This was to be my first trip out of the Midlands since 29th February. A time when things in this country were the way proper life should be. In the last few days, the government have introduced a 3 tier system to deal with rising virus infections. It’s confusing to say the least but I’ll do my best to explain. Tier 1 basically covers rural areas where the population of a village numbers below 100. Inhabitants of detached houses with big gardens will be allowed to visit each other once a month, but only if that month starts with a ‘J’ and ends with a ‘y’, and even then, it’s confined to one person at a time and can’t be the same person twice. If you live on your own, contact can only be made through semaphore. Tier 2 appears to cover small to medium sized towns that are within 8 to 10 miles of another similar sized town. Face masks are mandatory everywhere, including in the bath or shower. Hands are to be immersed in sanitizer 24 hours a day unless eating and must be returned to immersion whilst food is in mouth. If you live with someone, you must pick a room each, and not be in the same room at any time. You are allowed to leave the place you live in but only individually as social distancing has been increased from 2 metres to 100. Failure to adhere to these rules will result with the miscreant being shot. Tier 3 covers large towns and cities. In these places, everything is closed even the supermarkets and chemists. All vehicles have been confiscated to discourage any escape. Everyone is confined to the place they live and to this end, front doors are nailed shut and windows boarded up. Any inhabitants contracting the virus will have the place where they live raised to the ground. I hope that’s cleared things up. Atherton lies in greater Manchester a place whose mayor is battling against going into tier 3. I bought advanced train tickets last Saturday with the hope I’d be able to use them. Even by Thursday night, I wasn’t totally sure. I even checked on the Manchester Evening News website for latest updates as the week went on. By Friday evening, it appeared I’d be ok, that pubs would be open and the match would be on. A visit to Atherton Collieries had been soundly recommended by my ground hopping nephew. If I knew how to put in a link to his brilliantly informative blog, I’d do it here but I simply haven’t got the patience and can’t afford a new phone because no doubt, I would’ve thrown it against the wall in frustration. I really should have a play with this new ish format, but whenever I even think about doing it, I can sense the spirit being drained from my soul. Davidsadventuresingroundhopping is on WordPress though and well worth a read. It was also to be my first trip of the season on my own. Not sure whether I’ve stated this before, but I’m equally as happy ale trailing and ground hopping with people as I am on my own. If I had to choose a pigeon hole to sit in, I’d probably have to build a new one. I class myself as a sociable loner and I haven’t met another person who’s the same. Mind you, I’m only 52, so there’s still chance. I got the train up to Manchester and once out of the stifling atmosphere of Piccadilly station, I checked Covid notices on the Piccadilly Tap, and carried on walking. I noticed the nostalgia/antiques/secondhand shop that Dave had ducked into when he’d met up with me before the ground hop to Stalybridge. What a treasure trove of a place. Part of me wished I’d gone in there with him. (I’d waited outside) I immediately realised that had I, chances are, we’d have been in there for days, possibly weeks. It’s a place I’d like to dismantle and painstakingly transport back to Brum. After reluctantly tearing myself away, I carried on down to Victoria. As it had been far too long since I’d been up north, I’d almost forgotten how grotty the Northern Rail rolling stock really is. The Pacers may have been decommissioned now, but what they have left is still far too old. I touched down in Atherton and made my way past two cemeteries to the first on my itinerary. I say two cemeteries, one was a care home. Let’s be brutally honest here, a care home is only really a waiting room before death anyway. If we afforded the same consideration to our old people as we do our pets, then we’d legalise euthanasia. Instead, we make our old folks suffer the pain that comes with the body and brains disintegration. The Royal is a Hyde’s establishment and as I’m partial to their beer, I was always going to take the place in. The barman was yet another of the effeminate persuasion. That’s three ‘queens’ since I’ve been ground hopping this season. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest, it just seems beyond coincidence. It’s probably just down to the fact that there’s not as many people in pubs at the moment, that I’m noticing. The next on my list hadn’t any real ale on. The pumps lay idle, so moved down my list. The Atherton Arms is tied to the Holt Brewery and is a large pub. By the time I’d got in there, both the big derby games of the day had kicked off and the pub was showing both. I didn’t care about the Merseyside one, but was pleased to see that Rangers were winning the Glasgow one. In proper times, the pub would’ve been rammed with fans watching both games. As it was, there was maybe only a dozen in there. I moved on to another tied pub, this time, The Pendle Witch. Anyone who knows beer and Lancastrian history, won’t be surprised to hear that the pub was tied to the Moorhouse Brewery. It’s another breweries beer I’m fond of, and again, in proper times, I’m sure that the pub would’ve been packed with Saturday lunchtime drinkers. It seems to be only the hardy few that are putting up with all the ridiculous restrictions that are now in place. The whole pub experience has been well and truly decimated to the extent that people just don’t see the point anymore. I’d left myself with enough time to get to the ground.
I paid in and after reading Dave’s gushing account of the meat and potato pie he’d had, there was only going to be one place I was heading. I noticed they were selling Skuna (The grounds name) craft lager. I fancied trying it, and if I’m being honest, it wasn’t at all bad. What? You want to know about the pie? If I’m being picky, although tasty, the pastry was a little short. The filling was absolutely gorgeous. My nephew was right to wax lyrical about it. I noticed fans with programmes, I asked where I could get one, when informed, the informant must’ve seen my crestfallen expression. I hadn’t seen anyone selling them, so believed they’d sold out. Generously, he gave me his spare, waving away my offer of reimbursement.
I’m not saying the pitch had a pronounced slope but the kickoff was delayed because a gentle breeze had got up, and the ball kept rolling off down the hill. Eventually it dissipated enough for the game to be able to start. Atherton were kicking down hill and quickly made the advantage pay. I wondered how many goals they’d need to be leading at halftime, to manage to repel the inevitable onslaught in the second half. It definitely seems to have some sort of psychological effect on teams, as the home side didn’t work as hard playing down hill as the away side did playing up hill. It was as if Stalybridge had been reduced to 10 men and they had developed an inferiority complex that forced them to work harder. The hard work paid off, although they missed two really easy chances, they equalised through a well taken shot from the edge of the area. 1:1 at halftime, the second half was a role reversal. Although Stalybridge hit the post, it was Atherton’s turn to roll their sleeves up and battle up the hill and had chances to score. It ended the same as the first half had. It had been a strange game. Certainly not the one I was expecting when The Colls took such an early lead. I can’t really begin to describe how bad the slope was, because I wouldn’t be able to do it justice. I do feel it would benefit from Speedway style inflatable crash barriers behind the goal at the bottom of the slope, just in case someone can’t stop and goes careering into the advertising boards. Might even be worth installing breathing apparatus at the top of the slope to aid recovery from the exertion of running up it.
I’ve come to recognize fellow ground hoppers from the speed they move after a game. It’s a speed that indicates that they’re heading to the train station and they’ve done the required research needed on train times. As long as you keep them in eyesight, you won’t go wrong. To this effect, I easily made the train back to Victoria and the euphonious noise of a Manchester tram. As cities I’ve visited and visit go, I love Manchester. It’s vibrant, artistic and spiky. There’s an awful lot about the place that reminds me of Brum. Both have that jaunty feel about them. The Angel is one of my particular favourites. A place that is a ‘locals’ pub. Even in these awkward times, it had a good range of ales on. As always, it was well kept. I was hoping to get to the Grey Horse before the train home, but however much I practice, I’m not as fast as twinkle toes Daryl and the sparks that his shoes create when he walks, and so settled on the Piccadilly Tap. As per usual, and like I used to get before I moved back to Brum, I didn’t want to leave Manchester. It was only knowing that I was going back to Brum that lifted my spirits. Catching the train, I settled down with my headphones jammed in.
Drifting off to sleep, I began to dream………. I’m stood outside what appears to be some sort of medical facility. Well at least the signposts are synonymous with the kind you see outside a hospital. I watch as heavily guarded gates are opened and a curious cavalcade of vehicles heads my way. It’s obvious that I appear to be invisible as nobody seems to take any notice of me when the cavalcade grinds to a halt within feet of me. Either that, or like in a lot of my life, I’m just being ignored. The first vehicle is a navy blue SUV and the inhabitants are squashed in together, the second appears to be a ministerial state car, the type I’ve seen many times on the streets of London, a Jaguar with its blacked out windows. The third, a tiny ‘courtesy’ car. The first and thirds inhabitants get out. The first with much arguing amongst them. It’s clear there’s not a lot of love lost. “If you must persist on bringing your egg sandwiches with you Whitty, you could at least have waited until we’d got here before eating them”, “Or wound the window down anyway” added, what appeared to be, Jenny Harries. The third vehicles occupant was Matt Hancock. “Why have you still got your bicycle clips on Matt?” “Have I?” Hancock looks down at the bottom of his trousers. “Blimey, you’re right, so I have” Hancock carries on awkwardly standing there. “Take them off man, you won’t need them in here” says Jonathan Van-Tam rather brusquely. “Yes, yes, yes, of course”. Hancock bends down and promptly fall over. Chris Whitty helps him up. “For God’s sake, what’s keeping Boris?”, asks Jenny Harries of no one in particular. Cue fits of giggles from Patrick Valance and a snort of laughter from Jonathan Van-Tam. Both Chris Whitty and Matt Hancock have confused looks on their faces before pretending to join in just to appear that they understand the joke. “Can’t you lot ever grow up?”, said Jenny Harries sternly. Just then, the rear door of the Jaguar opens, the country’s Prime Minister and that unmistakable mop of blond, almost white hair of his, gets out. He was doing his files up on his trousers, shirt still needing to be tucked in, “Sorry everyone, important business with this charming little filly here”, he was joined by a young secretarial looking assistant who was still adjusting her skirt, whilst trying to maintain some sort of importance with a clipboard. “Is everyone ready?” Asked Jonathan Van-Tam? No one really answered, it was just a given that they were, and he marched into the building. I followed. They headed straight to the laboratories. Turning the corner, two young men in lab coats were using mops as hockey sticks with what looked like a pair of surgical gloves as a puck. “Oh, hello Jon”, one said. “What on earth are you doing Sebastian?” “Just passing time.” “There was nothing else to do and we got bored”, the other lad added. “I can see that Alexander”, a rather red faced Van-Tam said. They carried on to the laboratories, the young men went back to their mop hockey. They came to a young girl in a lab coat. “Hello Octavia, How’s everything going?” Asked Jenny Harries. “Slow I’m afraid Dr Harries.” “Oh do call me Jenny, Octavia” “Sorry Doc.. I mean Jenny. I must get on” “Yes yes, of course.” Octavia scuttled past, but not before Boris had made eye contact. She went scarlet. Two young women were precariously perched on lab stools, both were reading or watching things on their phones. “Oh I want these shoes” says the one, waving her phone underneath the others nose. “Ooh They’re lush” exclaims the other. “Ladies, you know breaks are not to be taken in the lab” “Oh we’re not on our break” “Then why aren’t you hard at work on finding a vaccine for this virus” “We’ve tried everything, nothing works” One of the women dismissively replies with a sigh. “It’s true, absolutely nothing works” Adds the other, backing her colleague up. “We’re only here because we’re getting so well paid still” said the first, with what was a surprisingly honest admittance. Just then, there was a crash as Matt Hancock knocked a rack of test tubes on to the floor. “Sorry” he exclaimed before attempting to pick bits up, but knocks another rack of test tubes off the side in the process. “Just leave it Matt” An exasperated Patrick Valance snaps. Jonathan Van-Tam nods over to a figure in a lab coat hunched over a microscope. “At least someone is hard at it” “Who is that?” Asks Jenny Harries. “Oh that’s just Jim” says one of the young women who was still perched precariously on the stool but was now filing her nails. “He’s the caretaker” added the other. She carries on, “We bet him that if he could find a vaccine, we’d send the photos of Professor Douglas, that we took of her when she was in the shower, to his phone” “The thing is, there isn’t any photos, she didn’t even go on that team building weekend, but he doesn’t know that” followed up the other woman, who was now looking intently into a compact mirror whilst skillfully applying fresh mascara. The door opened, Jim’s gazed up from the microscope and watched as a glamorous women sexily strolled over to another door before exiting out of the lab. “That’s Professor Douglas” “Yes yes, we gathered” Snapped Jenny Harries, all too aware of her own plainess. Both Matt Hancock and Chris Whitty stood there with their mouths open. “Where’s Boris?” Patrick Valance asked nobody in particular. Another door bursts open, “Sorry everyone, have I missed anything?” Once again, he was zipping up the flies on his trousers, shirt untucked. “This bright little thing was explaining things to me”, a red faced Octavia emerged from behind the man with the mop of blond hair…….. With a start, I woke up, we were just pulling into New Street station. I breathed a sigh of relief, it had only been a dream. As my fellow passengers started to get up as New Street was the final destination, I noted the face masks and remembered we’re living in a nightmare.
FOOTNOTE:- I’ve been doing the Crown in Alvechurch a disservice. Twice I’ve called it the Swan in my blog. So to reiterate, the pub down the tow path is The Crown and NOT the Swan. In mitigation, I…….errr…..nope, haven’t got anything. Never underestimate the consistency of stupidity, to quote a favourite film of mine.