Tuesday 16 July 2013

British Summertime

I really hate folk music.

I try not to because it brings a lot of pleasure to a lot of people.  Nothing that makes people that happy can be wrong.  If you start slagging off people's minority interests, then you end up saying that collecting train stations is an abomination, and then what are you going to do?  Judge not, lest ye be judged.

None the less, I really hate folk music.

I hate the twiddly, diddly, bouncy jollity of it.  I hate the singers' superiority complex - "we're keeping a fine English tradition alive.  What are you doing?"  I hate the repetitive choruses.  I hate the audiences, dancing and whooping to a lute and penny whistle like they're seeing Rhianna at the O2.  I hate the songs that sound like they're about something jolly, and then the singer stops and says, "of course, that song's actually about incest in the era of the plague."  And I really hate the beards.

Obviously, I then managed to hitch my wagon to a man whose favourite band is Steeleye Span, and whose favourite song is this crime against humanity:

This proves that the universe has a very cruel sense of humour.

I bring all this up because the train I boarded at Marple was a folk train.  Worse: it was a folk Pacer.  It was a bus on wheels, on the hottest day of the year, rammed full of people nodding their heads appreciatively to two people with acoustic guitars.  It was like being strapped into an oven and then having Barclay James Harvest piped in through the grill.  It was as close to a living hell as I have ever experienced; the only thing that could have made it worse was if Olly Murs and Robbie Williams were there to provide backing vocals.  Possibly while doing a "hilarious" dance.

Adding to the awfulness, not everyone was listening.  I mean, I hated what the two beardies were doing with their guitars (one of the singers was a woman, so her beard was metaphorical, but definitely present) but I knew that the polite thing is to shut up and pray for death.  They've been paid to widdly-dee on the train, and a bunch of people are here to listen, so you just roll your eyes and passively hope for a train crash.  You don't try and have your conversation as normal, and louder than the singers as well.  It was an acute level of social embarrassment uncomfortably wedged into that sweatbox.

Thankfully I was disembarking at the next station.  I was the only one who got off there, much to the guard's surprise.  "Are you getting some air, or are you actually getting off?"

"I'm getting off," I said.

"Fair enough," he shrugged, and locked himself back in the folkmobile.

I stood on the platform for a few minutes, just to enjoy the blessed silence.  Strines is technically under Transport for Greater Manchester but you'd have problems believing it.  The station's surrounded by thick woodland and there's no traffic noise.  Once the train had left the only noise was my footsteps as I went down and under the track in search of the sign.

I retraced my steps to the footpath.  There was a public bridleway, but I was taking the smaller route, the Midshires Way.  A steep cobbled path clambered the side of the hill, with a warning that it was unsuitable for road vehicles.  It was also unsuitable for ill-prepared bloggers who'd come out in Converse trainers instead of walking shoes.  I slipped and skidded on the cold stones.

The shade meant that I had some relief from the baking sun, but it couldn't stop the ambient heat; soon my t-shirt was utterly soaked with sweat.  I looked like I'd been hosed down.  Somewhere below me, a cool brook teased me with its rippling tinkle.

The path rose higher up the hill before emptying me out in a tiny hamlet.  A couple of farmhouses, a church and, blessed be, a pub.  I loitered.  Should I go in and get myself a drink?  A pint of foaming bitter, a cool Pimms, even just some tap water?  I had only a few quid in my pocket but it seemed like a fair sacrifice.

I decided to be strong.  This was as high as my walk got - it was all downhill now.  If I made good time I'd be able to get the next Sheffield train.  With a longing look I turned away from the Fox Inn and followed the road to the head of the Goyt Way, another cross country track.

The path swung through fields and woods before emerging in a cluster of farm buildings, converted into quiet country homes.  A friendly Border Collie lolled out of a driveway, tongue hanging out the side of his mouth, for an exploratory sniff; I stroked his thin fur as he snuffled at my feet.  His owner was somewhere off inside the house, the front door wide open for a draught.  The road was lined with thick bushes and stinging nettles but the world was still.  Nature was resting in the wilting warmth.

After a few more turns, I ended up on a busy B-road through the village of Hague Bridge.  Two teenagers had parked their cycles at the side of the road and were watching the traffic while drinking pop.  I crossed between two parked cars (sorry, Green Cross Code Man) and darted across the bridge that gave the village its name, under a sign that intriguingly pointed to the "Drum Factory".  I bet it manufactures oil barrels or something equally tedious, but for a moment I imagined a musical instrument factory.  Men in overalls stretching oilskins tight, a testing facility run by Ringo Starr, industrial accidents being dangerous but undeniably tuneful.

There was a little playground, and a car park, and some bunting threaded through the tree tops.  I wandered over to the gate, thinking it might be some kind of local attraction, but it was the entrance to some allotments.  It seemed the allotment keepers really didn't like ramblers.  There were a bunch of signs posted over the gate, laminated and mounted on board, listing the rules and regulations and advising that the allotments definitely weren't a right of way.  Some arrows pointed to where the actual footpath was.

The arrows were a misdirection.  There was a path alongside the railway, as promised by the sign, but it was narrow and unkempt.  My legs - in deference to the weather, I was wearing shorts - were cut by brambles and my ankles were stung by nettles.  After about five minutes of walking I joined a wider, better kept footpath that also ran from the car park.  Well played, allotmenteers.  You bastards.

Now I was down by the river, headed for somewhere that was not even slightly amusing.

Ok, it's quite amusing.  I wonder if there's an age where you stop finding the word "bottom" funny?  I hope not.  I love the British ability to find smut in everything; I read one report that speculated Pacific Rim has been a relative failure in the UK because everyone saw the title and went "Hrnk.  Rim."

There was a man sat on a bench down here, a bike propped up beside him, enjoying a sandwich and a sneaky can of bitter.  I followed the well-worn path alongside the river, trying to resist the urge to clamber down the bank and have a paddle in the shallow water.  I imagined the cooling flow bouncing over my toes and soothing them, then imagined the mud sticking to the soles of my feet as I clambered back out with nothing to dry them on.

There were a few other walkers, couples on a stroll, but most of the time I had the reserve to myself.  Strange to think that barely an hour ago I'd been in Manchester.

New Mills Central station sounds like it should have been right in the middle of an urban sprawl.  Indeed, if I'd continued on the path a little bit further, I'd have hit factories and shops and houses.  Arriving from the direction of Mousely Bottom meant that it seemed like a silent rural station to me.

The Sheffield train was a little late, just a few minutes, but enough to give me time to take a seat and get a breather.  I positioned myself opposite the fine station house so I could admire its symmetry.

I crossed my fingers and hoped for the best.  My heart sank a little when the Pacer arrived but, thankfully, it wasn't an entire afternoon of folk trains; this one was just filled with people.  There wasn't a single finger in ear singer to be heard.

My last station was Chinley, which the map told me was another small halt out in a village in Derbyshire.  It was a bit of a surprise to step off the train onto a super-wide island platform in the centre of a deep cutting.

Chinley had once been important.  It had been a junction between three different lines, forming an interchange between trains to Manchester, Sheffield and London.  There were five platforms here, something which is inconceivable today.

Beeching and further rationalisation reduced the station down to nothing, just a train an hour in each direction.

I'd arrived in Chinley at the very best time.  A poster sellotaped to a lamp post gave me a little giddy thrill:

Why that was today! 

I found the fete easily.  All I had to do was walk towards wherever all those kids with ice creams and balloons were coming from.  I wandered round the back of the community centre and found the playing fields.

It was wonderful.  Some children in full karate gear giving demonstrations in a pen to one side.  An ice cream van was doling out ninety nines to over excited toddlers.  A tug of war rope ran through the centre, with a chalkboard next to it showing the team names and who'd won and lost.  Two game old birds - forty if they were a day - were demonstrating their belly dancing skills in outfits that covered their bellies.  They writhed and wiggled, a little out of sync, with a half dozen people on chairs watching appreciatively.

The stalls were mainly selling little crafty gewgaws - signs that read Bless this mess and World's Greatest Grandma, home-made jewellery.  I passed up the raffle and the refreshment tent, where a steady queue of Dads were waiting for pints of beer in plastic cups, and went inside the village hall itself.  There was union jack bunting and tables surrounded by families and pensioners.  Behind the counter a load of nice middle aged ladies were selling cake after cake after cake; drizzles, sponges, angel and fairy.  Chocolate and strawberry, jam oozing out of slices.  There weren't any muffins or cupcakes here - this was proper, old fashioned, British baking.  I thought about buying a thick treacly slice of fruit cake, but I felt out of place.  I was an outsider in this little village celebration, a gatecrasher.

I used the loo and then had a bit of a look at the community noticeboard.  It was absolutely jammed, every square inch covered with leaflets and posters and notices.  I was pleased to see that the Chinley Community Cinema's film showing the next day was going to be Skyfall, though there was a part of me that wondered if there was anyone left in the country who hasn't yet seen it (£100 million at the box office, biggest selling DVD of the 2013, just saying).

I left the fete behind.  The rest of the village was unsurprisingly quiet.  I'm guessing if you didn't want to take part you got the hell out of there.  I was going to sit down in a little park, but there was a drunk hiding from the sun in an alcove with a can of Tennant's Super so I didn't bother.

Instead I headed south, out of the village, enjoying the warmth on my face, the light tingle on my arms as I gently tanned.

I'm a very shy, very private person.  I find neighbours an irritation, surprise visitors a pain in the backside, socialising a terrible stress.  I like living anonymously in a flat in a town where people don't know me.  I like being able to walk down the road and not worry that I'm going to have to have a conversation with Mrs Millett from number 22; I like going in shops and not having to explain my purchases to the over friendly man behind the counter.

Chinley's community spirit made me wonder if I was missing something.  All those people laughing and joking together as they served up a lemon sponge.  People calling across tables to one another.  Children running in and out of tents.  As I passed the scout hut, proudly displaying its totem pole and liveries, I thought about how it would be good to be part of this little world.  Although I wondered if they liked gays out here in the sticks.  I wouldn't want my fabulousness to be a problem.

The pub at the village bottom was also a B&B, and it was setting up for a wedding.  People kept walking upstairs in shorts and t-shirts and then reappearing back in the bar looking uncomfortable and hot in their finery.  Again, I felt out of place.  This time, though, I had something to help combat that feeling.

Alcohol.  The cause of - and solution to - all of life's problems.


Andrew Bowden said...

I got the folk train many, many years ago back in their early days when they used to run from Manchester to Edale in the evening. It was a lot of fun if you like folk music (which I do, although more modern folk) and is a great way to get passengers on evening trains.

That train wasn't a Pacer (it was probably some other cruddy old diesel - this was around 1999 I think) - with doors between the carriages meaning that the non-folkies could, at least, escape. Which we later did when, on the train back, they started doing "She'll Be Coming Round the Mountain When She Comes".

They play on the train, then everyone gets off and goes to the pub for more music, then everyone heads back on the train again.

David said...

Sounds like a perfect English summer's day.

Celeste said...

That sounds like my ideal day. Folk train then a village fair. I wanted to go to Chinley Village fair, I've got a couple of friends who live there. I'm envious of the community spirit.

P.S. I've not seen Skyfall... or about the last 3 Bond Films... but the last time I went to the cinema was in 2007.

Gavin Kincade said...

A folk pacer sounds hellish. Mind you, this morning's commute turned out to be a dubstep Turbostar.

Scott Willison said...

Not ONE Bond film, Celeste? Consider yourself blocked.

patto87 said...

Bit late to join this but done Chinley today and thought it was fantastic. Anywhere where they make you park well out of the way, then saunter through a cosily affluent housing estate is fine by me. I assumed they were retirement homes, but do old folks really drive that many 4x4's?