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Photo by Wang Xi on Unsplash

Dear Readers,

I will be putting Too Late For Cake on hiatus until summer 2019.

This is because I need to use the time between now and then to work on content for my proofreading blog.

By summer 2019, we will all be living in castles in the sky and riding unicorns, or living in caves and eating rat kebabs, depending on how Brexit goes.

I will see you again in the summer.

The Cake Maiden

 

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Snapshot #1: The campaign for a second EU referendum were out in Heaton Moor, getting (and failing) people to sign the petition for a second referendum. I signed, but I don’t think it’ll happen. Woman approached after me had voted leave twice and had a proper bout of argy bargy with the woman with the clipboard. I departed quickly.

Snapshot #2: Empty bus on the A6 by Manchester Road, instead of displaying the more conventional ‘Sorry, not in service’ or ‘We heart Manchester’ bore the legend ‘Naughty Bus’.

 

PTDC0001I’ve been planning to have a go at the Bee in the city trail for several weeks now but kept putting it off. While it is possible to download the app and find the bees that way, I opted for one of the maps available from Central Library.

There are quite a lot of bees in and around Central Library as it turns out, both the full size statues and the “little bees”, which are half the size, and have been designed by children across Manchester and Greater Manchester. Each bee has a ‘sponsor’ and a theme, decided on by the artist and sponsor in collaboration.

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I didn’t get to see the Sylvia bee in suffragette colours at the People’s History Museum, but I intend to check her out at a later date. The Bling bee near Mount Street and the Bridgewater hall had a lot of children clustered around it, admiring it’s mirrored coat. Part disco bee, part intricate art. I got as many pictures of the ones I saw as I could but, with it being the tail end of the summer holidays, a lot of families were out bee spotting too and it felt like every time I got close to a bee I’d be mobbed by small children.

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I thoroughly approve of the whole Bee in the city project. I know that some people have reservations, in fact I overheard one of the mums near the Bling bee saying to another visitor that she’d had enough of bees by the time the art trail came round, but that seeing the statues has changed her mind.

Apparently the Bee app has various freebies and promotions attached to it that you can get when you visit and unlock specific bees. I’m guessing it’s done with QR codes, and it’s clearly a gameification technique, but I think of the bee art trail as being akin to a live action version of Pokémon Go anyway, so fair enough.

There will be some who will say that the money spent on Bee in the city could be spent on other things, that instead of traversing the city centre photographing bee statues we could go around photographing rough sleepers, that we’d probably snap as many rough sleepers as bees. I’m not sure what that would achieve but, yes, the numbers of rough sleepers, or homeless as I’d rather say, are extremely high in Manchester. And pretty much everywhere else in the UK at the moment.

Similarly, if the money hadn’t been spent on the public art trail, it’s not like it would have been spent on helping the homeless, or funding the NHS, or extending public transport. Because those things are funded differently.

You can talk of bread and circuses, the opium of the people, distractions from reality, but I only think that this is a valid argument if the phenomena in question is actually so all absorbing and distracting that it has a massive and distorting impact on society. I don’t feel that, however cool they are, the bees are likely to achieve that.

There is the question of sponsorship, of course, which invariably influences the content of the art. For example, one of the bees I saw today has been sponsored by Virgin Trains and has a pendolino theme to it, similarly Sylvia bee was sponsored by UNISON. But I think the stories that the bees help to tell (many discuss climate change and it’s impact on bees, many have ties to Manchester’s cultural, social and political history) cancel that out.

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Each bee has a sign attached to it’s base that advises you as to how to report damage to the bee in question. It seems sad that those signs have to be there but, unfortunately, some of the bees have been damaged. There is a dedicated team of workers who clean and mend the bees.

Similarly, there are signs on the bases advising you not to climb the bees as, to a small child, they do look rather irresistible in that respect. The no climb rule hasn’t stopped people from touching the bees however; I saw a lot of people, children and adults alike, gently patting or stroking bees that they had taken a shine to, and I think it’s a natural response to the art. The bees have very manga ish faces, with big eyes and a noble bearing. Some are quite smiley as well.

I have the map at hand and I intend to return to the fray in September. The bee quest continues.

Bee in the City runs until 23rd September around Manchester.

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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