, that he was fascinated by anything that was older than the country he lived in, so I had decided that our first stop would be Manchester Cathedral, which luckily was sitting just behind the pub where we were sitting.
The roots of the Cathedral were begun in 1215, although there are decorative stones in the walls which have been dated to the year 700. Whatever the numbers, the place is a haven of peace and beauty. We admired the Regimental Colours in the Manchester Regimental Chapel, the ornate and delicate wooden carvings on the choir (picture right), and wondered at the streams of coloured light pouring through the bright stained glass windows. We were childishly amused by the presence of a Saint Chad in one of the windows.
Leaving the Cathedral, we headed away from Hanging Ditch and through St. Ann’s Square, where there were craft and food stalls, and Vivaldi, courtesy of a busking violinist.
Threading our way down onto Deansgate, Jamie thought he had annoyed a news vendor by posing for this photo on your left about his latest exploits. He was relieved when I explained the dry, sarcastic nature of the Manchester sense of humour.
Our next port of call was the magnificent John Rylands Library, which houses one of the world’s finest collections of rare books and manuscripts. The architecture is extremely impressive, what you might call Victorian Gothic. The library was founded by the magnificently named Mrs Enriqueta Augustina Rylands in memory of her late husband, John Rylands. The huge reading room, with its alcoves and balconies of glass-fronted bookcases, full of impressive-looking old tomes, and a fine statue of Mrs. Rylands (a very imposing woman with whom you wouldn’t want to mess) is well worth a visit the next time you get to Manchester. Go on, do it.
The café at the Rylands is one of the most pleasant cafés in the city, very light and airy. The menu makes a really pleasant change from the fries, pizzas, burgers and pies usually on offer. We decided on The Northern Plate – “A sharing plate for two show- casing the café’s regional foods: Lancashire & goats cheese, black pudding, Manchester sausage, Grizedale pork pie, locally cured meats, all served with Lizzie’s chutney and relish and crusty bread. Accompanied with 2 glasses of house wine”. It was perfect for a sunny day, and Lizzie’s Apple Chutney was to die for.
For our next stop, I had been torn between choosing the Museum of Science and Industry, or electing to marvel at the pre-Raphaelites on show at Manchester Art Gallery.
Unfortunately, I chose the wrong one, and we walked down to Castlefield and the Museum. Oh, the kids area, Xperiment, was sort of fun – see photo on the left – especially the orangey globe that you could whizz around to make groovy patterns. There was also a bit where you could stand on coloured squares to make bits of music. Unfortunately, there were four coloured squares and only two of us. When I hinted to the two young ladies also in the Gallery that they might care to make music with us, they looked at me weirdly and quickly walked away. But half the exhibits seemed to be missing, and everything was silent in the Power Hall – no thrusting pistons, clattering wheels, hissing steam. All was silent, and the worse for it. The Air and Space gallery had been denuded of much of its interest since last I visited, too, with the whole top gallery cleared out.
With no time now to reach the Art Gallery, we meandered past the Town Hall and took a photo by the fountain, before retiring to the Chop House (piccie), established in 1867 apparently. It being a warm day, we opted to sit out back, in the peaceful area behind St. Ann’s Church. Again, we got talking to some locals, and had a good old chat. After a couple of pints, we decided that a change of scene was in order, and returned to Sinclair’s, where the passers-by were much more varied, and far better fodder for our game of People Watching (“She’s called Monique, and she’s got one of those bald cats”). There were many hot laydeez around, unless that was an effect of the beer goggles. We were also entertained by a guy pretending to be a statue – as I type that I realise you’re all wondering how a dude standing still can be entertaining? Let me just remind you – beer goggles.
Eventually, the light faded, and we walked back to Piccadilly and Jamie’s train back to The Smoke. It had been a terrific day, in which we cemented a friendship that felt like it had been since childhood, and may well last until our second childhood. Bye Jamie; maybe I’ll come over to Michigan next.