The Last Days of the Bath – Part 02
DAY 03: The stand-up comedian Isy Suttie once told about how, on new year’s eve, she rocked up to an airport with the intention of letting fate play its cards when she approached an airline kiosk and said “Destination: Anywhere”. As I bought a pass for the buses earlier in the week, making travel now technically free, I decided to do the same and so went to Bury with the intention of declaring “Destination: Anywhere” and jumping on a bus to somewhere new.
When Isy Suttie tried this at Luton Airport she was disappointed to be told that the only remaining flight out was to Cameroon, even though she imagined this to be in France, whereas I had the mouth-watering selection of Rochdale, Accrington, Brandlesholme, Jericho, and Middleton with the added bonus that I didn’t need to have special injections before I arrived there… Well, maybe for Middleton.
I ended up taking the 472 out to a destination I’d certainly never travelled before, one I doubt few people ever has, on a journey that slingshoted around Ramsbottom in an anti-clockwise direction before eventually ending up back at Bury bus station. I find some notion about the Circular romantic and, to be honest, I just wanted to finish off the Ira Levin novel I’d been ploughing through this week and sitting on the bus was the perfect opportunity. The only problem being that the scenery out the window that’s too captivating to keep focus.
I wondered if the driver would pass comment as I arrived back, the solitary passenger, when I declared “So, this is Bury is it?” but he didn’t the same as when I bamboozled the Welsh driver of first bus out of Llanberis one morning when, due to complex circumstances too arduous to go into, I became the earliest person ever to present a – valid – return ticket all the way back into Bangor. At least he gave me a double-take.
Travelling to where I’d departed from you might like to suggest that after all that I’d ended up not going anywhere but, after forty-five minutes, I think you’ll find that technically I’d travelled in time. I could have gone around again, finished off the book, but I felt that to travel through time once in a day is extraordinary and to do it a second time would just be ostentatious. Plus if I took the opposite clockwise route, on the 474, I may have gone backwards and ended up meeting myself.
DAY 04: I was stuck at home today looking after the workforce as my Dad had to go and pick up my Mum from the airport as, at the first sign of bathroom dismantling, she’d jetted off to Berlin. Like she does. It seems that rather than put up with a toilet based on the bucket system – Thomas Crapper having popularised the self-flushing toilet in the 1880s, thus we were technically nineteenth century – she’d much rather spend her time in Colditz.
I feel this makes something of a mockery of all those World War 2 soldiers who bitched and moaned and spent all their time trying to escape from the place. Obviously they should’ve come and spent some time with us to put their lives into some sort of perspective.
The trip to the castle was delayed when one of the passengers went AWOL and, concerned that they’d now be too late to make the trip, Colditz reassured their visitors that they’d stay open late especially. Which was very nice of them. They certainly seem to have a different spirit these days since the enforced change of management in nineteen forty-five.
DAY 05: The end of a long week of getting up at 8am to use the toilet, before it becomes the centrepiece on a building site, then making myself scarce has been taking its toll. Come lunchtime I was wearily hitting the public conveniences in the Bury indoor market and was bemused to see an old sign adhered to the door – Please Don’t Smoke – as with sparking-up having been banned in all workplace buildings since 2007 it seems only slightly less out of place than the Roy Castle Good Air Award certificate proudly displayed on the wall of the Stockport Hat Museum café. Also raising a smile was their period Palmolive dispenser which bore the slogan: Keep that Schoolgirl Complexion. I know that’s my aim.
After a week of new experiences I returned to the bus station, destined for somewhere new, and decided to do something I’ve thought about for a long time: Nazi hunting in Rochdale. Despite being geographically close Rochdale is somewhere I’ve never stepped foot in, it not being a cultural centre or on the way to anywhere, but I was aware that it was someplace, over there, somewhere. A few years ago I was asked out by a Rochdale girl and I let her down gently by telling her that it wouldn’t work as I believed the place to be practically mythical.
I’ve always been drawn to mysterious stories and growing up with a northern childhood, where everything of note happened in that London, I was intrigued to hear how before the first world war a young Adolf Hitler was said to have visited the north-west and was so impressed by two buildings that he later gave instructions that the Luftwaffe should avoid them on their bombing runs as these were to be Nazi headquarters – UK North Division – after the invasion. Those two buildings were the Midland Hotel in Manchester and Rochdale town hall. So getting on a bus to visit the latter, a journey that even girls wouldn’t drag me on, I got on the Hitler trail.
I think it’s fair to say about Rochdale that it’s a place of contrasts with crumbling decrepitude set alongside impressive historical architecture, even in a sad era where the court building is up for sale and the post office is to let, and the town-wide building site of regeneration is hope against the last time the R-word was obviously bandied about for which the respective town planners want putting up against the wall. And after escaping the dark bus station in a built-up town centre and coming upon the town hall set in its own space I can concur that it is very impressive.After taking some photos I marched in and put the Hitler story to the woman on reception, not even sure if she’d know what the hell I was talking about. She did though. She said that one of the versions of the story was that Hitler was planning to ship the building back home brick by brick – having seen it I think this a fanciful idea – although there was no proof for any aspect of the story.
The Tourist Information couldn’t tell me where the story began either although they have a very impressive museum. No Hitler section, but Rochdale’s favourite daughter, the film star Gracie Fields, gets a big display with period film of her that included shots of her all over the golden town hall lions. Oddly, I realised, she looked very similar to the local girl who asked me out, and the Mormon woman on the bus, so there must be some odd local genetic thing going on. Outside the museum it becomes obvious that the river flows right under the town, as if it’s all raised on stilts, and a local stopped to tell me that they’re in the process of digging it up, that it’ll soon be visible in the town centre, and that it’s actually the biggest bridge in the country. It didn’t look the biggest bridge of anywhere to me, but then I found the plaque to show me he was spot on. And to think that when I went off chasing Hitler that I’d end up sitting in 1920’s cinema seats watching Gracie Field’s films, and discover Europe’s widest bridge which spans the river Roch, that I actually live only two minutes away from, then next time I visit, say for a prearranged tour of the town hall, then maybe I’ll give the bus a miss and just climb into a barrel and float downstream instead.