Eat, Drink, Love: A Manchester Pride Travelogue

We’re in the front of the parade behind Pam Ann, waving our flags and yelling. Later there’s speculation that Pam wasn’t given a mike, unlike Ian McKellen last year, ’cause they thought she might say something really raunchy.

We dip out about 25% of the way through the parade route to watch it from a perch upon a hill, where I eat hot greasy thick “chips” from a food stand and take crap photos I imagine I’ll discard in favor of stealing somebody else’s good photos from the internet.

i stole these photos from other people's flickr accounts on the internet

This is when it clicks for me, looking out at a surprisingly diverse assemblage of queers and trans people having fun — the fact that rioters didn’t destroy Manchester and weren’t going to was evidence, to the Mancunians, of Manchester’s pride (not the gay kind, the more general kind) for a city that often feels itself radically misinterpreted by everyone who talks about it. It’s natural to try to keep a lid on any potential criminal speculation. Not here. Not in Manchester. My girlfriend says she feels that way about Canada.

Windows affected by the riots are covered with street art

Dinner this night’s at Australasia, which boasts “Pacific Rim flavours underpinned by European cooking tradition, an exotic blend of Indonesian and Southeast Asian influences.” You go to The Avenue and a glass structure juts out of the ground like someone stabbed the street with a glacier, but then you descend down a glass staircase into a warm, orangey, busy room filled with long tables. The edamame is crispy and salty, the tempura is perfect, the drinks are plentiful. It’s everybody’s favorite meal of the trip.

I run back to the Ramada to change, where I plug in my hair iron and blow out the room’s electricity, which puts an end to the Coronation Street a-thon and also email.

I feel incredibly disconnected from my universe, and while I’m there to write about the trip for Autostraddle, I don’t feel like I’ve been called upon to represent Autostraddle in any way; there isn’t the same pressure we put on ourselves at lesbian events to Take Advantage of the Situation and sell our website to the world and be good sponsors, even when the world is drunk, oil wrestling, and can’t read. But for this trip it’s the other way around, and everything feels good.

The girls in Manchester are cute. Also, a lot of the girls in Manchester look like they could beat me up, even the littlest ones, with spiky mohawks and piercings, low-slung pants with industrial belts and brightly-colored sneakers, one hand in their girlfriend’s and the other holding a beer.

Back in the VIP tent, a group of gay men talk to me about how good-looking Carlos is. After Pixie Lott’s performance — I miss almost all of it — a DJ sets up as the massive crowd filters from the arena to the streets to hit up the bars. Emma introduces me to Heather Peace and she kisses my cheek. She’s really friendly, but so is everyone.

heather peace, energized after kissing my cheek

Then these two guys dressed like Brett Easton Ellis characters — brown loafers, oxford shirts, khakis — and clearly tripping on something more fantastic than you and I have ever known — start dancing like idiots. One of them is doing push-ups on the floor, and I look to Carlos who I can count on to reflect my facial expression of disbelief/amazement at any time.

And so obviously we all just started dancing. We jump up and down a lot, like crazy people, nearly alone on the platform. It feels genuinely good, and nobody looks at us funny, and if they look at us at all, they start jumping too. I feel really happy.

Emma wants me to go to Vanilla, which I think is half because she assumes I’m a normal human being who enjoys socializing and would like to get a taste of the lesbian scene and half because she doesn’t want me coming home and telling you that there’s no lesbian scene. Speaking of lesbian scenes, I’d been thinking a lot about Coronation Street.

In any event, the whole street outside Vanilla is packed and as soon as we get there, the only appropriate action was to immediately escape, which required, of course, elbowing through the pack of sloshy-happy lesbians excited for the kind of party I used to go to when I was single.

Once we at last extract ourselves from the mob, we split up for the boys to hit up a circuit party event and for Trevor and I to run home in the now-pouring rain.

 

Sunday

On Sunday we all sleep ’til noon or later and then drive with Geoff Collins to the Bolton Food and Drink Festival, where it’s also raining.

We’re joined by Rachel Combie, another Manchester Marketing person. We meet up with three other important people at the Harvey Nichols Pop-Up Restaurant in Bolton. It’s good because everything’s good.

Our next stop, the Gino D’Acampo Cookery Demonstration” is by far the most random thing on our itinerary, and it takes place in this giant tent-like structure at the Bolton Festival. Gino’s not gay, the festival’s not gay, and nobody besides us in that room is gay. They’re all housewives with big fat crushes on Gino. Yet we are here. I’m excited to find out why.

Gino somehow pulls off meshing a skeezy womanizing act with a genuine passion for cooking (did i just say “passion for cooking”) and humor. The dishes are simple, he’s funny, and I actually learn things too. Also, the entire audience is invited to have a bite of the pasta he prepares.

As you can see, this picture with Gino D'Acampo of "I'm a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here!" was taken between the time my hair iron broke and I bought a new hair iron

Carlos and I walk around the festival taking photos of food we’re still too stuffed to eat. The festival is winding down and it’s raining but it looks neat, like an ambitious Farmers Market.

Later that night I meet up with Ricardo at the VIP Tent because Patrick Wolf is playing and nobody cares besides us. It’s lovely, really. He’s got this Morrissey/Rufus Wainwright thing going on and everything he sings feels almost painfully honest and the entire venue — the entire g-ddamn arena — feels different while he’s on that stage.

We have dinner at Ning, described as “influenced in concept by the trendy noodle bars of Asian cities, wth the relaxed and sociable ambiance of continental European cafes.” We talk about the business — Carlos is a luxury travel agent and his blog is a companion to his business, Matt says Xtra’s journalism is funded by the gay hook-up site they run on the side. There’s a brief lively conversation regarding whether or not gay male media still benefits from male privilege.

We miss Sugababes, which is fine because I still have no idea who they are, and catch the tail end of Alexandra Burke (again — no idea). After a quick stop at a bar with good music, Carlos and I walk home and I’m not gonna lie, I’m mostly thinking about Coronation Street.

 

MONDAY

We have the day off to “explore” and I do, a little bit, hitting up the booths and stuff they have out for Pride. Dinner is at Smoak. I have a delicious Cesar Salad and lots of everyone else’s fries.

At the VIP Tent Emma gets smudged with rainbow flags on her cheeks and gets super excited about Blue. I like them too because they have coordinated dance routines as well as easy poppy music. Only one of them is gay, allegedly.

Manchester Pride always ends its festival with the Candlelight Vigil, which is where we’re going next but first I wanna go back to where I started with how Manchester became Gay Manchester.

In 1990, the first LGBT August Bank Holiday fundraiser for HIV/AIDS causes was held outside The Rembrandt Hotel in Manchester. It wasn’t a pride event, but the following year the fundraiser became “The Carnival of Fun Weekend” and eventually, with the support of the Village Business Association, grew into Gay “Mardi Gras.” The event reverted to community control and re-christened itself Gayfest in 2000, during which time they won the right to host 2003’s Europride in Manchester. Fundraising for HIV/AIDS remained the event’s primary focus, which is why the pride festivities are partitioned behind gates and visitors are charged entry fees.

At the 2003 Europride it was announced that the event would now be called “Manchester Pride” and it became a charity in its own right in 2007. Manchester Pride still says its main cause is fundraising for HIV/AIDS charities (specifically The George House Trust) and is run now by Marketing Manchester in conjunction with the Lesbian and Gay Foundation.

Everyone is given a candle and a piece of paper and files into the park and I think, “This would never happen in America because it’s a fire hazard” but I think everyone gamely proves that gay people are capable of gathering in a muddy field to get heavy and sad and not light anything on fire.

There’s a musical performance of Seasons of Love from RENT, and a lot of speakers, and a moment of silence. Emma says she cries every year and this year is no exception.

Afterwards the guys are gonna go party but I go back to the hotel to watch Sophie & Sian and to pack.

Tuesday morning, Matt and I are taken to the airport by the same guy who picked us up. It looks rainy again, but maybe you just get used to it. “I’ve gotta say, I’m kinda sad to be leaving,” Matt says, and I say, “Yeah, me too,” because it was like I didn’t have to be Me for a week, which was more liberating than I could’ve anticipated. I was just a girl in Manchester with my cheap camera and pockets of coins, eating and drinking and looking at things and it was nice. It was really nice, is what I’m telling you. I hearted the fuck out of Manchester.

[here’s a video from the Manchester Pride People:]

 

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Riese is the 37-year-old CEO, CFO and Editor-in-Chief of Autostraddle.com as well as an award-winning writer, blogger, fictionist, copywriter, video-maker, low-key Jewish power lesbian and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and then headed West. Her work has appeared in nine books including "The Bigger the Better The Tighter The Sweater: 21 Funny Women on Beauty, Body Image & Other Hazards Of Being Female," magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 2689 articles for us.

36 Comments

  1. you got a kiss from the peace! lucky you. gotta love manchester and pride this year apparently raised over a million pounds. all organised by a team of three people and some volunteers.

  2. “and instead just saddle up next to her and say “SO…” and she laughs like she knows what I’m talking about but clearly she doesn’t ’cause about three minutes into the conversation she mentions her husband.”

    People laughing like they know what I’m talking about before they make it clear that they don’t happens to me often, so that situation made me laugh tons of commiseration-induced laughs. Laughter!

    I enjoyed reading this. Manchester seems heartable.

  3. Ever since you said you were going, I’ve been waiting for this post like crazy. I’m so glad it’s finally here and it was worth every second of the wait. Of course.

    Manchester sounds amazing. I’m glad they had you and that you came back to us with such wonderful stories.

    (I also prefer whiskeyyyyy (I feel it necessary to point out that my phone’s default for whiskey actually contains all those y’s because clearly I am an alcoholic) over any other liquor. Everyone is always astounded that I prefer to drink it straight.)

  4. I kept thinking to myself “Manchester sounds like a nice place” whole I was reading this but then you said Patrick wolf and I made an excited sound out loud. Everything he sings/touches is beautiful.

  5. My city! So proud of Manchester, it’s such a chilled place, glad you guys enjoyed it! Can’t believe there’s pictures on Autostraddle of all my favourite places! (No exaggeration about the Mojitos at The Alchemist btw. So good)

  6. I love that you went to Manchester and I love that you loved it! Come back next year? Yes?

    Just one other thing, Vanilla, it will “easily fill up throughout the rest of pride”, because it’s so small yeah. Like, really small, or did you not think that? Small is the first thing I say if ever asked about Vanilla.

  7. I’ve only ever been to Manchester twice but I was getting excited that I recognised places. Also, Patrick Wolf is amazing and I’m so gutted I missed half his set at Reading festival 🙁 Hooray for fun times in Manchester!

  8. So glad you loved Manchester! As I was reading your article and got to the part where you mentioned a fire I was like “OMG there was that huge fire when I was walking to my gig!” we never found out what it was either.
    Please come back to Manchester soon and maybe next year you could experience Bollox and alternative pride!

  9. Pingback: Manchester Pride: Eat, Drink, Love | Purple Roofs Travel Blog

  10. Thanks for a great review of our city and its LGBT culture. Manchester is a very friendly and open city with Canal Street being one the main attractions.

    Autostraddle looks a good site and we have listed this article within our website http://www.canal-st.co.uk a LGBT community site. Visit us for lots of news and information when planning your trip to Manchester!

  11. We often have unexplained and strange fires here. Just another thing to heart about Manchester.

    I was at the Patrick Wolf set – he was incredible as always. Sugababes and Alexandra Burke are good at lip syncing.

    Sigh… I love my (adopted) city.

  12. So late to this awesome party but I love this post. Manchester is next to “everywhere in Ireland except for Dublin” and Glasgow for us, and you made it sound all gritty and posh and friendly.

    Now I feel that I must make you a tiny vial of this amazing and impossible to purchase maple bourbon. It’s magical and a friend gave us a healthy decant of it earlier this year, so the least I can do is spread the love!

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