Saturday 26 April 2008

Whippin' (Everywhere Except) Piccadilly

So: a trip to Manchester for work. It was just a meeting with our software people, a complete waste of time really, but it got me out of the office so I shouldn't complain. I almost didn't make it due to a mental block which convinced myself my train was at ten past nine, rather than ten to: it meant that I ended up running across the concourse at Lime Street like an idiot.

(Incidentally, regular readers may have noticed that I keep passing though Lime Street without ever collecting at, and perhaps are wondering why I don't just pull my finger out and cross it off the list. My reasoning is thus: even though you have to pass through one set of ticket barriers at the lower level station and another at the main line station, I count them as one large station complex, and so as I do not leave station property, that does not count as a correct tart. I know that's not accurate, really, but it's my blog so I'll do what I want).

I got off the train at Manchester Oxford Road, which is the Manchester station as far as I'm concerned. Just as Moorfields is "my" Liverpool station, Oxford Road is "my" Manchester Station; it's the one I always use when I go to the city, it's a few steps away from the fabulous Cornerhouse complex, and it's a quite beautiful building. Built in the 60s, it has an epic sweep to it, sort of Scandinavian in feel (must be all that wood). Unfortunately the installation of ticket gates has sort of mucked up the interior, but it's worth seeing any day of the week.
Irritatingly, the large Oxford Road sign that can be seen from the street was covered with scaffolding, so I captured the station using a nearby sign. Suit!

My meeting was in the Town Hall, so I wandered off into the city. Full disclosure: I don't really like Manchester. I find it a bit of a confusing mess. It has grand, impressive buildings, and its regenerated districts are brilliantly done, but it just doesn't fit together in my head, and so somehow I end up lost. This is a rarity for me, as I usually have a very good internal compass - you can pretty much drop me anywhere in London and I'll be able to work out where I am and what direction to walk in to get somewhere. Manchester feels like Dark City, where the buildings shift around when no-one's looking.
Example: while walking into the city centre, I was suddenly gripped by an urge. I spotted G-Mex to my left, which has recently been rebranded as Manchester Central as an homage to its former life as Manchester Central station. The opportunity for historical tarting was too much to miss so I nipped down the side street and had a look. It's now a convention centre, and seems to have been beautifully done. The epic clock is still keeping time above the entrance, and a Metrolink stop maintains the transport link.

In an ironic twist, the mothballed station was now playing host to a convention of car parking suppliers, so the foyer welcomed me to Parkex (complete with grass covered parking meter - whose idea was that?). My suit had bought me entry to the building, but I didn't have a pass to go into the main convention space, and the security guard was looking at me suspiciously for not wholeheartedly embracing the parking experience, so I ducked out again.

I was now on a street which I knew, theoretically, was parallel to Oxford Road, so I figured I'd soon be by the Town Hall; but Manchester did one of its shifts while I was inside the G-Mex, and I soon realised I was heading in completely the wrong direction. Some handy pedestrian signs pointed me in the right direction, and soon I was going where I should be.

Thanks to the hopelessly inefficient woman at work who had booked my train tickets, I still had three quarters of an hour before my meeting. Why not capture another train station, just out of curiosity, while I was there? So I headed for Victoria.
Why Victoria, and not Piccadilly? Well, I'd never been there for a start. Plus I'd always felt a bit sorry for it - it seemed to be completely ignored in favour of its more famous brother.

Initial signs weren't good. The building looked more than a little bit shabby, certainly in comparism with the stunning Urbis building opposite. Inside though, it was a bit of a gem - a work in progress, yes, but going the right way.

By being the ignored, younger sibling in the Manchester railway station family, Victoria had managed to hang on to some of its original features. A wonderful, wood panelled row of ticket windows (with, sadly, only one open window); a domed refreshment room/bookstall complex.
It was undergoing building work, and the signs said that the "bookstall" would soon be the new passenger information desk. I hope it's done sympathetically and isn't a mess of plasma screens and raspberry settees. The platforms were dark and dingy, as the MEN Arena was built over the top of it in the 80s, but by then I didn't care; I'd spotted a tiled map in one of the entrance ways.

The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway; what a beautiful map, and how evocative! I could have stood and stared at it all day. I wonder how many of those lines are still in existence? Staring at it summoned up images of steam driven journeys but bewhiskered Victorian gents, day trips to the coast resorts (prominently displayed for your convenience), the smell of coal, the rustle of crinoline. I focussed on the Liverpool section, and was ridiculously pleased to see some tarted destinations; Aintree, Maghull, Formby, Ormskirk and Freshfield, while New Brighton was still such a draw that it was indicated on the map even though there was no line there.

A school party of excitable eight year olds disturbed me, and reminded me that I had a job to do, so I snapped a shot outside the main entrance and continued on my way. It was too late for me to get Piccadilly as well, now; that would have to wait. That's the thing about collecting stations. Once you've started you can't stop yourself. Even on the train in, I had been studying the station buildings, considering my options if I ever (for what reason, I don't know) decided to become a Manchester Tart (by which I mean visiting its train stations, rather than transforming myself into a dessert).

One boring meeting later, and I was on the train home. But there was one last shock for me. The station was fast through most of Liverpool, but it did stop at Mossley Hill. Which is when I turned my head, looked out the window and gasped. Literally gasped.

There on the platform was an ALF. It hadn't been there when I visited in January. There it was taunting me.

Quickly I did some mental calculations. I could jump off the train to take a picture... but I needed to get home in a hurry, as I had things to do, so I couldn't risk the doors closing and leaving me there. To not capture it would annoy me, and to capture it without actually stepping on station property would annoy me even more. The doors seemed to have stayed open for an awfully long time. Did I have time? Did I?

I decided not to risk it. Instead I pressed myself up against the glass and took a pic through the window. It's not the same, I know, but I had to get that picture. It does raise an intriguing question though: is there anywhere else I've already visited, which has subsequently acquired an ALF? I'm appealling to you readers - if you're out and about and you spot a bunch of workmen installing a new sign, please, let me know. No ALF shall be uncollected!

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