For the past 13 years Manchester has been where my heart has resided. Don't get me wrong, I love my Mothership (Hull, just in case you've lived under a rock) and nothing could ever take me away from her, but Manchester has been an all consuming, soul shaking, stomach flipping love since the day I started university in 2001.
Cities really are like people - some of them you just don't click with, no matter how hard you try (Leeds and Dublin I'm looking at you here) and some you just feel an instant connection with the second you step out of the train station or into the city centre (Newcastle I'm looking at you here). Some cities just speak to you and Manchester didn't just speak to me, she yelled in my ear and its resonance has never stopped ringing since.
As with any big city there is almost too much to discover and my world was hugely small - back in the day us students weren't really that fussed about the Didsburys and Chorlton (or at least none of the ones that I knew) and they still remain un-chartered territory for me. As a student my domain was Oxford Road, the city centre, Rusholme, Fallowfield and what was back then a 'new' and 'up and coming' part (which may be unthinkable to some reading now), The Northern Quarter.
I first lived in Halls directly opposite Manchester Piccadilly station and I remember my first walk down Oxford Road to go and register at the Student Union. It was about a 20/25 minute walk and I remember getting overly excited at seeing Paradise Factory, the club that Paradise Records was turned into and the BBC building. I was dealing with the big guns here.
As I walked under the footbridge with University of Manchester emblazoned on it, I swear I really felt at home. I belonged on these streets and from that day on I walked up and down Oxford Road like I owned that joint. This become my territory and I have never, ever, in my whole life, felt as confident and assured of who I was than I did in the years I spent in Manchester.
Maybe everyone who goes to university feels this way about the city they lived in and the people they met and the time they spent there. I have absolutely no doubt that I look back on my time there as an undergraduate student and a postgrad with rose tinted glasses. And I don't care. I thank God that there were enough good times to merit the rose tinted glasses, goodness knows there are enough periods of my life where the strongest lenses wouldn't be able to put a good spin on it.
It felt like my city and I think it will always feel like my city, even though it has now changed almost beyond recognition in some parts and I am hopelessly clueless as to where the good places are to go, or indeed, where anything is that is immediately out of the areas that I used to frequent all the time.
I want to stop people in Piccadilly Gardens and say "I remember this being unveiled bitches! I was here that long ago!" I want to march up to all the hipsters in the Northern Quarter and go "Booya! I remember a time when the stuff in the Oxfam vintage stuff was actually affordable!"
Whenever I go there I feel alive. I feel like me again. I feel the beauty of living in a place that is so large that you can be whoever you want to be because anything goes. I always wondered if I would grow out of being a city girl and eventually have the hankering to settle down in a more suburban area or live in a little village, but I have slowly realised that it is just never going to happen. I need stuff happening - I need an endless choice of places to eat and places to drink and places to go and things to see. But I still feel like not just any city would do, I could move to Birmingham and I still don't think it would be right, because Manchester is the one that will always be the comparison and aint no-one who measures up to Her.
But unfortunately, my memories of living in Manchester and being in Manchester and breathing in Manchester are all intrinsically linked to The Person. He is wound up and caught up with all those memories and those feelings and my brain has struggled to begin to pick apart Him from Her. She is the one I want to hold on to, hers are the memories that I want to retain - him? I have no place for Him in anything.
December 2014 was the first time since I first lived in Manchester that I didn't visit the Christmas Markets. I couldn't even bring myself because going to the Christmas Markets had become something that we did together, even though there were a whole bunch of years when I went before we ever even dreamed of getting together. And it made me feel so sad that he was going to not just break my heart, but break the part of my heart reserved for Manchester.
And so this year is the year that I go back. It's the year that I go back more than once, it's the year that I go back and make new memories with Her and slowly excise Him out of my brain.
I can't wait to start my love affair again.