The strong wind came in as forecast. In my town centre, it was as if it had swept away most people along with the litter and leaves. Darkness fell at the same time as the storm.
Gloom and mood in tandem, the Autumn ‘fall’.
My house is on an estate at the top of a hill. The house on the hill. Sounds familiar. The hill hangs over this town centre. Half way up is a line of trees that have often served as refuge when caught in a sudden deluge. (And also a veritable bounty for kids filling their pockets with conkers.)
The rain followed faithfully the wind, but this time I didn’t need refuge. Modern man has a weather app, you know, and everything else at his nimble fingers. Sometimes I feel we’ve been robbed of the element of surprise, often exchanging wonder for knowledge. But if I really felt so strongly about it, I’d discard all oracles and take every day as it comes, wouldn’t I ?
Still, there is some wonder, even if, beneath this hooded, waterproof coat, there are no surprises:
We always leave it too late. Every single year. October 29th, October 30th, I, like Manchester’s answer to Sir Perceval, trawling fruitlessly around all of the local stores on a vain last minute pumpkin quest.
Not this time, I thought. October 28th. Not too soon for them to go rotten, not too late for them to sell out.
Leave it to me this year, dear family of mine, Halloween is safe in my hands.
I was never fashionable and so never had any street cred. But still, being around twelve or thirteen, I would steer my Mum away from the Oxfam window she was about to look in, lest any school friend should see us.
“Scav!” would be the gibe.
Thrift shops I think the Americans call them.
At what point do your scruples change?
Last week I got a pair of jeans for £3.50. I’ve also picked up a jacket for £7.00.
Is this my market now? Falling into my fifties.
It also seems appropriate that I’m mulling this over while passing through a late autumn afternoon, dappled fields lost to a host of daddy longlegs and spiders; ground conceded to the worms of the earth.
I have a few projects at the moment that have been put on hold due to a local oral history project that I volunteered for. This has taken precedence because, sadly, some of the people that I was due to speak with died before I got the opportunity, and I have also been to the funerals of two people whose stories I have managed to preserve.
So the clock is ticking. Talk about a deadline. Literally.
In pursuit of finishing this endeavour, I was due to catch a train to interview a Bishop who lived on my estate in the 1970’s.
“Who are you going to see this time?” my daughter, Millie, asked.
“I’m going to see a Bishop. And guess what my first question is?”
“Is it true that you can only move diagonally?”
Long pause. “I don’t get it.”
Things didn’t fare any better with my older daughter, Courtney. She asked me “Where is it you are getting a train to?”
One of those pauses again. Must be a family thing. “What does that even mean?!’
“It’s a place,” I explained, deciding to slip back into English. Historically it was the upperland area between Saxon land and Viking land, and I love that kind of stuff.
But I didn’t go there (metaphorically speaking). I had a train to catch.
At Manchester Piccadilly, I made the fatal mistake of looking at books in WH Smith, something that is always liable to distract me. It was only when I saw some bottles of Buxton Spring Water on a shelf that I suddenly remembered why I was there.
That was the destination my train was heading for, with my stop coming two stations before. It was, dare I say it, divine intervention of my dawdling. And off I dashed.
In short: I made my train, on disembarking was met on the platform by the Bishop (“Jack?” “Andy?”) and was charmed over lunch by both him and his wife. Not realising on my arrival just how close to the station that they lived, I declined the offer of a lift back to the station, insisting that I’d like to walk. I am an ex-postie after all.
However, quaint though the local train station was, what I didn’t realise was that trains to Manchester ran only once every hour, and I had forty minutes to wait.
Just as the rain came in with a dampening down of mood.
There was a shelter on the opposite side of the tracks, (the Manchester side), so I could sit down and take in the setting. There was nobody else around. Windswept and empty, it was obvious that the locals were all au fait with the timetable.
At first glance, looking to the opposite platform, I thought that this said ‘Home of Frodo’.
A friend later told me that when she was there she’d thought that the sign said ‘Home of Freddo’.
In the autumn chill I was pretty sure that at least some of the locals were snug and warm.
I couldn’t help but contrast my surroundings with this welcoming depiction of the town. I think a bit of artistic licence had been used, especially with the climate. I could just feel that heat. Almost.
The time soon passed, (with still not a living soul arriving to keep me company), and my train rolled in to puncture this almost picture-portrait of times past. But not before the clouds broke and I was given one more contrast before my departure.