Some of you guys may remember my post about my travel chaos when the Beast from the East struck last year just as I was trying to travel back to my home city of Manchester from Leeds. If not, it is documented on this link, a charming, despairing diatribe:
Recently I was called a jinx when it came to travelling, as a possible return of the Beast has been muted, just in time to coincide with my journey back to that same Yorkshire city in a week or so. I laughed it off, foolish man that I am, and then set off for a preliminary journey there yesterday morning.
I was booked to catch a train from Victoria Train Station. On New Year’s Eve there was a knife attack there, two members of the public and a police officer being stabbed, mere metres from the Arena bombing of 2017, and yesterday there was a heavy police presence.
Outside the station this officer was working with a dog, who I think was named Alice, who was proving very popular with passing commuters, trying to scent anything suspicious around litter bins and post boxes.
There were armed officers inside the station itself. A sad indictment of the times, I know, but also very reassuring.
I boarded my train, plugged my earphones into my iPad for the audio story I was planning to pass the time with, and settled down for the next hour and half as the train set off on time.
So far so good, yes? I really should start taking notice of omens.
I was heading to Leeds to attend an appointment at a clinic, being required to fast for six hours. So I had got up early to eat before my fast kicked in. Two eggs on potato cakes, simple enough, yes?
The potato cakes were mouldy. I binned them and toasted some bread instead.
Then I broke both yolks when dropping the eggs into a pan. I hate no-yoke eggs. I made do as my fast time was imminent. I reckoned the medical staff would be able to pinpoint the last time I’d eaten to the exact millisecond.
The next dark portent arrived on the train when I discovered that only one of my earphones was working. Because of the noise of the train through the faulty right earphone, I had to turn the volume right up in the left, which was giving me a bit of a headache. And I still couldn’t catch every word.
Potato cakes; eggs; earphones. These kind of ignored warnings have started wars.
We moved along the northern rail tracks. A Spanish family were sat at my table, heading for Heiden Bridge. The excited children’s English was very good: “This is the best day ever!”
Everything seemed fine, even the sun was out, until the train stopped before reaching Hebden Bridge. A voice came over the train’s speakers, apologising for the delay. Through the window, I saw the ominous sign of a circling police helicopter.
After a few minutes, the faceless voice told us that at another station, Walsden, somewhere beyond Hebden Bridge, police were dealing with a vulnerable male. It said we were waiting on word from the police and the signaller on what was happening.
So we waited. And waited.
“This is the worst day ever,” said the fickle Spanish children.
The young guard came through the door and spoke with them, and then approached me.
“It’s a suicide. I didnt tell them that,” he said, throwing a thumb towards the children.
“He’s committed suicide?!” I asked.
“No, he’s on a bridge threatening to jump. So we’re stuck. I didn’t tell them the worse part either.”
“We may have to go back to Manchester.”
Omens. Broken egg yolks. It was an inconvenience, but I thought about what had driven this unknown male to threaten to throw himself from a bridge. Perhaps something to do with the recently passed Christmas period? I know many people found the season difficult.
Anyway, I used the time that the train was stationary to reduce the volume for my besieged left ear.
We waited. The helicopter circled. I had my eye on the train clock above as my appointment time crawled ever nearer. It wasn’t looking good.
I could hear a woman on the phone behind me: “I’m telling you, travelling just couldn’t get any worse for me. I travel into Manchester and there’s a terrorist attack. I return and there’s a man trying to commit suicide. There’s armed police swarming all over the station. The train driver’s fit though.”
I thought it pointless telling her that the fit driver was actually the fit guard.
Finally a decision was made: we were to go back. The man was still on the bridge, all of the trains approaching Walsden had been stopped. We were to go backwards as far as Rochdale, where help would be given in working out how everyone were to reach their various designated stations.
That’s it, I thought. I’d never make it now. I rang the clinic to explain my predicament and then cancelled my appointment. I opened my bag and dug out three selection box chocolate bars that I’d thrown in for when I’d left the clinic, eating them as the train rolled back. But then it stopped short of Rochdale.
Suddenly the doors opened and two staff members got on, hurrying through the carriage calling with bravado: “We’re going back to Leeds!”
The Spanish kids cheered, no doubt their best day ever again.
I despaired. “Leeds?”
“Yes-the man’s been apprehended.”
I sat there, elbows on the table, head in my hands. We were now going to Leeds, and I had no reason to go there. I wouldn’t make my 14.30 appointment now, and even if I rang back to try and get a later one I’d broken my bloody fast!
The fit guard emerged again, writing everybody’s station stops on his hand. “We are trying to make time up, where are you getting off?”
“The very next stop. Wherever that is.”
So that’s what I did. I jumped off at Todmorden, walked through the subway and got a train on the other side of the tracks. The train contained other fed up, delayed passengers, their speaker explaining once again about that vulnerable adult. I was tempted to ask my new travelling companion, sat opposite me: “Don’t suppose you had eggs for breakfast did you?”
I got to Manchester. It had been a total waste of a day, but at least I was home.
The transport worker wouldn’t allow me through the turnstile as I had no valid ticket to Manchester.
“Without a ticket you can’t come through. It’s against the law to travel without a valid ticket.”
“I have no ticket to Manchester, because I have a ticket to Leeds. Except I only got a third of the way to Leeds because the train was halted because a man was threatening suicide. I’m beginning to feel that way inclined myself.“
She raised an eyebrow when I added: “And I ate three chocolate bars when I wasn’t supposed to.”
She smiled thinly, waved me through. Maybe made a gesture towards sniffer dog Alice and all of those armed policemen.