Over the weekend, with all its busy reunion of old friends socialising, I spent some time, even more than usual, travelling on Greater Manchester's Metrolink tram system. Those of us still living in the Greater Manchester area praised the system to the folk from further afield: nearby Rossendale, not quite so nearby Wales, rather more distant Bristol and faraway Switzerland, geographically in Europe but not in the European Union.
This last member, the most international of all of us, having lived and worked as well in the USA, feels no geographical nostalgia for his place of birth and only comes back to see friends and family. The rest of us, perhaps more provincial and less cosmopolitan, grow sentimental about old places around the area.
However, it was the Metrolink that we were praising, a relatively new development, expanding its network all the time, and usually very efficient. Bright and usually clean, modern rolling stock and trams every five minutes or so on most lines and even more frequently on some.
Having said that, we had problems on both Friday and Saturday evening. Granted, Friday's problem was nothing to do with the system.
We had left our friends in the pub and caught the tram from Prestwich to Manchester Victoria, fulling expecting to hop almost immediately onto a tram to Oldham and planning to call for a taxi to be waiting for us at the tram stop. Imagine our dismay, chagrin, annoyance when we arrived at Victoria to find a notice so poorly punctuated as to be almost incomprehensible: No service between Oldham Mumps and Westwood services will operate Exchange Square - Westwood and Oldham Mumps - Rochdale Town Centre.
This was after 11:00 pm. Consequently there were quite a lot of confused people rather the worse for drink, all trying to decipher this message. After several readings we worked out that we would be able to reach a station just outside Oldham town centre - Westwood - and then we would need to call a taxi to get us home. All well and good, but we still had to wait about three quarters of an hour for a tram to turn up! We could have had an extra thirty minutes chatting in the pub with our friends!
It transpired that there had been a very violent fight in Oldham town centre and the police had closed the crime scene, through which the tram would pass, for forensic examination. In the end our tram did go through it, progressing slowly and rather eerily through a darkness intermittently illuminated by flashing police car lights. I still do not know exactly what went on. No doubt I shall have to read the local paper to find out!
All seemed well on Saturday when I went on the excursion on the Santa Express. It was on the tram from Bury to Prestwich that we praised the Metrolink service. My friends left the tram in Prestwich, ready to continue with the reunion fun into Saturday evening. I, on the other hand, stayed on to Victoria, making my homewards to meet my chessplaying absentee husband.
At Victoria delays were announced on the Rochdale via Oldham line but it did say that there would be a tram in 16 minutes. Rather longer than the usual waiting time but still acceptable. Asking an official about the problem, I discovered that there were signalling problems at a stop on the line and the service had been suspended. So what about the tram in 16 minutes time? Well, apparently it had been saying that for the last three quarters of an hour!
So I went and caught a bus!