Sept 29, 2015
The sleek-bellied beasts slide in, one after another. Each erstwhile roar is hushed to a hum in the final glide, wing tips dipping to the close suburban chimneys. The flow of craft is endless; a fixed plan of approach towards the outstretched runway, another world pushing down on this one.
I watch from the Manchester International Office Centre, which is planted like a pavilion by the stream of landings and launches. This building would have been glamourous in its youth. You can still see the fifties dream in its wings, the windows reflecting images of Colgate smiles, Marilyn Monroe perms and stylish cigarettes. It was an emblem of the new, the modern, the dynamic future of Manchester, and poised by the airport for welcomes or optimistic departures. On its corridor walls are sepia-tinted photos of those early years, showing Morris Minors, Austins and Rileys gracing the car park, marking the places of the new middle class.
And lined along the road from here are the red-brick suburban dwellings with their chimney pots and windows all the same as all the others. Did the airport spread to meet them, or did they creep up in the fifties surge? But the Tatton Arms has the look of a longer history, as though rooted in a slow rural past. It conveys memories of a village among Cheshire fields. When I lunched there the manager wore a collar and tie and he called me ‘sir’.
Returning to here and now in the would-be brilliance and expansionism of the twenty first century the determined birds come to land like harbingers from America, Africa, Asia, Europe, perhaps Russia. Their skins contain cargoes of humans, some visiting and some returning. Every few minutes the restless, flighty tubes disgorge or absorb fresh batches, so when the city launches citizens into the skies or by gravity pulls others inwards it confirms its own growth. It achieves the rhythmic reassurance of ex-and-inhalation.
Hence in a flourish of celebration for the burgeoning Northern Powerhouse a recent departee was President Xi Jinping. As his China-bound wings swept into the sky above those Cheshire fields what better way to baptize the Osborne child whose sleek process includes the dispersal of a dead-weight health care system from the southern metropolis to the provinces? And we scarcely notice the catch. We are too absorbed with a fascinating rhythm.
Glance again at the aircraft constantly landing and consider the plight of the dwellers or workers under their path. The rushing sound slices overhead, heralding a plane on course, on track, focused on the touch-down. But mechanical or human error could flare up on any given day. I am queasy to speak of these things and hope for permanent protection of the occupants below, but their solid brick and concrete architecture could at any moment receive a blistering crash. The many who have settled here must exist either in obligatory denial or with a nagging unease.