Let's talk about Bristol for a little bit. I'm officially addicted to Cadbury's Dairy Milk now, which, in practical terms, means I'm doing maybe a bar a week. They've quite suddenly become organic, which is a change that's gradually been evolving in many British foods. The taste, naturally (hehe), is still excellent. Food labeling also tends to be a little more explicit. In the States, it will be mid-winter before I find Nantucket Nectar juice with an origin label (in this case, Brazil), and bottled-water companies will still be holding out.
I buy my Dairy Milks at the Cafe Resource. Like the Settlers of Catan, the StarCraft Terran base droids, and old Japanese movies and video games, I use the Cafe Resource to sustain my burgeoning global empire. Okay, not really, but the wording had to be brought up somehow.
While some cities might put up advertisements at their bus stops, Bristol interleaves these with an entirely different sort of ad collection explaining how to do interesting optical illusions and tricks.
Strawberry's become one of my favourite restaurants in Bristol. They make glorious crepes with guacamole and pineapples and tuna and even stranger ingredients. They also have this machine that makes orange-juice. One day the temptation grows to strong and the counter-lady, who knows me by now, throws some oranges in the top. The wheels suck them, the knife thing chops them, the presser-bulbs squeeze 'em, and what comes out is orange juice in its purest form. Wow!

The following weekend it's time to make another family visit, this time up to Manchester where Sheila & Company live. A long series of e-mails have finally coalesced into a visit, one where I will actually meet up with people (unlike my trip up to Glasgow, though Scotland's adventures more than mitigated that mishap).

Again, I'm running down Park Street and College Green, late for the train. I grab a taxi (Bristol's taxis are big, black, and stylish with lots of head room and very comfortable) and make it to Temple Meads in time to run in. You know I must have been in a hurry because my customary picture of Temple Meads is oddly absent.

The trip up to Stockport is uneventful. However, as the train approaches the station, I make a trip to the bathroom. The train stops while I'm inside. Getting out, I walk to the door and press the open button, but nothing happens. I knock on the glass, but the conductor outside ignores me. Running into the car I knock again. A trio of helpful people on the platform point in the direction the train is going, letting me know that the next station isn't too far down the line.

Manchester Piccadilly
(Stolen from Wikipedia)
I had been going to meet Sheila & Company at the Stockport station, but the train arrived early(!), so there's still time to correct the mistake. At Manchester Piccadilly, I run through the station, down the stairs, ask three people which bus to take (never trust locals) and hop on it.

A brief note on Manchester Piccadilly. This is the second busiest station in England outside London and the third busiest in the UK outside London for passenger use. It has a 92% satisfaction rating (the highest of any UK station), compared with the 60% national average. If I haven't done so already, I should point out that statistics for customer satisfaction (in several categories), late trains (broken down by the degree of lateness), missed trains, and on time trains are prominently displayed at all stations. In the States, we expect Amtrak will be late and slow. In the UK there's a perception that trains are both of these, but that perception is, in my opinion, wrong.

So, I get on bus 192 and we head towards Stockport. I'm looking for a cellphone now, but no one's phone will work! Batteries are dead, calling plans limited, people don't have their phones on them. Eventually, a muscular, balded man offers me his phone and I call Sheila… and the truth descends on both of us. Sheila & Company were at the Stockport platform and their gestures didn't mean the next station was coming up soon, it meant that they'd meet me at the next station! Now they're heading towards Piccadilly and I'm heading to Stockport. They turn around, saying they'll meet me there. Clearly, it's been far too long since I've had to meet someone at a station!

I sit next to the man who lent me his phone and he begins asking a barrage of personal questions. Who am I? Where do I come from? What am I doing? He repeats himself in a way which reminds me very much of the times the TSA has stopped me to search my bags, car, et cetera (but that's a separate story ). I have the sudden realization that this cellphone has not been offered in the spirit of kindness, that this bus ride is not accidental, that the conductor ignored me for a reason, that my irrational bathroom-trip near my station was engineered. This is all an elaborate plan dating back to day one. The British government is checking in on me.

Luckily, the man, whoever he is, will walk away with tasty poppyscotch. I ditch him near Stockport station and watch the bus roll away. Inside the station I'm alone, so I play pennywhistle in the corner while a foreign-looking janitor sweeps the floor to the tune of Gusty's Frolics.

Sheila, John, and Chris arrived shortly thereafter and we get in the car and drive towards their house. A giant billboard outside the station proclaims advertises the Bilk by displaying several policeman restraining an apparently homicidal man. This seems a good time for my cousins to discuss my recent brush with death. Stockport station, it seems is in a decidedly unsafe part of town and, to make things better, I rode the dreaded Route 192 to get there - it has the highest violent crime rate of any route in Britain, they tell me. But now I can join the Facebook group dedicated to the route's survivors.1

Sheila apologises unnecessarily for the smallness of her house and we congregate briefly in the living room where I meet Ian, Sheila's quiet, but seemingly humour-filled, husband, and Sheila's rabbit. Chris, gesturing at the foot of plexiglass surrounding all the furniture and blockading all the nooks in the living room, says that the rabbit tends to destroy the house. Ian, smiling, doesn't even attempt to gainsay this.

We all head to bed, though in my case this is a very comfortable couch.


1Actually, there are three!

  • "the wonderful 192- i survived!" (4 members)
    manchester wiouldn't be the same without this collection of "special" people careering around the city day and night.
  • "I didn't survive the 192 bus." (40 members)
    This is a group for all of us who haven't survived the bus.
    For all of us that have been puked on!
    For those of us that have been forced to stroke a 2 foot bunny.
    For those of us that have have crazy (but not drunk) people talk to us.
    For those of us that have had crazy drunk people talk to us.
    For everyone who's life has changed either for better or worst as a result of this bus!!
  • "I Didn't survive the 192" (11 members)
    for those who didnt join the "i survived the 192 group"




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