Route: CityZap, Manchester – Leeds
Frequency: Hourly, later first bus and earlier last one at weekends
Time: ~1h 20m
Cost: Part of £6.50 single, £10 return
Date Of Trip: 13/7/18
Most of the UK has crept towards a drought this past few weeks. Rainfall has been completely absent for 25 days straight in Manchester, but after a trickle of precipitation last night, we’re absolutely deluged with the wet stuff today.
This presents a sartorial conundrum. While I’m well prepared for typically British seasonal weather, my precautions against today’s tropical monsoon – hot, humid and bouncing it down – come up woefully short. In lieu of a lightweight cagoule, my big coat has been dug out and (literally) dusted off from underneath various hats, bags and hoodies on the rack in the hall.
“I look bad in shorts. Most of us do” sang the charismatic Andrew Wood of Mother Love Bone, in one of rock’s most enlightened moments on ‘This Is Shangri-La’. Then again, he also asserted that “I don’t believe in smack” later in the very same verse, only to succumb to a heroin overdose just before the release of the band’s only album. It’s still a haunting listen.
Either way, summer shorts and winter coat are donned, and I carry off the unlikely combination with panache. This isn’t a view shared by today’s companion, Effin’ Nicholls, when we meet outside Chorlton Street bus station.
“You look ridiculous, Burkey.”
We stock up on water from a tiny newspaper kiosk on Portland Street, which as well as selling the usual array of essentials, also has an unlikely sideline in mending electronics. Laptops, iPads and phones are all fixed from a box smaller than a coffin, unless, of course, he’s got a hidden workshop secreted from view.
It’s a quick dash back over to the bus stop, where we arrive just before the CityZap. A family group of eight Chinese tourists nudge their way to the front, which prompts an old timer to spin around and snort, predictably enough, “They don’t like queuing do they?”
With none of the visitors speaking any English, the man from the bus company ushering us on board is a paragon of patience and a master of mime. A saintly Marcel Marceau, he holds a bus pass to the side of his face and mouths to the more senior contingent that they’ll need one of them to get on for free. The eldest, an easily septuagenarian lady pulls out a casino membership card, which doesn’t quite work.
We are given the nod to jump on while the official sorts the situation out, and the waistcoated driver greets us with an enthusiastic and entirely unexpected “Welcome!”.
I’ve no idea how many buses I’ve been on down the years, but it’s rare to get anything more than fleeting eye contact from the person behind the wheel, never mind this verbal red carpet. Sadly, the Manchester to Leeds leg of the CityZap is being put out to pasture after Sunday July 22nd, and although all the drivers are being moved onto other routes, this one would surely have a bright future as a stadium announcer.
It’s almost ten degrees cooler outside than in recent weeks, but the heat is so oppressive on the bus that I open a few windows before taking my seat and shaking off my coat. After some tense negotiations, the Chinese party gets a bargain £30 group day return, and we’re off.
My Fourth Tallest Friend
At 6’4”, Nicholls isn’t technically a giant, but his legs definitely belong to one. We’ve got plenty of room compared to other services, but his spidery pins won’t quite fold into the allotted space and his knees crush my tubby thighs into submission.
“Can you not move your legs into the aisle a bit, Nicholls?”
“#$!&@?!!! I’ve not done ‘owt.”
The manspreading carries on intermittently throughout the entire journey, and my poor old sensitive flesh soon becomes studded with bruises.
After picking up a group of agile pensioners on Piccadilly, all wearing backpacks and walking gear, we’re off non-stop up Oldham Road towards the M62. It’s not Manchester’s most beautiful thoroughfare, but still has a few noteworthy sites, including the Central Park tram stop.
Whereas most stations on the Metrolink network make do with a simple platform or two, this one has been bestowed with a steel-suspended glass and copper canopy. The ‘transport gateway interchange’ was built at a cost of £36.5m and lay unused for seven years, as the tram line to Oldham and Rochdale suffered repeated funding issues until it opened in 2012. While it does look good from a distance, it’s not much use as an interchange seeing as the adjacent train line doesn’t stop here, and the only bus which uses it is the hourly 151 between Hollinwood and Cheetham Hill.
Maybe this will change, but I doubt it. The whole Central Park complex is clearly built for drivers and looks like an artist’s impression of the world’s most dreary business park. So hard have they tried to make it unappealing that its main drag is even called Northampton Road.
We continue north east and pick up a fair gallop on the motorway, a hefty breeze circulating like a dust devil. It’s too gusty for one of the Piccadilly passengers just behind me, though, who asks me to close the window above.
“Yeah, no probs”, I reply, knowing that the two open windows across the way will still temper the temperature. The window snaps shut, making the guy in the yellow raincoat directly in front of me jump out of his skin.
Seconds later, the man behind, who hadn’t been subject to the furnace conditions when we got on, rises from his USB charger-equipped seat and slams the other two windows tight, just as we reach a traffic jam. The mercury rises instantly, jackets are removed, and when a bead of sweat darts down my back, I take action.
“Sorry, fella, I’m gonna have to open this again.” Before he can reply, I’ve heaved it agape. “I’ll swap seats if you want.”
He doesn’t want. A light wind blows through and while his eyes give me the daggers, everyone else’s give me a pat on the back. That’s my interpretation of it, anyway.
We dive out of the traffic at the junction we passed over on the 901 to Hebden Bridge and head down Lindley Moor Road where another couple of passenger are welcomed with open arms. We pass the Wappy Spring, a pub which promises ”Home Cooked’ food – “see our menu”’ and sends the pair of us into a grammatical flutter.
After a brief spin around Ainley Top, we head back onto a largely free flowing motorway and through a particularly bouncy stretch of West Yorkshire countryside. The contours are such that Rastrick Cricket Club on the outskirts of Brighouse has a slope so pronounced that its outfield looks a good 10ft higher at the scoreboard end. It’s almost as if flattening it out would been admitting defeat, although the conical grassy mound to its rear may well be the remnants of just such an endeavour.
Steady progress is made, with trees hemming us in and screening the distant greenery with flashes of its own. We delve into a deep cutting as we approach Leeds, and a quick switch onto the M621 deposits us right in the city centre – there’s no messing about with ring roads here.
“You know what that is?” Nicholls asks while extended one of his telescopic fingers away to our left.
“An ASDA?” I reply, not quite trusting my own peepers.
“It is,” he confirms, “but did you know that it’s the biggest ASDA in the world?”
“Is it really!?”
“It is. And do you know where the 2nd biggest Tesco is?”
“I don’t, no.”
“It’s in Chesterfield.”
Immense satisfaction spreads throughout his frame, his cheeks rising a good couple of inches in the knowledge that I may be the only other person on the planet who’d appreciate this überfact. He’s likely been sitting on it for years, ready to wheel it out at the perfect moment, and his timing is impeccable.
ASDA is a clunky contraction of Asquith and Dairies. Peter and Fred Asquith were from a family of butchers on the outskirts of Wakefield, with the brothers diversifying into early supermarkets in 1963. When they approached the Associated Dairies about running the butchery department of their chain of stores a couple of years later, a merger was suggested, and Asda (full capitalisation was introduced in the 80s) was born.
The bus tip-toes around the edge of the centre and we jump off at Leeds bus station. Well, we jump off only after we’ve peeled ourselves out of our leather seats and past the ‘Greetings, Zappers!’ sign on the driver’s door for the final time.
“We’ve just had a glimpse of what it’s like to be an OAP, Burkey.” Nicholls sighs. He means it, and it’s meant as a compliment.