Saturday, 23 April 2011

130: The Age of Steam

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

Edinburgh. Where it rains.

I'm on a train as I write this. The excitement, eh? Whizzing through the English countryside at speeds approaching the limits the frail human condition can stand! Isn't it..? Hmm? Nah, me neither, really.

As we left King's Cross, I picked up my copy of Andrew Martin's 'The Necropolis Railway', a Victorian murder mystery set around the railway sheds of Waterloo, and the passenger opposite me was reading some book or other about 'Great Rail Journeys of the UK' that she'd bought from WHS (sticker still on the front). Distracted by the movement, and looking out of the window of this unfamiliar train, the landscape got greener as we got faster and left London behind. It occurred to me that we'd be in Edinburgh in just four and a half hours, and how marvellous these new fangled trains are! Maybe I should pull out my laptop and fuse the age of steam with this digital contraption at my fingertips? At the very least, I should see if I can get free WiFi*.

And so, I opened the computer and set about writing a piece regarding my childhood fascination with all things rail-based… Then I remembered I'm not that fussed about them, actually.

As a nipper, we made most of our journeys by car, with my mum taking the wheel for journeys around as far south as Scarborough, and as far north as Edinburgh (we lived just outside of Durham, so that's about a 150 mile radius, I think). Day trips to Blackpool (and there were many) were courtesy of Bob Smith's Coaches of Langley Park, and once I was old enough to be knocking about on my own, I'd get the bus over to Newcastle for records and beer etc. There is a train line that runs from Durham, through Chester-le-Street and into Newcastle, but we just used to end up getting the bus (the cheaper, but slower option). I think the train stations seemed so far away from where we wanted to be that we couldn't be arsed to walk the extra distance, and pay more for the journey.

On the occasions that we went on holiday 'daan saaf', we got the train if it was with my parents, but went by coach if it was with my grandparents. My granda had a great distrust of trains. "You don't know where they're going," he'd say, "there's nothing on the front like there is with a bus." The big boards with the destinations, stops and platform numbers would be pointed out to him, but four-wheels was his style, and he preferred the coach (after a life of pit-work, he worked in the garage of Bob Smith's and got a lot of free travel. Being "coaches" rather than "buses", they frequently didn't have the destination on the front either, but if you're in another town and you see a Bob Smith's bus, I guess that's the one you want. Either way, I suspect the irony was lost on him, sadly).

It wasn't until I moved to Margate in 1993 that I started getting the train regularly. I got a job over in Whitstable, and the easiest way to work was to get the Connex SE (at the time) line along the Kent Coast which travels from Ramsgate to Victoria. it was only a 20 minute journey, but I felt like a proper commuter. Which is to say it quickly became expensive, tedious and in no way 'exciting'. There's very little excitement to be had waiting for your delayed train due to some selfish bastard who's jumped in front of a train, apparently so wrapped up in themselves, that they don't stop to consider me getting home from work as a priority. Honestly, I ask you. I made the commute until early 2000 when the business moved down to Broadstairs, which was close enough for me to cycle (and sometimes walk) every day.

Once I moved to Oxford in 2001, I was using the train for visits down to Margate, and quick jaunts into central Oxford and Reading. But still no great train romance, and I'm so used to the journey I just blank it out most of the time with a book or my laptop. Like I'm doing now. Oh.

Anyway, I'm on my way to Scotland (then Newcastle) with Miss Magpie, for a week of mooching around and doing touristy things and that. I haven't been to Edinburgh since around 1990, so I'm not going to try and remember any of it (in fact, these may be the last words of mine you read, when I'm stabbed in a pub for having an English accent. I know what you're thinking, "oh, you shouldn't say things like that". But me saying things like that is my insurance policy. My way of making sure it doesn't happen, because that would be ironic, wouldn't it? So ironic, in fact, that it's probably more likely to happen because of me writing this. Oh). And like the bad Geordie I am, I haven't spent any leisure-time in Newcastle for the best part of 8 years, either. I shall pay my penance in many public houses, I assure you.

I'll be posting up a few photos of things that catch my eye (so probably bad grammar on signage, rather than breathtaking architecture), as will Miss Magpie. Her pictures will be prettier than mine, but they'll be taken in the same places. Think of it like a comics-crossover. Like when Marvel did Secret Wars, and everyone was appearing in everyone else's comics. Only there'll probably be less superheroes in mine...

Anyway, I'm going to go and enjoy the train journey now, and pretend I'm not trapped in a speeding metal tube with jabbering children and a lady sitting opposite me who, while she's pleasant enough, won't keep still (and hasn't even started her new book about 'Great Rail Journeys of the UK'. The sticker on the front of her book was 'Buy One, Get One Half Price', but I've no idea what other book she bought. She's not reading that one either).

The only age of steam I shall be experiencing is if I buy a coffee from the pleasant man with his inconvenient snack-chariot.

Post Script: Left Oxford, beautiful sunny day, looking to be a scorcher in the afternoon. Arrived in Edinburgh, pissing with rain, go figure. Many thanks go to the beautiful people of Twitter for letting me know that it's Summer in the South, and Grim Up North. Always.

*Oh, and East Coast Railway? If you're going to offer 15 minutes of free WiFi, maybe you should make it not shit-slow and laggy and barely connectable. That way, I might be tempted to actually pay for some extra minutes. As it stands? Fuck you, I'll be posting this up at Starbucks. Cross Country offer free WiFi for the whole journey, and web pages load in under a minute! Tch.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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