Notes from a Fire Alarm

Well, this is fun.

Just over an hour ago (as I write this), I was starting a call when the fire alarm went. The customer reacted to the alarm first, and I apologised that I’d have to terminate the call, could she call again? It being another fine day, and carrying neither coat nor pullover, it took me about four seconds to scoop my glasses case and waterbottle into my bag and vacate the building.

Down four flights of stairs and round the back where our floor congregates. It’s sunny, warm, and I keep my clip-on shades clipped on.

We’ve had two Fire Engines turn up. At least one Police vehicle. Three Incident Response units from the Ambulance Service. This isn’t your ordinary False Alarm. Though all of them have left by now, we’re still outside.

We can’t smoke (not that I do), we can’t use mobile phones (in case we’re mistaken for terrorists about to remotely activate a bomb – seriously), we can’t even go to our nearest Wetherspoons for a pee without a Fire Marshall escorting us, which I would like to do, but I haven’t needed someone to take me to the loo since I was in hospital having my appendix out in 1977: I can hold it a bit yet.

There are a lot of disgruntled people wandering around whose shifts ended at 6.00pm (this is presently 6.50pm) but who are not allowed to leave even if, like me, they have all their gear with them. Roll-calls must still be taken, so that there is a certainty that nobody has been trapped anywhere. Those whose shifts end at 7.00pm are starting to get a bit nervous. I am here to 9.00pm, so on the purely selfish level, I’m in no rush.

The problem, we’re now having explained to us, is a Building Fault, a lift that is continually tripping the Fire Alarm, for which an Engineer is required. This could be another hour yet, and it’s starting to get a bit cool.

On the other hand, there’s a summoning forward of everyone who has been off-shift since 6.00pm and who has all their gear with them. Common sense is about to happen.

This cheers me up. I mean, I am staring at a couple more hours here yet, with the sun going down, my clip-ons unclipped and a bit of a wind about and I don’t want to be staying after 9.00pm.

Of course, when I say I grabbed everything, I meant my everything. There’s a whiteboard, a wrist support, a lidded coffee cup and a £200 pair of headphones out on my desk that could do with being stashed in my locker at some point.

And my bum’s getting numb from the marble balusatrade I’ve been sat on for the past 75 minutes.

Could anyone who’s shift ends at 9.00pm kindly step through this handy time-warp and go home?

Another attack of common sense occurs when it’s announced that those who have finished are to be allowed back in to the building to collect their gear and go, but unfortunately the first of them don’t even get through the ground floor security barriers before the Alarm goes off again, which means Out, the return of the Fire Engine, and this time a Fire Chief, ‘cos this is a Repeat…

Eventually, after two hours, the Powers That Be agree to close the Building. There are no lifts and no Fire Alarms. We are allowed in to retrieve/put gear away, and go. To my dismay, I find I have been in Outbound Status on the customer’s account for 2 hours 2 minutes and 53 seconds – so much for my productivity – and when I close the account I am immediately pushed an Inbound Call, which I have to hang up on.

Those who were stuck outside will get their delay back as Time Worked. The rest, like me, get an early dart. The chippy’s still open when I get the bus so Wednesday Night Fish’n’Chips becomes Tuesday night Fish’n’Chips this week.

And we’ll have fun fun fun till Daddy takes the T-Bird away…


I was a Charity Collector

Each year, my employers choose a local Charity to support, and this year it’s Stockport MIND, supporting Mental Health. This is obviously a cause close to my heart (and head) and when a request came up for volunteers to do a collection at Stockport Railway Station, I was one of the earliest to volunteer.

There were two sessions, one from 7.00 – 10.00am, which was long before my shift, the other from 4.00 – 7.00pm, for which I was selected. It turned out to be timely on an appropriately personal level: after last week, I am currently completed frazzled both mentally and physically and a spell away from the phones was very useful.

In fact, it was better than expected. Our stint was to end at 7.00pm, with two hours of my shift left, but the manager in charge had signed me out until 9.00pm, so I could go straight home.

Like the weekend, this was a blazing summer day, deep blue skies with nothing more than the occasional cotton bud of cloud. I don’t know if this is the mental fatigue talking but it’s all but destroyed my sense of time. When the sky is unchanging throughout a whole day, when there’s nothing atmospheric to distinguish between 7.00am and 7.00pm, or any point between, I found it impossible to tell that time was even passing.

We left at 3.45 to walk over to the station. There were eight of us volunteers, equipped with collecting boxes (which we are not to rattle, it having been decided that rattling a collecting box is ‘too aggressive’) and a combination of sashes and t-shirts: as the t-shirts only went up to Large, I collected a sash.

We were supposed to split up into four teams of two, and pick a platform each. One team of two consisted of three ladies off the same team, so that left one team of one: no prizes for guessing who that was.

I wound up on Platform 1 which, despite the number, does not imply is was going to be busy. For that you needed Platform 2, which our team of the two youngest, and most attractive girls selected. Platform 1 was for outbound trains, mostly local like Buxton or Alderley Edge, maybe count Chester amongst that, with the occasional train for Cleethorpes. BUt they’re trains which in the main have come from Manchester Piccadilly, so the number of people getting off is pretty limited. Those getting on were a bit more numerous, and as they were having to hang around with me for longer periods, I was more likely to get a donation out of them.

I have never done anything like this before, and had no idea what to do. I positioned myself at the top of the stairs onto/off the Platform and smiled at people a lot. I can’t remember the last time I have smiled so consistently for so long.

It was interesting to people watch. So many people were gassing on their mobile phones. At least as many avoided catching my eye conspicuously (about which I couldn’t complain, given that that’s what I would normally do in the same circumstances). Some would faintly smile in return. I kept the collecting box visible, the smile bright.

In the end, I collected donations from 18 people, a couple of them only silver change, but the majority giving a pound coin, or sometimes two. Maybe I raised £20 all told, I wouldn’t bet on it. Others were getting £5 notes, £10 notes. I was clearly the wrong person in the wrong place, but the rest of the station was sewn up, except for Platform 0 opposite, which was averaging two trains an hour.

So I was, in relative terms, a flop, but without me there would have been no contributions from Platform 1, which is how I’m trying to look at it.

The time seemed to pass reasonably well. Given my arthritic hip and knee, I could have done with the chance to sit down ion the longer waits between trains, but there were always passengers coming onto the problem, and I decided that it would create entirely the wrong impression for the collector to be sitting on a bench: suggesting this wasn’t entirely serious.

So I swayed gently, keeping my dodgy parts in gentle motion, and trying to ease the growing ache in my left shoulder which, as I was well aware from 2016’s London Museum Trip series, was down to my shoulderbag. Couldn’t do a thing about it, not even switch it round to the other shoulder, without taking off the sash etc. So I soldiered on.

Just after 6.00pm, I saw the two girls leave their post behind me on Platform 2. They didn’t return. After about ten minutes, with Platform 1 dead, I walked round to Platform 2, which was still busy. I was starting to get worried: nobody had come to tell me what was going on, and I couldn’t see either of the other two teams on Platforms 3 and 4. Had it ended early and I’d been forgotten? I wasn’t getting anywhere on Platform 2 either, even though that was the one for the long-distance services: London, Plymouth, Bournemouth.

The team of three was downstairs, taking a break. Apparently, we had an option to leave when we’d had enough. The MIND people weren’t intending to stay much longer. The cafe had shut, it was after 6.00pm, the station was dying down. I havered about it and decided I would jack it in. I hadn’t had a donation for ages, I’d run out of the free pens I was distributing (others had wristbands, or stickers for the kids – I wasn’t getting kids on Platform 1).

So I was out by about 6.25pm, catching the bus, early arrival home even with a stop in ASDA on the way. This was my first experience of Charity Collection. I’d do it again, especially for the same Charity, or Cancer or Fibromyalgia, but next time I’d like to be paired up with someone who has a better idea – any idea – of how to solicit contributions from the likes of me.

P.S. I was supposed to be watching out for this but I missed it. This is my 2,000th blog.

An Early-Morning Expedition

Where to go to go

There’s a brightness to the sky and a coldness to the air on Manchester Victoria Platform 3 at 07.35. I’m going down to Liverpool.

The normal routine of my life has been interrupted in its carefully composed emptiness. A friend has asked for help, which may involve flying out of the country for a couple of days to lend support, which means renewing my Passport (expired 2012 and kept only for ID purposes: what chance have I got of holidaying abroad? Unfortunately, when I look where it has been kept these several years, it is not there.

Which means reporting a Lost Passport. Which means I can’t do the Fast Track, one-day, available this week and all you have to do is stooge around Liverpool for four hours, I can only do the 7 Day, maybe that’s too long for my friend process. So I have an appointment in Liverpool at 9.00am today.

You know my paranoia when it comes to train times when it’s only for entertainment, but this is serious. I’ve had to book a taxi to get to Victoria for the early train that gets me to Scouseville early for my early appointment. And I’ll be doing a 1.00 – 9.00 shift later today.

Leaving Manchester means leaving the familiar hills behind. The bottom end of Lancashire is flat and green, all open horizons and nothing to see. I have my mp3 player and a Reginald Hill. The trains wobbles more than a 203 hitting all the potholes down Hyde Road as I scribble, illegibly, the first notes for this.

They’re re-modelling Lime Street and I’m at a loss as to what is where so, after checking I have enough cash on me, it’s my second taxi of the day. Lumbering around Liverpool in the morning rush-hour is not my idea of Paradise, and every minute we spend at red lights (and every 20p that clicks onto the fare) sends my twitch rate even higher. Nevertheless, I’m there for 8.30am, and being seen immediately, ‘because it’s quiet’.

Disaster! My counter-signatory has completed all the details, signed my photo – and forgotten to sign the form! But my helpful lady calls up my last photo onscreen and calls in a colleague for a second opinion that we are indeed the same guy (even though I looked older then, despite most of my hair still being brown). I’m done and out for 8.40am.

Last time I was here, we’d barely gone 100 yards before we passed a group going the other way, on the other side of the road, looking like a party going to a wedding. In their midst was Alan Moore. Alan and I go back a bit, into my comics fandom days in the Eighties, and he’s a genuinely nice and friendly guy. I am still in awe of one moment, at a long ago UKCAC, when I got him to sign one of his landmark Swamp Thing issues. I’d given it a glowing review in Fantasy Advertiser, which sparked a riposte or three. Mentioning that to him, I was more than taken aback when he stared at me, his face lit up and he said, “Are you Martin Crookall? I’ve been wanting to meet you.”

The world was inverted. It was a moment beyond being completely wrong. The Alan Moore’s of this world don’t ‘want’ to meet amateur critics, it’s the other way round. But that was Alan Moore for you.

I thought for a moment about going over and saying hello (it would, hopefully, impress the boys) but decided not to. He was on his way somewhere, with friends, it was their private moment: not right. I’ve never seen him since. And he’s not hanging around the Passport Office today.

It took just over 20 minutes to walk back to Lime Street, relying on nothing but a sense of general direction, and I didn’t recognise a thing on the way. At 9.22am, I’m on a train back to Manchester. It sways just as badly.

I’m back in Manchester for just after 10.00am. I can either go home for a couple of hours or take a bus direct to Stockport, head for the Sorting Office and collect the latest eBay purchase that’s too big for my letterbox. So that’s what I do.

It takes me a long time to realise that getting through the ordeal of the Passport Office has allowed me to relax. I’ve been on edge since this started, hung up on the sense that I’m letting down someone who’s turned to me for assistance. That plays on my lifelong lack of self-confidence, my immediate willingness to accept the blame. But for now it’s out of my hands, I’ve done all I can, nothing went wrong.

Until the evening, that is. But that’s a different and private story.

There goes the routine

Just imagine. An urgent appeal from a friend last night threw out my usual, quiet Thursday morning.

Things to do that needed urgent attention. So I have fitted in my weekly episode of Treme, blogged and scheduled the post on it, voted in the local election, been to my bank to pay in another packet of £5 worth of 5p pieces to my Savings Account, done an emergency transfer of funds to a friend in desperate need (don’t worry, they’re not passport-less in Nicaragua, this is not a scam). I’ve been to the Library to pick up that book I reserved and taken the opportunity to get a much needed haircut.

And I’ve done all that, and had a mid-morning breakfast of chicken nuggets, and I’m still at my desk the best part of two hours before my shift starts.

Well, I might as well sit here: what can you do in the centre of Stockport that can keep you interested for 120 minutes?

A Midday Expedition

Didsbury Village – desirable

It’s time for another expedition, though this one was more of a midday effort by the time I got sorted. I’d been contemplating inertia after being out both the last two days: writing that needed doing, essential shopping only, but a phone call and an unplanned visitor spurred me into action. I needed to shave and shower so, after that effort, I might as well go out.

Business done, I was off to Stockport to wait for another 23A in the Bus Station (which I have learned, this week, they plan to demolish entirely and move somewhere where it’s not right in the centre of Stockport and convenient to everyone, not least me). The sun is high, the sky blue, such cloud as there is is wisps, thin, pale, a change in shade, no more. It might be July, except that we no longer have Julys like this any more.

I wasn’t going anything like as far as Trafford Park today, no indeedy. I was going to check out that bookshop behind Didsbury Village, plus one other old haunt I haven’t visited in years.

There was no old history to recall until the bus had gone through East Didsbury. I lived round the corner from here for twenty-three years, my time in Nottingham excepted. Three corners are changed irrevocably and long-tme: the Metrolink station, the Tesco’s Superstore, the Parrs Wood Entertainment Centre. The fourth corner is still a green island in this complex junction.

Didsbury Cricket Club were preparing for a match, the wickets proud in the pale strip at the centre of the emerald turf. The Village itself was bustling. Even from the bus it had the look and feel of a place that is hip, if it is still hip to describe things as hip, and cool, if it is still cool to describe things as cool.

I let the bus take me round into Barlow Moor Road, not realising how far it was to the next stop, at Hesketh Avenue, and left myself a long and hot walk back. Still, it was better than Trafford Park.

The bookshop was actually part of, and reached through, The Art of Tea, a decided;ly hip and cool place, dare I say it, even artisanal. None of which mattered once I got into the back. I haven’t been in a proper paper-and-ink secondhand bookshop for years, and I’d forgotten just how comfortable it feels. Immediately, I spotted a book, A Treasury of Disney Animation Art, a sequel to The Illusion of Life, on which I dropped £25 brand new, over thirty years ago. It was way above my impulse buy budget, even when I got into conversation with the owner, Bob, who’s got to be at least ten years older than me and admits to running this as a hobby, and he knocked £2.00 off for me. Reader, I bought it.

Enter an old acquaintance, Mike Don, who sells second hand books, originally as mail-order and now mainly through the internet, as Dreamberry Wine. Mike still lives on Maine Road: I was taken there once, my a mate who was a part-time comics dealer, back when the Bitters still lived there (hack, plew!). My mate spent ages dithering over a set of Patricia McKillip’s A Riddle of Stars trilogy, hardback in immaculate dust jackets. Playing scrupulously fair, I kept schtum, fully intending to grab them if he decided against: he bought them, and it took me thirty years and eBay to amass them.

The Village was still busy. It’s not like Wilmslow, I didn’t feel so out of place and unwashed here, but there’s a line drawn in invisible sand, between those for whom the Village is run, and those of us who remember it from forty years ago, when it was just a place for those who lived round it.

The big white building on the corner of the lights used to be the Cavalcade, or just the Cav. Me and my mate drank here often. It was old, and didn’t care, basic but comfortable, a place to sit and drink. Then, one Sunday night, we popped in to meet one of my mate’s colleagues,. who lived locally. It had changed out of all recognition: bright and brittle, chromium and glass, its name changed to something quasi-military that I can no longer remember. I hated it on sight and ordered a half, so that if she arrived immediately, I could bolt it down and we could leave straight away. Never set foot in the place again.

Now it’s CAU, which stands for Carne Argentina Unica, a restaurant it seems, serving Beunos Ares food.

I needed the loo, it was hot, I went in the Crown and ordered a half. It was cool, and so was the drink, which I gulped down in three goes, wishing I’d ordered a pint. I can’t remember if I’ve ever been in there before, I think not. It looked and felt unchanged. Except for the big TV’s, showing Sky’s lunchtime match.

Back outside, I crossed the road, not because there was anything I wanted to see, because there wasn’t, but because, further up the Village, there was an odd little cobbled street where Morten’s Bookshop used to be sited and, Madre de Dios!, it’s sill there!

Of course I went in, I was nostalgia-tripping, wasn’t I? It’s a completely different type of bookshop, mostly new books, mostly paperbacks. The old instincts kicked in: in Bookshop, buy Book. There was a table of signed copies, a table of Bargain books, but I lingered longest over Harrison Ainsworth’s The Lancashire Witches, which I noted was published by… Mortens.

There was a bus stop over the road, outside the Library. Once, I could and would have walked it, but time, age, knee, hip, heat. It may be short, but it’s two buses. Actually, if I had walked it, I’d have missed this lovely girl who stood at the stop: tall, slim, long brown hair, wearing a floaty denim dress that buttons up the front. The deep plunge neck indicated clearly that she was braless, whilst the dress, buttoned only to midthigh, was biassed to a long expanse of leg. A delightful sight.

Two stops on this bus, three on the next, or rather not. It only runs once an hour and I was almost exactly halfway between, so I had to walk it anyway. Fog Lane used to support two alternating services, West Didsbury to Droylsden, every ten minutes, regular as clockwork.

Mention of Fog Lane should clue those who know their rock history in to the fact that my second destination was the legendary Sifters, secondhand records, regular haunt of the Gallagher brothers and me. After decades of visits at least every month, this was only my second in the past eight years, for this place is a bugger to get to by bus.

It hasn’t changed a bit. I clicked through CDs, chatted with Pete, came out with Van Morrison and Carole King, £2.95 each, no postage. It might as well have been a week or two since my last visit as the more than five years it actually was. I even recognised the majority of artists, for this was a traditional pile-em-high-and-sell-em-cheap Pop and Rock shop and there was no alienation in there.

I’d had to keep an eye on the time so as not to miss the next bus, and I was ten minutes early – the usual paranoid cushion. The bus was late – naturally: I’m waiting for it – but only by three minutes, and I was the only one on it, apart from the driver.

This used to be the province of the 169/170, services that ran this route since God’s dog was a pup, but that was then. This was a 171: at Green End Roundabout it took the Errwood Road exit, the old 170 section. This was the least changed part of my journey. These are the wide grass verges, the set-back semi-detached houses, Cringle Fields, that I went past on the bus to school in 1966. Levenshulme Girls School is still there on one side, but not McVities Biscuits on the other.

Here was where I met Linda again, five years after we’d both left Elysian Street for Senior Schools. She was tall, slim, short-skirted, mature, self-confident, long blonde hair, and not quite 16. I was ten weeks younger than her and none of those things.

She (re)introduced me to old mates who’ve been friends to this day, but we knocked around a bit only for about ten months before drifting apart again. On Stockport Road, a little further on, we met up again, after another decade. Her father had died, I’d written a letter of sympathy, we’d arranged to meet one Tuesday night, at a now long-demolished small Sports Centre, where she and a bunch of her colleagues played badminton every week.

Typically, I got it wrong and went straight to the little pub adjacent, where they had a drink afterwards. She rushed in after me, looking worried, went straight past me at the bar. Not without a little trepidation, I took up my pint and followed her: this time she saw through the beard.

She was married, she was a computer programmer, she wore her hair short (I never saw it long again). We were friends for fifteen years. She named her first son after me, I thought of her as another sister: she was certainly closer than my actual sister was. But after she divorced her husband, she became distant: when she moved to Leeds and re-married, that was it. I haven’t seen or heard from her in two decades.

Apart from a half mile of Mount Road, the rest of the journey used none of the old 169/170 route until I got off in a much-changed street at the back of the Gorton Tesco’s. This was the last stop, in intent and energy. One final bus journey on the 203, the fifth of the day, eventless and thought-less until I’m home, where I relaxed and watched Manchester United win their FA Cup Semi-Final. They’re playing the Final opposite the Prince Harry/Meghan Markle wedding: I wonder which one I’ll watch?

But it’s true: I should get out more often. Travel stimulates the mind. I remember so many things when I visit places I no longer go. There are miniature autobiographies in bus-routes.

A Morning Expedition

Believe me, it doesn’t look anything like this good from ground level

It’s a change, I suppose.

There’s a lot of this city that I just don’t see any more, because I don’t have private transport any more. Buses are inconvenient, unreliable, inflexible. It takes too long, I can’t necessarily get to where I want to go, I can’t stop off on the way if an interesting looking new second hand bookshop catches my eye. Buses are only useful for destinations. Today, mine was Trafford Park.

Someone from whom I’ve bought an item off eBay chose yo send it by UK Mail. They tried to deliver it Thursday afternoon when I was at work, it was too big for the letterbox. The card led me to an online facility to rearrange.

But a date for re-delivery was just for weekdays, with no means to specify even morning or afternoon, so that meant collection from the depot on Saturday, before 12.00. It was in Trafford Park.

This is mainly an Industrial Estate, or rather a whole bunch of them crammed together, all long straight roads, not hot on bus routes or stops. This required planning. Now Transport for Greater Manchester‘s Journey Planner, which replaced a perfectly good, user-friendly, accurate system, is worse than fucking useless. It surveyed the entire panoply of public transport, buses, metro and trains and offered me one option: walk it in three and three quarter hours.

A Google search offered me the more helpful route of the 203 into Piccadilly, a 33 towards Worsley as far as Humphrey Park Metrolink station and a walk of 1.1 miles. But Paula at work rubbished that: get an X5 from Stockport Bus Station, straight to the Trafford Centre. The walk from there was 1.3 miles, but I’d be there far quicker.

Which much was true. The X5 takes 49 minutes from Stockport Bus Station. Unfortunately, it only runs once an hour, on the hour, which was twenty minutes away. A 23A would take twelve minutes longer but leave eleven minutes sooner.

It was a long route, through several of those places I no longer go to, and rather a lot of memories.

First there was Didsbury, and its Village. It’s changed out of all recognition, and I spent years watching most of that change, living on the fringe of it, then working on a different fringe of it. I haven’t been here since that last impromptu long-way-round bus back from Manchester City Centre when I discovered that their Pizza Hut, the one I’d taken John M to for dinner the day he helped me move into my first house, had been closed.

Then Barlow Moor Road: long, straight, unending. That’s where I saw that intriguing bookshop. Part of my learning to drive was in the side-streets and awkward corners round the back of here. I’ve walked down it, driven down it, backwards and forwards, hundreds of times. Alan and I would walk out here on Saturday evenings, sometimes, turn up Burton Road to the Canadian Charcoal Pit where I had my first burgers.

Where’s the Shady Oak gone? It was a big pub, set back in its own grounds, just across the Parkway. We’d come here for the Saturday night discos in the big room at the back, when I was still drinking cider. Here was the first (and only) time I asked a girl I didn’t know if she fancied a dance, though the ‘relationship’ didn’t last longer than the length of the song (which was ‘Ms Grace’ by the Tymes). When did they knock that down?

Next up is Chorlton. The novel I entered for NaNoWriMo 2013 had as its central character a lady living off this section of Barlow Moor Road. I got a bit too clever going into the final third of the story, broke the narrative, needed to rethink and rewrite. It’s still there, and I still intend to finish it. That and at least three others, if I last that long.

Chorlton Village. Back in the Seventies, when I was still determinedly clinging on to my reel-to-reel tape recorder, the number of places you could buy new tapes was rapidly diminishing, but there was one here, on the east side of the Village. I would walk it, an hour each way, summer mornings, from the south side of Burnage, almost a dead straight line throughout.

On the west side of the Village, when I was in practice in Altrincham, I had a good client who owned a Family Butchers here. We got on all right, and I got on well with his son, Pete, who was younger than me and who was going to take over the business when Jim retired. The year United rebuilt the North Stand, dramatically cutting capacity, and I was scrabbling for tickets all season, Pete sorted me out for one early season game on his Dad’s season ticket, whilst Jim was fishing in Ireland. He was full of this story from Football Focus, or whatever it was called that year, just before he came out, about the non-League guy who’d set an FA Cup record for the fastest ever hat-trick, three goals in two minutes and twenty seconds. Had I seen that? No, but I’d seen the bloody goals, because they’d been scored against Droylsden!

Pete was tickled by that. A few years later, our wonder season, he came to the penultimate match, bringing his Natalie Imbruglia-like girlfriend. He had a great time, told me he’d been talking with his Dad about getting involved here, like we had. he’d have fitted in well with the Pace Stand Mob, and the rest of the Mob wouldn’t have objected to his bringing his girlfriend along each time. But he never appeared again.

The last time I was in the shop was to collect a big book I’d won off eBay from someone who worked there, of all places. That’s disappeared too. I wonder what happened.

Stretford brought back a sobering memory. I know it well from all those visits to Old Trafford, up the road, but the route took us past Stretford Cemetery, and that brought back Debbie Noone.

We had a string of office juniors at our office in the City, all of them genuine ‘finds’ who went on to better things with us. When a slot became free, they’d come up with recommendations among their friends, equally as good. Debbie was part of that string, dark-haired, bright, lively. She loved UB40, especially their recent hit, ‘Don’t Break My Heart’.

Then, in the middle of the morning, the senior Partner came walking down the corridor, calling us all into Reception where, his voice shaking, he told us that Debbie had collapsed at the bus stop, coming into work that morning, and had died of a brain haemhorrage. She was 18.

The office closed for her Funeral. We all went. She’d been Roman Catholic. She’d been saving up for a holiday abroad with her boyfriend, that summer. We walked round the corner to the Cemetery. The other girls had clubbed together to buy a small commemorative stone for her grave: “Nooney  Our Friend Forever”.

And I haven’t thought about her in forever now, but it came back, the way some memories do, unblurred. Whitey’s voice, struggling against breaking down. The girls, some crying, others just sat there uncomprehending. Going back to my office, shutting the door, sitting at my desk, unable to think or feel. She’d have been 50 last year.

Beyond Chester Road, I was in foreign territory. I started tracing the route in an A-Z so old it still shows the Trafford Centre as ‘Under Construction’. Depending on which roads the 23A takes, I shouldn’t need to go as far as the Centre itself. It was impossible to tell from the A-Z where bus stops were, or whether these big straight dual carriageways have anything so mundane as pavements, or if I’d have to make some wide and time-consuming diversions.

Making a calculated guess, I dropped off in Lostock, but at least one, if not two stops short of where I could have gone. The big roads turned out to have pedestrian ways, but it was nothing but a trudge, with nothing to stimulate the eye or mind: just cars and lorries belting past, the backs of manufacturing and storage units, and one dull canal.

The last roundabout was being buggered about for the construction of a forthcoming Metrolink extension to the Trafford Centre but an elaborate pedestrian way linking the various exits was cordoned out by metal barriers. I nearly made the mistake of trusting to my visualisation of the A-Z to decide which exit I needed but, at the last minute, decided not to be a pillock and check, thus saving myself a long and useless diversion.

The first thing I saw on Ashburton Road West was a bus stop, but it had no Services on Saturday, no Services on Sunday, and no Services on Monday to Friday for that matter. No alternative to trudging on. This was already my longest sustained walk since the last time I wandered back from Central London to Euston Station, and my knee was already making pointed comments about it.

When I finally turned into Richmond Road, the first thing I was assailed with was seagulls, wheeling and crying above the unit roofs. No, I hadn’t suddenly become deranged, this part of Trafford Park is close to the Ship Canal, as the seagull flies, that is. Though if this lot have followed the trawler because they expect that sardines will be thrown into the sea, they’re widely off beam.

My arrival at UK Mail coincided with that of a young couple who arrived by car. They asked me if I’d been here before, if I knew where the door was. Well, it only had four walls and the door had got to be in one of them. It was, naturally, on the opposite sides of the building.

My parcel was big, thick, flat and rectangular. It contained a single issue of the Eagle, which struck me as overkill. It was far too large for any bag, so I tucked it under my arm. Cheekily, I asked the couple if they were going anywhere near Lostock on their way back: the guy had never even heard of it. Was it in the vicinity of Manchester Airport?

So I set off back. The first thing I noticed was that all vestiges of spring had gone from my step. Now I’d met my deadline, my insecure subconscious was no longer driving things. It didn’t matter how long it took me to get back. At least I knew the way, and could mentally split it up into sections, the completion of which made me feel I was progressing. Actually, it went by quickly, because I was mentally compiling most of this post up to this point.

Once I was off the final roundabout and onto ‘real’ roads again, it was time for my subconscious to reassert its anxieties, which a picture of the bus rushing past me on the way to the stop, but this time it was thwarted. There was actually one almost due, and I didn’t even get to sit down for more than 120 seconds before it arrived.

In the quiet bits of the journey back, when the bus was at rest or at least not racketing about too badly, I managed to scribble out most of the First Draft of this, until it was time for my other stop. I’d come home Friday to find another card through the door, another parcel too big for my letterbox, but at least this one was Royal Mail and the 23A obligingly passes by the Sorting Office at Green Lane. As usual, the queue was outside the door, but for the first time in all my visits there, they had three on the counter and I was rushed through in near-record time. This parcel was a white cardboard envelope a bit thinner than the first one, but otherwise of the same dimensions. I tucked both under one arm and set off back to the bus stop. This time, my panicky subconscious was reinforced by a bus ruushing by, but the next one was only about two minutes after.

By now, I was knackered and my knee sore. I wanted just to go home, but I also had a pressing need and nowhere at hand to satisfy it. So I caught the free bus over to Tescos (another wait of less than two minutes). On my way in, I passed my former team-mate Brian coming out. He looked shocked, asked if I was coming from work (I don’t do Saturdays). I explained my movements and told him, “My knee is killing me, I desperately need a piss and I’m going to get some food.” He laughed, loudly.

Though the Tesco’s Cafe does have healthy options, I just plumped for the all-day breakfast: double egg, double bacon, double sausage, chips and beans, for a fiver. This rapidly went where all good cheap food goes, making me feel much better. Unfortunately, by this time my knee was seriously sore, but there was room on the bench at the stop, and I had another ten minutes drafting time, taking me up to Green Lane, before the bus came.

First thing on getting in was the next painkiller. The last hour has been spent in typing this up, whilst cross-checking the football scores in passing.

This has been my latest ‘day out’. Please, any of you out there who may be on the point of selling me anything on eBay, please do not send the package by bloody UK Mail! That place is a human wasteland…