I had not ridden for a couple of weeks, so decided that a lunchtime ride was mandatory. For my sins, which must have been considerable, I had been despatched to work in Newton Heath, Manchester for a few days. Dreadful place in many respects and I would not have normally ventured into it alone, but yesterday I found a jogger whose speed and distance capabilities matched my unicycling skills.
Leaving the building we soon pass the new tram/train station. A very expensive spectacular modern structure, which as far as I know is not yet in use. For the moment a sculpture to rival the nearby “B of the Bang”.
I cross the main road and pass a few council house style properties. They have metre wide front gardens filled with paving slabs, weeds, dandelions and general rubbish. One house grabs my attention and I fall off. It has a garden gnome on the roof of the porch, right next to the satellite dish. The gaily coloured gnome has a fishing rod, and is only four hundred yards away from the canal. The nearest fish is the sort that usually comes with chips and mushy peas.
I ride on towards the canal, which runs parallel with the main Oldham Road. I UPD again as I hit the slope rolling down to the towpath. My jogging friend is impressed. I can tell by his inane grin as I just about manage not to fall down the embankment. I freemount at the fourth go, helped only slightly by the stonework of the bridge, and ride on.
Here it is quite pleasant, trees both sides of the canal, masking the brickwork of the factories which line the waterway. There are a few very small trees I don’t understand, which are actually growing in the water, some feet from the bank. They don’t look like willows.
It is only a short distance to lock 74 “Drunken Bridge”. I rest on the lock gate for a few moments, noting that the lock was refurbished in 2001. Someone has had a go at cutting through the thick woodwork of the lock “handle”. He became bored quickly for the damage is negligible.
Something odd just below the lock: a stream flows across the towpath. 5 or 6 feet wide and as much as an inch deep, its source is a square structure near to the towpath. Water is welling up from a 15" square vertical shaft. I don’t know what it is. It could be water from above the lock, but usually there is a special channel to bypass water around closed lock gates…which could I suppose be blocked. This water is flowing across the towpath so I dismount and walk around: my clothing is not suitable for riding through the stream, not really suitable for unicycling either. I mount first time unaided, and pass a lone floating Canada goose and a couple of mallard. There are signs of conservation attempts along the far bank, and the water plants are starting to look good. A little further on, the rear wall to a factory has partially fallen down. Some of the workers are sitting on it eating sandwiches. Conversation stops as we approach, and then resumes at a lower, almost whispered level. The last of the five workers is a vastly overweight 40 year old, taking bites out of an almost equally huge french roll butty. I am wearing a summer dress, which completely hides the seat from his view. He makes a very lewd and extremely loud comment. His mates seem embarrassed. I start to sing Humpty Dumpty and his friends join in. On the second chorus one of them pushes him off the wall. He doesn’t die, nor does he break into little yolky pieces, but he gets his shoes very muddy indeed. The ducks will appreciate the sandwich later. “Tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime” gets watered down again. I would have loved to have seen whether he could swim, and if so, for how long.
Easy riding to the next lock: Slater’s Higher Lock, number 75. The lock is disgustingly full of empty lager cans and floating beer bottles, several hundred of them. They would have been more appropriate in “Drunken Lock” but in any case are a reflection of how little some locals appreciate the canal as an asset to their area. I fall off again on the slope. This lock has a semicircular stream carrying the excess water around the closed lock. A mallard and three young are swimming below the lower gate. The mother duck climbs out of the water up the stonework of the lock just above where the stream flows back into the canal. The first duckling easily does the same. The second and third are struggling badly. One makes it with a superavian effort, but the last fails, and finally gets out of the water below and on the wrong side of the stream. The mother duck is calling to it for a couple of minutes, but eventually gives up. The duckling wanders in panic along the bank in completely the wrong direction. I may have just observed a wildlife tragedy. I brighten slightly a few moments later as a couple of small fish break surface. The water is cleaner than I dared hope. Probably roach, says my jogging friend. To the left are two lines of trees parallel to the canal. The first line has recently been cut down to near ground level. 18 inch wide stumps remain. The other line has been cut back by removing all the branches. Mere skeletons, 20 feet high remain silhouetted against the sky. Not a leaf between them. Why? Why? We continue on as far as Slater’s Lower lock, number 76. Above the lock the canal is a little wider, and the remains of several felled willows are piled up as an aide to wildlife. Some useful conservation to offset the devastation seen a few yards before. Fifty yards further on, on the towpath, are 5 more Canada geese. A hundred yards past them and also on the towpath are half a dozen teenagers, I don’t like the look of them and so we decide to avoid possible trouble, and leave the canal. A sign on the roadbridge tells me I need a license to use a bicycle on the towpath. So I have to walk up the slope too steep for me to pedal up in any case.
Going back along the road we pass a Manchester City Council works yard. Nobody is working, but instead, according to a huge multicoloured poster, they are celebrating “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans. History Month”. I have nothing against history projects, but cannot understand why our councils need to get so heavily involved. More overdone political correctness.
I now ride past the pale blue and white “Kippax” pub, subtitled for reasons unknown as “The Gibraltar”. Kippax is something to do with Manchester City Football Club, whose stadium is now closer than beaches are to most Spanish Seaside Hotels. As I pass by the pub I get two wolf whistles and one “Look at that stupid Paki tart riding that thing”. Someone has not been studying his Observer’s Book Of Ethnic Minorities and so I ignore it, but I am actually very annoyed, for this is the first time I have ever been subjected to any form of racial aggression during my time here in the UK. But I am unhurt and undamaged so will not make complaint.
The bad is again interspersed with good as I ride over a mass of fallen pink cherry blossom. I turn the corner and go past the Lighting Superstore. It has an eight foot high wrought iron fence. Six feet inside that is an electric fence of equal height. It is some hundreds of feet long and surrounds the building. There are no sheep. It is a sad sign of the lengths to which companies in this area need to go in order to protect their property.
Turning left back past the tram station there are two signs “Balfour Beatty” and Bilfinger Berger" I suspect the locals think the first is going to be the name of the station. The second is where they think they will be able to get their breakfast once the station is open. A couple of guys are working on the structure and they ask a few intelligent questions about unicycles. I try to sweet talk them into allowing me onto the station roof. I fancy riding a few yards on the flat part, but they refuse politely for safety reasons. A shame, for although it would have scared the hell out of me, it would have been great.
And so back to work, my legs tired. About 8 UPDs, and a firm resolve never to unicycle in this area again without an armed guard.