By The Routes

So, after my recent documented escapades along the Manchester-Leeds train routes, I could be forgiven for making the trek again on Thursday afternoon with some trepidation. But it all went without incident. There were no out of place tornadoes, no suicidal badgers along the line.

But my travels wouldn’t be my travels without at least one memorable passage, and it was when I was returning home from Manchester on the 163 bus.

The bus pulled over at a stop and a woman got on, leading behind her a rather thin, mangy looking mongrel dog. “I’ve been waiting half an hour for this bus! I was gonna get on the 162 but the driver said it didn’t go to Heywood.”

“It does go to Heywood,” this driver replied.

“Well he said it didn’t.”

“Well it does.”

“It had Norden on the front.”

“Yes, but it goes to Heywood too.”

“I don’t even know where Norden is.”

“You could have still got on it,” he persevered.

“If I want to go to Norden then I’ll get a bleeding Norden bus!”

We curious passengers watched this exchange as she showed the beleaguered driver her ticket and moved along the aisle. The woman took a tartan rug out of her bag and spread it on the floor. “I have to do this so he will lie down,” she said, gesturing to her dog. “If not, he will stand all the way there.”

A man sat near the front asked “What, all the way to Norden?”

“ALL THE WAY TO HEYWOOD!!” she spat.

On we went.

Advertisements

So, Me And This Thing Called Travel

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:

https://cityjackdaw.wordpress.com/2018/03/01/a-glimpse-into-cold-jackdaw-hell/

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.

632c141a-7138-48a4-bcbd-dd3a2487ceec

There were armed officers inside the station itself. A sad indictment of the times, I know, but also very reassuring.

de40a011-6071-474d-af24-716b75fb13c6

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.”

“Which is?”

“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.

What now?

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.

It’s All Greek To Me

I travelled into Manchester on a warm and stuffy bus, the heat only adding to my lethargy. I’d had only four hours sleep due to the late arrival of the student due to stay with us. (Don’t ask. No really- don’t ask! My WordPress word count couldn’t take it.)

After delivering him safely to the academy I called for a quick early lunch at the food court in the Arndale Centre. Sporting different stalls offering food from many different countries, I opted for a  halloumi pitta from Zorba’s.

Don’t worry this isn’t a food post, I’m not that kind of blogger.

image

I took a table and began to eat while reading the book I was currently in the middle of, maybe not a good idea whilst making a mess of myself with yoghurt sauce. A voice reached me from a neighbouring table: “Do you like Greek writers?”

I looked across to him whilst frantically dabbing at my chin with a napkin. He did indeed look Greek, but I don’t think he was one of Zorba’s workers. Perhaps an expat with a craving for home cooking.

Emboldened by the name of the food stall, I replied “I’ve read most things by Nikos Kazantzakis.”

“He is Cretan.”

I conceded that he was, and that I’d actually seen the author’s grave in Heraklion.

“Crete is not Greece,” my neighbour said firmly. And then he glanced down at my plastic tray. “And halloumi is not meat.”
You had to hand it to the guy, he certainly knew his stuff. Again I conceded the point, and briefly considered asking him for both author recommendations and favoured meat dishes but decided to cut and run. For no doubt English would not be Greek and my wife’s cooking would not be his Mother’s.

I packed both my book and lunch into my backpack and said a hasty goodbye, bus to catch and all that, making  my escape through the adjacent indoor fish market. As usual with the fish market it is your sense of smell that registers before your sense of sight, but then Conga eels, live mussels and all types of fish parts catch your eye, including, at the end of the display, a sign for Cod Flaps.

Cod flaps? What part of a fish could that be?

Surely not?

 

When In Crete: The Author’s Tomb

A timely photo maybe, with today being Good Friday, but this isn’t a religious site-rather it’s the tomb of Nikos Kazantzakis, author of works such as Zorba The Greek and The Last Temptation. When we were in Crete in 2008 I travelled to Heraklion to seek it out. I have most of his books and I do like to make personal connections. Fortunately I have a very understanding wife.

Although deeply spiritual, his books often reflected his struggle to find truth in religion and spirituality. Many Orthodox Church clergy condemned Kazantzakis’ work and a campaign was started to excommunicate him. His reply was: “You gave me a curse, Holy fathers, I give you a blessing: may your conscience be as clear as mine and may you be as moral and religious as I” 

The tomb is quite plain, made of stone marked with a wooden cross. The epitaph, taken from one of his works, reads:

 ‘I hope for nothing, I fear nothing, I am free’.

A Glimpse Into Cold, Jackdaw Hell

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.

image

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.

image

The train was perishing, slipping through sleeves of snowstorms.

image

image

image

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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:

image

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?”

“Platform 16.” 

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:

image

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?

 

 

 

 

Hell’s Angel

As my train approached Manchester station, seeing Angel Square lit up against the night sky emphasised how far we had come, seasonally. This occasional commute of mine has mostly been made in daylight, but now night had descended as another train hurtled past in the opposite direction.

image

Attracted by the flashing streaks of this brief neighbour, (and maybe me capturing it on my phone), a man peered out of the window. He continued to look out long after the train had vanished.

“I’ve slept under those arches,” he said.

Resisting the most obvious question, which was none of my business, I instead asked “What was it like?”

“Bloody cold,” he replied. “But at least it was dry.”

That’s what it was like this night: cold and dry. I wondered if anybody was under those arches now, settling down for the night.

Angel Square, that beautiful glass modern building, is built on the site of Angel Meadow, that 19th Century slum that Friedrich Engels called “Hell upon Earth.”

Despite appearances to the contrary, maybe nothing changes. For some people anyway. Two hundred years on there are those who lie cold on the city’s underbelly, no matter how we dress it up.