About Town: A Mancunian frolic of sorts…

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The sense is part foreboding,  part nonchalance – if both feelings can coexist – and sitting in the departure lounge at Aberdeen airport, waiting – seemingly interminably – for the announcement of my flight to Manchester does little to ease those feelings. Back in January when I decided the API 571 exam was going to be one of my key personal development deliverables for the year, April seemed a lifetime away. Now, on the eve of the exam, the harsh reality hits home squarely not helped by the bad weather which has led to the delay of the inbound flight. The mood around the waiting room is one of tired resignation. It is chock full, fuller than I have ever seen it, perhaps a result of all the flights bunched up. Added to that for me is hunger, having skipped breakfast and hopped down to Boots at work for a meal deal lunch; hardly the sort of fare my inner Nigerian subsists on on a normal day.

We get the announcement we have all been dying for a further forty five minutes later, and board the flight – nearly three hours later than we should have left. Thankfully, the flight is shorter than advertised, we arrive just past 9.30pm. It is still raining. It might be my tired mind but for a brief moment I wonder if this is indeed Manchester not Aberdeen, given the deluge of biblical proportions pelting us as we make the short walk from the steps to the terminal building. My hotel is across town in Salford Quays so I make a beeline for the taxi rank. The driver of the one I get is in the middle of some conversation – one of such importance that he carries on for all of the twenty five plus minute journey. Our only communication is a brief pause within his soliloquy, as he indicates that the fee will be £22.30 – I hand £23.00 to him, he gives me no change in return. The bugger!

Check-in at the hotel is a breeze – the front desk assistant finds my name without needing to eyeball my printed off reservation slip. The room I have assigned is on the third floor. When walk in and dump my bags, I find the view very much to my liking – decorated in soft, white in the main and looking out on to the bright lights of the quayside. It is much larger than typical for the similar prices I’ve paid down in London. True to its ‘budget’ moniker though, there is no proper restaurant of note within the premises, there is a sandwich bar, which I attack, plumping for (yet another) bacon and egg sandwich and two bottles of water. So much for healthy eating.

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The next morning, I am up by 5.30am,  study till 7.00am and then head downstairs to reception to grab a sandwich and a diet coke for breakfast. Having had a look in google maps I plot a route to the exam venue. It is a fifteen minute walk away, pretty much through the centre of town. This I confirm when after paying for my sandwich I ask the small crowd of six clustered around the reception desk in a meeting of some sort. First turn on the left past the traffic lights and follow the curve of the metro is the advice the woman who appears to be the chairing the little huddle gives me.

The musty smell of wetness is overpowering when I turn into a side street en-route the Victoria – proof definitive of just how wet Manchester is I guess. Not since Nigeria in the rainy season have I smelled something this intense. When I arrive at the Victoria building – at just past 8.00am, there is only one other person hanging around the building. He is in the middle of what must be his pre-game ritual, fag in mouth, peering into an iPad. My arrival seems to make his mind up for him as he nods in my direction, puts away his ipad and holds the door open for me. At the lifts I step in before him and punch the button for the seventh floor.

Exam today he asks? when he notices we are headed for the same floor. I nod. It turns out he is around for a Microsoft exam of some sort. I explain I have got an API one – that brings as much cognition out of him as water in the middle of the Sahara.

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The first Prometric staff arrives ten minutes later. She nods a greeting as she takes us in a sweeping gaze. After swiping herself in and knocking a few things about for another couple of minutes, she opens the main doors and lets us in. Ten minutes later, they appear to be ready for us and we commence the exam sign in procedures – ID  documents, a quick pat down and then bags and coats stowed away in lockers. By the time I am signed in for my exam a fourth and fifth person have arrived.  The exam itself is one of those – not terrible, but not a roaring success either. Given it is based on the ability to recall a slew of facts – pressures, temperatures, pH levels and material compositions, one either knows the right answers or doesn’t and I finish inside 90 minutes from the 4 hours allotted. . Having gone over the questions two more times to bottom out which exactly I’m sure of and which I am not, I decide I have had enough and punch out. On my way back I take a different route, ending up with a gorgeous view of water in one of the basins. On a whim, I make a pit stop at a Frankie and Bennys. An English breakfast downed – and £10 lighter – I feel a tad better, dodgy exam or not.

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I plan to meet up with my friends E and C later in the day. We agree on somewhere central – Piccadilly Gardens – and by 1pm I hop onto the tram from Salford Quays towards the city centre. Chugging along at a steady pace, one gets the sense that Manchester is all red brick and high rise buildings – a bit blind man meets elephant I guess. They are ten minutes late. Whilst waiting, I pretend to be interested in the notices at the Piccadilly Gardens tram stop.The sun is out, and there are loads of people about – burkas, veils, jeans and tees and skimpy skirts and tank tops all coexisting, peacefully it seems. The joys of multiculturalism I guess. To my left two guys and three girls, hardly teenagers I think, materialise, blowing smoke all over . After a few seconds it becomes clear what it is they are trying to achieve – the age old male-female detente . They succeed – it seems – because by the time I’m heading off to meet E and C, they are all a happy huddle – swapped cigarettes included. Whilst waiting, I post a picture of the wheel – I get a quick call back from someone I haven’t met in a while who now happens to live in Manchester. We agree to meet up for five thirty.

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I grab coffee and a waffle with E and C and catch up . It’s been three years since we last met, the bulk of the intervening communication occurring via facebook and instagram – terrible I know. They are great sport, but have to leave in just an hour thanks to prior engagements. We agree to speak more often going forward – small positives I guess.

Waiting for J, I stumble on a piece of interpretative dance in the gardens themselves. A group of musicians from the Gambia thrill the crowd with their repertoire of dance and music. It is so engaging from time to time people from the crowd join in in the frenzied dancing. It keeps me occupied, and when the bucket comes around, I drop a fiver. Very enjoyable it has been.

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J is delayed – he finally shows up at six thirty. By this time, the sunshine has vanished replaced by a biting wind and overcast skies.I rue my decision to ditch my fleece for only a wind breaker. Three black guys and an asian try to rile a police community support officer. One of them, clearly aggrieved, goes off in a rant about being subservient and being slaves to the system. The PCSO doesn’t as much as bat an eyelid. He’s clearly seen and heard a lot more. I move off – the last thing I want to do is to be caught up in something I have no business in. J arrives, and we grab a burger, seat on one of the benches and chat. We go over the usual – work, Nigeria, and the pressures from our parents to marry or be damned. Life I guess.

By Sunday, I am mentally drained and end up not going to church – terrible given how much I have looked forward to going in Manchester. I blame stumbling on a blog which wasn’t very complimentary of the one I wanted to attend for dissuading me. I do go out though – a final  meetup up with R is planned at the gardens again. She does her nerd creds no harm by dragging me across to the Central Library – it’s impressive, circular facade one that intrigues me. It is however locked so we don’t get to see the insides. Lunch is a KFC three piece meal wolfed down with a diet pepsi. On the way back, we run into a number of street acts – Iron man, with whom I get to score a picture, and some bloke levitating as it were.

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Pretty much tired and sleepy, I make my way to the train station for the airport. Under five pounds it is this time.. The next time, there will be no cabs for sure.

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