Blue skies and high ceilings

Manchester’s waterways

Once again we’ve reached the post-lockdown phase, restrictions tentatively lifting around the UK. The big difference for me is having had the first dose of the Covid vaccine. It felt like completing the final levels of a computer game as I walked round the cavernous conference centre. You give personal details at one desk, receive medical advice at another, go this way, go that way, before finally reaching the booth for the jab. The actual event is so quick, then it’s off clutching your sticker and card to sit for 15 minutes in case of a reaction. Finally you’re released into the world.

I celebrated after the vaccine with a burger from Five Guys. It does feel like a new lease of life. The constant worry of the last 14 months isn’t erased, but it is set in perspective. Variants are out there, masks are still needed and the world remains disordered. But I feel so fortunate to have some protection.

June is the time of year I anticipated changes at work. I’ve been reflecting on working from home, its advantages and challenges. The space I live in is around 40 square metres or 400 square feet. You can find articles and TV programs celebrating small homes, showing how creatively space can be used. How they don’t have to be cramped and uncomfortable. But the truth is, it requires lots of discipline to keep a home tidy and habitable without much space. Even more so, when it’s also a workplace.

When I moved here, I thought of it as a little nest to return to after days working and being outside in the city. Location and safety took precedence over space. I saw it as not taking up more than my share of resources on this crowded planet. But as I hurtle towards what might be the mid-point of my life (if I’m lucky enough to live to the average life expectancy), I’ve started to dream of taking up more space.

There may be temporary solutions. I’m investigating being a member of a co-working office where you can rent a desk. I’ve worked in one before and they can be chaotic, but with fewer people and spacious layouts, it can provide a welcome respite from the home/work blur. The one I tried had a lot of lovely plants, which would be a bonus to be surrounded by without having to remember to water.

Practical things first though. I’ve been on a decluttering mission, helped by a friend with an eye for organising things into categories. We tackled my bulging wardrobe from the PAX range at IKEA. The clever design means many interior configurations are possible. I had a clothes rail with minimal space underneath and fixed shelves. I now have two clothes rails, one with enough height for dresses, and pull-out drawers including a shallow one for jewellery. 10 bags of clothes have been sent off to charity shops and I’ve been posting books to fellow readers on Bookswap.

This minor adjustment was a real effort! All my clothes came out of the wardrobe and were lying on my kitchen table / sofa for a week. I was surrounded by them as I worked at my little leaning desk. It took one trip by car to IKEA in the pouring rain, huddled in the Click & Collect area. Then another evening I lugged a box with the extra clothes rail back from a newsagents 30 minutes away on foot (quicker than home delivery). I put the shelves together and fitted them on my own. It took multiple evenings wielding an electric screwdriver, puzzling over the text-free instructions and watching YouTube videos for the trickier parts. You can do it yourself, but let’s not pretend it’s easy!

After all this I needed a holiday! I booked a last minute weekend break to Manchester, staying in an apartment in a converted warehouse. This happily coincided with the weather turning sunny. What a joy it is to leave your coat at home, wander under blue skies and eat your meals outside without shivering. Also I was so taken with the loft style apartment. Waking under the high curved ceiling in a large bedroom gave me a desire to get out of bed and embrace life. Too often it’s more the urge to hibernate.

There are many beautiful buildings in Manchester. I took a nostalgic trip to Affleck’s Palace, home of independent shops I loved as a teenager. Growing up in Stoke, Manchester was a cool older brother of a city, known for music with a reputation of being gritty and possibly dangerous. I went to see the Manic Street Preachers there aged 15, buying a ticket that included return coach travel to Stoke. A friend and I were so caught up in the post-gig atmosphere, excitedly buying bootleg posters and t-shirts, that we somehow missed our coach home. We found a policewoman and asked for help (this was pre mobile phones and we stupidly hadn’t even kept money for a phone call). Two teenage girls shouldn’t be wandering around in the middle of the night, she said, so we were escorted to a police station! I’ll always remember sitting there wide-eyed clutching our posters whilst various characters were hauled in by police, as we waited for our parents to pick us up. It will forever be my Manchester police station story in our family.

I have an idea to travel around the UK more whilst the rules on overseas travel remain confusing. We often overlook what’s on our doorstep but there is so much to see and whilst the sun shines, let’s call it a holiday.

Ducie Street Warehouse, Manchester

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