Friday, 22 January 2010

Piccadilly Circus

“It’s like Piccadilly Circus,” says Mrs M. The snow has gone, the schools are back, and the road works have resumed at Cataract Bridge. So Town Street is as congested as the chest of a November Stockport baby.

Like many places, we have our own driving code. My nephew in Stroud showed me proudly that whatever misdemeanour you commit, the oncoming vehicle, be it dust-cart, Polo or even white van, will wait with beatific composure till you pass.

My erstwhile lass in Boston, Mass – now something important in Highways – once gave me a tour of her city in her 20 year old Malibu, mainly views of Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox. “Cut ‘em dead: don’t look ‘em in the eye,” was her motto.

In the Bridge, we are flashers. We flash to let people through, give two flashes to thank the flasher, and the shortest of blips to acknowledge the grateful blink of a bus released from incarceration between a skip and a hard place.

And, while our fingers hover by the headlamp stalk, our eyes are busy in the mirror. Well, I never: there’s John at the wheel: I wonder what’s happened to his collapsible bike, or are his knees giving him trouble again?

They don’t generally say that if you stand in Town Street long enough, the whole world passes by, but I shall. The brother-in-law’s father for instance was evacuated here from Cheetham Hill, and talked of his home in Mellor as a magic place. Back in the old days, when I still smoked outside, I was rolling a cigarette (ah! the glory days) with a new acquaintance in someone’s back garden when I realised we had shared a flat in Brighton, and they’d got here via Birmingham and Trinidad. Then there was the film-maker I bumped into, and found he had once been married to my mother’s cousin... I won’t bore you with more.

Cognoscenti will assert that some of these people live in Mellor, or Rowarth, or Marple. But that’s not the point: they all pass through Marple Bridge, because it’s miles round if you go by any other way. Indeed, it seems that half the local children live on the Mellor side, but go to school in Ludworth, while the other half live on the Ludworth side, and go to school in Mellor. Via Town Street.

Except, of course when Town Street is shut. After the River Goyt, in spate, washed away its embankment, Town Street seemed to be closed for ever. First the bank, then the gas main, then the bridge: it went on for about twoyears. So we roared around the narrow lanes, turned grass verges to mud, trashed tarmac. And flashing was definitely suspended. We gripped the wheel with both hands as waves of Discoverys charged us down.

It was a May evening when a black cab brought me home from Stockport Station, along Glossop Road, and right at the Travellers Call onto Ley Lane. Over Mill Brow, and through Hollywood, the evening sun filtering through new pale leaves. The driver had slowed, unfamiliar with the road, nosing around bends.

“It would be quite something to live here”, he said, “something to aim for”. Something to be grateful for, I thought, as I have been ever since. Most of the time.

We clattered up Chatterton Lane onto the moor at Shiloh Road, and dropped down by Five Lane Ends into Moor End, with Manchester before us and the Cheshire plain beyond.

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