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Alas Myth and Cones: Counting the Costa traffic jams in a city of red lights

18 Jul

I am lucky enough to have two homes. One is a sunshine villa 30 minutes’ drive from Alicante airport, the other a modest semi 18 miles north of Manchester’s three flight terminals.

An airport trip at the English end is subject to an electrifying hazard in the form of 50 sets of traffic lights. The consolation is that no more than 47 tend to be stuck on red at any given time.

If you are lucky enough to actually catch your flight, you do at least face a delightful evening discussing traffic lights with the Spanish cabbie driving you to Guardamar on the N332.

Mention the super-hazard of every street corner in Britain and the taxi driver’s conversation is likely to consist of a quizzical look and the words ‘Que es trah-fick-lie-eat?’

Odds are he won’t know what you are talking about because, believe it or not, there’s not a single set of the things between Alicante and my Costa Blanca home.

At the Manchester end one can, of course, avoid the red-light menace by heading for the airport via the city’s Park-And-Don’t-Move service, otherwise known as the M60 motorway.

That trip is no fun either, aRoadworks on the A21nd unless you give yourself at least two days to get to the airport, a couple of hours with your head immersed in 50 Shades of Red may well be less stressful than counting traffic cones.

Either way, both routes to the airport provide ideal material for a ‘100 Reasons to Escape Manchester’ publicity blitz.

What sort of voyeur gets a kick out of watching traffic cones breeding on the M60, for heaven’s sake? Last time I used the so-called ring road I counted 428 million giant ice-cream cornets during a six-mile crawl to the Trafford Centre. The 14-hour trip was marginally quicker than taking the car but my knees didn’t half hurt by the time I reached my destination. And I was suffering from orange-and-white colour blindness into the bargain.

One of the few perks of driving to Manchester airport via the city centre is that you can stop off for a coffee and a bacon butty. The down side is the £60 parking fine you’ll inevitably get in addition to burning off eight gallons of unleaded in a desperate attempt to park sideways on the single metre of kerb untainted by double yellow lines.

I appreciate that comparing the Costa del Salford with the Costa del Sol is akin to confusing Bury Market with the London Stock Market. But that’s a bourse-case scenario.

There are, in fact, many leisurely compensations for those who choose not to drive in what must surely be the wettest part of the UK. One is enjoying a morning swim to the office in downtown Mancunia’s high-street ocean, known to the aquatic community as the Sea of Umbrellas. The rush hour is so busy that there’s no choice but to do the crawl, and not only because the breast stroke is illegal and a butterfly as rare as an English Mark Spitz.

Which brings me on to football or, for the gob-fearing amongst us, the mouths of Wayne Rooney and Kompany.

Manchester is of course home to two top football teams, namely Bury and Oldham Athletic. Fortunately I don’t support Man United or Man City either, which is a bit of a relief since I don’t speak German (heaven help whoever puts the names on United players’ shirts) and with my flight back to Spain only 24 hours away, I’m pretty low on Sterling too (boom boom).

Oh, a geeky friend just called to say there are actually 49 sets of traffic lights between my Whitefield home and Manchester Airport. Using the bacon-butty route, that is.

I believe there are also 49 million traffic cones between Anfield in Liverpool and Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium.

All paid for in Sterling, of course.

Ryanair kicked me in the ribs – my airline fracture’s killing me

4 May

I SUPPOSE it was fated to happen after all the bashings I’ve given to the airline the world hates to love.

Not satisfied with fleecing me of 50 euros on the outward trip, Ryanair kicked me in the ribs on my return flight to Alicante from Manchester.

Well, I’ve got to blame someone – and they’re used to it!

I’ve been doubled up in pain for the last 10 days, with the prospect of  two more weeks explaining why I’m crawling about like a 90-year-old crab.

After my heinous crime on the flight to the UK (and the €50 fine levied by a human Rottweiler at the boarding desk who would have preferred the death sentence), I arrived at the departure gate in Manchester prepared for a handbag war.

I’d replaced the criminally large one I took to England with a mini-handbag which fitted easily into my hand luggage and took my place in the Ryanair ‘Priority’ queue ready for the flak to fly as it had at Alicante.

No such luck – Jonny Rottweiler and the Air Pirates were nowhere in sight,  just a couple of polite lady pussy cats.

Here was the reality of ageism. The young Spanish jobsworths at Alicante had both been in their twenties. The British-Asian women who checked me through the boarding gate at Manchester were double their age – and consequently graduates in tact and diplomacy.

Before joining the queue, I had plonked my 10 kilos of  cabin luggage into the Ryanair size rack and, surprise surprise, it just about fitted. But then, of course I couldn’t get it out. I pulled and pulled and eventually a  male passenger did the job for me.

I half expected Rott-man to appear with a set of scales and weigh my bag in at 10.1 kilos. Which I presume would also incur a €50 fine.

Come to think of it, why do Ryanair not check the weight of hand luggage carried  by passengers  with online boarding cards? (I shouldn’t have mentioned that. They might get ideas).

Anyway, on to the meat of this article – how Ryanair condemned me to suffer.

Despite the relaxed atmosphere at Manchester airport, I was happy enough to get past the boarding gate. A particularly helpful gentleman (yes, they do still exist) helped me get my 10 kilos’ worth aboard  and I settled into my reserved front-row window seat (at €10 extra, a snip for creaking oldies).

OK Mr O'Leary, you win. Please put us down
You win, Michael. Please put us down

Two  po-faced women were already  filling the two adjacent seats. I smiled at the fatty wedged next to me and made a light-hearted comment designed to break the ice. She froze me out with one cold look. No problem, I thought,  she’s probably foreign and didn’t understand me.

She turned to her pal and spouted something in fluent Jamie Carragher. There we are, I knew she was foreign.

As passengers without reserved seats (which was virtually everyone) funnelled through the plane, the male steward asked the Liverpool lasses if they had reserved the seats they were in.

‘’No’’ .

‘’You can’t sit here then,’’ he told them, to my intense pleasure. “Anywhere after Row 6, please.’’

Reluctantly, the Liver Birds  headed for the rear of the plane, to be replaced by two suited young Spaniards who DID have reservations. Great, I thought – convinced I’d get in a bit of  Spanish practice during the ensuing  two and a bit hours.

No chance. Los chicos babbled away so rapido that I barely understood a palabra – and I quickly realised they had nothing in common with a grumpy old geriatric.

Because of back problems, I have difficulty bending down. So when, soon after take-off, I dropped the Ryanair flight magazine, the sensible thing would have been to ask one of the Spanish guys if he could help.

But this was ‘Grabber Granny’ hour, so down I stretched to rescue the fallen literary classic.

After two or three failed attempts, I sat up again and thought ‘I’m making a fool of myself. I’ve got to get it next time.’

I lurched forward and felt a big crack in my lower ribs, accompanied by a fierce pulled-muscle type pain.

Since then, I have thought of little but Ryanair. When I’m not yelling for relief, that is.

I think of them when I wake up in the morning, when I sit down or stand up,  when I get in and out of my car, in fact I never stop thinking about the floor of that plane.’ They had no right to put it there.

I’m in pain just about every second of the day. And I’m told the only cure for  rib damage is rest and patience.

Michael O’Leary, you’re a cruel man.I have only word to say to you and your airline.


Candle with care: I’m sick of the tick of the birthday clock

22 Oct

I USED to love birthdays. Particularly those big ones with a zero on the end. The ones when your boss would send you home early to have a quiet family celebration…only for all hell to let loose when you opened the front door.

One moment, silence and slight concern that nobody was in. Then, as you peered into the deserted hall, an explosion of noise as doors flew open, laughing faces appeared from nowhere, the kids rushed into your arms  –  and 100 voices burst into a chorus of you know what.
The party would go on forever as you ate, drank (too much) and caught up with the lives of surprise visitors from out of town and friends you’d all but lost touch with. Your boss and the colleagues who had masterminded the show would turn up after work and the party would go on through the night.
Yes, life was fun at 40…and blowing the candles out was a piece of cake.
How times change. Birthdays used to take forever to come round, yet I swear I’ve had four of them this year.
And the only good thing about the damned things is that if they keep coming, you know you are still alive.
I’d better amend that, because I don’t want my friends and to think I didn’t enjoy our little celebration at the weekend. Nineteen of us took our zimmer frames, hearing aids and skin tucks for a bit of a bash in Guardamar. It wasn’t a night at the Ritz, some would say more like the Pits. But, like so many local expats, my crowd love the bustle and boom of Vicente Jaen’s chaotic restaurant, where plates of freebie food fly at you from all angles before you even give your order – and then you are submerged by enough food to fill a herd of starving elephants.
There’s no written bill and the only till is the wad of notes tucked away in Vicente’s pocket. It’s all a bit of a shambles, really…but as irresistible as the march of time.

In the chaos, my plan for a table for 20 was redrawn as a 12 and an eight and I spent the evening  sitting with my back to most of my guests. The experience confirmed my mathematical theory that the volume of noise generated by a boozing Brit is directly proportional to the amount of alcohol consumed. The longer we celebrated, the louder some of us got (not me, of course)  – and the more disgusted looks headed like daggers in our direction.
It was all good fun and great to have so much support in the absence of my family, who are all in the UK. Thanks for the good wishes, cards and presents, guys, but you’ll have to remind me who gave what because everything got mixed up in the chaos of the evening.
One thing I did notice in the haze of alcohol (two gin and tonics – I can’t even get drunk these days) was that there were no candles on the cake.
Perhaps Restaurant Jaen is a no-blow zone, I thought. Because I could definitely have seen off all those little sticks of flaming wax. Well, three or four anyway – I can only eat a few in one sitting.
Anyway, in two years I’m due to hit another BIG birthday. I want whoever provides the cake to make sure it displays one candle for every year of my strife (pun intended).
I promise faithfully that when it comes to blows, every one of those candles will be extinguished in a couple of seconds.
And maybe the grandkids will let me help…
Published in The Courier (, October 19, 2012

Trick or treat? For Fawkes sake revive that Bonfire Night Guy!

29 Oct

I BLAME it on the Americans. In fact, I blame everything on the Americans – they are big enough to take it. Even the ones who weigh less than20 stone.

I’m talking about the over-the-top Halloween hoo-ha that has whooped its way into Britain…and all but killed off one of the nation’s most treasured occasions.

When I was a child, Guy Fawkes Night was one of the biggest days of the year. A tradition marking the 1605 Gunpowder Plot, it commemorated a failed assassination attempt against King James I by a group of provincial English Catholics.

The plan was to blow up the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament – something I doubt many British 10-year-olds these days know anything about.

Kid today are more concerned with Halloween, where they are free to frighten the lives out of  old ladies by donning ­horrific masks and demanding sweets with menaces.

I wonder what you get if you ask for a ‘trick’ rather than a ‘treat’? Does one of the little demons remove his mask and turn out to be Paul Daniels?

To me, the Guy Fawkes culture of my youth was so much more embracing.

For days, even weeks before the event, we’d go from door to door with makeshift effigies of Fawkes and implore householders to give us ‘a penny for the Guy’.

Then, as darkness fell on November 5, the neighbourhood would gather for a fireworks spectacular in which Guys galore would go up in smoke on top of a massive communal bonfire.

How that delightful tradition came to be usurped by the hideous ‘trick or treat’ culture, I do not know.

I believe Halloween has Celtic origins and was originally a pagan holiday in honour of the dead.

But I honestly cannot remember anyone celebrating it when I was young.

We may have started it – but as with everything else, the world has pinged it back in our faces with interest.

But I yearn for my grandchildren to enjoy the atmosphere of Guy Fawkes Night as I did half a century ago.

November 5 has a special place in my heart.

And nobody will convince me that the Halloween takeover was not a devious plot by those over-the-top, razzamatazz Americans.

Published in The Courier, 28/11/2011 (

They pink it’s all over – but I still love joke birthday cards

22 Oct

IT was my birthday a couple of weeks ago and no, I’m not telling you how old I am.
But judging by the sort of birthday cards I received, my friends (the few I have left after all my moaning) clearly believe I have reached my dotage.
Apparently I am no longer a suitable target for those corny joke cards the ‘younger’ community bounce off each other.I didnt even get a card making fun of my being old. You know, the sort that make you seem glam until you get the punchline inside.
A year older…and no sign of any joke cards

On the front, it will say something like ‘’What Do You Like To Get Up To In Bed, Sexy Lady?’ Then, when you turn inside, there’s an old dear in a flannelette nightie sitting on the loo saying ‘I Like To Get Up To Wee.’

That one’s dreadful because I made it up. But you know what I mean.

Anyway, virtually every card I received was one of those schmaltzy affairs you send to great-grandma on her 97th birthday.

I’m talking about the pink ones covered with pretty flowers and the message To a Dear Friend.

Admittedly, I automatically orientate to this type of card for my 83-year-old  stepmother – but with good reason. She gets the pink schmaltz treatment because she has no sense of humour – or sense of anything, for that matter.

Anyway, this plethora of pinko cards all but convinced me that my friends had made a pact to tell me subtly that, in their eyes, I am now officially OLD. The fact is I love funny cards…and always have done. Providing they are not too crude, that is.

I might be a boring old drone to some, but no one can say I don’t have a sense of humour. So I assume the reason no one sent me a card I could laugh at is that the entire planet now sees me as a coffin dodger.

I scoured the cards for even the slightest hint of humour and the nearest I could get to a giggle was one bearing the message ‘Especially For You…’’. Well, Who else would it be for, tonto?

That’s me off everyone’s Christmas card list. Now where did I put my Zimmer  frame?

Hey, buddy burglarizer, can we kinda get our language back?

16 Sep

THERE used to be a language called English – until it was murdered by our so-called friends across the Pond.

And the thing that saddens me most is that we’ve wilted like wimps under a growing bombardment of ridiculous Americanisms.

‘’Can I GET a burger and chips,’’ has become the staple way of ordering food for just about every young Brit under the age of 25.

I’m still waiting to see someone actually do what they say…and march into the restaurant kitchen to collect their grub.

Then there’s the curse of having to watch TV show hosts inanely urging British audiences, not to applaud, but to ‘’give it up’’ for some Z-list guest who’s incapable of generating spontaneous appreciation.

Give up what? Pandering to Hollywood movie culture by using American-speak at every opportunity? Far better they give up the ridiculous posturing rap culture that’s become the ‘in’ thing among certain segments of British society.

Sometimes with extremely negative consequences – innit?

I honestly believe that English as we know will disappear within a couple of generations, submerged under the tsunami of American influence on our young people.

Television, computer games, electronic gadgets, all sorts of technology – everything seems to emanate from the other side of the Atlantic these days.

As for American films (the real word for ‘movies’, remember?), I doubt I understand even half of the obscenity-filled soundtracks these days.

The English language is certainly not what it was 50 years ago. Back in the 1960s, Britain was king. The Beatles ruled the music world, England were world football champions – and the Commonwealth still encompassed half the planet.

Then, slowly but surely, the meticulous grammar that people like myself were taught in school began to be Yanked away.

It has since been regurgitated in American-speak with Britain’s younger generation happily swallowing the new version as if it was a ‘cookie’. And that takes the biscuit.

It seems that English kids today are so weak-willed that they can’t fight off their absorption into 21st century America. Because, believe me, they are being sucked in relentlessly to the point that they actually seem to think McDonalds is proper food and that Starbucks make decent coffee. We’ve already seen it with Halloween, which was not even celebrated in the UK in my childhood.

Guy Fawkes Night was the big one – everything went into making the best ‘Guy’ for November 5, because it guaranteed richer pickings from our door-to-door ‘Penny For the Guy’ collections.

These days, householders are pestered by a horde of masked midgets demanding sweets (or should that be ‘candy’?). With menaces, too. Presumably the sweets are the treat –but what happens if you opt for ‘trick’? Does one of the midgets’ masks comes off and reveal Paul Daniels? Horror of horrors!

But back to the English language. As a professional wordsmith, I have to deal every day with the trimmings of the American Revolution. I am increasingly seeing words like ‘organisation’ and ‘realise’ spelt with a Z; rather than an S.

Indeed, the spellcheck on my computer, which is set to ‘ENGLISH English’, perpetually tries to ‘correct’ the spelling to the American style. We can do nothing about the Yanks nicking our language and changing the rules (just as they did when they pinched the game of rugby, turned the participants into bouncy castles, and called it American Football).

But for heaven’s sake, let’s vow NEVER to allow words like ‘burglarize’, ‘gotten’ and ‘’winningest’ to creep into our everyday speech. Even if that means stepping up to the plate and doing math in the parking lot.