Saturday, 22 March 2008

Another Mancunian weekend (eee!) part 1

Friday, 25 January 2008

The Kronprinzeßin von und zu Neustadt-usw is still exiled to a nursing home - albeit a very nice one - while tiny Swiss-trained elves construct a new house for her out of the finest milk chocolate. Or something: certainly it's taking long enough.

This was the weekend of our nephew Sam's bar mitzvah and, all other things being as per, the whole family would expect to turn out, in its entire mobhanded splendour, in order to cheer him on from the touchline. Er, or whatever. I was originally planning to mount another spectacular expedition to rescue Becca for a couple of days so she could come, but halfway through planning it I suddenly had a rare attack of sanity and realized that I couldn't sustain that amount of effort so soon after Christmas.

Although it would've been very nice to have Bec at the bar mitzvah it simply didn't add up. You'll be relieved to hear that I'm not planning to present the whole thing line-by-line but, for example, I still haven't identified an accessible van hirer in Manchester so this project would've required me to drive London - Manchester - London - Manchester - London in not so many days. I do love driving these larger vehicles but there's a limit to what is safe and sensible for "routine" (sic) trips. And so on.

So I decided that it really wasn't on: but the other side of that coin was that it was perhaps a bit mean to leave Becca languishing alone up there in the City of Much Raining while the rest of us were having a family jolly in London.

The solution was for me to skip the bar mitzvah - sending all possible love and support of course - and go and have a weekend with Becca instead. This still involved hiring a van, so we could get out and about a bit, but I'd only have to do one return trip, not two: and so on.


  • I picked up the van at two o'clock on the Friday from the ever-lovely AVH.
  • Note to self: picking up a hired vehicle always takes longer than you think, and then a bit more.
  • It was a nice van. Not quite as nice as the last one, but also very shiny and new. It was, again, a VW Transporter, but drove just a touch more roughly than the Christmas one. The interior layout was subtly different - to Becca's advantage, in fact - and the wheelchair tie-downs were different too. Specifically, they were slightly more difficult and time-consuming to use; but did as good a job in most respects, and a better job with regard to providing a seat-belt for Becca. I found it quite odd that they haven't just standardized on one system: but hey.
  • Once more it was (a bit naughtily) empty of diesel.
  • I had a somewhat troubling trip to fill it up: it's a long story, but having a huge lorry nearly reverse into me was a particular low point. Eek!
  • So it was probably closer to three before I was really moving.
  • Up to Manchester without too much trouble, though it got a bit busy later on.
  • The M6 Toll costs nine pounds in the van! I am writing a song about this.

It was a bit disconcerting trying, first time round, to find my hotel, the Oldham Travelodge, as it's in a bit of a hinterland of motorways and warehouses. Not horrendous though, and easy enough once you knew. However despite it looking navigationally odd once or twice the GPS got me there without serious trouble.

Note: GPS receivers like to lock onto a road and convince themselves that you're on it. Setups with too many close and/or parallel roads can be confusing, so you're often worried which roads it thinks you're on: complex motorway junctions in confined spaces are a prime source for this.

The Travelodge was OK: that is, I was very comfortable there and it's very reasonably priced. The only disappointment is the breakfast situation - there isn't one, and I had their rather chilly takeaway breakfast box each morning. It's quite nice stuff but gets a bit depressing by the third day. Apparently the pub next door does proper cooked breakfast at the weekend and I rather wished I'd sussed this out rather than lazily sticking with the box. I'll know, another time.

Having dropped stuff off at the hotel I went over to see Becca. It's only about ten minutes over to the nursing home and quite a fun and varied drive: a lot of it is quite fast suburban dual carriageway then it suddenly becomes piddly little back streets - indeed I missed the turning off the big road on this first try because I couldn't believe that the GPS really wanted me to turn so soon, so sharply and into such a tiny street. Ah, Vogel, have faith - it was quite inconvenient having to wrest the honking great van around in a grid of even piddlier little streets to get reality back into line with the GPS's view of things. I think I was down to an inch spare either side at one point: it makes you breathe in a bit, especially when it is someone else's lovely shiny van.

Of course after this one silliness, and a moment on the way back of mild confusion about "where's the turn?" (answer: just after the Robin Hood pub), I had the route off pat. Having been back and forth along it about 900 times over the weekend I reckon I could now have a fair attempt at doing it blindfolded.

I haven't mentioned this short journey's crowning glory: a wonderful humpbacked bridge in a flight of locks on the Rochdale Canal at Poplar Street. The Rochdale is special. You can read about it elsewhere but when I was in Manchester as a student it was mostly derelict: its beautiful rural bits (Todmorden, Hebden Bridge) were still in water but the urban parts, other than a short linking section, were in a sorry state and had largely been filled in, leaving only a couple of inches of water. The canal's restoration to navigability has been a huge success story, one that I'd thought would never happen.

Anyway, this particular bridge had been flattened during the closure and so had had to be rebuilt to permit navigation. It was probably a lot easier for drivers while the canal was closed - it's now narrow, steep and has single-file traffic over its blind hump, so is controlled by traffic lights. It's all rather wonderful, basically. I wish I had a photo to show you but it was not an easy place to stop. Ah well, webbity website.

From there it's just a short hop round a couple more corners to the nursing home. Once I got there we had a very pleasantly lazy evening of chat and telly and takeaway, possibly including catching up on Torchwood on DVD, I seem to recall. I found a nice Chinese restaurant a mile or two off, partly with the help of the GPS, and we got what seemed like a reasonable quantity of food - which naturally means there was enough for about six people. Oops. Oh well. A very nice way to spend the time.

Back at the hotel my worries about the van's safety were allayed somewhat by my being able to park it right outside my window - then and pretty much every time. I wouldn't always regard "excellent view of the car-park" as something over which to get all celebratory. However, this was really a very pretty new van, and they check them very carefully on return, and I had a nasty feeling I might have signed up to some level of excess in the insurance which I might greatly regret if everything went a bit pear-shaped.

And so to bed. Ah look Tamsin, a thoughtful person has purchased a tiny bottle of some form of whisky. Yes yes, a nightcap would indeed be convivial.


Kat said...

Wonderful, you use the word "lorry"!

Since you mention driving (a lot) in this epic trip, maybe you can answer a question of mine: what are the zig-zag lines painted along the sides of London roads for? I asked a London girl and she didn't know, so I was left stumped.

Strawberryyog said...

Ah yes, I had forgotten that "lorry" is a Britishism. It sounds quite normal to me - but interestingly it is totally uncool to say it in a UK military context - there, they are only ever trucks.

The zig-zag lines are an "exclusion zone" either side of certain hazards - pedestrian crossings, school entrances etc. If you stop your car on them the police are allowed to shoot you or exile you to St Helena or something. I am a bit hazy on the details but it's something like that - certainly I think it is treated more seriously than just normal dodgy parking on a yellow line or whatever, because it's seen as wilfully endangering pedestrian safety.

Sadly, round here you sometimes see people abusing the school entrance ones - like they've been left clear so that they can drive up in the 4x4 and drop off Colin and Tamsin right outside the gates. Normal people have a name for people like this, which is not polite.

Kat said...

Ah, now I can sleep at night. Thank you! I first saw those lines in a Monty Python movie and thought, "Oh those Monty Pythoners; they even invent crazy street lines for their movies!"