Swings and RoundaBlogs

I grew up in a village called Poynton, which is roughly equidistant between Macclesfield and Stockport, in the County of East Cheshire (in case you aren’t familiar with this part of the country, and were desperate to place it geographically).

In terms of East Cheshire (bear with me here, this is going somewhere), Poynton is very much in the Far East of the County – which is interesting, because like the Far East, we also have a number of Chinese eateries, a stockpile of biological weapons, and, until a few years ago, parents were restricted to having just one child to combat our chronic over-crowding*

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*only one of these facts is actually true.

Anyway, I spent the first eighteen years of my life growing up in Poynton, returned for a year after Law School, and, despite now living in Sandbach, I commute back to the village of my childhood every day for work. In short, I have spent more time in Poynton than anywhere else on Earth.

I therefore feel suitably qualified – no, entitled – to state that Poynton is, for want of a better phrase, a bit peculiar. And this comes from someone who lives in Sandbach, a town with plenty of its own quirks (and nutcases); so when I say that Poynton is ‘a bit peculiar’, I mean it’s really fucking peculiar.

Now, I need to be careful, since I plan to work in Poynton for the foreseeable future (until I win the lottery or secure a lucrative book deal – and the odds of each happening are roughly the same), plus half of the office lives here; but, so long as I choose my words carefully, it should be fine. Besides, it’s not like anyone reads these blog entries anyway.

So, while Sandbach and Poynton have many similarities (the most obvious of which being that both are clearly desperate to be the next Alderley Edge, such is the current upsurge in trendy wine bars and restaurants); the main difference between the two is that Poynton also ‘boasts’ what must be one of the most bizarre traffic systems in the country.

In 2011, Poynton was the subject of a major redevelopment, partly to deal with the terrible congestion caused by our position on the main road between the northern powerhouses of Stockport and Macclesfield (there was a time, in the not too distant past, when you couldn’t buy a fancy armchair and a hat in the same day, without travelling between the two), and partly for aesthetic reasons because, well, Poynton was fucking ugly.

If you don’t believe me, here is a picture of Poynton taken shortly before the redevelopment, c.2009:

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And this is what Poynton looks like now:

Quite the change, I am sure you will agree.

Ok, the first picture is actually of war-torn Syria, but I decided to use that photograph instead, partly for comedic purposes (not that there is anything even remotely amusing about the situation in Syria), and partly because the Poynton Illuminati appear to have erased all images of the village pre-2011, so I couldn’t find anything online to illustrate my point (if you have ever seen the film Hot Fuzz, it’s a little like that here).

In truth, Poynton didn’t look that bad before; but, aside from some pretty shoddy paving work (which looks like it was installed by The Chuckle Brothers – RIP, Barry), I have to admit it’s actually quite pretty now.

The problem, however, is that part of the redevelopment was to turn Poynton into a ‘Shared Space Village’, which is hippy-lingo for ‘hey, let’s all just get along, man’. Essentially, it means that cars, pedestrians, wildlife, and even Manchester United fans all have equal rights, so everyone is expected to be thoroughly British and simply ‘give way to all’. 

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The problem, however, is that whilst the intention was to create a pleasant, friendly traffic system based on mutual love and respect, if absolutely everyone adopted the ‘no, please, after you’ approach, then no one would move for fear of being the first to do so (because, if you ignore the traffic rules in Poynton, you are immediately chased from the village by an angry mob wielding pitchforks).

As it happens, because the system is so poorly explained to outsiders, they don’t tend to give way when they ‘should’, which makes the locals very angry indeed. Rather ironically, therefore, instead of introducing a friendly shared space, Poynton now features one of the angriest junctions in the world. I should know, because my office overlooks it, and there is an incident of road rage every four to five minutes. And, when all is said and done, there is very little shared space about a white van driver screaming ‘FUCKING IDIOT!’ at a pensioner.

Apparently, the system is based on a Swedish design, and this is often used to justify its introduction, as if the Swedes are the envy of the world when it comes to traffic layouts. Admittedly, I’ve never been to Sweden, so perhaps they are, but when the only other Swedish creations that spring to mind are ABBA, Ikea, and, erm, Stockholm Syndrome*, I’ll reserve my judgment for now.

(*Oh, and Volvo. I do quite like Volvo.)

Anyway, whilst shared spaces might be fine for the likes of Björn Borg and Ulrika Jonsson, in my humble opinion the traffic system of Poynton is fundamentally flawed in three distinct ways:

Firstly, I do not know many Swedish people, but they have always struck me as a rather amiable nation, less inclined to drive angrily at pedestrians while beeping their horn and screaming obscenities. In fact, I suspect the only time a Swede has ever given someone the horn, was when I last watched Britt Ekland in The Man with the Golden Gun.

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In contrast, just in case I haven’t made it clear already, Poynton is generally filled with angry drivers, beeping their horns and screaming obscenities. I’m not suggesting all of those drivers live in the village, but one of them will certainly pass through it every few minutes.

Secondly, whilst everyone is supposed to give way, the opposite actually happens; because if the drivers assume pedestrians will wait, but the pedestrians think they have right of way and can simply walk into the road, no one even pauses. They just go. As a result, not a day goes by without someone either very nearly being hit, or very actually being hit.

Thirdly, and perhaps most uniquely to Poynton, we have the pièce de résistance of our ridiculous shared space scheme, the ‘double roundel’:

Now, this may look like a double roundabout, where everyone could quite safely negotiate their way through the village by simply always giving way to their right (as with every other roundabout in the country), but the Poynton powers that be decided our ‘roundels’ would work differently, with everyone giving way to everyone else.

Again, I suppose this could work wonderfully in practice, if all drivers were indeed courteous and patient, but aside from the fact most drivers are anything but courteous and patient, the main problem with our system is that no one from outside of Poynton has the first fucking clue how it works.

So, unless they happen to have studied our unique traffic system in advance (and, I don’t know about you, but if I am driving somewhere new for the first time, I almost never Google ‘do they have any weird traffic systems I should know about?’ beforehand), they arrive expecting motorists to give way to the right like they do everywhere else. Again, this works fine if they only encounter fellow outsiders doing the same thing, because everyone is giving way to their right, but it only takes one self-righteous Poyntonian to royally fuck everything up and cause a scene.

What I witness several times a day, is an outsider (and I use the term ‘outsider’ endearingly, because I happen to sympathise with them) approaching the first roundel (let’s pause here, to acknowledge what a truly ridiculous word ‘roundel’ is), expecting the traffic from their right to stop. Unfortunately, if the driver to their right happens to be a local, they will approach the roundel with an indignant ‘EVERYONE MUST GIVE WAY TO ME!’ attitude, and will simply drive out, beeping their horn at anyone who gets in their way.

The conversation which follows usually goes like this:

Outsider: “It’s my right of way, dickhead!”

Local: “Not here it’s not! This is a shared space! Read the signs!”

Outsider: “What does that even mean?!”

Local: “It means you don’t have to give way to the right!”

Outsider: “What, unlike every other roundabout in the country?!”

Local: “Ah, but this isn’t a roundabout, it’s a roundel!”

Outsider: “A what?!”

Local: “A roundel. It looks like a roundabout, but it works differently. In fact, if there’s no traffic, you can just drive straight over it, there’s no need to go round it.”

Outsider: “But can you always see if there’s traffic coming?”

Local: “No, most of us just drive across them anyway, then beep and swear at people like you who don’t understand.”

Outsider: “Of course we don’t understand! How can we possibly be expected to know all this from a sign that just says ‘Shared Space Village’?”

 Local: “You just should. Shared space means give way to all.”

Outsider: “But you didn’t give way to me!”

Local: “Because I live here!”

Outsider: “So the sign should say ‘Give way to all, unless you live here, in which case just drive’?”

Local: “It’s a shared space!”

Outsider: “Stop saying ‘shared space’!”

Local: “Roundels!”

Outsider: “You’re a fucking roundel!”

Of course, the conversation is never that lengthy, because the drivers have usually moved on after the initial ‘dickhead’ exchange, beeping their horns angrily as they zoom away, both adamant they were in the right.

Then, because they are so incensed, they speed away from the junction – at the precise moment a pedestrian steps out into the road without warning (expecting all vehicles to stop for them), and they promptly end up thirty feet away from their belongings.

Still, so long as it works for the Swedes….

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Thanks for reading x

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Blogman’s Holiday

Welcome to ‘Blogman’s Holiday’, a new series of travel guides from around the world.

In this first edition, renowned travel writer, Sandbach Hatter, hopes to persuade you to consider The Democratic Republic of Sandbach for your next holiday destination, by giving you a flavour of what you can expect if you visit his home nation….

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This is Sandbach. With a population of just under 18,000, it is far smaller than some of its neighbouring countries, but is home to a diverse population, and holds many wonderful sights and experiences for the adventurous traveller.

I first moved to Sandbach in 2007, when my wife secured work at one of its schools, teaching English as a foreign language, and we have no intention of leaving. It is an excellent country in which to raise a family, and once you have grown used to some of its more unusual customs and characters, you are sure to fall in love with it, as we once did on our first visit many years ago.

Location

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Sandbach is a small, landlocked nation, within the Continent of Cheshire. As you can see from the map, it looks a little like a lady’s head on a stamp.

Sandwiched between four other nations – Middlewich to the north, Congleton to the east, Stoke to the south and Crewe to the west – Sandbach is a more popular tourist destination than its neighbours, partly due to the fact two of them – Crewe and Stoke – are currently being torn apart by civil war. Stoke, in particular, is famous for the hotly-disputed ‘Burslem Strait’, which has been largely decimated over the past decade, as a result of constant shelling and landmines.

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Burslem – August 2016

The apprehensive traveller should rest easy, however, as the capital of Sandbach is a sufficiently safe distance from each of these nations, and can be accessed without having to travel through any of them. Congleton, in particular, offers safe passage into and out of the country, as the border controls between the two nations (known as ‘Checkpoint Arclid’) are far more relaxed than those of the other three.

Getting Here

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Sandbach has excellent transport links.

Whilst we don’t currently have an international airport, flights to Manchester, which is only around an hour north of Sandbach, or to Liverpool – which is a slightly longer journey to the west – are frequent and convenient. The journey from Liverpool does mean travelling on the infamous ‘Route 56’, however, which is strewn with potential hazards and can get very busy, so my recommendation would be to fly into Manchester, and then access Sandbach from there.

From Manchester, the easiest way of reaching Sandbach would be on one of the continent’s famous ‘trains’, and whilst you will need to have your passport ready for when you pass through Holmes Chapel, this is certainly the most favoured and direct way of getting here.

For the more adventurous traveller, it is possible to rent a car and enter Sandbach by road, but be warned: some satellite navigation systems will try to direct you through Stretford, a derelict wasteland to the south of Manchester, where gun crime is rife. Should you find yourself accidentally in Stretford, keep your car doors locked at all times, and watch out for the local militia – who can be easily identified by their red uniforms, with the ‘Chevrolet’ insignia emblazed across the chest.

These vigilantes, along with their rival gang (who wear light blue, but pose less of a threat, on account of the fact most of them only joined the gang in the last ten years, and they tend to gather in neighbouring Stockport anyway) are of low intelligence, and see all outsiders as either a threat or food. Avoid this area at all costs.

Once safely outside Manchester, Route 6 connects Manchester directly to Sandbach, but you will need to travel through the Knutsford Blockade, and along the famously treacherous ‘J19 to J17 stretch’. This notoriously straight piece of road has been the downfall of many a traveller, and traffic can often be brought to a standstill for no apparent reason, so you must have your wits about you.

Don’t let the comparatively difficult journey put you off, though – I’m sure you will agree that Sandbach is worth the trip!

Accommodation

I would recommend having accommodation booked well in advance of your arrival in Sandbach, because those expecting to check in to a hotel or guesthouse without prior arrangements are often left disappointed. Whilst we do boast the rather fine ‘Chimney House Hotel’, on the outskirts of the capital, sleeping arrangements within the centre of the country can be sparse.

Those on a budget may wish to consider ‘The Wheatsheaf’, which usually has availability (read into that what you will), but for a similar cost you could just as easily – and far more comfortably – purchase a tent and sleep in the open. You will certainly be guaranteed a better night’s rest (as, indeed, you will if you can locate an empty wheelie-bin or skip).

Food and Drink

Sandbach is renowned for its diverse cuisine, which ranges from popular Indian and Chinese restaurants, to the more traditional ‘pub grub’ fayre. The Old Hall, supposedly one of the most haunted buildings in the country, offers high-end dishes, and the Glasshouse is also popular with the locals.

If money is tight, Sandbach has recently acquired a Wetherspoons, which offers basic food for those who don’t mind sticky tables, and cutlery that looks like it has probably been licked by a tramp. Alternatively, if you’re really desperate, we also have a McDonalds.

Most eateries close well before midnight, but for those with a stronger stomach, you may be able to dine into the early hours at either ‘Flames’ or ‘The Hot Spot’, both of which cater for the highly-intoxicated. Why not sample one of our traditional ‘unidentified meat kebabs’ – just make sure the toilet in your accommodation is free for the next few days!

The national drink of Sandbach is beer, although we also enjoy our wines and spirits. Prosecco is becoming very popular with the female population of Sandbach, who can often be seen dancing in the streets, in various stages of undress, having sampled its delights.

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Shopping

Sandbach has three main exports – overpriced ladies fashion, charity shops, and electronic cigarettes – but for those who enjoy a bargain, there is a weekly market in the capital, and many of the shops offer a wide range of ‘tat’, sure to please any grandparents back home who may be anticipating a souvenir of your trip.

For those selecting a self-catering package, food shopping can either be done at Waitrose or, if you require food for more than a few days without necessitating a bank loan, Iceland affords a cheaper alternative so long as you don’t mind unusual – and not particularly pleasant – smells. The food is generally edible for a day or two, so long as it is placed into a freezer within fifteen minutes of leaving the store.

And, if you’re keen to send a postcard of Sandbach to your loved ones back home, if only to let them know you haven’t been kidnapped or taken hostage in Middlewich, the ladies who run the International Post Office can sometimes be persuaded to sell you a stamp. Recent statistics show that over 62% of the post left with them eventually reaches its destination – an achievement we’re especially proud of! Just be sure to keep your fingers well away from the partition when you pass your letter or postcard through, as they have been known on occasion to bite.

Day trips

Sandbach has many attractions to offer, and if you’re a fan of Saxon Crosses (who isn’t?!) we have two of the very finest specimens on the continent, right there within the capital.

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And, speaking of ancient erections, the capital also boasts a swimming baths, which is very popular with the retired members of the community.

Then, for fans of Star Wars, why not have a drink in the Swan & Chequers, where the locals like to dress as, and impersonate, characters from the Cantina scene? “You just watch yourself. We’re wanted men. I have the death sentence on twelve systems…. and Nantwich.”

But you don’t have to restrict yourself to Sandbach. Whilst not advisable, the more adventurous traveller may wish to consider a day trip to one of our neighbouring countries. Stoke is best avoided, due to the bitter civil war currently raging throughout the nation, but Crewe, whilst also in the midst of diplomatic unrest, is a marginally safer option. Twinned with Shitol in Serbia, Crewe is home to not only a rail museum, but also the largest Tescolian Bazaar on the continent, where astute shoppers can unearth various ‘value’ products – identifiable by their blue and white stripes – at a fraction of the cost of normal outlets.

However, if you truly wish to experience the finest that the content of Cheshire has to offer, you need to travel further afield, and my personal recommendation would be Alderley Edge, around 30-45 minutes from Sandbach, and therefore easily doable as a day trip. Popular with the rich and famous, Alderley Edge is home to the largest collection of land yachts in the northern hemisphere, and these can be found strewn – and seemingly abandoned – across pavements and walkways throughout the nation.

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Often captained by overly-tanned blonde females, the land yachts are generally moored between the hours of 8.45 – 9.15am, and 2.45 – 3.30pm, commonly referred to by the locals as ‘the school run’, so you need to time your visit to make sure you don’t miss them. Be warned though, they may not miss you, as they are notoriously difficult to navigate and dock safely!

The same can be said of the BMW land yacht, which is common on the continent, especially in Sandbach.

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Some may see this as an inconsiderate mooring, but before you jump to conclusions, please bear in mind that BMW land yachts are commonly owned by the disabled, hence the fact they can often be found parked in (or across) disabled bays throughout the nation. This is because the BMW affords the disabled driver a larger space between their legs when in the captain’s seat, to accommodate their larger-than-normal genitals. As a handy reminder, so you don’t offend any locals, just remember: BMW driver = massive penis.

I hope you have found this guide to Sandbach useful, and I assure you that if you do visit, you will find our humble little nation welcoming and surprising in equal measure.

Next week, Sandbach Hatter will be giving us his guide to Burnley, where he recently had the pleasure of staying with a newly-married brother and sister, and got to experience the many joys that this third-world country has to offer. Home to the famous ‘six finger province’, and the world’s oldest known community of bearded females, he even got to meet the newly-crowned ‘Miss Burnley 2016’ – this really is one you won’t want to miss!

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