Walks: Confessions of a Blue Guide

Showing confused foreigners around Manchester is funny old job, writes tour guide Jonathan Schofield

Every first Thursday of the month there's a pub walk. We stroll from boozer to boozer, having a drink in each, before finishing, a couple of hours later, with a gentle quiz based upon my commentary. On this occasion there were around 20 people on the tour, 15 from countries other than the UK. For reasons I can't now remember, I described a few of Manchester's pioneering moments in politics as well as the usual tales of revelry and vice.

Every first Thursday of the month there's a pub walk. We stroll from boozer to boozer, having a drink in each, before finishing, a couple of hours later, with a gentle quiz based upon my commentary. On this occasion there were around 20 people on the tour, 15 from countries other than the UK. For reasons I can't now remember, I described a few of Manchester's pioneering moments in politics as well as the usual tales of revelry and vice.

So, during the quiz, I threw in a worthy question: "Which female emancipation movement began in the city in 1903?" All the teams gave the correct answer, apart from the three Australian friends. Instead of "Suffragettes" they had put "Weight Watchers". After a few moments of amusement and amazement they explained why. "Jeez mate, we thought you'd said emaciation movement," one said. That night I dreamed of thin ladies, padlocked to railings, demanding less food.

Such confusion fills the lives of tour guides. It helps to make the job so entertaining. Of course, it can be demanding, but experience helps. Where once I used to dread impossible questions, I now find them eminently collectible. Most come from severe-looking Austrians, such as: "Why is the bar in this pub so long?" Or, on passing an overflowing bin: "Please explain your inefficient waste disposal system." Just wait until I get to Austria. "So how come you let these mountains get so high?" I'll ask.

Another example of international confusion occurred recently outside Marks & Spencer with a group of gay American travel writers. A latter-day manifestation of Manchester's radical tradition is the large Gay Village which is promoted as energetically as a major castle or cathedral elsewhere. On this day we encountered a troupe of prancing, flower-bedecked, bell- jangling Morris dancers. "You didn't have to lay this on," said one. I attempted to explain the ancient tradition of Morris dancing but they weren't having it, saying: "Look Jonathan, they've all got beards, we've got to get this back to California."

One incident which surprised me rather than my guests took place in Chetham's, one of the city's superb libraries. This was founded in 1655, in buildings dating back to 1421. Here, I showed an elderly group of Russians the table where Friedrich Engels had discussed and studied political economy with his bearded (and I am not implying anything by this) buddy Karl Marx. He may even have passed him brown envelopes filled with cash from his Manchester business so that Marx could get up late and write Das Kapital in the British Library. My Russians, although impressed, didn't break into a spontaneous quoting of The Communist Manifesto, instead saving their showmanship for later. On the way back to the airport we passed a former cinema where the youthful Bee Gees had first performed. My commentary stopped as the minibus filled with heavily accented voices singing: "Vell you can tell by the vay I use my valk, I'm a vomen's man no time for talk."

But why, I hear southerners cry, do people come to Manchester at all? They come for the same reasons anybody might visit a major city: for food and drink, for business, study or pleasure, for high culture such as classical music and art, for popular culture such as sport and pop music. One 20-year-old American, Jenny, came, like many, to follow the trail of The Smiths. She hired me and a taxi to take her around the landmarks. When we drew up at the house where Johnny Marr had called on Morrissey and begun the band, Jenny started to cry. She rarely stopped for the next hour and a half.

Tourists come here because they positively want to. Manchester isn't yet on a package-tourist milk-run between London, York and Edinburgh. Happily for our visitors, it is easier, too. When I enter monuments and museums there are no queues and people are pleased to see me. Much of what you can do here is free or cheap. Pop into a Joseph Holt's pub to sample a pint of their bitter, ask the price and ask again when you think your ears have deceived you. Yep, the barman really said £1.19.

I've taken people of some 40 nationalities around Manchester. I always remember when 30,000 Manchester City supporters delighted a group of Chinese. As the match started, the stands at Maine Road rang with "sitaaay, sitaaay". My Chinese visitors became flushed with delight, for in their local dialect this meant "welcome".

But it is another sporting behemoth that pulls in the most overseas visitors. Manchester United is the biggest and the wealthiest institution of its kind in the world. The full magnitude of the brand, as the plc people call it, was brought home to me a couple of years ago when I saw a Singaporean guest buy almost £1,000 of merchandise at the souvenir shop. After the Treble in 1999 I read that United had at least 20 million fans in China. Of course, that level of cosmopolitan success is a stick with which to beat the club. Not that I can imagine anyone in Stratford-upon-Avon saying: "Bill Shakespeare, no way. His lot's all from Japan and America. All the locals round here follow Chrissy Marlowe."

Indeed, football was a deciding factor in my pursuing a career as a tour guide. My first guiding job was to lead 169 Carlsberg warehousemen from Manchester over to Sheffield where their team, Denmark, were playing in Euro 96. The brewery was paying for any Carlsberg lager that they drank and the warehousemen took this as a challenge. They cleared at least three pints each over breakfast and we had to leave at 8am. After the match we were returning over Snake Pass with a beautiful sunset over Manchester, when they all decided they needed to relieve themselves. All 169 Danes lined up on the roadside and started a flash flood in Glossop. I stood to one side and watched the faces in the passing cars. They were clearly horrified. At first I struggled to understand why ­ the warehousemen had their backs to the road, so no offence could be caused. Then I realised. Every single one wore their fierce red flag with white cross draped cape-like over their shoulders and every single one, without exception, sported a plastic Viking helmet on his head. Oh no, rape and pillage were back. I couldn't contain myself. I roared with laughter.

 

¿ Jonathan Schofield is a public speaker, writer and Blue Badge Guide in Manchester (tel: 0161-872 3013; email jon@ad79.demon.co.uk).

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Life and Style
A nurse tends to a recovering patient on a general ward at The Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham
health
News
science
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
News
Chuck Norris pictured in 1996
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Lucas, I SCREAM DADDIO, Installation View, British Pavilion 2015
artWhy Sarah Lucas is the perfect choice to represent British art at the Venice Biennale
News
A voter placing a ballot paper in the box at a polling station
i100
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Sport
football
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Dining Room Head Chef

    £32K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Dining Room Head Chef to work for one of ...

    Guru Careers: Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Chef

    £27K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Pastry Sous Chef / Experienced Pastry Che...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Supervisor

    £24800 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As one of London's leading Muse...

    Day In a Page

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power