This was not my first time in Manchester. Or Salford. Or Altringham. Or Bury. But it was the first time I saw all those places in one weekend. All made possible by an excellent public transport network. Trams that ran regularly, reliably and at an affordable price. Well done Greater Manchester for co-ordinating the works required across what I would guess is a number of local authorities over the past 25 years to ensure that the tram network works. Living, as I do, in a City without either an underground or overground light rail network, tram system or even bus network that makes any sense at all, I am super jealous of the ease and speed with which you can move about Lancashire. I don’t drive. I have never driven. It makes living in Bristol quite a challenge as we have an antiquated, expensive and unreliable bus system run with a stranglehold by First Bus. What I wouldn’t give for a MerseyRail or MCR Metrolink, or even Sheffield or Oxford’s buses. There are also some ruddy excellent place names Besses O’ Th’ Barn an obvious one, but I had soft spot for Pomona too.
What public transport does for a City is incalculable. Not just in environmental impact. Not just for the lack of pollution. Not just for the way people can live lives unhindered by not being able to access places if they don’t have or can’t afford a car. What good public transport systems do is level a place. We all have to travel. To school, work, to visit friends, for leisure. When we travel in shared spaces, in shared ways, we learn to mix and share as people. A mix of human life is on a tram, train, tube or bus. Young, old, racially diverse, those with and without disabilities (there remain barriers that should be being removed but aren’t), high- and low-income earners all commute to work the same way when the public transport is good. We learn to stand to allow others to sit when they are old, infirm or pregnant. We learn to share space. There are fewer and fewer places where we share space with each other. Public libraries are closing, museums and galleries reduce their opening hours, children do not play outside as we did. Public transport remains a realm in which we share. When a place has no functioning form of shared transportation, people travel in selfish ways. In cars, on bicycles, on foot with headphones firmly jammed on. We don’t relate to each other. It breeds a selfishness. And it changes the dynamics and culture of a City.
Manchester is known for being open and friendly. The towns around the edges aren’t fringe parts forgotten about, the names are known almost as widely as Manchester’s is. Greater Manchester as a region is powerful economically and culturally. Much creativity and great art has come from this region. Partly that is because people can move around it easily. Ideas can cross fertilise, people can explore and meet each other away from cliquey silos. Contrast that with the place I’ve called home for the past decade. Even the City itself is a series of villages, vaguely strung together, with no coherent soul or narrative. As for the edges, they may as well be on Mars if you haven’t a car. Portishead and Clevedon aren’t on the railway! Buses take quite a while to get there and you have to travel into the city to come back out. Bristol is a creative City, but in very specific ways and styles and if you don’t fit the clique you won’t get on here. There has never been a social levelling of the wealth here. There has never been a way to move people from their silos into other areas to allow for the mingling, mixing and essential opening up required for change to take place.
Ensuring that transportation is reliable, goes where people need it to, and affordable has to be an aim, living as we do in a climate emergency, that every political party should be pledging to. We need bold, unilateral planning that crosses local authority boundaries. We need to spend billions on new rail and tram networks. And we need to do it now. If Greater Manchester could do it in 1992 when Metrolink opened, why can’t we do it in the 21st Century?
As we were staying in Salford and had met, in part, thanks to BBC6 Music I suggested we pop into Media City to see the studio and give Chris Hawkins a wave through the glass. He was covering for RadMac and though I’ve been on his show, I’ve not met him before. This also gave me an excuse to visit the Blue Peter garden which is just opposite and have an 8-year-old girl geek out at being there. It was quite an exciting morning!
I was very glad of the tram to Altringham as it allowed me to visit Off The Wheaten Track, a new entirely gluten free cafe. AN ENTIRELY GLUTEN FREE CAFE. This is a very rare thing for a coeliac to encounter. No risk of cross contamination. No separate menu. Being able to order ANYTHING and EVERYTHING I liked. This happens very rarely indeed. The homemade beans on toast were pretty good. The pancakes, however, were superb. The peanut butter frosting on the cupcake a lovely surprise treat and the jaffa cake cake was the right combo of dark chocolate and orange. I went in hungry and came out very full. With extra cake to take home. If I was local it would have been pies, cheese and even more cakes I can tell you.
Full and happy we went over to the market to find Vinyl Therapy to do some crate digging. It is fitting and appropriate that the record I purchased was Colin Stetson’s as it was at his gig at MIF two years ago, to the very day, that Tom, Kev, Mikey, Mark, Paul, Scott and I had met Morv (who runs Vinyl Therapy) along with our shared shero Mary Anne Hobbs. Music brings people together.
The trip to Bury the next day wasn’t for food. Or to meet any more musical friends. It was to see the Bury Transport Museum. Now I love me a museum. Odd collections, strange themes, I’m up for them all. The Broseley Clay Pipe Museum is an underrated gem and I will get to the Bakelite museum in Somerset someday. Tom love steam trains and I like small museums so we were both very happy in a place full of old buses, trams, vans and railway memorabilia. There was a simple, moving and poignant tribute to the men of the area who were lost in the First World War. It showed the scale of how many men died; how many lives changed as the result of the conflict. There was amazing attention to detail in all the restorations and volunteers happy to chat. That is why I love these sorts of place. They are run by volunteers, who give their time for the love of what they do. When it comes from the heart, it shows. I flashed a defiant ankle at the horse drawn tram, which came from a time when women had no legal rights and had to sit back to back with men on the top deck due to the immodesty if a man were to accidentally see such flesh as flash of ankle! It felt like the right thing to do, to roll down my sock, roll up the leg of my jumpsuit and wave my ankle at the tram. I may be able to vote, own property and even divorce now but my status as equal to that of a man has yet to be reached. I will keep fighting, my sisters, as we all should, until that day comes.
Quite aside from music, I had a really great time, in Manchester. Thank you for making me welcome again in your fine City. Whatever the Mancunian version of the Trevi fountain is, I have thrown my coins in, vowing to return. A little piece of my heart resides up North, that’s for sure.