The train arrives late. Not good. 12.20pm. It’s raining so I must be in Manchester, land of rainbows. I am on stage at 1.30pm in Stretford a short walk from Manchester United’s Football Ground. The moment I step out of Piccadilly Station, I get a phone call requesting I write an introduction for a book for homeless people in Rochdale. It’s the result of a workshop I did a while ago. I agree to do it. Only problem is they want it today.
I hot foot it to The Malmaison hotel and bump into Stuart Maconie as I step out of the lift. Both he and his colleague had listened to Child of The State and just gave me a lot of broadcaster love for it. We’re both from the same area – Wigan. I’ve known him to say hello to over the years. We swap. I get out the lift while they get in conversing through a strange dance. “Are you not angry” says his friend. “I’ve been angry” I reply. The lift beeps its goodbye and I bustle into my room change swiftly, rush outside and catch a cab to Stretford High School.
It’s years since I read poems in a school. The rain picks up some more and batters the taxi with tiny thumping fists. Go back go back. I arrive in good time
where Chris Hirst the cheery teacher meets me at the door and tells me the young people have been studying my poems “It’s been a Lemn Sissay day” he
says as we rush through the corridors. “Barack Obama” shouts one of the older students as we pass. That they relate a new black face in a suit to a president is something. A few minutes later, 1.30pm, I stand in front of one hundred students (yr 7) and read my poems for forty five minutes and then take questions. Their questions are erudite and fun to answer. It’s a pleasure to be there with them, an honour too.
Chris gives me a lift back to the hotel at 4pm and I am a buzz with the adrenalin. I go to market street as much to feel Manchester as to buy a shirt. A quote from one of my poems is emblazoned onto hoardings on the corner of Lever Street. “Everytime Piccadilly grows – I expand. Lemn Sissay” I miss this city. it’s good to see it changing. But some things never do. I drop into Boots the chemist to buy an electric toothbrush and the woman behind the counter says “how are you love?”. I don’t know her but she asks me how I am in a way that can only be done here in the north. I want to hug her.
I get back to the hotel after dropping into Pizza Express for some dinner, and write the introduction and email it to Stepping Stone, the North West based Charity for the homeless. At 8pm on television while writing this blog on channel four there’s a programme about Witch doctors in Nigeria exposed by a charity from England called Stepping Stones. The main protagonist is a northern man: Could it be the same charity? But How am I? How are you love? How am I?