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’.

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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.

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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.

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The train was perishing, slipping through sleeves of snowstorms.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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:

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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.

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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.

Homeward Bound

I’m sitting in a railway station, got a ticket to my destination 

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I know I’m a poet, but the credit for those lines goes to a certain Paul Simon. I thought of them today when in Victoria Station.

It is said that Simon wrote that song while waiting for a train at Widnes, which is not too far from here.

And each town looks the same to me, the movies and the factories

certainly has a period North-West feel to it.

Everywhere we go; everything we read; everything we listen to: there are always connections.

Except when the trains are on strike.

Taking The Leeds

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.


All I need to pass the time on these journeys are two windows: one to the outside world racing to keep up beyond the glass, and one to an inside world constructed within a book cover.

 I had picked up a copy of The King In Yellow earlier for a couple of quid.

The first four stories in this collection are linked by mention of The King in Yellow, a forbidden play which induces despair or madness in those who read it. 

 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?

City Escapes, In Starbucks

I’ve been in Leeds for a few days, but I’m hoping return to Manchester tomorrow. Hope my usual seat is free.

City Jackdaw

Today was a good day.

I spent much of it in Starbucks, in Manchester, drinking spiced pumpkin latte and reading accounts of adventures in such far off places as Tangier; Haiti; Ischia; New Orleans.

Sitting directly opposite me, oblivious to my mental escapes, was a young woman, wearing a blouse of long, black-laced sleeves, locked in an insular world with her bespectacled beau. She looked comfortable enough in their interactions, but had enough self-conscious affectations to suggest that their love story was still in its infancy.

Whoever they were, they weren’t local, and their story had brought them here.

Perhaps they were from Tangier, Haiti, Ischia or New Orleans. You know how sometimes coincidence plays itself out.

Sometimes I find myself people watching, wondering, creating, until I realise I am in danger of becoming the Shopping Centre Creep and shake myself back out of my reverie.

I plunged myself back…

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