A Walk in the Rain

On Saturday I went to visit my friends Adam and Eve in Levenshulme.  Adam and Eve aren't their real names, but they prefer to remain anonymous.  It was a dingy, wet afternoon.  Levenshulme is about 3 miles out of Manchester city centre, where I've lived and worked for the last 3 years.  Fifteen minutes on the bus.  Buses in Manchester are frequent, warm and most on the Stockport Road routes these days have free wifi.  I decided to walk.  Nothing radical about that, but as a symbolic gesture of intent for my new way of life, it felt good.  Walking is both free and healthy.  Sitting on a bus and scrolling through your twitter timeline is neither.  But Luddite I am very much not, so bluetooth headphones on, playlist of favourites shuffled, smartwatch counting my steps and monitoring my heart rate, off I trekked.  I wonder how much longer I'll own such gadgets.  I'm a gadget fan, and it might be difficult to let go.  Anyway, assuming I don't have to sell my legs, there'll always be walking.  It was an hour's walk in the Manchester rain, and I arrived at Adam's soggy and happy.  There was laughter, polite conversation, children, coffee, and cake.  Adam recently completed his PhD and had invited family and friends over for a semi-impromptu celebration.  Adam has an enormous family.  One of his uncles introduced himself to me as "one of the uncles", but never told me his name.  It seemed wrong to ask, somehow.  It was all very normal.

Just down from Piccadilly Station and across the road from the recently renovated Macdonald hotel, there's a small patch of grass that for the past few months has been occupied by a group of homeless people, living out of plastic bags and sleeping in tents.  I've noticed more and more rough sleepers on the streets in the city centre the past year or so, and it's something we're all used to seeing in major UK cities.  Being approached for "spare change" in Manchester is an everyday occurrence.  Needless to say, the usual response is a curt "sorry, mate", accompanied by a typically British absence of eye contact and half-conscious rationalisations about how giving money to the homeless isn't something a charitable person should do.  Because they'll only spend it on drugs, or something.  (I don't know a lot of drug dealers, myself, but I'm fairly sure they don't accept small change).  Most of us can spare change, of course, but most of us don't.  And if we're being honest with ourselves, we're not really sorry.  Mate.  Commonplace as all this is, it's still uncomfortable to see what's effectively a "shanty town" less than a mile from the centre of a large English city, nominally the "capital of the North" and the epicentre of the nebulous "northern powerhouse" the government would apparently like the North to become.

The northern powerhouse.

Since I walked to Adam's and home again, I passed the homeless camp twice.  On the walk back, around 9pm, over the road in the hotel, guests were dining, warm and dry in the softly lit restaurant.  I saw empty tables and thought of how much food might go uneaten tonight, and where it might end up, if not in the bellies of the homeless people just meters away.  Then I thought about the £5 note in my wallet, the spare change in my pockets, and the leftover vegan chocolate cake I'd brought back with me from Adam's - none of which ended up in the pockets of the pockets or bellies of the people I saw obviously in greater need than I, before I made back inside to my own warm, dry accommodation.  I thought about a lot of things.  All I really did was think.  I didn't act.