Route: 330, Stockport – Ashton (some journeys start at the World Freight Centre at Manchester Airport)
Operator: Stagecoach Manchester
Frequency: Every 10 mins (Mon-Sat), Every 20 mins (Sun)
Cost: Part of a £4.50 DayRider
Date Of Trip: 14/7/18
Ooooh, the drains are up today. Or, more precisely, the nascent River Mersey which runs directly behind Stockport Bus Station isn’t at its freshest this morning.
It’s only been the Mersey for a few hundred yards by this point, blossoming into its famous name just upstream at the confluence of the Tame and the Goyt. From there it runs underneath the town’s Merseyway Shopping Centre, whose tunnel Eleanor (she is alongside us today) has been jammy enough to go through while inspecting the bridges and walls inside.
I say ‘jammy’, but there’s no way you’d get me under there in a million years. It’s pitch black, there’s probably rats scuttling away and definitely a colony of bats, all of which will be hell bent on getting tangled up in my lovely golden hair.
Despite this mega-culvert, which was originally constructed as a road in the 1930s, the good people of Stockport haven’t tried to claim their shopping centre as some sort of extremely wide bridge, as they’ve done consistently and erroneously for decades in Rochdale.
It was enclosed because the Mersey was chronically polluted, full of gunge and gunk from the surrounding mills, and covering it up masked the smell. It’s a pong which still kicks up every now and again.
The 330 is a pain in the arse to catch. Its stand is at the far end of one the bus station’s long burrows, and you can guarantee – absolutely guarantee – that you’ll see people boarding the bus from a distance, quicken your pace to race walker speeds with accompanying bum waggles, and just as you get to within a few yards of it, the driver will pull away.
To make matters worse, the next bus which is meant to be in ten minutes, will take at least twice that to arrive.
I’m genuinely not exaggerating that this happens at least 80% of the time, which I’ll admit does make a mockery of my emphasised 100% guarantee a moment ago, but four times out of five is standard. I’m at peace with the whole palava now, and can at least console myself with having the pick of the seats on the top deck when the next bus eventually crawls in.
Does it happen today? Of course it does, and we are left exchanging knowing eye-rolls with a lady in a Tesco tabard, who’ll be a bit late into work today. In fact, she likely builds this daily grievance into her schedule.
It’s a mere 15 minute wait for the next 330 to pick us up this time, and we’re soon bounding out through Mersey Square, where a dinky amphitheatre called the Bear Pit is barely bigger than one you’d find in a model village.
The bears apparently used to be kept in small caves a few yards away, while French prisoners from the Napoleonic Wars were holed up in cells along the riverbank and tasked with making nails. Probably for chucking at the poor old bears.
Finger Lickin’ Good
After weaving our way out of the centre of town and into Portwood, we come to a true Stockport institution: KFC.
Not the Colonel Sanders KFC (he spent the last few years of his life bitterly sniping at the company which he formed. He was adamant that after he sold up, the gravy was like wallpaper paste), this is Kingsley Flooring & Carpets. It always has some words of witty wisdom written onto its window, starting with ‘KFC Says…’.
‘Witty wisdom’ is probably up for debate, come to think of it, as one famous example compared the tunnel in Paris where Princess Diana perished to the Queen’s soiled gusset after a bout of gastroenteritis.
Skid marks, just in case I need to spell it out.
We navigate the fearsome Portwood Roundabout, which is so wide you can’t see the opposite side of it. The bus has its own designated lane, though, which dissects the roundabout in two and speeds our passage down Carrington Road.
No.33 has a blue plaque nailed to its wall, as it’s the birth place of England’s greatest ever tennis player, Fred Perry.
He completed a career Grand Slam, winning all four majors between 1933-36. This included a rapid fire 6-1, 6-1, 6-0 triumph over German aristocrat, Baron Gottfried von Cramm, for the last of his Wimbledon hat-trick.
The match lasted less than 45 minutes, after Perry had been been tipped off by a masseuse that his opponent had a groin strain, so he mercilessly launched the ball to his weaker side.
Baron von Cramm was reluctantly held up as a picture of Aryan superiority by the Nazis. A blond six footer who topped the world rankings in 1937, he fell foul of the regime which refused to let him defend his French Open title (he’d beaten Perry on clay in 1936, the only one of five Slam finals he won against him), and was imprisoned the following year for having a relationship with a Jewish actor and singer, Manasse Herbst.
Their affair (von Cramm was married aged 21 in 1930) was revealed by a rent boy, but Herbst was already long gone, with his lover paying for his transit out of the country.
After his year-long term in chokey, he was conscripted to the Germany Army, and despite having no military experience, his noble background soon saw him leading a company on the Eastern Front. Most of its soldiers perished, with von Cramm being sent home with severe frostbite and was ultimately discharged.
Fred Perry may well have won more than the eight majors he claimed if it wasn’t for the stuffy committee of the All-England Club. They were miffed that he wasn’t a fellow toff (his dad was the national secretary of the Co-operative Party when it formed in 1917), and his decision to turn pro at the end of the 1936 season meant that he couldn’t compete on the strictly amateur main tour.
Instead, he earned a few bob by playing a series of games against Ellsworth Vines, the top pro of the inter-war period, and latterly, Don Budge, who eventually clobbered the pair of them.
Perry wasn’t just a whizz at whacking a furry ball with a big bat, though. He won the 1929 table tennis world championships in Budapest with a much smaller one. As well as having a fling with Marlene Dietrich and providing mods with something to wear underneath their parkas, he also found time to accidentally invent the sweat band.
Stockport has commemorated his achievements by naming a council building after him, and apart from the blue plaque and a footpath, that’s pretty much it.
A (Crossbow) Bolt From The Blue
Moving on, we sweep around the bend at Vernon Park, where a friend of ours (who shall remain nameless) once had a job. ‘Once’ being the operative word, as he lasted for half a day.
Our pal was on his dinner break and decided to have a quick snooze in a wheelbarrow. The only problem being that the mayor was popping over to inspect some newly installed flower beds, and came across him fast asleep underneath a tree. A ”we don’t think this job’s for you” talk swiftly followed.
The heat is sizzling us, so a short stretch under canopy as we approach Bredbury is much appreciated. Bredbury, or Bredders if it was a cricketer, was the site of the Quaffers. A legendary cabaret venue and nightclub, its hydraulic stage hosted practically all the big names in family entertainment during its 20 years of operation, before shutting its doors for the final time in 1998.
It was owned by Dougie Flood, who depending on which of his sons you believe, was either a member of Manchester’s notorious Quality Street gang and fought with the Krays at Manchester Piccadilly station, or was just a local businessman. A bouncer done good. What is indisputable is that he had friends in high places and that both Frank Sinatra and Muhammad Ali stayed at his house in Middleton.
Quaffers is a Homebase now, with the most apostrophe resistant of supermarket chains, Morrisons, snuggling up next door. Neither have implemented the strict dress code employed by the space’s former occupant, where men would be turned away if they had earrings, visible tattoos, or trainers. Comfortable footwear being a sure sign of a troublemaker, of course.
The heat is keeping most of the Saturday shoppers away, and we breeze through what is usually a frustrating bottleneck in seconds rather than the usual five minutes.
Woodley is just up the road, a suburb straining under the weight of long-closed flat roofed pubs, and where an extraordinary incident happened at a football match in November 2006.
Woodley Sports – then managed by Ally Pickering, who’d played in the Premier League with Coventry City but would later go onto greater glory as the boss Hyde United’s reserves – were taking on Alsager Town in a Northern Premier League Division One game.
With ten minutes left to play, a metre long crossbow bolt was fired onto the pitch from outside of the ground, missing Woodley fullback, Jamie Kay, by millimetres. Understandably, he said that he “felt physically sick” when he saw the pointy implement buried into the astroturf, although he’d have doubtless felt much worse if fate had sent it a few inches the other way.
The game was abandoned by the ref with the home side winning 3-0, and Alsager did the gentlemanly thing by losing the re-arranged tie 4-1. As far as I can tell, nobody was ever charged over the incident despite an early arrest being made.
Eleanor gets a text from her dad. “How’s Edwina?”
El’s dad loves his obscure flights of fancy, so she takes the bait and rings him back. It turns out that Edwina is in reference to Ab Fab, because El went to the horse racing on a works do last night. It’s obvious when you think about it, as long as you don’t know that Jennifer Saunders plays Edina, not Edwina.
They’re still having a natter when the 330 goes past the bottom of their street in Hyde, and then, a minute later, the funeral directors on the corner of Dowson Road, where me and El cemented our friendship with a firm handshake one Saturday afternoon when we were 16.
That’s not a euphemism, by the way, we really did shake hands outside an undertakers.
Tameside is in the grip of Ashtonisation. Resources and money are being directed by the council towards Ashton-under-Lyne, the area’s largest town, and although it’s felt everywhere else across the borough, Hyde seems to have taken the brunt. Even the Wetherspoons closed down last year.
Hyde is meant to be a twitching corpse, a parody of its former self, but it’s not all bad. It’s got five railway stations for a start, so it’s easy enough to get away from.
My dad’s side of the family mostly live here, likewise with Eleanor’s lot. In fact, we met on our first day at Hyde Clarendon College, which is currently being bulldozed in favour of new housing. The students having been long since relocated to, you guessed it, Ashton.
The town has been in steady decline for years. Stores have slowly but consistently drifted away from the main shopping centre, with the suggestion that we’ve almost reached an event horizon of closures, but Hyde is far from empty today.
It’s a shame that the market is a shadow of its former self, with mostly bric-a-brac stalls around the edge of what is now a square, but the shops-to-shoppers ratio seems to have balanced itself out and it at least feels sustainable, if not exactly booming.
The 330 continues along Dukinfield Road, where the last surviving remnants of Newton Hall (which dates from around 1370) stand incongruously in front of the last surviving remnants of an industrial estate (which dates from around 1970).
A shifty topless man stick his arms out for the bus to stop. He ascends to the top deck, practically sprinting past us, and wastes no time in lighting up a spliff. I’m no connoisseur, but he’s not bought the cheap stuff.
A couple on the cusp of their bus passes join us upstairs a couple of stops later.
“Oooh, it stinks up here, John. What is it?”
“Errrrm, I’ll tell you when we get off, love.”
Eleanor finishes chatting to her dad as we reach Dukinfield. A wedding party is having its photographs taken in exactly the same spot we had ours done about a million years ago in the town’s eponymous park.
Half a dozen bridesmaids are arranged either side of the central steps, arms extended like 80s game show hostesses, beckoning the happy couple down towards the open-top white car which awaits them at the bottom.
We were just going to get the 330 back to The Globe in Hyde after our nuptials, but the photographer convinced us to have a lift with him instead.
What Is It Good For?
We press down the hill towards Ashton and into an area which is unrecognisable from when I worked here 15 years ago.
Most of the small businesses in the lower parts of Stamford and Old Streets are long gone. There was a model shop, an eclectic Chinese restaurant, and Vudata – the computer shop where I spent my hard-earned birthday and Christmas money on Atari ST games.
They’ve been replaced by an NHS Primary Care Centre and sundry offices, whose windows only just open wide enough for wasps to fly into, but probably not quite wide enough for them to suss how to get out of.
The Witchwood pub, where I was a barman for a few years, just about managed to cling on thanks to uproar from locals and the region’s rock fans alike.
We won prizes at the Publican Awards a few years on the trot, the first one in 2000 for Best Bar Team (or words to that effect), beating a load of fancy wine bars and cocktail places from down south. The ceremony was hosted by Bob Monkhouse at the Grosvenor House Hotel in Mayfair, and it’d be fair to say we made the most of the free booze which came our way.
The aftershow was all kinds of weird. There were dozens of chiselled people dressed as Roman legionnaires dotted about the place, mostly handing out more free drinks and nibbles. I found my way into a side room, where there was a guy doing a great Stars In Your Eyes rendition of Edwin Starr’s ‘War’.
“This guy’s brilliant!” I roared down my mate Woody’s ear. “It’s like he is Edwin Starr!”
“That’s because he is Edwin Starr!” he bellowed back.
“Arrrgh! No way!” I then attempted to dance, perhaps due to all the exclamation marks, and haven’t tried again until the present day.
Anyway, enough of this nonsense, we’ve reached Ashton bus station, and we’ve got another bus to catch…to Chorlton.