The Hyde branch was ideal - three stations that I'd probably have missed if I headed for the main routes.
I'd spent the whole journey out from Piccadilly two seats in front of a man chomping his way through a pastie. The tempting savoury aromas filled the carriage, tempting me with their pastry goodness. The enclosed space made us all participants in his meal. By the time I alighted my stomach was turning itself in knots, even though I'd already had lunch.
The junction where the line splits is right outside the station, rather closer than the Northern Rail map would seem to indicate. It'd be an ideal spot for an interchange station, you'd think, but no: there are only platforms on one of the lines. If you want to change to the other line, you have to get off here and walk a kilometre to Flowery Fields station (and no, there isn't a convenient, quick walking route between the two, perhaps following the railway line; you have to follow roads that follow a more out of the way path). It is, in other words, a ridiculous state of affairs.
I paused in the car park for the customary station sign...
,,,then headed into Hyde.
Sun shot into my eyes, lasers bursting against my glasses. It was a surprisingly warm day, an Autumn surprise, and I immediately regretted wearing a raincoat. I walked south, past front gardens and small blocks of flats.
A man opened his gate and a tiny, excitable dog came running out, leading its master off on its daily walk. A woman hurried across the street wearing her slippers and a jumper over leggings and dived into the corner shop, clearly caught out of cigarettes or milk. Life rolled on by, a corner of Manchester ticking away.
A plain semi provided a nice shock: an elaborate - dare I say over the top? - entrance with hearts and flowers.
It looked like the exuberant home of a Hindu wedding, one of those huge affairs that celebrates every inch of the route to the temple as well as the ceremony itself. At least I hope that's what it was. Imagine if that's just the entrance to their house.
I crossed over the M67, getting that usual giddy feel you have when you're high above fast-moving traffic, and entered Hyde town centre properly. It gave a great first impression if you're a transport architecture geek like me. Hyde bus station was a tall, blue glass building that positively gleamed in the afternoon sun.
I passed the drunk swigging his Special Brew at the entrance and walked inside. It was clean and cool, the tinted glass stopping it from becoming a greenhouse. There weren't too many places to sit down, in case the homeless decided to get a bit too comfy, and it could have done with a little cafe, but otherwise it was a great building.
The bus station probably coloured my view of the town, if I'm honest; the glass in those windows looked blue but to me it was rosy. I walked to the main market square, which was in the middle of being repaved and revamped. Orange barriers shepherded pedestrians away from wet concrete. There was a minor incident when a double decker cut the corner, just as I was about to cross; it sent the barriers flying, crushing them under its wheels, before carrying on as if nothing happened. Inside, an old lady was making frantic gestures - I can only imagine what she was shouting at the driver.
I went into Clarendon Square, the indoor precinct, for a bottle of water. And a visit to Greggs. Don't blame me - blame the man on the train with the pastie putting ideas in my head. As it was, I didn't buy any of the oh-so-tempting baked goods, settling for a prawn cocktail oval roll instead. I took it outside and sat on a bench in the square to eat it, while pigeons loitered at my feet. They pretended they just happened to be in the area, but I know they'd have ripped that sandwich out of my hands given half the chance.
Once I'd managed to not chuck Marie Rose sauce all over my shirt (which sounds simple enough, but trust me, it's not) I decided it was time to find the train station. No mean feat, given that the local kids had rotated all the direction signs in the centre so that they contradicted one another. I walked behind the town hall, past an enormous Asda which was no doubt largely to blame for the state of the town's shops. I'd seen dozens of people pass me on the bench carrying Asda carrier bags - not so many from other stores. I hate Asda carrier bags, incidentally; you can sort of see through them, but not quite. They always remind me of a condom. It makes your shopping look slightly indecent, and lets everyone else have a good nose at what you're buying. Not a problem unless you're the respectable looking old man who passed me with a carrier filled with one bottle of shampoo and a four pack of Stella, making me think that he turns every shower into a party.
Next to Asda was a mosque which, being fairly new, didn't quite demand the respect it deserved. It was a bit too business park office block, and the shiny green crowns looked plasticky. I'm sure it's very practical and easy to clean though.
The train station was fringed with new bungalows and semis, the kind that appear next to lots of stations, thanks to disappearing goods yards. There wasn't a building, just a high viaduct with a sloping car park outside. But there was at least a totem sign.
I went up to the platform and waited for my train.
It turns out that my train was cancelled. I found this out thanks to an app on my phone. I wouldn't have known otherwise because there were no announcements. There were no information signs. And obviously, there wasn't a ruddy cheeked stationmaster to tell us.
Damn you, Northern Rail. Damn you.
Basically, we were on our own. Our one train an hour wasn't going to turn up and none of us waiting for the train were being informed.
This is, quite frankly, a shambles. I've been to tiny stations in the middle of the countryside that have had announcements about the next train. It's not difficult, in this, the twenty-first century. It's just a few wires and a couple of loudspeakers. It's appalling that a station in one of the largest cities in the country is so undervalued.
I suppose it's down to priorities. Merseytravel have standards that they expect Merseyrail to maintain, things like staffed stations. They're peering down the neck of the franchise holder and making sure they comply. However, Merseytravel doesn't have a nice tram system to run as well. That's where TfGM's heart lies - I very much doubt that tram passengers are left in the dark if a service is cancelled. Second on their list are bus services, as Hyde's nice terminus shows. And then, right down the bottom, are rail services, which are pretty much left to do whatever they want. Time and again in Manchester I'd found a couple of empty platforms, nowhere to buy a ticket, a draughty shelter, and that was it. When it works, I guess you don't care, but now I was experiencing the downside of this lazy approach.
Yes, I know that Northern Rail are the people who actually run the station, but I already have low expectations for them. They're a privatised rail company, and so they're not going to do anything that they don't have to. Providing services to their passengers would just eat into the profits. TfGM, on the other hand, are meant to be taking care of the transport needs of the city's residents, and are paid directly by those residents to do so. Railway passengers are people too!
With an hour to kill, my thoughts naturally turned to the murder of my fellow travellers. I didn't know why the train had been delayed; there could have been a devastating terrorist incident, or a horrific virus released, or a meteorite could have crashed into Gorton. We could be the last few people on earth and, since repopulating it was out (since I didn't have the inclination and the only ladies present were beyond up-the-duffery), I had to decide which one I'd eat to survive.
Clearly the two pensioners were out; their stringy old flesh would be deeply unpleasant. The quite buff young lad also had to be excluded as it looked like he worked out. His meat would be all muscle - nice to look at, not so nice to chew on. So it was either the trim lady in the red coat or the middle aged man reading a Metro. I decided the woman would be the best bet; she looked like she had some good fat reserves squirrelled away in places I probably wasn't meant to notice, and she looked like she'd taken care of herself. The man, on the other hand, was reading the Metro, so he clearly didn't have great ideas about self-improvement - while there might be a lot of flesh under that blue duffel coat, I expected it would be unpleasant to look at and quite gristly.
By the time I'd ranked them one to five in order of dining preference and wondered if perhaps my doctor should ramp up my meds, an hour had passed and the train had turned up. Obviously there was no apology for the cancellation of the previous service, because this was a different train and therefore a tabula rasa. Don't tar it with the same brush as its predecessor just because they both have nice purple bodies.
Woodley raised me up again after the bitterness of Hyde Central. We had trees, and a pretty footbridge, and a nice little side street location.
The rest of the suburb was pretty decent, too. It reminded me of Sundon Park, where I grew up. Quiet streets, a school, a playground. It was gone four o'clock now and parents were walking their children home. Those kids loved it now, would find it deathly dull as teenagers, and have a strange hankering for it as adults. That's the strange alchemy of the suburb.
Grass verges at the centre of a pleasant shopping precinct. There were a few empty shops, but nothing depressing. A little girl skipped past me, completely in a world of her own.
There was a darkness at the centre of this halcyon world. For starters, I counted half a dozen pubs, meaning that the residents are either wild party animals or drinking the pain away. Either way I bet it's no fun on a Friday night.
Even more disturbing, a dog grooming salon advertised "Puppy Parties" every Saturday afternoon - a party with a groom! Book early - places are limited! There was a poster in the window which featured these dogs in hats:
This may be the most depressing thing I have ever seen.
Fortunately Bredbury station, at the other end of the village, is bloody marvellous. (As you know I rarely use profanity so you can tell how fucking amazing it must have been).
That is, you may be aware, a STATION. A proper station with doors and everything. I was so excited I practically skipped up the steps.
The building was constructed in the Seventies, and it's got the same practical, there's-an-oil-crisis-so-let's-build-something-decent-but-not-too-fancy feel to it that the underground stations in Liverpool have. There are windows though, and a ticket office (though there was no-one behind the counter - tea break?) and, weirdly, a turnstile.
It was a bit baffling; if there's no way of putting your ticket in, what purpose does it serve? I just pushed through without being checked. Perhaps it's counting passengers. It was nice hearing it click-click-click as I headed for the platform, though.
The delights kept coming. Wooden ceilings, warm, enclosed waiting rooms on each platform. A Victorian footbridge that was preserved when they built the new one. Even a canopy over the platform to protect you from the rain, a small, civilised touch that's often forgotten in new station builds.
It's even being refurbished. How do I know this? There were workmen in the car park doing... something. But perhaps more pertinently, I got purple paint on my leg from the recently redone bench.
Damn you, Northern Rail. Damn you.