Lost::MikeGTN < Lost
It's a beautiful way to get lost, all you need is a bottle and a few nagging thoughts...
Railways - Reconsidering The Dear Green Place
Monday 29/10/2012 22:08
It's about this time each year that I find myself heading for Glasgow. These trips have grown partly out of necessity - I've almost inevitably worked through the summer whilst colleagues with kids have chosen to take their expensive jaunts to Florida or Eurodisney. But I also like to disappear in October - to avoid the inevitable birthday related activity, and to enjoy some of that golden window of end-of-summer beginning-of-autumn weather that just seems to suit me. It's no secret that this also suits Glasgow. It's at this time of year that the city is prone to sudden bursts of sunshine through the remaining leaves, or unexpected sheets of grey tumbling across the landscape at a moments notice. The population of the city reacts accordingly - jumpers off and out into George Square, or papers over the head dash under cover. These visits also coincide with a rush of musical endeavour too - with the universities back at work in earnest there is a flood of gigs to see, often many competing during a single night. In short, it's at this time of year that Glasgow has proved most engaging and importantly diverting to me. But how would the city fare this time, when I am perhaps completely and ultimately diverted elsewhere?

I arrived in Glasgow on a Thursday morning following my current custom of splitting the journey somewhere in Northern England. This was originally to save money, but it's become a habit which makes for a leisurely arrival too. The previous night in Crewe wasn't much fun to be frank, I was anxious to be in Scotland and still recovering from a transatlantic trip which had messed with my body clock and occupied my mind almost completely - and with head and heart still a long way off, Crewe was a baleful proposition at best. Once, it was a town full of curious possibilities - but as the railway has declined, and my interest with it, it's become harder to find much to like about the place. In this context of change it was comforting to note that arrival at Central Station still gave me that little thrill of being home-away-from-home, the urge to yell "I'm back!" to a city which is as indifferent to me as any other I'm sure - but upon which I've always staked a sort of jealous claim. No-one who has visited Glasgow with me has ever quite understood this - and really, all my theories about place are pretty tenuous at best when exposed to the critical eyes and ears of others. These imaginary links and personifications never bear much examination, but there is a little bit of me here in Glasgow - as much as there is in London or now in Seattle. I did what I always do - and delighted in it. I sat around and read newspapers, got coffee, wrote emails - but I did it through new eyes and ears. I felt like I was exploring Glasgow for the first time because I was sharing these thoughts and impressions with someone far away who I wanted to be here too. This novelty originated in the commonplace - the fact that the Blue Lagoon, home of my favourite 'pizza supper' culture-clash incident - had burned down. But it also extended into the significant - not least the orange glow in the sky at sundown as I walked to the station for my annual fix of Paisley Arts Festival. Hours later I'd be shivering at Gilmour Street having just spent my first evening in a Spiegeltent, trying hard to convey the idea of Paisley in the evening to someone who couldn't see it just now. Describing Paisley is never easy - but it was as much part of the Glasgow experience as any of the mellifluous sky-describing I'd been doing of course!

The Spiegeltent - County Square, Paisley
The Spiegeltent - County Square, Paisley

My first day of wandering in earnest began with an uncharacteristically lazy start - an external influence which is, in fact, a welcome one. I'm on holiday - and it seems an awful long time since I've been in my office too - a lifetime and a continent away in some senses. I wandered out into the city with an explorers sense of the unexpected, and Glasgow inevitably delivered. My rule of thumb in any British city is to walk the streets with head tilted back enough to see the floors above the gaudy but utterly familiar chainstore frontages. Here the history of the city is more apparent - buildings decorated in ways we'd never see nowadays, pride in construction, conscious design to create an impression of authority or opulence, depending on the purpose of the building. Indeed it's strange to think of buildings made for a specific purpose, rather than speculative empty office shells, full of nothing but customisable space. Above Poundland and Greggs and JB Sports is a wonderland of Glasgow architecture. Red sandstone competes with cast iron, sitting awkwardly beside the more familiar smoked glass and steel of the last century. Buildings billow out from the pavement in curves and crests, their former uses sometimes lost completely. I've been here several times each year for a long time now, but it feels like the first time I've spotted some of this stuff. Some of it is breathtaking and impressive, some fussy and laughable - but all of it calls back to a time that this was the Second City of the Empire. This second day also involved an excursion to the Southside. A bus ride through a dark evening, along the wastelands of Eglinton Street and into Pollokshaws Road. The switch from industrial distress to coffee-shop comfort was imperceptible as the bus progressed along the long straight road towards its divison at Shawlands Cross, and soon I'm hopping off at the southern edge of Queens Park, looking for the Glad Cafe - a new venture here. I remember buying a CD to support the fundraising a while back, and being tapped for contributions at a show at The 13th Note perhaps a little afterwards, so it's good to see this place open. Or at least it would be if I could locate it... I finally find it, a neon-lit entrance wedged inconspicuously between a chip shop and a newsagent. The long corridor from the street opens into a cosy, simply but effectively decorated room with excellent coffee and surprisingly polite company. Beyond that there is a large performance space. Perhaps not strictly large enough for the crowd which showed up tonight, but that's a minor issue. It's good to catch up with old friends, and to see familiar bands play new songs. This feels like a comfortable spot - and again I'm moved to look at it rather differently. I can no longer afford the detached air of the casual visitor or the self-styled ethnographer. I'm now auditioning the city for a future role. Again it's cold waiting for the bus back into the city. The pavements take on a bit of a sparkle and there is a nip of winter on the air, which is far from unpleasant and seems almost fitting. The bus reeks of fast food and perfume from shuttling the previous group of revellers into the City for a Friday night which is only beginning. There are only a few of us left on board by the time it scutters across Argyle Street and deposits me near Central Station.

For my third excursion, after another leisurely start I decided to head west. I used to turn this way a lot when I first frequented Glasgow. There were tales of G12 nights, exotic bands in strange little bars, Northern Soul socials with awkwardly hipster dancing and mysterious people having low conversations about the next big thing. These mirages all of course evaporated when I got close to them, and I found a slightly haughty student culture in which I really didn't fit at all - I was either too old, too young, too English or just somehow not right. But I came back sporadically over the years, just to be reminded. My circuit today repeated one I've done a good few times - off the bus at Great Western Road and into the cool, green spaces of the Botanic Gardens. Here I read and thought, and really took no notice of the fact there was a squirrel on my foot until he was about to run up my leg. When I spied him, he froze in terror - I reached casually for my phone to get a picture. I'd wanted to see Glasgow differently - through new eyes - and here it was! The people-savvy rodent would have none of it though, and at the flash of sunlight on glass dashed off to the next bench. I tried advancing in big, quiet steps, quite unaware of how ridiculous I must have looked to the growing crowds in the park, but every time I crouched to get the shot he'd fly a bench further forwards along the pathway. "One final try" I thought, and as I got within inches of the shot I'd hoped to get, the brave little beast dashed up the skirt of the woman a little way in front. I beat an instant retreat as she giggled and whooped, her husband beating ineffectually at her tweed. It was time to leave the park lest my part in this incursion was uncovered! However, I found it strangely difficult to depart - the place was cool, calm and strangely tranquil today despite the crowds milling around quietly, and the press of only mildly apprehensive looking tourists around the Haggis Burger concession.

Typewriter Mountain, Relics, Ruthven Lane
Typewriter Mountain, Relics, Ruthven Lane

But Byres Road beckoned. I strolled along it looking with a more critical eye than for a long time before - however nothing could stop the views up towards the university from arresting the eye and drawing it high above the streetline. Beyond that rise, the land fell away steeply into Kelvingrove and the quietly hip neighbourhood around Otago Lane, but that was for another trip. Today my target was one of the strange early discoveries from years back - Relics. Tucked into the strange cobbled passageway of Ruthven Lane, this is perhaps the ultimate junk shop. Stacked high with tat, including manual typewriters, obsolete games consoles, reel to reel tape machines and virtually any other bit of electromechanical equipment which ever dared to expire or outlive its usefulness. Guitars and other musical instruments abound in particular, amongst the piles of expiring magazines, dusty VHS tapes and oddly gaudy tables full of glassware. I take photographs furtively, knowing the owner disapproves. I could be Trading Standards or the Police or something, building up my case. Instead I approach him and ask about a unique TV which used to sit outside the shop - a huge globe of white plastic, huge, impractical, oddly impressive. He remembers it, thinks he still has it - either stored or hidden behind stuff. I'm welcome to look if I want. I quickly survey the place and decide not to - not this time. But maybe soon - and perhaps not alone. It would be folly to tackle this mountain alone I think. I quickly drop into a shop selling old vinyl and take in the smell of ageing shellac and the odd library-like quiet of serious men flipping through sleeves, before heading for the bus back into town and my next musical appointment.

This takes me to the very top of Renfield Street, where the sharply modern glass and steel of the Herald Offices abut blocks of disconnected, stark-edged tenements. One door isn't open until 11pm, the other is guarded by smoking trench-coated goons. I descend. A sign directs me to the best reggae in Glasgow. I pause. Surely not? But press on into the bar - and then into the venue. It's a club, a badly appointed, swiftly decomposing and horribly depressing place. The sunken oval dancefloor provides the vantage point, while the bands use one of the seating booths which surround it as a stage. I'm not sorry to escape back up the tangle of stairs to make an important 'phone call in the steady Glasgow rain. The place is diabolical - but as is often the case here, the music is sublime despite it's setting. But it's hard to love the Flying Duck - and we briefly discuss this as the promoters drunkenly recount money - but suddenly, unexpectedly the strains of "Marquee Moon" shiver from the speakers. It's a spine-tingling, life-affirming moment that suddenly synchronises a whole lot of disparate thoughts and locates them here in Glasgow right now. I stride from the venue into the rain - the streets are full of people in Halloween costumes, and I'm fighting the tide back down the hill to Central Station with that insistent, nagging guitar sting repeating in my head. An endless sea of rain-damp vampires, slutty cops and naughty nuns whoop and scream. I'm still on my Television inspired high, side-stepping Frankenstein's monster, dodging the flailing hair of a particularly inebriated witch into Argyle Street and under the Hielanman's Umbrella.

The Hielanman's Umbrella - Argyle Street
The Hielanman's Umbrella - Argyle Street

The final day is always a difficult proposition here - and never less so than this visit. It marks a return to real life after a strangely transformative week which has seen me travel over 10,000 miles. It's fitting that I should end up here after that, somewhere I come to process and understand things, somewhere I feel safely away from reality. Because this week I've needed to be away from it. Plunging back into the routine after last weekend's overseas trip would have been absolute folly. So Glasgow has been the ultimate buffer once again. I decide to celebrate by returning to the very beginnings of Glasgow on the banks of the deleted Molendinar Burn. I partake in my usual, now a little more leisurely coffee ritual, then head east along George Street - passing the civic centre of the city, through the channel of dour grey buildings, the university outposts and the still-empty bombsites. The little, ornate sandstone block - once occupied by a vegetable wholesaler - still stands alone at the corner of the wasteland near Nicholas Street, whilst the College Lands are being aggressively and comprehensively redeveloped filling the slope down to the Drygate. I turn for the Cathedral, blackened and ominous in it's precinct. Foreign tourists mill around, jostling each other noisily as then enter the Cathedral Close, but falling suddenly and automatically silent as they pass over the Bridge of Sighs and into the Necropolis. It's been a long while since I walked here, and I ascend carefully, the rugged path slippery with fallen and blown leaves. Finally, after doubling back and ascending I find myself at the top with John Knox, both of us glaring down on the city and over the wonderful views to the South and East. The rain slithers down from the slate sky. It's time to head back...

It's pretty clear that I've changed a lot since I was last in Glasgow, and that my way of viewing the place has altered considerably too. But there is reassuring constancy here - there is a sense of somewhere which contains a little of my past, and a hope it contains something of a future. There are hints of links to a place many thousands of miles away which just now is more significant by far. There is also a recognition of the difficulties and rough edges this city has - something I all too often gloss over, keen to promote the cultural or celebrate the unique. Glasgow is - as it ever was - a sprawling, irregular uncut diamond of a city. I realise as the train begins to shudder out of Central Station and I hang up a 'phonecall much earlier than I'd like, that I'll not be hitting the rails quite so often these coming months. But Glasgow - I'll be back...

As an experiment, you can also follow the route on the map below - the blue lines are the routes I took...


View Revisiting the Dear Green Place in a larger map


Movebook Entry
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Railways - The Second City Revisited
Saturday 06/10/2012 18:16
Today could have been a very different day if it happened a week ago...

I wasn't going to head for the Severn Valley today. It didn't feel like the right thing to do from the very outset of the morning. A frantic dash around the house to create enough time to make a phonecall. This began to define the pattern of the day, which from that point stopped being about inland waterways and extended to oceans. The usual dash up, changing at Bristol and heading onto 1M21. Then, in the absence of a backup-plan, into the coffee shop. Then over to the yard of St.Chad's Cathedral. Empty and quiet in autumnal sunshine. The benches wet, a couple of early drinkers stumbling around the grounds. I paced and talked...time passed...the park became busy with commuters heading for retail jobs, then shoppers, then the commuters returned for lunch...

I talked for a long time.

St. Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham
St. Chad's Cathedral, Birmingham

Dizzy and somewhat stumbling I edged around the city. I headed for the water, but the gentrified fringes were too busy. The crowds became busier. I found myself briefly at Moor Street station having scooted around Selfridges silver, bubbled flank. I'd not been this close before and was amazed by its strangely organic feel. The bridges delving deep into it at odd angles cut the strange soft edges. I was fascinated and took a shot, struggling to avoid the glare and needing to wait for a passing bus to get it quite right.

Selfridges - bridges to the sky?
Selfridges - bridges to the sky?

Eventually, I sought solace in the mall above the station and settled to write. I managed to express what I'd hoped and sent it winging across the Atlantic again. I wondered what would happen next. I could only look to more coffee, a journey, music and the rest of the evening...

This was not the day I expected to report on, nor the day I expected to experience. But it was an important day nonetheless.

Movebook Entry

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Railways - Lost Weekend: At The Burnside
Saturday 22/09/2012 22:41
There are hints as I write that we might just be emerging from the summer of strangled trips and cancelled plans, and that the autumn and winter might in fact be something of a renaissance. It's early days, and as I headed for Crewe last night after work I reasoned it would probably have felt less like an imposition had the original BLS-related plans have stood. In the event, the relatively late trip worked well - and I had a decent and interesting journey before arriving and going almost directly to bed. I did this because this morning required a very early start indeed for my replacement entertainment. I'd toyed with various options but the one which appear most cost effective and sensible was to head for Glasgow. I feared the usual experience of being frustrated by the limitations of a one day visit - but I booked the first one in and last one out to maximise my time, and also had something of a plan for my trip. So, I set out on the 05:57 and had a quiet and relaxing trip north. As the sun rose over misty Cumbrian scenes, it was clear it was going to be a beautiful day up here too. Glasgow in autumn should be a favourite trip - but could I make a one day visit work? It's always good to be back in the city, regardless of my concerns and as ever I got that little spine-tingle of excitement stepping onto the platform at Central Station. As places to arrive go, this must be one of the most appropriate and impressive. Before I went anywhere I grabbed breakfast since Crewe station had been closed up tight at 6am on a weekend. I then proceeded directly to a favourite coffee spot. I had no intention of today being rushed at all, and spent time watching the fairly pointless security staff marshalling a non-existent crowd outside the Apple Store as a few early purchasers shuffled inside on the first weekend day of the new iPhone's availability. I'm sure it got busier later - but right now it appeared overkill, as a green-shirted Apple employee looked anxiously up and down Buchanan Street. It was time to enact my vague plan - which as ever lately related to waterways...

About as close to the source as I could get...
About as close to the source as I could get...

In short, I reasoned that I ought to be able to get pretty close to the source of the Molendinar Burn. This curious and once highly important waterway plays it's part in the founding of Glasgow, but is now mostly conducted to the Clyde from the North East of the city as a sewer of sorts. Having read intriguing accounts of it's course on Hidden Glasgow a while ago, I'd been intrigued to find it - visiting the extant above-ground part at The Great Eastern a few years back. But the source? This was at a pair of Lochs on the edge of the city - it meant a walk, but that lately at least, has been the chosen mode of travel. So, I headed for Stepps station on a Falkirk train.

Initially my walk took me through a pleasant enough housing development tight against the northern flank of the railway. The other side of the tracks where I'd thought I might walk appeared to be swampy, rough ground. I was unsure and stuck to pathways, cursing my lack of adventurous spirit somewhat. I also reasoned that this wet, boggy plateau in the dip occupied by the fledgling Molendinar was probably related to its existence. Skirting the estate and edging along Cumbernauld Road I found my way to Frankfield Loch - the source as per records. But Frankfield Loch now belongs almost exclusively to Taylor Wimpey. A huge swathe of housing, named for the Loch, is being built in the gap between the A80 and the motorway suburb of Craigend. There appeared to be no safe or approved route around the lake here, so after finding a spot for a picture I returned to the road thwarted and turned west again. Looking at the map, post walk I could perhaps have progressed to the south and skirted the Loch via woodland pathways - but that wasn't the walk I wanted. The outlet of the Molendinar on the western edge of the Loch was close - but obscured.

That word resurfaces...
That word resurfaces...

My next aim was to find the point that the Burn entered Hogganfield Loch. This too proved incredibly difficult to achieve. I edged my way along the main road, noting that in fact despite the peeling stucco on some of the little cottages, this wasn't a bad place to live. The road pushed busily on to the City around five miles away, and there was something of a rural feel to the place. I trudged alongside a green municipal railing that enclosed a well-kept park. In there somewhere, the above-ground expression of the Molendinar lazily ran between the Lochs. There was a large sports centre, and the railings were locked wherever there was a gate. I eventually found Avenue End Road. This strangely empty, semi-derelict rat-run delves south to link with the M8 and Edinburgh Road, and as such was well used. It also became clear there was no way into the park. It was Strathclyde Region land, marked as playing fields and privatised. I could see where the woodland would have brought me in far to the south, and tantalisingly under the rise of the road, I could see the gratings which led the Molendinar into it's first culvert. Crossing the street and an alarmingly boggy triangle of land, I entered Hogganfield Park. The North East of Glasgow is a closed book to me, and merits exploration in the same way that this quarter of London which has occupied my thoughts. Here there was another echo - a sign declaring the park a "2014 Games Legacy". I shuddered, suddenly aware of how this would change the city.

I pressed on around the fine and extensive park which circles Hogganfield Loch. It was quiet except for joggers and dogwalkers, and I sat and watched for a while. At the far, western end the municipal golf club offered facilities - but not for the likes of me. Children ate ice-cream and fed ducks or swans with Waitrose bread. This was a strange collision of a working class playground for the North East and the edge of suburbia. I contemplated a return to the city on foot, braving motorway bridges and edgelands, but now my time- and range-anxiety kicked in. Maybe if I'd not needed to be back for a train - which was in reality hours away - I'd have done it. Instead I boarded a bus which clung tight to the Burn's hidden route - at least as far as the head of Wishart Street on the edge of the city. This was to be my first arrival at Buchanan Bus Station too, that busy confusing mass of humanity and machinery which decants vast portions of the city, especially from the areas I'd been walking today.

I spent the rest of my day reading, writing, drinking coffee and just enjoying being in the city. I can't help feeling my jaunt to the North Eastern edges is incomplete and unresolved. Perhaps when I'm back in October I'll revisit this odd quadrant of the city. For now though I have grainy, indistinct pictures of the Burn before it disappears from view. Mission sort of accomplished?

Movebook Entry

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Railways - Lost Weekend: The Top of Town
Friday 07/09/2012 21:36
I used to refer to these strange interludes when something went wrong with the plan as "Lost Weekends". They've mercifully been rare over the years - save for the bad patch in 2007 and last year's "Lost Week" which oddly enough coincided with the riots - a strangely distracted and depressing week indeed. It's a little late to claim this as some sort of anniversary of those events, but it's oddly close. So, we face an uncertain Autumn, and sad to say I have a rather worrying sense that for some of the tour organisers, this is now terminal. ASLEF's dispute is about rest day working, and the fact that TOCs should take on more drivers rather than stretch the existing workforce. I think that's unrealistic. They key to success in straightened times is flexibility - and a whole host of new drivers during uncertain financial events just puts a lot of people at risk of redundancy. Some might claim that it suits the unions, as it provides a buffer between their members and the bleeding edge of cuts. But the fact remains that a healthy company is more likely to retain staff, so attacking customers isn't a good strategy. Sadly of course this little niche market is just a fragment of the rest day working done so the lobby is powerless. We're at the mercy of the unions in an uncomfortable way and one of my prized hobbies is dying as a result.

And its exactly because of this that I find myself in Basingstoke.

Last weekend I complained bitterly all over social networks about Doncaster. It was certainly deserved - despite its good shopping opportunities and its excellent position on the ECML, its a grim and occasionally lawless spot. The fact was I had a fairly neutral experience despite the dullness of the time there - I could have been doing other things elsewhere and felt a bit trapped. That was the key to my dismay. But this week, after a fairly good week at a new job I ended up taking a train to Basingstoke. It was planned that this would let me pick up the Charity Railtours trip to East Anglia. This had already taken a battering - banned from the GEML because it fell during the Paralympic period, redated once, and finally cancelled to be run later.

I arrived in Basingstoke late, in evening sunshine. It is, in my experience, the best way to see a town. I'd been here before - the useful station facilities are good and I recall being taxied here from Southampton once too. I'd even waited for a late-running Voyager to arrive in a little more style than a Networker. But once out of the station I was plunged into a mall - a long, insulated stretch of covered shopping space. Having consulted my maps before travelling, I couldn't see any other way to get across town except taking a very long route around. The first mall, a spacious, ominously empty affair gave way to a short stretch of daylight before the doors of another mall reared up. There was no escape or alternative route - except for access to a car park. This second, older mall was white, tiled, shiny - probably of 90s vintage. It was largely empty too - I'd wondered if these routes would even be open in the evening, but it seems that they are so fundamental to getting around town that they have to be. One consequence of the accretion of building projects is that the signage and wayfinding is inconsistent. It's impossible to plot a route without instinct. I pitched it just about right - emerging in a car park at the end of the mall. To my right, an old town street curved up a hill - even that was pedestrianised and made part of the sweep of retail. I veered left, across the empty expanse of parking spaces.

The Red Lion Hotel is a strange, red brick 1970s extension to an old pub. Like many independent hotels of it's vintage it feels a little tired, and little unkept and weirdly cold inside - but it was pretty good. Clean, safe and staffed by some really good people. A bright, open smile and an unexpected conversation awaited me. It felt like the first human experience I'd had since I left the train and as such was very, very welcome. My room - home for the next two days - was fine too. I had nothing to complain about, yet I was still finding Basingstoke difficult to understand. I didn't want to be here, hated the way the Town Centre space had been privatised and didn't have the planned trip to fall back on as a reason for this. It was a difficult, dull night I faced...

Tomorrow, I'll predictably go to London again. It's still the midst of the Paralymmpics of course, and I wonder what I'm going to find - I'm also acutely aware how much time I seem to be spending there lately. But it feels like the only reasonable escape from here just now.

Movebook Entry

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Railways - The Trent and Mersey Circular
Saturday 28/07/2012 22:59
I woke up this morning feeling like I had a hangover. I'd not imbibed a single drop of alcohol last night, and had settled down early to watch the circus around the Olympic Opening Ceremony. Perhaps it was the overload of images, provoked emotions and confusing messages which gave me the headache? This morning there were messages suggesting I "probably wasn't such a cynic now, eh?". I checked. I certainly was - though Danny Boyle's gently subversive take on a Britain stuck somewhere in the mid-2000s was oddly inspiring. I fell asleep somewhere during the parade of nations, and caught up guiltily with the rest this morning before setting off. Today then, was about escape. About going in the opposite direction to the Games, and about heeding that long-drummed in advice to travel differently. On that basis I'd headed north - not without it's risks as the football matches were scattered all over the country, but from initial indications reasonably quiet. Certainly, aside from the bonkers 'seat stealing' bloke, the first train was a little busier than usual due to being just two coaches, but 1M21 was mostly empty. I settled in for a lazy spin to Birmingham, hoping to shift my fuzzy head on the way.

With not long to change at New Street, I prioritised. Straight to the coffee shop then down to the Nottingham train. Again rather quiet, as I managed to find my way accidentally to my booked seat. Again the trip was hazy and sleepy, but I was beginning to feel human again. The sun had risen unexpectedly given the forecast and any hope of snoozing was dashed by a local with a gratingly noisy West Midlands accent who sat a few seats away, moaning at his dad mournfully about energy drinks. We reversed at Derby, where I'll be again next week on very different business indeed. Even here things didn't really get too busy, so I dared to hope the next journey might be OK too. After a passing of the Railway Technical Centre which is always interesting, we made the slow creep around Trent Junction before accelerating towards Nottingham. The station is in something of a transformative stage, and is due to close entirely at some point for this purpose. But for now it's cordoned off, temporary toilets and hardboard hoardings on the platforms. Amongst this, things function pretty normally - the Skegness unit was as ever two coaches for a huge crowd. This didn't bode well. However, a good deal before due time, a pairing of a 156 and 158 arrived on our platform. Plumped for the 158 because of the aircon and found a seat at the back of the unit. Amazingly, as we departed Nottingham, there were just two of us in the back coach. Granted, the front unit was busier - but this was rather surprising given previous experience on these services. The plan was to stay on all the way to Liverpool - something I'd not done for about six years on the way back from an All-Line Rover trip. After a scud along the Erewash Valley we reversed at Sheffield. Still the unit was pretty quiet, as we did the fast run over the Pennines through remarkable summer scenery. West of the hills things weren't quite so summery, but after a pause at Stockport we pressed on for Manchester. The expected crowds once again failed to materialise and we departed for the last leg of the trip to Liverpool with just a group of boisterous lads sitting nearby.

Arrival at Lime Street was dogged with difficulties - getting off the train was hard enough as I became entangled with my seat, then had to negotiate the bottleneck on the barrier-controlled section of the station. As I wandered towards the exit the standard "Be careful in today's wet weather" announcement could be heard. I sniggered at how they'd got mixed up - until I realised that the loud noise in the background was the station roof being pelted with heavy rain. A huge summer storm swept across the city, the now opened out glass front of the station providing a panoramic view of people dashing for cover. Nearby, a hen party dressed in flimsy costumes looked worried. I was almost as ill-prepared without a coat. Decided to get some lunch and see how things worked out. In the end, I managed to make a dash between showers to my usual coffee haunt in Bold Street, and then back to the station getting a little damp in the process. This circuit of the city always feels strangely therapeutic for some reason. Hopped onto the late-arriving stock for the 15:34 back to Birmingham. Once out of Liverpool the skies cleared and it was a pleasant, slightly busier trip down to the Midlands, retracing last weeks steps to some extent.

Switching to the usual routine home after another break to watch the world go by on the concourse, I wondered at how quiet the network was today. We're people really keeping away as they'd been told to? Or were they just busy watching sport at home? Today's trip really didn't take me anywhere new - but it was a long, relaxing spin around the network, and especially to parts and services I don't often see these days. It was a world away from the events which still occupied my mind in Stratford, but it had also stilled my odd urge to head for London at the worst possible time.

Movebook Entry

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Railways - The Lone (Day) Ranger
Saturday 21/07/2012 22:26
Lately, I seem to have given up a lot of things. This is a habit I have, of undertaking a huge mental tidying up. Sometimes - just like in a physically frenzied cleaning session - you throw away things you never really meant to. In the heat of this confusing, angry summer I'd managed to do just that. Letting a few doubts and externally fuelled fears get under my skin, I'd parked my music blog indefinitely. Quietly, calmly and without undue drama though - which is not the usual style around here. But already, less than a week into the situation, I was feeling bored, purposeless and dull. The only thing I was finding motivation to write about was the impending Olympics - and given vast areas of my brain to range freely around, this was in danger of becoming an obsession. The great fear was that in a few weeks time it would be gone, and the legacy was a longer term project. Granted it would deliver it's own losses and controversies - but I needed to fill my mind up. In the long term for sure, but initially - just this weekend jaunt. I'd set out when planning for this sparse summer, to do a West Midlands Day Ranger today. I'd booked the tickets to Birmingham and back, and left it at that. There was a point towards the end of the week when I scrabbled for cheap tickets to London - desperate to get to the area with no clear purpose. But sense and financial constraints prevailed and I found myself on the train to Birmingham, only a vague plan and free to listen to music for a change. It was going to be a quiet sort of day...

On arriving and booking my ranger I decided to stick to the usual plan to start with. Off to Crewe on the 09:01 - a bustling but not packed train which took an hour to scud through misty Staffordshire and Cheshire. Lots to see around Crewe's depots, having not been here for a while - and it's also apparent that I'm well out of touch with the changes in the locomotive fleets. Congestion delayed our arrival which meant a pleasantly short wait for the 10:33 - a Euston-bound train. Luckily, given that it took nearly three hours to navigate the slow lines, it wasn't a viable option because I could still have easily changed my plans. Tweets and blog posts tumbled in, resistance to the excesses of Olympics was suddenly everywhere. Adidas had backed out of their tax exemption too. The sun was shining. Things felt possible. The train began to fill, and I decided to use the time and weather to do something I'd tried to do on these trips before - the crab-wise crossing of Warwickshire, which was a mess of bad connections and infrequent trips. So, off at Nuneaton. Last week a friend had mentioned that the Boris announcements were here too, and he was right. Dire warnings to "get ahead of the games" and the voice of the Mayor, strangely out of place up here. The reason became clear on the next leg - a rattling 153 to Coventry, which passed by the Ricoh Stadium. One of the football venues, this will in fact see use in anger before the main park, with the matches beginning next week. It was festooned with pink and maroon, and surrounded by Police officers. A pang of regret for not being stalking around the marshes today passed.

47790 leads the Northern Belle through Coventry
47790 leads the Northern Belle through Coventry

At Coventry I had a wait of about 45 minutes for one of the Crosscountry services which used the Kenilworth line to get to Leamington Spa. These used to be scarce trains, operated by Class 47s heading for Reading or Paddington, but now they're hourly with many going on to the South Coast. Minutes after arrival, a charter was announced and the Northern Belle slipped quietly in, the stewards waving to assembled enthusiasts. I managed an embarassed nod in return, before capturing both the locos for posterity. Time for coffee in the sunshine, watching a day and his enthusiastic daughter photographing trains. Managed a seat on the busy Voyager too, which was a surprise. I've always rather liked Royal Leamington Spa's station with its original Great Western features and broad views over the bridge towards the town. Having visited a couple of times in recent months, it was nice to have a little longer to spend here. It was busy, served by frequent trains and felt strangely comfortable. My own train was the 14:17 to Stratford-upon-Avon, one of a number of services which provide a practically all-stops Marylebone to Leamington service, before curving away through Hatton to the Warwickshire terminus. I'd last done this line in 2007, on the "Bard'n'Birch" railtour which suffered for following a week after one of the best tours I've ever done. On that occasion, due to signalling positions we got sort of wedged on the branch. No such problems this time, and we were soon arriving in the fine little station at Stratford-upon-Avon. A world away from the other Stratford which had been dominating my thoughts! Time for a coffee, and to watch life at this rather sparsely served end of the line. Contemplated the tracks curving away on what used to be the route to Cheltenham and thought how useful that could be nowadays. Eventually onto a cool, clean new Class 172 for the slow stop-start trip into Birmingham. A lucky signalling check at Tyseley meant a good look at the depot there, before hopping off at Moor Street. Having spent a little time here last visit, I decided to do the same and found a bench, dug out my book and watched life around the station.

The route home was strange - first the complicated roadworks outside Moor Street station, with an army of Hi-vis clad workmen employed to ask passers by if they are "aware the traffic now comes from that way?". At New Street, realised I'd a little less time than I thought, but still enough to shop and get coffee while I jotted my thoughts and watched the evening post-shopping, pre-clubbing lull appear. As ever, back on 1V65 to a surprisingly busy Bristol, with us just squeezing onto Platform 1. The Class 50 hauled charter was a little late, and my HST arrived just as it did, obscured by full platforms. Over the next fifteen minutes the train filled up - almost completely. I'd not given a second thought to the Harbour Festival, but these folks clearly had. It had been a slow, surprisingly relaxing day on the rails - which had almost taken my mind of other things.

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