‘I spent two years trying to say the word ‘bitch’ with a straight face and writing a column about my imaginary cat, Tobey…’
What’s your name?
Rachel Dawn Winterbottom. I’ve always hated my surname because it means I have to frequently say ‘bottom’ in public (less fun than it sounds). At university I misguidedly tried to make ‘Rae’ happen for me, but, thanks to a school friend’s dad, it made me feel like a 40-year-old man with a handlebar moustache.
What do you do?
I am an Assistant Editor for the Centre for Pharmacy Postgraduate Education at the University of Manchester. This involves editing learning materials used by NHS pharmacists and pharmacy technicians working in England who have to do continuing professional development in order to stay registered within their profession. Although, when asked, I usually just say ‘I’m an Assistant Editor at the university’, because it’s cruel to expect people to feign interest for that long.
I initially started working at the university on a temporary contract in the Production department at Manchester University Press, around about the same time I began a Publishing MA at UCLan. The Dream was to move to London and work in science fiction and fantasy publishing, but apparently there are only two of those kinds of jobs available in the UK and they’re currently occupied.
I’m also a freelance writer and I’ve been writing film reviews and culture articles for Manchester Confidential for four years. After another fifty to sixty years of this I will have worked off at least part of my Creative Writing degree and made it all worthwhile.
Where do you live?
Stalybridge. Which is sort of Greater Manchester if you’re terrible at geography and overreaching in your optimism. It’s a town that’s had its centre disrupted by the arrival of a Tesco but can still boast a Sandwich and Tripe Shop. It’s the sort of place that as a teenager you vow you will leave and never come back to, and then you become an adult and return with depressing inevitability. It contains some of the greatest people I know, and it’s home.
Tell us the story of how you ended up in Manchester.
Despite my parents living in Tameside, thanks to some quirk of fate I was born in Saint Mary’s Hospital in town, so I started off life in Manchester.
I moved to Wakefield for university, then afterwards I stayed in Leeds to be near my boyfriend. I didn’t feel any connection to these cities the way I did with Manchester. The streets of Leeds always felt so regimented and inflexible, like nothing could ever disrupt its grid-like structure or fill in the gaps between Nandos and Miss Selfridges with a bit of soul.
Then in 2007, with broken heart in tow, I returned home.
My first job back in Manchester was working for Our Dogs, one of the two pedigree dog newspapers in the UK, and Our Cats, not surprisingly the only cat newspaper. I got the job despite getting the breed of my own dog wrong in the interview and disliking all animals. I spent two years trying to say the word ‘bitch’ with a straight face and writing a column about my imaginary cat, Tobey (‘Through the cat flap with Rachel Winterbottom’). It was all very Sex and the City.
What’s great about this city?
I know that every city suffers its own particular mix of individuals, but Manchester doesn’t just humour her different types, she welcomes each one in as her own and sits everyone alongside each other quite snugly, despite the deceptively small space and variance of houseguest.
For a city that you can quite comfortably walk across in half an hour, it harbours a lot of different parts and you aren’t confined to any particular one. In Afflecks for instance you’re just as likely to find fresh-faced couples pushing prams that cost more than my car as you are teenagers blundering through their Goth phase.
What’s not so great?
All the usual complaints about major cities. Plus, the new buildings that keep emerging with no correlation with the existing architecture, like the expansion of Chetham’s. It’s been shoehorned into its surroundings like Cinderella’s ugly step sister shoving her oversized man foot into someone else’s glass slipper.
Do you have a favourite Manchester building?
The Rylands Building, aka Debenhams. Fun facts: it’s a grade II listed building that was built in 1932 for John Rylands, and was the biggest textiles warehouse in Manchester at that time. I worked there when I was a student and the staff would tell new starters that there was a ballroom on the top floor from back when it used to be a hotel. This is of course a lie. I once took the goods lift up to the top floor and found a corridor filled with broken windows that looked out on to the roof. Of the floor itself, all I saw was a good deal of dust and darkness, a wooden staircase in the centre of a vast empty room that led down and a distinct lack of ballroom. Still, this magnificent, brooding hulk of a building stands like Manchester’s tribute to Gotham City and I love it.
Do you have a favourite Mancunian?
Honorary Mancunian Russell T. Davies. He might be from Swansea but he lives in Manchester and he brought us Queer as Folk and revived Doctor Who so that we could all enjoy David Tennant in a suit and Converse trainers. He also owns a Dalek.
What’s your favourite pub/bar/club/restaurant/park/venue?
I recently took someone on a walking tour of my favourite Manchester spots. They had only been here once, at night, and couldn’t remember where. We started at Piccadilly Station, walked down Granby Row where my favourite wrongly coloured statue of Vimto sits, up to Sandbar and Deaf Institute, followed by a peek in the window of the Manchester Museum to see the giant crab (it has teeth in its claws!) and back down to the Cornerhouse for a drink and to people watch from a superior vantage point. The next stop was my favourite Starbucks on Mount Street (it just feels better in there) then on to Castlefield to go past the remains of the fort for a drink in Dukes 92. We then walked along Deansgate, passed the glory that is the John Rylands Library and into Forsyths music store for a play on the grand pianos. We then went across St Ann’s Square and up Market Street (which, apart from the cobbles, I actually detest) in order to go into Afflecks for a Twinkie and a play on Pac-Man. Then we had fruit scones in Sugar Junction and drank out of twee floral cups, whiled away a few hours in Fyg, where the staff and wines are just lovely, and finished with Porn Star Martinis in Thomas Restaurant and Bar. I now realise that most of my favourite places in Manchester involve some sort of food and drink.
What do you think is missing from Manchester?
Last year I would have said we needed a genre event along the lines of the London and San Diego Comic Cons. Now we have one and it’s succinctly called the MCM Expo Manchester Comic Com at Manchester Central (or the G-Mex, as it shall forever be known). Now all I think’s missing is some decent guests (San Diego gets previews of blockbuster films, we get the cast from Young Dracula).
If I was Mayor for a day I would …
… be a wildly inappropriate choice.
Who else would you like to nominate to answer this questionnaire?
Eddie Izzard, another honorary Mancunian after he did Lost Christmas, which was set in a version of Greater Manchester that put the folding city of Inception to shame.