Saturday 1 May 2010

In London, April is a Spring Month

Best laid plans, and all that. This should have been a deeply thoughtful, carefully considered treatise on the significance of past and future. Mentions of the passing of time, the fragile beauty of a desolate beach, the swirling skies embodying internal torment.

Instead it looks like it's going to be the same old sarcastic rubbish about train stations and beer. Oh well.

It started well. I headed for Birkenhead Park ready for an afternoon of Wirral Line voyaging. I began with a literal high. The man ahead of me in the queue for the ticket office reeked of marijuana. I mean, absolutely stank of it. One sniff of his jacket and I'd have been crouched on the floor air guitaring Purple Haze. As it was, I just got a mild buzz, like when you rub your feet on a nylon carpet for the easy thrill of the static.

Down on the platform, the skies were doing this:

I wasn't too worried. I'd come out in just a sweatshirt, no jacket, but I figured it was the last day of April, and therefore practically summer. The swirling clouds above me would pass.

Somewhere around Wallasey Grove Road, the Gods decided it wouldn't pass, and a constant, heavy stream of rain began throwing itself at the train. By the time I got off at New Brighton it had become a relentless wash of misery.

Now I don't mind the rain. I'm not one of these girlie-men who recoil at the sight of a couple of spots. I hate umbrellas, and I hate hoods even more, so I've regularly been drenched to the skin walking to work or a train station or something. In fact, I find it sort of refreshing: there's something very liberating about being stood inside a downpour, letting the water drive itself through your clothes until you feel it tingle your flesh and the cold slipping into your bones. I've stood naked in monsoon-territory weather abroad, just enjoying the ping of the droplets on my body. I put this down to being born in January 1977, and therefore having been conceived somewhere around Spring 1976: my poor mother had to carry me through the blistering heatwave of that year, and her no doubt horrific discomfort somehow worked its way through the uterus and into my subconscious.

Where I'm going with this is, I didn't mind walking through a bit of precipitation. What was depressing about the weather I encountered was its half-heartedness. It was grimy, grey rain, the kind that just falls onto you as though it couldn't be bothered hanging around in a cloud any longer. It splattered on my skin and face, not soaking me, but not being dry either: each droplet was marked against the stripes on my top. It was miserable rain, and as I walked along I just felt it driving my mood down with it.

The plan had been to visit a relative rarity on the Merseyrail network: a closed station that was probably going to stay that way. Unlike say, St James or Otterspool, where there are vague aspirations to reopen them sometime, Warren station was closed in 1915 and no-one is particularly keen on seeing it come back.

Warren was one of those "in theory" stations. When the railway to New Brighton was built, they built more or less evenly spaced stations, and probably hoped that there would be enough development as a consequence of the new train line to justify its existence. It didn't work that way. Even today, the site of Warren station is isolated amongst golf courses, parkland, and the bare open front of New Brighton. The Wirral is a crowded little peninsula, and the demand for seafront property has never been higher, but round here there's still a sense of wild open land.

So the anticipated passenger numbers never arrived, and soon Warren was only getting one train a day. Finally, it was destroyed by a combination of the First World War and a new tramline along Warren Drive, parallel with the railway line. Warren, barely a station in the first place, was handed back to nature.

(Incidentally, I should say I'm glad it's gone, because I used to know of someone called Warren, whose main claim to fame was that he had sex with some bloke in a glass telephone box on campus while I was doing my degree. Saying that I had "tarted Warren" may have turned my stomach).

I pushed on through the rain on Warren Drive so that I could check out this remnant of the old days. The station was located on the imaginatively titled Sea Road, right at the end. At one point this would have all been the gentle dunes of the Wirral coastline. Now I had the Warren golf course on one side, and a series of nouveau villas on the other. There is some quite marvellous architecture in New Brighton: if you're ever around there, you must check it out. There was a full on Spanish hacienda on Warren Drive, complete with barbecue.
The Sea Road houses were less grand, but seemed to say, "I've spent my life working hard, and now I'm going to retire somewhere with a bit of coast and a view of the 16th hole". There were buttoned up balconies peering over the fence of the course, their patio heaters shrouded in vinyl condoms and the seats upturned on the table. As I struggled along a BMW Z3 went past - it was a few years old, not fashionable any more, but it seemed to represent the "glossy aspirational" air of the place. It was caviar sandwiches on chip butty budgets.

The men on the golf course were fully kitted out with golf umbrellas (hence the name, I guess). I was a bit worried, because I thought you wasn't meant to golf in the rain? Isn't there an increased likelihood of being struck by lightning? I can't pretend that I wasn't mildly excited by the idea of one of them being turned into a pair of smoking Saxone shoes by an errant lightning strike. A quick flash and you become an anecdote and a black and white picture in the course bar. The rain couldn't be bothered with lightning though. That would have been too interesting.

So I pushed on to the site of Warren. "Nothing to see" is about right. I suppose, in fairness, it has been gone for nearly a hundred years. There's no reason there should be anything here. But I was hoping for some kind of sign of previous life, having battled my way through tepid moisture. A bricked up flight of stairs. The foundations of a ticket office. The ghost of Bernard Cribbins blowing a whistle. Anything.
There was nothing except some over elaborate brickwork and some borderline pornographic graffiti. If I'd scrambled up the bank, apparently, and stuck my head over the fence, I might - might - have been able to see the remnants of an old platform which was uncovered during engineering works. Possibly.
I'd had enough though. The pissy rain, the grey skies, the men clearing the rubbish from the path ahead of me - it wasn't exactly "breathtaking vistas" but more "drab". I felt fed up. I was wet, and cold, and my ambitious plans for the afternoon were gone. I'd planned on venturing further along the coast, right to the site of the proposed Town Meadow station, between Moreton and Meols. It would have been a really symbolic "past/future" kind of thing. I couldn't be arsed. It was too much to bear.

I slinked back to the moistened surroundings of Wallasey Grove Road station (even when it's a bad weather day, I still hate turning back on myself). There I was able to board a train that was dry, with the heating on, and after a while I started to feel human again. I needed a pick me up though. I needed something to make me whole again. What could that be?

(This is where I would normally insert a HILARIOUS close up of a pint of beer. I forgot to take one this time, so you'll have to use your imaginations).

Yes, I headed to the pub, or more specifically, I headed to the Wetherspoons in West Kirby. As I've said before, they have free wi-fi here, so I could Twitter and so on from my iPod touch to my heart's content: always a good way to pass the time.

Secondly, they have some, ahem, characters there. While I was in the pub I listened to the conversations of a group of "professional" drinkers who, it seemed to me, spent all their days working their way round Merseyside comparing the various different Wetherspoons for price, service, and comfort. High point for me was one of them talking about some woman who'd had the temerity to bring a baby into the bar, a baby which had subsequently wailed. As the man said to the manager (according to him) "If I made that kind of noise, you'd chuck me out." Well, quite.

Thirdly, and most importantly, I could get Jamie and Chris out to buy me drinks chat to, which is a far more pleasant way to round off a Friday afternoon than pressing up against fences in the middle of a rainstorm. They presented me with a genuine, one of a kind piece of Merseystuff: a real Merseyrail map, formerly sited at Meols station until it had faded beyond recognition. The City Line is hinted at, rather than actually being legible - it adds a frisson of excitement, if you ask me (where will my train go? What station is next? The thrills!). It's surprisingly big. You don't realise how large those posters are when you stare at them on the platform.
Unlike last time, we managed to keep the conversational topics reasonably clean until I had to dash off to Sainsbury's for my Friday night shop with the Bf. Which was a shame because, as always with me, once I start drinking I find it very difficult to stop. I had to go home and drink lager until I slipped into a coma to make up for it.


Anonymous said...

Just as well Town Meadow was never built really - otherwise, it might have had an ALF with the evil orange-eyed oystercatchers

Anonymous said...

Warren was never an actual station, just a halt. Therefore there would never have been a ticket office or facilities as such, just a lonely platform. Yes you can still see it - look out for the oddly-shaped grass and you'll know it's there.

Town Meadow, on the other hand, is a much-needed station that would be fairly heavily used (certainly no less than the likes of Manor Road) - is it really only money that's stopping it?

Scott Willison said...

Three sets of birds would be scary. Though they might break out a different set for Town Meadow, you never know. Perhaps a kestrel with glowing red eyes or something.

If Warren was just a halt then I'm glad it's gone - no ticket office, no want, I say.

Anonymous said...

Town Meadow was actually partially built in the 1980's, the platforms where constructed but a bridge/ticket office never built. They were by the layby where the 17/117 goes next to the railway. The timetable at one time was formulated with the stopping time built into for the future opening (if that makes sense) and trains had to wait extra time at Moreton because TM wasnt in use.

As for the Warren, there is soemthing that you have missed ... there are the remains of a brick built bridge structure of some kind going from Sea Road at the end where the brick wall starts (NB end) just before the flats ... I do have a picture of it somewhere .. I will try and dig it out.