Half a century ago when my friend, David Bowker, and I were yet-to-be-enlightened enthusiastic Jehovah's Witnesses, we began our time as “pioneers” - full-time knockers on doors – in Salford's Docklands area. It was a grim place then with row upon row of run-down terrace houses backing too closely upon each other and fronting directly onto the too narrow streets.
David and I had bought into the Watchtower illusion – we were brought up with it. Soon, very soon, this dismal dockland and all else would be swept away by God at Armageddon and the world would be transformed into a paradise for the sole benefit of Jehovah's Witnesses. Well, all these years later the old dockland is certainly different.
Last weekend, after a very long absence, I revisited Salford Docks. Or Salford Quays as it is now styled. And what a transformation! I had come with Margaret because part of her birthday treat for me was a trip along the Manchester Ship Canal to Liverpool. Our journey began near the Lowry Centre just across the water from Manchester United's Old Trafford stadium, and the site of W. T. Glover's long since vanished factory where I began my working life.
Perhaps the most notable symbols of transformation were the teams of rowers out on the water. Years ago I would not have dreamed of the possibility that anyone would ever want to go rowing on what was then very dirty, oily, smelly and polluted water. But there they were.
To do justice to the five-hour trip would take far long than I can devote in one post. Let me just say that, far from crossing anything off my to-do list, I found myself adding lots more things to it – places to visit for a longer and closer look, people with whom to share the experience, and episodes for my writing.
This bridge, distinctly reminiscent of Sydney's Harbour Bridge, is at Runcorn close to where the Weaver Navigation joins the Manchester Ship Canal – and not far from where, in my current novel, Solomon Whitaker began his final boat journey after unloading his cargo at Frodsham.
At last, we reached the end of the Canal. Beyond the locks here is the open water of the Mersey Estuary and, beyond it, Liverpool – similarly transformed from the place it was when I left the northwest for Cambridge thirty years ago.
The more I visit my old haunts in the northwest, the more I want to keep coming back to re-acquaint myself with a place I loved and to get to know the new place it has become.