For the guide it’s a voyage of discovery too, as you have no idea who might turn up and where they might come from. The two small groups I picked up from the 11am rendezvous location outside Central Library before and after New Year, included people from Germany, Canada, Belgium, USA, China, as well as closer to home in Preston, Prestwich, Stockport and Manchester.
For these tours my usual route is St Peter’s Square, Central Library, Town Hall Extension, Albert Square, St Ann’s Church, Royal Exchange with a finish at the Cathedral, or at the rear of the latter, at the National Football Museum. This route hits several prominent city centre buildings while also covering a richness of history that no other provincial city can compete with in the UK. Yeah, I know, that’s a bold statement, but I stand by it. Come on the tour and you’ll understand why. It’s also a route that takes guests inside a lot of buildings, which as well as providing occasionally welcome shelter, provides a more comprehensive tour than simply keeping on the streets.
On 2 January there were two guests from Lubbock, Texas. One of this pair lives in Cologne for the time being and was showing his friend some other parts of Europe with a non-traditional itinerary of Dublin, Manchester, Antwerp and then back to Cologne. “What’s Lubbock, Texas, like?” I asked. “It’s got the Buddy Holly museum, is in a cotton growing area, is very flat, has a quarter of a million inhabitants but it’s four hours from the nearest major city,” said one of the friends. “You could describe it as the most disappointing city in the USA,” said his pal with a grin. “Wow,” I said, “they should market it that way, people flock to places with a point of exception. The city authorities could have a campaign called ‘Lubbock, it always disappoints.’”
Strangely enough this observation from citizens of the city made me want to go to Lubbock. Places that seem dour to the natives often have something worthwhile to experience for visitors. Part of the paradox of tourism is that residents feel contempt for qualities visitors find fascinating. Not that I'm a big Buddy Holly fan.
My last tour of 2017 had included an extremely dapper gentleman with a bow tie. When I'd asked the guests where they hailed from, our dandy self-described as an Indian Italian Scouser working at Manchester Royal Infirmary. I said not only are you the first Indian Italian Scouser I’ve ever met but you’re the best dressed Indian Italian Scouser I’ve ever met. The two Canadians on the group were visiting because the male half of the couple was a football fanatic who supports Everton Football Club passionately through a family connection. He was here to visit the National Football Museum and the two Manchester clubs before attending a game at Goodison Park in Liverpool.
Couple of final points.
The best thing I overheard in a Manchester pub over the New Year was while waiting at a bar, and a man said to his lady, “I look on life as a comedy which is my tragedy, you look on life as a tragedy which is your tragedy.” It sounded Wildean and profound, although I’m not sure it is profound at all. I'm still trying to sort out its meaning but it had fine ring to it.
Meanwhile there was a pleasant tweet from Allied London about the long derelict London Road Fire Station. This was posted on New Year’s Eve. It read '2017: Planning Permission obtained, a year of historic tours with @JonathSchofield and a special collaboration with @wallpapermag #WallpaperComposed - featuring a enchanting performance from @JescaHoop here's to an historic 2018 #HouseOfLondonRoad.'
Truly, taking those tours around that venerable space incorporating the living memories of people who had lived and worked, there were some of my favourite moments of the past two years.