The Secret City

There are secret cities, I feel, underlapping and chafing against the main body of town. Just as there is a city of smokers, so there is a city of agoraphobics. I walked to Chorlton yesterday. The standard route is a train to Oxford Road and then an 86 bus. I haven’t progressed enough to be able to ride a central Manchester bus on Europe’s most congested route. I might never be able to do this. I recognise that you’re defined by action rather than thought and that a recovering agoraphobic might always be an agoraphobic, just as a recovering alcoholic is still an alcoholic. Ah-ny-way…

So it was shanks mare all the way. Chorlton has always seemed completely inaccessible, something wedged and cut off – ‘once you move to Chorlton,’ a resident told me, ‘you never leave’ – but once you’ve crossed the river you’re fine. The only bridge on Google Maps is a snarl of competing A-roads. But further down, take a left, at the end of a street, you find a green walkway. My photo doesn’t do it justice. People walk their dogs there. Sunlight reflects off the river’s surface.

Alan Warner’s novel The Man Who Walks features a protagonist who, once he drinks, cannot climb gradients. He’ll detour for hours trying to evade a single slope on his walk home. The Condition is a little like this. You tend to avoid big roads, traffic, tall buildings, conurbations. Quiet stretches are like stepping stones across a black, choppy river. I’m a lot stronger and wiser than the man who made his jittery, tearful way to that first therapy session but these patterns of avoidance are hard to shake. Which is why I think there must be a city of us, cutting safe paths across Fallowfield, Withington, Whalley Range, Trafford, Levenshulme: making harmless grooves like webbing across the surface of Manchester.

I thought Salford had hardened me – I’ve seen people beg for credit in the local shop while a queue forms behind them – but I felt out of place walking through those estates of burning silence with young-old, skinny, tight-faced men hanging out of phone boxes. Need I add that your correspondent is pounding these mean streets in a suit jacket, a white shirt and business shoes?

But soon the streets become lively and suburban and I get this scent in the air. Time and light are on my side, it is fucking scorchio up here for some reason, and perhaps it’s just the smell of possibilities, that magical and undeniable uplift that spring always gives you. Memories of being younger, Hyde Park in the summertime, anticipation of nights out and cold beer and women – all that. Now I know this is more than the sense of possibilities. It is also the sense of protection.

It’s important to keep moving and exploring and I shall be doing more of this as the days lengthen. I feel like I’m rediscovering Manchester and falling in love with it all over again. Still you need to find a safe and familiar place before it grows pitch dark. This time I think I’ll make it.



One Response to “The Secret City”

  1. Out and About: Fallowfield Loop « Max Dunbar Says:

    […] is for cyclists but I can’t get enough of it. It’s like a subterranean passage in the secret city I imagined earlier. It’s so peaceful and beautiful and you can do three miles in about an […]

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