When the alarm went off at 5:15 I was momentarily confused, thinking it was an ordinary work day and wondering why the alarm had gone off so early. Then I remembered we were off to Manchester and had little time to get ready. For once, everything went to plan and by 6:15 we were checking online to see if the trains were running normally1.
It was at the bus stop that the first hitch occurred. An unscheduled 476 arrived but as we were about to board I reached for my handbag and… no handbag! I had forgotten to put it over my shoulder and as I wear it under my coat, had not noticed until now. There was nothing for it but to go back and fetch it.
We were lucky: as I returned to the bus stop another unscheduled 476 arrived. We boarded and reached Euston at 6:40, where we breakfasted on Upper Crust baguettes and coffee.
While I understand the need to keep trains clear of passengers when readying them for the next journey, I see no justification for keeping us waiting until the last minute. This happened to us again today. Although the departures board showed our train as “On time”, the platform was not shown until 3 minutes before departure.
It is obvious that if you leave less than 3 minutes for passengers to make their way from the station concourse, the train cannot possibly leave “On time”. In fact it left 5 minutes late.
Even with the delay, not all the seat reservations were in place so there was some toing and froing while passengers without reservations had to quit seats marked “Available” when it turned out that they were reserved. I think someone needs to give Virgin Trains a rocket up the derriere.
Our seats were either side of the aisle and facing opposite directions so we wandered off and found a pair of seats together with extra leg room. They were indicated as “Available” but were they really? No one claimed them before we left Euston but possibly will at other stations along the way.
Little annoyances aside, all is going to plan so far and I am enjoying myself as we rumble through a grey dawn, pierced here and there by lights, and head for our first stop at Milton Keynes.
The 5 minutes’ delay at the start increased during the journey and we reached Manchester 10 minutes late. We had allowed a good safety margin so there was no cause for alarm. We joined the queue for a taxi and by 10:12 the job was done, including waiting at the client’s reception while the clerk was engaged on a long phone call.
Then we went out to sample the delights of a grey and damp Manchester. Our first stop was Starbuck’s for double espressos while planning our next move.
After Starbuck’s we went for a short walk around to orient ourselves and recalibrate Tigger’s “inner pigeon” that enables her to find her way around so marvellously. Then we set off down Oxford Street as we had not so far explored that area.
Above, I spoke of “grey Manchester” but there I was referring to the weather. Manchester itself is not grey. To the sensitive eye it is a city of many colours from the light and dark colours of stone, through the reds and yellows of different sorts of bricks to the greys and blacks of tiles and the blues and greens of glass.
At every turn there are buildings worthy of note because of their intrinsic beauty and historic importance. But for the rain (I was nervous of getting the camera wet) I would have taken many more photos. Instead, I took a holiday from photography and enjoyed looking.
For lunch we went to Giorgio’s Italian Restaurant in Portland Street.
We had planned to visit the Manchester Museum of Transport but, fortunately, Tigger rang them from the restaurant and learnt that they opened only on certain days, not including today. We therefore went for our second choice, MOSI – Museum of Science and Industry.
Manchester is rightly proud of its industrial history as its coat of arms and its motto – “A hive of industry” – symbolized by the bee, clearly show. The Museum therefore promised to be very interesting. My disappointment at the reality was thus all the greater.
The museum occupies a big site and several buildings, including what is described as “the first railway station in the world”. Going around the museum therefore involves a good deal of walking if you wish to see a substantial part of it. There is too much to see in the short time we had available.
The impression I got from the museum was a lot of empty space in which a few exhibits had been spaced out to give an impression of filling the space. Perhaps other sections were better stocked and organized and we chose just those that were not but that would be something of a coincidence.
Leaving the museum, we took the Metrolink free bus number 2 to the John Rylands University Library and after a brief visit there, walked and looked at buildings until we thought we should be making our way gradually back to the station for our train at 4:15.
We could have taken the Metroshuttle, route 1, but ended up walking all the way, enjoying the sights as we went, not including a silly man standing on a plastic crate and causing noise pollution by shouting about someone called Jesus.
Reaching the station at 3:55 we found that, in contrast to Euston, our train platform was already displayed and the train ready for boarding. This makes the delay this morning all the more unacceptable.
I leave Manchester this time with a better opinion of the city than the first I visited it. It certainly has a lot to recommend it to the visitor and we shall no doubt have further opportunities to explore it.
1We were lucky. Owing to a defective train at (I think) Rugby, Virgin Trains’ service gradually deteriorated during the day.