Around the time I wrote these words, I was regularly standing at flashpoints in and around the city centre, watching people walk across traffic islands, grinding through the therapy-alloted five minutes, and thinking: How do they do it? And how can they act so fucking blase about it?
Well, I don’t get like that anymore. I stride across the four-lane road to check out the MMU book fair and then stride back over again. We’re living through what in Thraxas’s world would be called The Hot Rainy Season, but last week brought days of unbroken evening sunshine which I spent walking around Manchester; I carry shades all the time now, out of optimism or irony or even affectation. That’s how you get to know a city: walking around. There’s an amazing cycle path that runs through Levenshulme, Chorlton, Fallowfield. I don’t know how good it 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 hour, watching the quarters click by on the signposts like you’re gunning down the M1.
Leaps and bounds, you may say – and then Friday I go up to St Ann’s for the book market and start feeling tense a few yards beyond Victoria, and remember with a lurch that I’m still phobic. It really is just the city centre now – or just M1 and M2. Everything else is fine. I’m off therapy until September and was planning adventurous things to do in that time, like going to Piccadilly, the Northern Quarter, Portland Street or even London, but I’m not sure that’s going to happen now. We’ll see. I’m feeling pretty good, except my dreams are crowded, confused affairs, and sometimes I run into pockets of total sadness or anxiety as if all the old fears of the city have now been internalised. Or maybe everyone feels like that?
It’s said that happiness and fear go together. But you are not afraid of happiness. You are afraid of hubris.