I have various big city errands to perform, so climb aboard a rumbling Northern train from the outer suburbs where I now live. City are at home, and the aisles are packed with three- and four-strong clumps of brylcreemed lads in retro skyblue Umbrowear, swigging Budweiser from the bottle and exchanging bullish forecasts as to the league leaders' prospects versus lowly Premiership gatecrashers AFC Bournemouth. Unnoticed in their midst and seated across the carriage from me, a lone away supporter in red and black favours, matchday ticket clasped tight to his chest in a plain white envelope, is being engaged in kindly conversation by his neighbours-an Asian gentleman with a toddler bobbing on his knee and a well-to-do ladywholunches in expensive-looking tartan knitwear. As the train grinds the last few yards into Piccadilly they wish him good luck with his team's unlikely season of elite-level endeavour. 'It'll be a great day out, whatever', comes the earnest reply.
The walk down the hill from the station to the city brings an assault to the senses. Within a hundred yards two down-on-their-luck Eastern Europeans have attempted to sell me The Big Issue (or maybe asked me for it: 'Big Issue Please!'), and two openfacedly cheerful twentysomethings have attempted to accost me for the purposes of hawking cut price utilities ('Have you got a second there Sir-not trying to sell you anything- have you got gas at home?'). 'Loads of gas mate, can't move for it'' I shoot back at the second of them, as I skip across the Victoria line metrotrack, rendered out of use, a handwritten sign advises, by an overnight fire at the Printworks.
The open air pedestrianised precinct of Market Street brings no respite from humanity. Attempting to negotiate a straightish course through the circusesque freeforall I nearly trip over a beer crate, on top of which a rookie streetpreacher is predicting Armageddon by Thursday week, to general indifference. Attracting more custom, by which I mean any custom whatsoever, is a troupe of streetdancers, romping across the paving stones in choreographed sidesteps, to the accompaniment of a backing track emanating from a beaten-up boombox. Attempting to avoid the three-deep crowd attending this spectacle, I wander onto the dancefloor and incur the wrath of the troupe leader/chief treasurer, a fiercefaced woman in a gleaming black and gold tracksuit, brandishing a plastic bucket full of small change.
I am by now ever so slightly frazzled, but sanctuary is at hand, in the form of the invisible class divide that has for twenty years at least been manned by the people at the 'Hot Sausage One Pound Only' stall at the junction of Market and Cross Streets. Within moments of negotiating the border crossing, I find myself in the Royal Exchange Building, quite possibly the most uppermiddleclass forty square yard space in the North of England on any given Saturday afternoon. The cut through this rarified hideaway, sashaying between interval-happy theatregoers conversing in softly-modulated tones, leads me into the fountainfresh airiness of St Annes Square, and then- through a covered zigzagging parquet-floored alleyway- to another pedestrianised shopping street, this one populated by intimidatedly expensive-looking fashion retailers and jewellers'.
Suddenly and incongruously, a loudspeaker-amplified cry of 'Free, Free Palestine' breaks the comfortable hubbub of the high-end shopping district, and a forty-strong ragtag brigade of demonstrators in trademark Arafatesque binatone patterned neckscarves begins to wind its way between the shopfronts, flanked by a handful of coppers on weekend double-time. The shoppers watch on in untroubled curiosity, plenty of them taking the opportunity to catch snapshots of the exotic malcontents on their IPhones ('Look darling, I was in town this afternoon and met some of those awful Jeremy Corbyn types they've been showing on the evening news. I must say they were making a terrible exhibition of themselves!').
Soon enough, my big city errands are done. Clambering back up a Market Street now semi-drained of humanity, and avoiding collisions only with homeward-bound African street hawkers lumbering wardrobe-sized trolleys full of unsold mobile phone covers, I gain the Piccadilly concourse with five minutes to spare, and snaffle a one pound cup of tea from the garily-coloured 'One Poumd Cup Of Tea' concession, before boarding the 1648 to the outer suburbs. As the return Northern train picks up pace through the Old Neighbourhood I log into an Internet-enabled device, and learn that the Brylcreemed lads' bullish forecasts have proved, if anything, overly cautious: a rampant City have run out 5-1 winners versus the plucky but limited visitors from the seaside, with diminutive wingman Raheem Sterling the hat-trick hero of the hour.
'It'll be a great day out, whatever', the earnest young away fan had assured his carriage neighbours, back in the optimistic sunshine of a Mancunian Autumn lunchtime. As the receding cityscape gives way to views of the far-off Peaks, I wonder whether he still feels that way- and hope he does. He seemed such a sporting type, after all.