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.



As it’s now obligatory, from today, to wear facemasks on public transport, I went out to the bus wearing a facemask for the first time since this lockdown began. Unsurprisingly, I was the only person on the bus wearing a facemask.

It was an interesting experience and not a pleasant one. The first thing I noticed was that my exhalations had nowhere to go but up, out of the top of the mask, fogging up my glasses at every breath. I, being of the short-sighted persuasion, was not best convenienced by this.

There were two secondary effects. One was to bring on my mild claustrophobia, by making me feel that my breathing was confined to a limited space. The other was to make me feel a little breathless because it was so hot inside the facemask, with my breath warming up the atmosphere around nose and mouth.

I was pretty glad to get to my floor at work and pull the mask off. Thank heaven for air-conditioning!

On Writing – What they don’t tell you about

Sometimes, you can get sick to death of the sight of your own work.

I spent much of 2019 working on a third novel featuring the characters of Love Goes to Building on Sand and And You May Find Yourself. The book was complete in Second Draft by January, but I was unhappy with some aspects of it so I put it away for a couple of months whilst I worked on something else. Over the Easter weekend, I pulled up the Working Draft again and started going over it.

That meant going through it chapter by chapter, a combination of proof-reading, some revising, correcting slips (I had gotten lost in the timescale at one poit and needed to push the start of the book back two months to accommodate and there were still remnants of the original dating to correct). The final chapter was where I had really let things get away from me, and the most extensive work was needed to finally put the book to bed.

Then there’s the process of putting the book through publication at Lulu.com. This meant extracting each chapter individually to create individual word documents. Then eliminating widow and orphan controls en masse for each chapter (which just doesn’t work on documents of greater size). Then setting up a Lulu template for an A5 book, with titles, copyright, publication details and dedications. Then, one chapter at a time, converting the font from the 11-point Arial I use on screen to the 11-point Palatino Linotype I use in print and pasting the result, one chapter at a time, into the template, checking after each chapter to ensure there are no widow-orphan white spaces, balancing each chapter heading centrally.

Which means that over the past ten days I have read, or skimmed, through every bloody chapter four or five times, until, as I said at the start, I am sick to death of what I have written and never want to look at it again!

But the next step is to upload the print copy to Lulu where, despite the fact I am using the specific template for the book-size I want to create, it will come out wrong and they will re-size my text for the PDF that will be created, meaning that I will have to skim-read through the whole damned thing as many times as necessary to ensure no orphan-widow issues  creep into the print-ready text (if I have done things exactly as I believe I have done, it should all work out correct first time, but I’ve published too many print volumes through Lulu to believe that will ever happen).

Then I can go on to the cover designer to complete the process and order a print copy for my own library, where I will not touch it for a minimum of twelve months because, as I may have mentioned this, I AM SICK TO DEATH OF WHAT I HAVE WRITTEN!

This is one of the aspects of writing a book that they don’t tell you about often enough.

The Infinite Jukebox Book

Good morning all.

Over the last five years I’ve been adding posts about a variety of songs that, in many differing ways, I find significnt, whether that be musically, soocially or personally. The series hasrun under the title of The Infinite Jukebox.

Just last week, I posted the 100th such essay and, having reached that milestone, i decided to compile all the blogs into a book, which I have now published through lulu.com.

It’s nothing you haven’t read before, but if you were interested, and didn’t fancy picking through five years worth of posts to find these gems, you can now have these all in one place, by clicking on this link and paying a mere £6.99 and postage.

There’s even a picture of the cover to incite you.

The series will go on here and when I’ve racked up another 100 entries, I shall alert you to the chance of acquiring Volume 2. But that won’t be for awhile yet so you needn’t worry about me embarrassing you like this again any time soon.

On Writing: Stopping

One of the most important things for a writer to learn is when to let go. No book is ever really finished. It can always be improved by more rewriting. What’s important to understand that after a certain point, revisions usually can only amount to fine-tuning of increasingly less significance. You have to recognise when to stop, and redirect your energy and any lessons you’ve learned to another book.

I’ve recently completed another novel. The first draft took most of last year. A second draft, incorporating corrections, clarifications, foreshadowing and generally whatever rewrites are needed to retrofit outcomes etc., took about six weeks. In accordance with my basic approach, I’ve put the book aside for a month, to clear my head about it.

I can then go back, re-read sections that appear weak or blurred, and tackle these with a fresh viewpoint.

In the meantime, I’ve been looking at what I’ll do yet. I have four incomplete novels in various stages of progress and I want to resolve all these. So I’ve selected one and I’ve been looking at what’s been written to date. It came to a halt at a point when I had no idea where to go next and I was still stumped when I got that far. I don’t plot novels out in detail, not for a very long time. The characters dictate where they go and what they do and I follow in their wake.

So I went to bed last night feeling frustrated. Until a thread presented itself. Which rapidly led to a the next stage. It’s only a brief outline, about five to seven lines scrawled in a little notebook kept by my bed, but it made me feel inordinately happy. I can get through the current chapter on the first of these, and give myself a platform to build upon after that.

It’s at times like this that writing feels like the simple thing it so isn’t.

Going to Portsmouth

My Dad was too young to serve in World War 2, unlike his older brother, who served in the Navy in the Pacific. When it was his time to do National Service, Dad entered the Navy himself, and was stationed at Portsmouth for at least some of his Service. I don’t know where he went or what he did: he fell ill and died before I was of an age to have intelligent conversations with him. All I have is an old photo of him in his uniform. Nor is there anyone left who could tell me things he had told them about these times.

For a couple of years, I’ve been considering a trip to Portsmouth, to see the Naval Dockyard, to see what Dad saw, even if filtered through the prism of seventy years, to make one more attempt to gain even a degree more insight into what he thought and felt. I usually take off to the Lakes for a day each November, as part off the week I take off for my birthday, but this time I decided it was right for a more complicated and longer-lasting expedition.

And now two legs have been put in place. Firstly, I booked two nights in Portsmouth, Tuesday and Wednesday, for a very low price. That came out of last month’s salary. Today, I have booked my train travel, Stockport to Portsmouth Harbour Tuesday lunchtime, returning to Stockport Thursday morning, paid for out of this month’s salary. I am going to Portsmouth, I am going to see the Harbour, I will be visiting Hampshire for the first time, reducing to four the number of English counties I have never yet visited or at least traversed.

All that remains is to choose, and book, the one or more tours etc. available at the Naval Dockyard. I am going to Portsmouth, I’m following in Father’s footsteps, I’m following the Dear old Dad.

And You May Find Yourself – *New Novel*

It’s taken me a great deal longer than I’d expected, given that I’d produced the final draft by February 2019, but I’ve finally published my latest novel, my ninth in total.

And You May Find Yourself is a direct sequel to Love Goes to Building on Sand, which came out in 2018. Though it features the same ‘hero’, and many of the same characters, it couldn’t be more different, in that the first book was largely based in real events, and the sequel is the opposite. It’s working title was ‘The Wildly Overdue Wish-Fulfillment Fantasy’.

And as of tonight, it’s available through Lulu.com for £9.99 and P&P, and for your comfort and convenience, you may use this link. Order it, read it, enjoy it and writeand tell me just how good it is. So what if you have to lie a bit, friends do that for friends.

And in case you’re wondering, I am about two-thirds of the way through the first draft of the third (and final) book, which you can look for in 2020 if we still have a functioning country left by then.

And the next one, please!

Writing can be weird at times. For several years, I went through a period where I simply could not organise my thinking to write novel-length fiction. I made a fair few starts that all petered out at various stages, because I could not maintain concentration.

By transcribing and re-writing a thirty-year old first draft, I seem to have rediscovered those skills.

With that has come an increasing obsession with writing, and with writing every day. Sometimes this manifests in posts for my blog – I currently have four regularly scheduled series and two irregular ones, not counting the increasing number of responses to people dying I find myself have to write – but the novel writing has once again asserted itself as my personal imperative.

2018 was the year of the eventually titled And You May Find Yourself, a sequel to that recovered thirty year old novel. At first, it wasn’t a book project: I just found myself imagining what happened in the future of my fictional counterpart in Love Goes to Building On San, until I’d got so many mixed scenes it was clear there was a narrative here.

I have still more scenes in their ongoing future, but without a narrative, some overarching story, to link them, they’ll only remain in my imagination.

Over Xmas/New Year, I had a major push on And You May Find Yourself. I finished the Third Draft, I did a Fourth Draft revision on certain chapters, I collated a print copy version ready to upload to Lulu.com and I tweaked it so that everything was correct. One way to tell that you’ve finished a book completely is when you get thoroughly sick of going backwards and forwards through the damned thing. On that basis, And You May Find Yourself was finished on the evening of Wednesday, 2 January.

Which meant that I woke up on the morning of Thursday 3 January feeling empty and directionless, without anything to write. Seriously. I had no blogposts I can work on, no novel in my head, what was I going to do?

There was only one answer: as I said above, I had three or four books in differing stages of being started. When I had taken October off to let And You May Find Yourself breathe before I started the Third Draft, I’d picked up one of those, and used the month to rewrite the first, extant, seven chapters and drive the story along to a cliffhanger point. And, after a few minutes mentally improvising some subsequent dialogue, I started work on the next novel. A page or two at the start of the next chapter, some comprehensive notes covering a near future scene, I am back in business. Let’s try to finish this one in six months.

Not Totally Decrepit Yet

It’s been a while since I last deliberately set out for a long walk on city streets, long here being defined as further than our nearby ASDA and then some.

It’s not exactly been a habit of mine, but there have been plenty of occasions when I’ve happily set off to walk a long distance, without any thought of the time and effort this requires. Not since the London Museum Tryptich of 2016, I think (the Eskdale Expedition doesn’t count: despite being 99% tarmac, it was still fell-walking, albeit it in the lowest degree).

It’s been a quiet week, the days slipping by imperceptibly. It’s hard to imagine that this is already Friday and that only the weekend remains before a return to work, albeit for one day early. I’ve barely been out and I haven’t gone far, but today I had to make a trip to the Chemists next to my Doctor’s surgery, to collect a repeat prescription I carelessly failed to sort out before Xmas.

Ordinarily, I’d hop on the bus: ten minutes each way, plus whatever waiting time the 203 requires. Except that my weekly MegaRider card ran out on Xmas Day and I haven’t renewed it yet because I haven’t needed to. Simple solution: renew it, pay for a week’s journeys.

But I didn’t want to do that. I have places to go on Saturday and wanted to renew my MegaRider then instead. The difference is that whichver day I renew, I am starting a seven day pattern of renewals the same day every week, which means having the cash available the same day each week, and it’s going to be easier to do that for Saturdays rather than Fridays.

So, what’s the plan, Stan? I could pay each way on the bus (vastly inflated), or buy a DayRider (less expensive but not worth it for only two trips), or I could walk, there and back.

Which begged the question of fitness for that length of walk, which is, I guess, about two miles each way. I used to be capable of longer walks than that, and when I was having my counselling in Chinley, it was pretty much a mile for station to cottage, and most of it uphill, in hot weather. Nevertheless, I haven’t set out to walk that distance, in cold blood, for a long while. And whilst the age thing isn’t necessarily a problem, the osteoarthritis thing definitely is. I walk with a faint but noticable limp these days.

Due to my basic inertia, I didn’t get myself out until 2.20pm. Plan A was to walk there and back, but I had my fallback positions. Plan B would come into operation if, having got there, I was in too much pain, or general disintegration, to walk back, so I’d get the bus. Plan C represented the extreme position, of being in too much pain, or general disintegration, to walk the whole way there, and having to catch a bus partway.

Nevertheless, I strolled off with what approximates to briskness for me nowadays, pausing briefly at my local McColls for this week’s EuroMillions Lottery ticket (I must check the last couple of months’ worth, in the vain hope of not having to go into work on Monday) before pushing on.

It’s a simple route, straight up Reddish Road/Gorton Road, flat all the way except for the bit just before the halfway mark at Houldsworth Square, where it’s up and down over Reddish South Railway Station, where only one train a week runs. It would cost more to get permission to close the station entirely than to run one train a week through it, the minimum required, so for literal decades that’s been the schedule, though I noticed the timetable now admits two trains a week, request stop only, Stalybridge to Stockport and back Saturday mornings: one day I’ll take that journey, for the hell of it and to say I’ve been through Reddish South Station.

By Houldsworth Square, I was flagging, in the sense that I was no longer walking brskly, but I was in no danger of calling on Plan C so, at a gentle stroll, I pushed on northwards. This was not as tiresome as the trek to Trafford Park for those two undelivered parcels, and though the weather was dull and grey, at least it wasn’t wet.

I reached the lights at the Fir Tree and crossed the road to turn down Longford Road West and into the chemists. There were no other customers, I was served on the spot, my prescription was ready, I wasn’t off my feet for even sixty seconds: bugger!

Back to the main road, and no need for Plan B, so I set off back. Passing Reddish North Library, I took a break for a short browse, picking up three lightweight books (I mean in terms of readability, though as I was proposing to carry these back, their portability was also a key factor).

Definitely, I was not bounding along like a two-year-old on the return leg, and I was keeping in reserve the hitherto unanticipated Plan D, i.e., jumping on a bus if my right leg started giving me too much gyp. A brrief pause at the chippy in Houldsworth Square for some refreshment, a can of Diet Coke, went down well, that, up and over the railway bridge – less gradient from this side – and plod, plod, plod along.

By the time my knee and hip did begin to give me gyp, I was no more than two bus stops from home, and as I intended to call in McColls for milk and the cash for that MegaRider on Saturday, I had to limp on, there and back again (that might make a decent sub-title for a book, one day).

Forty minutes there, fifty minutes back, excluding my halts on the way home, although the hip is feeling the effort now, a couple of hours later. A bit more walking planned tomorrow, and I’m sure I’ll feel it then. I’m not going to start scheduling walks like this more often, the flesh being a bit more willing than the spirit in all honesty, but it’s nice to know I can still get about under my own steam.