A Manchester Metrolink Expedition: The Eccles Line


eccles-1

When I was in Manchester last week, visiting Central Reference Library for another instalment of my current research programme, I noticed that trams were once more running to Eccles. The last section of the Metrolink network left unexplored in my summer expeditions has clearly completed its refurbishment works and I can now complete my travels. Fittingly enough, it’s a beautiful day today, aping those summer travels in appearance if not in sense.

Or that was how it started. By the time I was on the bus, the sky had fikked up with grey clouds. not threatening immediate rain but definitely holding it in reserve for if the mood took it. And it wasn’t too long before I realised that a top covering of sweatshirt and leather jacket might possibly be one layer too few.

To the best of my recollection, I’ve only been to Eccles once before, and it’s never been a place I would have thought of seeking out as a destination. That one definite visit was the first year we formed the Crown & Anchor Pub Quiz team, we being me and John Mott, and Dave and Barry, who was our captain. We joined a League that consisted of eight teams that became seven after the first round. One team, who’d been runners-up twice in succession to a team from the Bleeding Wolf, in Hale, were from Eccles so we went up there on Tuesday night and thumped them easily. I may, it’s entirely possible, have visited other Eccles’ pubs, as a member of the Crown‘s Pool Team, but I can’t remember. Incidentally, we won the League that first season, though we weren’t half as successful the following season, when the Crown entered a B team as well, and they finished above us (Barry’s absence meant I had to captain the team several times and I was awful at it: if two or more of us had tentative answers, Barry was brilliant at selecting the right one whereas I tended to go with my guess, which more often than not was wrong where my team-mate was right).

Trust me, though. Eccles might once more be accessible but at Piccadilly Gardens there were signs explaining that, due to a broken rail in the City Centre, with effect from today until the end of November, the whole network is fucked up. Why that should be, I couldn’t properly tell, but the immediate effect on me, once I’d got things straight, was the discovery that Eccles trams are termination at Deansgate-Castlefield for the duration, and for now the only trams running through Piccadilly Gardens are between Ashton and Crumpsall. The Altrincham trams that go through Deansgate-Castlefiueld are giving us a miss.

Fortunately, one is due to pass through Market Street in three minutes, and even with my knee I can cover the distance in time.

I am, of course, familiar with the line as far as Media City (very familiar with it as far as Cornbrook, having passed through or even changed there on the Altrincham, Media City, East Didsbury, Airport and Trafford Centre trips). But I have only attended Deansgate-Castlefield once before, many years ago. This was when the Royal Exchange Theatre had temporarily decamped to the far end of Deansgate whilst its usual home was being refitted structurally after the effects of the IRA Bomb. I’d invited my former girlfriend on a purely platonic date to see Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan (of which I remember nothing), and met her and saw her off Altrincham trams at the station.

It’s started to rain, light, sharp, prickly rain so I crossed two tramlines purposefully and took shelter. The wait could have been longer and the wind colder, but not by much. I was dry and had nothing to drink this side of Eccles.

Media City came as a relief as the short, square, bulky guy who’s been crowding me into a corner gor off. As the tram effectively reversed itself here, I jumped carriges to get a new forward-facing seat for the next leg.

We’d crawled through Salford Quays as usual to get here and I was keen to see if that would now be left behind. Not initially: there are only five stations on this leg and the first of them literally rounfd the corner, but after that we picked up speed, exiting to the Langworthy station, just round another corner on Eccles New Road. That was our route all the way to the terminus, mostly sharing the two-lane road with the cars, who must have been pretty pissed off with us. The scenery was hardly scenic: industrial developments all down the left hand side, new and modern estates set back along the right. The sun came out again at Ladywell station, then suddenly we were pulling into Eccles interchange, exactly as the battery on my mp3 player died!

The routine is by now familiar: a sandwich, a dribk, a CEX and a loo. As the station is outside a Morrisons, the last of these was easily ticked off. I could have sorted out the first two as well, but I prefer a bit of exploring, and finding a proper sandwich shop.

That turned out to be Greggs, yet again. I spotted the Shopping Centre down a pedestrianised street on the right, and then the Greggs on the left. Whilst I was eating my sausage roll, I had to blank one of those slightly dodgy blokes wandering around talking and singing to himself – I heard his voice echoing from trhe oher end for quite a while. Whilst I was finishing my tuna crunch baguette I had to fend off a little kid reaching for it as if it was his and crying in fury when his mother retrieved him. In between, another oldish guy unclamped his bicycle from the far end of the bench, rode past me for about ten yards then wheels round and props it up against the British Heart Foundation shop, unclamped, unchained, un-anything, approximately two seconds walk from where it had been, and went inside. Some people.

Replete, at least for the moment, I inspected the DVDs and Books section in a couple of the nearby Charity shops before walking up the rpad a bit, passing the impressive Parish Church, grimly dark though it was. The economic conditions in Eccles were pretty easy to work out from the profusion of chariuty shops open and the profusion of everything else that was shuttered shut. I paid a brief visit to anorther, tempting charity shop but left it rapidly when I found myself next to the guy with the bike, who was industrially sorting CDs, Yes, he was a volunteer all right, but I didn’t get the impression the shop knew it.

Outside the Shopping Centre, it had come on to rain again. I sheltered under a canopy whilst zipping up my jacket but that did me little good from what hit me in the face as soon as I moved out into the open again. If there was a CEX in Eccles, I was not prepared to put up with this whilst I searched for it so I backtracked firmly. I toyed with going into Morrisons for a coffee in their cafe but a tram was approaching so I said san fairy ann to it and decided to go home.

There was a long wait for the turn around at Eccles, and another at Media City where the tram filled up. Rain came and went. It was dry when I hopped out at Market Street but that lasted no more than twenty seconds before it starting coming down again as if I’d never left Eccles. That decided it: I headed straight for the bus stop, hoping to be early enough to avoid the usual horrors of Hyde Road. Guess what? Leaving aside the long wait for the 203 to materialise (exacerbated by knowing it was sat round the cormer) and another to change drivers outside Devonshire Street Bus Station, there were no horrors. Mind you, once we turned onto Reddish Lane…

But now I’m back, and the mini-ambition of travelling the entire Metrolink Network has been completed (with the exception of about thirty yards of track in Salford Quays for trams – if any – that omit the diversion into Media City), until another line or extension is opened, which doesn’t seem likely in the foreseeable future. Done, and dusted.

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A Chester Expedition


Chester

It’s on mornings like this that I remember the three classic Life Laws. Neither Murphy’s Law nor the Pneter Principle are relevant here but Parkinson’s Law certainly is. That states that work expands to fit the time available to perform it. My version is that bus journey’s expand to fill the time until you’ve absolutely got to be there.

I’m off to Chester for the first time in decades, and I’m aiming for the 11.07am from Manchester Victoria. There are trains from Piccadiully, but these cost almost half as much again for a return ticket. So I was up early, awake, shaved, showered and in time to catch the bus before the one that gave me plenty of time. And that was on time, but the driver was in no hurry. no hurry at all, lingering at stops, lingering over opening the doors, lingering behind other services stopped at stops we didn’t need to visit. As a result, i just miss a tram at Piccadilly Gardens. The next one is twelve minutes.

That takes out entirely too big a chunk to risk, so I set off to walk. Fortunately, a direct tram passed me en route, close enough to Market Street for me to jog fast enough to catch it (can’t run: knees). So there are no panics at Victoria and I’m away on time. But if I’d have caught the bus earlier than that one I’m sure it would have been the same story.

New trainers, new jeans: I am sartorially besplendent today. The jeans – would you believe it, white, at my age? – were an impulse buy yesterday when I was looking for new casual footwear that required re-lacing because the way they lace them up nowadays is fucking stupid.

The journey is just under an hour, with only three intermediate stops. The land west of Manchester is flat, with nothing to see even if I could see it through the green corridor of trees, shrubbery and hedges on either side. Beyond Earlstown, however, we burst into open country, albeit green and flat and, for a time, the only sunny skies of the day.

Further on I’m surprised to see a low, flat vista of the Mersey as it widens out towards Liverpool, lookimg much bluer than it does for us in Stockport, whilst on my left appeared two wooded hills, most un-Cheshire-like, that were once familiar in 1976, as we drove to and from the College of Law at Christleton, studying for my Part II Final Exams (passed in one go even though I was convinced I’d have to retake Company Law).

I’ve visited Chester not many more than half a dozen times, and once walked the City Walls, all the way round, but not today, even without the crumbling section that’s needing to be rebuilt. I’ve no particular destination in mind, not like the Piece Hall, just an afternoon of being somewhere else for a bit, seeing what’s there to be seen. No memories to be hunted for here.

Never having visited Chester by train before, I had no idea where the Station was in relation to the City Centre. It’s signposted outside the Station both straight ahead and ninety degrees right. Peering in both directions, I guessed that straight ahead was shortest, and given how long it was, I hope I was right. I found myself walking slightly faster than a party of four who, needless to say, required all of a very wide pavement to progress,

Having mapped every twist and turn mentally, I finally got to Foregate Street and the black and white buildings I remembered from before but my first specific landmark I recognised was the Eastgate Clock, suspended above a busy pedestrianised street. But what I needed next is lunch.

Down a side street, I glimpsed a CEX and a Greggs in close proximity so that solved problem one. The Greggs suffered from the same problem every branch I’ve ever been in does: not enough staff and too few of them serving. Amazingly, that went for CEX as well. Unusually, this one had a CD section too, so I went looking for this CD I’m after. To my astonishment, and pain, they were using the same approach to alphabeticisation that I have seen only two other stores do in the past fifty years: soloists by their first name. Which meant that B for Bruce Springsteen was on the bottom row, far too low for me to bend over.

Back on the street, I was doing my usual slow drift along one side, to be followed by an equally slow drift back down the other side once I’d reached something that qualified as a furthest point, when I was dragged across by a Waterstones. I itched to buy a book but the usual constraints of cash and space applied and besides, I’ve got five lined up for my birthday next month.

Just as in the Piece Hall, I couldn’t help kicking myself that I never brought my ex-wife here. This slow drift would have been longer by at least a factor of three as she delved into every little shop, yes, and the would have been at least three times as much fun for it. No matter how many years pass, you can still catch yourself thinking of the never-dones.

Then it started to rain again, so I crossed the street and took cover on the Rows, which is how the second level of shops are called. In one shop, an absolutely gorgeous fortyish blonde was serving a customer and laughing with her. I wish this was the sort of world where it’s possible to go in and just tell someone like that that she is just stunning, and have it be received as simple admiration, not potential sexual assault.

A few days ago, I took a minor tumble, banging my arthritic knee. It was still sore and walking wasn’t doing it any favours. I turned down a side street in search of the River Dee and perhaps somewhere to sit for a long while but got no further than the Roman Amphitheatre, where two groups of schoolchildren, each with Roman shields and shoulder guards or ‘swords’ were being given an action lesson by a Roman Soldier.

I’d time a plenty because it wasn’t yet 2.00pm and the river couldn’t be too much further but I was well aware of not just my knee but also my bladder now insisting upon attention. So, leaving the shoulder guarded party to their determined resistance – they were having much more fun than the lot with the swords – I walked slowly back to Foregate Street, where Marks & Spencer proved to be the answer, not only for my bladder but my sudden and urgent desire for a coffee.

But my knee was an insluable problem, and it was a long way back to the Station, so I summoned up my mental map and limped quite noticeably all the way. There was a twenty-five minute wait for my train but in pulled in with twenty minutes to spare so I sprang aboard (yeah, right) and claimed a table seat.

The journey back was eventless as such thingsare. We stopped at the same three stations as before, plus Eccles, and this time I remembered to wait for a tram back to Piccadilly Gardens. That delivered me to the 203 stop in readiness for another mood-fracking rush hour trip up Hyde Road. in fact, a 203 arrived just before I did and the hordes trying to board convinved me to sit down and wait for the next one. I shall draw a veil over the length of the wait, the number of stupid, selfish fuckheads who boarded it and how much my knee hurt by the time I finally got home, in case I come over as exasperated.

A Halifax Expedition


Piece Hall

Originally, this should have followed directly on from the Metrolink series of Expeditions, but it had to be postponed one week and then two by the death and funeral of a Queen, and then one day and two for personal reasons I’m still digesting. But it’s a lovely day, bright, blue and cool and I’m not going to hang around any longer.

I’ve only been to Halifax twice before, the first time with long-term girlfriend Mary on one of our frequent Saturdays of going off in the car to somewhere and anywhere. We found the Piece Hall and went round that, and I came back with an R.E.M. fanclub Xmas single that was never commercially released, which tells you a little about the specialist and individual shops that now fill the floors of what was once a Merchant ‘s Trading Centre for cloth and fabric, centuries ago. It wouldn’t surprise me to suddenly remember that that was why Mary wanted to go there in the first place.

More than a decade later, married with stepchildren, we were on our way back from somewhere else Yorkshire way, and on the way back I diverted us into Halifax, intent on introducing them to the Piece Hall. But we never got out of the car, nor even rolled the windows down, hot as it was, because from end to end the Town Centre stunk to high Heaven, of drains and sewerage, and the kids would never hear of going anywhere near it again.

But all things eventually roll around again and that’s where I’m going, thirty years later. I do not go lightly into Yorkshire. Indeed, it’s difficult to remember when I last went anywhere on Yorkshire, as opposed to across it to visit two internet friends in Newcastle, but it’s not that far back, not too long before the Pandemic, going to Sheffield and The Old Magazine Shop, place of so many wonderful purchases of Keith Watson Dan Dare era Eagles.

Travelling in from Stockport I repress most of my usual concerns – such a nicer word than paranoia – about travelling, even though I’ve come out ten minutes later than planned and missed a bus at the stop. It’s bus and tram to Victoria station, where the automatic ticket machines are incomprehensible and the guy ahead of me at the ticket counter is taking ages to leave after getting his ticket, but I am on the 11.55 Leeds via Halifax with minutes to spare.

The day and the ride are brilliant, especially once we’re clear of Manchester and headed into open country, alleviated by old stone roads, houses and building, heading towards the sunlit hummocks of the grassy Pennines, overtopped by a bright, white windfarm, arms wheeling. It just gets better and better as we pass through narrow cuts, tracing the routes of canals, through Todmorden and Hedben Bridge and smaller places, crammed into deep valleys, that I can’t take in until the ride back. The journey alone is worth the expedition, and I wish that I was travelling it by canal boat rather than train, so that time would cease to run and I could just look up and around. It might be bloody Yorkshire, but it’s still bloody lovely.

I’m reminded of another day out with Mary, even further back, when we must have come this way on not so sunny a day. It was when there was talk of closing the Settle-Carlisle line, that runs across the great Ribblehead Viaduct, the scenic gem. So whilst we still could, and as it was my birthday week, we made a day of it, a great triangle, Manchester to Leeds to Carlisle and back by the West Coast Main Line, and the irony being that it was a November Saturday and the weathey shitty so we saw nothing. Perhaps one day soon?

The latter half of the route is elevated above the valley bottoms. We slide into Halifax exactly on time, and with me in great need of satisfying matters of the flesh. Signposting to the Piece Hall is confusing, focussing more on getting you to where you can park than the landmark itself, but it is literally only three or four minutes walk away. I wouldn’t normally do this, and I wouldn’t do this now if there were any visible alternatives but, in need of food, drink and the loo, I enter Burger King. I order a ‘Whopper’, fries and a diet coke that appear unnaturally quickly. The burger is eatable but doesn’t score many points for individual taste, and it’s slathered with so much gunk it’s no better than lukewarm by the time I’ve finished it. The fries stay hot and the coke cold however.

For most of my time in there, a young and chubby couple are immersed in each other in the next booth but what. Not in any romantic way. One has his head buried against the chest and shoulder of the other, crouching immobile, like someone in devastating emotional pain who can no longer summon up any more tears, the other consumed in holding them, hand on their hair, equally still, as if separation will induce a fatal attack. The joys of youth.

The Piece Hall, when I enter it at its eastern, lowest gate is immediately familiar and instantrly recogisable. The structure, with its golden stone is exactly as it was before but the exapansive central courtyard has had its slanting cobbles removed and replaced with silver grey stone flags and banks of low steps, chosen to complement not contrast. Another lovely place for the eyes. Tables and chairs for the various bars around the lowest level are given ample space.

Where to start? Anti-clockwise, obviously, just as in Lake District Horseshoe walks. This brings me first to a crystals and stone shop. I got to be very familiar with such places via my ex-. The funny thing was that, in those long ages of waiting for her, I who am sceptical, material and unbelieving, would more than once turn over little boxes of polished stones, each with their own properties and several times, to my own surprise, find that a particular stone felt ‘right’. It wasn’t as if it spoke to me in any way, but I would feel a connection to it. Suggestibility? Perhaps. Even now, I looked at different stones, picking them up, smoothing over them with my fingers, and I came away with one, Labradorite, which sounds like a made-up word but isn’t. In the shop it said it stood for transformation, but according to Google, it is a Fire Mountain Gem:

In the metaphysical world, labradorite is considered one of the most powerful protectors. The gemstone creates a shield for auras and protects against negativity of the world. Labradorite is said to temper the negativity within ourselves as well.

Sounds just up my street. I’d better get it out of my bag.

Next door to that was The Book Corner, extending over at least three units. I rarely visit bookshops now, but this was utterly fascinating, filled with practically nothing I would normally consider reading but so much that was intriguing and which drew me. I told the youngish woman at the till at one end that ‘If I had the money, if I had the space to put them and the time to read them, I could go through this place like the traditional dose of salts!’, a compliment that seemed to please her at least as much as a sale would have done.

Stairs at the corner gave access to the upper rooms but I wasn’t even half way round yet. I discovered The Traders Room, a replica of its original style, a tiny place used to conduct negotiations between traders and merchants. In its original form the Piece Hall had 315 rooms like this.

Of course, some shops just had to remind you, rudely, that you were in Yorkshire. especially the one selling little wall plaques rubbishing other towns in the County. Typical Yorkshireman: if he can’t find anyone else to be bloody rude to, he turns on his countymen.

I wandered round totally unhurried, well aware that if I should have happened to be accompanied by my ex-, it would have taken us three, four, five times as long, for she would have loved the place and been in and out of nearly every shop rather than the mere handful I entered. It would still have been me who led us into the Comics shop, the first I’ve been into in a good two years now. Nostalgia urged me to pick up something, but sense knew it would have been buying for the sake of buying.

With time and enough, I exited through the opposite gate to see what else there was. Almost immediately I was passing through the Westgate Arcade, which had a vinyl-dominated record shop, and round a few old streets in the Town Centre, always maintaining my mental com[pass needle pointing back at the Piece Hall. There seemed to be an absolute shortage of places selling cans of Diet Coke, though I finally found a Greggs and a bench to sit on and temporarily rest my shoulder, aching from the bag slung over it. There was a CEX in sight, but the DVDs were upstairs and there weren’t any to attract me.

I could see a direct way to re-enter the Piece Hall via the north gate, which brought me out near The Book Corner. I couldn’t just praise them so I went in and bought a book. The young woman recognised me – my bright yellow sweatshirt is a dead giveaway, it was much admired at Sky when I used to work there, especially by the ladies, though I would much rather they admired the sweatshirt’s contents and told them so often, not that anyone took the hint – and I told her I couldn’t just praise them and not buy anything. This is their website: if you buy anything there’s no point mentioning my name as they won’t know who I am.

After a few more minutes in the sun, I strolled back to the Station, finding there was a Chester via Manchester Victoria train due within five minutes. I want the other side for going back and there’s a face forward table seat near to the door I use but a woman charges down the carriage and grabs it, forcing me to sit facing backwards. All so she can put her copy of Closer on the table.

It’s much less fun coming back. It akways is, but this is compounded by the views on this side of the track being more confined, the accumulating grey cloud building up behind us and the fact that views you have already passed are briefer and less rewarding than those you are literally looking forward to.

Disembarking at Victoria, I am horrified that, just as at Halifax, their tiolets are out of commission. I don’t rally want to have to hold on all the way back home but it looks likely until I forget that the tram I’m on is to Altrincham and doesn’t visit Piccadilly Gardens, so I hop out at St Peter’s Square and dive into Central Reference Library’s basement. Ahh.

Whilst I am here, there is something else I really ought to get my act in gear about. I visit the Archive section to refresh my memory about researching old newspapers on microfilm, this time on one of the viewers you can use to take photocopies from. That’s 20p a time, which is not too bad if spread out. I have an old enthusiasm, upon which I became the internet expert, to return to. Keep your eyes peeled.

But it’s time to get home. Metro to Piccadilly Station, a 203 back, fits and starts up Hyde Road and down Reddisah Lane, in the rush hour, irritation levels steadily on the rise, as Warren Zevon described the rate of (emotional) attrition in ‘Nobody’s in Love This Year’. I should know better. But for a day like that it’s a small price to pay. I have three more Expeditions planned: can I get them all in before the weather and the clock goes, not to mention the economy?

A Manchester Metrolink Expedition: The Trafford Centre Line


Trafford-arial

Technically, it’s the Trafford Park Line, and it runs from Pomona on the Eccles/Media City Line to the Trafford Centre, so the last of this series of Monday afternoon trips (until the Eccles section is opened in October, as a coda) will be a two-tram each way expedition.

This is the newest line in the Metrolink Network, having only been opened in 2020. I have never travelled on any part of it before, and my only connection to it comes from a few years ago when I had to go out to Trafford Park to collect a parcel that couldn’t be delivered. Having got as far as I could by bus, I had to walk almost half an hour there and back to my destination, including crossing the future line just before a roundabout on a dual-carriageway, where the channel for the line across the roundabout and along the central reservation had been cut but the rails had not yet been laid. I wonder if I’ll be able to recognise it?

I’m not much more familiar with the Trafford Centre itself, having visited it not even as much as half a dozen times in the twenty-four years since its opening. It’s a massive shopping mall and indoor leisure complex, to which I am by temperament averse and if that weren’t enough, on my first visit I walked from one end to the other without seeing a single book shop, at which point I wrote it off as a temple to barbarism. It has been the biggest centre of its kind in Britain but is currently the second-largest. This will be my first time back since the mid-2000s.

Not that Wikipedia was consistent. In print it has the line starting from Pomona, on the map from Cornbrook. Go figure.

It rained, heavily, in the night. I didn’t sleep well but woke up to a fresh day, warm enough to choose t-chirt and jeans again, and get out earlier than usual. I paid that back firstly in terms of a long wait for a Media City tram at Piccadilly Gardens and then a long wait at Cornbrook, where the Trafford Centre tram was actually the tenth along.

Where the Airport Line was almost endless, the Trafford Centre Line was about the shortest of the whole Network. Six new tram stops. Wharfside is for United and Old Trafford, Imperial War Museum very familiar, Village completely indeterminate and Parkway is that crossing I crossed years ago. Then there are two stops for the Trafford Centre itself, one each for the west and east ends respectively. The former was the terminus and where I got out.

I got inside the Centre via a multi-floor Selfridge’s. The next half hour was a nightmare. Everywhere I turned there were broken escalators and crowded lifts slower than growing. The crowds were everywhere in my way as I tried to find my way around. Even the ptrsence of a Waterstones brought me no mental relief because the one thing they didn’t have were exits. Seriously, once you were inside you couldn’t get out, and I wanted to. When I finally found some one to seek assistance from, I got directed back to bloody Selfridge’s, and that was a maze. This was worse than the Airport last week. You won’t get me in there again without tracker dogs.

Once I’d filled my lungs with fresh air again, I crossed over to an ASDA Superstore for a sandwich and a drink. To my relief, and frustration, it had basic things in stock that my local store has jettisoned in favour of less popular variants so I grabbed a couple and queued another half hour at the tills to get out of there. I’m not going to be coming all over here to get an Iced Madeira Cake.

That was it, I was done. I walked to Barton Dock Road Station where a departing tram took me away within seconds. Coming back, I changed trams at Pomona, to stand a better chance of getting a decent seat, and was back in the City Centre for ten to three.

I was not impressed, making it a damp squib of an ending. All I’d got out of it was travelling the line, but then, to be fair, that was the whole point of the exercise. I’ve now travelled practically all the Metrolink Network and seen nearly every station, and if some days have had better destinations than others, those were bonuses.

So I took myself to Pizza Hut for a proper feed and then home on a frustrating bus ride with a driver determined to go as slow as he could, which, with my sleepless night catching up on me, wound me up good and proper until I was glad to get in.

A Manchester Metrolink Expedition: The Manchester Airport Line


Airport

Properly, the Manchester Airport Line was the final part of Phase 3, added during the second stage, as a spur from the East Didsbury Line from St Werburgh’s Road in Chorlton. It was one of the most obvious lines to be added and needed, giving passengers incoming from flights access to the City Centre without the expense of taxis or hire cars or leaving their own vehicles in long-term parking for a week or longer.

I haven’t been out to the Airport for a flight in nearly fifteen years now but I have had one trip on the Airport Line, coming back, in 2015, having gone out there very early one midweek morning to help as part of a Welcoming Committee for the American-based founder of an Internet Forum on which I was then active. I wasn’t really needed: another Manchester-based member was meeting her and her son, collecting bags and giving them accomodation, but I thought it rude not to make the effort, seeing that I was on the spot, so to speak.

Once we’d got them over to H’s car, and everything stowed away, they drove off and I was left to make my own way back. What puzzled me is how I got there in the first place, without a lift of some sort myself, because it wasn’t until I turned to go, at something like 9.00am on a beautiful summer morning of spotless skies, that I had the bright idea of taking the Metro for my return.

So that’s my only experience of the Airport Line before today.

I’m reverting to standard approach today, no one-way trips but the full two-way monte, there and back.

It was a cold, greyish day, with rain an obvious threat: typical Bank Holiday Monday, then (hey, professional writers aren’t the only ones with access to the Cliche Drawer). Bank Holiday Monday means Bank Holiday timetables so it looks like slow going. On the other hand, stops for passengers were well down, but it still took forever to get to Piccadilly Gardens. For the final third of the run I was sat opposite a man desperately clutching to his chest an unwrapped bundle of two framed paintings and three hardback books, all about Football. That two of rhem were about Kevin Keegan and the other about Manchester United made for a puzzling mixture.

There’s no direct service from Pccadilly Gardens to the Airport so I hopped on an Altrincham tram intending to change at St Peter’s Square for the East Didsbury line, imagining this would have to be a two-change ride. But a chance glance led to me spotting a direct Airport tram coming from the same direction I had. Of course: it runs from Victoria, via Market Street. I live and learn.

From there to St Werburgh’s Road, the route was familiar, not just from last week but, in earlier sections multiple expeditions. Here was where the new ground begab, spinning away right towards Barlow Moor Road and almost immediately running down the central reservation along Mauldeth Road West.

This was another part of the old Manchester I used to be able to access freely, but it wasn’t long before I was trying to work out just where the hell I was. We crossed the M60, the Manchester orbital motorway, though I was already so confused I thought it was the M56. Not until later, much later.

Originally, the Airport line was planned to be extended by the Wythenshawe Loop, giving access to Manchester’s most notorious sink estate but escalating costs put paid to that, and to an extension to the Manchester Airport High Speed Train Station. Both are still on the table as ‘aspirational’ but unfunded. The HS Station is the more likely as the cheaper to construct but there’s tremendous public support for the Wythenshawe Loop, especially as this will include a station serving the somewhat remote Wythenshawe Hospital, which is only easy to get to if you have a car. Roll it on.

Despite all that, there was a lot of track and a lot of stops that seemed to be making for, and working their way through Wythenshawe, including a stop in its Town Centre. Though not until the way back did I see the Forum Theatre, where I went on my only previous visit to Wythenshawe itself, instead of the Hospital. Thety were showing a Mike Harding play, set in a vasectomy clinic, which was notorious for the male lead doing a long monologue whilst walking stark bollock (literally) naked. This being Wythenshawe, I’d gone to the Saturday afternoon matinee so that it would still be light when the play was over, and I could jump into my car and shoot off before anyone nicked it, or vandalised it, or made off with the wheels…

After that, we crossed the M56 but I still had no idea where the train was. The line was sharing small streets and alternating with off-road verges, there seemed to be no end of stops, and the line was edging round more 90 degree bends than any other line I’ve yet used. On the ground, the route must look like a sea serpent with its back broken in several places.

But at last, at Shadowmoss, they announced that the next station stop was the Airport, at which I heaved a sigh of relief, both at arrival and at the need to stand up and relieve my numb bum. This was where things got strange. I could have sworn that, on my previous visit, I’d hopped onto a tram at a typical stop, light, bright, freshly painted and in the open air, but here was the terminal, a dark, dingy, third class hole-in-a-corner wedged in beside the Railway station.

Nothing looked remotely recognisable, except for the Skylink, a long, wide, glass-sided tube crossing the Airport at second floor level. Streams of people, mostly trailing luggage on travelators that were switched off, flowed both ways. I remember this from our honeymoon, using it to check in on the Sunday night as part of our package, and then get to the Terminal in plenty good time on Monday morning for the flight to Madeira.

Looking for somewhere to explore, I descended a level to Terminal 1 Arrivals: no, not in the least bit recognisable. Exploring consisted of buying some lunch in a Spar Local, looking at books in a W H Smith, discovering that there was nothing else there to look at except more food suppliers and endless streams of people arriving home and wanting to get out. Logically, there must have been planes landing just to get them there but I’m hanged if I could see any of them! When Dad first brought us here, after tea one midweek evening in 1967 or 1968, there were Observation windows from which you could see the planes take off and land. If they have equivalents in 2022, I had no idea where they could be found so, dispirited, I decide to head back.

This meant that I spent a long time gazing at the Radisson Blu Hotel, where we slept the night after our wedding, ready for our honeymoon. Memories.

I needed to top up my water bottle so I stopped off in a smaller W H Smith branch on the way. The woman serving was bored, chatty and from Blackburn, but I didn’t hold that against her. Once I’d told her why i was there, she urged me on visiting Clitheroe, very enthusiastically. There’s only one Metro like to explore after today, but I’ve a short list of short distance train Expeditions to follow, and I’ll add Clitheroe to that.

The return to Manchester was uneventful. I descended at Market Street to join the obstacle course that is Manchester in late afternoon, and arrived at the 203 stop just as one pulled out: of course.

Needing to also top up my Electricity, I stayed on the bus two extra stops to get to ASDA. This was where things went wrong. Their Pay Point Machine was broken again. |The woman at the counter pointed me towards an R S McColl where I could get the top up but neglected to tell me how far it was to walk there. Twenty-five minutes later, all of which spent getting further away from home, I found it at a very familiar road junction near to Stockport Road. I refused to walk back and headed for the nearby bus stop, even though it would take two buses from there.

After ten minutes of no buses – there would have been one, the last of the day, ten minutes later, if it was on time – I decided to walk over to Stockport Road. It was still two buses from there but at least I could see them passing with some frequency, and besides I could sit down at that stop.

Not that I needed to for long. A 192 arrived within ninety seconds and took me to Mersey Square without any halts and, after a walk across the Town Centre, I got onto a waiting 203 that pulled out immediately. What’s more, at the next stop, on got one of my old colleagues from Sky, still doing well there, and we had a brief chat until I finally reached to my stop. All told, it had taken me over two hours to get back from Manchester and I was knackered both mentally and physically, which is why this post is coming so later.

Still, seven down, one to go.

A Manchester Metrolink Expedition: The East Didsbury Line


East_Didsbury_Metrolink_station

Once again, this is to be a one-way Metrolink journey, this time to go there and not come back. There are two reasons for this. One is that, once the Metrolink Tram deposits me at East Didsbury, I am actually nearer to home than to Manchester City Centre. The other is that, as the photograph demonstrates, there is practically no more to East Didsbury than the Metrolink Terminus.

That’s not wholly true. There’s a Tesco Superstore about five minutes walk away, diagonally opposite an Entertainment complex including ten-pin bowling and a massive Multiplex cinema, plus expensive places to eat fast food and drink, this latter partially constructed on what used to be Parrs Wood High School, as attended by my younger sister. And in the opposite direction, and just round the corner, is the house that I lived in, the Nottingham years excepted, from 1966 to 1999, where I last saw my Dad before he was taken into Hospital, and that’s too much of a memory for me to want to reawaken after last Monday.

Technically this is the South Manchester line, the last of the Phase 3 group, originally ending at St Werburgh’s Road in Chorlton before its second stage brought it round to here. You have to enquire, why have a Metrolink line end at such an insignificant place? The answer to that was that the South Manchester Line was the intended basis for an extension into Stockport, which would put it on a par with all the other destinations. East Didsbury used to be a railway station, on a line extending into Stockport, one that was closed down before we moved round the corner fifty six years ago in December. It seemed perfect.

But that was before it was discovered that too many sections of the old line had been concreted over, so that the cost of digging them up and restoring them from decades of being buried became absolutely prohibitive. The extension to what will be the new Stockport Bus Station and Interchange when it’s finished – two years already and all they’ve done so far is knock it down – will never happen. Instead, there’s some anomalous idea to extend it to the Railway Station, even though that’s about a hundred feet or more higher, is simmering on some back burner. Probably in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.’

Though if there ever is any significant money in and development of any part of this country beyond London, there are nebulous plans for an extension from Stockport to Stalybridge, through the Tame Valley, which would then open up the possibility of a shorter link from the latter to Ashton. Maybe in time the Metrolink network could be not just radial but circular.

As always, I just missed a 203, but the next one was almost supernaturally early so I barely had time to burn when the sun broke through the patchy cloud. Burning sunshine: just wait until the afternoon really gets going.

One thing these rides into Manchester have reinforced is my unending amusement and bemusement at the peoplw waiting at stops who immediately surge forward to board before having to step back before passengers getting off. It’s the way that so many of them stand back with a look of absolute shock that there are people disembarking at all. What the f…? What do they think buses are for? Or do they believe they have riubber sides, expanding infinitely to encompass the ever-increasing number of passengers, none of whom, as if in some truly mundane horror story, can ever leave?

It started to rain as we rolled into the City Centre and I missed two trams that could have transferred me to St Peter’s Square whilst the bus was approaching its terminus. The mix of services should ensure I don’t have to wait too long, but on the other hand the next Altrincham tram is due in three minutes for a terribly long time.

Though this is the first time I’ve travelled the whole line, I have passed through all the stations before: every stop from St Peter’s Square to Trafford Bar on the Altrincham Line, and every stop from East Disbury to Firswood and back on my visit to Old Trafford during the last Cricket World Cup. The only new experience due to me today is the length of track from Trafford Bar to Firswood.

When I hopped off at St Peter’s Square, an East Didsbury tram was just leaving. This might be a short line but fate seemedto be conspiring to drag it out. However, I barely had time to write one three-line note before the next one arrived. We crawled, literally, in the wake of a Media City UK tram as far as Deansgate, where we changed drivers, a hold up long enough for us to then travel normally.

The most severely attractive woman on the tram disappointed me by alighting at Cornbrook to transfer to another line whilst I continued towards Trafford Bar. As for the only new section, there was nothing to see except a massive tram depot and the floodlights of Old Trafford Cricket Ground rising behind it.

We passed through Chorlton and St Werburgh’s Road, where Phase 3a originally terminated. After that it was Withington and Burton Road, where I decided I must one day find out where they’ve put the stations, and lastly the three Didsburys – West, Village and East. As the whole of this line runs on a former railway, we’re passing through cuttings all the way, with nothing to see. Though I haven’t lived in this area for fully half my life, this is still old home country to me, and I feel very conmfortable here.

As I’ve already said, there’s nothing to see at East Didsbury, but if you cross Kingsway and travel three stops on the 50 bus, it takes you to Fog Lane, and what is Fog Lane home to? Yes, the legendary Sifters, which at long last is open, though Pete is looking increasingly frail. It came on to rain just as I got inside, and I found it quite stuffy indoors. Given how generous Pete’s been to me over the years in buying my unwanted records, I always try to buy something whenever I’m here, but I’m not that confident. Once you reach retirement age, you’ve usually got all the music you want, and very little is beiing made for you by that time.

But a Shakira Live CD and DVD and a two-disc Punk Collection came under my eye at £2.99 each and I departed content.

By then it was hammering down. Kingsway was swimming in water. I took the bus back to East Didsbury and dropped into Tescos to use their loo. Having had no lunch, I crossed the corner and took refuge in Pizza Hut, trying not to drip too much on the table. My hair was soaked, my t-shirt was streak-soaked where the rain got inside my jacket collar, my jeans were soaked all down the front and my shoes and socks were soaked. But apart from that… My Pizza was very welcome. I may not have been much dryer when I left but I was much happier.

Outside it had practically but not totally stopped raining. I made it to the bus stop, finishing as I started by just missing a 23 bus. Apart from one slow section of pre-rush hour crawling that made Hyde Road look user-friendly there was nothing to write about on the bus home, by which time dry clothes and a hot coffee were my best friends. Six down, two to go.

A Manchester Metro Expedition: The Ashton Line


Ashton

There’s a change of procedure today, to comply with a change of priorities.

As some of you will remember, today is the Anniversary of my Dad’s death, fifty-two years ago, when I was fourteen. With the exception of the two years I lived in Nottingham, and was unavailable, I have visited Dukinfield Crematorium every year since. Today will mark my 50th visit.

Today’s Expedition will see me travelling on the Ashton Line, officially the East Manchester Line. Dukinfield is a townlet up the hill from Ashton-under-Lyne, on the way to Hyde. It’s not out of the question to do my usual there-and-back routine, with a there-and-back on the bus in between, but I have more important things on which to focus today and no patience for that kind of faffing around.

So I will get to the Crematorium the way I usually go, by bus (the 330) from Stockport, crossing beneath Werneth Low and enjoying the wide views, throiugh Hyde and getting off at Dukinfield Town Hall for the uphill walk that gets steeper and longer every year. Then down again for the bus into Ashton and, in due course, the East Manchester Line into Manchester for a wide, wide loop home.

It’s a milder day than of late, enough for me to put on a jacket, but there’s still a heaviness in the air that’s playing its part in my low-energy state. Just the walk to the bus stop has me wishing there was a seat there. On the way down Lancashire Hill, the electric noticeboard that usually alerts to roadworks and traffic jams is warning of thunderstorms today. Yes please, but not now.

It’s a long journey on the 330, with some widespread views along the way so this is one of the services on which I head upstairs. It’s even more stuffy, so I slip my jacket off, and carry it around all the rest of the day. It was an uneventful journey apart from the suicide pigeon we clumped over before leaving Stockport, so uneventful that we passed nine stops before we had to let a passenger off and twelve before one got on, by which time we were in Woodley.

Beyond that we started to climb, along the fringes of Werneth Low Country Park, lovely open countryside. Views start to open up on the left, across Hyde to the hills beyond Ashton, marking the Saddleworth Valley, that I will see at much closer range from the Crematorium.

When I got off outside Dukinfield Town Hall, I was just as slow-moving as before and wishing the road up the hill wasn’t so long or so high, but once through the gates I forget such things. Though the inscription Mam chose for Dad for the Book of Remembrance celebrates him as the devoted family man he was, I cannot come here without thinking of the one chosen for Dad’s elder brother: I shall lift up mine eyes to the hills. So simple yet so perfect for both. I lift up mine eyes to the hills as I walk to the Plot.

Occasions such as this develop their own rituals. Mine is to clear my head of all thoughts about the day and what it means until I reach Dad’s plot. There I just say whatever comes into my head. Afterwards, I enter the Chapel of Remembrance but can’t stay more than a few minutes before my eyes start to fill. I am now older than my mother and more than half as old again as my father. It feels so wrong that I have had so much and he so little.

I was so dry by now that, walking back down the hill, I bought not only a diet coke but a water to refill my water bottle. Thankfully, there was a seat at the stop for the bus down into Ashton because I had to wait nearly ten minutes for a ride.

I let the bus take me all the way into the Bus Station where there was a Sandwich Pound, like the one I used to get lunch from in Stockport when working at Sky. Refreshed and surprisingly re-energised, if not for all that long, I headed for the Town Centre through the Arcades Mall. There was an impressive YMCA charity shop just inside, and another within two hundred yards, with a stunning offer to mix DVDs, CDs and Books at six for £1. It was too good not to take advantage of but I could only find two I wanted, and none I was interested in trying out. It turned out the offer was ‘up to 6 items’ so I bought them.

Once I emerged into the open it had started raining. One young woman from an outdoor cafe was dancing and singing about it but it was only the fine, powdery rain that takes ten minutes to get you wet. Then I spotted yet another CEX, where I was able to find the Borgen Trilogy boxset for only £3. And I highly recommended the Person of Interest box set to the pair behind the counter.

Of all the destinations on the Metrolink Network, Ashton is by far the one with which I am most familiar. I have been coming here, on and off for sixty years or so. As often as Mam would take me out shopping in Manchester, we would catch the 218 or 219 the other way, up the Old Road to Ashton. It was standing at a bus stop on Stamford Street to come home that she first realised I was short-sighted’ “This one is our bus,” she said, and I looked at her in surprise and said, “You mean you can see the number that far away?” She was shocked that I couldn’t, and within a week I was having my eyes tested.

And Dad used to work here too. He’d started out as a draughtsman but I’m not sure of his then-role at a company called Industrial Models Ltd, whose premises were on a narrow street parallel to Stamford Street, the main road through Ashton, but what I remember as being fifty feet or more lower. After he’d got his first car, if we were late enough leaving, Mam would take me down there and I’d look around in wonder at what my Dad did, and the cheerful, noisy men he worked with, and he’d drive us home if it wasn’t one of the nights he did overtime and got home so late that I was already in bed and didn’t get to see him.

I remember Mam saying once, after his death, that he’d built up a division within the firm, called Industrial Mimics & Electronics, very successfully, and then they’d taken it off him, devastatingly.

Not long after we moved from East Manchester to South Manchester, the firm moved premises, to Oldham, a longer drive for him and a more stressful one, having tp drive across the moors: one extra-snowy day he was back home about 10.00am, the moors impassable, cars getting stuck and he’d eventually managed to get the car turned round and come back. He hadn’t agreed with the decision, which was apparently made on the basis that the Oldham premises had great offices when, as far as Dad was concerned, offices were secondary to the factory facilities.

I have other memories of Ashton, of things and places and streets long since vanished, demolished and destroyed. If we came into Ashton for a couple of hours from a Saturday afternoon in Droylsden, we would always go round the Market, up and down and side to side between the stalls. There was a record stall that consisted on 7″ singles scattered higgledy-piggeldy in heaps, with no thought for scratches. Late one Saturday afternoon, my mother let me linger there despite being eager to get back for a warming cup of tea. She asked me if there was any record in particular that I was after, so I mentioned my then favourite song, a complete flop the previous year, Thunderclap Newman’s ‘The Reason’ (which I thought was titled ‘There’s a Reason’, from its lyrics.) So she went up the other end of the stall and came back about three minutes later, holding a single in the wrong record label’s sleeve and asked, “Is this the one?” and bloody hell it was! It’s the only copy of the single I’ve ever seen and I have it still.

But Ashton Market has other connotations of which I wasn’t aware but which I’m sure my parents knew, because this had been a favourite place of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley’s, from where they had taken at least two of their child victims. The age I was meant that I was a couple of years younger than their youngest abductees, but I doubt that my parents made that kind of distinction and, by the time they were tried and convicted I would have been very much in the frame.

What Ashton reminds me of most strongly is long gone, like my football boots. I used to get football boots for school here, insisting stubbornly on proper old-fashioned toecaps. Two pair lasted me two years each, the third one year, and we’d had to try every sports shop in the town, not to mention a lot of my mother’s patience, never infinite, to get toecapped boots that time. A year later they were consigned to the sportsbag of history and bloody good riddance to them. I was very uncertain of my new boots, at first. But where, in five years of my previous boots, I had scored a grand total of four goals, two of them flukes, with my modern pair I scored 33 goals in 32 games.

All of which means that the old Ashton is still much more familiar to me than the new one, despite forty years of coming here since those days. The new Outdoor Market mayb be better built but it’s only a quarter occupied and it was far too stuffy inside the Indoor Market for more than a cursory walk round.

Before I gave up and headed for the Metro, I strolled across to Stamford Street, to see what it looks like today. This took me past silent side streets that used to be thronged with shops but which now offer only closed shutters. The story of Tory England. There used to be a decent comics shop here, but the Arcade of which it was part is now for private businesses only.

I arrived at the Metrolink terminus as a MetroCity tram was sliding in and secured my favourite seat. I’ve ridden this service ponce before, from the first station stop, Ashton West, when FC United of Manchester were sharing Curzon Ashton’s ground and I came out of an evening game in the run-up to promotion at risk of missing the last 330 back to Stockport, and played it safe by going the long way round I’m doing today.

After leaving the streets and the cars, the tram picks up speed alongside sprawling trading Estates with acres of car parking space. Ahead lies Ashton Moss. Once this was a long buffer between Ashton and East Manchester, and even now there’s still lots of space, but you can see which way development is trending, insofar as there is still any development in the current economic climate. We can make good time all along here until The Snipe, where the Manchester-bound road did and does divide into Ashton Old Road and Ashton New Road. The Mtero goes with the latter, and has to slow down a fair bit because its tracks run down the centre of the road, dividing the traffic.

That’s as far as Droylsden, which was where Phase 1 of this line initially terminated, and after that we pull over into the left hand lane which we share with the road traffic. This is very much old home country for me, with my grandparents living here until 1982 and all my visits to play Squash at Carriages disco and squash club, and to watch Droylsden play. The names of the stations resonate: Cemetery Road, Edge Lane, the latter with its little parade of shops and my vivid memory the comics I bought in the newsagents, fifty two years and two days ago.

At Clayton Hall, reminding me of the infamous Clayton Anilene that had you hilding your breath driving down this section, tyhe tram swings away from the main road preparatory to crossing it and passing beside the Bitters’ stadium. I would prefer not to look at it, but even with my head turned, my peripheral vision still worked too well. But then the line descends, thrugh a tunnel, and then along deep channels where little can be seen and all sense of place on the surface was lost. Holt Town and New Islington mean mothing to me, just stops on the way into Piccadilly Station from the back.

From nowhere another memory jumped out. Early in our marriage we had some documents to sign which meant a joint trip to offices somewhere out along the Altrincham line. I had to take half a day off work to make it. The plan was to meet there. I got into Piccadilly on the train from Bolrton, she and her kids would catch the train from the local station. I came down the stairs to the Metro platform to find a tram boarding. The people boarding it at that very moment were my wife and her kids. These were the days when even an unexpected extra ten minutes in each other’s company was sheer delight.

The rest of it was the bus back down Hyde Road, which ran smoothly because I was ahead of the rush hour. I was stuck at the back, in a corner opposite a three year old girl and someone who I first thought must be her fourteen year old sister but, given just how big a tattoo she had on her right arm, was clearly her mother instead. Certainly she was concerned that the little girl, who was wearing a dress, kept half sitting on her seat, legs akimbo, and exposing her knickers, continually telling her to sit straight or pull her dress down, whilst I had to focus my eyeline at a level high enough not to see anything.

That’s now five lines explored, even if this week’s was only one-way. I’ll be doing the samev next Monday, though for a different reason.

A Manchester Metro Expedition: The Rochdale Line


Rochdale

After the Eccles Line was completed, Manchester’s Metrolink went on to its most ambitious and far-reaching expansion, phase 3. This was divided into two stages, both dealing with the simultaneous construction of three additional lines. The ultimate destinations of those three lines were Rochdale, Ashton-under-Lyne and East Didsbury (and the last of these was intended to be the basis for an extension ultimately to Stockport).

Stage 1 took the three lines initially to Oldham, Droylsden and St Werburgh’s Road in Chorlton (an address I have always had my doubts about given that the Satanist’s primary festival, Walpurgisnacht, draws its name from St Walburga…) The completion of these sections them formed the basis for the current lines.

Try as I might, I can’t find out online the order in which the three lines were completed, either in Stage 1 or Stage 2, so I’ve had to take other factors into consideration when deciding which to take first, in this case Rochdale.

The far north-east of Greater Manchester is not an area I know well. My experience of Rochdale is limited. Attendance at the County Court a couple of times, no more. Two visits to Spotlands, Rochdale FC’s home, for widely-separated FA Cup First Round ties, supporting different non-League teams, both won. And a couple of months going out with a psychiatric nurse (our last date was a New Year’s Eve Party. The next day, I took the coward’s option and wrote to her, explaining that it wasn’t working out and that we should stop seeing each other. Two days later, the day my letter would have been delivered, I received a letter from her, explaining that it wasn’t working out and that we should stop seeing each other. It made me feel a bit better.)

I’m watching a very cheap DVD boxset on eBay that doesn’t finish until 12.40pm so I can’t leave before then, but I get myself ready to go immediately (yes, I won it: the Complete Blackadder remastered for £1.99).

A 203 goes past the end of my road as I walk down it (I swear I am going to save that senytence into a Word Document so that I can just copy-and-paste ever after). I’d taken the gamble of coming out in jeans and a t-shirt and from the way I started burning up waiting at the stop, it seemed I’d done the right thing. Two stops away, the bus sits and waits. That’s only the 4th stop out of the Town Centre but the drivers always take a five minute break there, against the strictures of the journey. When it eventually condescends to collect me, it’s slow going all the way down Reddish Road. The traffic is busy and every stop sees the bus trapped and unable to pull out for traffic sliding past us.

On the other hand, we fairly fly down Hyde Road and I’m at Piccadilly Gardens for 1,40pm. There’sa scrawling message that services on the East Didsbury – Rochdale Line are liable to delay due to a fault. Checking on the possible impact of this, reveals an absence of planning on my part: that line doesn’t go through Picadilly Gardens at all!

I could walk down Market Street but it’s hot so I hop on an Altrincham tram as far as St Peter’s Square, change platforms and get the Rochdale tram there, also relieving myself of the need for a separate, small Expedition to cover the short stretch through Exchange Square. It may not be as hot as Bury three weeks ago, but the ladies have responded in like manner.

Leaving Victoria, we follow the Bury Line route until diverting off to the right, on a gentle gradient, heading initially for Monsall. I don’t know this quadrant of Greater Manchester at all well, except to drive through to somewhere else, and North Manchester has always been considered a sort of backwards cousin to South Manchester (but as I’ve lived in South Manchester since the end of 1966, I may be showing a degree of prejudice here). On the other hand, I am seriously impressed by the fantastic flyover canopies that distinguish Central Park Station (wherever that is in real life).

The further we travel, the more I enjoy the ride. There are a lot of woodlands from when this was a rail line, whilst clearer spaces introduce old mills and factories, and the backs of terraced streets. We descend into South Chadderton Station, after which we continue at a lower level.

On the approach to Oldham, the line goes through a loop that sees us bend left and return right to straighten out, which was unexpected because on the Metrolink map, it’s represented as doubling the opposite direction. There are three stops in Oldham. I know that only a little more than Rochdale, mostly for visits over many years to the excellent Oldham Colisseum Theatre. These Expeditions are primarily about travelling the entire Metrolink Network, but I will come here and look round once they’re done.

Beyond Oldham we really sail out into open country for most of the rest of the way. The Pennines rear on the near horizon, the M62 into Yorkshire, one of the biggest holes through which the bloody Tykes get into Lancashire. There are old stone cottages mingling with looks-like-stone-but-is-brick housing estates.

We pass through Milnrow, which was the first place I ever visited in Richdale. In the Drought Summer of 1976 I did some summer work for the now-defunct GMC, supporting a massive survey on traffic numbers into and out of the County. Mostly we were making maps/directions for the surveyors but they weren’t quite geared up so, on my first day, two of us were sent on the bus to stand beside a Motorway Junction in Milnrow and count cars coming off.

By the time we reach Rochdale Town Centre, I am ready to stand up, drink and eat in that order. We crawl downhill to the terminus at what I later learn is known as Town Hall Square. Much refurbishment is going on and large areas are blocked off by high hoardings. I’m about to say that I don’t recognise a thing, when I suddenly spot the very place my Rochdale girlfriend asked me to meet her on our second date (at the end of which she let me drive her home so I knew where she lived and invited me in for a coffee that went stone cold because we started snogging instead, which happened every time I took her home, at first: things went well to begin with).

What I can see of the Town Centre looks like it’s a good place to wander round. The River Roch, which runs underneath her, has been exposed to view to an even greater extent than the Mersey in Stockport. There’s a splendid Memprial Gardens with a small amusement park and an impressive monument to the War Dead of the Town, plus it’s Market Day, but there’s bugger all shops selling things like food and drink, or pretty much of anything else. A Town Map shows me that I’m heading in the wrong direction if I want that sort of thing. It also tells me that I’ve missed the Gracie Fields statue, which is a shame because I’m going to have to walk back pass it and notice it (actually, I’m in luck: it’s behind hoardings and I can only just see the head).

I ewalk through the Market coming back. it’s compact and bijou and busy but it’s quite clearly a serious market, all clothes and cloth, bags and handbags and housegold products: no fun stalls. By now I need a loo so I reluctantly enter a Wetherspoons. Inside it’s cool, but the bar staff are a ramshackle bunch, the service is ultra slow and I lose all faith that they’re aware I’m there and won’t start serving the people who’ve come up behind me, so I deposit rather than consume and go elsewhere.

The Riverside Centre seems to be the next best bet. It backs onto the Metrolink Station but doesn’t seem keen on you getting in. Another long walk later, I plumb its secret depths. There are still no ‘fun’ shops, books, music or a local CEX but there is a Gregg’s from which I can finally slake my hunger and thirst.

What else there may be to find in Rochdale, further afield, I don’t know. It has not filled me with enthusiasm to roam further. Besides, I need to be home by a certain time for another eBay item being offered astonishingly cheap (I am outbid on this but really the winner still gets it ridiculously cheap considering that the next cheapest signed copy is four times dearer: I settle for an unsigned copy cheaper than my failed bid) so there’s no point in delaying when I’m not really enjoying myself all that much. Another time.

Besides, the vast majority of the girls in very abbreviated and tight shorts are so young that I feel embarrassed just noticing them in my peripheral vision.

Return journeys are unimportance squared unless you get a disaster like my Bury Expedition. I came, I saw, I made rough notes. Been there, done that, already had a t-shirt on.

The homeward run is uneventful. I got off at Exchange Square and walked up Market Street, re-re-re-re-re-awakening my visceral loathing of crowds. I just miss a 203 at its stop but for once this is no bad thing, because I suddenly realise I’ve forgotten to tap out my Concessionary Card when I left the tram, leaving me open to a £100 fine, and have to hitch over to Piccadilly Gardens and do it there.

The bus ride is untroubled to, until we hit an horrendous crawling queue about a mile and a half from my stop, the cause of which I never get to see. When i say crawl, I mean I could have walked it faster. Actually, I get off one stop early and whilst I can’t claim to beat the bus to my stop, it was neck-and-neck until the last five yards.

Four lines done, four more to do. Next Monday will be a bit different.

A Manchester Metro Expedition: The Media City Line


Lowry Centre

Properly speaking, this should be a journey on the Eccles Line, that having been the next line to be added to the Manchester Metrolink Network, but as we now know the Eccles bit of the line is closed for improvements until October. That makes for a short outing today, and a familiar one, as the trams do not go further than Media City, the BBC’s home in the North, for the duration. Nevertheless, apart from Media City itself, there are the Lowry Centre, the Lowry Outlook (formerly Mall) and the Imperial War Museum North all in the immediate vicinity, so I don’t think I’ll be short of things to do.

A shorter trip out it may be but I prepare to set off earlier than usual. Partly this is because I want to stop off part way and leave a repeat prescription at the Doctor’s but mostly it’s because it’s a nice day, blue and white, the Council are mowing all the verges and strips again and I can smell cut grass as if it had been sprayed on.

Needless to say, I miss a bus walking down the street, leaving me to stand under a burning sun, not that this is anything like as bad as the Bury Line trip. It’s as if the sun is putting on a show to celebrate England winning the European Championships yesterday: I did love long enough to see it happen again.

At this time of day, the buses are every fifteen minutes, giving me time to stroll to the surgery and back and get time to sit down waiting for the next service. And stroll it is: I am very slow-movng today, lethargic and deliberate. It’s the same old crank out down Hyde Road, with plenty of stops nowhere and for nothing, and no, I’m not getting used to this by now.

To my surpriseand delight, a Media City tram arrives at Piccadilly Gardens the moment I do, but I;m not quick enough to snah a seat facing the way we’re going. As far as Cornbrook, it’s the same route as last week. I keep my eyes open for the chance to switch seats but that never comes.

There’s a twenty-something girl sat diagonally across from me, short dyed-blonde hair, dark roots, a nose ring on one nostril. She catches my eye beause she looks familiar, as if she resembles someone from film or TV, but I have no idea who. (I wondered for a moment if she might have been Analeigh Tipton, who played a cameo role in an episode of The Big Bang Theory I recently saw and it could well be). At the time, it just seemed like another of those instances I’ve been having for years: I mean, I’m getting on for 67, and I’m seen thousands of people throughout my life that it’s a wonder more of them don’t resemble peoplei used to know.

Except for the final stretch of track from Harbour City to Media City, this is the secition of the Network that I’m most familiar with for all sorts of reasons: visits to the Lowry Centre to see people like Shawn Colvin, Warren Zevon and Rhod Gilbert, unsuccessful job interviews, my then wife’s Graduation from Salford University and one night when I arrived at midnight Friday and sat outside the Lowry till 3.00am, but that’s a secret. Salford Quays is still a very strange place, looking nothing like a part of Manchester, or even Salford, at all. Office blocks of glass and either yellow-beige or red brick, narrow canyons through which the tram weaves slowly, apartment blocks of advanced design, built for yuppies in the days before we knew what yuppies were, old dockbays filled with glittering water far cleaner than was imaginable when this was Salford Docks, the end of the Manchester Ship Canal. It may now be thirty years or more old but it still looks like something delivered on an interstellarcraft and dropped down here to test the intelligence of the natives. I think we’re losing.

Media City lies off to one side of the Lowry Centre. It’s cdominated by the BBC but ITV have premises here, as do Salford University. Under the sun and surrounded by sparkle it’s busy and post booths and stalls offer over-expensive varieties of food and drink. I wander about a bit, see a nice redhead in a short skirt sat in a deckchair who buoys my spirits. But the twin demands of my bladder and my belly restrict the amount of time I can spend here, so I drift off towards the Lowry, and opt for Pizza Express. Their menu is a bit pricey and they don’t even do Deep Pan but on the other hand I can have Diet Coke, not Diet Pepsi, so swings and roundabouts.

The Lowry Mall, as it originally was, has moved on et again, from Lowry Outlook to Quayside. It offers little of interest – the only shop I enters is The Works – so I walk very slowly across the first of two wide and modern suspension bridges to the Imperial War Museum North. I’ve been here only once before, in the mid-2000s, when my then elder-stepson had a project to do for MGS and we came down here on Sunday morning. It was an intense and moving experience, and it is again. This time, however, it’s exacerbated by my wearing a facemask for the first time in almost twelve months. It’s stifling, and my escaping breath steams my glasses, making it hard to read the labels.

In fact, on my own, it’s too much for me and I barely last fifteen minutes before I have to get out. We did this. We did all of this. All those people, killed, slaughtered. And we still haven’t started doing any better. It’s too much for me.

Outside, in the air, I start to feel better, though not to move any faster. I head back across another bridge that brings me out between the two main BBC buildings, Blue Peter mega-badges everywhere. Across the square I can see an Ashton-via-Piccadilly tram in the station. Despite my complete absence of alacrity, I catch it and get a forward-facing seat. And I get straight onto a 203 back at Piccadilly.

Neither journey, tram or bus, is much fun. It’s stuffy inside and everything that halts us rubs my nerves up the wrong way. But at last I’m home. This was the least enjoyable trip on the Network to date, and I know that one of those yet to come is going to be even worse, but I shalln’t be taking that route for a few weeks yet. Time to recover before then.

A Manchester Metro Expedition: The Altrincham Line


Alty

The contrast to last Monday could only be more pointed if it were actually raining. It has already and any experienced watcher of the Manchester skies would be dismally certain that it will do again, but for now there’s merely a cloud-filled sky instead of the bright blue, cold air instead of hot and the complete absence of any weather conditions suggesting that this might still be July.

When the first Metrolink line was opened, thirty years ago, there was a single line split into two parts: Bury to Altrincham, with Piccadilly Station in the middle. Not all trams went into the Station, some went straight through, bypassing even Piccadilly Gardens. I know Altrincham better than Bury, again for professional reasons. I practiced Law with two firms there for just over five years, my first serious relationship was with a woman who lived in Hale, but less than ten minutes from Altrincham Station and, when I first started going to see Manchester United at Old Trafford, it was taking her daughter, for which we used the trainline that was taken over and adapted into the Metro line.

So the point of today is that I am heading for territory I know very well. Or that I used to. I haven’t worked in Altrincham for over thirty years. What’s changed?

By the time I actually set out, it is raining, and giving it a good go as well. My trousers are soaked from the thighs down before I’m halfway down the street.

The Chinese say that a journey of a thousand miles begins with but a single step. They’re talking about patience and persistence, but when that first step is always the 203 bus, desperation enters the picture as well. Nevertheless, I don’t wait long, though the driver does. Once we get onto Hyde Road he’s forever stopping at stops where no-one wants to get on or off, not even a replacement driver once we’re opposite the Bus Garage. Whilst we dawdle, my trousers get busy on being very clammy on me. I might have to take a bath again this evening, if not for quite the same reason.

This is not a day for shorts, short skirts or braless tops. Indeed, it’s not for many travellers at all. The first short skirt I see all day is from the bus, just leaving Town coming home, and it is short, with a distinct inch of underbuttock peeking out under the hemline. Since the girl was no older than fifteen at the most, I averted my eyes.

By the time we reach Hyde Road, the rain has stopped, which is where the driver starts following suit. It’s very frustrating because I never feel like these Expeditions have properly begun until I’m on the Metro or the train. And I’m not just paranoid – though obviously I am – but on the approach to Piccadilly Gardens an Altrincham tram crosses our path, black cat fashion, but by the time I get to the platform it’s pulled out, and that’s seven minutes to the next one.

The wait’s not too bad but it’s cold enough, and I’m still damp enough, to welcome the Tram when it arrives. We slide slowly down towards St Peter’s Square, where Central Ref (the Main Library) stands, reminding me that I need to start booking more sessions to read Spare Ribs in the Daily Express, this time on the reels from which you can photocopy. After that, the tram takes to rooftop level as we pass between the Bridgewater Hall and the Manchester Conference Centre that I at least will always still think of as the G-Mex Centre.

I’m pretty familiar with the stretch to Cornbrook, where the Eccles line diverts across the Ship Canal into Salford Quays, though that’s down to visits to the Lowry Centre. The canal zone is all little basins and cool original bridges linking towpaths. It’s something of a student zone, or it was when my then wife was studying at Salford University and I had to keep coming out to fetch her from various ‘in’ clubs. I’ve always wanted to wander round there, maybe take a few pictures, not get chucked into the canal…

After Cornbrook, we descend to street level for the rest of the journey. The first two stations are Trafford Bar, which used to be Old Trafford despite not being the train stop for either the cricket or the football ground, and Old Trafford, which used to be, and as far as I’m concerned always will be, the famous Warwick Road station. Pulling in here and looking over to see the Ladies Stand Scoreboard and what was the score. Or getting off at or just going through the vanished underpass to get to one Old Trafford or the other and, on one memorable occasion, both, breaking a day’s cricket to see the first home game of the season before returning to finish off the sunshine day in front of the now much-overshadowed Pavillion. The ground’s re-development is horrible and unsympathetic.

Some stations from here to Altrincham have mixed memories for me. I think it was Stretford where, after breaking up with me for the third or fourth time, my first (reciprocated) love arranged to meet a mate of mine I’d introduced her to, when this was still a rail line. I hated the very idea and never went in that pub again, not even after she told me he’d blown it by not turning up: he’d forgotten all about it! It was unworthy of me but I couldn’t repress my (internal) glee.

On the other hand, Timperley was where Veronica lived. Veronica was the least serious of my longer relationships, ten years older than me but still very attractive. And I’m still ashamed of how I let that peter out in the end without telling her it was over in any way at all.

There’s a delay just before we get to Navigation Road, the penultimate stop. This is to let a Bury-bound tram get through the single track section but they don’t say anything to explain why we’re just sitting here, like piffy on a rock bun as my parents used to say.

Like Bury, Altrincham terminus is an Interchange: I exit through the Bus Station. I haven’t been to Altrincham for any length of time for years but reorienting myself to the streets is near instantaneous. What lines them now is another matter. Greggs supplies me with food (tuna crunch baguette) and drink then I stroll around a bit. The Virgin Store of which I can remember a few purchases and an argument over who could have the last copy of Nat ‘King’ Cole’s ‘When I Fall In Love’ on a CD single has long gone, but there’s a Waterstones now and though my trousers have more or less dried, it’s definitely cold outside and warm in there.

It’s ages since I’ve spent real time in a bookshop. I used to do it every Friday night, after a week’s work at my hated North Manchester firm, wandering around for at least an hour before my Friday night Pizza. For a long time now I buy my books online, so I only buy what I specifically choose, but I still love the atmosphere of a bookshop: the calmness, the warmth, the evidently civilised air. I miss the serendipity of books, of finding what you didn’t know existed but definitely wanted. Not that this happens here but the reminder is very welcome.

Virtually opposite was Altrincham’s version of CEX from where, yes, again, I emerged with three really cheap DVDs.

I don’t have the same degree of detestation for my Altrincham firm as I do for the North Manchester one I went to next, thinking I was escaping a dire situation (I was, but only by getting into an even direr one) so I have no problem about strolling up to their offices. On the way, I note sadly but unsurprisedly that the good bookshop has gone. I remember the intense shock of seeing R A Laffery’s Serpent’s Egg in its window, one lunchtime returning to work. And I remember seeing another new book there, going back in and mentioning to the Senior Partner that the new Kafka was out – and it was a cookbook! A joke that fell completely flat as he looked at me in total incoimprehension. He had never heard of Franz Kafka (the cookbook, incidentally, was by Barbara K).

The name’s still the same as when I left in 1991, which is amazing, though they’ve side-stepped offices to larger premises next door, with a more old-fashioned and ornate frontage. I didn’t visit.

On another street, the decent Secondhand Bookshop is still there but when I get up to it I can see it only opens Thursday to Friday so. From there though I can see a corner that holds too many memories for me to walk the short distance to it. When Mary and I first got together, our relationship was a complete secret from everyone else in our office. If we wanted to spend some time together at lunch, which we so often did, we would leave separately and by separate ways walk to that corner, and from there to the secluded little park the other side of Chester Road where we could have fifteen minutes cuddling.

I would always be first to the corner, hiding round it, walking in a little circle, and darting glances round it to see if she had begun that long, straight walk that brought her to me. I can see her even now. Long after, I wondered if the sheer frequency of our rendezvouses might have laid a psychic imprint on that place, so that the ghosts of us still meet at ten past one on a weekday afternoon to enjoy the most wonderful three-quarter hour of our working day.

That’s it for me. It’s even sunny when I get back to the station and I jump straight onto a waiting Tram, though the driver doesn’t for another five minutes. The only comment to make about the return trip is that there were no comments to make, until we’re passing the Conference Centre where a Degree Ceremony has clearly been taking place and the forecourt is chock-a-bloc with gowns and boards and faculty colours and justifiably massive grins.

So, Piccadilly Gardens again. A 203 pulls up just before me to disembark its load, giving me enough time to walk round the corner to its departure stop. I’m ahead of the rush hour but nobody’s told the half a hundred people queuing, that is if the Q word can really be applied to an amorphous mass that’s so loosely staggered that I get on with less than a dozen people ahead of me. At the other end, it’s trying to ran again but too fitfully to be registered as rain, so I am spared a fearful symmetry for my Expedition. Coffee is, as always, very welcome.