Saturday 25 July 2009

The Power Trip

I passed my driving test - did I mention? It was in April last year. I'd reached 31, and decided it was about time I took driving lessons. I'd started having them when I was 17, for about three months, but then I ran out of money and so the lessons stopped. I restarted them in January 2008, and then passed my test first time, so you can either say it took me 14 years to learn to drive, or six months. I prefer the latter.

Anyway, I have my dream car: a Mini Cooper in British Racing Green. I have coveted this car since I was a child, even before the BMW remake. The Mini is such a fun, exciting little car, so full of charm and personality. And British Racing Green (always British Racing Green, never just "green") is a classy, elegant colour, which also carries with it the subtle understated hint of speed and glamour from decades of Formula One racing. That's Formula One back in the days when it was interesting, and cars that looked like they were made of sex were driven by men with pencil moustaches, just before they sipped champagne over the baccarat table in Monte Carlo.

This is all well and good, but as you may have noticed from the fact that it's taken me fifteen months to get round to mentioning it, I'm not a big fan of driving. I understand its practicality, and the freedom it grants you, but really, I'm a born passenger. How can sitting behind the wheel of a car on the M6, constantly on the alert and perceiving those hazards, possibly compare with the experience of watching the countryside whizz by from a Pendolino? How can you compare arriving in London from the North via the Edgware Road and the nightmare of one way streets - not to mention the horrors of finding a parking space - to stepping onto the platform at Euston and progressing to (be still my beating heart) the magical London Underground? And most important of all, it is utterly impossible for me to read while I'm driving. I get through a novel a week on my commute to Crewe. All that reading time would be lost to me if I drove, my literacy levels would plummet, and I'd end up a gibbering idiot, reading Dan Brown novels. The only time driving wins over a train is when I get a good stretch of empty motorway and I have Girls Aloud playing at maximum on the iPod; London Midland have asked me to stop singing Something Kinda Oooh at full belt on their trains, but I can let rip in the car.

So the poor Mini Cooper gets neglected. In fact, to my shame, I hadn't driven it since Christmas. In that time, the battery had wound its way down to zero, and so today the Bf and I decided we would have to give it a good run out to get it back up to full power. It also placated those terrible guilty feelings I'd had for ignoring it.

The plan was simply to drive around for a while and give it a recharge. We'd both woken up at four a.m. this morning, for some reason, so we were out bright and early; it was seven when we left the house. Which was lucky, because it meant there was no-one about to see me grunt and moan as I pushed the car out the front gates and down the road. Finally it whirred into life, and the dust that had accumulated during its exile in the garage was blown away.

We ended up on the M53, heading south towards Wales, and just cruised along. As I've explained before, the Bf is actually from North Wales, so he had a bit of a history trip through Flint and Queensferry, passing on scurrilous local gossip and rumour from the days when he was a Councillor there. We stuck to the local roads, rather than taking the all-conquering A55, and soon we were passing through the funshine worlds of Prestatyn and Rhyl, places which are somehow managing to continue to exist as holiday destinations in the 21st Century. I felt like winding down the window and shouting at them, "you can get EasyJet flights to Malaga for fifty quid! You don't have to spend your fortnight pressed up against one another in a flatulence filled caravan by a sewage outlet pipe! You can enjoy yourself in the sun!" Through the tunnels at Conwy - I love tunnels; Freudians, please don't write in - and then curving round the coast, accompanied by the North Wales railway line.

After my last post, the love letter to Mike Parker's Map Addict, I'd hunted out his Great Welsh Roads tv series on the net, and I'd enjoyed his exploration of the byways of the principality. In it, he'd derided Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch as not much more than a visitor's centre with a sign to recommend it. I told the Bf this, which lead to a debate about whether Llanfair PG was on the mainland or Anglesey, which lead to us wondering if the satnav would have the name in its index (it only got as far as Llanfairpwllgwyngyll before giving up), which lead to us programming it in, which lead to us turning up outside the visitor's centre at 9:30.

Technically - technically - this is completely out of the remit of this blog. It breaks all the rules. We arrived and left by car, without personally touching the railway (I walked onto the platform, and a service to Birmingham New Street arrived while we were there, so there was a bit of train action). It's not on the Merseyrail map. It's not even in England.

But it's also one of the most famous train stations in the world, a village contrived around a railway halt with a big old fake name. If you didn't know already, the name was invented in the 19th Century as a publicity stunt; the locals wisely realised it probably wasn't going to get famous based purely on its scenic beauty alone, because you can get that pretty much anywhere in Wales. They went for the outrageous boast instead, and the longest place name in Britain was born. Translated into English, it means "St Mary's church in the hollow of the white hazel near to the rapid whirlpool and the church of St Tysilio of the red cave", and as a precocious child pronouncing the word correctly was one of my party tricks (the others were being able to spell supercalifragilistic-
expialidocious and twisting my elbow through almost 360 degrees). I've long since forgotten how to pronounce it, and instead I just do the same thing all English people do - go "Llanfairpwyllgwyn-mumblemumble
mumble-gogogoch". Everyone loves the gogogoch. Rather wonderfully, the station sign actually has a pronunciation guide there on the platform for you. I must lobby Merseyrail to include one of those at Meols.

So here it is: me at Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndro-
bwllllantysiliogogogoch, under the station sign. Please ignore my hairy legs - if I'd have known I was going to be photographed, I'd have dressed appropriately.

After that, we had a wander round the featureless visitor's centre, a sort of shopping mall of twee (the station building itself was of no interest whatsoever). If I tell you that it had a Julian Graves and a Ponden Mill, you'll get some idea of the middle of the road target market. There was a little Hornby shop, and I stroked £185-worth of Eurostar train. The Bf and I once again debated whether we should use our cellar to create a model railway layout, before once again realising that we weren't much interested in playing with the trains. I wanted to build the stations, and he wanted to dabble with the electrics, so we stepped away from the shop quickly before credit cards started appearing.

After Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, we went back onto the A5 to Holyhead, so that we could say we'd been all the way to the end. Is this the only place in Britain where the single digit road (A5) is the local route, while the primary one (the A55) has double digits? I'll have to have a scout round CBRD sometime to find out. Holyhead had ground to a halt for some sort of festival, seemingly in honour of Abba, because it was lead by a van playing a CD of session singers doing the choruses to all their hits. Behind them was a slow moving parade which consisted of little girls in pink dresses sitting in estate cars with the boot open, Sea Cadets, and, somewhat improbably, a group of boys dressed as 18th century soldiers, looking like they were getting ready to board the boat to Ireland to take it back for King George.

After that, the rest of the town couldn't help but look a bit drab, so we turned around and headed for home. The Mini practically purred all the way from its day of attention, and as an added bonus, Any Questions on Radio 4 featured Peters Tatchell and Hitchens, both of whom were predictably entertaining (though for entirely different reasons). I hope the car enjoyed it, and won't feel too bad when I almost inevitably ignore it again for another seven months...


Celeste said...

Pleased to see you have your picture taken by the sign... I've seen so many tourists having their picture taken in front of the shop, I want to scream, "It's over there! Shop... Station!" (You have to imagine me pointing.)

I can still say it. I did learn something on Year 7 youth hostelling... though why that when we were in Derbyshire is a little odd.

Sacrilige to leave such a lovely car in a garage. Though I admit I loved reading when I had to commute by train. Reading on a train, or sitting on the M6, no contest.

Car Mad Dave said...

Well done on passing your driving test. I still get shivers thinking about the ordeal it was for me to pass mine and am so glad it is one of those things that is behind me!

Scott Willison said...

There were a load of pensioners stood in front of the visitor centre, having their photo taken. They took no interest at all in the station. It was very irritating. Mind you, they then went inside and got excited by tea towels, so clearly they were very easily pleased.