Top-Deck Sketch – Life In A Northern Town

To us southern softies, anything north of Stoke is “up north”. Once you leave the ornate surroundings of Stoke-on-Trent station, everything turns black and white, and men in flat caps appear, discussing pigeons and whippet racing.

No wonder Osborne wants to create a “Northern Powerhouse”. He probably still thinks there’s pounds to be made by mill owners in large hats barking orders at urchins by the bus-load.

There are still plenty of examples of these imposing buildings of our past as you ride around the Mancunian suburbs today; many of them “self-storage warehouses”.

In Manchester City Centre’s Stevenson Square, you might be forgiven for thinking you’d regressed to some black-and-white era. It’s a curious slice of olde-England, a sort of calm oasis in the middle of this bustling City. You half-expect to see a trolleybus roll around the corner, containing a healthy collection of identical-looking men in the afore-mentioned flat-cap and whippet-talk.

Instead, there are large purple buses, which are portraying a thoroughly modern image of Osborne’s Northern Powerhouse.

“ Vantage” is the brand given to these purple people-eaters, which end and then begin their journey to other northern towns.

These impressive beasts carry small guide-wheels as they run, for a while, on the latest addition to Manchester’s transport revolution – the Guided Busway.

Not that you’d necessarily know this. Because whilst the understated purple Vantage branding oozes class and sophistication, it mentions not it’s unique operation in these parts.

There are no flat-capped men, pigeons or whippets on my journey north. Only a smiling lady driver, who appears mildly bemused that I’ve rocked up and got down on one knee, not to ask for her hand in marriage, but to try and get an arty angle of the purple machine with my camera.

Upstairs, there are plush leather seats, plugs the tech-savvy can charge their power-hungry gadgets with, and tables that those with a picnic can arrange their sausage rolls on.

Envious-looking Stagecoach drivers pass by. They run the rival 34 service, which can’t use the guided busway, but instead take a different route to Leigh. In the bus station, they park on adjacent stands looking for trade. Both sets of staff not so much eye each other up, but stare out disinterestedly across the blandness of the bus station. The travel centre is neat and proper, but doesn’t have any stock of 34 timetables.

On the busway itself, our purple Vantage rolls along, pretending to be a train. Occasionally passing it’s brethren, our jockey grins, then waves at his contemporary.  The ride is smooth, without the “clickety-clack” of a ride on rails.

The V1 goes to Leigh, whilst the V2 turns off, and attacks a steep incline en route to Atherton, where it ends up in an innocuous side street called “Bag Lane”.

At the bus stop, northern ladies discuss the weather, and how it’s playing havoc with drying the washing. They shuffle onto Vantage and head towards the bright lights of the City.