Sunday 13th October marked both the mid-way point for what has been a wonderful round of Manchester Literature Festival events this year and the hugely popular ‘Northern Classics’ Literary Coach Tour, a day that has been greatly anticipated by the book group this time around, after having narrowly missed out on tickets last year.
After being rushed into the city centre (since I forgot my ticket and then missed my train going back for it!) by an exceedingly grumpy old car and less-than-thrilled boyfriend, the following scene and stereotypical Manchester weather greeted the group in full force…
Fear not fellow bookworms! Us hardened Northerners are not to be put off by a bit of grey cloud. Over the next five hours, our irrepressible tour guide Ed Glinert and breathtakingly skillful coach driver Ray (or was it Ken? I can’t quite remember..) delivered us in fair luxury around the back alleys of Manchester. ‘Twas remarked more than once that you can indeed live in a city for a very long time and yet essentially know nothing about it.
First on the stop was a lesson on how the other half live. Although I could barely stifle my cry of ‘boo!’ as we parked outside Elizabeth Gaskell’s house (many of you may be aware of the book group’s hate-hate relationship with her dreary début novel; Mary Barton) it was nice to see the renovation works being undertaken to preserve this historic building, which spends its days glaring over at the neighbouring housing estate. Beforehand, we were privy to some fabulous tales involving the great and the good who once resided in the smart terraced houses that now sit discreetly back from Ardwick Green (including some deliciously scatological story involving one of the Rothschilds…).
From the hard industrial lessons from the likes of Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole and Dickens’ Hard Times we meandered around the leafy suburbs of South Manchester to whet our appetites for lunch and were treated to the flights of fancy, childhood tales and anecdotes from the likes of Anthony Burgess and middle-class opium addict Thomas de Quincey.
With our heads busting full of thought-provoking facts about our home town and stomachs duly grumbling, our pit stop for the day was Manchester’s beautiful, and oft overlooked, Portico Library (with tea and cake provided by a lovable librarian)…
The Portico Library is an absolute must-see on any book lover’s tour of historic Manchester. Although I was previously under the impression that access to this wonderful space was only available to members who were initiated into the Portico library ‘set’ by other members, happily it seems this is no longer (indeed, if it ever was) the case, and modern members need merely pay a subscription fee per year to use the library’s facilities. A glorious glass dome presides over beautiful wooden shelves full of tomes dedicated to history, religion, geography and, the most curiously inscribed, ‘polite literature’. This amusing term can be used more generally to describe the kind of literature deemed acceptable for the eyes of women and servants in Georgian England or, perhaps more accurately, indicate the broadening of minds, concepts and ideas among the ‘polite’ middle-class society of the 18th century. Literature that encompassed everything from theology to romance. How lovely.
Although our host proved as lively as ever throughout the day, even treating us to the chance to win some literary prizes (with questions on poetry no less – needless to say I was useless), with our sandwiches sitting heavily in our stomachs the afternoon proved to be a much dozier affair, driving around the estates of Manchester and treated to some intriguing snippets from authors such as Louis Golding and John Cooper Clarke – and no, not from that stupid advert for McCain’s oven chips! The highlight for me though had to be Ordsall Hall. This magnificent manor house dates back to the 15th century and, bizarrely, lies smack bang in the middle of one of the roughest housing estates in Manchester. The former home of the Radclyffe family, it is pure Tudor fabulousness. I’m ashamed that after a decade living in Manchester I never knew of its existence and will therefore be paying a proper visit very very soon.
Apart from enjoying the Manchester Literature Festival in my spare time I was also lucky enough to write for the official blog once again this year, listening to a spot of Highland poetry at the Manchester Art Gallery and delving into the glamorous world of The Great Gatsby at Matt and Phreds jazz club. You can read my gushy reactions here and here respectively. Until next year MLF!