Wednesday 15 October
I hesitate to say it, because it means excluding myself on grounds of maturity, but the last people I would turn to in this city for any demonstration of raw humanity – by which I mean love, hope and good naturedness – would be students. My undergraduate days were spent on the mean streets of the West Midlands, in a small terraced shed-conversion, smoking hashish so dark that each toke represented twice one’s recommended daily intake of fibre; sharing a communal carrier that lived in a graffiti’d cage at the top of the road and spat in your face whenever you explained, weeping, that you wanted to get a message home to Mummy, but didn’t have a ten penny piece. I wonder how many of this generation’s slim-line carrier carrying, fat-bottomed, skinny-fitted, angular-faced mannequins ever had to live off their Uncle’s rejected Crimean rations (‘a little too dry, Mavis’) while saving up for an entire term to afford two hours goggling at the opposite in a cider pit the size of your horribly-stained handkerchief?
Such stereotypes are there to be busted. Shopping on Market Street’s cheap-as-frittes Eurodeli I linger improperly on the face of a young undergraduate. He has picked up a novelty item from the baskets in-between the sensible, nut-free items – an imitation steering wheel I think. His friend – another lank haired goon – is busy sifting through the soft fruit with long, languorous fingertips. There is something about the look on the face of this first specimen that can’t fail to warm my thirty-something-year-old heart. He is so proud of the amusing mime of which he is about to partake. He is so profoundly optimistic of its success. He is thinking no further ahead than the payoff to the gag. He is with someone he may not have known very long but someone he already likes more than any of the ‘squares’ back home. He has nothing to worry about but cheap fruit, cheap gags and – if they’re lucky – an amusingly shaped vegetable. Like many such Manchester inspirations it is the sheer simplicity (fools would say stupidity) of the vision that distracts me from all ills and sees me smiling directly into my soft pillow of overpriced loaf.