I’m a conversational vampire.
I absorb snippets of conversations from total strangers that later find a home in the mouths of fictional characters or the middle of a City Jackdaw post.
It’s not intentional. It’s not as if I’m a professional eavesdropper or anything. It’s just that I seem to pick things up when out and about that stay with me. The people out there are just great.
‘This train is the Northern service to Leeds.’ That was the announcement that kicked off the latest episode.
Then, despite the next statement stating that the next stop would be New Pudsey, one half of the young couple sat facing each other at the table opposite mine, on the other side of the aisle, jumped into life.
“Shit we’re in Leeds! Is this Leeds?” she asked in alarm. Betraying zero trust in her male companion, she turned wildly to catch my eye.
I shook my head. “This is Bradford.”
“Well, where are they goin’?” she asked the lad, now dismissing me as I’d served my purpose. She was referring to a group of girls that had just left the train and were walking across the platform outside of her window.
“On holiday?” he replied, sounding bored.
“On holiday? Dressed like that? They look like they’re goin’ to a festival!”
It was obvious that that was where these two were going. The Leeds and Reading festival was about to start, and she was sporting the festival look. Doc Martins with stockings, topped with a garish, tie-dyed shirt and silver-sequinned wings stuck to her forehead. Her boyfriend (I presumed) had similar artwork studded above his eyebrows.
“Who would actually holiday in Bradford anyway?” she continued. “No – they’re dressed for a festival.”
If that was the case then those girls had exited at the wrong station, despite this carriage being crowded with other young . . . what? Was there a term for these kids?
I googled what do you call a person who attends a festival?
Answer: one who attends a festival.
I tried to get on with my book but now I couldn’t help feeding. Like I said, I’m a conversational vampire.
“I’ve read they’re gonna have stalls set up where you can have your Covid jab while you’re there,” she went on. “Are you gonna have it?”
He shrugged, still looking disinterested. I began to suspect he was hungover.
“I don’t know either. I mean, I get it if you’re old and that. If you’re a certain age, say over forty, it’s a risk. But we’re young. Nearly everyone at the festival’s young so what’s the point? And you know that it can make your kids disabled? And it alters your DNA. Apparently.”
Old – over forty? And that last bit, like a disclaimer: Apparently.
I realised I was shaking my head and tried to immerse myself in my book once again, re-reading the same lines in an attempt to drown out this endless soliloquy. I slowly began to build up a wall of resistance and finished my chapter by the time we rolled into Leeds station.
I left the train and that young couple somewhere behind me to join other commuters on a busy escalator. We rose up to a walkway which took us high over the railway lines to then get another escalator which took us down to the ticket gates.
Those should-have-been unremarkable seconds were enough to feed again. It was a male voice, immediately behind me.
“Social media has given people too many mental issues, man. There’s men dressing up as women, women dressing up as men, aliens dressing up as children. Everyone’s lost their identity. They don’t know who they are.”
Well, of course I was curious. Who would be pursuing that line of reasoning, most of which I could go along with? Except . . . aliens?
Turning around would be too obvious, so instead, after reaching the end of the escalator, I took a few steps and then hung to the side on the pretence that I was getting my e-ticket up on my phone. I had a quick glance as they passed. These weren’t two young naive festival goers, they were a couple of professional looking men around my age.
Totally not what I was expecting. It just goes to show that you can never predict the type of thing that goes on in a person’s head.
As often happens when in a transitory place, I wondered where these two were heading, and more beguilingly where their conversation would lead too. But I had to let them go, I had my own destination to reach. And anyway, by now I was fully sated.
A rainy Manchester makes the city much more familiar to me. Heavy, grey skies instead of the blue.
And we can’t complain, this April just gone being the sunniest one on record. And the irony on me, as a fan of non-league football, is not lost. All through Autumn and Winter, match after match was postponed due to a waterlogged pitch.
Since attending matches at this level, I’ve never checked the weather reports so much than since I was a postman.
Then, once all football had been cancelled due to this pandemic, of course, we have had nothing but glorious weather.
“Every single match would have been on,” my son, James, lamented.
What days out we would have had. Days out being currently denied us. But such are the times.
Then, from local weather and local football, to local vernacular.
I spotted this recycling bin in the centre of Leeds.
‘Empty plastic and cans, nowt else’
It’s the use of that word: nowt
This is a word that we use in Manchester, too.
Is it a Yorkshire word that slipped unobtrusively over the border into Lancashire? Or did it take the other route, from Yorkshire to Lancashire? Arriving unheralded and, without us realising it, becoming a part of our everyday vernacular?
I looked it up.
The word nowt is a Northern English dialect term meaning nothing, none and no one. This local dialect word is in common usage among the people of Northern England, predominantly Yorkshire, Lancashire and Greater Manchester. Nowt often features in the dialogue of the TV soap, Coronation Street.
Well, Corrie is a Manc soap, but, coming under the umbrella of Northern England, I reckon it’s a word that we can both lay claim to, Yorkshireman and Lancastrian alike.
Nowt wrong with that.
On my travels today, stopped off outside Leeds United’s Elland Road.
On closer inspection, I saw that even Billy Bremner was wearing a mask against this virus.
My wife always says that she needs an extra pair of hands.
Well I found her some in Leeds.
Jackdaw regulars may recall that the last time I was there it was legs that caught my eye.
Pretty soon I’ll have my self a new woman. My own Frankenstein’s monster.
Have a great weekend everyone. See you on the flip side.
She’s got legs, she knows how to use them.
Do you remember my post from two weeks ago, when the Beast from the East roared in an attempt to thwart my plans of getting home to Manchester from a clinic in Leeds? And how I was foolishly optimistic about my return stay as it was a fortnight later on a most probable balmy March 16th?
Well this is Leeds this morning:
I’m starting to think it’s personal.
Wednesday morning. I was due to travel to Leeds. The so called Beast from the East had come roaring in and plunged much of the country into freezing inertia. If it wasn’t imperative to travel I wouldn’t have bothered, but I infrequently take part in medical trials and was due to check into a clinic that afternoon.
There was the threat of train cancellations due to the conditions, and I had to weigh up my options: gamble on a train from Manchester for £5 or a taxi for £50. Putting all my snowballs in one basket, I went for the former.
It didn’t get off to a good start. On the road where I was to catch the bus, there was a quarter of a mile backlog of traffic going nowhere. So I decided to walk down into the town centre to catch another bus.
We live on top of a hill, and one Christmas, maybe around 2010, taxis couldn’t get up to us and all of the buses were cancelled. I wondered how long it would be before we started eating each other.
Anyway, I walked into the cold wind, snow whipped up and swirling around me. Clutching my case, my head buried within my jacket collar and cap, on I went. I jumped the bus at the station-it was already running fifty nine minutes late, and commenced on a journey that, normally taking forty minutes, took an hour and a half. It doesn’t take much to bring this country to a standstill. If only Russia and such countries would tell us their secret. They could have sent it first class with the Beast from the East.
I hurried to the train station, fearing cancellations, but my train arrived only nine minutes behind time. An icy wind funnelling through the platform, the train looked as cold as I felt.
The train was perishing, slipping through sleeves of snowstorms.
You get the picture. Pretty monochrome, right?
Hebden Bridge station looked quite picturesque, the wind blowing across the signal box’s mantle of snow as we approached. It made me think of Bavarian chateaus and Where Eagles Dare.
The train eventually ploughed into Leeds train station, and I began the cold walk to the clinic. And cold it was too. And guess what? When I got there I found that I was a ‘Standby’ volunteer. Which means effectively that I was to stay overnight and return home in the morning. (Sigh)
That evening the snow didn’t stop outside my window, the drifts getting higher and higher. It was like one of those films:
Snowed inside a clinical research lab. Soon people begin to die.
One by one.
How long? I wondered. How long before we begin eating each other?
The morning broke and I knew I was in trouble. The snow had continued throughout the night approaching window height, and there was already talk of train cancellations and gridlocked motorway traffic in various parts of the country.
A new storm was set to roar in by the name of Emma, or Emily. Whoever it was she was a frosty woman, and I needed to set off as soon as possible to avoid getting stranded here in Yorkshire. Sixty mph snowstorms were due to hit around 10.00am. Guess what time I was set to leave the clinic. You couldn’t write it. They wouldn’t believe you.
I had limited clothing with me, expecting to spend six days in a warm clinic, so I prepared to venture out by putting on three t-shirts beneath my jumper, and also two pairs of socks. Looking hench, I walked once more unto the breach.
I got to the station unable to feel my fingers or face. There were cancellations and delays all over the place.
All around me was a sea of frustrated faces as cancellations were announced over the tannoy. It was like Planes, Trains And Automobiles. Trying to get home for Christmas. Whoever added those last lines had a fine appreciation of irony:
Phone signals were going, dead ends were flashing all over the Departures board. I knew I was up against time-the longer I waited the least options I’d have. I managed to get myself a train to Manchester that was one of the few that wasn’t delayed. I scurried to the platform and read reassuringly:
Next train Platform 9. Manchester Victoria, 10.26. On Time.
It said on time at 10.26. 10.28. 10.33. 10.38
No sign of the damn thing. Then the sign changed to:
Next train Platform 9. Skipton. Cancelled.
Skipton! What the hell had happened to Manchester? Groans and confusion abounded. A great sigh went up among the Israelites.
I saw a railway employee and asked him if he had any idea what had happened to my train as it was no longer on any arrivals board.
“Ah you mean the train that I’m supposed to be driving? Haven’t a clue mate. I’ll try and find out.”
It was almost a Beatles song. I’ve got no train and it’s breaking my heart. But I’ve found a driver and that’s a start.
He arrived back shouting instructions: “The 10.26 to Manchester” (please ignore the fact that it was now 11.03) “is now on platform 2c.”
Where was platform 2c? “Back over the bridge on the other side.”
I really thought I was going to end up on the Other Side.
We all set off upthedamnstairsagainoverthebridgedownthedamnstairsagain. The wannabe driver scratched his head. “There’s no train on platform 2c”
I started to think I was never going to make it home. But then a train, looking like it had been dragged shamefully out of storage, came rolling in. Finally! I got on the train, threw my case in the overhead storage space, took out my book and settled down. Screw you Beast from the East. Kiss my arse Emily AND Emma. I’m going home!
“Excuse me everyone, you’re going to have to get off the train. I don’t know why but they’ve cancelled this one now.”
(Two lines here have been deleted as a matter of decency.)
I approached two railway men staring aghast at the nearest information board, trying to make sense of a series of chaotic letters.
“My first train has vanished into some netherworld, my second train has been cancelled before it even moved. Have you any ideas to what I can do now?”
“Where you heading for?”
“Manchester.” It sounded as reachable as Oz.
“The 11.28 to Liverpool. It goes via Manchester. You have to be quick as its due in in three minutes. They are running late though.” (The Understatement of the Year award goes to this particular fella.)
“Where is it?”
Roughly translated as upthedamnstairsagainoverthebridgedownthedamnstairsagain.
I made it. Just. Half of the desperate commuters in the station must have been redirected to this train. The platform was swarming, I kept looking up at the information board don’t you dare! Don’t you dare!
The train came in like a lame apology. We all got on. There was nowhere to sit so I stood in the aisle. I didn’t care if it was a cattle truck. And at least this train had heating. I was on the home straight.
Twenty minutes into the Trail of Salvation the train came to a stop in the middle of snow-filled-fields-nowhere. And then the announcement: We were delayed because there was a problem with (probably frozen) points on the line ahead. Also a train had broke down. And there were four motionless trains ahead of us in the queue.
I sat down on my case quietly fuming. Did I mention that I was wearing three t-shirts and two pairs of socks?
The faceless announcer told us that as we were over thirty minutes late we could apply to be compensated for our fare, but as I had paid for a ticket for a train that didn’t arrive, switched to a train that didn’t leave the station, and ended up on this train run by a totally different rail company I decided I wouldn’t even know where to start.
And so we waited, outside it snowed. And, cutting the story short because I’m pushing myself back over the edge: we limped into Huddersfield, crawled into Manchester. I got a bus into my town centre bus station where I discovered the final, crushing nail in the coffin:
My estate was cut off again. Just like 2010. I was going to have to walk up that hill to my house in the middle of a snowstorm.
How long before I start to eat myself?
This is becoming a long term relationship. Once a week I commute between Leeds and Manchester; forwards and backwards; linear and cyclical.
As I approached the train, waiting on the platform in Manchester Victoria, the lines from Robert Johnson’s Love In Vain came to mind:
When the train, it left the station, with two lights on behind/When the train, it left the station, with two lights on behind/Well, the blue light was my blues, and the red light was my mind/All my love’s in vain
Maybe distance gives you a penchant for the blues. The separation from all that is familiar.
I had picked up a copy of The King In Yellow earlier for a couple of quid.
It was not what I was expecting, though. This is a book of two halves-the first being stories of a weird and macabre type that gradually fade away during the remaining stories which are of a romantic fiction style.
My preferences are those from the first half. I guess you have an idea by now that I’m that kind of guy. The Repairer Of Reputations, The Mask, In The Court Of The Dragon, The Yellow Sign, and my favourite The Demoiselle d’Ys. These were up there with M.R James and my favourite Le Fanu.
There was a woman in the seat opposite me. I caught her glancing at the cover of my book, much in the manner that I often do. Whenever I see someone reading I am filled with a curiosity about the book that is holding their attention.
Due to the theme connecting these tales, I thought it could be appropriate to warn her:
“Beware the King In Yellow!”
“Beware the infernal influence of books!”
But of course I didn’t. I imagine she may have sounded the alarm for an emergency stop, and Lancashire to Yorkshire is an awful long way to walk.
Later, my business in Leeds done, I caught a return train home to Manchester. Last week I returned under beautiful blue skies as captured below, but this time it was gloomy and raining, my journey moving through a deepening Autumn.
And yes, I loved it.
Back in my home city I caught a coffee and finished my book, shaking off a travel induced lethargy, before emerging into a darkened metropolis. All around familiar landmarks, monoliths against the sky, were lit up in a futile attempt to hold back the night: blues; yellows; reds.
The blue lights were my blues. The red lights were my mind. Is my love for Manchester in vain?
Sometimes I feel a longing for the coast. Or perhaps somewhere more rural, away from the built up concrete confines of my city. This occasionally intensifies into a desire to move to such a place permanently. These are idealistic episodes and don’t normally last too long, for roots are important to me.
But even when traveling through less scenic routes I get curious about other places. It is easy to get superficial, inadequate views of the towns that we pass through, and in our ideals wonder if they could hold an appeal.
Recently I was on a train heading to Manchester from Leeds. Passing through the train stations the landscape began to open out. There was space between the fixed points of these two urban sprawls. The sky, for once blue, lifted the spirits, and there were jackdaws—always jackdaws, scattered upon the fields. These birds have become something of a personal totem to me, and these familiar friends accompanied me along the way.
We rolled into Hebden Bridge. This place always looks charming, though I have yet to explore it. There was only a handful of people waiting to board the train here. They looked like walkers ( hikers, I mean, not zombies). They got on board and we moved on.
The next station on our linear amble was the market town of Todmorden. I have wondered about this place also. From my limited views it looks like a nice place to live, but as I said earlier, superficial views are inadequate to get a true feel for a place.
Then, from my window I saw this sign, set back upon a hill:
The letters stood there like a miniature version of the famous Hollywood sign. I didn’t know why it was there, but it felt refreshing to be greeted by a (literal) sign of positivity. I searched on Google and found a news reference to it. It seems that some of the town residents were erecting these signs to counter the news that hate crimes throughout the country were on the rise. What a great idea, providing a bit of balance by nailing their colours to their provincial masts.
What noble endeavours, what admirable gestures. Who wouldn’t want to settle in a town that salts its perimeters with the grains of compassion?