As mentioned in the 330 write-up, Ashton is the undisputed capital of Tameside. The money which has flowed here has made a difference, particularly with the markets.
Once a dowdy throng of tat, granny knickers and blue tarpaulin flapping against the elements, it has been given a facelift that a Hollywood plastic surgeon would have framed and put front and centre in their reception.
After burning down in 2004, the indoor market is heaving these days. Every other shop is a butcher, a fishmonger or a bakery, but there’s still room for a micro bar, a couple of cafes, a concession that only sells eggs, and even a curtain seller called Brian.
Rusty stalls have been replaced by stylish and permanent kiosks outside the grand hall, with plenty of room to wander between them, rather than having to crab sideways if someone approaches from the opposite direction. It’s an impressive transformation.
I’ve been to dozens of markets across the country, and they mostly feel dated and drab, waiting for their life-support from the local council to be switched off. Ashton has got it right, from the lighting and spacing, down to the sleek Helvetica font which adorns most of the signage. It’s welcoming. It’s useful. It’s modernisation without gentrification.
Not everything has gone to plan, though. The collapse of Carillion has left several Vision Tameside projects – no doubt involving glass facades – up in the air, while the Town Hall has been closed for renovation for three years. With weeds running amok behind the fenced off area, there’s no sign of it re-opening in the foreseeable.
We wander the couple of minutes back to Ashton bus station, just before the 168 pulls up at Stand B.
“Eeeeh, I wonder what they’re doing here, then?”
This isn’t the voice of a passenger, it’s the bus driver. He’s working way outside his normal patch (I’d take a guess that he’s from out towards Wigan), who is pondering aloud about the rubble strewn across half of the interchange. There’s another regeneration project underway, with grand plans for ‘a more attractive gateway to the town’.
These planners do love a good gateway.
There’s also going to be a ”Changing Places’* provision’, although the TfGM website doesn’t indicate what the asterisk actually denotes. Maybe it’s going to be some kind of inter-dimensional transport portal by time it opens in spring 2020, that’d be pretty cool.
The Nook/Nuck Axis
We edge out of the town centre, and a mere five minutes later we are into a rare chunk of extended inner-city countryside. Daisy Nook straddles the border between Tameside and Oldham to the north.
If I’d not been brought up to pronounce it with an ‘oooh’ by both sets of grandparents, I’d say Daisy Nook as you’re probably reading it now: ie, daisy nuck.
I don’t pronounce any other ‘oo’ words like that.
Book, look, took, and even nook when it’s not preceded by daisy, will all come out as ‘buck’, ‘luck’, ‘tuck’ and ‘nuck’. My parents are the same, as is everyone else I know under the age of 65, so there must’ve been some sort of generational linguistic shift for people born post-1953 to abandon the traditional ‘oooh’ sound on this side of Manchester.
The Nuck/Nook Axis, if you will.
Furthermore, Nuuk is the capital city of Greenland, so I’ve no idea how I’ll cope if I ever catch a bus there.
A frail old man gets on just past Littlemoss with a small bouquet of flowers.
He doesn’t look like he wants to go at all.
“I really don’t like coming down this road,” chirps the driver to nobody and everyone all at once, perhaps not realising that his inner monologue has become externalised. “There are far too many speed bumps along here. Still, at least I’m not on one of those old fashioned driver seats, they were like concrete. This one’s got a bit of cushioning, so I’ll be reet.”
The traffic-calming measures are along Sunnyside Road, a curving lane on an estate in Droylsden. Me and Ginger John once got duffed up coming down here on our way back from a Frank Sidebottom gig about 20 years ago. We were minding our own business on the last 169 of the night (the 168’s sister service which was withdrawn from service a few months back), when apropos of nothing, a pair of ruffians started spitting at us from the back row.
They didn’t take kindly to being asked to wind their necks in, and predicting what was in store, I took my glasses off and waited for an inevitable thump on the nose. My assailant missed the target despite having a couple of flails, but succeeded in giving me my first and only black eye to date. This made me the recipient of much sympathy and extra hot dogs at a barbecue the following night.
Needless to say, I had the last laugh.
We arrive at the cemetery on Greenside Lane. The old fella looks like he’s got the weight of the world on his shoulders as he gets off, but he doesn’t have anywhere near Atlas’s physique. He hobbles slowly towards the gates with grim determination, a phrase I can confidently say that I’ve never used so accurately before.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the driver shouts over his shoulder, ”we’re going on a diversion up Scott Road. I think it’s up here…”
Lets! Play! Darts!
His bearings are spot on, and we head along a normally bus-less suburban street towards Ashton New Road. We’re soon back on our normal trajectory, past the new Silly Country pub, which, rumour has it, was staked out by another local landlord on its opening weekend so that he could bar any of his regulars who dared step foot over its threshold.
We also go by a piece of sporting history.
H. Perrigo is a legendary darts shop, in fact, it’s the oldest one in world. The ‘H’ is short for Henri, and he brought his passion for darts over to Manchester from his native France in the late 19th century. The shop has been in the same unit on Market Street since the 1950s, and is one of the last places on the planet where you can get hold of a Manchester Log End board.
Perrigo stopped making them a few years back, so they’re supplied by the last man standing, an octogenarian from nearby Denton called Dave Mealey, who has practically no interest in arrers. He’s more into dominoes, which of course, he also fashions by hand.
“Peel Street!” comes the shout from the front. “I don’t actually know where Peel Street is, mind you, but that’s what it says on the system.”
The driver has been announcing every stop along the way as though he’s the disembodied voice on the Metrolink. His running commentary is outstanding, too, even dropping in the odd non sequitur: “It’s alright driving this route as long as you’re not stuck behind a horse and cart.”
Not that we have been at any point, of course.
Abbey, Abbey Hey!
A ‘Welcome To Abbey Hey’ sign welcomes us to, well, Abbey Hey. This slither of Gorton is home turf for me; I grew up on Abbey Hey Lane, went to Abbey Hey School, and to complete the set, I even contrived to make sure that my first girlfriend was called Abigail Haye.
Four generations of my family lived within a five minute walk of each other, although it was more like 20 minutes for my Nana Meg once her hips gave in and cataracts crept over her eyes.
At the end of Jetson Street, we find Debbie’s Dog Parlour. Its name may lack the bite of some of the dog grooming places we’ve encountered on previous outings, but it holds a special place in my heart nonetheless.
I used to work with Debbie’s niece on a holiday camp in Wales, and after being there for just a month, morale had sunk below sea level for us humble bar staff and kitchen workers.
We had no cooking facilities in our chalets, so after a string of mean-spirited proclamations (“sorry guys, you can’t keep your tips anymore”; “Sorry, you can’t swap any shifts even though your girlfriend is coming to visit for your anniversary.”), the final straw was when we were asked to pay £5 per day for our meals.
A fiver might not sound much, but when you’re on £3.24 an hour, when you’re lucky to fit two meals a day in if you’re on shift, and when you’d be genuinely embarrassed to feed the utter slop we were expected to gratefully wolf down to a pig, revolt was in the air.
I was the first to snap and handed in my notice 3.24 seconds later. I had to work another week, but I could live with that. Others, however, were less keen to stick around.
Conspiratorial meetings were held around the pot wash and ice machine, and it was decided that a moonlight flit to Ibiza was in order. In the early hours of the morning that I was due to leave, a Friday in May 1999, I got a quiet knock on my bedroom door. I was still just about up.
It was the Ibiza gang. Two lads called Carl, one called Mouse, and Vicky – Debbie from Debbie’s Dog Parlour’s niece.
“Are you sure you don’t want to come?” Vicky giggled.
“This is ace, you’re really gonna do it?”
“I don’t think Ibiza would be up my street, and I’ve still not got a passport, so no.”
Hugs and handshakes were doled out, and after a few brief hours of shut-eye, I had another knock on my door at 7am. A much firmer one than the last.
“Ian….Ian. Wake up, please.”
It was the Head Of Bars, whose name thankfully escapes me.
“Have you seen Carl?” one of the Carl’s was my chalet mate.
“No. Why, what’s up?”
“Hmmm, he’s not turned up for work this morning.”
“Oh right. Have you tried at the other Carl’s?” it wasn’t unusual for people to kip on someone else’s settee after a long night.
“He’s not come in, either.”
“Oh right, no, sorry.”
The management didn’t suspect a thing, they’d pulled off the perfect escape. Mwahahahaha!
We sweep around Abbey Hey Lane, past my mum’s, the footprint of Bellamy Court where my dad was born, my old primary school and the community centre where me and my siblings had a few birthday parties.
It’s always strange coming through here. It feels rougher that it was when I was a kid, but I grew up next door to a succession of drunkards, drug addicts, prostitutes, thieves and a murderer, so it should probably feel like a rural idyll in comparison to The Good Old Days.
Manchester’s Legends Of Baseball
We come to Belle Vue, home of the National Speedway Stadium and former site of what was once the UK’s largest theme park.
Lasting from its opening in the summer of 1836 until the last remnants were put out of their misery 150 years later, Belle Vue had a fairground, zoo, gardens, the largest exhibition centre outside London, and the original home track of the mighty Belle Vue Aces speedway team.
At its height, the complex attracted more than 2 million visitors per year, excluding the attendances for the 40,000 capacity stadium. It didn’t just host Aces fixtures, with Broughton Rangers (rugby league’s inaugural champions), Manchester Central FC (who were initially admitted to the Football League in 1931, but soon hoofed out before even kicking a ball thanks to Manchester City and United putting in a protest), and Belle Vue Tigers, a short-lived baseball team in the 1930s.
The Tigers competed in the North Of England Baseball League, a competition formed by Sir John Moores, who had previously founded Littlewoods and struck gold with the invention of the football pools, at a time when betting shops were illegal.
Described as “a daring move” by the Liverpool Echo – a diplomatic understatement if there ever was one, no doubt due to the lingering failure of an earlier attempt in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as well as the mass unemployment at the time – the sport gained a cult following throughout the region.
There was a mix of American talent and eager locals culled from other sports, playing for sides such as Hyde Grasshoppers, Droylsden Mohawks, and the mouthful that was the Manchester North End Blue Sox.
The Tigers finished 6th out of 8 teams in their first season in 1935, their five wins from 14 games not a patch on champions, Oldham Greyhounds, who won all bar two of theirs. Details after that are sketchy, but the outbreak of war in 1939 put the skids on baseball’s steady rise in the UK.
The 168 chugs along Mount Road before turning right down Matthews Lane, one side in Gorton, the other to our left in Levenshulme. We really did have every intention of staying on until Chorlton when pulling away from Ashton, but as we live in Levy, and it’s apparently ‘the new Chorlton’ anyway, the thought of getting off the melting bus is too strong a draw.
Still, we’ve got time to cool down with an ice cream from Ginger’s on Levenshulme Market. As I’m one of those wet lettuce lactose intolerant types, it’s my first ice cream in recent memory, but because this is a vegan scoop, I’m good to go.
Almost inevitably, we decide to revel in a bit more shade just over the road at the Station Hop, assisted by a fancy pants IPA for Eleanor and a thirst-quenching funky saison for me.
I hope you’re still awake after all that. We’re off to that London next…