Just short of a year on from our decampment across the city borders, Frankie has taken it upon himself to disassociate himself from his urban roots and reinvent himself as a prototype country gent. Central to this new and slightly troubling development is a conviction that our part of Stockport has somehow drifted across the Greater Manchester boundary and into one of two neighbouring and more satisfyingly rural-sounding administrations (his first choice is Derbyshire but he is prepared to settle for Cheshire East). A week of obsessive research taking in online mapping, obscure reaches of local government and transport admistration websites, and tourist leaflets picked up in Buxton Station has thus far failed to unearth any concrete evidence behind these outlandish theories, but we will keep you (and of course the relevant departments of national and local governmental bodies and the Offices of the Queen’s Mails) posted of any developments.
In the meantime we remain firmly within the outer suburban reaches of the metropolitan district and must, for the enjoyment of the sort of manful and healthy outdoor pursuits preferred by today’s up-and-coming young county set, climb aboard the once-an-hour Northern trains rumbling into Derbyshire proper. Yesterday’s excursion took us to the end of the line at Buxton, the genteel spa town noted for its Victorian splendour, prolific cultural output, and (the main and in fact only reason for our visit yesterday) steepling municipal slopes covered during wintry spells in serviceable quantities of snow (snow, and the likelihood of its falling within a twenty-mile radius of our doorstep, being Frankie’s other reliable obsession during the month of January, in the rare moments he can spare between perusing the administrative and geographical history of the North West of England).
It was a successful afternoon out, by which I mean the Australian gentleman on the tourist office phoneline proved as good as his word when promising ‘definite patches, mate, definite patches’ of the white stuff visible across the Pavilion Gardens, and that I escaped without serious injury from my manful and healthy outdoor pursuits, having been persuaded against my better judgement to haul my creaking 47-year-old and thirteen-stone frame into a child-sized bright red plastic death-trap of a sledge and allow myself to be propelled by the unforgiving laws of physics (notably, those concerning gravity and friction, or its absence under certain circumstances) in the general direction of several oak trees and the B5467 to Matlock via Ashbourne. This unholy spectacle, I am sure you will be pleased to learn, unfolded before the curious gaze of a passing gaggle of young Japanese tourists in impeccably tasteful primary-coloured winterwear, at least one of whom captured my inglorious descent- accompanied by the sort of ungenteel language wont to escape from 13 stone, 47 year old Geordies in the act of taking their lives into their own hands within steeply-gradiented pleasure gardens- on high-definition video. The clip is no doubt being unloaded onto YouTube as we speak.
All of this and I haven’t told you (which I was going to) about our previous trip down the same trainline the Saturday before last, to take in New Mills FC versus Clitheroe in the Northern Premier League, a fixture played out in below-zero conditions and, during the second half, against a backdrop of freezing sleet travelling at an approximate velocity of forty miles per hour. None of which detracted from our enjoyment of an honestly-fought encounter between two willing but technically limited elevens, which saw the visitors race into a three-goal lead before half time (thanks largely to their centre forward, a lithe and silkily-skilled individual bearing comparison, at least in this company, to the young Ruud Gullit) whose long-legged sashaying through the home defence drew notes of admiration (‘stick the boot into the big bugger, for God's sake’… ) from the long-suffering home faithful amid a crowd of 152 hardy souls.
During the second half it was the turn of the fervourous clutch of visiting supporters in the rickety sidestand to vent their spleen, as the lowly New Mills (second-from-bottom in the league standings at kickoff) launched an unlikely comeback under darkening skies, culminating with one minute of injury time to spare with a splendidly-dispatched curling finish into the bottom corner by the home substitute, a singularly unathletic-looking bearded guy whose pronounced beerbelly made me wonder whether I may have acted precipitously in declaring time on my own promising footballing career at the tender age of 45.
Afterwards I came across the hero of the hour in the clubhouse, freshly showered and in tracksuit, leaning on the bar and tucking into a packet of pork scratchings (I swear I am not making any of this up). ‘Took your goal well there mate’, I remarked as me and Frankie made our way out into the pithcblack streets towards the train station. ‘Thanks very much’, he replied, before turning to the bar to order the first of what I imagine would be several pints of Hydes Best Bitter. Not a post-match exchange I can imagine us having with, say, Sergio Aguero of Manchester City, which is probably all the advertisement needed for the joys of non-league (although the price of admission, at £8.50 for the two of us, provides further persuasion). We will be back for more of the same, I have no doubt.