Last Saturday, I paid my first visit to Manchester City Centre since the week between Xmas and New Year. I usually pay a visit once a month, generally the weekend after my salary goes in. The purpose is to visit Forbidden Planet and collect this month’s comics, but I also make a practice of popping into Pizza Hut before returning, for my monthly treat.
Ordinarily, this just means catching the ever-unreliable 203 at the end of my road, lumbering upstairs and sitting back to read for most of the journey to Piccadilly, once Piccadilly Gardens where, in my youth, the 218/219 service from Openshaw, along Ashton Old Road, would terminate.
However, I had another trip to make first, to the local Post Office Sorting Office at Green Lane in Stockport, to collect a parcel too big to deliver through my letter box. I had no other feasible time to collect it, so I rearranged my journey to take into account that I was starting off going in the opposite direction.
After collecting my parcel, I came back out to Didsbury Road to pick up a Manchester-bound bus. By the luck of the timetable, the first bus along was a 197.
This service is not like other. Most Manchester-bound buses end up following direct traffic arteries, like the 192, along Stockport road, the 203, along the main road through Reddish and then down Hyde Road, or even the 42, which follows Didsbury Road and then curves City Centre-wards along Wilmslow Road and Oxford Road.
But the 197 is not so simple. It goes all over the place, zigging and zagging from place to place, reaching the parts that direct services do not touch, on a course that, if it were laid out in front of Leonard Nimoy, would have had him intoning his famous catch-phrase: “It is not logical, Jim”.
Due to personal circumstances, I have not had access to a car or private transport since 2009. I miss the convenience, I miss the ability to control where I can go and when I get there, and I miss the freedom I have to go into parts of Manchester that I have been used to visiting all my life, at one time or another. Public transport sends me down a very limited number of pre-determined channels.
But the 197 went all over the place, through South Manchester. It was, in a strange way, almost a journey through my past, a non-chronological return to areas and places and roads that I used to regularly sail along and where I haven’t been for a number of years.
Heaton Moor Village, where I used to take my laundry every couple of weeks, until I found a more local, and cheaper launderette, one bus ride away, not two.
Cutting through the back streets of Heaton Moor, past the road where stands Pownall Sports Centre, where John and I pursued our weekly squash rivalry for several years.
Emerging on Mauldeth Road, and the hill down to Green End roundabout, always the first leg when I would go out riding my bike, freewheeling at increasing speed.
Burnage Lane, the old 169 route towards Droylsden, my Grannie’s and the club, passing my old school, all of which having now been demolished and an Academy constructed, using none of the old footprint. The Children’s Hospital, long replaced by houses, where my baby brother had to be kept in for most of his five months on this earth, and practically my oldest memory, the tremendous pride I felt in being asked to hold him on my lap whilst my parents talked to the Doctor, the day we brought him home for the first time.
Swinging round down Kirkmanshulme Lane, the shops where the 169 and 170 routes merged, and that weird kind of jumble shop where I bought that Monkees LP for 50p.
Back to the familiarity of Stockport Road, from Levenshulme to Fallowfield, after which the bus turns down Plymouth Grove, the way I used to go, the back route to Hathersage Road Baths, when we played five-a-side football every week, on a boarded-over pool.
Plymouth Grove merges with Upper Brook Street, the route of the old 50 bus from Burnage, when I used to travel in to University, but instead we cut across arteries, past the Royal Infirmary (where I was born, where we took my stepdaughter that Saturday afternoon, when she fell ill in Waterstones and we were scared of meningitis), and onto Oxford Road.
Through the heart of Manchester University, three years at the Law Faculty, the Student Union building. The University precinct being demolished, the stairs from Oxford Road already removed, endless Saturdays visiting Odyssey 7, the comics and SF shop.
Along Oxford Street to St Peter’s Square and Central Ref, but instead of swinging round into Albert Square, like the 50 used to, where I worked for nearly four years for Hamlins, Grammar & Hamlin, it carried on down Peter Street, until I got off outside the Free Trade Hall.
Even this was a part of Manchester’s City Centre I hadn’t visited in years, this end of Deansgate, not having any need to come further down than Waterstones. The Courts are down this end, not that I was ever a regular, and the Evening News offices front onto Deansgate along this stretch.
And then it was back to familiar ground, repeated on my limited travels.
So: a simple bus journey on a line I don’t usually take, and I’m carted halfway round the city and into areas where I used to congregate, and where I don’t go and haven’t gone for many long times. A common factor is that they are all places that I have no current reason to visit, but that I was taken back through so many of them in one single journey was a powerful reminder of how much of Manchester is out of reach to me, because I haven’t got a car to visit them whenever I choose, and because my horizons have narrowed and shrunk, now that I am utterly reliant on public transport.
And this is only South Manchester. One quarter of the City.
I don’t go there because I can’t easily get there, so I have no reason to go there, and the vicious circle tightens even more and the horizons shrink accordingly.