Somehow, I ended up with a lot of this week off work. For most people, this would be good news; a time to rest, relax, socialise or even take a holiday. I, on the other hand, don’t do so well with big blocks of empty time. Fortunately, I discovered Meetup some time ago, so when the restlessness gets unbearable, I can just go and meet a bunch of strangers for an event of some sort. It can also be a good opportunity to share the Gospel.
So, not being one to do things by halves, I booked half a dozen Meetups over the next week or so. The first was a curry in Oldham on Saturday evening. This went well; I met some new people, (one person I already knew from a previous group), and had some good conversations. Yesterday, I went on a longish walk and had a good chat with a girl from Canada. I was a tad perturbed that nobody else really spoke to me, but some groups are friendlier than others!
I wasn’t especially looking forward to the third event on my list; a New Year’s Eve party in a pub in central Manchester. However, as the churches I’m involved with weren’t doing anything and I’m still relatively new to the area, I decided that the prospect of spending New Year alone in my house (my housemates are away) was too depressing. Pretty tired from the walk, I forced myself to get ready and braved the cold weather for the second time to walk the twenty minutes to the tram stop. This was where the first slightly irritating thing happened. Both my cards declined in the ticket machine for no apparent reason so the tram I wanted to catch arrived and departed whilst I was still trying to buy a ticket. Never mind, I thought, as I patiently waited for the next one whilst wondering how on earth the group of girls wearing virtually nothing standing next to me weren’t freezing to death, these things happen.
Changing trams in Manchester, a dishevelled drunk man complimented the lady in front of him on her general appearance. He then turned to me and seeming to believe that I might be offended by his oversight advised me that I also looked good and he particularly liked my hair. Seeing my expression, he then apologised if what he had said had been offensive before staggering further down the tram. The onlookers seemed amused.
I reached the pub safely, chatted with a few people and tried to avoid making eye contact with a few of the guys who were circling the group like hawks. After a few hours, some drunken dancing began and I decided I really didn’t want to be there anymore. I left with another girl, said goodbye as she lives in the city, and walked the few hundred feet to the tram stop. This was when the already mediocre night deteriorated.
It was only 10pm and I had thought it would be the perfect time to make the hour’s journey home before all the New Year chaos. However, examining the sign boards, there appeared to be no trams at all running on the Rochdale line. I approached one of the yellow jackets to enquire about this because, being New Year’s Eve, they were meant to be running until 1am. They pointed to a flashing orange sign which began, “Due to a police incident at Manchester Victoria…..” Not knowing that it was serious I asked how long the delay was likely to be. Then, the man told me that several people including a police officer had been stabbed. I asked if it was terrorist related and he said that this had been mentioned. Not wanting to bother the man further, I headed off towards a line of waiting taxis. At this point, I was feeling pretty unsafe. I don’t often feel like that having lived in some comparatively dangerous places. But, there were groups of youths roaming around looking for trouble and smoking drugs, as well as some really odd looking people, who I'm sure only venture out in public once a year, emerging from various shadows, and obviously there were a lot of drunk people everywhere.
Realising I had no cash, I searched in vain for an ATM pushing through crowds of people queuing for the clubs. There was no nostalgia and I had absolutely no desire to be amongst them. I was by this point freezing, even with a coat, and just wanted to get home. Eventually, I found an ATM, with a queue, got my money and started to attempt to use Uber on my phone. The rates kept going up as I was trying to book and when it went to over £30 I just couldn’t bring myself to pay that much despite my predicament. I checked with a random cabbie who quoted £40.
Thinking the tram situation might change, I wandered back up to the tram stop and was relieved to see Victoria listed as a stop once more and a tram expected in a few minutes. A guard then informed me that this was an error and there were still no trams. He also said there were no replacement buses as people had refused to work on New Year’s Eve….He advised that the only option was to walk to Monsall which might take about an hour. His colleague immediately shook his head and pointed out that the walk went through a number of very rough areas. A girl later said she wouldn’t even do the walk in the daytime! I declined.
Every so often people were coming onto the platform to ask about the Rochdale line and the guard suggested we group together to get a taxi to Monsall. After a few failed attempts, I finally found a young couple who had already booked a taxi to Failsworth which seemed ideal. The taxi took ages due to the traffic deadlock and the police everywhere. Then the driver couldn’t find us and we couldn’t understand him due to his accent. We finally found him in one of those ridiculous scenes where two people are on the phone to each other and only realise it when they are literally eye to eye. He had turned up in a mini bus but that was the least of our worries and we were just grateful to be in the warm.
After giving the couple £10 for my part of the journey, we sat in traffic for a further period watching the clock ticking towards midnight. It struck whilst we were still on the way to Failsworth tram stop, so I celebrated the turn of the year in a mini bus, with three strangers, dodging fireworks that were being set off dangerously close to the main road, and navigating the smoke that had descended.
At Failsworth tram stop, I thanked the young couple and the driver, then ran up the large number of steps to the platform. Again, I felt slightly scared to be alone and wondered why there were no other people around. On the deserted platform in the middle of nowhere, I saw something orange flashing on the announcement screens and started to panic.
The sign began with the now familiar words, “Due to a police incident in Oldham town centre…..” At first I thought all the trams had been cancelled and I was going to spend the night bedded down in a doorway somewhere. Getting another taxi at this point would have been virtually impossible as the world and his wife were doing the same thing and my phone was extremely slow and nearly dead. Reading the screen more carefully and rationally, there were some trams running between Failsworth and Freehold. I waited for one of these thinking that maybe I could walk the rest of the way home. When it arrived, it was actually labelled Westwood which took me one stop closer to my destination. The driver advised us all to start walking as he kicked us out at Westwood. Having initially said we could walk along the tram lines, he then changed his mind as his health and safety training kicked in and he pointed us towards the main road with some vague directions.
There were only a few other people around who mostly seemed drunk, and to be trying to get to Rochdale, but even so, I was grateful not to be completely alone. I headed off following my phone GPS which said it would take 36 minutes to walk home. Some lads said something to me as they passed and I ended up having to follow them through some dark alleys. When another group of lads appeared I felt very nervous but they too passed on by. It was now heading towards 1am and fireworks were still exploding here, there and everywhere.
Walking hastily past some strange sights in Oldham town, I saw a fancy dress party with a nun standing outside a pub, she looked at me as if to say “what are you looking at?” Then a drunk man shouted to ask if I had a cigarette. The celebrations were in full swing and it was all a bit disconcerting. It’s weird that things which used to be my world are now so alien.
I finally saw what all the fuss had been about when I reached the junction of Waterloo Street in Oldham. A vehicle was on its side in the road partially obscuring the tram line. There were the usual array of flashing lights and yellow jackets around and a crowd of spectators, of course. I toyed with asking the police whether they were aware that the tram had been stopped several stops too early resulting in people, like me, having to walk a very long way unnecessarily. I thought if I told them people were being advised to walk along the tram lines, something might be done….
However, knowing that the police don't generally like being told how to do their jobs, especially by ex-officers and that they were probably upset about what had happened at Victoria, I thought better of it. I walked the rest of the way home noting that there were several cars full of men driving around aimlessly and I seemed to be attracting a fair bit of attention. Shivering and breathing a sigh of relief, once safely inside my house, I locked both doors.
Happy New Year, I hope yours was better than this…..