Life in February can be dull; incredibly dull. Manchester has been foggy and damp. This is the city that founded itself on damp, and cotton. I grew up the other side of the Pennines in Yorkshire's Heavy Woollen District amongst mills and coal mines. My mother's family were spinners and weavers of wool. They told me that unlike wool, cotton spinning requires a humid atmosphere and mills needed coal. Manchester has, or rather had, both. The coal is now gone, the cotton too. What remains are the towering brick mills with their tall chimneys. At their feet, reflecting the high brick walls, run the canals that fed them with fuel and raw materials. My home floats on one of these, at New Islington Wharf on the Rochdale Canal. The site of the basin where my home lies was a coal pit. Now, in post-industrial Manchester, it has become Cotton Field; a haven for geese, swans, woodland birds, grass, trees and gently lapping water.
The tall brick mills have now become incredibly desirable apartment blocks. Adjacent to New Islington is Ancoats. Once a poor industrial neighbourhood, in 2017 it has become one of the most desirable hipster locations in the UK: What was once a hub of productivity and commerce is now a cradle of creativity and alternative culture. William Morris had his factory here in Manchester. The Pre-Raphaelite movement kicked back against commercialism and mass production. Plus ca change.
Mired in a job I hated last year, surrounded by negativity and hate, I longed to move back here. I first went to College here, full of hope. Then I left. Last Spring I longed to be back, home where I felt I belonged.
I said 'full of hope'. The creatively pregnant script I began to write at 18 looked promising like February carries the promise of Spring. But back then hope went unrealised. A shy young student, I lacked the courage to become the person I needed to be. I wrote out a back up plan that saw me conforming to what my family expected. It was a compromise. Compromises can be rather grey and dull, a little like February. Yet unlike February they are also comfortable in their mediocrity. 'Mediocre' supplanted 'creatively pregnant' and I left Manchester behind.
Sometimes change comes from the most unexpected sources. A keen small boat sailor and lover of water, I had followed a blog called 'Narrowboat Swallow' for some time. It's author, Beth Maiden had captivated me with the story of her boat based home, it's creation and her life. When she found a partner and sold Swallow, life continued aboard a new boat, Empress. One fine day I opened her blog to find that boat for sale. The opportunity was pitched into my life like a beautiful pebble into a still deep pool.
I spoke of opportunities in my previous blog. This one was scary. Taking on Empress would mean parting with savings, relinquishing my flat, my previous life, the known, the predictable and the comfortable. Moving home would mean downsizing and a very different way of life. You can plan all you want but an opportunity like that needs something else; courage, a willingness to abandon predictable thinking, to nourish an idea and let it take on a life of its own. This was no time to be scared. At the same time another dear Manchester Gay friend spoke of his own decision to move jobs. 'Sometimes you have to jump out of the window to land on your feet'. I jumped.
Now, 6 months later I look back at that jump, the height to be cleared and I wonder that I ever had the courage to do it. I hand back my keys to my old flat at the end of this month. At that point Empress will formally become my permanent home. In reality the flat has seen little of me since last July. Getting rid of unwanted possessions has become a practical task and not the wrench I imagined it might be. What fills Empress is enough. It occurs to me that this is the second time I've pressed the 'freeze' and 'fast rewind' buttons on my life. The first time I transitioned back to the girl I had always been inside, not the boy others wanted me to be. This time I seemed to have backtracked to the point when I left Manchester years ago. Creatively pregnant again, I realise that like bearing your partner's child you have no real idea how this will turn out. You have to trust and let growth happen. Now Winter is about to unfold into Spring and new life begin.
Tarot has always fascinated me. As a young folk singer, one mentor and fellow singer had a partner who gave readings. I always wanted one but never had the courage to ask. I think that I was too afraid of discovering myself. Those around me had already convinced me the real me didn't exist. Unconvincing me and uncovering myself was a process I have so many real friends to thank for. I knew somewhere far back that The Empress is a tarot card. Like losing touch with who you are, I had somehow forgotten that fact. In consequence I hadn't connected it with my new home. On the day Beth and Emma handed over the keys of Empress, the vital link was made. Beth appeared clutching a handful of fresh green mugwort and explained the connection. She headed off to a new life on the Isle of Skye and I immediately felt at home on board Empress but was left to ponder why it felt that way.
Beth writes eloquently about tarot and my fascination has been renewed. Here is what she says about the card that gives my home her name. You can read this yourself on her site here: http://www.littleredtarot.com
"...essentially this card represents creativity. It’s an active card. I thought about creative and spiritual fertility – what that means.
It starts with an open-mindedness, an ability to see different possibilities, different sides of something, to see opportunities, to see the details and nuances. And then it’s not so much about actively pushing an idea, so much as providing the conditions for it to grow and develop, as a good parent does.
Actually, I think the parenting thing is a good metaphor for understanding the meaning of this card. It’s about nurturing that idea, and nurturing yourself, and going easy on yourself and letting things come. It’s about acting with love, it’s about being in touch with yourself. It’s about learning from your creations and letting them be what they need to be, about letting them guide you as much as you guide them. Not that I’m an artist, but I imagine that when a creative idea grabs you, the better response is not to grab it and try to mould it and make it into whatever you want, but to follow it, understand it, feed it and let it take you where it will. Acting with your instincts, with respect and love, and seeing what comes out. That sounds like nurturing to me."
It gave a clarity to a feeling I had sensed but struggled to grasp. So much that was opaque previously now makes sense. I've renewed my acquaintance with creativity and I'm glad.
So that's mostly it for this post. I need a beautifully created fresh coffee and chicory now and a moment to enjoy it. A drink that brings me to another friend, Giovanna; van, fellow assistant barista and Italian girl with attitude. Look out for her in my next blog.