Half term took us to a humble bothy in the southern Pennines and the delights of exploring the lanes of Dobcross, Diggle and Delph. However, a drizzling Bank Holiday Monday forced us to consider an alternative under cover activity other than sitting before a primitive five channel television. Fortunately, we had a contingency plan.
After a huge farmhouse breakfast, a 25 minute train journey would take us to Manchester Victoria and a leisurely stroll to Piccadilly Gardens would bring us to the X50 bus and a 25 minute trip to the Lego Discovery Centre at the Trafford Centre. Placed high on the list of places to visit before the end of childhood, we could, with luck, be there in an hour. Unfortunately, we had not taken into account Fergie`s red army.
Pausing to admire the wonderful fountain in Piccadilly Gardens, the younger hippos could not resist becoming a piece of living art and were soon completely drenched. Upon boarding the bus, the incredibly helpful driver ignored the growing puddle and told us of road closures, diversions and delays. After being outclassed and outplayed by the morally superior Barcelona, Manchester United, it seems, were to parade the premiership trophy and not the champion’s league trophy on an open topped bus. The driver said it wasn’t important as he was a City supporter.
At the point where the bus was to divert away from its normal route, the driver came upstairs and explained what was happening and was thoroughly charming. As we progressed in a direction away from Old Trafford, the traffic grew heavier and more flag draped supporters were walking away from the stadium. With cars parked on pavements, grass verges and across people’s drives, the bus was now moving at walking pace. Turning onto a jammed dual carriage-way, the bus took 30 minutes to cover the 100 yards to a set of traffic lights at a cross roads.
Council workers in hi-viz tabards lurked with bollards and when we finally arrived at the lights, a police officer on a motorcycle rode into the centre of the junction and gave a thumbs-up. Our road was closed and by now the younger hippos had given the top of the bus the aroma of wet Labrador. Hundreds of singing supporters had gathered and a helicopter buzzed low overhead. More police motorcycles moved slowly west followed by police on horseback and the crowd began cheering. Then, Van der Sar, Wayne Rooney, Ryan Giggs, Alex Ferguson and the rest along with the premiership trophy passed in front of us about 20 yards away.
The randomness of causality left us bewildered that serendipity should place us in this space and time that afforded the best seat to witness the celebrations. Such an encounter would be impossible to plan. Loyal supporters, included some of the more rebellious who choose to wear green, trudged away in the rain after our buses had crossed paths. Arriving at the Trafford Centre, we thanked the driver and reminded him that at least City had won the FA Cup.
The Lego Discovery Centre was marvellous but over-priced and the female members of the hippo pod enjoyed denuding the bank account by visiting some very expensive shops. The Trafford Centre itself is utterly ghastly, but more of that later.
Returning to the city centre along empty streets to catch a train back to the hills, the rain stopped and the sun came out. Again at Piccadilly Gardens, the younger hippos decided to take another al fresco shower in the fountain. A flying visit to a nearby Primark secured a change of clothing. Having spent a small fortune, the highlights of the day were a chance encounter with Rooney and Giggs and the joy on the faces of young boys getting soaking wet.
The best things in life really are free.