I used to say I'd never leave Manchester- then I went travelling for a month that turned into five years. How much has the city changed whilst I've been away? I've heard about a lot of interesting and important stuff being done in Manchester. It wants to be the model for the future of urban living- post war, post oil, green and self sufficient.
I want to see all of this for myself. And I want to meet all my old friends, to find out whether they've still got any of my stuff.
There aren't many vehicles on the road. Buses, other bio diesel or ethanol powered vehicles, some electric cars. And bikes, lots and lots of bikes. Sometimes the streets look like old snapshots from India or China, the two wheeled masses blocking most of the road. I can't help wondering where my bike is, this would be so much more relaxing to ride through than the old days of constantly dodging cars and buses.
Many of the cycles flocking around the taxi are quite basic, old school even. Lugged and brazed steel tube frames in the traditional sit up and beg arrangement, usually single speeds. I get the feeling there's a factory, or at least a workshop, somewhere nearby turning these things out. Something I shall have to investigate.
We move out of the centre at pedal pace, which isn't much slower than the old motorised pace. I'm booked into a hotel in Rusholme, not that far from a branch of the kebab chain that powers my taxi. So that's dinner sorted. I haven't told anyone to expect me, because officially no-one's allowed back across the Channel for a week or two, and you don't just turn up on someone's doorstep after five years away. I'll set up camp in the hotel and then go visiting.
The taxi driver accepts Euros, and offers change in a variety of currencies. "What's a Levy?"
"It's Levenshulme money. One of those LETS things? Local shops and people take them instead of real money."
He has a list of exchange rates. This is a taxi, so I expect them to be somewhat less than I'd get elsewhere. And we're not in Levenshulme, so I should go for an even more local currency. "I'll take it in Curry Mile dollars please."