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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.

One year after: The Buddy miracle who won’t stop smiling

21 Dec

buddy new pic 2IT’S exactly one year since my sixth grandchild came into this world – and went perilously close to leaving it at the same time.

Buddy John Harry Holmes was born by Caesarian section, three months early and just 28 weeks into my daughter Hayley’s pregnancy.

He had no heartbeat, wasn’t breathing and weighed less than one kilo.

For the next few days, it was touch and go whether our Buddy would survive.

We all hoped and prayed he’d make it and that the lack of oxygen in those first few minutes had not caused any permanent damage.

For the answer, look at the picture above, taken at his first birthday party in Burscough, Lanc-buddy new picashire. Apart from his model looks (I would say that, wouldn’t I?), our Buddy is as good as gold. He rarely cries, sleeps virtually to order – and always has a beaming smile.

Hardly the frail, emaciated, under-weight specimen you’d expect of a pitiful child who was born half-dead. No, my Buddy miracle is just Buddy gorgeous!

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


Born with no heartbeat… my new grandson is a Christmas miracle

25 Dec

He’s only alive because of his mum’s intuition. Born 12 weeks early with no heartbeat, he weighs less than a kilo. Meet my new grandson 

Baby Buddy: The little mite had no heartbeat

I’M not exactly new to grandparenthood, if that’s the right word.

Up to last Wednesday my two daughters had their hands full with a handful of kids between them. Five, that is…or two and a half of each if the eldest got her way and was allowed to chop her despised cousin Charlie in two.

The two boys and three girls range in age from 20 down to five but all have one thing in common. They came into the world normally and were lucky enough to arrive healthy and complete.

So when my elder daughter Hayley found she was expecting, everyone assumed all would go well. I know she’s 41 and  it’s  12 years since her second daughter, Daisy, was born.

But all progressed normally right up to the 28th week – with Hayley and her partner Steve Holmes focused entirely on the scheduled arrival of a son in early March.

Then, 197 days into Hayley’s  third pregnancy, came a remarkable – and frightening – development triggered by the smallest hint that something was wrong.

Last Wednesday, the embryo child all but stopped booting hell out of Hayley’s body from the inside. She sensed that something was amiss, and although her midwife was not ­unduly concerned, the worried couple wanted to be sure.

A surreal scenario followed, with Hayley and Steve acting purely on intuition and forking out £100 for a  private consultation with a  paediatric specialist.

He sent them immediately to hospital, where  a scan revealed that the waters around the baby had all but dried up. Fearing the tot would not survive in this sea of nothingness, an urgent Caesarian section was ordered and the baby was plucked, lifeless, from Hayley’s body with the umbilical cord wrapped tightly around his neck.

The little one had no heartbeat and was not breathing.

For fully three minutes, doctors and nurses united in a battle to give life to the tiny foetus. For Hayley and Steve, those three minutes translated into a lifetime of lifelessness.

As the seconds ticked away, they named the baby Buddy, desperate that he should have a proper identity, even if he was never to draw breath.

Then, his tiny body invaded by a host of canulas, tubes and ventilators, a miracle occured. The mite’s heart began to beat.

Buddy was alive…if not kicking. All 992 grammes of him (or a tad under 2lb 2oz if you don’t do metric).

For 24 hours, his under-developed lungs were helped by a ventilator. Then another miracle; he started breathing by himself.

And another miracle, he scored 8 out of 10 in an official health check – a respectable score for a full-term baby, let alone a barely-formed Bud.

Amazingly, doctors told the relieved parents that had Hayley not gone to the pediatrician, the baby would have died inside her within two hours.

Over the next few days, Buddy went from strength to strength. He was two days old by the time I arrived in Manchester for my Christmas visit. Hayley was waiting for me in hospital reception…there were predictably lots of tears as we embraced.

With Hayley approaching her 42nd birthday, the chance of her conceiving again after a complicated Caesarean  is remote, to say the least.

And with Steve’s only previous marriage childless, this was  his probably his only  chance to fulfil his dream of fatherhood.

Hayley’s hand shows how small Buddy  is

So they desperately needed  Buddy to be a survivor…and judging by his never-say-die attitude throughout his first week of life, he’s bionically indestructable.

After four days on the critical list in Intensive Care, he was reclassified at five days old as merely ‘vulnerable’. By the time you read this, he’ll probably be doing aerobics in his cosy incubator with its vivid blue light.

With his sensitive skin and distorted grimaces, there’s something unearthly about my sixth grandchild. He was not meant to leave the comfort of his human spaceship until early March and at less than one third of the weight of the typical new-born, I could easily confuse him with ET.

Particularly when my specs aren’t around.

It’s wonderful that, with his future now all but secured, I can joke about which planet the little fella came from. All of which leaves both Hayley and me in stitches.

Only mine don’t hurt.

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 (

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.