A Word In Your Ear - May 9, 2013

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IT was good to hear the Manchester Ship Canal is getting a new lease of life with more containers diverted from motorways.

I grew up beside the great waterway. Ships passed the foot of our garden. Sailors waved to us. I studied their different national flags. Then, at midnight on New Year’s Eve, passing ships sounded horns to welcome the coming year.

We lived near Urmston, in what is now Trafford. Our council house backed on to the canal. What’s more, its history ran darkly through our family.

An uncle had been the general manager. Ships came along the canal from Liverpool with cotton to my grandfather’s warehouses and mills.

“But then we lost everything in the slump,” my mother explained.

Just my luck! I thought, selfishly. But without the canal, and fencing at its edge, my mum and me might not have had that conversation.

She enjoyed a lively youth being courted by suitors as diverse as local band leaders and Argentinian ranchers.

“One had a motorbike,” she told me, “and we did ‘a ton’ on the new East Lancs road – before the motorway. It was very exciting!”

Then the boyfriend had got a side-car, which hadn’t worked out so well.

“One night we were racing to catch the Barton swing bridge over the canal,” she recalled, “when the side-car came off, with me in it.”

Mum and sidecar had bounced down an embankment, hurtling towards the black abyss of that deep canal. Fortunately, its fencing saved her.

“I never went out with him again. Besides, then I met your father.”


Later, as a junior player at Urmston Cricket and Lawn Tennis Club, I had played against the Manchester Ship Canal Club at Barton.

On the way home, nearer Eccles, we stopped for suppers at Indian restaurants. It was my first taste of the exotic east, at an unsophisticated age when I thought Bombay Duck a game main course - not a fishy starter.

Whenever since returning to Urmston or Manchester, I have stared wistfully along the meandering ship canal and been saddened at its disuse. Now I hope to be ship-spotting again.

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