Manchester Novelist Emma Jane Unsworth’s love letter to her city…
I know we’ve had our differences. I’ve written you a few Dear John letters over the years but I’ve never followed them through. I won’t lie. I’ve thought about leaving. I’ve had the running urge when I felt as though your walls were closing in and I knew too many of your failings and bad habits; when the predictable happened one too many times and I felt as though it was your fault, or my fault for staying. Like that time the top of my dress slipped open on the stage of a crowded Night and Day Café, New Year’s Eve 2001. I was leaping around with a mic after I’d insisted on doing (a capella) karaoke that no one wanted to hear, ignoring the warning cries of my friends who had noticed an escapee boob (I assumed they were just trying to get me off the stage). It was only when I got
to the piano solo of ‘My Baby Just Cares For Me’ did I look down and see the real reason why everyone was waving and shouting, and I dropped the mic and ran, red-faced, out the back emergency exit. The next day was dark, wasn’t it.
When someone’s seen you exposed like that, it’s usually time to go. But as I was planning my hasty departure, trawling TEFL websites and imagining a new, pure, untainted life in Prague, St Petersburg or Istanbul – anywhere but Manchester – something stopped me booking the flights. Something held me fast in your hard granite arms… and so here I am, writing this letter as rain slides down the window in August, 32 years stuck fast, and I know that nowhere else will ever feel like home, or half so interesting.
My love for you is a difficult thing to dissect. It’s something to do with your canals, your cafés, your industry – not so much your famous sense of humour, which has always struck me as a little overrated. It’s the feeling I get when I see you lit up. Last weekend, descending from Derbyshire, I turned the last bend of the Snake Pass and the land unrolled to reveal you, shining. I admire how your achievements have spread around the world: sport, science, art and music. It’s hard to believe that you were just somebody’s idea once. The Romans, was it? Someone got tired of walking and decided to pitch their camp in the heart of the north of England. The first of many excellent ideas hatched here.
On good days I think I recognise every face on your streets. On bad days, I have my glazed Victorian bolt-holes. I visit your southern suburbs when I want to feel cool, or anti-cool, but your northern parts constitute a good portion of my soul.
And in your centre, late at night, I walk in infinite drunken dreams, found and unfrightened.
I love New York because I love you; love Paris because I love you. I think I love cities because I love you. I’ll always come home.
Emma Jane Unsworth
Follow Emma on Twitter: @emjaneunsworth