Pale, Male, Stale: The Old Tired Trope

I’m getting sick of it. Old white male who has sprent thirty years doing a job reaches pensionable age and is pensioned off. Not because it might be welcome to have a change after thirty years, not because it might just be that his attitudes and approaches have gotten into a bit of a rut, after thirty years, and maybe just a bit out of touch with now instead of 1992. No. It;s because he’s a white male, and it’s all down to ‘Woke’, whivh he promptly demonstrates he doesn’t understand.

The latest of this self-obsessed ilk is former Liverpool footballer and BBC pundit Mark Lawrenson, aged 65. I’ll be frank, I never had much time for Lawrenson. His schitck was pessimism, coupled with sarcastic humour that I never found funny. His being a Liverpool player didn’t stand him in good stead with me, and he was a notorious laugh for the years when he used to predict the Premier League re4sults on the BBC website and never, not once, no matter how poor their form, did he ever predict a Liverpool defeat.

So thirty years was a good run for someone with a fairly limited range of opinions, and the BBC didn’t exactly commit any capital crimes in pushing him out at the end of lsst seasion, especially when this was being coupled with a new format for Football Focus.

And with weary predictability, Lawrenson produces the tired trope, in fact he makes a tryptich out of it. Firstly, he’s been gotten rid of because he’s a ‘White Male’, and everyone knows there has never been a time in the history of the world when anyone was more badly persecuted than white males. Secondly, he condescends to and patronises the new Focus presenter, former footballer Alex Scott. I mean, she’s neither White nor Male and therefore has been given her job for totally illegitimate reasons. Of course, he does speak ‘in fairness’, to say that she’s ‘a lovely girl’ and is ‘still learning’, no, Lawro’s not prejudiced (but everybody else is. Against him).

And thirdly it’s all down to ‘Woke’. Woke, in the mouths of those who feel that their former hegemony, their right to exclusively dictate who and what should prevail, is an elastic buzzword meaning whatever they weant it to mean. It’s actual meaning, of senstivity to racial prejudice and intolerance can go hang. Lawrenson proves he has no idea what he’s talking about by coming up with a ‘woke’ moment from the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death whe Gary Lineker was told not to use the word ‘wall’ when describing a defensive formation. Sensitivity to an exorbitant degree, I’d go with, or just plain stupidity, but ‘Woke’? Go away and fucking read until you understand what you’re saying, you stupid ****.

I don’t like the epithet ‘Pale, Male and Stale’, which is increasingly freqently being used to castigate a culture based on the tradition of Western Culture. It’s offensivem and deliberately so, for all that it carries with it a strain of truth. But it fits Mark Lawrenson and his band of pompous brothers to a T.

A long time

When I was at my Primary School, I copied out a complete list of the Monarchs of England into one of my exercise books. At the end, I had something like eight to ten blank lines at the bottom of a page. I took the book to my teacher, asking her if I should keep it to fill in more of them. She laughed at me, not unkindly.

At long last, if I still had that exercise book, it would be time to add in the next line.

A Manchester Metrolink Expedition: The Trafford Centre Line


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


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


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


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.

And again: Lamont Dozier R.I.P.

For the second time today, and it’s not yet 10.00am, I’m learning of the passing of a genius. This time it’s Motown songwriter and singer Lamont Dozier, the middle name in the classic Holland Dozier Holland songwriting team whose name was in itself a guarantee of quality and class. I’m going to link to the Guardian‘s own tribute, six of the best songs Dozier was part of writing, complete with YouTube links, which better tells you about Lamont Dozier than I can.

Dozier’s solo career didn’t bring him the same degree of success, though it should. The clip belows shows that he lost none of his talent, and was a pretty damn good singer himself. I loved this song in 1973, even though it was totally outside my wheelhouse. It goes to show how good Lamont Dozier was. Stay cool man, and write something with snap and smarts and good words for the Holy Choir. Though they won’t be able to match The Four Tops.

Gone to the Snow: Raymond Briggs R.I.P.


It’s getting to be like 2016 again. Every day we hear that some whose life and work should be celebrated has passed into that untravelled bourne. Judith Durham, Olivia Newton-John, Darryl Hunt and now, to breal the sequence of musicians, the illustrator and writer Raymond Briggs. He was 88.

Raymond Briggs was responsible for many iconic things. There was The Snowman, immortaliaed in an animated film that softened Briggs’ characteristic sombre ending and which he hated at the time yet, like the rest of us, became reconciled to. There was Fungus the Bogeyman. There was Ethel and Ernest, a quiet, undemonstrative, undramatic story of the life and courtship of his parents that told a million stories in the form of one ordinary couple and which was sweet and sentimental in precisely real terms. There was my favourite of his books, criminally overlooked, The Tin Pot General and the Old Iron Woman, which savaged the Falklands War with lucid anger.

But above all there was When the Wind Blows, the story of two plain and simple pensioners, devoid of the imagination to fully understand the reality of nuclear war, who survive it, unaware of the sheer totality of the change it brought, and of their inevitable fading and death. It was astonishing. It still is. As long as we have Atomic weapons in this world, and madmen contemplate using them, this story will be relevant.

So, Raymond Briggs. You were, in your own way that no doubt would make you disclaim this, a genius, and we are further impoverished. What you leave us with makes you immortal.

I wish…

… I didn’t have to wait to learn about a beautiful song until the guy who wrote it has died. Darryl Hunt, bassist with The Pogues, aged 70, from their last album Pogue Mahone. If this were all he left behind him, his was a life worth living, but given everything his old mates said about him, there will be much muxh more to miss. May your God go with you.

Grease is no longer the word


I almost paused to reflect on the death of Judith Durham such a short time ago, but now it’s been followed by her fellow Australian singer, Olivia Newton-John, news I have only discovered a few minutes ago.

Truth to tell, I enjoyed Judith Durham’s music, or rather that of The Seekers, far more than I did Olivia Newton-John’s, or ‘Livvy’ as we used to call her. I certainly heard far more of Livvy’s singng than I did the Seekers, throughout most of the Seventies, and for the same reason that I heard most of the Progressive Music I endured at the same time, though this time from only one source.

I had a mate from school who lived just rund the corner from me. Our tastes in music weren’t all that similiar but he listened politely to my albums as I did to his. With me it was Lindisfarne, 10cc, The Moody Blues. With him it was ELP, Yes, Pink Floyd. And Livvy.

A lot of it was that he had one almighty crush on Livvy, and let’s be fair, tall, blonde, slim, long-legged, with a sweet face, she was eminent cr ush material. I never minded looking at pictures of her, or seeing her on Top of the Pops, and some of her Seventies’ album covers were absolutely gorgeous. Girl took a good photo, certainly.

Musically, in this era, I had no means of classifying what she sang. Country-influenced MOR, I’d say now, with a hefty slant to the MOR side of it. There was nothing wrong with it, I didn’t dislike it, the way I did Tales of Topographic Oceans, but, with the odd exception here and there, I didn’t like it. I accepted it as a necessary hazard of life, like the way my mother never stopped telling me to be careful crossing Kingsway, no matter how old I got.

You’d think that, given all his other tastes, my mate’s obsession with Livvy’s music must have been something of a come-on, but no such thing. He genuinely adored her music. ‘he was so reverent to it that, every time she brought out a new LP, he would carefully wipe it with an anti-static dust remover, touching the vynil by the edges of the disc only, lower the needle onto the run-in groove as gently as a falling leaf, and would record the album onto cassette. And never ever play the vynil again.

Our friendship more or less died in 1978 when I left to go live in Nottingham for two years. That didn’t get me away from Livvy, not at first, for 1978 was the year of Grease and a combined seventeen weeks at Number 1 for her singles with John Travolta. But long before I came back we had stopped talking to each other. So after that I got to hear less and less of Livvy, which I never regretted. A friend of mine once played me a VHS tape of the film Xanadu, in which she starred, and which I thought was one of the most crass, soul-destroying, lumpen and demeaning films I ever saw. My heart bled for Gene Kelly, reduced to playing in shit like that, and subjected to almost on-stop degradation. I hope to God the poor bastard got paid shedloads for having to go through that.

I don’t remember hearing anything else by Livvy after that, and that now means nearly forty years.

This is not precisely a remembrance of Olivia Newton-John and it’s certainly not a tribute to her. A photo of her in tank top, long-sleeved blouse, hot pants and knee length boots, from 1971 would be how I’d choose to remember her, because yes, she was absolutely gorgeous, but she and her music played a big part in my life for a long time, and I know Alan will be devastated tonight, for his were feelings that would never be eroded by time. Sorry news, mate. Raise a glass to her for me whilst you’re at it.