Because the British summertime always lets us down and because we can’t let it get us down, we tend to venture out to my home town of Manchester whatever the weather. We’re used to it raining up here. If it’s not violent sudden downpours, then it’s persistent miserable drizzle. I don’t mind so much, I find the rain homely and comforting and I love nothing more than getting all wrapped up ready to face some weather. On a Saturday not so long ago we did just that, and headed into town to enjoy some coffee and some bookshops and some reading.
First off we headed to my favourite new bookshop in Manchester, Chapter One Books. It’s nestled in the Northern Quarter just behind Picadilly Gardens, and though it looks nothing special from the outside of the concrete prefab it’s in, it’s like a literary wonderland when you get inside. Not only do they do a beautifully curated selection of books, but they do breakfast too – always a winner for us. We tucked into a hearty bowl of chocolate and coconut porridge with a pot of loose leaf tea, before browsing the books on offer. The decor is so different to any other bookshops around Manchester, with a moodily lit corner for horror and a really cute mezzanine adorned in fairy lights.
After fuelling up at Chapter One, we moved onto some of the record shops in the Northern Quarter. Piccadilly Records, Vinyl Revival and the large Oxfam on Oldham Street are all great for picking up something different to listen to. After a good wander around in the rain, we decided to dry off at one of my favourite little cafes in the area. Blue Daisy Cafe is about halfway up Oldham Street, next door to Pop Boutique, and is really easy to miss. There are more seats outside than in, but we managed to bag ourselves a cosy window seat inside the tiny cafe’s shopfront. Piled high with cushions, it’s a cute little place that still serves tea in a big mug and whips up a mean beans on toast. Everything is homemade, and the soups and deli salads are delicious. Loads of veggie options, too! It’s a perfect place to people, watch, with a great view of the streets. Especially in the rain, when people are scurrying about with brollies and jumping over puddles. We managed to while away at least an hour here, before getting a proper soaking on the way back to our car…..
The Next Step in the Dance
by Tim Gautreaux
This emotional, slow-burner of a novel was amongst the pile recommended to me at my recent Book Spa at Mr B’s Emporium in Bath. The store runs its very own publishing company, Fox, Finch & Tepper – aptly named after some of the most iconic literary characters. FF&T books are under-appreciated and crying out for some attention. Tim Gautreaux’s The Next Step in the Dance was actually published back in 1998 before falling out of circulation, and was picked up by the FF&T team back in 2014. Focusing on books with a strong sense of place with brave, confident characters, FF&T have succeeded in reviving a beautiful book with a heart as big as Louisiana itself.
Paul and Colette Thibodeaux are husband and wife at the very start of their marriage. Born and still living in the Deep South along the bayou, neither of them have ventured further than their little town of Tiger Island. The community is inward looking, small and timeless, and Colette is bored. She wants adventure and new things, and so sets out to California to discover something different. Paul eventually follows, and the narrative becomes a touching portrayal of two individuals trying to make sense of big city life.
Without giving too much away, this story has extremely emotional ups and downs, with a tense, testing build up to its happy, homely ending. FF&T weren’t wrong in choosing to publish this book for it’s sense of place. Gautreaux talks constantly and nostalgically about Cajun food, smells, sights and nights in bars. The bayou landscape is unique and all-encompassing, almost as hard to live in as the Thibodeauxs’ tenacious relationship. Thoroughly recommended.
Finding Hygge in a Danish Pastry
Spotting the black and white sign above the pokey doorway we dive down into Meyers Bageri. We’re on a quest to discover Danish hygge and we have an inkling that we might just find it in one of Copenhagen’s finest bakeries. There’s barely room in the tiny Nørrebro shopfront for both of us, yet somehow there’s a queue of four or five people eagerly awaiting service. The panic sets in as it gets closer to our turn and we still haven’t decided what we’re having. There are trays upon trays of pastries and buns, and they all look and smell unbelievably tempting. “What’s good for breakfast?” we ask, unashamedly in English. The girl behind the metre long counter smiles that impossibly kind Danish smile and points to a freshly baked batch of cinnamon pastries on display in the window. “These are good, and filling too” she replies. We nod – sounds great – and she swiftly bundles two rolls up into a brown paper bag, flipping the bag to close the top and taking a handful of our coins. We don’t care how much.
Stepping out onto Jægersborggade, we cross over onto the sunny side of the street and over again to Assistens Kirkegard. The yellow walls of the graveyard offer up a pair of understated iron gates, and we find ourselves off the bicycle laden streets and into the peaceful green of the park. It’s a beautiful blue morning in late April, and birds are beginning to chatter as the rest of Copenhagen wakes up around the gardens. Seeking out the plot of Søren Kierkegaard we take a pew on a bench opposite the final resting place of Denmark’s resident thinker. Blossom falls gently at our feet, and we sip at the paper cups of piping hot coffee we picked up to see us through our walk to the bakery.
The anticipation is too much, and we rip open the bag to get to the good stuff inside. The pastry is layered beautifully, with deep red ribbons of cinnamon running through like the pattern on a snail’s shell. They’re still warm. Taking our first bite, the taste gets better as the mouthful goes on. Cinnamon and sugar has crystallised on the bottom of the bun, leaving a sticky, toffee-like goo that we lap up like nectar. We smack our lips and lick our fingers. We look at each other and grin. Reaching the middle of the pastry and we’re supping at pools of liquid chocolate, oozing from the soft and squidgy heart of it. Heaven. The best pastry we’ve ever had.
Pausing for a moment we relish the fresh morning air blowing in from the coast. Brushing pastry flakes off our knees, we’ve found our hygge and are ready to continue our journey into town. “Onwards?” I say. Onwards we go.
I live in the suburbs where green things are contained and curated and fenced in and gated off. These boundaries dictate the ways in which we use and enjoy our spaces. Nature is boxed in, told where to grow, and cut back from where it’s not supposed to be.
Shot on a Hasselblad 500cm. Colour 120mm film.
Quiet spaces in Manchester.
Discovered early on a Saturday morning. Shot on a Hasseblad 500cm using 120mm colour film.
Also known as ‘social trails’, or ‘way-finding’, desire paths are often a shortcut between two points that have been tread down by persistent usage. They are (or seem to be) quicker to take than the laid out roads and paths. Town planners are beginning to study them – changing their original road placements to favour that of the general consensus.
In Finland, planners wait until fresh snow has fallen on new paths, then follow footprints in the snow to determine which routes people are preferring to take. This apparently saves vegetation and wildlife, but, in most cities and towns, it saves the displeasing aesthetic of an ungroomed muddy path.
Bookshops in Hay-on-Wye. A quick visit to Bath. Shot on Hasselblad 500cm. 120mm colour film.