By Jackie Kay
Location: Chorlton Ees park
Take yesterday, for example. I came home after being away in the Big Smoke. Nobody calls London the Big Smoke anymore, but I was feeling my age. I was settling my son into his new council flat in East London. We spent a few days bustling about London getting him the things he needed: a desk, a chair, shelves, a duvet, a duvet cover, a kitchen bin, cutlery…We did it in record breaking time, but it was daunting; the traffic, how each neighbourhood in London doesn’t necessarily have the shops you need, and you have to go large distances to get ordinary things. It was all a big, stressful hassle.
So I came back to Chorlton and breathed a sigh of relief. I don’t feel like I live in Manchester; I feel like I live in Chorlton. I can spend happy, glorious days without going into the city at all. Chorlton allows you to be self-sufficient. So yesterday the first thing I did when I got home was walk my dog in Chorlton Ees. I walk to the end of my street, turn left and there it is! It is Manchester’s first nature reserve, part of the Red Rose forest, stretching for thousands of acres, and it is right on my doorstep. If I was energetic enough I could follow the river Mersey all the way to Liverpool, or I could walk to Didsbury along the riverbank, passing the odd statuesque heron. But usually I walk through the woodlands and meadows in any number of different directions. I love how wild it is there, the way that the density of the woods remind me of childhood, or of how the imagination works. There’s something secretive and knowing about the trees, and if you spend enough time in their distinguished company, you actually feel yourself getting better.
Walking a dog is more of a talking point than pushing a pram; people always stop and ask about the breed of my dog and tell me about theirs. ‘We’ve been out since eight thirty,’ an old woman tells me about herself and her dog. ‘Been to the vet. She’s got problems with her kidneys, is on medication, is costing me a fortune, but she’s worth it,’ she says and walks on, her proud bushy dog walking beside her. She looks like the only pennies she has to rub together, she’s spending on her dog. (It moves me how she used the pronoun ‘we’ to describe herself and her dog, like they are an item, a team.)