And so we left Barnstaple, another leg of the tour behind us and a heavy day of travel ahead. It was raining when we made the walk to Barnstaple train station, where we would catch a train to Exeter, a coach to London, before a final coach to Manchester. A trying trip, but all within the realm of possibility. We all had our bags, we all had our tickets…
Now, before I continue, let me paint a scene for you. It was a cold evening in March, and we were all in Oli’s flat, planning our travel routes and buying our tickets accordingly. Some influential genius thought it would be good idea to start drinking, and this novel idea soon caught on with the rest of us. The hours past, trains were imagined, spirits sank as we realised how many cross-country coaches would be necessary, drinks were consumed… By the end it was past midnight and we were all that head-heavy kind of drunk that comes after mixing alcohol and strategic thinking. But we all bought all of the necessary tickets. All of them. Only an idiot would have not done so.
Anyway. Back to Barnstaple…
We reached the train station and got aboard with no problems. (Why would there be? We all had the necessary tickets.) Once in Exeter we again made the tedious walk from train to bus station with all our gear. Having arrived a few minutes early, we sat down in the waiting area and prepared our tickets. I sat, relieved to get the weight of my rucksack’s straps off my shoulders, and checked my tickets folder on my phone. I saw the train ticket I had just used, my bus ticket from London to Manchester, my bus ticket from London to Manchester, my-
There must be some mistake.
As it turned out in a twist of fate I still to this day claim was not my fault- but was probably the result of a high alcohol intake- I had bought two tickets from London to Manchester, but no ticket to get to London. Or, at least, not according to my phone.
The coach was leaving in six minutes.
I ran to the ticket office. It is surely a problem universally-acknowledged that whenever you are in a queue and in a rush then the universe or some divine being decides to put humanity’s slowest and most easily confused in front of you. Tapping my foot impatiently, I waited behind two elderly women and a man who seemed to be having trouble grasping the concept of ticket buying. He wasn’t finishing any time soon. The old ladies were taking their sweet time as well. “Yes, we’ll pay separately.”
As always happens, both counters became free at exactly the same time.
Thankfully, I was able to buy a ticket for the same coach. With only a minute to spare, I joined the rest of the cast and crew on the coach who, with a sigh and laugh, welcomed both myself and another disaster avoided.
I had had to pay extra, of course, but that coach journey felt so satisfying to be on.
After several tedious hours we reached London. We had no time to stay, of course, but as we arrived in the city we drove next to the Thames and could see the cityscape we had all been immersed in only a few weeks earlier, and it dawned on us that tour really was nearing its end.
Another coach, and late in the evening we finally reached Manchester. Finally. Back Up North. Most of the team had never been to Manchester- firmly London-bumpkins- and I personally was extremely excited to be back in what I consider to be my home city.
We walked to our flat, in a great location on Oxford Road, and got an early night.
The next day was our first performance. Originally meant to be in Sackville Gardens, we were moved by the Fringe to the close by Vimto Park. (For those not from the area and interested, it’s the park with the large sculpture of a Vimto bottle in the middle of the green. That’s probably why they called it that.)
Considering we had done no advertising that first day (the flyers were late to arrive), we had a surprisingly good turnout. The few posters we had posted along Canal Street must have worked.
The next day we moved down the park, away from the trees and their desired aesthetic but also away from the road which had caused a lot of noise during the show. The train line on the bridge overlooking us was and still is an issue, but train strikes aside, not much could be done about that.
As most of us had never been to Manchester, the gang took the time to explore the many exciting things the city has to offer. Gabriele visited Manchester’s Gallery– a free and brilliant way to spend an afternoon, and something that definitely deserves a return visit. Zoe went vintage shopping around the Northern Quarter, easily the coolest place in town. (This was also a great place to deposit flyers. Definitely our target audience.) Emily, Georgia and I visited Manchester Cathedral and read about its centuries’ old history, how it lived through war and depression, and the role it plays today.
On another day, Emily and Zoe went to the gallery and did a ‘mindfulness’ exercise. A therapeutic art exercise to stay calmer, happier and more creative. Em said she thought she was only there for fifteen minutes. It turned out they were there for an hour.
On July 4th, we weren’t just celebrating the United States breaking away from our union. It was also Emily’s birthday. The captivating Jen Grace made an appearance and beguiled us with stories. After a lot of drinking in the flat- and wearing Hen Party masks I was under very specific instruction from Em to buy- we headed to Kiki, a club on Canal street. It had the distinctive smell of vomit to it, which put us in mind of Brighton and the early days of the tour. Ah, the relationship between smell and involuntary memory. We all had our very own Proustian experience in the middle of a throbbing dancefloor.
It was quite the messy night. We staggered home, takeaway pizzas and chips in hand, and were grateful to fall into deep sleeps.
On another night, Oli, Sarah, Dan, Annabel and I visited Albert’s Schloss. It was the night my mother came to the performance, and after she kindly took me out for dinner I hurried along to join them. A lively place for a Wednesday, this bohemian piano bar takes requests and the live band plays whilst the drunken listeners dance on the floor and on the tables.
Of course, we didn’t have to go out to have a good time. Many of the best nights were spent in the flat. One such night saw us drag blankets, lamps and wine glasses out onto the balcony, where we sat and talked all evening until the bottles ran dry and the sky grew dark. On another night, we watched Mean Girls. If any film is to unite a group of millennials, this is surely it. To our amazement, we learnt that Gab had not seen it. Naturally, he fell in love with it. It was so fetch. (Mean Girls reference, or MGR for short.)
A few days into the Manchester run, I started to feel a little ill. I was extremely tired and my tonsils were severely swollen. I carried on performing, although not to the best of my abilities it must be said. Oli- sorry, Doctor Savage, as he keeps referring to himself- assured me that it wasn’t anything much and would go away in a few days. It didn’t. Eventually, after a restless night of no sleep and agonising pain, I walked to the hospital a mile down Oxford Road. Diagnosed with tonsillitis, I returned back to the flat before everyone had woken up, packed my bags and- with Oli’s consent- went home.
I wasn’t sure how the show would run in my absence…