People often refer to Chorlton, where I live now in Manchester, as “leafy” or green – and to be sure, on a sunny day, it is certainly one of the nicer places to be. The scents of flowers and plants drift through the streets from various front gardens and parks to provide a reassuring sense that here at least, nature is asserting herself just a little. Still, moving between two cities throws up inevitable comparisons, and back in Glasgow for a few days, I couldn’t help but think that there is nowhere quite like the city’s beautiful West End, which really does come alive on a warm day (20 degrees Celsius!) with a combination of urban modernity and lovingly maintained foliage that most cities would really envy.
Well, Glasgow does mean “dear green place” after all. Or something like that. Maybe I’m getting nostalgic! Who would have thought I’d get more of a suntan North of the Border than down here? 🙂
A place imposes its character on the people who live there as much as they impose theirs on it. You probably notice this most when going from one “extreme” to another – for instance, from here in the UK to just about any “exotic” holiday destination. You also notice it when you move from the city to the suburbs. The tone, the mood, the subtle but clear sense of who people are and what you might encounter; everything in you has to re-tune itself. Responses, reactions, expectations. Habits. That’s why families move to the suburbs after all. It’s nice. It’s lovely. And yet…on a two-hour walk today in the sunshine, my inner blogger struggled to find those angles that make me want to reach into my bag, grab my camera, and think about what I might write.
Where I was living for the past 6 months was dominated by a huge shopping arcade. It was full of chainstores and bright lights and drunk teenagers and tourist attractions. A homeless guy set up camp on our front steps for three days without anyone really even noticing. The surrounding area was pretty much a building site. I could open the window and hear arguments, music, trains, trams. But hey, it was never long before I spotted something I could blog about – and nobody would usually even care that I was taking a picture. So, yeah, it’s a bit of a culture shift, more so than I expected. Maybe it’s just easier to blog in the city: to find novelty or something jarring which triggers inspiration. Doubtless, it’s all about state-of-mind. Isn’t it nicer just to let the pleasant, fresh air surround you? To watch the spring trees gently sway and sigh as you wander along? (Yeah yeah, I’m waxing lyrical). After all, how many nature photographs can you try to take? People will get suspicious if you photograph their cute little shop fronts or their terraced houses too openly. 😉
I don’t want to fall into using easy adjectives: it’s not just that the centre of the city is more urgent, more vibrant, more messy, more dirty, more brutal, more asynchronous, more commercial, more full of “life”. Or that in contrast, everything outside its radius is cosy, safe, warm and the picture of perfection. Of course not. And hey, Chorlton is only 20 minutes away by bus! But let’s not split hairs because my feelings today have made me think momentarily about Raymond Williams and about the dual narratives we get caught up in…that get woven…about the city and the country (and now the suburbs) and what they represent. It’s not just symbolic, it’s not just about poetry and politics. People can bring about the very shifts that they’ve seen reflected through ages – that they aspire to – when they set an area up, or move into it. With all of its independent bars, shops, pubs, charity shops, second-hand shops, festivals and organic produce, Chorlton manages to represent something quite special.
So, I’m thinking of my change of immediate scene as a challenge. Here, there are new types of attitude and unfamiliar environments to find little gems in. I guess it’s all about staying alert and curious!