Monday, 10 November 2008
This is as hectic as I have known it, nor is it over. It was a leaves-on-the line day for the rail services, everything late, trains cancelled.
The journey up began in sunshine and all was fine until Peterborough where I changed from cross-country to main line. Having bought a ticket without a reserved seat I thought I might not find a seat so asked the guard on the platform where might be the best chance. He laughed. There was not much chance anywhere on a Sunday, but if there was, then it would be in the front two coaches. Trying to board the coaches, however, was next to impossible because of humanity and baggage spilling out of it. It was like India. The ends of the carriages, as well as the gangways, were full. A poor woman in front of me had a reserved seat for coach A which happened not to exist. A foreign girl - from Eastern Europe judging by her accent - was already in a seat near me and was reading through what appeared to be her PhD. They exploit you, she said. They fill the train up with as many as they can. They don't care. There speaks Eastern Europe. Hello, UK.
They clearly didn't care. My return ticket had cost a few pence short of £100. Nowhere to put the bags or the heavy coat. Close on four hours of this would be (fill in your own word here). Why don't they put on more coaches? I thought. And where is missing coach A? I reasoned that perhaps the platforms in some cases were too short, or maybe that the extra coaches would make the journey longer. This may be true, but it's still (fill in your own word here again).
Then, by miracle, or semi-miracle, I noticed a vacant window seat by a table, next to a young woman. Not really vacant, but full of baggage. I asked if it was free? She frowned and said it was, then moved over. She was clearly hoping no one would ask. (Fill in your own word, once more) this! I thought. This is what we are like! She can see everyone standing and silently groaning, but wants an extra seat to herself. It was turning out one of my less philanthropic days. Bring on that global warming. Fry us now! She retreated into the DVD then into Bram Stoker's' Dracula'. Where is Uncle Vlad when you need him?
The sky darkened as we went on. Around Lincoln the clouds began to gather, all dove-grey, dove-bellied, squatting ever lower, broody. Then a lighter patch towards Doncaster. Suddenly a bank of fierce black, and a few furious drops of bloated rain. Through that. At York the train starts to empty The clouds stretch and scuttle on.
The reading itself was at the Live Theatre, Paul Batchelor presiding. I was reading with Gillian Allnutt, whom I had never met. After thirty years of poetry and books you'd think to have met everyone several times over, but we had missed each other. Good full house, Gillian first, so I could listen. Then, in the second half, she listened to me. At the end Mr Bloodaxe himself sold books while we signed. Then to supper. It was good. I know, I know. It sounds bland to say so. I liked her poems very much. Serious things, intent, a little skeletal, almost scraped clean, but then genuinely clean and free standing. Under the slight scaffolding, a substantial voice. I bought Paul's book and was reading it on the way back. A deeply impressive book, sharp angled, but rich, rare diction, a brilliant ear, much passion and high intelligence. Mr Batchelor will go far. At least he deserves to. Came away with Gillian's book too, and the new Elena Shvarts. Bloodaxe gifts.
The leaves-on-the-line were on the way back. And one train - yes indeed, the one from Newcastle to Peterborough - was cancelled so there was still more standing in the aisles. What a long-suffering passive lot we are, I thought. We should have been tearing the seats off and throwing them through the window.
The lesson? Avoid the line from Peterborough to Newcastle. Grasping incompetent bastard of a company. Use a bus. Fly. Drive. Let the planet burn. We can stand sheeplike in the aisles. Mustn't grumble, we'll be muttering as our hair catches fire.