EIGHTH MOVEMENT: Back to Life
There’s not a great deal to tell about the journey home. Why would there be? I was heading back to the town where I’ve spent most of my adult life. It’s nothing to write home about. We left Manchester at 1215 and headed out towards Stockport. On the way we passed through some incredibly run-down suburbs, which led me to conceive a theory of economics.
Everyone who grew up under Thatcher must remember the ‘trickle-down’ theory of capitalism, whereby the rich would become incredibly rich and the poor would benefit from the crumbs off their collective table. Instead, the crumbs were cunningly concealed as capital depreciation and overseas transactions, and vanished long before they hit the floor. I’m sure that some economic thinkers must have modelled a similar situation called ‘ripple-out.’ (I’ve never found a reference to it, but then again I can’t say I’ve looked.) It probably goes something like this…
If you pump hundreds of millions of pounds into a rundown area of a city, then some of that must by definition ripple out into the surrounding districts and lead to increased economic activity as a whole.
Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?
Travelling out from Manchester, I realised that investing in new capital projects (like the Arndale Centre and Salford Quays) in fact draws money from the outlying areas. It’s cheaper to set up in the new developments, massively subsidised by the Regional Development Corporations and the EU, than it would be to set up in an area which already has the workforce. The previously skilled or semi-skilled workers (from an industrial background) don’t fit into the new Information Economy. They end up on the scrapheap. The new workers are young, educated, IT-savvy…
Within a decade or so, the former industrial heartlands are dying. Instead of rippling out, the influx of wealth has made the city centres into financial Black Holes, drawing in more and more investment and generating more jobs while the surrounding areas wither and die.
The coach took us through Levenshulme, a run-down inner city district of boarded up shops, boarded up pubs, boarded up houses. I’d seen the same thing on the bus from Pendleton to the city centre. I hadn’t commented on it as it was so much like South Wales. In Pendleton itself I’d passed a block of flats, several of which were flying England flags from their windows. I’d like to think that the residents were just supporting the nation during the Autumn Rugby Tests, but I suspect that they weren’t as innocent as they seemed. The St George’s Cross has been appropriated by the far-right for their own ends, and I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn that these flats were home to neo-Nazis. After all, the north-west of England is the heartland of the British National Party and the English Defence League. I saw some EDL graffiti (which had been modified) as the bus headed into the city centre, and there was some more in Levenshulme, which has a high proportion on Asian families. Strangely, I hadn’t witnessed any racial tension in the city centre. Instead it tends to fester in the outlying areas, where urban deprivation feeds the far-right.
Stockport itself wasn’t remarkable, except for a spectacular railway viaduct.
I don’t know whether I’d travelled over this on the way up, but I suppose I must have.
Just before one o’clock we stopped at Manchester Airport. This gave passengers chance to have a smoke and/or get a snack. I still had my stash of cheese from the breakfast buffet, but I decided to get a bottle of pop for the journey. There was a vending machine in the coach station, and a standard 500ml bottle of Pepsi Max cost £1.70! Suddenly the hot chocolate the previous day seemed like a real bargain.
The journey south was uneventful. There isn’t much to see from the window of a coach, except for endless miles of motorway punctuated by the occasional retail park. I’m old enough to remember when they were called ‘trading estates’, but that wasn’t glamorous enough, I expect. Every one of them boasts PC World, B&Q, Staples, a cinema, fast food restaurants, furniture chains – they’re all identical and interchangeable. We don’t just have Clone Towns any more. Even the countryside is being taken over by these clones.
1432 Wolverhampton. Somewhere else I’ve never been. Nice looking town.
For a few minutes it looked as though I’d be spending more time in Wolverhampton than I’d bargained for. The luggage compartment of the coach wouldn’t lock properly. The driver got on the phone to his depot and wandered around outside, trying the mechanic’s various suggestions. I wondered whether I’d have to make my own way to Birmingham and claim the fare back from National Express. There were frequent trains and regular buses, so I wouldn’t have been stuck. However, we had plenty of time before the Cardiff coach departed, and after about ten minutes the driver managed to fix the problem.
We travelled into Birmingham past Bescot, one of the biggest rail depots I’ve ever seen. We negotiated the Gravelly Hill Interchange, better known as ‘Spaghetti Junction.’ We passed Villa Park football ground and Aston University, where I’d had an interview for the Pharmacy course way back in 1983. Eventually we arrived at Digbeth Coach Station and we disembarked. I had a couple of hours to kill, so I went for a look around the redeveloped city centre.
I hadn’t been to Birmingham for years (not since the National Express route changed and the journey took too long to make an effective day trip.) The horrific old Bull Ring has gone, replaced by a shiny new shopping centre that puts Cardiff’s Grand Arcade into the shade.
I wandered around for a while, but there wasn’t anything interesting to see. The same shops were there as I’d found in the Arndale Centre the previous day and in Cardiff when I was there with Shanara a month or so earlier. It seemed to me that Kelly Jones had hit the nail on the head in Have a Nice Day: ‘We dress the same way, only our accents change.’
I did come across this interesting memorial to Britain’s greatest naval hero, mind you.
London’s got Nelson’s Column. Birmingham can’t even manage a half-Nelson.
I found a pseudo-Irish pub near the bus station and had a pint before the coach was due to leave. It was a regulars’ pub, in spite of its location. It was pretty obvious that they didn’t like strangers in ‘their’ local. The landlady was completely charmless, just like the pub itself. I could have gone somewhere else, but I don’t know my way around the city any more. I didn’t want to risk wandering too far in case I got lost. I decided that I was missing the Manchester warmth already, and I was only halfway home.
At 1845 we left Birmingham and headed for the motorway. I wasn’t sorry to say goodbye to the place. It was dark, of course, so the view from the window was even less inspiring than it been on the way in. We dropped off a couple of passengers at Worcester before heading back towards Wales.
2006 It’s Diwali – Festival of Lights. Sadly, they all seem to be orange, flashing & in middle of road!
There were roadworks and single-lane running on the M50, and by the time we reached Ross-on-Wye we were running about fifteen minutes late. The bus was due to arrive at Cardiff at 2130, and the train left at 2141. It wasn’t the last one, of course – I’d left myself plenty of time before the 2241 departure – but I’d forgotten that Wales were playing Argentina at the Millennium Stadium that day. I’ve worked on match days, and the trains home can be hellish. I really didn’t want to be on the last one.
We were further behind schedule leaving Monmouth, and even a decent run down the A449 didn’t give me cause for optimism.
2101 Still outside Newport. Looks like it’ll be last train home – post-rugby defeat. Oh joy! #thevalleys
But, amazingly, we arrived at Cardiff Bus Station at 2132. The queuing system which Arriva normally operates on match days wasn’t in effect, so I was able to buy my ticket and get to the platform with a couple of minutes to spare. The train wasn’t packed, and when I arrived at Aberdare the town centre was quiet as well. I decided to have a late one in the Prince of Wales, but got captured by Ceri and Lisa and it turned into an odd evening in a pub I don’t normally drink in. I was glad to get home and go to bed. It had been a hectic couple of days.
The come-down didn’t really hit me until Sunday night. I’d had a couple of pints with Martyn E. in the Prince, telling him all about my trip and showing him my photos. After he went home I decided to have a pint in the Cambrian, and see what life was like under the latest in a long line of temporary landlords. I wish I hadn’t bothered. They have problems with the drains, apparently. That must be why it smells like an open sewer. Emma G. behind the bar was as chatty as always, but the new guvnor is obnoxious in the extreme. He told me to my face that, as I was unemployed, I was a ‘bum’ and that I was ‘stupid’ – I decided not to tell him that I’d just returned from a recording of Brain of Britain. He was too pissed to try and reason with. I finished my pint, thanked him for his unhospitality, and sent the final Tweet of the weekend:
1044 Cambrian, Aberdare. Dirty shithole run by complete cunt. Not even same cunt as last time. Never again!
Oh yes, it was so good to be back home!