Tag Archives: Salford

One Year On

In which The Author is in reflective mood

Exactly three hundred and sixty four days ago, I was in a large auditorium at MediaCity UK in Salford, with a bunch of strangers and one person whose voice I’d heard on a number of occasions.
It was my first trip to Manchester, and although it was raining (as usual, apparently) I was having a fantastic time. After the recording of Brain of Britain was completed, I went into the city centre and had a great night in a couple of very reasonable pubs and clubs. I told the whole story in It’s Grand Oop North! on my return, and promised myself that by the time twelve months had elapsed, my life was going to be different.
At that time, I was friendly with a woman named Clare (who has been referred to as C— up to this point), and we’d both had a fucking gutsful of Aberdare. She was divorced and living back with her parents, except for the frequent occasions when she’d get pissed and/or stoned and go off-grid for a few days. She was locked into a self-destructive behaviour loop, just as I was. People who knew us both told me that she was on target to end up in hospital or the cemetery unless she sorted her life out.
I was spending far too much time and money in the pub as well, surrounded by idiots and/or wankers ninety per cent of the time. Although I’d been in Manchester for only a day and a night, it had changed my perspective on the world. When I returned home, Clare and I met up for lunch and I showed her the photos I’d taken on my brief visit to the Venice of the North. (Yes, I know Birmingham has more canals – but on the day I arrived, Manchester had rivers running between the historic buildings. Go figure…)
We made a pact that we’d both start applying for jobs in Manchester, after the whole Xmas fuss was over and done with. I looked into renting out my house, and we reckoned that we’d be able to relocate quite easily. The city was on the up, and we’d be a lot more likely to find work there than here in South Wales, which has been in a depression since the coal mines closed in the mid-1980s.
Accommodation would be nicely affordable as well. Even the stunning studio apartments in Salford Quays cost from £550 p.c.m., and public transport around the city is as cheap as Lancashire Hot Pot. Most importantly, it would get us both out from the same fucking rut we’d been stuck in for years.
That was as far as the idea got, of course. A year later, nothing has changed at all. Clare’s various addictions took her down a path I wasn’t prepared to follow, and we haven’t spoken since the argument I related in C is for Cyberwoman.
My own depression kicked back in during the summer, and I abandoned all plans to move away. I haven’t seen Clare for a few months, but she’s still around – people who don’t know we don’t bother any more mention her in passing now and again. I’m still being treated for my own mood disorder, and waiting to see a counsellor to talk about Life, the Universe and Everything.
I’ve only left Aberdare a handful of times since I returned home from Manchester. I’ve been to Cardiff a couple of time, London once, I spent a weekend in the Forest of Dean, and I’ve done a few trips to neighbouring Valleys towns which make Aberdare seem like a thriving metropolis.
My low mood stopped me from seeing Roger Waters performing The Wall at Wembley Stadium, on a ticket which I didn’t even have to pay for. I still hate myself for not going to that gig, but I’m too old for stadium gigs now. Fuck it, I’m too old for gigs in ropey Valleys pubs these days.
Tomorrow, I’m going to try and get back into the loop a bit. Nottingham Playhouse are presenting a touring production of 1984 at the Sherman Theatre in Cardiff, My ticket’s already booked, and I’ve ordered a programme to add to my collection in the stairwell at home.
I’ll be going down early, because I want to visit the National Museum of Wales. There’s an exhibition about the life and research of Alfred Russel Wallace, the neglected co-discoverer of Evolution by Natural Selection. After that I’m hoping to catch up with Shanara for a coffee before I head to the theatre. With any luck I’ll be so late heading home that I’ll miss the worst of the post-rugby crowd.
I’m only writing this tonight because I don’t want to break my pledge for NaBloPoMo. I don’t feel like doing anything much. I’m going to make some supper and listen to the radio for an hour or so. A year ago, I was in the hot seat before Russell Davies, while my fellow contestants and I tried to figure which of the transuranic elements Bohrium, Meitnerium, Seaborgium and Roentgenium, was the odd one out. An hour later I was out and about in the big city, and having a great time amongst complete strangers, and wondering how easily I’d be able to put my house on the market. So much for planning ahead…

It’s Grand Oop North! (Part 4) – Manchester, England




Fourth Movement: Manchester, England

I took my first breath of Manchester air at Piccadilly Station at 1311. To my amazement I didn’t get a lungful of smog and soot. Instead, it was fresh and quite clean. I supposed I’m used to railway stations which smell of diesel fumes, but electrification makes all the difference to the atmosphere.
I rummaged in my bag for my ticket, but there were no barriers or conductors at the end of the platform. I was able to stroll out onto the concourse and into the lunchtime throngs of passengers. There was the obligatory branch of Tie Rack, a burger bar, a coffee shop, and all the usual shops one finds at busy termini these days. I had a look in WH Smith for an updated A-Z, but they only had ones which covered the entire county. I was just going out as far as Salford Quays. It seemed a bit pointless spending a fiver on the big book when I had one at home. I wouldn’t have to worry about any huge changes which might have affected Eccles or Bury in the past 25 years, after all. There were pocket-sized maps of the city centre, but they didn’t cover that far out as Salford. I decided to make it up as I went along, and left the station to look for a bus map.
I didn’t have to go far – just outside the main entrance there’s a little bay of bus stops, and shuttle buses stop there on their strange figure-of-8 route through the centre. I found one  that went to the Arndale Centre, and got on board.
Imagine my surprise when the driver told me it was free! I know I’m looking old these days, but I didn’t even need to show my pass.
‘Aye, we look after our visitors up here,’ he laughed when I told him I wasn’t expecting that. He was a cheery soul, laughing and joking with the passengers as they boarded and alighted. ‘Do you want to come up here and drive, and I’ll go to the pub for the afternoon?’ he teased one woman, who’d told a fellow newcomer where to get off for Marks & Spencer.
1320 FREE shuttle buses around city centre! Bonkers idea! #itllnevercatchon
Apart from Ashleigh in Waterstone’s he was the first Mancunian I’d encountered on his home turf, so to speak. He was a great guy, and what an ambassador for the city as a whole! If I’d had time, I’d have stayed on the bus for the full circle, just to hear his lively banter with the other passengers.
I took this from the bus. I don’t know what the building is, but it’s pretty fine!
When we arrived at the Arndale Centre, I strolled nonchalantly in, expecting something like St David’s Centre in Cardiff. Not a bit of it – I was overwhelmed by the sheer size of the place. C— texted me while I was trying to find my way around, to see if I’d arrived safely. I told her where I was, that I was already having a great time, and that I wished she’d been able to come as well.
Immediately I followed that up with a second text saying that, on the other hand, I was glad she hadn’t – I would never have been able to drag her away from all the clothes shops and shoe shops!
Ashleigh had told me that Waterstone’s was next to New Look and opposite Nando’s, but she’d neglected to tell me that they were all on the first floor. I searched vainly on the ground floor for ages before taking the escalator upwards. Downstairs, in the atrium, some sort of fashion show was taking place, and people were crowding round the balcony to see what was happening. I spotted a little terminal, about the size of a cashpoint, which was apparently an electronic store directory. A girl got to it a few moments before I did and started playing with it.
Without prompting, a middle-aged chap walked up to her and said, ‘Don’t bother with that thing, it’s bloody rubbish – where are you heading for?’
So that was three amazingly helpful Mancunians out of three so far! Surely it couldn’t last…
Eventually I spotted the New Look logo on a sign, and found Waterstone’s next door. It was bigger than I expected, but nicely laid out with stack after stack of books around the perimeter, a few island stacks dotted about, and my main target – the counter – right in the middle. But it was lunchtime, there was a big queue, and I needed some refreshment. There was a coffee shop at the back of Waterstone’s, and I’d picked up a copy of the Manchester Evening News on the way through the centre. I decided to have a cup of hot chocolate, look at the paper, and wait for the queue to abate.
The infectious Manchester friendliness struck again when I was ordering my drink. One of the women was in her early fifties, the other in her mid-twenties, and by time I’d paid for my order we were chatting like old friends. Mind you, the prices in these coffee chains don’t seem to change across the country; I’m not naming names, but a medium-sized hot chocolate costa (geddit?) massive £2.95! I’m not sure it was worth it, but it was all part of the experience.
I collected my book from the counter (sadly, Ashleigh herself wasn’t around, as I’d have liked to have thanked her personally) and made my way out into the retail madness again.
1356 Knocked out by how friendly everyone is – glad I opted for Salford over London!
I walked around the city centre for a while, not aiming for anywhere in particular. I was waiting to cross at a pedestrian crossing when I heard an odd little hooting sound off to my right. It lasted less than a second, and sounded like something you’d hear in an American film, in a scene set at a railroad crossing. It was a tram. Of all the forms of public transport I’ve used in my life, this was one of the few which I hadn’t tried. I stood back and watched as it slid smoothly and almost silently past me.
I was heading back past the Arndale Centre when I spotted a covered market, and went for a nose around inside. It wasn’t anything special, but there were a couple of interesting stalls which caught my eye. When I got back outside I decided to make my way straight out to the hotel. It was raining quite heavily, and I wanted to drop my luggage off in good time before heading for the studio.
1500 Very small pub IN the market. This place is nuts, fair play!
I’d already bought a ticket from the machine before exploring the market. I’d expected to pay about a fiver to travel out to MediaCityUK, but a single ticket is only £2.40. That compensated for the price of the hot chocolate, anyway. While I was studying the network map and trying to work out where I’d need to change trams, I found arguably the best ever name for a station:
I had mumps when I was nine or ten. It’s nothing to write home about.
Then a chance meeting on the station proved that the world is in fact a whole lot stranger than I’d ever imagined. A middle-aged lady had somehow managed to get a spoke of her umbrella wedged into the seam between two metal panels on the ticket machine. While I was helping her extricate it, she noticed my accent and asked where in Wales where I was from. I told her and she said, ‘Come and meet my sister!’
1448 Waiting for a tram, got talking to a lady who was born in Trecynon #extremelysmallworld
I’m not making this up! They were in town visiting their son/nephew, who works for the BBC. They were making their way back to Piccadilly, and I was able to point them in the right direction before boarding my own tram to Cornbrook.
It felt like I’d waited ages at Cornbrook for the train to Salford. While I was there, I had the most tremendous view of the city. If I’d had my tripod (and if it hadn’t been raining so heavily) I’d have taken some photos. In the event I just watched the long freight trains running past on the main line below the tram stop. Without a map of the city centre I was completely adrift, and I began to wish I’d picked up that pocket guide at the station after all. The tram arrived and took me off towards Salford.
Once again, my preconceived ideas were shattered as we travelled out towards what used to be the docks area. As in London and Cardiff, the whole area has been transformed into a modern complex of brave and exciting architectural projects, large open spaces, leisure facilities, and (in the case of Salford Quays) the BBC’s brand-new hub in the north-west of England. Many people in the BBC (and outside) questioned the move north from London, but I can only say if they were sceptical beforehand, they won’t be once they’ve seen it for themselves. Even in the pouring rain and the gathering twilight it was a sight to behold:
The new BBC studios, with the Holiday Inn on the right
Dock House
The Lowry Centre
Imperial War Museum North
The new development is spectacular, exhilarating, and so incredibly compact it defies belief. The tram stop is right in the middle of the place, less than a minute’s walk from the studio entrance, and only a short stroll from the Lowry Centre and the shopping mall adjacent to it. A number of years ago, Cardiff City Council toyed with (and discarded) a Light Rail Transit scheme to link the city centre to the bay. Personally, I think they missed out on a hell of an opportunity to invest in public transport and create a major tourist attraction in its own right.
I already had my confirmation of my hotel booking for the night – a single room on the eighth floor of the Holiday Inn – so I made my way straight there to check in. I’ve always been a bit wary of these international hotel chains, as they’ve got a reputation for anonymity and impersonality. Not a hope. All the corporate staff training couldn’t erase the Northern charm exuded by the people I met. Once again I was blown away by their friendly, welcoming and helpful hospitality. Once I had my room key (a plastic card, which I even needed to use to activate the electricity in the room) I made my way upstairs. I took a quick shot of the view from my window before sorting my stuff out and getting ready for the main event of the day.
The view from my hotel bedroom
1657 Checked into hotel, showered, waiting to go across to studio. #excitedmuch