Cheshire Cat by John Tenniel
It is an unfortunate but undeniable fact that the last line on Mandallay’s Post Office address is Cheshire. That County Palatine is surely a lovely place, but we do not live there. Mandallay rests in the Metropolitan Borough of Stockport, and before that was invented, Derbyshire reached West to the River Goyt to include Marple Bridge, all of which apart from the Bridge itself arguably lies on the East bank.
Nevertheless, the contagion of Cheshire has swept up from the lowlands, a soft wind of sweet pastures warmed by dairy herds and Agas, bearing bling and blondes to the Bridge.
Even the briefest contact with Cheshire can bring me out in a rash. I now know that Mandallay goes on full alert some days before my return from a tour of duty. The household has tried many techniques to forestall or mitigate attacks of Cheshiria. Tactics include house-cleaning, laying in dark chocolate, moving furniture to hide evidence of animals, and scattering handfuls of the “Excellent Work” postcards mass-produced by the boys’ Specialist Exaggeration College for teachers to hand out when students arrive in school before the bell.
Years of exposure have made Mrs M, and me too, to some extent, better at managing Cheshiria. Just as a resident of Freetown or Juba immediately recognises the symptoms of malaria, and knows just what to do before they sink into delirium, I know that the only thing to do when Cheshiria strikes is to dive for cover in a darkened room before everyone else catches it.
Even so, I wasn’t expecting an outbreak in John Lewis at Cheadle Royal. I should have known. After all, Cheadle Royal Hospital is well known to the Mandall ancestors as a refuge for the spiritually challenged.
All I was doing was trying to buy a suitcase. Now that Mrs M is a student of Contemporary Literature and Culture at Manchester's greatest seat of learning, I thought she might recognise a post-metrosexual irony in my patronage of the Samsonite brand. She didn’t doubt it. M3 explained to M2 that Samsonite is for five stone weaklings with nothing else to boast about.
The Partners at John Lewis were of course as obliging as ever, but they were out of stock of the particular contraption I sought, and had to summon one up from their online chums. By the time their till had connected to the internet, and the internet had connected to my bank, and my bank had connected to something else that wanted the passcode to the security code to my password to the freelance credit card, and I had connected my phone to Mandallay to find out what said passcode was, I was so late for my next appointment that, well, yes, I snapped. Not quite that bad. Let's say I was a little dyspeptic. I'm not proud of it.
I left in a hail of patent leather handbags amidst the stench of hair lightener. Then I got stuck in the car park because a man in a bad pin-striped suit was having a stand-off with the Scouser who was washing his Jag.
On the A538, a herd of Fresians blocked a squadron of yellow minis emerging from a Garden Centre where their drivers had been lunching.
Once I finally got to The Priory in Hale Barns, I was so very late for my appointment that I took a small risk. Instead of parking off-off-Rappax Road, I charged over the bumps along the long sweeping drive to the car park, knocking a couple more Range Rovers into the roses, and found myself, like Mr Bean, doing a four-wheel drift followed by twenty-nine point turn between a BMW and an Audi to get into the last space.
By now, my Cheshiria was full-blown. Hives had erupted all over the Fiesta too. I dashed into see the doctor, who was mercifully running late too.
I am happy to report that the shaman appears to have had a very pleasant holiday, and has lost a few pounds, so he’s doing very well. His bill will be along shortly. I always find it good value, because it helps me wave away all doubts whenever I issue my own. In fact, this is one more good reason why a quarterly visit to a consultant psychiatrist is the secret of success, or at least survival, for many modern freelancers.
There are days when I like to delight or bore you with the varied pleasures of home on the Bridge. In truth, there are more days when I find it easier to not to dwell on the people, so I blather on instead about a soft mist on the Goyt, or rainwater blasting rocks out of its course as hurtles down Linnet Clough.
There are also days when I’m grateful to be somewhere else. On days like that I find myself saying I come from Marple, or even Stockport, instead of Marple Bridge or Mellor. Its pretty little hamlets like Moor End and Brookbottom can go hang. On those days, what was once magic and warmth is just mud and mither.
And there are days too, when even grimy old “Stockport” sounds too colourful. As though a bit too much of Lowry got snagged on it, even in black-and-white.
Old Steps, Stockport
L S Lowry
On those days, I find it best to say I live in Manchester, which is technically true as Stockport is in Greater Manchester. At least it’s somewhere they’ve heard of. And whatever they think of, it won’t be anything to do with me.
I do not, however, live in Cheshire.
This is a work of fiction. No cats, counties or hair products have been harmed in the making of this column.