Manchester. Noise is everywhere. Yattering and traffic. At each turn we hear the bleat: 'Big i-shoooo, beeg i-shoo'....no matter how many times we decline the vendors' offers the refrain will be repeated again and again on every corner. It's the Greek chorus in the drama of urban life perhaps....white noise.
We have been away, and now we are back.
Now, the dogs are lying like spoons in front of the log burner. The little white one is cradled in Chester's long brown legs. We say 'OK dogs?' There is no reply but two tails thump in unison. We take that as a 'Yes'. They're back from Kennels. In front of the fire. Only a bone would make life better than this.
Unfortunately a few days away for us means incarceration for dogs - so kennels it was while we went up to Manchester on Tuesday. Places to go, accountants to see....
Four years ago - almost to the day - we'd made this journey in reverse having handed over the keys to the family home in Stockport to head southwards to a new life on the slopes of a low mountain on the Shropshire/Powys border. An absence of 4 years makes changes easier to spot; the wholesome, middle-class sensibilities of Heaton Moor have given way to a hipper set of values. Where the suburb's ample matrons with lumpen, sullen and sensibly clad daughters in tow once shopped for sensible wholesome produce we find bars, tequila slammers, tapas, deli's' and estate agents. The grocers, greengrocers and fishmongers have long gone - following the haberdasher, whose cards of knicker elastic, suspender buttons and darning wool gathered dust before selling out to a sandwich shop. It is now possible to get good food from more places than I have fingers to count on in Heaton Moor. There's even an Ikea within striking distance....
In Manchester too - with a ruck of new build dominating the skyline - there is an air of vibrant prosperity. I do my very best to adopt an urban persona - but feel very much like a monkey with a piece of glass. I notice retailing's subtle shift from here to there......King Street isn't quite as select as once it was. Retailers have headed towards the newest 'hot spot' - which seems to be as close to Harvey Nic's as possible. The hoi polloi still congregate on Market Street - this I find reassuring. I can avoid both. The open space between Selfridges and the Triangle - landscaped by no less a person than Martha Schwartz only short years ago - a terrific scheme - is now cluttered with street furniture and an imposing ferris wheel which overwhelms and cramps the area. Ugly. Ugly. Why? Why?
There is Stuff in abundance, mountains of it; fashion, accessories, home wares, electronics. Christmas crassness this way comes. Much is covetable and life-enhancing - after all, what's there not to like about a cashmere sweater or some frivolous lingerie? But much is dross and, to my untutored and cynical eye, looks as if it has come from (or will shortly be going to) the next car boot sale. So, so much. Again, overwhelming. This is the 'white noise' of consumerism.
As the Selfridge's assistant said of the music which was the aural backdrop to the Computer department - music which made any conversation or transaction difficult:
'White noise, gets in yer head. Yer block it out. Innit.'