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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.


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!

How Peter Andre opened a door to happiness for sick Daisy

14 Dec

Daisy in hospital recently

Daisy in hospital recently

THE last four months have been a living hell for my granddaughter Daisy.

She’s spent roughly half that time in hospital, has lost two stone in weight and her once-rosy cheeks have been replaced by a ghostly white complexion.

She is currently on a medical regime which involves taking 32 pills a day…plus a fortnightly injection she describes as ‘’like a really bad wasp sting’’.

Even when Daisy is not in hospital, she’s bent double in agony much of the time and cannot go to school. Such is life for a 12 year-old with a particularly aggressive type of Crohn’s Disease.
At what should be the most exciting time of her life, she’ll become a teenager next month not knowing what the future holds. If she is lucky, the ulceration of her bowel will respond to treatment and the digestive spasms that crease her up will ease – just as they did for her older sister Rosie, 21. She has the same incurable illness as Daisy, but has been in remission for four years.

If she’s unlucky, Daisy will require major surgery. It all seems so unfair for a youngster whose dad suffered a massive brain haemorrhage when she was three years old and has been in hospital, paralysed and blind, ever since.

Last Friday Daisy was discharged from her latest hospital stay, even though she was far from well. The lives of her medical team would have been at risk had they refused to let her go. Her mother Hayley  had booked tickets to see Peter Andre ‘Up Close and Personal’  at Manchester’s Apollo Theatre and this was one event she was NOT going to miss.

Two years ago, Daisy was photographed with singing heartthrob Andre at a CD signing at a local ASDA store in Manchester – and prayed for the day she could see her idol in concert. Now it was actually going to happen…with family friend Louisa, a qualified nurse, joining Hayley’s entourage at the Apollo in case Daisy’s pains became intolerable during the evening.

We’d been racking our brains for a way to contact Peter Andre in the hope he might just find time to say hello to her. We knew it was a forlorn hope…and with 3,500 fans yelling for his attention at the Apollo, that forlorn hope quickly deteriorated to ‘no chance’. Their seats were four rows from the back…just about as far from the stage as it was possible to get.

Frail Daisy was dwarfed by adults vying for the best viewing points and as everyone leapt to their feet to welcome their hero, she was left staring at people’s backs. In desperation, she stood on her seat to get a better view and was immediately ordered down by the fans behind her.

In tears, she resigned herself to the worst. At least she could hear her idol, she reasoned. That was better than nothing.

Then fate took a hand in the most dramatic way. Someone pointed out a free seat in the very back row; here was a chair Daisy could stand on without fear of being ordered to sit down and where she could get an uninterrupted, if distant, view of her beloved Peter.
The six-stone waif was about to enter dreamland.
In the distance, Andre left the stage as his dancing entourage began a routine to the tune of John Lennon’s Imagine.

Then the hand of fate took over. ‘Suddenly Peter emerged from a door just to Daisy’s right, singing – and started walking along the aisle behind us,’’ says Hayley.

“Daisy turned round and he saw her straight away. She was crying hysterically and Peter came straight over to her and started singing to her. He touched her face and she grabbed his arm…and then he moved away.

“Daisy somehow found the energy to jump over the seat and run after him but was held back by one of his minders.

daisy with peter andre

HAPPY DAY: Peter signs a CD for Daisy in 2010

“But it was an amazing experience for her and a fantastic pick-me-up that none of us could have dreamed of.’’

Daisy is still overcome by the experience: ‘’I can’t believe what happened. I and lots of my friends had been tweeting him for two weeks hoping he might just agree to say hi to me but it was more in hope than expectation. Then it just happened all by chance. I actually felt the muscles in his arm and I can tell you he smelt wonderful!’’

A great perfumance, you might say – and one that brought a rare smile from a child whose happy personality has been knocked sideways by her health problems.

We all know that pain and happiness just don’t mix. But for those few wonderful seconds at the back of the Apollo, agony turned to ecstasy for a sick child…and the hand of fate showed its gentle side.

Thanks, Peter.

Published in The Courier ( December 7, 2012


Buddy Golly! The miracle baby with no heartbeat goes home

2 Feb

Buddy leaves hospital...all 2 kilos of him

BUDDY John Harry Holmes entered this world silently on December 14, 2011 – and it was three minutes before he drew his first breath.
My daughter Hayley’s third child arrived 12 weeks early and weighed less than a kilo. For those first terrifying moments of his life, he also had no heartbeat. How times change!

On Wednesday this week, the little mite left hospital with his mum and dad, the intrusive array of tubes that had decorated and invaded his little body for weeks all long gone.
For the first week of his life, it was touch-and-go for Buddy. Dragged out of Hayley’s womb by Caesarean section, he survived because of her intuition that something was amiss with the 28-week embryo.
A scan revealed that the waters surrounding Buddy had all leaked away – and medics ordered an immediate emergency delivery.
Hayley and her partner  Steve Holmes learned later that the baby would have died within two hours had he been left in the womb.
As it was, he survived not only those first breathless, heart-stopping moments, but also being half-strangled by his umbilical cord.
For a week, he remained in an incubator in Intensive Care, listed as ‘critical’.
Then the miracle of life kicked in big time. And when he left hospital this week, Buddy’s birthweight had more than doubled to 4lb 7oz.

So tiny...that's Buddy, not dad

In seven weeks, the wizened mini-alien had transitioned into a chubby little boy – albeit still only the size of a man’s shoe.
Hayley and Steve had named him seconds after he was born, fearing he would not survive.
Instead, he has become a picture of health, so pardon this column’s nepotism as the family drink a toast to the little one’s future.
Mine’s a Bud, by the way.


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.