A Southport Expedition

It’s been a while, since Derby in january in fact, since I went ahywhere further than Manchester City Centre, so the time seemed ripe for a day out on Friday. Even so, having survived six months of the pandemic, I’m a little twitchy about venturing further afield, especially given how much time that’s goimg to mean breathing through a facemask.

Nor did the lead up on Thursday make me feel calmer. I’d been encouraged by my manager to give myself a treat, take a day off to do something I wanted, and I wanted to do this anyway: a Friday off work, especially one that balanced out a Woorking Sunday I hadn’t been able to get out of, was tailor-made. I was up for it, psyched, ready, except that the leave hadn’t been put through. My manager works from home: I e-mailed him. No reply. Time passing. Oscillating between rising frustration and the fury I’m going to feel if it falls through.

It’s not as if I’m not worked up already. I got home Wednesday to a letter asking me to phone in to make an appointment for my flu jab this year except that they told me to ring an obsolete number then the transfer option kept telling me  it had failed and cutting me off. I don’t need any more aggravation.

Eventually, I go to another Manager and between him and my very sweet Ops Manager, who’s an absolute darling, it’s agreed – but still not booked into my schedule when I leave at 9.00pm – and I am spared the horrendous Friday I would have inflicted on everybody within socially distanced reach.

Standard Operating Procedure gets me to Stockport Railway Station with only half an hour to spare, which is ample time to steady and serious rain to set in. This is August, isn’t it? The Friday before the Bank Holiday weekend? Of course.

There are two changes in the outbound journey, Manchester Piccadilly and Manchester Oxford Road. There used to be direct trains to Southport but no more. The journey will take nearly two hours. I could cut that down to eighty minutes and save 80p on the return fare if I spend ages on the bus and walking to travel from Manchester Victoria, plus have to get home from the City Centre on top. I am lavish, I spend the money.

As far as Bolton it’s a familiar journey, one I made five days a week for most of the 2000s, so I turn immediately to my big heavy book: there are few happy associations with that journey.

It’s a long, slow, stopping journey that stops everywhere but still manages to outpace the rain, if not the overhanging cloud. I get in a good long shift of reading as we cross the plains of lower Central Lancashire, the wet fields to each side, the numerous level-crossings in our favour, but my bum is sore from sitting by the time we reach Southport and I can stand up, shuffle and, once out of the station, full down my facemask: the fresh air is a heady wine.

I have a long history with Southport. My parents hated Blackpool for its noisiness, its brashess and its crowds so this was the first experience of a seaside resort, with its long beaches and invisible seas. Here was where I played with my first camera, getting great shots without pointing. Here was where Dad and I spent one early morning before breakfast waking a mile out across the sands without reaching the sea. Here was where Mam would occasionally take my little sister and I to the seaside for the day: in 1968, the year I discovered Test Cricket and watched the Ashes avidly, we visited on the last day of the series, the one at the Oval, when hundreds of volunteers mopped the field dry to give England a chance of the draw, ten fielders crouched round the bat. At least every third bloke on the Fronty had a transister radio tuned to the Test pressed to his ear and I flitted from one to another, never more than thirty seconds away from the next update, until Deadly Derek Underwood took the last wicket. Was that the one where we got back to Victoria and found Dad there, straight from work, to run us home, the perfect end?

But I’m not in Southport for any of that, not today. I’m here because Southport is where the Eagle was created between Marcus Morris and Frank Hampson, and where Dan Dare was created at the latter’s kitchen table. It’s the 70th Anniversary this year, albeit not this time of year, and there’s an Exhibition. I head straight for the Atkinson Gallery to visit it.

The Dan Dare part is very small, far smaller than previous Exhibitions I’ve visited, basically one little room and an additional glass case as a component of a larger Exhibition dedicated to the Sefton Coast: Dan’s contribution is the ‘Inspirational Coast’.

There’s an array of books and comics, many of which are laid out in a bit of a jumble, all but a handful of which I have in my own collection. My copy of Eagle no. 1 is is far better nick than theirs though I can’t say the same for Annual no. 1.

But as always it’s the original art that makes the journey worthwhile and though the pages are few, they are especially wonderful. To my enormous glee Hampson is represented by a page from ‘The Man from Nowhere’, the cover of the issue of Eagle published the day i was born!There’s original art of Don Harley and Bruce Cornwell’s ‘The Platinum Planet’, misidentified as its sequel, ‘The Earth-Stealers’. And Keith Watson, on whose art I grew up, is represented by the last Dan Dare page he drew, the page that was the foundation for Spaceship Away.

Hampson’s pages intrigued me. Usually,  Hampson took the cover page and divided the several panels of page 2 between his assistants, but this is a paste down of individual panels in ones and twos. I’d love to know why.

But there’s more than just Dan Dare. There’s a Martin Aitchison horizontal ‘Luck of the Legion’ strip next to a Thelwell ‘Chicko’ cartoon, a superb Ashwell Wood Cutaway of the Naval Vessel St Kitts, Frank Humphris at his glorious best on ‘Riders of the Range’ and Frank Bellamy with a back page true story, ‘David – The Shepherd King’.

There’s another Bellamy original that troubles me deeply. Immaculately framed, it is the first page of ‘Frasier of Africa’, all yellows and sepias, and it disturbs me because I cannot work out how to steal it and get away with it.

It’s magnificent but it’s too scanty. The one I came to for the 40th  Anniversary was nearly ten times as big and was so good I visited twice, once on my own then with a bunch of mates to whom I’d raved: four hefty fellers in a Volkswagen Polo that needed me to start braking a loooong way before usual.

After leaving the Gallery, I check if there’s still a Pizza Hut in Southport. There is, but it’s no longer on Lord Street, instead it’s way out to Hell and gone on the Front, which means a long walk, starting off along the pier, which forms a bridge over the Marine Lake – there has to be a Marine Lake or else the only water you’d see in Southport would be out of a tap – and through a shpopping estate dominated by Matalan.

This is my first sit-down and eat-in Pizza Hut meal since before lockdown. They’re still operating on limited ingredients, no tuna for my favourite tuna’n’onions, no sweetcorn for my second favourite chicken’n’sweetcorn so I have a Hawaiian with garlic bread side.Nice and tasty and filling. And amusing to note that i finish five minutes before I would have logged in for Friday’s shift.

I have neither the weather nor the inclination to walk on further to see the beach, and neither would you in this early October greyness, so what is left is how much of awander I feel like having. Today would have been an ideal time to pay a visit to the Bakehouse, the little lean-to where six artists crammed in tho draw Dan Dare and the three other pages the Hampson Studio was committed to, but I didn’t think of that in time, and haven’t got the address on me, nor anything more than  vague idea where it is: another time then, again.

So I stroll back to Lord Street and wander northwards under the old-fashioned continuous glass canopy that accompanies the shore-side shops. A couple of times I wander into Charity Shops to fruitlessly peruse the cheap DVDs and every time i come out it takes ages before I remember I can pull down the facemask.

I went as far as a sign for Stockport Samaritans, which was apt: the Samaritans were created by the Reverend Chad Varah, who wrote adventure stories for Eagle, and Dan Dare himself for all but the first two weeks of ‘Marooned on Mercury’.

But there’s not much to look at, or smell, except cafes, restaurants and feeding places: no shortage of these in Southport. So I turn round and walk back an equal distance south but there’s nothing to attract my attention. Southport has always been an old people’s resortand whilst I might be an old person myself now, i’m not that kind of old person. The one i seem to be is the one with the arthritic right knee and hip and the lower back pain on the same side that’s exacerbating both and putting a severe crimp on how far I can walk.

So I slowly limped back to the Station. I’d tentatively identified the 15.43 for returning, a long way round via Liverpool so, with an absence of suitable attractions, I advance an hour and settle down for another long read. That’s actually been one of the best parts of the day. The isolation of a train is an ideal situation for taking a good big bite out of a long book, and I don’t get to do that kind of sustained reading as often as I used to. The train tracks down the coast, stopping everywhere, until Liverpool South Parkway interchange where I hope on a norwich train and off again in Southport, though by the time I limp heavily up our street I’m absolutely shattered – and it’s still only halfway through my shift…

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.

I have done a good thing

Through a set of circumstances too personally humiliating to relate, I was in Manchester this morning and paying my earliest ever monthly visit to Pizza Hut.

After chowing down my meal, I was rrelaxing before the bill came and reading the book I had on me. A young waitress, after showing a couple to their table, next to mine, craned her neck, then asked if I minded her asking what I was reading? She is a literature student, and always wanting to know what people are reading.

I showed her the cover. It was Clive James’ collection of critical essays, The Meaning of Recognition. She said she’d never heard of him.

I was taken aback by that, but after a few moment’s thought, realised I shouldn’t be. She was, after all, about a third of my age, and young enough that most of James’s television career was before her time too.

So I explained a bit about all the different things he’s been into: lyrics, television criticism, novels, literary criticism, poetry. She was particularly interested in the poetry, so I said a bit about the recent books, the collections published in the knowledge of his leukemia. And I suggested she tried Sentenced to Life. She was genuinely pleased at the recommendation. Who knows if she’ll appreciate it? If I see her on my next visit, I’ll try to remember to ask.

But at least I’ve done one good thing today.

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.

A Day Out (Clutching At Straws)

I been there.
I been there.

This was not, technically, A Day Out, not in the tradition of this year’s Museum Trips to That London or the Annual Birthday Week Visit to the Lakes, but after the last couple of days I’ll take anything I can get. Trains were involved, I visited somewhere I haven’t been in years and I got myself out of this pokey little flat for the first time since work on Wednesday, so as far as I am concerned, it counts.

Since reporting on my sore throat the other day, I have actually been proper unwell. Two days of going into work, unable to speak because of how painful it was for my throat, restricted to mind-numbingly repetitive, essential but wearying back office housekeeping tasks, were bad enough but Wednesday night was when the sore throat started to develop into a wet cough and from there into industrial-scale runny nose. In the interests of decency, I will not detail how many hankies now need wringing out.

Put on top of this that Tuesday night was one of those nights where, having failed to tire the mind during the day, it retaliated by refusing to switch off. If I did sleep more than a couple of minutes at a time, it wasn’t before 4.15am.

So that put paid to going into work for the last couple of days, especially Friday when I was so woolly-headed, I couldn’t keep my mind on anything for more than a few minutes and was a positive danger to shipping.

But I had to go out on Saturday. I’d returned home Wednesday night to one of those familiar cards from Royal Mail, informing me they’d tried to deliver my latest modest capture of Eagles through eBay and inviting me to collect it from the Sorting Office. Only it wasn’t the familiar address at Green Lane in Stockport, this time it was in Wilmslow.

Ok, it’s not that far and it’s not that inconvenient to reach, but if they’d shut the Stockport one down for some reason, having to go there every time would be a major bugger.

Still, it’s a nice enough place and I used to know it well over many years, from visits and stuff and having an old friend that lived there, though I’ve had no contact with her in nearly twenty years now, so I could make a bit of a trip out of it, look round the place, have something to eat. You know where my instincts take me in such circumstances, but unfortunately Wilmslow had nothing so downmarket as a Pizza Hut.

Never mind, I would improvise, and as you know me as a fellow of almost infinite resource (except when it comes to money and sexual allure), I would find a way. If nothing else, I could always come back to Stockport.

Besides, the worst was over. Friday had been a quite crappy day in all respects, and I’d shut down fairly early: laptop off, tablets taken, lights out, head down and wondering what sort of night I was going to have, when I could feel everything start to go clear in my head. The worst was over: all I had left was physical symptoms that would fade away in their own time.

I even put the light back on, fired up the laptop and found myself adding a few paragraphs to the novel, although only a few before real, honest-to-goodness tiredness overwhelmed me. I slept properly.

I was still snuffly, but the cough wasn’t anything like so bad (mind you, my stomach muscles have been wracked enough that it hurts them more than my throat.) Though my physical urge to get up and go was a bit lacking, I pushed myself into a healthy and cleansing shower and out into a crisp but sunny morning. Deadlines are good for one thing at least.

There was no need to rush that much, and even less capability for it, as I was moving somewhat like a brontosaurus who was past its best days. Bus to Stockport, Free Bus to the Railway Station, Day Return (under a fiver) and immediately onto a three quarter empty train for Crewe.

I’ve never before gotten off (or on) at Wilmslow Station, but I knew its whereabouts and was pretty confident I’d measured the inadequate map of the Sorting Office onto its streets. The Town Centre was immediately familiar, though I’d have been pushed to find where Linda and Ray’s house used to be, even if I could summon up the energy to walk there.

Thankfully, I didn’t leave it too long before asking for directions to the Sorting Office. A pleasantly blonde and healthy-looking blonde lady in boots and a sleeveless red quilted jacket told me I was nowhere near, but directed me simply down the pedestrianised street, bear left at the pedestrian crossing. I reset off.

It was a busy mid-morning and Wilmslow was full of Wilmslowites. I was as out of place as a Hottentot at a formal dinner, simply from the lack of value of my clothes. To be truthful, I’ve never really been ‘in’ place in Wilmslow, and not all of it was down to the lifelong lack of self-confidence that I’ve mostly managed to dispense with this last decade. I worked in a very respectable middle-class profession for thirty years, lived a respectable middle-class life, but I was born and brought up in a working-class street, at a working-class school, and whilst there were many ways in which I didn’t fit into that environment, and I don’t share much of its ways, it’s never left me and I’ve rarely felt truly comfortable, underneath, in the environment my parents aspired to for me.

Wilmslow-ladies, with their polished and powdered faces, their make-up imacculate, their clothes quietly, off-handedly, speaking of quality, talking and thinking in codes I cannot begin to want to decipher.

So I’m already starting to wonder just how long this day out is going to last when I get to the Sorting Office and it all falls into place. The man behind the counter is puzzled. Then he’s apologetic. Yes, the card says Wilmslow, and he doesn’t know how it’s happened and it shouldn’t have but one of their cards has gotten onto a Stockport van, and I’ve drawn it (because if it’s going to happen it’s going to happen to me, I know this). He’s really sorry, but I need to go to Stockport.

There’s no point in getting worked up about it, even if I had the energy with which to get worked up. If there’s anyone to blame, it’s me for accepting that card at face value. If only I hadn’t been so unfocused…

It’s 11.45am. If I’m lucky with transitions, I can get to Green Lane before 1.00pm, when it closes until next week. But it doesn’t look like I’m going to be lucky. It takes me about ten minutes to tramp back to the station but there’s fifteen minutes to wait for the next train, which is full of light-blue shirts, Bitters going to the game. The journey is only made bearable by a beatifically beautiful blonde ticket inspector who takes at least ten minutes less time over my return ticket than I consider to be the proper application of her duties.

I’m back at Stockport Station for 12.30pm. I can still do it with a pretty damned immediate appearance from the Free Bus and the same from the bus to take me to Green Lane, and that’s just not happening. It’s testament to my still fuzzy perspicacity that it takes me five minutes to work out that Green Lane isn’t that far from here as the roads lie and there are taxis over there…

Mission is therefore accomplished and I take possession of a box-shaped brown paper parcel. Unfortunately, I cannot pop my parcel into the Bag-for-Life I carry around in my shoulder bag. On the way through, a couple of hours earlier, I bought and partly consumed a small bottle of Diet Coke. Unfortunately, I failed to tighten the cap properly. It has run out all over said Bag, which is too soggy inside and out for such precious cargo. The bottom of the shoulder bag is also somewhat wet, which has already transferred itself from there into the thighs of both legs of my jeans.

Where’s the bus to Pizza Hut?

For once, there’s a substantial amount of tuna on an individual Pan Margarita with Tuna and Onion, enough to enable me to turn an indulgent ear to the birthday party nearby, to which every eight year old girl in Stockport has been invited, or so it seems. ‘Happy Birthday’ is sung with such gusto and enthusiasm that they relight the candles and do it again. Several times, in fact. If they burn through birthdays that quickly, Donald Trump will start perving over them before we even reach the Election.

I’m low on food but it’s only a five minute walk to Tesco‘s, but this is where the the Wall interpolates itself very firmly in my way. I stagger to the bus stop where, thankfully, I am able to get a seat on the bench, for it is half an hour until the bus home, and when I do get in, I haven’t the energy to unpack my pathetic shopping before I hit the bed, drifting in and out of sleep.

As I said, not what you’d really call a day out, but at least it proves that I don’t have to go all the way to London to create a shambles of a day.