Nobody in england goes for a coffee at 8pm mate... if there was a demand for it I'm sure all the coffee houses would be open.Tell me I'm wrong. I'd love someone to tell me I'm wrong. But the evidence doesn't stack up. Where is our 24 hour city? Where is our city to rival Barcelona and Milan? Maybe one day it will happen but for now are we, our politicians, and our style-gurus just kidding ourselves?
I've been a big fan of Manchester for 25 years now, watching the changes and the regeneration. For much of that time I had shift working patterns, often with days off during the week and so I have been able to observe the city at work and at play around the clock, noting its differing moods. I got to love the city during the day in the week - no chavs, no gum-chewing teenagers, a pleasant bustle of working people going about their business, retired or part-time people browsing the shops. These days I'm a 'nine to fiver' which means like most professional people in the 21st Century, I rarely get away from work before 6 in the evening and it can be much later. Because I don't work in town my time there is now limited to weekends and evenings. My impression of Manchester has changed markedly with that. Saturdays are a nightmare - chavs everywhere, shops overcrowded, parking difficult. I welcomed the annuncement last year that most city centre shops would be staying open until 8pm Monday-Saturday. Anything to avoid the hideous, fake, sanitised world of the Trafford Centre. Yesterday evening then (Tuesday), I left work deliberately early and got into town by 5.30 to find hardly any shops open after 7 pm. Some claim to be open until 8 on Thursdays (Wow!). The streets and restaurants of the great city were almost deserted except for a few vagrants. Most of the city's population have melted away into the suburbs as the sun dips towards the horizon. But where are the much-vaunted city dwellers who are supposed to have brought life and community teaming back into the centre of town? It seems that they are tucked up in front of the TV in their stunning lofts, having microwaved the meal-for-one which they bought after work from Sainsburys Local.
It's very difficult to buy that simple metropolitan pleasure, a cup of coffee, after 7 or 8 at night when the last shops have closed. Starbucks and co have pulled the shutters. Have you tried to order a coffee in the evening from a bar and experienced the blank, slightly puzzled expression? 'We've switched the machine off' 'Oh. Would it be too much trouble to switch it back on again?' 'Sorry we don't do coffee after 8 o'clock'. Grinch on Chapel Walks obliged - excellent place. The main thing you can do in Manchester of an evening is drink alcohol in one of the many bars, or on your own. Which brings us nicely round to Friday and Saturdays. Yes, do we know how to drink alcohol! The streets are certainly bustling and lively at the weekend! Throngs of people stagger along the pavements, inappropriately dressed for our weather. Bawling, brawling and vomiting. Oh, and yes...spot the person over 35 years old. You'll be lucky! In Barcelona or Milan meanwhile, people of all generations will be strolling the streets every evening, shops and restaurants will be open and bustling, people will enjoy alcohol without behaving like savages. It isn't just the Siesta thing either - Northern European cities have much the same experience.
I'm saddened and disappointed that despite all the many wonderful improvements which have taken place in Manchester since the early eighties, the city has not fundamentally moved forward culturally. It is still very much at heart an English provincial town, shunned by the middle-classes who merely cherry-pick it from the suburbs, dead most evenings, and plagued by rowdiness and ugliness at weekends. The only times when it has a feeling of a continental city is in the run up to Christmas, when shops do stay open into the evenings and families come in to look at the lights and stroll the outdoor markets (which are mainly European!). Perhaps the permanent ferris wheel will help.
Hate it though I do, I'm likely to be at the Trafford Centre after work. Even if I get away late from the office I can relax knowing that there's plenty of time, and I can park easily and free. And Starbucks is open.
Why is coffee a metropolitan pleasure but having a beer the pasttime of the devil?
We want to rival european cities, not copy them.