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.