Don't forget to pack the sunblock

In just 50 years' time, Manchester will be two degrees warmer. The city will thrive. But will Mancunians miss the rain?
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Cast off your thermals. Roll up your trouser-hems. Undo the top button of your duffel. Manchester is going to get hot hot hot. According to a recent report, the jewel of the North-west is due to be basking in better weather in about, oooh, 50 years, and the locals had better start preparing. Manchester's average temperature will rise two whole degrees over the next half-century. Not enough, you would think, to turn it into the Costa Del Salford, but enough to strike fear into the hearts of "experts" who feel that Mancunians and their city will never be able to cope. After all, we're talking identity crisis here. Manchester is celebrated for its shocking weather. Sunshine over Rainy City? Is that a pig I see coasting on to the new Ringway runway?

Cast off your thermals. Roll up your trouser-hems. Undo the top button of your duffel. Manchester is going to get hot hot hot. According to a recent report, the jewel of the North-west is due to be basking in better weather in about, oooh, 50 years, and the locals had better start preparing. Manchester's average temperature will rise two whole degrees over the next half-century. Not enough, you would think, to turn it into the Costa Del Salford, but enough to strike fear into the hearts of "experts" who feel that Mancunians and their city will never be able to cope. After all, we're talking identity crisis here. Manchester is celebrated for its shocking weather. Sunshine over Rainy City? Is that a pig I see coasting on to the new Ringway runway?

I grew up just outside of Manchester, in a flashy Cheshire suburb called Wilmslow. It was, and still is, the place where footballers and soap-stars move to when they've made their money. It boasts Tudor-bethan mansions, with double garages and swimming pools, set midst rolling countryside and within five minutes' BMW distance of get-you designer shoe shops.

Alex Ferguson, Andy Cole, Stuart Hall, William "Ken Barlow" Roache, plus numerous self-made businessmen all live in Wilmslow. Posh'n'Becks and Bernard Sumner and Peter Hook from New Order live in the next village, Alderley Edge. Wilmslow and its surrounding area is Manchester's Hollywood Hills.

Except for the weather. There's never much call for beachwear in the North-west. You might have an outdoor swimming pool, but your legs will turn blue in the two-second dash between conservatory and chlorine. You'll be soaked before you even dive in. Manchester sits on the eastern edge of the Cheshire Plain, where the winds that sweep over the Atlantic shed their salty tears before climbing the Pennines. The streets glisten in Manchester, but not with gold. When it's not raining, it's just about to. Even in summer. August, and the clouds stack up like sodden tea-towels. The firmament is the colour of boil-washed vests. Blue skies? Don't make me weep. Living in Manchester is like living inside Tupperware. Leaky Tupperware.

Rain is so associated with Manchester that when, in 1961, John Schlesinger went there to film A Kind Of Loving, he couldn't bring himself to make use of the unusually clement climes. He had the local fire brigade spray the streets with fake rain to add authentic Manc atmosphere. The cliché continues today. No outside broadcast is complete without the reporter huddling beneath an umbrella making a final witticism about local precipitation.

So how will Manchester cope with better weather? Well, sun bunnies, better than you might imagine. Manchester is an infinitely adaptable city. It's been regenerating and reinventing itself and its landscape since long before the first London bank morphed into an All Bar One. The Haçienda nightclub, a worldwide cultural landmark for 15 eventful years, was created in a disused yacht warehouse. G-Mex, a vast exhibition and concert hall, was developed from the shell of the old Central Station. The second-hand wonderland Affleck's Palace used to be the retail company Affleck and Brown. The Royal Exchange Theatre is in the old cotton exchange. What's to stop Moss Side becoming Sea Side? (Other than the fact that it's not by the sea.) The local buses are orange, like the sun. It would take just a few architectural tweaks for Manchester to become Miami. And, since the 1996 IRA bomb, which blew up the Arndale shopping centre and around, Mancunians have become used to living in a building site.

Actually, one of the redevelopments is based on a beach. The designer of the new Exchange Square wanted palm trees planted in it, until it was pointed out to him that they just wouldn't grow in the North-west climate. So he put big sandcastle-type windmills there, instead. They're tall and pretty and they spin and spin in the constant whipping breeze. Also, a few summers ago, in the pedestrianised Albert Square by Central Library, the council created a mini-seaside for toddlers.

Since the mid-Nineties, Manchester's tried to provide for the adults, as well. It's all much more continental than when I lived nearby. The area around the Bridgewater and Rochdale Canals has been completely redeveloped. There are beautiful bars and eateries where you can sit outside: Barça (part owned by Mick Hucknall), Dukes 92, The Quay Bar. Even as far in town as Whitworth Street, at Atlas, on the corner of Deansgate, they're not afraid of a few tables and chairs on the pavement.

The canal area, called Castlefield, has been truly transformed since I left. Knackered old warehouses have been tarted up into flats so glamorous that Jason Orange from Take That has owned one. Piccadilly Radio and Key 103 (another radio station) have moved their offices into the area. You can rent narrow boats by the hour. There's an architecturally significant bridge. Honestly, if you turned up the heat, it really could be pretty.

There's an open cobbled space on Castle Street that's used as a carpark. If you ground up all the cobbles finely enough, you could make sand. Send the cars elsewhere, put up a few parasols, et voilà! It might not be Goa, but that's because Mancunians have better taste in music.

The main obstacle to Manchester's beach potential would seem to be the fact that it's 35 miles from the coast. But worry not. It's all been sorted. In 1898, the Manchester Ship Canal was finished. Built by 16,000 Irish navvies using nothing more than picks and shovels, this 30ft-deep trench stretches from Ellesmere Port to the area now called Salford Quays. The men were paid less than 2p an hour for the amazing achievement of turning Manchester into the only inland port in Britain. Right up until the Sixties, over 100 huge sea-going vessels a week chugged right into the heart of Manchester. What's to stop holiday cruise ships doing the same? After all, at the moment, they stop off at Barrow-in-Furness. Have you ever been to Barrow-in-Furness? I have. My Granny lives there. The beach at Barrow is pebbled, oiled, gale-whipped, with neither donkey nor ice-cream van to its name. Its closest landmark is Sellafield. Manchester is The Hamptons compared to Barrow.

Of course, if the weather turns fair, not everyone wants to sunbathe. Some, perhaps, would want to wander in a leafy park. When I was young, the only thing on offer was Piccadilly Gardens: a sunken roundabout of cig-peppered scrubland next door to the bus terminal. But, due to be finished in 2001, is City Park, on the other side of the Corn Exchange from the Exchange windmills. "There will be an emphasis on greeness and tranquillity", apparently. As opposed to an emphasis on pollution and bedlam, which would certainly be a change for Mancunians, and could provide some welcome respite from the tropical heat. And did you know that Granada Studios is doing up its tour? Previously, the Granada Studios Tour involved a couple of indoor bump-about rides, a walk through some sets and an opportunity to look at some wigs. It culminated in the real-life Coronation Street set. Perhaps, in light of the Manchester-goes-Mediterranean news, the tour will be adding open-air balconies to the familiar terraced houses. Maybe the Rover's Return will come over all tapas bar. Mike Baldwin will be ordering Pimms, Spider will become a surfer, and Bet Lynch will make a triumphant return in a sarong - a sandy-toed holiday rep offering cheap trips to sun-drenched Stockport.

The only thing that niggles about the new improved rain-free Manchester is the effect it would have on the residents. Mancunians may not like the drizzle, but they've become used to it. You can always spot Mancunians, even when they've left their home town. They're the only ones who always do up their coats. They zip their anoraks right up to the top. They wear beanie hats with hoods.

Look at Shaun Ryder, Ian Brown, Liam and Noel... never knowingly under-dressed. Even before them, in the glum post-punk late-Eighties when The Haçienda was, frankly, empty, everyone wrapped up warm. You went to a nightclub in a long mac. And you never took it off. Liam's habit of wearing a furry-trimmed snorkel parka, zipped and clipped to just under his nose, AT HOME WHILE WATCHING TV, isn't a pop-star affectation. It's an expression of his roots. Mancunians only wear shorts for football. Maybe that's why the experts made their warning. They know that two degrees extra warmth could provoke a city-wide wardrobe crisis.

Comments