As we left Chinatown, I was ready to face the crowds and go shopping. IT Teen told me that when he came on the college trip with his friends, they wandered around for ages before coming upon a big shopping mall.
'That's the Arndale Centre,' I said, looking for signs.
'No,' he said, 'It wasn't, it was a shopping mall.'
Why he took against the name I don't know, but he was sure he knew where it was and that it wasn't the Arndale Centre (it was) so I let him lead the way. At this point, I want to make it clear, getting lost was not my fault for a change.
It's surprising how many side streets there are in a city. Well, maybe not surprising but shocking how many times you can find a new one and only be a stone's throw from the main areas. We ducked down street after street, in the distance seeing people who knew where they were and were probably going to the Arndale Centre.
Stopping to photograph another building, IT was distracted long enough for me to have a good look around. We diverted to follow the crowds and, guess what? Yes, we found the Arndale Centre. I pointed, silently, like the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, up at the sign. In the way of all teenagers, he shrugged and said, 'Is that what it's called?'
Finally, something I could understand, the modern shopping centre. Here, getting lost is acceptable and wandering around with an aimless look on your face just makes you blend in with the crowd.
It was at this stage that I suddenly realised something that had been nagging at me since we arrived in Manchester: there were an awful lot more good looking men here than at home. (By home, I mean Cumbria. I don't mean I have a special supply of good looking men who live in their own converted boudoir).
Leaving IT to enjoy the shopping mall and take us into various shops, I just drifted around, appreciating the scenery. Readers, so relaxing! barely a beer belly in sight, all the suits were pressed and fitted the suitee, the hairstyles had been decisions rather than appointments. At one point, completely distracted, I actually walked towards one of the men, almost ending up being trampled.
I must tell you, I don't do this everywhere I go and haven't done it properly since I was at college. It was a very nice change to feel like it was wall-to-wall quality gentlemen. It reminded me of Buck Rogers in the 25th Century where he goes on the cruise ship and is surrounded by loveliness. Obviously, in the middle of the Arndale Centre, I wasn't assailed by women in shiny gold lame swim suit-space suits, but you get the idea.
The only problem with being distracted for this long was that I didn't notice the crowds had grown, a lot, since we came back to the main shopping areas. Everywhere we went, there were masses of people and I was starting to feel the strain.
When you compare my usual crowd experience, of a busy supermarket or small city centre, a day full of people is something unusual. I was also aware there was no quick escape plan; we were here for the duration.
I could feel myself building up, looking around and all the faces seeming to fill my vision. The voices, the sounds of the city, the need to know where you are going and how to get there quickly, the feeling that if I faltered, hesitated, lost my footing, I would be consumed by the surrounding crowds and no one would see or hear me fall.
Recognising the type of thinking that would end with me vanishing into an unexpected side street or odd corner somewhere, I asked IT where he wanted to go next, so I could focus on something other than the hungry faces everywhere I looked.
Luckily, IT was determined to check out some anime films, so we left the crowds behind and entered an unlikely sanctuary of geekdom: the DVD section of HMV. Finally, I could breath a sigh of relief...
To be continued...
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