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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Run FatBlog Run (Poynton)

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A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Oulton Park 10k – which was the first event of my 2018 challenge: to run ten 10k races for charity.

Sadly, since posting that entry, my next event at Arley Hall was cancelled thanks to the weather (as Kidsgrove had been in January), meaning that last Sunday’s Poynton 10k went from being my ‘almost-half-way’ point, to only my second outing.

Poynton was an obvious choice when I devised this challenge, because not only is it the village where I grew up, and spent the first eighteen years of my life (before leaving for university), but, as luck would have it, I now commute there every day for work.

However, despite spending roughly half of my life in this Cheshire village, I apparently don’t know most of it, because approximately 70% of the course was completely alien to me. Moreover, if I thought the organisers of the Oulton Park 10k were being economical with the truth, when they described their race track as ‘relatively flat’ (if that circuit is ‘relatively flat’, then the Himalayas are merely ‘a bit bumpy’), Crazy Legs Events – the organisers of the Poynton 10k – took lying to a new level. Anyway, more on that later.

The good thing about taking on a race in the village where I work, is that it gave me the opportunity to recruit some colleagues to join me, and sure enough two of the ladies I work with agreed to sign up. Sadly, one later put her back out and had to… erm, back out; but the other, Clare, took part and finished with a good time.

As we all gathered at the start line, outside Poynton’s ‘Acoustic Lounge’ (the primary cause of my chronic hangover the day before, thanks to my consumption of ALL THE RUM, whilst on a work night out last Friday evening), it dawned on me that this was a much bigger event than Oulton Park just a few weeks earlier.

Can you spot me? (hint: I’m 6’4″, wearing purple, and giving a ‘thumbs up’)

Despite only around 630 runners taking part, of the 750 who had registered, this still made the event roughly three times bigger than Oulton Park, and since my targets for this challenge are, in order: 1. to actually run all ten events and not walk at any point; 2. to run them in under fifty minutes; and 3. to try and finish in the top-third of all entrants, I quickly worked out that I needed to be in the top 210 (revised down from an original 250) to achieve my goal.

One of the organisers then introduced us to a young lady (unfortunately, I can’t recall her name), who had taken part the year before, but with the finish line in sight she suffered a cardiac arrest and collapsed. Thankfully, she made a full recovery, but understandably wasn’t taking part this year.

She was, however, given the ‘honour’ of starting the race, and after a brief countdown (not to mention reassurance that there was a typo on our running numbers, and we were not expected to run ten miles instead of 10k), we were underway.

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Having run down the main high street in Poynton, past my office, and around Poynton Pool (none of which I will bore you with, as it will mean nothing to 95% of those reading), we then headed up something called Ladys’ Incline (so named, because Ladys’ Fucking Steep Mountain was presumably too uncouth for Cheshire).  This trail was not only uneven and muddy from the rain the night before (conditions I am not overly keen on), but it was, as the name suggests, uphill.

The uphill part of the race, to my dismay, then lasted for what appeared to be somewhere in the region of 15 miles (impressive for a 6.2-mile race), and as the steepness continued unabated, and the energy sapped from my jelly-legs, I came dangerously close to walking for a bit. No one would have ever known, but as my wife rightly pointed out afterwards when I told her, I’d have known.

Anyway, I didn’t stop (although I ran so slowly at one point, to the naked eye I may well have appeared motionless), and eventually the terrain mercifully leveled out soon after the half-way point, when we joined the Middlewood Way. Again, I won’t bore you with the details or geography of this path, save for two important developments I only learned on the day:

  1. It is apparently popular with horse riders, so there was every possibility we might encounter some startled members of the equine family en route, and if there is one thing you don’t need when running, it is half a ton of future glue stick bolting toward you. Thankfully, I didn’t see any horses myself, but the knowledge that a distressed nag may appear at any given moment, was somewhat off-putting;
  2. At the end of the Middlewood Way, in order to join a second incline (although this time it was actually a decline, as it was bringing us back into the village), you have to run up some steps. Now, if the one thing you don’t want to encounter when running is a frightened horse, steps (and, indeed, ‘Steps’) are a surely a close second.

Things you don’t want to encounter whilst running

To make matters worse, not long after I had climbed the steps back to the Princes Incline, and begun down another muddy path (strewn with rocks and tree roots specifically designed to break your ankle), we encountered our next obstacle – a gate. Now, had this been an ordinary gate, it would surely have been left open to ease the passage of 600+ runners; but alas it was a circular gate, very much like this one:

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Now, it is hard enough slowing down to try and navigate your way through a turnstile like this, without the added problem of paying so much attention to your feet beforehand (to avoid the rocks and tree roots), that you are not even aware of it approaching, and end up running toward the adjacent fence instead.

As you can imagine, there was much swearing when this happened, not least because there was a marshal positioned by the gate who could have easily alerted me to its presence (I don’t think he appreciated my rather scathing ‘thanks for the warning, dickhead’ as I ran off). To make matters worse, the runner behind me was so close, and evidently also not paying attention, that when I stopped suddenly at the fence, he nearly became intimate with my bottom.

Thankfully, after that minor hurdle, the remainder of the course was all downhill – as promised by the marshals shouting encouragement along the way – and, as the muddy paths turned into beautiful, glorious, tarmac again, I began to recognise my surroundings, and knew I was nearly back in the village centre.

Somehow, despite being utterly exhausted, I forced myself into a sprint finish, and I’m glad I did, as I not only overtook a group of people just before the finish line (the results showed that there were just six seconds separating myself and the ten runners behind me), but I managed to achieve my sub-50 minute target once again.

Ok, my sprint finish did include a slight mishap, where I got too close to the lady next to me, and may have inadvertently elbowed her in the boob, but I apologised profusely whilst crossing the line a split second ahead of her, so I assume all is forgiven.

Having finished the race, I can honestly say I have not felt that unwell in some time, although it transpires this was most likely due to a dodgy Chinese takeaway I had on Saturday night, and not the race itself.

Anyway, adopting the same criteria as before, here is my review of the Poynton 10k:

Time: 49:28

Position: 166th (out of 629)

Cost: £16.00 (quite reasonable compared to some of the events I have entered)

And now for the ratings…

Course: Just horrible. Ok, some of it was scenic, and I guess it was more ‘interesting’ than doing three laps of a motor circuit (once you’ve run one race track, you’ve run them all), but it ranged from pavements and roads (my preference), to muddy paths strewn with all manner of obstacles, and the first three miles or so were almost exclusively uphill. It was, however, well-marshaled (gate-wanker aside), with lots of support from the locals, and that’s about the only good thing I can say about it. 5/10

Weather: Dry, sunny, and only slightly chilly. Close to perfect 8/10

Organisation: Plenty of pre-race information, and relatively well-organised on the day, but they should have informed us sooner that mp3 players were banned (I hate running without music), and the road closure in the centre of the village – despite being well publicised in advance – apparently ended up with various incidents of road rage 7/10

Official Photos: None. Well, there was a sports photographer present, but apparently they charge £1.50 per digital download, and if I want to see myself looking like shit, I can go to a mirror for free, so they can piss off. Thankfully, my wife and other runners caught a couple of snaps, including one of my photo finish alongside the poor lady I elbowed:

Photos 1 and 2 courtesy of Carl Ryder

I also managed to persuade my colleague, Clare, to have her photo taken with me after we had both finished the race, but since she made me promise I wouldn’t put it online, I have cleverly altered the photo to preserve her anonymity:

Poynton 10k Clare

Unfortunately, I can only judge the official photos on the small copyrighted thumbnails I found online – 2/10

Medal: Smart, metal and the middle bit spins round. Cool. 8/10

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Goody-bag: Like the Oulton Park 10k, there wasn’t one. However, unlike the Oulton Park 10k, they didn’t offer us a t-shirt instead. We got nothing. 0/10

Post-race refreshment: Poynton redeemed itself here, because although we were given tiny plastic cups of water, rather than bottles (so I took two), they not only provided mountains of jelly babies to boost our energy levels, but trays of deliciously gooey flapjack too. Top work 9/10

Summary:

Course – 5/10

Weather – 8/10

Organisation – 7/10

Photos – 2/10

Medal – 8/10

Goody-bag – 0/10

Refreshments – 9/10

Which gives Poynton a score of 39/70 (or 56%), and places it second, well behind Oulton Park. No amount of nice weather and flapjack, is going to make up for the lack of any souvenir (aside from the medal), a course that damn-near killed me, and a marshal who let me run into a fucking fence.

Next is the Whitchurch 10k a week on Sunday. As ever, if you’d care to throw some spare change towards a fantastic charity, here’s a link to my Just Giving page:

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/greg10x10k

Thanks for reading, folks x

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Another Blog In The Wall (Part II)

In 1991, I walked out of the school gates at Lostock Hall for the final time, safe in the knowledge that, subject to any Brownie-related stag parties I might attend in the future, I would never have to wear a brown and yellow uniform ever again.

Of course, at the age of 11, I probably hadn’t even heard of stag parties, let alone comprehended going to one, and certainly no thoughts of cross-dressing had entered my mind at that point (it would be a few years before I decided to dress as a nun, one drunken Halloween), but I’m almost certain I would have breathed a sigh of relief as that uniform came off for the last time. Well, obviously I’d have waited until I got home before undressing, but you get the idea.

I can’t really remember much about that summer between Primary and Secondary school if I’m honest. It was 1991, so I’m relatively confident there were no major sporting tournaments that year. Italia ’90 – the best World Cup of my lifetime (so far) – had taken place the year before; the Barcelona Olympics were still another 12 months away; and whilst I’m certain there probably was a Rugby World Cup in 1991, no one really gives a shit about Rugby anyway. By the same token, there could have been a major Cricket tournament taking place in our back garden and I wouldn’t have bothered watching. Oh, and don’t even get me started on Wimbledon.

So we therefore fast-forward to September 1991 and, unlike when I went to Primary School, there wasn’t as much choice when it came to Secondary Schools in Poynton. In fact, there’s one: the aptly named ‘Poynton County High School’, or ‘PCHS’. Actually, I’ve just checked, and they seem to have dropped the ‘County’ at some point since I left, so it’s just PHS now, which I’m pretty certain is that company you often see on soap dispensers and air fresheners in toilets. How appropriate.

The other thing I’ve noticed, is that my old form tutor is not only still working there (she must have had about 17 kids by now as the woman was always on maternity leave), but she’s also been made Head of Science at some point. I never liked the woman, but you’ve got to admire her stamina – both in terms of commitment to her job, and her ability to produce countless offspring. In fact, thinking about it, it was her who taught us for sex education in Year 10. That was a bit rich, coming from ol’ baby factory herself.

Anyway, I vividly recall my first day at PCHS, sat in the school hall with nearly 300 other newbies, proudly sporting my new dark blue uniform (you could tell who all the Lostock Hall kids were, as they were all staring at their uniforms and grinning) and waiting to find out which ‘house’ I was in.  PCHS had four houses, all named after famous (ish) families from Poynton and the surrounding area: Vernon, Newton, Davenport and Legh. Each house had its own colour, and I ended up in Vernon which was green. The idea was that each house would compete over the school year in a number of sporting and academic activities, and the overall winners would get a crap little trophy in the summer term, which would be displayed in a cabinet outside the boys’ bogs.

There were, in fairness, also some individual awards that you could win (and keep), and I remember a few of us discovering a load of unclaimed trophies in a school cupboard one day when we were in 6th Form. If you’ve met me, it won’t come as any surprise to learn that I wasn’t all that sporty at school, and hadn’t won any awards myself by this point; so I decided that, if the ungrateful recipients didn’t want them, I sure as hell did. Myself and a few friends therefore grabbed one each at random and, as far as I know, I’m still the Year 9 Girls’ 100m Butterfly champion to this day. Winner.

I digress. Each form (class) in the year – of which there were 9, so I’m not entirely sure how that was divided equally between 4 – would be allocated to a house, and you would remain in that house for the entirety of your stay at PCHS. I forget now how the houses were allocated to us, but have a vague recollection that there was some kind of ‘sorting hat’ which we had to wear, that magically told us which house we would belong to. In all honesty, though, I may be mixing that up with something/someone else.

Anyway, I’ve just realised that this reminiscing could all get rather boring (these are my memories, and even I’m struggling to feign interest at this point), so I’ll keep it brief and provide a whistle-stop tour of my seven years at High School:

1991

Started at PCHS. Form room was a (brand new) science lab. Endless fun turning gas taps on and off during registration. Suffered with headaches a lot – not sure why. Strange vicar’s son in our form who used to carry a bible around so he could preach to us. Used to pick his nose and then eat it.  I wouldn’t be surprised to learn he’s killed someone by now. Maybe his parents.

1994

P.E. (not my favourite subject, as I’ve already explained) suddenly got interesting. In Year 9, they introduced the Leisure Activity Programme (L.A.P.) which was mixed-sex physical education. I know. In hindsight, they should have merged this with Dance, and created L.A.P. Dancing (missed a trick there PCHS). Still, rather than get girls to play football, and boys to play netball (sexist bastards), they selected a whole host of other sports that we hadn’t yet encountered. Table tennis and squash spring to mind, amongst others. Swimming was a good one, and initially created some excitement amongst the boys, but the chance of seeing any of the girls in their costumes was pretty slim, as they all invariably developed ‘women’s troubles’ at the same time – specifically 11am on a Wednesday. I’ve heard that women can synchronise like that, but strewth these girls could time it to within a few minutes of each other.

Anyway, since swimming (for me at least) therefore revolved around trying to hide the fact that you were a scrawny kid in speedos, the most popular of all the new sports (well, as far as the boys were  concerned) was trampolining. The introduction of an hour long class, which mostly revolved around girls bouncing up and down while the boys suddenly developed ‘men’s troubles’, was a stroke of genius. The timing, as well, was impeccable, as Sarah Barton had just developed a rather spectacular pair of breasts.

1995

Despite my overall lack of sporting prowess (I was a decent enough goalkeeper, but never got picked to play football, as I wasn’t friends with any of the sporty/popular lads), I could run a bit. In 1995, I had a brief glimmer with sporting stardom, when I broke the school 200m record – which had stood for years – during sports day, only for it to be broken again by some little shit in the next heat. Never mind, I was school champion for around three minutes, and no one can take that away from me (that, and my girls 100m butterfly trophy).

1996

Two major events spring to mind here. Firstly, I (rather modestly) nailed my GCSEs – which, I would later find out when I got my A-Level results, was entirely down to hard work and little social life, rather than actually being intelligent – and ended up in the newspaper as a result. This was, of course, before every kid in the country started getting straight As.

Secondly, and rather more embarrassingly, was the end of school photo. Whilst a lot of our year group continued on into the school’s 6th Form, many were leaving to study elsewhere, get jobs/apprenticeships, or just drink themselves into an early grave, so we had one last photo of the entire year group together. Remember, this was nearly 300 pupils, so a huge scaffold had to be set up in the school hall and, being one of the tallest in the year, I was in the first group to be positioned up there on the back row. Which is where I remained, in full uniform despite the baking heat, for what felt like hours, while the remainder of the year were arranged onto the rows lower down.

After a while, I started to feel unwell. I vaguely recall the first photograph being taken, but shortly afterwards it all went a bit hazy. I was told, when I regained consciousness on the floor of the hall, that I had quite spectacularly ‘crowd-surfed’ over everyone to get there. Embarrassed isn’t the word. Still, two other pupils apparently fainted after me, one of which was physically sick as well, so at least I could share some of the embarrassment afterwards.

Sadly, the first picture they took wasn’t the best, and they went with a subsequent shot, so although I have a copy at home to this day, I’m not on it.

1997 – 1998

6th Form. Not much to report, really. Asked out lots of girls. Got rejected by all of them. Didn’t get the grades I needed in my A-levels (English Lit., Economics and Biology) to get into my first choice university, but had I done so I wouldn’t have met my lovely wife. All worked out ok in the end, even if this was a largely forgettable/miserable two years.

Oh dear, I can’t very well end on that sour note, can I? Ok, I’ll finish by saying that my days at PCHS – as with Lostock Hall – left me with some very good friends, most of whom (well, the important ones), I’m still in touch with one way or another even now.

Thanks Facebook.

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