Christmas Lights
Friday 7th November

I set off at 4:45pm driving towards the city, the traffic is light. On the car stereo there's a cassette playing, it's Tiffany – her self titled release from 1987. It's playing side one and there are some really good songs.
Every 3 months I buy about 20 cassettes from second hand or charity stores in Sale. Sale is a town south of Manchester with lots of these types of shops. I really used to like listening to the radio but in the last year there are so many adverts, phone ins, and text ins that there's not much music being played. The stations keep announcing how they play ‘the most music', but at 8am to 9am and 4pm to 6pm it's lucky to catch a song. So now I only listen to the radio at night when there are less adverts. Usually I listen to Galaxy (dance) and occasionally Xfm (new music).

A few months ago I got talking to someone when I was out during the evening in the suburbs. Me and a friend were hanging about on the platform of Hale train station which is near his house. There was this random office worker who joined in our conversation. My conversation with the office worker went like this:
Him: "Critics say music finished with Oasis. Top of the Pops stopped and the new generation find out about their music from the internet."
Me: "Top of the pops. I remember getting ready to go out on a Friday night and looking fowrd to watching the bands. We'd watch it then go out and be in a good mood, and discuss it at the pub."
Him: "It's all facebook, email marketing and downloads now. People don't even read music magazines much"
Me: "Like NME and Q on th bus, on the way home from school. Hey, remember the ITV chart show?"
Him: "With the cool graphics where it said play and fast forward."
We laugh.
Me: "Many people don't want to have to look up on the internet to find out about music."
Him: "I agree. Also websites aren't easy to read and work out where the information is."
Me: "It used to be like, 2 or 3 times a week after school, me and my friends would go to the record shop and chat."
Hin: "Yes. We did too. It was a social thing."
Me: "We knew the person who worked there. We'd look through the tapes and CD's to find out about music, and discuss it with friends."
Him: "My favourite was HMV in Manchester. It was such a good store. There was so much choice."
Me: "The new singles section where you could buy a record by a band you'd never heard of for 50p. Look forward to getting home and finding out what it was like."
Him: "Yes. It was good."
Me: "I suppose with the internet it's easier for bands to get started, with a website and stuff."
Him: "Yes. There are some positives."

Anyway. This is post post modernism we're in now, or whatever the critics and journalists are calling it. The second hand stores sell cassette albums for 50p or 25p each. I buy 20 cassettes every 3 months or so and listen to them in the car. It's cool that - There are so many amazing songs from the 80's and 90's that most people have never heard. The classic radio stations must all have one CD and share it, playing the same 20 hits from the 80's and 90's. Because really there are 1000's. On this Tiffany CD I'm listening to now there are 10 really great songs. Every time my friends get in my car and I've got a new cassette on they're like "Wow, that's a really good song, who is it?" and I'm like "It's such a such an artist from their album in 1980- or 1990-something."
I do buy modern music occasionally but like I discussed with the guy in the suburbs, it's finding out about it. I also buy music from artists selling their own CD's in the street.

In Canada when I was on holiday there was a guy outside the entrance to the subway. It was 5pm in the summer when office workers were going home. He had a CD player and was dancing to his music. I bought a copy, the CD album was called The Ambassador Project by a group called Soldiers of Fortune, produced by Embassy Productions. It has some very good songs on it.

Anyway. I buy the cassettes but as a general rule I avoid second hand and especially charity shops. In places like Sale they are competing with real businesses, the reason there aren't any independent bookshops or homeware shops is because the charity shops there have gone upmarket. They have hardwood flooring, nice shelves, and only accept the latst top quality goods. They pay nothing to buy stuff in. I saw an ad the other day for Help the Aged in head office. It paid £95,000 a year.

So I'm driving along Princess Road, I go into the outside lane, and turn right onto Barlow Moor Road. As I'm stationary at the traffic lights at the start of East Didsbury, I've got the window down and looking out, I notice the moon is out and it's a clear sky. There's a real atmosphere now with the music playing, my car all polished and shiny, and the day turning to night in Manchester.

The lights change. I put the gear selector into drive, press the accelerator, and the huge sounding engine of the car roars as I drive off towards Didsbury.

I park in the car park next to the bars n Didsbury, get out of the car, see Alex K walking towards me.
Me: "Hi, how's it going?"
Alex K: "Good."
Me: "The fireworks are going to be good."
Alex K: "Is anyone else coming?"
Me: "We're meeting someone later. A French guy called Yani."
Alex K: "Are any of the ladies coming?"
Me: "No, they're all at work. And one hasn't replied. And it didn't go well with Michela, then it went ok. I'll tell you about it later."
Alex K: "I can't stay out too long tonight."
Me: "Until what time?"
Alex K: "11ish."
Me: "Oh right. I thought you were going to say 9 or something. I was planning to go about 10:30 anyway."
Alex K: "Cool."
We get into the car, I start the engine, reverse out of the space, drive across the car park and out onto Wilmslow Road, going north towards the city centre.

Alex K: "What happened with Michela?"
Me: "I was going to get her to come along but it got messed up last week."
Alex K: "How come. You were getting on well."
Me: "Yeah well. I spoke to her on the phone and it was going great. She was saying we have to meet up again soon and everything. She asked me for my landline number."
Alex K: "What happened?"
Me: "I was on a lot of business calls that day. Things were going well and in business we often finish calls with saying – nice talking to you – or – it went well – or – good talking. Anyway. I ended it with – nice talking to you – on a call to her out of routine."
Alex K: "So what?"
Me: "It sounded like I was trying to be nice to her. You know, thanking her for the conversation."
Alex K: "I see what you mean. But it's only the end of the call."
Me: "It's the way women are now. Many, if you do the slightest little thing that is classed as failing a test or showing too much interest, they don't bother."
Alex K: "I know that, but saying that at the end of the call, she should let it go."
Me: "Yes well, I knew right after I put the phone down it would cause problems. And when I phoned her a few days later she didn't pick up the phone. I texted her and she didn't reply to the message. It's the way they're becoming nowadays."
Alex K: "What will you do about her?"
Me: "I sent my special text message on Thursday night, and sure enough she replied within the hour."
K says laughing: "What did you send her?"
Me: "Did you get my message? Are you playing games? Damn, I was looking forward to meeting up. Don't tell me you're one of those typical Cheshire girls. Talk to me."
Alex K: "Classic. What did she say?"
Me: "Here, read it." and I pass him my phone.
By now I'm driving through Withington, we've left the Didsbury region.
Alex K: "She even sent you a kiss at the end!"
Me: "The texts always work."
Alex K: "It's good!"
Me: "All I'll do now is not talk to her much and just arrange a meeting. Although I've kind of lost some respect for her now."
Alex K: "I know what you mean."
Alex K: "Well, most of the people we know now are good. So it's not a big deal. Anyway. We shouldn't bother about them. If they don't want to come out and join in what do we care. We'll meet more people and have a good time. Forget about her."
Me: "You're right. Lets talk about something else. Ok. The fireworks are going to be really good tonight. And there'll be music too."
Alex K: ""Who's playing?"
Me: "Some X-factor star."
Alex K: "Cool."

We reach the edge of Rusholme.
Me: "Shall I take a left here?"
Alex K: "Yes."
I drive down towards Princess Road. Then take a shortcut through Moss Side. Moss Side is quiet tonight, probably everyone at work, or getting ready to go on a night out.
We reach the brewery, then go along to Oxford Road, past the universities, then park in the city near Albert Square.
We leave the car and are going over to the casino.
Me: "We'll get some food here."
Alex K: "What are you getting?"
Me: "I've got an offer on the sandwiches. £1.25 for a deluxe sandwich."
Alex K: "Yeah, I'll get one too."

We go inside the casino, order sandwiches and sit in the bar area.
Me: "What's up?"
Alex K: "What?"
Me: "You're not in a good mood tonight. You've not said much since we got in here."
Alex K: "I've got a lot on."
Me: "What the filming?"
Alex K: "Yes. And the catering job. I'm getting up at 6 tomorrow and have a 3 hour drive to Cardiff. I'm managing the catering at the event."
Me: "So don't do it."
Alex K: "I could use the money."
Me: "Well get a different job."
Alex K: "It's flexible so I can do the acting."
Me: "I've got a lot on too. That's why I enjoy going out at a weekend. It's enjoyable, exciting. It's the whole point of going out."

We leave the casino. For a November evening it's not that cold. We go past central library, then reach Albert Square. There are thousands of people in the open air watching the stage. There's music and entertainment and it's a really good atmosphere. The presenter who talks in between acts is good and tells some jokes.

Me: "Lets go over there. We're meeting Yani in 10 minutes."
Alex K: "Ok. What's he like?"
Me: "I don't know. I never met him before. I met him through Phil who I used to meet up with at 5pm after work in the city. Yani has moved to Manchester from France, so I said he could come out. He seemed like an ok guy on the phone and by email."

I notice someone who is on his own that could be him.
Me: "Are you Yani?"
Him: "No."
Me: "Ok. I'm meeting someone here but I don't know what he looks like. He's a friend of someone. Are you waiting for someone?"
Him: "Yes. I'm waiting for a friend."
This person seems like a safe guy, maybe he could join us on our nights out. We need some more guys to come along.
Me: "What do you do. Anything good?"
Him: "I'm unemployed at the moment, but I'm an actor. Sometimes I get work for a few months, then none for a few months."
Me: "What type of acting?"
Him: "Theatre and television. What do you do?"
Me: "I wrote a book. I've just got it into bookshops so it's started off ok."
Him: "That's good."
His friend arrives.
His friend: "Hi, hows it going?"
Him: "This is my friend. He's been acting at the Edinburgh festival."
Me: "That's great."
I look at my watch and realise the time.
Me: "I've got to find this person I'm meeting. Where are you from?"
Him: "Stockport."
Me: "You should come out on one of our nights out."
Him: "Yes, that would be good."
We swap numbers and I go to find Yani. I brought a mobile phone with me tonight so he could find me if there's crowds. So I take it out of my pocket and turn it on. There's a message. He's here, in front of the Slug and Lettuce's entrance, wearing a black trench coat and grey shoes. I go to the entrance and at first can't see him, then notice him leaning against the wall a few metres away from the door. I walk over to him.
Him: "Alex?"
Me: "Hi. How's it going?"
Yani: "Good thanks."
Me: "We're over here." and I go over to where Alex K and the actor guys are. Alex K is in conversation with the actors and I talk with Yani.
Yani: "Thanks for inviting me to this. I wouldn't have known about this event."
Me: "Yes, it's only mentioned in the newspapaper in a small article. So what are you doing in England?"
Yani: "I'm a teaching assistant. Helping students with French at a college in Bolton. It means I didn't need any special training and could easily get a job."
Me: "Sounds good."
Yani: "It's at a school in Bolton, they offered me a place to live there but I wanted to live in Manchester. So I got an apartment, it's on Chapel Street near to the start of Salford."
Yani: "While I remember. I can only stay out until 9:30pm tonight. I have some people to meet later on who I arranged it with a while ago."
Me: "It's fine."

Me: "So what do you think of Manchester?"
Yani: "When I first got here, I went to a club and was Wow! This is amazing. The clubs are so good compared to Paris. Actually. I want to make the most of my time here and do as much as possible. Because I am only here until May."
Me: "That's good. I live in Manchester but I want to make the most of it too. It's good to meet someone who's up for going out and having a good time."
Yani: "Yes."
Me: "What else?"
Yani: "The women are pretty too. In France the reputation is that English girls aren't as attractive, but that's not true. I think it is a myth created by the English men to keep the French from coming here!"
We laugh.
Yani: "It's more friendly in Manchester. Paris is 4 times the size – there are 2 million in Paris and 400,000 in Manchester. You go out in Paris and there are only 2 places you can meet people. Everywhere else if you speak to someone they don't want to know you."
Me: "Sounds a bit like some of the suburbs here."
Yani: "The suburbs are like that?"
Me: "Yes, some of them are. I had the impression the continental café culture was friendly."
Yani: "No. It's better here. Although it's difficult to meet up with people here. I swap numbers and it's hard to arrange to meet up, some even give fake numbers. This doesn't happen in France."
Me: "It could be the places you're going to, or maybe your approach."
Yani: "Also on Facebook. I contact people or they contact me who are in Manchester, and then they will send emails but won't arrange to meet up in person. My accent makes it more difficult to be heard in clubs."
Me: "It happens occasionally, when you meet a lady you don't get on that well with at the time, but you have so much in common and similar interests that you think – if we were not in this nightclub we'd get on really well. A coffee shop or nice bar would be fine. So you ask for her number. But all she notices is that you don't get on that well at the time. So she gives a fake number. Anyway. Women that give fake numbers are people you don't want to be around. They've done you a favour because you don't have to waste time with them."
Yani: "Right. And some people I phone up and they're very different to when I met them."
Me: "That's the weekend warriors. They drink alcohol and change personality on a night out. Then when you phone them they're a different person."
Yani: "Yes. I find alcohol is a big problem here. It's very cheap. In France a drink would cost 8 euros."
Me: "That's a lot. Drink isn't a problem for all English people. It's just because when going out at night, the majority of bars, their business is supported by alcoholics. So alcoholics is mostly what you'll meet on a night out That's how bars can keep selling enough drink and make money. If you want to meet people to make friends and go out with you have to make an effort to find them."
Yani: "Where do you go out?"
Me: "Lots of places. We like Kro Bar in Piccadilly Gardens. Tiger Tiger is good, you can go there on your own just to listen to the music and enjoy yourself."
Yani: "I noticed that. In Paris you could never go out on your own. Here you can meet people on a night out."
Me: "It's good to hear you like Manchester."
Yani: "Yes. I do."

Alex K comes back over after talking for 20 minutes with the acting people.
Alex K: "I know that guy."
Me: "What. The random actor guy I met?"
Alex K: "His friend."
Me: "I've noticed this" I say to Yani and Alex K. "If you go around the city on a Friday night every week, you start seeing the same people around."
Yani: "I noticed this in Manchester. Paris is too big and spread out. Manchester has main streets where everyone goes. I have been here a few months and I see the same people."

Then I notice it's nearly time for the fireworks to start. A group of tourists with tall hats have stood a few rows in front.
Me: "Let's go over there. We'll be able to see better. There are too many tall people and with hats here."
We move a few metres to the right where there's a good view. Then the fireworks are about to start. The first rockets shoot off the top of the town hall. It's a brilliant idea to launch the fireworks off the roof. The architecture of the building, the clock tower, and smoke, make it the most dramatic firework display.

Yani: "That was a very good display."
Alex K: "Yes. It was good, I've never been before."
Me: "I found out about it 2 years ago, that's when I first went. It's good to see something special like this."
The crowds are leaving the square now. The Christmas lights have been turned on across the city.
Alex K: "Are we going to some bars?"
Me: "Yes. I want to take off my jumper and drop off my stuff at the car. You go to a bar and I'll drop it off and see you there."
I've got a camera, jumper, cap, and mobile phone which I don't want to be carrying around the bars tonight. I go to my car and put my things in the boot, then go to Odder.

Odder is a good venue for this time of evening – it's 7:45pm now. We stay for over an hour, chatting, having a good time, discussing Manchester.
Yani: "I'm going on a tour of Manchester which tells you all the music venues. It's on every Saturday."
Me: "I wouldn't mind that. I've never done the tourist venues in Manchester. I've probably been to many places, but that music tour sounds good."
Yani: "Let me know when you want to go."
Me: "Ok."
Alex K: "Yes. It would be good."
Yani: "I've been reading all about the Hacienda. Have you been?"
Me: "No. One of my friends went there for a birthday party when he was 12. It closed before I was 18."
Alex K: "Have you seen the film 24 hour party people?"
Yani: "Yes. I liked it."
Me: "I was an extra in that."
Alex K: "Really? I didn't know that."
Me: "I was in the crowd, you can't see me because it was dark like in a club. It was a good night."
Alex K: "Did you get paid?"
Me: "No. It was a free bar and free food though, which was good enough. And it was interesting seeing all the filming going on and being on a film set. I'm glad I did it."

We leave Odder and Yani says
Yani: "Can we go to bars near to my flat. So we can stay out longer, then I can go back to my flat. I have to meet up with some friends later."
Me: "Sure."
Yani said earlier he'd have to leave at 9:30 and we were ok with that. When meeting someone new we can find out whether we get on and 3 hours is enough for that."
As we walk across St. Peters Square I say
Me: "Let's go that way. There's more bars down there and we can check out some places."
We go down Peter Street.
Me: "That place is meant to be good. It's often reviewed in the magazines. Let's go in and have a look."
Alex K: "What, in the hotel?"
Yani: "Yes, hotel bars can be good."
We go through the double doors, past the hotel reception staff in the foyer, and round the corner into the bar. The interior is very well decorated. The colours are black and red. I ask a lady who works there:
Me: "Can I have a menu. I might come back here with friends and wanted an idea of prices."
Her: "I''ll just get one for you." she says smiling
She brings over the menu and I open it.
Alex K: "What's it like?"
Me: "£3.70 a pint, £2 a half pint. £6 for a whisky. It's expensive but ok for the venue if we have beers. Shots are expensive."
It smells as if they serve lots of fried or grilled food in here. Or the kitchen is nearby. It's important to find the prices not just for yourself but for other people you might invite along. Not everyone is ok with paying higher prices for drinks, and not everyone earns the same amounts. I go over and hand the menu back to her. The time I had looking at the menu also gave me a chance to find out what the feel of the place is like.
Her: "Thanks."
Me: "Thanks."

We leave the venue. Outside we're on the street and I say:
Me: "It's not bad, we could go there in future with the ladies. It's a safe place with an ok atmosphere."
We go along Peter Street, then along Deansgate chatting, and stop outside Yani's flat. We talk a while more then Yani says
Yani: "I've got to get going. When are you going out next?"
Me: "Friday."
Alex K: "Or Saturday."
Me: "Friday's better for me."
Yani: "Can we go out Friday? I'm busy on Saturday"
Me: "Yes, sure."
Alex K: "I'm working on Friday. I'll be here about 9 or 10."
Me: "We can all meet up later then."
Alex K: "You guys can meet up earlier then I'll come and meet you later."
Me: "Ok. Maybe we can show you Didsbury and Fallowfield first."
Yani: "Thanks. That would be good. Friday is my day off all day "
Me: "Ok, see you later."
Yani goes to his flat.

Me and Alex K go and we're now on Deansgate. Alex K looks unhappy.
Me: "What's up, are you in a bad mood again?"
Alex K: "I've got a lot on my mind with the two jobs. I won't be able to make it every week."
Me: "How come?"
Alex K: "The managing catering at events. A lot of the work is at weekends, and I could use the money."
Me: "It would be good if you came out every week but it's ok."
Alex K is setting up a production company and it requies a lot of funding. He's got experience in the catering business and so the catering job is funding his production company. It's going to change things now Alex K can't come out every week. It's going to make it more difficult for going out which I'm not pleased about. Anyway. We had good times, we explored the city, met people, and enjoyed the entertainments.
This story started with me going out on my own. It became me and Alex K's story because we met by chance and he joined in. But he's got a career that doesn't have traditional working hours like I do. So we'll see what happens next. It makes me re-evaluate how I need to get to know more people, invite out people I've already met, and take it to the next level.

Me: "Let's check out those bars."
Alex K: "Which ones?"
Me: "King Street, and that one at the end of Deansgate."
We go into Chaophrayah
Me: "This place is good. It's the type of place we could come with friends." There are groups of people standing around drinking, and some on sofas.
Alex K: "Yes it's good."
Then we go to Grinch. The doorman is counting money in the doorway. He starts laughing saying.
Doorman: "You come here because you see me counting money!"
Me: "Yes ,that's it!"
We laugh.
Alex K: "This is a hold up."
Doorman: "I'm counting my wages. Make sure I get paid right!"
We go inside Grinch. It's ok too. Another nice bar. Then we leave.

Now we're going to the other side of Deansgate.
Me: "Those bars, the music was a bit too quiet. They're nice for a few hours at the beginning of the night although there isn't the late night bar atmosphere."
Alex K: "It depends who you go with."
Me: "You're right. It's just they could have had better background music."
We get to the other side of Deansgate. I go to Atlas bar, open the door, the loud music blasts out onto the street, I close it and walk off to check the next bar. Alex K is following behind walking across the road. I go into a bar next to Atlas. It's too hot and the air is thick and the windows are steamed up. We leave and walk along the sidestreets towards the car. As we're going along a deserted sidestreet I'm saying:
Me: "This is the sort of place we should be going."
Alex K: "What. On the street."
Me: "No, there should be a door we knock on 3 times, someone opens it, and it leads to a bar where everything is just right."
Alex K: "Yeah."
Me: "Maybe we should run our own night."

Now we're on Oxford Road.
Me: "Let's check out one more place." and I go into the Cornerhouse Cinema. It's ok in the bar on the ground floor. I go upstairs, past all the people sat at tables having food or drink. We go and sit at the back of the venue.
Me: "This is the kind of place. Good music, the right volume here at the back."
I notice a guy and a lady at the record decks holding records and discussing which would be best to play. That's why the music is good here – someone's making the effort to choose the best songs.

We go downstairs, out of the side door and onto the street. We get to the car, we get in, I start the engine and drive south out of the city.

Summary and venue reviews: Friday 7th November

Circus Casino
Medium busy. Décor: 7/10.
Notes: Quality sandwiches served in the bar snacks area.
Circus Casino

Albert Square
Very busy.
Notes: The venue for the Christmas Lights switch-on event in Manchester.
Albert Square

Busy. Clientele: students, casual and smart casual. Décor: 6/10. Music: chart, indie, classic hits.
Notes: A pleasant venue to be with friends in the early evening.
Odder Bar Manchester

Radisson Hotel Bar on Peter Street
Medium busy. Clientele: smart, trendy, also some businesspeople. Décor: 10/10.
Notes: A classy venue with excellent décor and kept very clean. Polite service.
Radisson Hotel Peter Street

Medium busy. Clientele: smart, smart casual. Décor: 9/10. Music: quiet background music.
Notes: A bar-restaurant with nice seating areas.

Medium busy. Clientele: smart. Décor: 10/10.
Notes: A trendy restaurant-bar with seating rather than standing areas, like a continental bar.

Atlas bar
Busy. Clientele: smart, smart casual. Décor: 7/10.
Notes: Music far too loud.

Place next to Atlas Bar (Knott Bar)
Busy. Clientele: casual. Décor: 6/10. Music: pop, classic hits.
Notes: A good all round venue with a friendly atmosphere. The drawback was the lack of air circulation, making the windows were all steamed up and the air stuffy.
Knott bar

Medium busy. Clientele: smart casual. Décor: 7/10. Music: quality choice being played by the DJ's.
Notes: Very good music, a pleasant venue without troublemakers. Good safe meeting place to be with friends.

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© Alex Remizo