By Laura Németh
My Dear Reader,
How time flies… I cannot believe that it’s already going to be December in a bit more than a week! It’s not very cold at all at the moment (well, relatively speaking at least!) but my flatmates are already enthusiastically browsing the award-winning Manchester Christmas market that apparently sells “everything from fine amber jewellery, handcrafted leather bags, and top quality bonsai trees, to Dutch flower-bulbs, French soaps, and Spanish chorizo”. Definitely does sound tempting. And with the preparation for our upcoming gospel concerts going full speed, I guess it won’t be too long until I am in festive Christmas spirits myself. But not just yet. Meanwhile, I have had the most wonderfully odd weekend that sent me time-travelling back into the sixties.
It all started on Friday night when we wanted to go to a provisional bar in a local squat near the university. However, the bar had already run out of alcohol by the time we were on our way so the organisers along with all the guests were moving to another pub. It was there that I met the first true hippies of my life. The funny thing is that they were (with a few exceptions) a lot younger than those few farming alternative lifestyle-cherishing friends of my parents whom I had until now considered to be closest to being hippies. But those people who live on their self-subsistent farms in the rural idylls of Ticino or Toggenburg are absolutely “normal” in comparison to these southern Mancunians who wander the streets of this crowded city.
I probably must add a word of explanation about this southern area of Manchester called “Chorlton”; this peculiar place where I seem to be spending so much of my time lately. My most helpful friend, the Time-Out Travel guidebook, describes it as the place where “one newspaper agent sells more Guardian newspapers than anywhere else in the UK”. It adds that “it is definitely a place that has much to recommend it although non-southern Mancunians tend to roll their eyes at the mention of the organic-buying media types who populate it”. Well, especially this last phrase is quite revealing, I think. Except that the organic buying hippy vibe does not stop at the media types but includes all other kinds of professions as well as we now know. The person that left the most lasting impression on me was a guy who was in the final year of his postgraduate studies in chemistry. He had a very strong American accent but apparently wasn’t American at all but had just moved around about 200 hundred times and lived in America for most of his childhood because his Dad used to work there as a geologist for a famous American oil company. “Or at least that is what we were told. It might have been a lie – he could be a secret agent for all I know”. Umm… interesting, I thought, but it goes on! His hobbies: making his own honey-met (delicious, I tried it!) at his house and growing some sort of mushrooms (we didn’t entirely understand whether they were magic mushrooms or just some special type of organic super-healthy fermented ones) in his bedroom. He also makes his own soap and NEVER throws away any plastic which sometimes becomes quite a challenge to creativity because he has to make something out of every little piece that he doesn’t manage to fend off by bringing his own plate and cutlery to a restaurant. Oh and despite having only six months left until he gets his degree, he has decided to give it up now in order to become involved in the business of making bubbles. Yes, you have read correctly: Bubbles. By way of illustration, he immediately took out this little bottle of soapy liquid and dreamily started to blow bubbles in our direction. (I realise as I am writing this down that it sounds like I am making this up but I am honestly not!). Bubbles are so much more fun, he insisted, and it just wouldn’t be healthy for him to go on studying something for another six months which he hates. Fair enough. The other option, he explained, because he loves honey so much, would of course be to become a beekeeper and find himself a hive to look after in the area.
Meanwhile, some of his friends, who are either concerned with running the café in different empty buildings all around the city or in making things like furniture out of wood started putting the flowers they had brought with them into every single empty wine bottle they could find in the bar – to a very beautiful effect! We were already sitting there with huge eyes, quite taken aback and not being able to decide whether we ought to burst out laughing or remain still in quiet admiration. We weren’t given much time to ponder upon this as the American had already thrust a little piece of very thin coloured paper at all of us. “What am I supposed to do with this?” I asked somewhat anxiously as I am utterly untalented in doing anything with my hands that does not involve either cooking or painting a wall. “It’s Origami! Don’t worry, I’ll teach you!” he quickly reassured me after having noticed my probably rather shocked look. So I decided to give it a go, along with all the other people at our table. We all sat there obediently folding our paper step by step according to his instructions for what must have been at least twenty minutes. To my great surprise, however, it was actually good fun! I was reminded of my enthusiastic childhood attempts at making things – in those days when I didn’t care how the end-product would look like. Here, we weren’t even told what we were supposed to be making so in the end, everyone (including me!) was pleasantly surprised: “Oh – it’s a butterfly!”. And then these thirty to forty-plus people all started to fly their origami butterflies across the table so that they could kiss the ones of their neighbours – making loud smacking noises alongside. I’d love to have a picture of that scene but obviously I didn’t dare take a photo and interrupt them.
Anyway, that was the moment we looked at each other and knew: we must indeed have time-travelled back to the sixties – or even into some exaggerated version of it! But hey, we had passed a great evening among these lovely people which were so incredibly friendly and open towards us. And after all, wouldn’t the world a bit of a better place if people brought their own flowers to beautify a bar and encouraged everyone to do some such “silly” thing as folding origami butterflies? Thus, without having any second thoughts, we grabbed our own – however crooked butterfly versions – and joined the happy butterfly-kissing hustle-bustle!
Peace and Love from this crazy place