Littleborough one


Number one

You've never had it so good


    We're getting reacquainted with the real world (Lancashire) after a period away.

    Twenty years in fact.

    It's a land much changed.

    A brief history

    We left Littleborough in 1994 and migrated to rural Shropshire where we bought a wreck of a house. Ten years later it was just about fit to live in. Largely because we had low expectations. Then we built a boat, sold the house and lived in a marina on our boat. In effect we lived in the middle of a field (North Shropshire is basically one big field). We trundled around the canals of the UK for a couple of years then bought a knackered old barge and lived on the continent in a succession of places we’d never heard of. Why a boat all of a sudden? Basically because my wife was given a very poor prognosis after two bouts of cancer. We needed to 'get on with life' so took to the water.

    You can make just about anything - a house, money, etc, etc. but one thing you can't make is time. We believed ours was running out. I can tell you categorically, news like that changes your perspective. Ironically, and mercifully, our life-style choice probably saved Jan's life.

    Back home    

    Trundling around in a boat we got there eventually. Travelling on the roads when we got back home (in 2015), we seem to get nowhere fast. It's busier, that's for sure.

   What follows is a first impression of how things appear to a bloke who left in his prime and returned with less hair, dicky hips and Type 2 diabetes. It's great to be back but I do have the odd grumble. After all, grumbling is a prerogative of (late) middle-aged people, dithering buggers who can't keep up with the horrors of modern life. 

    We've come back to live in Littleborough where many golden nuggets are to be found. The nuggets are often a bit damp because in the foothills of the Pennines it rains a bit. To paraphrase Dudley Doolittle, local comedian, 'Littleborough is a great place to live, it would be wonderful if it had a roof.'

   Our new world is one where increasingly aggressive motorists drive a tsunami of financed cars on clogged, crumbling highways. In places cobbles poke through decomposing tarmac. Ironically, the cobbles (or setts) are solid as rock. 

    In a perverse situation motorways have become far more dangerous now they’ve added the prefix ‘smart’. They are less a means of getting from here to there than a revenue raiser – there are nearly as many speed cameras as cats-eyes. Motorways have morphed into smart motorways where matrix signs tell us to be careful because Daddy's having a tea-break or there is an incident thirty miles ahead. The incident is advertised so far in advance that by the time you get there, it's gone! Meanwhile we have to cope with those chevron things they've painted on the road. If we kept two between ourselves and the car in front we'd actually end up going backwards. The main point is that if you leave the requisite gap it's squeezed into by another vehicle, often a 40-tonner from Eastern Europe, then you have to slow down to leave the requisite gap and another lorry sneaks in!

    Of course there are alternative modes of transport. We could take the train. 'Sprinters' they imaginatively called them – but don't expect too much when the leaves are falling. They are so infrequent that when one eventually arrives it's so packed that you can only sit down if you're pregnant or dead. Then you need a degree in mathematics to figure out the fare structure. It's not over cheap either. You're probably better off hiring a helicopter and buying a property at your proposed destination than to booking a 'special saver' from Oldham to Exeter - unless you want to travel in 2027 at 4.00 A.M.

    Of course there's the omnibus alternative but you'll probably get stuck in a jam. Here you can witness, from your lofty perch, the frustrations of parents driving their SUVs a few hundred yards to school. In a few isolated places there are bus lanes but these are clogged by taxis, delivery drivers and cyclists. Not everywhere has space for a bus lane. Local roads were designed for horse and cart so the only way to create bus lanes would be to make the whole of northern England a one-way system.

    Another 'modern innovation' is the tram network, installed at no little expense. These are not the characterful, clattering beasts of yesteryear, the likes of which trundled up and down the prom at Blackpool, their umbilicals flashing blue as they take nourishment from overhead cables. No modern trams are evil-looking worms that run on tracks where roads used to be. Locally they have proved a low-speed, moderate-cost means of leaving Rochdale to go and shop somewhere else because our main shopping areas look like East Berlin after a particularly determined bombing raid.

    It's becoming a world of techno-socialism where jobs for machines are guaranteed, where people's unemployment benefit is paid for by parking fines. Budgetary pressures mean that the only people who can maintain their standard of living are local politicians who vote themselves inflation-busting pay hikes for the privilege of making the lives of ordinary mortals considerably more miserable. Of course in our democracy we can always vote them out but what will happen when it becomes a technocracy. Here A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) humanoids will take over and develop people-crushing algorithms rendering the human heart and fresh air redundant. We'll be able to phone our fully-automated local authority complaints department. This will doubtless take days as we press this, press that and are told electronically that our call is irrelevant and we can always use the internet to complain about their web site that doesn't work.

    Through our plastic front door arrives a blizzard of leaflets advertising grants for solar power in a land where the sun don't shine. Water however, a commodity that reliably arrives by the reservoir-full, gets increasingly expensive. When I were a lad we used to shower with a friend or lob a brick in the cistern, now every time we flush the bog a shareholder puts away another few quid for their Florida trip.

    I can't sit in in my garden without the fear of having my flip-flops pinched while having a nap because local 'hoodlums' are left to maraud unmolested while our pair of local constables, who have to patrol three hundred thousand square miles of northern England on foot, are bogged down with paperwork.

    My wife and I arranged to meet daughter and grandchildren (3 and 10 months) at Rochdale library that is no longer a library. Currently called Touchstones it is a museum, art gallery, local studies centre and café and has had good write-ups. We wanted to give the three-year-old a taste of his heritage and I wanted a baked potato. Sadly it is not the most accessible place. Our daughter was encumbered with prams and nappies so needed a relatively local parking spot. Sadly, the visit was cancelled because she couldn't find one – except for half a dozen empty disabled bays right outside. Instead we went to a local hotel 'of some age' up on a hill. It resembled Herman Munster's house (old TV programme) so we had a quick coffee in the residents lounge.

    My wife and I actually did visit Touchstones subsequently and I have to say it is (largely) very impressive. Because we aren't officially disabled, we had to walk some distance to get to it, but it was worth the effort. The cafe was being patronised by mainly retired folks out for a tasty lunch, in addition to one lady (who could have been a council employee, so prosperous did she look) tapping away importantly on a lap top probably scheming ways to fleece more money from local tax-payers. The grub was good, as was the museum of local history which reminded us that this area (industrial Lancashire) used to be at the very heart of the world's wealth – although it can be argued with the benefit of slave-like employment practices. Nevertheless, we used to produce textile by the multi-tonne in monstrous factories. The factories are gone and we now produce, er, far less. Of, er, anything.

    The art gallery was less to our taste however – and we had to battle up a rather smart, stone staircase to get to it. In fact, in our opinion, and to use the local vernacular, it was 'a waste of space'. One room, the approximate size of a gymnasium, housed one dozen foot-square paintings daubed by a lady artist of modest talent. The pictures were spread so sparingly round the walls that we needed one of the aforementioned omnibuses to join the dots. I realize that exhibitions are put together by arty types for the benefit of arty types but suspect that normal human beings find the whole thing rather minimalist. This is Lancashire after all where a guinea is expected for a pound. For those who don't remember pre-decimal days, a guinea was quarter ounce of West African gold worth twenty-one shillings (where one pound was twenty shillings).

    As a footnote, my wife worked at the art gallery (in the days when there actually was a library in Rochdale library) when she was tasked to hang a display 'created' by a London artist. The concoction was made up of twenty four medical X-rays that were to be hung in a sequential grid. They didn't make up a full body – nothing so sensible, no they were just a random assortment of parts of the body, some fractured. They were not numbered, so what could go wrong. My wife duly risked life and limb up and down a set of steps and displayed the masterpiece; only to be told by the artist, when he finally arrived, that she'd hung it all upside down. Who the hell would have noticed is anyone's guess, but my wife's career as art gallery operative came to a grinding halt a short time later. The tragedy is that there is a cellar full of real paintings, some really accomplished stuff apparently, so one has to question the decision to exhibit a dozen mediocre, tiddly paintings of dubious provenance or a selection of fractured feet.

    The point of this is that our rather nice library is no longer in the rather nice library building. Intrigued, I search the internet for Rochdale library. It tells me that it's on Smith Street and I don't know where that is. A photograph shows it to be one module within a much larger collection modern glass/concrete cubes. How can the blockhead who designed this new building possibly consider it more aesthetically pleasing than the wonderful, intricate stone-built original. I took to the internet and clicked on the 'Rochdale Library website' link and ........... 'Server Error. 404 – File or Directory Not Found'. If I had a couple of months to spare I suppose I could phone the local authority customer services department, but I haven't, so I won't.

    The lost library somehow illustrates life today. Things have been changed, seemingly at random, in an effort to make life more streamlined – but it hasn't. What it's done is confuse dinosaurs like me who like it simple. It also keeps council luvvies employed. If they've got a Library Misappropriation Officer they can report to their line manager that all is well and that no trace of the library will ever be found.

    On a positive note the centre of town actually looks very impressive after recent renovations. The River Roch that used to flow beneath the esplanade has been uncovered. It's wonderful. As I visit my bank I can see a fascinating assortment of plastic bags and discarded underwear drift past. About a third of the town Hall car park is now pedestrianised and they've put up a lovely statue to Gracie Fields. Proud of her we are too, though she did bugger off as soon as funds allowed. Sadly, at least whenever I visit, there are so few people about it looks like there's been an anthrax alert.

    Anyone returning to the area, like me, after a sabbatical and unaware of 'municipal manipulations', who happens to be looking for a swim, will find instead a German supermarket. I have fond memories of being leered at by a lecherous old git who masqueraded as a lifeguard in the old swimming pool. Back then, the building’s interior looked like a 19th century lunatic asylum with floor to ceiling nearly-white tiles and institutional lighting. There was an overpowering smell of disinfectant and freezing winds whistled through bleak passages. But apart from the dodgy lifeguard it was somehow all rather comforting and local folks who'd just done a few lengths in their wool-knit swim-suits could get a slice of buttered toast and a beaker of Horlicks in the caff. Those were the days when, aged 10, when I would get the bus from Littleborough to Rochdale with little fear of being trafficked.

    I need to close for now. A ream of leaflets has just dropped onto the door mat and I need to decide which new bathroom suite not to buy.