04 Apr A Brief History of me. chapter 9. manchester.
I caught a plane to Manchester with nothing but a blue samsonite suitcase. I had no money, no job, no purpose. Luckily, I did have a roof over my head with Jim. All I knew was that I needed to be somewhere other than Barcelona and Manchester was that somewhere.
I knew Manchester slightly from visiting Gerry and Carmel, the other members in Jim’s band, but I didn’t have any friends or know the city. Jim lived in a small terraced house in Longsight and I would spend the first few days walking for miles with an A-Z (do those even exist anymore?) to get a feel for the city. I walked up and down the curry mile, enjoying the fragrant smells coming from the restaurants, explored the Quays and the backstreets of the Northern Quarter, still lined with sex shops, stationary businesses and small curry houses.
I felt culture shock in so many ways: the different architecture, the number of drunk people on public transport, the ready made foods in supermarkets. I enjoyed the charity shops and watching TV in English, looking forward to a different soap each weekday evening and feeling lost at the weekends without Eastenders or Corrie. I dropped CVs off in bars, shops and cafes, but no one got back to me, not even Java Coffee which made me wonder if they thought my CV was a prank.
Then one day Jim asked if I fancied accompanying him to the local radio station ALL fm as he needed to pick something up from the manager. I was interested and had nothing to do, so I went along and got chatting with the manager about their shows and all the different roles required. Before I knew it I was on air with the lunchtime presenter for two hours and by the end of the day had been assigned the role of producer for the drive time show with Eno Eruotor. It was all voluntary and unpaid but it was the most exciting thing to happen to me in weeks. So every day I would head into the studio an hour before we went on air, draw up a playlist (all played on CDs) with a combination of golden oldies, pop, alternative and latest releases. Then I would show Eno the pieces I had highlighted in that day’s newspaper for us to discuss and we would go on air. Eno was in her late thirties, a single mum of two kids with a successful career in fashion behind her. We became unlikely friends and she took me under her wing, showing me parts of the city I had yet to discover and inviting me over to spend the weekend at her beautiful home in Chorlton. We were popular on air and even attracted our own small fan club of lorry drivers.
Shortly after this I found a part time job at the health food shop and cafe On the 8th Day on Oxford road, where I started to form new friendships and feel slightly more in tune with the city that was still a stranger to me. I learned about omega 3, veganism and just how ill you can look if you only eat sprouts. I also started seeing one of the cooks from the kitchen, who was eventually sacked for not knowing what ‘blend the carrots’ meant. I feel this says everything you need to know about him.
I still felt completely lost and had parked all creative pursuits while I adapted to my new environment. I would watch the students walking up and down Oxford road and wonder if I was missing out. Either way, I couldn’t apply for Uni until three years unless I wanted to pay foreign tuition fees which would be triple the cost. So I drifted along, doing the radio show every day, eventually moving out of Jim’s and into a little granny flat in West Disbury, landed a month’s placement at the BBC shadowing a radio producer as I thought maybe I should pursue this. Nothing really stuck and I struggled to find my place.
Then the next summer a friend from the health food shop asked me to go to the Edinburgh Festival with her and work as stage manager for her dance and trapeze piece about an office worker who was secretly a mermaid. I think this is where a lot of things fell into place for me. I remembered how much I had loved the camaraderie of backstage, the excited hush before a performance starts, the post show drinks with the temporary family you so quickly form. When we returned to Manchester I applied for a job as an usher at the Library Theatre, beneath the beautiful circular library on St Peter’s square, just so I could be slightly closer to a stage. I was offered the job, and pretty much immediately, my life opened up and filled with colour. Each afternoon I would head into work, put on my itchy uniform shirt and black skirt, receive a briefing in the dingy cloakroom and then sit in the auditorium and watch the same play over and over again for a month. I loved it. All the ushers were oddballs and creatives, our manager was a lovely woman who would pour her favourite ushers a large glass of white wine from the bar at the end of each shift and there was always a new challenge, like hunting the phantom shitter who would deposit perfectly curled poohs on the foyer carpet. The actors and backstage crew would stay in the bar after the show and we would proceed to drink until the early hours. I did odd jobs backstage for wardrobe and was eventually promoted to duty manager on front of house. I made some of my life long friends there and found myself in many ways.
I fell in love with one of the ushers who was a singer in a band and after a month he moved in with me. My cousin moved up from London and the three of us found a house on Cotton Hill in Withington, the rent was cheap, the carpets were disgusting and the wallpaper was peeling off the walls. My mum burst into tears when she came to visit, but I loved it and knew I could make it beautiful. I bought a bucket of discounted orange paint from B&Q and turned the living room into a kitsch retro paradise with all the treasures I found on my daily charity shop visits. I covered the bathroom walls in Top of the Pops record covers and painted the kitchen walls deep red and lined the shelves with vintage crockery. It became the centre for parties that lasted for days and a safe home for any friends who needed a place to sleep.
I felt I had found my people and my home, which inspired me and gave me the confidence to apply to drama school. Five years had now passed and I would be eligible for UK tuition fees. I was broke and auditions cost money, so I applied to one drama school. Luckily I got in. At this point my relationship suddenly ended. In a bid to help cheer me up, my aunt asked if I would work as a nanny for her on their trip to Ghana for the summer. So I took my broken heart and poured all my love into my two small cousins and on my return, started my first year at drama school.
Next week: drama school and meeting Jon.