This is another of my rare departures from Politics (although politics doesn't escape completely!). A project at work (which I won't link to, in order to keep this blog and my opinions neatly separate), looks at Oxford Road in Manchester and the people who live, work, study and spend leisure time there and in the immediate vicinity. This made me think about my own relationship with the road and it's incredible how much of a story there is to tell.
Manchester was a revelation: moving here changed my life. From feeling like I didn't belong in the town I grew up in, with little or nothing in common with my peers, here
– on or within a stone’s throw of Oxford Road, I found myself at home.
I moved into a shared house in Chorlton, a kind of student house for recent graduates. One of my housemates worked at the University on Oxford Road and so did his girlfriend*. These new friends welcomed me to the area and introduced me to, directly or indirectly, to almost everyone I now know in Manchester. In those early weeks and months, I went to see bands including Elbow and I Am Kloot at The Main Debating Hall and The Hop and Grape (now Academy 2 and 3 respectively). I ended up invited to be in the audience at the Dancehouse Theatre for the filming of the music video for Elbow's re-released 'New Born'. I chatted with musical heroes from The Charlatans in The Academy and resisted bothering Supergrass in Big Hands. I was testing my expanding musical tastes (and inadvertently damaging my hearing) at Electric Chair in Music Box. All on Oxford Road.
My ex-housemate's *ex-girlfriend introduced me to some former school friends of hers who had just moved to Chorlton. Almost overnight I became part of their larger friendship group and part of their band. We went on to play in Oxford Road venues The Thirsty Scholar, The Attic, Academy 3, The Oxford (that was a rubbish gig), Jabez Clegg (almost on Oxford Road), The Font (close enough), The Greenhouse (there or thereabouts), Saki Bar and The Whitworth. I bought my two electric guitars at Sound Control (now a music venue) and Johnny Roadhouse.
For a while after being sacked from my first proper job (their loss), I worked at the University - on Oxford Road - and had an office to myself with the internet, a set of pc speakers, mind-numbing tasks to perform and no one checking up on me. I whiled away the hours finding new music via burgeoning online tools (this was long before Spotify, YouTube or even MySpace) and emailing friends in similarly menial jobs. Although I was quite poor, I felt young and life, on the whole, was a bit of a lark.
In 2004, at one of the band's many gigs (on Wilmslow Road which, as if we needed more, is the continuation of Oxford Road), a work colleague of one of the band (who, let's remind ourselves became a friend thanks to my friends who met at the University on Oxford Road) brought along a friend who had recently moved to Manchester for a job, at the University on Oxford Road. Although we weren't really introduced on the night, we started dating soon after (our first date was also on Wilmslow Road).
As my life turned part of one group to being part of a number groups of friends, Oxford Road continued to play a significant role, though not always positive. My girlfriend was taken ill and needed an operation, at St Mary's on Oxford Road. The following year, after being badly let down by her supervisor, she almost failed her PhD (at the University on Oxford Road). Another year later, however, she resubmitted and passed and we celebrated with bottle of prosecco in Kro 2 - on Oxford Road (Sand Bar wasn't open yet; it wasn't quite noon). Despite having her PhD, however, Manchester turned her down for the next opportunity she applied for an instead, she took alternative opportunity in Edinburgh where we spent the next three years.
We visited Oxford Road a couple of times during those three years: once to celebrate her 30th (at the KroBar on the Science Park, just off Oxford Road), and again when we broke up the journey back up north by spending the last night of our honeymoon in the Midland Hotel (ok so the Midland isn't on Oxford Road but it's really really close!). Shortly after returning to Manchester I got a job at the University (on Oxford Road, of course) and on my daily walk down Oxford Road, I couldn't help but notice the huge increase in homelessness in Manchester, with many people sleeping under the Mancunian Way than there had been before we left. Oxford Road had changed in just two years of the Tory-led coalition government (there is is: the only political bit!).
Knowing we were planning to buy a house and start a family and with many of our friends already settled down and rarely making it into town, the two of us spent the next year making the most of our last year or so of 'freedom' in Manchester. Highlights included the Dot to Dot festival (set in several venues on and around Oxford Road) and Adam Buxton's 'Bug' at the RNCM (on Oxford Road).
Our little boy's first trip into Manchester was to a baby sensory group at the Whitworth Art Gallery (on Oxford Road) and our first night out together as parents was to see Gaz Coombes at Academy 2. I'm still working on Oxford Road and hope to continue doing so for the foreseeable future. Alongside her main job my wife also teaches and supervises students here.
Oxford Road brought us together and it's hard to see a time when it won't play a significant role in our lives.