For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth, the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.
Ah, the Song of Solomon, a tablet of stone for Mancunians. Our skies are black, we live in rains so dense that the seasons blend into one another. Our rivers flow ink. Our citizens are puny in body, but bold in mind. We have defeated nature’s curse, survived the Industrial Revolution and its aftermath. Lived, existed, exalted on a tidal wave of optimism. We have become a superior race. Look behind the façade of success and behold, there is a Mancunian.
In 1958 there were 40 holders of the Victoria Cross in the Manchester area. Arkwright, Hargreaves, Kay, Crompton taught the world how to make textiles. Henry Royce made his first car here in 1904, teamed up with Rolls to form Rolls-Royce in the Midland Hotel in 1906. Alcock and Brown flew the Atlantic in 1919 in an ancient bomber. Roy Dobson of Avro turned out 150 Lancaster bombers a month in Trafford Park. The Rolls-Royce Merlin engine, which won the war, was assembled there too.
We launched the Canal Age and the Free Trade Movement. Thousands of Chinese people live and work here, adding flavour, colour and charm to our eternal Victorian Gothic architecture. Anthony Burgess and Neville Cardus, great writers, loved Manchester. Britain’s oldest symphony orchestra, the Hallé, was founded in 1858.
“I have a fair chamber and parlour into which the sun and the moon shine, friendly people enter – it’s my centre,” wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson when he paid a visit. He can’t have felt the cold. “The coldest winter I ever spent was summer in Manchester,” said Mark Twain.
But what of today?
BBC Sport has arrived in our midst. Radio 5 Live is coming, BBC Breakfast too. Yet some folk are grumbling: Media City Salford, why move? Jeremy Clarkson has threatened to eject from the Top Gear cockpit should his show relocate.
But Media City is crystallised Hollywood, super modern individual buildings built on reclaimed docks. It’s a haven for the creative mind, far from London’s overcrowded, cosmopolitan, fever heat and crush. To recreate we have, in the North West, more stately homes than anywhere in the world. Art collections are rich and vast.
Clarkson is deluded. Does he imagine that at the advance of effete southerners, we retreat to our outside lavatories with ripped-up copies of the News of the Screws? That in our back-to-back terraces we ply uncle Fred with chitterlings, chunks, bangers and chips, sit him in a commode, chamber pot handy, an ashtray full of dog ends, a basketful of empty tinnies and pretend he’s dying through lack of care?
Meanwhile, a whipper-in gathers whippets, racing pigeons, betting slips, loads of clogs, vinyl records of Vera Lynn, Geraldo, Oscar Rabin and Ambrose? And as Vera warbles, Ena Sharples glares from the sideboard in her hairnet.
What of reality? Manchester is booming, the financial sector deals with the world. Our scientists lead. Manchester is a seat of knowledge, a breeding ground for brains. But it’s our closely guarded secret; despite having the world’s best footie teams in City and United, invaders may be met by Sir Alex’s twitching sporran and hair dryer on heat, and that is a fearsome sight. Manchester Rules OK.
Exit, pursued by a bear and Jeremy Clarkson.
NB: Tonight I dine with two chums; one has bought the entire prawn production of Iceland, a few will filter down to London, the other is Europe’s largest producer of valves for the oil industry. It will cost a third more than the divine meal I had in Henley last week. If you’re coming, Jeremy, bring some largesse. It ain’t cheap.