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Farewell annual System 1. You, and your monthly predecessors, have served me well these past twelve years. You got me through a particularly nasty and protracted bus war on the 192 route between 2006 and 2007, gave me access to the excellent TP bus service, a plethora of services running between Stockport and Macclesfield (admittedly, you only permit travel as far as Poynton, but still…) and Middlewood, not to mention the now no longer running but delightfully eccentric 62A service. In addition, you have ensured that I never have to pay extra to travel to Lyme Park.

I will miss you tremendously, and despite living in an area where Stagecoach have the monopoly on all my bus routes, I will, at times, make use of your System 1 Day Rider sibling to travel beyond my usual locations.

I first started buying the day version of the System 1 when I was working as a casual across Stockport in the mid 2000’s. Most of the places I’d be working were covered by bus routes run by Stagecoach, but if I was travelling to High Lane or Marple then, chances were, I’d be using Skyline, Bowers, or another company whose name I forget who were running the 394 and 391 at the time. And possibly Stagecoach if I ended up on the 375. To maximise all possibilities of optimum travel smoothness (always a bit of a pipe dream in Greater Manchester where imagination, ingenuity and prayer tend to be more common approaches to travel than any notion of an integrated public transport network) if I was travelling between Hazel Grove and Marple or Hazel Grove and High Lane, I needed a System 1 day rider, not a Megarider or Stagecoach Day Rider.

I appreciate this might sound a bit odd to any London readers, but if you’ve grown up with deregulated buses, privatised railways and a thoroughly un integrated public transport network, this is normal. I was a veteran of three bus wars on my local bus route before I was thirty.

What is a a bus war? A bus war occurs when two (or more…) bus companies decide that they would both like to run buses on a (usually very lucrative) bus route. This is not the same phenomena as a bus company ditching a route it can no longer make a profit on and the local council (or councils) then having to find another company willing to run buses on the route through a system of council subsidy. The two phenomena are related though.

Anyway, bus wars. Within the Greater Manchester area, most of the routes are tied up by Stagecoach, though First and Finglands also run a lot. Within Stockport, it’s mostly Stagecoach. At the time of the last 192 bus war (2006-2007) there were approximately ten different bus companies operating in Hazel Grove, thanks to it’s unique geographical location (it’s in Stockport but also borders Cheshire and Derbyshire) but the main bus route between Hazel Grove and Manchester, the 192, was run by Stagecoach.

Ever since bus deregulation in the 1980s, Stagecoach have had competition on this route. Firstly from GM buses, who they won the route off at the start of deregulation, then later UK North, then – lastly – an amalgamation of the two companies.

The 2006-2007 bus war on the 192 route led to both Stagecoach and UK North flooding the route with buses, a lot of aggressive driving practices (using two buses to block a rival bus in at a bus stop while another bus zipped ahead on the route to collect customers at the next few stops was a favourite), and the snarling up of Manchester city centre, not to mention increased traffic and pollution on the A6 between Manchester and Hazel Grove.

From a passenger point of view, a number of bus users were actively abusive to the (largely) Polish drivers recruited by UK North, who were themselves being exploited in a number of ways by their employer, and – since UK North were regularly the only one of the two companies on the route willing to run buses between Manchester and Hazel Grove (as opposed to the ‘part route’ options of going as far as Stockport or Stepping Hill) I was having to pay extra every night to get home from work.

After about a month of this, I invested in a monthly System 1. Which meant I could either get a UK North 192 from Manchester to Hazel Grove without having to pay extra, or get any 192 to Stockport bus station and get the Buxton bus to Hazel Grove without having to pay extra (I worked evenings so the Macclesfield and Middlewood buses weren’t a option at this point as they knocked off by half 5 or 6pm every night). Stagecoach were occasionally running 192’s on the whole route at this time, but you had to wait ages sometimes (like, half an hour or more some nights) so it was worth paying extra in order to get the first bus that turned up. There was the added bonus that the money from the System 1 went to Transport For Greater Manchester (who run the scheme) not to Stagecoach, who I felt very aggrieved towards at the time.

The 192 bus war finally ended in 2007 following an accident involving a UK North bus (not a 192, on another route) in which a man died. UK North were subsequently stripped of their licence and later banned from operating for life.

In the interests of balance, I should also point out that Stagecoach were banned from operating in Manchester city centre for a period in 2007 as a result of ‘bullying’ behaviour towards other operators in a different bus war. As such, neither side could be regarded as angels.

As for the Polish bus drivers who lost their jobs when UK North folded, many of them went on to work for Stagecoach.

Transport For Greater Manchester discontinued the annual System 1 last year. I did look into buying monthly System 1’s instead but the cost over the year was eye wateringly high. And so, with a heavy heart, I am now back to owning a Stagecoach only Megarider, albeit with the caveat that I’m not going to let it put me off travelling on non Stagecoach routes. I still want to go for walks in Lyme Park every now and then for a start, and that requires a System one or a ticket for Skyline.

 

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Allotments, Chorlton-On-Medlock

 

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University of Manchester, Oxford Road

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Oxford Road, near Cafe Muse

 

Vintage Worker Bee

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By Sainsburys, Oxford Road

PTDC0001The BBC World Service broadcast a short 30 minute documentary on the 17th November for it’s faith strand, Heart and Soul, about the aftermath of the Manchester Arena bombing, which happened six months ago.

The programme’s title is Being Muslim in Manchester – One Love? and, while short, it packs a lot in and is very powerful.

What I like is that it manages to be neither sentimental nor sensationalist, and it focuses on a number of different individuals and families who were, in different ways, caught up in the Arena bombing or did truly beautiful and altruistic things in the aftermath of it, or were victims of anti-Muslim hate crimes as a result of the bombing.

The documentary seeks to look beyond #onelove campaign and #WeStandTogether to examine what was happening in the days, weeks and months following the bombing.

I really recommend that you listen to the documentary, even if you’re not living in Manchester, because it has a lot to say about interfaith communities and solidarity and is incredibly moving as well as sometimes shocking.

It reminded me of a very sad phenomenon I observed between late May and the end of July this year as I travelled to work by bus each morning. My commute coincides with the school run and, gradually, particularly after the terrorist attacks in London, and especially after the attack on the mosque in London, I began to notice more and more Muslim children being escorted to school by their dads. This was occurring at a time when any major concert or public event in the city had a strong and noticeable police presence, whether it be tweenagers at a day time pop gig at the Academy one Saturday or a post Ramadan Mela at the Appollo.

I don’t imagine that this phenomenon was unique to Manchester this summer, but it made me extremely sad at the time that it had come to that. That children were having to be escorted to school in Manchester by their parents because either they or their parents did feel it was safe enough for them to travel alone any more.

You can listen to Heart and Soul, Being Muslim in Manchester – One Love? on BBC iplayer 

I was really, really looking forward to the protest march at the Tory Party conference in Manchester. It’s become a biannual event for me, and I’ve been to the previous three marches here.

I was all set, I had my tiara and I heart MCR t-shirt all ready, but then… I got well and truly felled by a humungous migraine on Friday and have only been feeling more or less well again since this afternoon. Gutted.

Possibly because of the violence in both Catalonia and Marseille, there hasn’t been a mention of the march on the news. But the Manchester Evening News has a gallery and a bit of reporting.

PTDC0001The folk train from Manchester to Hathersage seems to be a bit of a word of mouth thing. I knew that there were folk trains that ran in the Manchester/Greater Manchester area, but I hadn’t investigated them before.

Because the Manchester to Hathersage folk train runs on the Hope Valley line and I’m on the Buxton line in Heaton Chapel, it was a choice between walking it to Reddish North or getting the bus to Piccadilly. Last night, when David texted over the train times, I worked out the walking route to Reddish North, and was thinking about doing it. Then, this morning, I opened the windows, saw the torrential rain, and thought ‘Naahh…’

There were a significant number of people in the queue for same day tickets at Piccadilly who were travelling to Hathersage, which would suggest that the folk train has a good strong following of people in the know. The carriage next to the drivers cab, containing the folk band, was filling up fast when I got on, and the band were tuning up. At 11:49am we set out, and the band began to play. It’s different bands on different weeks and this week it was the turn of DH Lawrence and the Vaudeville Skiffle Show, a Nottingham band. They played some train related material on the way out, as well as a selection of folk, skiffle and bluegrass.

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Because the folk train is situated within one carriage of a normal service train, I did wonder what people would make of it if they were just blearily travelling from A to B, and there was the odd person who got onto that carriage and looked momentarily poleaxed before either getting into it or becoming quietly resigned.

The rain had stopped by the time we got to Reddish North, and you could see gorgeous views of Reddish Vale from the train windows. Later on there were similarly great views of Marple aqueduct and the canal. During a particularly rousing rendition of ‘We’ve all gotta die someday’ we stopped at Strines and, once again, I did wonder what the unsuspecting people getting on the train thought.

When we arrived in Hathersage, we all disembarked and followed the crowd, Pied Piper style, out of the train station and down the road into the village, then into the pub.

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The pub being The Little John Hotel, where the band were due to play a second set. This turned out to be a really nice venue, with friendly staff and really good quality reasonably priced food and drink. Very much recommended.

The band played their second set as we ate, and there was some enthusiastic dancing amongst the diners during one of the jigs, an echo of earlier jig related antics on the train.

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You have the option of heading back towards Manchester on the designated train, with the band, or staying on and making your way back on a later train. We headed back on the same train as the band, who played a similar mixture of folk, skiffle and bluegrass, albeit different songs. In the pub they’d concentrated on their own material (which was very good and in the folk tradition), but on the way back it was more traditional stuff, with a dose of pop, including a bit of Elvis and Andy Williams: ‘Can’t take my eyes of you’ with kazoos in lieu of the brass section was a revelation.

All in all, I’d say that the folk train makes for a great, quirky and reasonably priced day out. Save for food and drink at the Little John Hotel, the only cost is the train ticket. You aren’t charged any extra for it being the folk train: You pay the same as you would for a normal weekend same day return from Manchester to Hathersage. They do pass the hat for the band during the set at the pub, but I think that’s reasonable, and you can give what you can afford.

Future events are planned, and you can find out more at the High Peak and Hope Valley Community Rail Partnership website.