Sunday 23 November 2014

Chorlton, Greater Manchester

I've got to 'fess up now - I've fallen out of love with Chorlton. I spent nine years of my life there and I have to break it to you that there's more to life than Chorlton. Let's start with why I fell out of love:

Back in 1999, Chorlton was an okay Manchester backwater with teachers, social workers and musicians. Cheap rents are always good as well as a solid Irish community to keep pretentious behaviour in check. Marvellous, count me in!

However, by 2008, Chorlton had become burglary central and we had an attempted break in.  I also realised I hardly ever went to the centre of Chorlton anymore as most of the shops I'd liked had been turned into another bloody bar, cafe or artisan something or another. Taxi!

 So what turned me off Chorlton?

5) The normal and very handy shops being turned into bars, restaurants or fancy overpriced shops.  I still mourn the demise of You, Me & Us.  It was your perfect stop gap odds and sods shop before you had to hit B&Q. OK, what they sold didn't last, but lasted long enough to do your DIY job. 

4) Ordinary pubs became poncified. In this world there should be room enough to have a nice, normal pub with reasonably priced beer in civilised surroundings - what more can a person ask for? I was disappointed The Feathers became a Tesco Express.  It was not because it was another victim of the Tesco invasion of the high street, but it was the one pub I could purposely avoid that showed sports. Then again I do find these new bars never last long and there are only a handful that stick around.

3) I used to like shopping in supermarkets before I lived in Chorlton.  Safeway, now Morrisons, made me lose the will to live as it was particularly awful. I found the staff were bats and the fresh food section not exactly fresh. There was something rather depressing about the place and I’ve never recovered my supermarket mojo – even Booths doesn’t quite do it for me.  The other alternative supermarket in Chorlton, Unicorn irritated me too.  This was in part due to some of the staff acting that they were above serving on the tills. 

2) There is a big deal about getting kids into the ‘right’ primary school in Chorlton – I’d hate to be a head teacher here having to deal with all the competitive, middle class parents.  However a friend of mine said it’s not about getting your child into the right primary school, it’s about getting your child into the right feeder school for your secondary school of choice.  When those particular secondary schools are not that great compared to schools outside of the Manchester City Council area, I do wonder about the logic of families living in Chorlton. Okay if your kid survives Manchester secondary schools as there are some brilliant colleges, but I used to see a steady stream of Chorlton kids walking up to Stretford Grammar School or getting on the bus to the other side of Manchester.  Maybe having competitive middle class parents will help improve the local secondary schools, but I suspect their kids will be sent off to private schools instead.

1) I remember going to Camden for the first time in the 1990s and I hated it.  Partly because of young people walking round in their own egotistical bubbles, but I also found older people marginalised.  I fear the same is happening to Chorlton and it’s sad.  I like a neighbourhood that has a good mix of ages, but I think it rips the heart out of a community where there are fewer older people than in other places.  This is not helped when local shops are being converted into bars, restaurants and specialist shops to attract the youth and middle class pound, whilst the pensioner pound is not being catered for at all.

OK, I must balance this moan fest by telling you about the five things I still love about Chorlton: 

5) I’ve always loved the Irish Club on Edge Lane.  Having been in many Irish clubs in Ireland, when I first stepped into this place I knew it was a proper Irish Club and not one of those plastic paddy places.  It had some obligatory features from the home country, but it was very functional and no nonsense.  The Irish aren’t very big on interior design and it’s always function over form.  It felt like I was back in Ireland.  Okay, many of the nights I’ve been to weren’t Irish in the least, but I loved the familiarity of the place that made it more relaxing for me.

4) I love fabrics and can often be found sewing patchwork.  Leon’s is like a fun palace for all things fabric, at pretty reasonable prices too.  Just on the edge of Chorlton it can be found opposite Chorlton Park.  There is some parking outside, but reversing into the main road isn’t my idea of fun, so I park at the KFC car park a couple of minutes away.  I could spend hours and a fortune in here.  There is a pile-them-high policy here, so you need to give yourself time to have a good root through.

3) I think the best foody place in Chorlton is the Barbakan.  If you like your bread interesting and European this is the place for you.  They also do a fine range in cheese, deli meats and those hard to find European foods.  It gets so busy here that they have a ticket machine so everyone gets served in order.  They also do good sandwiches too for the nearby office workers.  I used to time my visits here for about 4pm on Saturday when they would bag up their rolls and sell them cheap.  They would end up in the freezer for me to use them for my work sandwiches.  It has been going for years and I found out my former neighbour and fabulous Italian cook sends her son here to stock up on stuff – so for me that is a seal of approval.

2) I am biased, but Kingbee Records is the best record shop in Manchester and possibly the UK.  If you have ever read ‘High Fidelity’ by Nick Hornby you will completely get the charm of this place.  I’ve been to record shops all over the world and Kingbee stands out as one of the best.  Why?  It’s reasonably priced, the staff are knowledgeable, it’s stocked full of interesting stuff and it’s not pretentious. It may seem unassuming compared to some too-cool-for-school record shops, but I prefer it that the staff focus on the music and not on the look of the shop.  Most importantly I know the staff go the extra mile for customers. Recently Neil, whilst on holiday, spotted a record one of his customers was after and picked it up for them. Needless to say, the customer in question was thrilled that he found it.  I’m amazed that Neil actually remembered it.

1) The best thing about Chorlton, other than Kingbee Records, is the fact this place is a cat friendly suburb.  Over the years I’ve met loads of kitties on my walks around Chorlton.  In fact, a ten minute round trip to the Londis on Beech Road, would turn into a 30 minute journey as we checked in with all the cats en route.  We used to nickname all the cats and I’d make up stories about them being at the “Catnip Pub”.
Here are some of them I remember:

·    Nipper – A small ginger cat who always sat on a wall along Kingshill Road.  His name was Oscar, but we called him Nipper as he would nip you if you stroked him for too long.

·    Queen Liz – A small, long-haired calico cat who had a gorgeous fluffy white ruff around her neck – sadly she was killed by a pair of feral dogs.

·    Big Bad Tom - A stray, big, black tom cat who used to hang around with Queen Liz – he disappeared soon after her death.  I’d like to think he went all Bruce Willis and hunted down Queen Liz’s killers.

·    Floozy - A little black and white cat who used to be friendly to all the people who passed by our flats.  She social-rolled every person who passed by.

·    Evil - An evil looking white and black cat who used to torment the cats on Albemarle Road.  He ended up at our flats tormenting Floozy, so I took him back to Albemarle Road whilst drunk.  He wasn’t too happy about being handled and I bore the scars to prove it.

·    Three legged cat – A very friendly cat who used to sunbathe with all the local kitties on Albemarle Road. 

·    Pearl - A faded ginger and white long haired cat who had seen better days on Beech Road. 

·    Stepford Cats – There were a family of cats who used to live on Hackness Road who all looked the same.  There is something unnerving about a group of identical cats staring at you.

·    Poppy – Real name and our favourite.  She staged a house invasion and ended up spending 6 months with us as an overnight guest.  She had fallen out with her owners when they got a new kitten.  We could have adopted her, but she had a nice life around the flats so we didn’t take her when we moved.  Another neighbour took her in and last time we saw her she was still patrolling the flats being her usual diva self. 

Chorlton, love it or loathe it, is one of those places that has a lot going on.  You could probably eat out here for a month and not repeat yourself.  Having lived here for as long as we did I can see all the changes both good and bad.  I completely see why it would be one of the destinations of choice for people working at Media City, but I think it’s no longer a suburb of Manchester as it has lost some of its northernness.  It tries too hard to be cool and different, and as a result I personally think it has lost its original quirky charm which I fell in love with.  Still I’m glad to say the cats still rule and Kingbee rocks to its own groove.

P.S. Please vote for me at the  2015 Blog Awards UK under the Travel and Most Innovative categories.  

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