Thursday 27 October 2011

Country Sad Ballad Man

Oh, Lytham.  Such a tease.

Get off the train and it looks like there's a fine, impressive station building to greet you.  Head round the front though, and you realise it's all gone.

A formerly grand booking hall is now a pub; not even an open pub - it was "closed until further notice".  It's still very attractive, though, especially as almost all the other stations on the line have lost any semblance of platform buildings.  I hope the closure is just temporary.  I'm guessing that if the pub fails that old station will be replaced by apartment blocks before you know it.

In the meantime, Lytham is represented by a rather ignominious sign tucked down the side.

If I'm honest, there's no reason for such a big station anyway.  Lytham's a small, pretty town, that's it.  It's a bit like St Anne's, but more down to earth - there were a few more chain stores.  A bit less opulence.  A Spar.  Still very pretty though.

It was lunchtime, and since the Station Tavern was out, I randomly picked Upstairs Downstairs.  A chubby homosexual with irritating facial hair got me a baguette, while two waitresses stood behind the counter gossiping and pulling a face every time a customer wanted to be served.  It was alright, I suppose, but I couldn't help noticing that my tea cost twice as much as the one in Blackpool.

The rain finally gave up so I headed out of town.  My next station was out in the countryside, so for the first time that day I turned away from the coast.  I passed through quiet streets, past a playground with a rocket shaped climbing frame and rope swings (remember when just a slide was the most exciting thing ever?) and a very posh looking Booths supermarket.  I've never been in one of these stores, but since it was advertising an "Artisan Cafe" on site and had an attached garden centre, I'm not sure I'd be welcome.  Not without a credit check first.

Of COURSE I'm going to reference the Village People now.  How could I not?  I'm sure it's not like this in Lytham though.  (That clip is from Can't Stop the Music, the Village People musical, which is jaw-droppingly awful.  It's a must-see).

Passing up the opportunity to find many ways to have a good time, I carried on.  Soon I'd left Lytham behind and I was out in the countryside.

I have a real fear of walking beside the road in the country.  I don't like places where there aren't pavements.  Walking in the road always makes me anxious, even if I know I'm following the country code and I'm perfectly within my rights.  Luckily Lancashire County Council had the decency to build a path on one side, but it still felt a bit hairy beside a national speed limit road.

Drivers tend to take one of three manoeuvres when they see you walking at the side of a country lane.  In the best case, they slow down a little and move away to give you space.  Next are the ones who swing right over to the other side of the road, thereby implying that you're really fat and they don't want to accidentally clip your chunky thighs.

The third type are the wankers.  They're the ones who put their foot down, or stay right up against the side of the road, or just ignore you.  They're the ones with attitude, the ones who are listening to a Clarkson audiobook, the ones who are saying Quake with fear at my mighty four-wheeled progress, pathetic biped!  Feel my superiority at manhandling this machine with skill and speeding past your limited progress!

On the plus side, I was getting exercise and fresh air, so they'll probably die before me.

I couldn't really sense where I was in relation to the railway line - it was somewhere over there, as far as I could work out, but I couldn't see any sign of it.  I passed over a canal, and past the local tip, which the council had thoughtfully put right next to a caravan park.  Apparently plots for holiday lets were available; can't say I'm surprised.

As any schoolboy knows, a group of crows is called a murder.  This is one of those facts I learnt when I was little because (a) I had a fondness for the macabre and (b) I liked knowing more than everyone else.  I watched a murder now, rising and falling over a cropped field; they rested on the ground then, at some unseen signal, all the crows rose up into the air, swirled around one another, then landed a few metres away.  It was like watching a very anxious sandstorm.

Fortunately, the crows decided not to attack me.  My gory death at their pecking beaks will have to wait for another day.  The only wildlife to surprise me that day was a particularly nosy cow, who thrust her face through a gap in the hedge as I approached.  I like cows.  They are dumb as a box of hair, but they have a simple charm and unthreatening personality that I'm fond of.  Like Rav Wilding. My great uncles farmed cows, and I used to like to pat and stroke them.  Then eat a steak.

I ran my hand of the muzzle of the cow and, predictably, it let me without much protest.  As I said, stupid.

Actually that all sounded like I have some weird bovine fetish.  I don't, honest.  We're just friends.

Crashing on.  My next station was Moss Side; not the dodgy area of Manchester, thankfully.  This was a tiny country station by a level crossing, just a platform in the middle of nowhere.  I took a seat on the platform and listened to the peace.

Sort of.  What actually happened was that Northern Rail decided to interrupt my rural idyll with regular announcements over the loudspeaker.  All our stations are covered by CCTV... please keep all luggage safe... vandalism will not be tolerated...  Yes, one of these announcements told me my train was on the way, but apart from that, it was a stream of noise pollution.  In the near dead-silence of an Autumn afternoon, it was all you could hear.  The locals must find it incredibly annoying, hour after hour of the same repetitive, booming voices.

Unsurprisingly I was the only person to board.  I settled in on the Pacer for the trip, choosing a seat right at the back - I was getting off at the next station, anyway.  Across from me was a woman who was staring intently out the window.  She was sat on one of the "sideways" seats, where you can store your bike, and she seemed to be incapable of closing her legs.  Thankfully her skirt was past her knees or it would have been like a very low budget remake of Basic Instinct.

As the train started up she started to sing, quietly, under her breath.  At first I just thought she was mouthing, but then I realised I could just about hear her voice under the train noise - it was something about Jesus.  Over and over.  "Mmmmffffmmmm JESUS mmmmfff."  The Jesus part was getting louder, so that she could be heard over the grinding of diesel engines.

I have no objection to people having a faith, and wanting to praise Jesus in their own way.  But when a spreadlegged woman with a tight Croydon facelift is murmuring the Lord's name, you start to get unnerved.  Especially when the train stopped for one of those random reasons in the middle of nowhere and she fixed her eyes on me.  "The next station is Kirkham and Wesham," she intoned, and my testicles turned tail and made their way back inside my body.

The next station was Kirkham and Wesham, and I was very glad to disembark (I was even more glad that she didn't).

It's a lovely little station.  Again, some care and attention's been devoted to it (and some money), so there's a nice covered set of steps, and a clean and tidy ticket hall.  This was the sort of station building that I'd have thought Lytham could get away with, instead of that epic piece of architecture.

I got a bit confused on the bridge, trying to work out which way to go.  Kirkham was in one direction, and Wesham was in the other; I needed to go into the former, but I ended up on my way to the latter.  I wondered if the railway bridge acted as a sort of frontier post, knowing how easily people start hating their neighbours.  I could imagine the local schoolkids stood on either side, baiting one another, daring them to cross over the bridge to their half.

If you've watched much of the new series of Doctor Who, you'll know the concept of "fixed points in time".  The Doctor can run round the universe changing history wherever he likes normally, but sometimes there are events which absolutely must occur.  Pompeii, for example.

I had my own equivalent of a fixed point, though admittedly it wasn't in quite the same league as "make sure Shane from Neighbours dies on Mars".  My version was called Salwick.

If you know anything about train services (or perhaps you've read the story of Robert's visit) you'll know Salwick only gets three trains towards Preston a day - one at 7:13, one at 8:13, and one at 16:15. I absolutely, positively had to get that 16:15 train, or I'd be stranded in the middle of Lancashire.

I'd been quite cocky about catching the train earlier that day.  The walk from Kirkham to Salwick didn't seem too arduous.  In fact, I even texted Robert and asked if he knew if there were any pubs that way, because it looked like I'd have time to kill (I'd forgotten that he hadn't even left the station on his visit, so as if he'd know).

I sauntered through Kirkham.  It wasn't just that I had plenty of time; I was also encountering hills for the first time on my trip.  Steep hills, that went down one side and up the other.  After a day's walking, this wasn't a welcome development (I'd done something to my right knee too, and it was letting out a little yelp with every step).  It did mean I got to see some of the town's unique features in great detail, like a weaver's loom in a bus shelter.

Kirkham was once a big textile centre, and when the last mill closed in 2003 they preserved the final loom in the town.  A nice gesture, but I can't help wondering if the mill would have lasted longer if they hadn't been using equipment from the early 20th Century (the plaque claims it was manufactured after the First World War).

I passed Kirkham Baths, which were also run by the YMCA (is there a massive gay movement in the Fylde I didn't know about?) and headed into town.  I'm going to apologise in advance to my friend Jennie, who grew up in this bit of the county, but I didn't find Kirkham that impressive.  It had been described as a "market town" but to me it seemed like a housing estate with pretensions; the buildings were boring, the shops uninspired, the traffic relentless.  I was in no hurry to linger, which was handy because I realised I would have to get a move on to get to Salwick now.

I'll give the town bonus points for this old fashioned hardware store, though.

I walked out onto the bypass, where I jumped on a regular basis as cars sped by, seeing 50 miles an hour as a suggestion rather than a limit.  It was a boring road through boring countryside; the farms on either side weren't pretty, Darling Buds of May country estates, but agricultural factories with unattractive outbuildings and messy yards.  I was the only person walking, of course.

On and on it went.  I was tired and thirsty.  In my head I could hear the relentless ticking of a clock, counting down to that 16:15 departure.  I hadn't realised it was so far to walk - there had been a serious miscalculation somewhere along the line.  Buses passed me, but I didn't know where they went and I didn't have any cash to buy a ticket anyway.

A check of Google Maps on my phone to make sure I was heading in the right direction (if I wasn't, I suspect I would have jumped under a juggernaut) and then I found my left hand turn, off the main road and towards Salwick.  A road without a pavement.

I take back my previous kudos for Lancashire County Council.

I hauled my tired legs onto the tarmac, and stumbled along.  There wasn't much traffic, thankfully, but it was still a tedious slog, pressing myself into the hedge every time I heard a car in the distance.  I tried walking on the rough verge at the side of the road, but the uneven ground made my sore knee yelp even louder.

<insert reference to Emmerdale's past their sell-by date "comedy" family here>

I did at least get a view of a perfect pastoral scene as I reached the village proper.  A church, green grass, sheep.

It was a shame about the relentless hum of the nuclear processing site in the background.  Kind of ruins the pretty country scene.

I hadn't realised the business of the "Works" on the OS map.  This is the Springfields site (yes, I immediately thought of Mr Burns too) and it's the reason Salwick station is still there.  A high angled fence surrounded the whole facility, and there was a tense, unidentifiable atmosphere around it.  Perhaps it was all the references to the Anti-Terrorism Act on the signs, and the policemen with guns at the main entrance.  It doesn't make for a pleasant stroll.

On the plus side, I was nearly at the station.

Never have I been so glad to see a road sign.

A new tension began to grip me as I approached the station, though.  What if I couldn't take my photo by the sign?  What if I was leapt upon by trained soldiers, determined to stop me from taking pictures in such a sensitive area?  What if even now I was being marked out as an insurgent, simply for walking round the site perimeter with a backpack?

I have to be honest - I wasn't concerned about myself.  I was worried about the blog.  I imagined writing this entry up, perhaps from my cell at Belmarsh, and having to put in those horrible words: I wasn't able to get a picture of me in front of the station sign because the police deleted that photo.  I imagined the list of stations visited, with one gap where Salwick should be.  A hole in the network.  An incomplete itinerary.

That thought made me sweat and panic far more than anything else that day.  Even more than the nutty woman on the train.  I simply had to get that last station sign picture.

And I did.

As it turned out, I wasn't even questioned.  Bit disappointing really.

Salwick's just a ramp and a platform, though at least there are two tracks at this point on the line.  I thought I'd be the sole visitor again but there were half a dozen people waiting for the Preston train.  I imagine there is a shift at the plant that relies on this service for its staff, though I'd hate to think what happens if there's a cancellation.  Or what it's like on a wintry day, with the wind whistling round you and the snow coming down.

I slumped down into my seat on the train.  I was tired and cold, but full of satisfaction.  That was another line down.  It was a line I didn't need to go near, it was a line I'd got no real interest in, and it was a line that hadn't really thrown up any magnificent stations or inspiring moments.  It was just there. And now it was under my belt.

As a bonus for my day's efforts, Northern Rail kindly laid on an extremely fit bloke on the train for me to perve at.  A man who then pulled down his case from the overhead rack, making his shirt ride up and revealing six inches of smooth white naked stomach.

The perfect way to end the day.


Ian Jones said...

Do I detect a touch of Tovey about this gentleman?

Scott Willison said...

In general hotness, perhaps. But Tovey is still the guardian of my heart.

Anonymous said...

Good title. You have more Blur themes in your posts. Perhaps you could have got 'She's so high' to work as a caption for the last photo?

Nice Pacer bus seating, by the way.