I'm in the middle of a drug shift. The 400,000 pills I used to take are being rationalised and cut down to a more manageable quantity, and as a result I've spent much of the past week in a sort of vague haze. My drug cocktail will hopefully be concentrated down to a drug single malt within a few weeks.
It means that this week's tart is a bit... vague. The first half, anyway. I was in what is known to mental health experts as a "flooby" mood, and so I turned up at Ainsdale with only half of my brain active. This was really not giving Ainsdale its due: it had an ALF, for the first time in simply yonks, and it seemed like a nice enough station.
I don't know what was going on, but I just didn't feel Ainsdale as a station. It was like it had all the perfect ingredients, but they hadn't been mixed right. It was a lot like Freshfield, which I visited nearly two years ago, but it was missing that essential je ne sais quoi that made it perfect. Perhaps it was just that, in my random state of mind, I couldn't quite get a decent me + sign photo, and so this is the best I could manage:
Ainsdale itself, though, was very nice. There were a few cafes, suitable for ladies who lunch, a deli, a well patronised Post Office; it was everything you'd expect from one of Merseyside's most middle class centres. This is Golf Country: I'd already passed the Formby Ladies Club on the train, and between the railway line and the coast was the Open-hosting Royal Birkdale Golf Club. In short, if you've ever used the phrase "political correctness gone mad" you'll fit right in.
I was in Ainsdale for more than tarting purposes. In truth, I was here for a meeting of the Friends of the 502.
Before I explain this, I feel I should issue a caveat. I have said it before, but I'm not a train nerd. With the sole exception of the 508 110 train (which WILL be mine someday), I could not give a monkeys what class of train I'm on. The whole Merseytart experience is based around train stations because that's where my architectural interest lies, and I'm really not at all bothered by what kind of train I'm riding and whether it has hydraulic brakes or a double coupling or if it runs on diesel. So long as it gets me there, I'm happy. Also, the word "bogie" turns up far too often for me to take trains completely seriously.
However, there are some causes which attract my attention, and so it is with the 502. This is the last surviving electric train from the pre-Merseyrail days, before the current trains were shipped in, and it's dying. The National Railway Museum own the train but through years of bad storage and neglect, it's become a rotting husk of metal, and the NRM has decided they haven't got the room for it.
A band of enthusiastic volunteers have banded together to form the Friends of the 502, and they've been successful in saving the train from the axe and have found storage for it in Tebay. Now comes the difficult work of restoring the train to something resembling its former glory, with the hoped-for aim of getting it running on the Merseyrail network on special occasions.
It's still early days, but I signed up for membership and offering what little skills I have to the cause (I'm not sure if they have much call for slightly sarcastic writers in the railway construction industry, but I'm right there if I'm needed). The group was holding its AGM at a model railway exhibition in Birkdale to lend my support (for which read: sit quietly at the back and hope I'm not noticed).
I paid my entrance fee (sadly, 502 membership didn't grant free entry, like a Blue Peter badge) and wandered into the exhibition. What is it with men and trains? I found myself wondering this over and over as I wandered around. The age range went from barely out of nappies to just into adult nappies, and all of them were rapt with pleasure at the various different layouts on display. I admit, some of them were beautiful; one of a London Underground station particularly fascinated me. The smell was the musky scent of hobbyists; of men who spent a lot of time in the shed or the attic. Any women present were either sexless converts to the cause or assuming that slightly wide-eyed look of faked interest as little Raymond pointed out another model traction engine.
At 2, a dozen members of the 502 group (including friend of the Merseytart and group treasurer Robert) congregated in the dining hall of the school for the AGM. The smell of dining halls is exactly the same as when I was a boy, incidentally; minced beef and fat. So much for Jamie Oliver cleaning them all up. I couldn't contribute very much to the meeting, partly through shyness, partly through ignorance, partly through not being able to hear half the speakers above the general hubbub of the hall, but it was nice to meet people and it felt positive to be there and support the cause. It would be a terrible shame if the train was allowed to dissolve into iron filings. (Donations gratefully received).
Once the meeting was over, Robert and I wandered off to collect Hillside station and go home. It was the day of the Southport air show, so the walk to the station was accompanied by the drone of World War Two fighter planes circling overhead. One bomber in particular seemed to be taking particular delight in swooping lower and lower until it started to get slightly unnerving.
As the ALF says, this is the closest station to Royal Birkdale. Perversely, there's a Birkdale station as well, which I think was probably just named to confuse the Americans. It had received more attention than other stations to make it gleam in time for the Open last year. This was especially pleasing as the station was one of those 1930s gems, and it had been lovingly restored. I cooed with delight at the enormous stone name plates outside:
Inside, the Colour Tsars had been at work, of course, but with pleasing results, and the woodwork was sensitively restored. I especially liked the clear plastic roofing over the top of the steps, and the signs have been given the new corporate livery as well. In fact, I cooed over it so much, I began to feel a little bit guilty for paying so little attention to Ainsdale. I think I might have to make a return visit. Guilt is a terrible thing.