A Manchester Expedition

Once upon a time, the idea of writing about a trip to Manchester City Centre, let alone calling it an Expedition, would have seemed ludicrous. But those were inncocent days, before the current pandemic shrank life down to doing everything necessary to prevent or minimise the spread of contagion.

Since then, I’ve only gone out to three places: work, a supermarket and the chemists. The recent re-opening of the launderette doesn’t alter that, they’re only two minuteswalk from Morrisons.

But lockdown is now easing. We’ve won, go back to normal, so what if there are still daily deaths and a second wave is next to inevitable? Now I don’t trust a word this so-called government says, and I never will, but I’m not immune, I am stir crazy, and with hands washed and facemask donned, I’m going to go out.

With typical irony I first set off in the opposite direction. I have an undelivered parcel, an external optical drive, to collect from the Sorting Office in Stockport. I tried to do that yesterday and got very wet for my pains. And the Sorting Office is currently only opening until 11.00 am, and I got there for 11.10am. I’m trying again because I’d like to put it to use this weekend, but it all depends on the connection in Stockport Bus Station.

Unlikely as it may seem, it’s timely.

There is a sicially distanced queue when I arrive but it’s less than half a dozen long and anyway, it’s not raining. They’re operating a One-Out, One-In policy and instead of waiting for your package to be produced from the back,you go round o the side door where it’s waiting for you on a trestle, so things go quickly.

Back to the main road. I want a 42 for Town and one turns up in less than fibe minutes. It’s all going swimmingly well: I get nervous.

The 42 takes me through parts of Manchester I used to be very familiar with but where I rarely go now, even in the freest of times. The route is an exercise in nostalgia and a reminder of how unfree life is without private transport.

Within a stop of getting on, I’m the only person on the bus, downstairs at least. No-one’s getting on or off and we just sail along, disturbed only by the automated voice reciting stops we pass by. Eventually, we stop in the middle of Didsbury Village to let the schedule catch up to us. A querulous bloke in a much-stretched Manchester City shirt complains about the timetables being “up the wall”: just how deeply has he been self-isolating these past three months and more.

Some memories on thi ride are more plesant than others. Some memories I don’t want to remember. We take another stop outside Christie Hospital, where they specialise in cancer.

Once we’re past Withington Village, the stops for travellers become more frequent. Joggers abound. The journey gets slower, stop-and-start, traffic lights perpetually red. We’re not quite at the University when the driver has to stop and count the passengers on board before allowing others to join us.

The nearer we get to Piccadilly Gardens, the slower the driver gets, playing for every red light. But there’s only a finite number of these and he can’t stop us from getting there eventually. No sooner do I alight than a man with an Irish accent and an air of still being drunk from the last time the pubs were open, shouts at me and anyone else within hearing that I/we can wear a hundred masks, a thousand masks, but he can still see us. Yerrsss.

I’ve three objectives in coming into Manchester today, aside from the novelty of course. The first of these crashes and burns almost immediately. I wanted to browse the Oldham Street Oxfam shop for cheap DVDs to supplement the dwindling Film 2020 collection. They’re open… but not until Monday.

Forbidden Planet is sixty seconds walk away on the other side of the street. They’re regulating entry on the same basis as the Post Office but here I’m only third and I’m soon inside.

I’m hoping/expecting to collect three comics and I come out with two, but one of them is a series I’d forgotten I was getting. The last one of the series…According to eBay after I get home, I was premature: the other two aren’t released until next week.

So let’s go see if Pizza Hut‘s open. It is indeed, but only for takeaways. There’s only a limited number of ingredients and when it comes to my two favourite Create-Your-Owns, there’s an ingredient missing from each one. I end up ordering a Sharing Hawaiian, to take home and heat up. It’s like Friday evenings twenty-five years ago, doing that.

So to home. I think I’ve just missed a 203 but I can’t tell through the facemask induced steam on my glasses. The dark clouds that have hung around all day, threatening yet more later, have separated and gone white in places and the sun through the gaps is surprisingly June-like. A not young but gently attractive lady with opaque tights and a foreign accents, asks me if she’s missed the 203?  If we have, one’s very close behind. She sits diagonally in front of me after starting on the other side of the aisle: in those innocent days I mentioned earlier, I might have tried to start a conversation with her (who’s kidding who? no, I wouldn’t. Probably not). She gets off in North Reddish.

One last task: I get off one stop early and go to check if my barber’s has any indication when it may be re-opening, but there’s none, nor any number from which I might book an appointment. I’m a good six to eight weeks past the last point I would have waited to have it cut, it’s longer than any time since the Seventies, and it’s bugging me seriously.

I’m back in before 2.00pm, and I heat up the pizza and Share it with myself. I haven’t had anything from Pizza Hut since the end of February so I’m entitled, ok?

Thus ends my Expedition: still not worthy of the name, especially when I’d originally have been intending to regale you with a Buttermere Expedition in a couple of week’s time, but we make the most of what we have.


A Manchester Expedition

I don’t usually categorise my monthly trips into Manchester City Centre as Expeditions but, in the current climate, they feel like the exception rather than the rule: I doubt I’ll be going further afield for some time. Buttermere in July or thereabouts might be over-optimistic.

There isn’t much to go out for anyway. I’m seldom there more than a couple of hours. It’s a for-once stress free ride in on the 203, whose driver was kind enough to wait at the stop for me as I struggled to ‘run’ with my right knee gypping me badly.

Town was still crowded but the crowds were much thinned out from the normal. My inexpert eye suggested maybe a third down, but I got to a cashpoint with no queuing, and I walked unhindered through the normal squash-points on Oldham street

There are usually three stops. There’s the big Oxfam Shop pn Oldham Street where I comb the second-hand DVDs, which are now 99p or two for £1.49. They had the complete Third Season of Breaking Bad which, for all its reputation, I have never seen. I wouldn’t (and won’t) start with Season 3 (right now I haven’t got the free time to start season 1), but for 99p it’s the basis to start a collection.

The main reason for my visit was going to Forbidden Planet. They had two of my regular order reserved for me, but I’d hoped to pick up the first issue of a new, 12-issue series by Tom King that appeared last week. Hoever, it’s sold out both at Planet and its nearer, newer rival, Travelling Light.

So I went acrss the road to Pizza Hut where I was seated immediately, though that proved nothing about the crowds or otherwise, because the times I go, it’s very rare I have to wait. A leisurely tuna and red onion pizza later, I set off back. Incidentally, for the first time in years, I was not offered a free salad bowl. Is this a sign of the times, or a slip by a young and sweet-faced server?

There was a disturbing and disgusting gathering in Piccadilly Gardens, some white thugs ‘exposing’ Muslim Grooming Predators. I bet they werebn’t saying anything about the far more prevalent White Grooming Predators, but then truth and reality have never played any part in racism. Bastards.

On the way home, I stopped off at the Gorton Tescos. I didn’t need much and i didn’t venture among the pasta and toilet rolls but i didn’t see any soigns of locusts stripping shelves where I shopped and I had to go almost all the way round the store.

Waiting at the bus stop outside, I noticed a group of children playing silly buggers at the traffic lights, on a busy four-lane traffic artery, with one boy, who can’t have been more than ten years old deliberately running across in front of traffic. It’s at times like that that some of the forgotten practices of the Fifties that we don’t usually endorse, because back then, half a dozen blokes and houeswives would have grabbed them, given them a swift belt round the ear and told them to bugger off hme before they got themselves killed.

Thirty seconds later, I’m gathering my bag when there’s a cry from two of the other people in the queue, blokes who would have been ear-belting when I was that age. The boy had come within two seconds of being knocked down and kill and I was not looking, which in its way is the best things that happened during this ‘Expedition’. I shalln’t be going out again until Sunday.

Yesterday and Today

Yesterday was one of those days. Before you spend too much time on what category of ‘those days’ it was, I am talking about when, long before it is over, you aware that the only thing you can do is just to get to its end. Yes, I am run down. I am still unable to shift the cold that I have been carrying since the week before Xmas, which has seen me off work twice and fretting about my Absence Record. And thanks to having had my Working Sunday, yesterday was also my ninth shift in ten days.

But it was also one of those days that offer no relief from the grind, from Openreach Engineers who don’t turn up when they should, to customers who demand you do things you’ve already told them are impossible to do, to Managers who are never there when their authority is needed, to systems that tell you what steps to take (and for once you agree with them) then refuse to allow you to raise that resolution, to senior technical experts who are not there to help you get round this.

All you can do is get to the end. And this was Wednesday, the day I get out at 7.00pm, not 9.00pm, when the supermarket is still open, and more importantly so is the chippy, and you eat and you try to relax, but the head doesn’t work, it can’t focus on anything for as much as ten minutes at a time, and you end up grinding through YouTube videos because they don’t last so long that you can’t last with them.

Until midnight, when, counter-intuitively, you then start to transfer e-mailed sequences into the current Working Draft, blending sequences into a continuous scene, writing brief bridges, until it’s 12.40 am, and when you turn out the light, your head won’t shut down, so you end up reading more from Ursula Le Guin’s Orsinian Tales (the expanded version of which, containing the novel, Malafrena, and all the later stories and songs, you bought off Amazon that night) until your brain twitches enough to suggest sleep.

A  Working Sunday is followed by Thursday off which, when there’s enough Availability, is followed by Friday Holiday. But I had plans for today.

First, a Doctor’s Appointment about this bloody cold/cough/sore throat/whatever it may mutate into next. The problem was that, on Tuesday they told me it was 10.40 but yesterday, the text confirmation was 11.40. I phoned as soon as I woke: 11.40.

That enabled me to watch this week’s The Flash. I’d acquired it last night, but after last week’s debacle I was reluctant to watch it. But it was better than last week, and for more reasons than the return of Corinne Behrer as Prank. Ms Behrer played Prank, the henchwoman to Mark Hammill’s Trickster, in the 1990 series, looking more than fine in her multi-coloured leotard, and twenty-seven years on she still looked hot to me, and wonderfully, gigglily kooky and homicidal: she can return whenever she wants.

But not enough time for Thursday’s episode of American Gothic, not yet. The big reveal: I watch and blog one week, but the post appears the next, making sure that I never have any scheduling issues. There will be no non-post next Thursday.

Because my Doctor’s lies on the 203 bus route which is, as I have previously mentioned, the most unreliable bus service in the whole of Greater Manchester. In my paranoia about lateness, I reached the surgery at 11.20. I planned to go on from there and had put Ursula Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven in my bag to read on the bus.

My Doctor is good, very good. He doesn’t abide by the ten minute appointment slot, but gives me the time I need. He does that with everybody. It’s been getting much better recently, but today was a reversion to old times: I finally got in to see him at 1.10, having finished The Lathe of Heaven. Of course it’s frustrating, but I’m not a hypocrite, I can’t begrudge other patients receiving the level of care I get, no matter how it inconveniences me.

What I got was; anti-biotics to shift the bloody cold; an increase in dosage for one of my diabetes medication, because my bloodsugar’s up a little bit; and ibuprofen gel for the erratic muscle pain I’ve been getting in the upper back ribs this past four weeks – on both sides!

The prescription is e-mailed to the Pharmacy next door. I follow it, but the new Pharmacist is due for an appointment with the Doctor himself, meaning he has to close up, meaning nowhere for me to hang around out of the rain. So I said I’d return, walked back to the main road and got the bus into Manchester for my monthly visit to Forbidden Planet.

Usually, I would do this on a Saturday, this coming Saturday, but I was feeling impatient to get at Doomsday Clock 3, before I learned to much about it, so I could rip it to shreds in a very-shortly forthcoming blog. And I had a third stop that would, in a back-handed way, be more convenient to make on the way back from Manchester.

Before Forbidden Planet, I slipped into both the big Oxfam shop and Vinyl Exchange. In the latter, I found a 7 disc DVD box set of Victoria Wood at the BBC: all of As Seen on TV, Acorn Antiques, Presents, Pat & Margaret, and stuff I’ve never seen, for £14; I get paid tomorrow. Then Planet, with the month’s titles, as the latest Astro City collection’s now in softback so I nabbed that too.

I also put in an order for a comic coming up later this year: Action comics 1,000. It’s the 1,000th Anniversary of Superman’s debut. It’s a ‘comic’ but it’s going to be published as a 384p hardback book, including a never-published Jerry Siegel/Joe Schuster story from, they reckon, 1942. It’s a landmark: the first comic to reach its 1,000th issue. Imagine that for a disposable, ephemeral things. Alright, it’s taken 80 years to get there, but that’s 80 years: 80 years of consistent publication. I figure I’d better buy it when it arrives rather than pay the inflated price eBay will no doubt exact.

And if I don’t want to keep it, why, there’s eBay!

I came home last night to a red card: my eBay acquisition of two Luck of the Legion collections undelivered because a signature was required. So from Manchester, I tool a 197 back, to get to the Collections Office in Heaton Mersey. Yes, it was a long way round, and a long ride, the 197 being one of those buses that go all round the houses and take forever to do so: it certainly stopped forever on Stockport Road, on the Longsight/Levenshulme border. But it meant not back-tracking and doubling over my tracks. And, amazingly, there was no queue: I mean, no queue. One lady, being served. No being stuck outside the office, inching forward in the rain.

That completed all my planned tasks, but it was early enough and light enough so back to the 203 I went, not to return home but to travel onwards further, to the Fir Tree and the Pharmacy and my latest prescription and then backtracking for home. From leaving the house at about 10.55 to returning at 5.20, I’d spent a bloody big proportion of that time doing nothing, in the waiting room or on the bus.

But it was so much more relaxing than yesterday, because it involved the feeling of doing something. It didn’t matter that none of these achievements were significant to anyone but myself, nor that they involved wasting vastly more periods of time tan the actual achievements, they were things that were done, that had outcomes I can see, and they were done under no pressure.

And day is done. Time for a vegetarian pizza to go into the oven, and the unwinding to go on. Yesterday and today. As different as yesterday and today. I have reading to do, and more writing. And another coffee won’t go amiss.

A Bus through my Past

Last Saturday, I paid my first visit to Manchester City Centre since the week between Xmas and New Year. I usually pay a visit once a month, generally the weekend after my salary goes in. The purpose is to visit Forbidden Planet and collect this month’s comics, but I also make a practice of popping into Pizza Hut before returning, for my monthly treat.

Ordinarily, this just means catching the ever-unreliable 203 at the end of my road, lumbering upstairs and sitting back to read for most of the journey to Piccadilly, once Piccadilly Gardens where, in my youth, the 218/219 service from Openshaw, along Ashton Old Road, would terminate.

However, I had another trip to make first, to the local Post Office Sorting Office at Green Lane in Stockport, to collect a parcel too big to deliver through my letter box. I had no other feasible time to collect it, so I rearranged my journey to take into account that I was starting off going in the opposite direction.

After collecting my parcel, I came back out to Didsbury Road to pick up a Manchester-bound bus. By the luck of the timetable, the first bus along was a 197.

This service is not like other. Most Manchester-bound buses end up following direct traffic arteries, like the 192, along Stockport road, the 203, along the main road through Reddish and then down Hyde Road, or even the 42, which follows Didsbury Road and then curves City Centre-wards along Wilmslow Road and Oxford Road.

But the 197 is not so simple. It goes all over the place, zigging and zagging from place to place, reaching the parts that direct services do not touch, on a course that, if it were laid out in front of Leonard Nimoy, would have had him intoning his famous catch-phrase: “It is not logical, Jim”.

Due to personal circumstances, I have not had access to a car or private transport since 2009. I miss the convenience, I miss the ability to control where I can go and when I get there, and I miss the freedom I have to go into parts of Manchester that I have been used to visiting all my life, at one time or another. Public transport sends me down a very limited number of pre-determined channels.

But the 197 went all over the place, through South Manchester. It was, in a strange way, almost a journey through my past, a non-chronological return to areas and places and roads that I used to regularly sail along and where I haven’t been for a number of years.

Heaton Moor Village, where I used to take my laundry every couple of weeks, until I found a more local, and cheaper launderette, one bus ride away, not two.

Cutting through the back streets of Heaton Moor, past the road where stands Pownall Sports Centre, where John and I pursued our weekly squash rivalry for several years.

Emerging on Mauldeth Road, and the hill down to Green End roundabout, always the first leg when I would go out riding my bike, freewheeling at increasing speed.

Burnage Lane, the old 169 route towards Droylsden, my Grannie’s and the club, passing my old school, all of which having now been demolished and an Academy constructed, using none of the old footprint. The Children’s Hospital, long replaced by houses, where my baby brother had to be kept in for most of his five months on this earth, and practically my oldest memory, the tremendous pride I felt in being asked to hold him on my lap whilst my parents talked to the Doctor, the day we brought him home for the first time.

Swinging round down Kirkmanshulme Lane, the shops where the 169 and 170 routes merged, and that weird kind of jumble shop where I bought that Monkees LP for 50p.

Back to the familiarity of Stockport Road, from Levenshulme to Fallowfield, after which the bus turns down Plymouth Grove, the way I used to go, the back route to Hathersage Road Baths, when we played five-a-side football every week, on a boarded-over pool.

Plymouth Grove merges with Upper Brook Street, the route of the old 50 bus from Burnage, when I used to travel in to University, but instead we cut across arteries, past the Royal Infirmary (where I was born, where we took my stepdaughter that Saturday afternoon, when she fell ill in Waterstones and we were scared of meningitis), and onto Oxford Road.

Through the heart of Manchester University, three years at the Law Faculty, the Student Union building. The University precinct being demolished, the stairs from Oxford Road already removed, endless Saturdays visiting Odyssey 7, the comics and SF shop.

Along Oxford Street to St Peter’s Square and Central Ref, but instead of swinging round into Albert Square, like the 50 used to, where I worked for nearly four years for Hamlins, Grammar & Hamlin, it carried on down Peter Street, until I got off outside the Free Trade Hall.

Even this was a part of Manchester’s City Centre I hadn’t visited in years, this end of Deansgate, not having any need to come further down than Waterstones. The Courts are down this end, not that I was ever a regular, and the Evening News offices front onto Deansgate along this stretch.

And then it was back to familiar ground, repeated on my limited travels.

So: a simple bus journey on a line I don’t usually take, and I’m carted halfway round the city and into areas where I used to congregate, and where I don’t go and haven’t gone for many long times. A common factor is that they are all places that I have no current reason to visit, but that I was taken back through so many of them in one single journey was a powerful reminder of how much of Manchester is out of reach to me, because I haven’t got a car to visit them whenever I choose, and because my horizons have narrowed and shrunk, now that I am utterly reliant on public transport.

And this is only South Manchester. One quarter of the City.

I don’t go there because I can’t easily get there, so I have no reason to go there, and the vicious circle tightens even more and the horizons shrink accordingly.