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7th December 2015

Chapter One

Helena Maxwell-Jackson weaves a warm tale of intrigue about the enigmatic Chapter One café, which held back the cold and offered sumptuous treats
Picture: Richard Elzey @Flickr

The rain beat down on us as we made our way through the brick-clad lanes of the Northern Quarter. The wind chased us forward until our saunter broke into a reluctant jog. As we ran, we jumped, and swerved to avoid the puddles; until we were half-hearted gymnasts vaulting over ponds of murky city rainfall.

We had left our gloves in London. My friend was wearing a pair of socks on her hands, in an attempt to escape the inevitable fate of chilblains. My hands were bare. My pale face shivered beneath my acrylic beanie cap, like a rippling white flag, as I surrendered to the cold.

As we turned on to Lever Street, we came to a grey concrete building. The ground floor jutted out from the mass of the building above, literally stopping us in our path.
We slowed our pace until I could feel the slow squelch of cold water in my saturated shoes.

The grey façade of the building was punctuated by floor length windows. I peered through one.

Inside the building were large, fabric, coloured armchairs that were dispersed between displays of books, some of which were perched upon dark green picnic tables. My eyes drifted upwards toward the ceiling until they reached the sculptural lights. Their refulgence cascaded from the ceiling, meandering between the exposed copper pipes that hovered just below.

I peered at the shop sign at the front of the buildings. ‘Chapter One’, it read.

I reached out to open the door, and let the warmth of the room guide me inside. The sound of babbling water from a stone fountain in the middle of the shop mingled with the playlist of soft folk pop that trickled through the space.

I walked between the chairs and tables, between the books. As I walked I saw that the shop gave way to an exhibition space, its presence foreshadowed by the many art books situated at the back of the room.

Just short of the art gallery was a row of typewriters, each one separated by a glass plane. I tapped one of the metal keys, and I watched as the 4 letters instantaneously formed in front of my eyes.

First a C, then an A, a K, an E.

‘Cake’, we both whispered, in unison. We spoke the words as if we were possessed, for we could sense that vegan cupcakes were in the vicinity.

We found ourselves striding toward the café counter.

We stared at the selection of loose teas as we were hit by an enchanting ultimatum: berry tea and red velvet, or vegan chocolate cupcake with rose bud tea?

The latter materialised. Sitting upon the large, tarted armchairs, I watched as the amber liquid poured itself into the delicate china tea cups. As I did so, fragrant notes of vanilla and orange filled my nostrils.

Outside, the wind and the rain quickened to form a swirling vortex of fallen leaves, cigarette butts and….

‘Rose buds’ my friend gasped. Rays from the lights above hit her spectacles, and a pink glare filled the frames.

I looked down to the chocolate cupcake. It was a real old-fashioned fairy-cake with a moist crumb and glacé icing. With each bite of the cake, I could hear the wind swirling faster and faster outside. The sound filled my ears, as chocolate cake filled my mouth. And then, I wasn’t sure if the storm really was outside at all. Perhaps the windows had buckled under its force, for the whole room seemed to be spinning now. Books, and tea, and art works whirled around me, until I lost all sense of space, of time, of place.

I didn’t know if I was in Manchester any more. All I knew was that I was caught up in the magic of Chapter One.

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