Here's something to do on a Saturday: slice through Manchester on the 41 bus. Let's start outside Sainsburys, Fallowfield, on Wilmslow Road. It's probably raining and there is a good mix of drunks, smokers, students, old men and older women crammed beneath the bus shelter. The smell is intense. Cheap perfume, cigarettes, sweat and other unsavoury aromas invade like a molecular battalion, punishing your nose with every advance. Once, when I was in my heyday, I dismounted a bus at this stop and witnessed a female student taking a shit. That, in essence, is all you need to know about the area in which you are standing. Yet, this horribleness only exists beneath the shelter. Move but an inch away and one will experience the sights and smells of the local kebab houses. These may look rundown with their garish, pink displays and their damaged neon lights but the smell coming from them is a delight.
Yay, here comes the bus. Stand back though. The magic bus drivers are crazy. Their vehicles bounce along like nodding donkeys and are likely to jolt hither and thither, causing panic as they go. Fortunately, we are boarding a Stagecoach which, by comparison, provides a plush and leisurely journey. Wave goodbye to Fallowfield, or say Au revoir, as we begin our journey towards Altrincham.
The place we hit first, almost immediately, is Withington. In many ways it's exactly the same as Fallowfield. But I think I prefer it. Pay a visit to Solomon and Grundy's and enjoy one of their beautifully crafted burgers; wander across the road and sample the fish and chips of The Battered Cod, rated as one of the best in the North West; take in the ripe smells of pastries and salt and vinegar; the whole place exudes cheap food, yet most of it is really rather good. Beware though! Take heed! This is the stamping ground of the infamous bus preaching woman, liable to strike at any moment. She's crazy. Her voice can penetrate anything. I swear, when you hear it, you'll feel as though someone has taken a cheese grater to your brain. She'll ramble on endlessly about the plight of her Indian son. "He's in prison!" she'll declare. "Why?" "Because he killed somebody! Please help me set him free; give me money to help set him free."
Onwards! Up Palatine Road to the Marie Louise Gardens where I must digress. This is where I escaped the clutches of an insane woman. I'd hit her car with my fist; she'd tried to run me over. Run me over with her Ford Cortina. Of all the cars to choose. I was so mad I swung out. Little did I expect her to stop. Stop so forcefully she muddied the road with smoking rubber. Adrenalin pumped through me; what a glorious feeling. I ran like a gazelle; this woman looked mean. She carried an axe; saliva foamed from her mouth; I could hear grunting; I could smell rotting meat; what had I done? To the gardens I ran. Where else could I have found protection? This was territory she would never enter. Who knows what frightened her? I'll never be more thankful in my life. The Marie Louise Gardens; I salute you.
To Northenden. What can one say about Northenden? Get off the bus here and you could become a member of a cult. Let me see. We have The Brethren, The Quakers, Jehovah's Witnesses (JW), Three Day Eventers, Kareshists and Campers. What choice! Do you become a member of the JW club and give up your weekend to sit in an old cinema? Do you join the Three Day Eventers and ponce about on a horse? Unfortunately we can't do any. We're on the bus and we're not getting off.
Through Northenden, which is best forgotten; through Northern Moor, which is even worse; through Sale Moor, nothing fancy; and into Sale, where we finally have something to talk about. Wait! How could I forget the woman I once encountered in Northern Moor. The woman who called everybody Alby. She was old. She had old hair, grey and matted; she had old clothes, brown and checked; she spoke old words; prankster and tops; she smelled old like stale beer; her voice was riddled with age, deep and filled with phlegm; she walked crookedly; she made me nervous; and, what a surprise, she sat next to me and thought it best to tell me about the events of her day. "You alright Alby? I just been to the hospital, Alby, to see Alby. He's getting on well. Alby was there too. Said he was goin' to Alby's grave afterwards which makes sense." She went on like this for a good long time. I met many Albys: little and large; young and old; clever and dull. I often wonder whether any of them exist, and I often long to see her again but I never have.
So, Sale. Zumars is a damn good restaurant serving all things sub continental. Order the duck! Also, we meet our second decent chippy, Captain Cod, where the service is bright and cheery and is full of wonderful insights into the world of football. Sale precinct is a little run down, though, despite the "face-lift" of recent years. It suffers from drunk, old man syndrome. Everywhere you look, and this is particularly and depressingly true at eight in the morning, you can see red-faced, warty old men drinking beer. You can hear them clearing their throats so forcefully you'll get the impression they've swallowed a bag of nails. Everywhere reeks of piss and farts. Let one go in public here and you'll receive a round of applause. Yet, we must not be too harsh if only for the reason that this is my hometown. However, we must stay on the bus for we have payed for Altrincham and we must not waste money.
And so we arrive at our destination. People who live in Altrincham think it's the dog's bollocks and, indeed, use the phrase "dog's bollocks" more than any other group of people in England. I was schooled here, at the boy's grammar, which is why my writing is so fragmented. It's home to a decent market; it's home to Chinchilla world, Super Blades, a cinema, Mad Dave, and is awfully close to Hale Village, home of the penis shaped clock tower. There are shops galore, pubs galore, restaurants galore, clubs...A club! You can even get your anus bleached in its world-famous plastic surgery clinic. It really is the dog's bollocks. It really is worth the journey. But where are all the people? Did we arrive too late? Why are the streets so deserted? It's only seven. Is everybody in bed? Take a look around. How many bed shops are there? Dozens! People in Altrincham must spend a lot of time in bed. Are they ill or indulging in large quantities of sex? Listen carefully. Can you hear? The sound of a woman screaming! From that house. Is she sick or is she sexually aroused? Why are the people of Altrincham getting so much sex? Should I move here? I think not. I work here. That's enough for me. I can think of nothing worse than rolling out of bed and into my workplace. Imagine that! So, back on the bus we get. Back to Fallowfield for a kebab and a pint at the Friendship Inn. Back to a place where people never sleep. Back to the place where I feel I belong. Back to my home.