Here are brief reviews of 10 UK cities from an opinionated French immigrant

Brighton, England’s Cartaret. Image: Getty.

Happy Brexit week, my friends! To celebrate this momentous time for Britain, I, a European immigrant, have decided to make a top 10 of your best cities, based on nothing but the time I have spent there, which ranges from a total of ten days to seven hours.

In order to help usher in this new chapter of your relationship with Europe, I thought it would be useful for you to let yourself be judged by your continental neighbours, and, specifically, by me.

I have not included London because it is where I live and I do not wish to be biased – this is serious work – and I must send my apologies to the good people of Wales as I have never visited and cannot judge what I have not seen.

With those caveats aside: here, in no particular order, are my reviews of 10 of your best British cities.

Manchester

Manchester’s alright isn’t it? I have been there five times and each time has been solidly alright. Huge fan of the big red brick buildings and the smaller red brick buildings also, but not much else to report besides that.

Well: I did have a cheesy omelette and chips in a caff in Hulme last year for £3.50. That feels worth noting. You’re alright, Manchester.

Birmingham

I find Birmingham a bit odd, if I’m honest with you. The first few times I went I really didn’t enjoy it, thought the city centre was quite bland, but then I went to stay in the Jewellery Quarter and I properly enjoyed it.

In conclusion: if you have never been to Birmingham I would recommend hanging out away from the centre, which is the least nice bit of the city, and then you will have a pleasant time. I mean, I assume. Don’t come to me for advice.


Brighton

First of all, I resent the fact that it is supposedly “Brighton and Hove” because I only ever really go to Brighton when I go to Brighton and Hove, and I also question the practice of sticking seaside towns together for no apparent reason.

We do it in France too. In my family’s neck of the woods, Barneville and Carteret got merged literally decades before I was born, but it is still such a controversial topic that I grew up with nothing but contempt for the people of inferior Barneville.

But anyway, “just Brighton”, as I call it: it’s good but it’s no Hastings, isn’t it? Also: too many hills. Absolutely no need for all those hills. Still, there’s a beach, so I remain a fan.

Edinburgh

Powerfully into it. That posh bit that has virtually no people in the streets and absolutely stunning buildings and little parks? What all cities should be like. Empty and pretty. People call it a museum city like it’s a bad thing. Fools.

Leeds

Listen, I went to Leeds once. Ten years ago. For one night. My French friend had moved to Bradford for an exchange and was homesick so I went to see her and on the Saturday night we went to an illegal rave on the outskirts of Leeds, the ones you had to receive cryptic texts about to find out where it was because it was 2009.

We went to get the train back to Bradford at... something am? Something pm perhaps? And we walked through the campus of Leeds University and because it was fresher’s week there were some people handing out free Domino’s pizzas.

This was my time in Leeds and I give it a solid, heart-rending 10/10. Great place, would be 17 there again.

Belfast

A very good city, in my opinion. When I went there for the first time I saw a dot on Google Maps that said “The Big Fish, the Salmon of Knowledge”, which is objectively the funniest thing you can spot on the map of a city you do not know.

Anyway, I went to see The Big Fish, the Salmon of Knowledge and it is a ten-metre long blue statue of a fish, and you can text her questions about Belfast and she’ll text back. Brilliant.

Also: the architecture is nice.

Cambridge

Extremely good buildings, far too many idiots on bikes. Every time I’m there I stop walking to look at a nice building and nearly get run over by a cyclist. A beautiful but stressful place.

Liverpool

Was not looking forward to this one because, if there is one thing you learn relatively quickly as a foreigner in Britain, it is that Liverpudlians take their city powerfully seriously. I respect that, but I fear it.

As a result, what I will say about Liverpool is this: it’s a very lively city! Clearly young and full of life and once I found myself in the city centre at 1am on a Saturday night and it honest to god looked like a war zone. I sincerely do not think I could ever go properly on the lash in Liverpool without dying. To Liverpool I say: I fear you and I respect you.

Glasgow

Yes to Glasgow! It’s pretty, it’s alive, the people are nice, and once I went to pet a dog in a park and the old lady at the other end of the leash talked to me for a solid ten minutes and I didn’t understand a word she said because her accent was so thick, but she’s my best friend now. If I weren’t a Mediterranean-blooded coward I would 100% move to Glasgow.

York

Okay yeah we get it York, you’re nice. You’re very old and so much history has happened within your walls and you’re very beautiful. Fine. Whatever. You’re “Fit But You Know It” by The Streets, York, that’s what you are.

 
 
 
 

Liverpool looks to move hospitality industry outdoors

One of the industries that’s taken the most immediate hit from the Covid crisis is hospitality. Bars and restaurants have been closed for the duration of the lockdown; even once it eases, the need for social distancing will reduce the number of punters they can serve at any one time.

There’s not much that can be done about the former problem, but one city, at least, is taking steps to tackle the latter. On Monday Joe Anderson, the mayor of Liverpool, announced a £450,000 project to redesign streets and enable businesses to create covered seating areas outside. 

The goal is a streetscape that looks more like many continental European cities, where cafes spill out of their premises into the surrounding streets. So a restaurant that finds, post-lockdown, that it now needs to keep tables 2 metres or more apart will be able to make up for some of the lost capacity by expanding its footprint.

Liverpool council is working with designers, the Chamber of Commerce and the Liverpool BID Company, another business group, on the project. Details of the criteria for the fund are being finalised, reports the Liverpool Echo, “and the process for being part of the pilot project will be announced in mid-June, once the phased reopening of retail in the city has begun and the impact been assessed”. If all goes well, lockdown restrictions on bars and restaurants are expected to begin easing in early July.

There are unanswered questions about how all this will work – whether it will require pedestrianisation or other changes to street design, for example, or to local planning restrictions – and it’s not clear how far that £450,000 will actually stretch. But this is nonetheless a lovely example of solving a problem while actually making a city better. 

Something similar is happening across the North Sea, incidentally, where the Dutch city of Rotterdam is allowing all businesses to convert parking spaces to retail space without a permit, and even offering them a loan of some free decking with which to do it. More here, albeit in Dutch.