Thursday 8 August 2013

Down Down, Deeper and Down

I'd been looking forward to visiting Hull.  That's not something you hear every day, is it?  But no, I really had.  I'd never been, it looked like an interesting town, and its station is called Hull Paragon, which is just ace.  I found a cheap ticket - one of those ones that are restricted to a single train company on a single day at a single time and don't you think about deviating - and stowed it with excitement.  I even made a dash to the library the night before I left to pick up some Philip Larkin after I read there was a statue to the poet on the concourse.  A bit of educated reading would add a frisson of intellectual pretension to the blog, I thought.

Unfortunately my brain decided to have a bad day.  I felt sluggish and miserable when I woke up; I showered with an increasing sense of futility and pointlessness, listlessly letting the water run over my head, putting conditioner on my hair instead of shampoo by mistake.  I was slipping into a depression sinkhole.

By the time I was on the train, pulling out of Lime Street, I was completely there.  I'd had a mix up with my credit card at the ticket collection point.  I'd almost sat in the wrong seat.  I was fritzed.

This happens now and then; about once a week.  There's a system crash in my head and the signal gets broken up.  Imagine a tv when there's a sunspot; you can still see everything that's happening, you know what's going on, but there's a grey mist and flecks of static over the picture and there's a background hiss.  An incessant, nagging hiss that stays with you and won't go away.

It meant that by the time I reached Hull, I wasn't in the mood.  I was feeling like crap.  I wanted to go home and sleep.

I pushed on though, because I had that restricted ticket, and I'd come all the way across England, and a little station collecting might perk me up.  I got my East Yorkshire Round Robin ticket at Hull Paragon, then went back the way I'd come in on a Northern Rail train to Brough.

Good name, Brough.  And a pretty good station.  It's got a ticket office, it's got platforms, a car park.  It's a prime commuter town, as trains stop here en route to Hull, Leeds, Doncaster and York.  I crossed over the tracks, letting my fellow passengers get ahead so I could get some space for the station selfie.

Further down from the car park, the old buildings remain, and it's nice to see them named after the station.  Even though the ticket office is now in a hut on the platform I like that the Yorkshire stone originals remain.  I especially like the "Station Supper Bar"; that's a great name for a takeaway.

I crossed back over the tracks on my way to the Humber.  Somewhere around here was a footpath; I'd seen it on the Ordnance Survey map.  That was my way to Broomfleet, the next station on the line.  My first attempt sent me into a car park on the river - all very pretty, but the only footpath went back to Hull.  Another path took me into a marina, with signs for a Yawl Club.  At the marine shop, a man and a woman were carrying a box across the yard to a barn.  "Can I help you?"

"I'm looking for the footpath.  I think there's a footpath.  It's round here... somewhere," I finished pathetically.

"You passed it.  Turn round and go right."

"Cheers."  I turned round, went right, and saw the seven foot tall finger post pointing to Broomfleet.  My brain was clearly more addled than I thought.

Over a brook that smelt of sewage and horror and then I was up on a tall ridge.  The land round here is flat and low and particularly prone to flooding; in recent years the Environment Agency has beefed up the defences.  I'd seen diggers down at the riverside from the train, spooning heavy granite lumps onto the foreshore, and now I was walking along a U-shaped mound that shadowed the water.

It wasn't that exciting to be honest.  The path was hard, the route was straight, the view uninspiring.  I was walking away from the Humber Bridge, which I'd been thrilled to see earlier.  All I could see was unending drab fields and rabbit droppings.

I clambered over a stile.  These were sheep pastures, and the hump was now covered with dull looking livestock.  They stared at me blankly before legging it down the slope, some a little less sure footed than others.  I caused a small emergency when I passed a pen, and about a dozen sheep barrelled out through the narrow openings; one got its rear end caught, and couldn't flee.  There were a few moments of panic for both of us as she struggled, her eyes fixed on me, her back legs thrashing wildly, before she snapped free and ran at double the speed away from me.  

The path finally ended on a strip of tarmac by a farm and a level crossing.  The whole route here is peppered with them.  I thought of all the accidents that happen on level crossings, and realised it's just something we're going to have to put up with.  There is absolutely no justification on earth for building a bridge or a tunnel out here, on a tiny lane with few cars.  The finances just don't add up.

I now had a couple of miles of on-road walking ahead of me.  I could feel a ticking clock at the back of my head.  There's only a couple of trains a day from Broomfleet, and I had to get there in time for the 11:40 or I'd be stuck.  I powered along, but that pessimistic, miserable voice I was having problems conquering was shouting in my ear.  Give it up.  You'll never make it.  Why do you even bother trying?

I passed a small bungalow with wide windows and no curtains - why would you need them?  There were just miles of open countryside and no neighbours - and followed the straight single track road.  There were occasional passing places, but they looked barely used. 

It was utterly silent.  I'm not just talking quiet, I'm not talking a bit muted, I mean silent.  No birds.  No traffic.  No distant rumble of farm machinery or boats on the river.  Nothing.  It felt post-apocalyptic, no movement, no sound, no people.  It was quite easy to imagine I Was Legend.

At the end of the lane there was a sign to indicate that you'd reached the main path of the Trans-Pennine Trail, and it made me smile.  There was something comforting about coming all this way and seeing a sign for "Southport"; a little piece of home.  I've seen the marker for the Merseyside end of the trail and I idly wondered how far away the Humberside marker was.  A check of the map reveals it's miles away from anywhere, so I shan't bother, even though the completist OCD part of me really wants to.  

A gang of garishly coloured cyclists whizzed by as I took a different lane.  This was just as straight as the first one, and just as deserted.  In the whole time I walked along it only one car passed, a silver Mercedes; I watched the light bounce off its roof between the hedgerows as it disappeared into the distance.  

My jaw tensed further as I heard the shriek of an alarm ahead.  It was another level crossing and the gates were coming down.  Didn't they realise I was on a tight schedule?  Didn't they realise how little time I had?  I'd worked out the route on the map before I'd left, and walking to Broomfleet in time had been possible but there was little margin for error.  I'd already wasted time at the Brough end finding the path; I didn't know if that delay had been fatal.

While I waited at the gates I pulled out my phone and entered Broomfleet as a destination on Google Maps.  Twenty minutes, it reckoned.  It was 11:25; I had fifteen minutes to get there.

Fuck it, said my brain.  Of course you're going to miss it.  Of course you are.

A window shushed open above my head and the signalman poked his head out.  "If you want to cross, you can do it now," he said.  I hesitated, a little sick at the idea of breaking the rules of the road.  If I had then been mown down by an Intercity, I bet the signalman wouldn't tell the inquest I'd got his permission.  I'd go down on the files as an irresponsible pedestrian.  My devotion to the law was overridden by my blind obedience to authority figures (seriously, if you put a uniform on, I'll believe and do anything you say) and I made it across without coming to a bloody end.

I was in Broomfleet village now, sweaty, tense, my head pounding.  I knew there was a right turn I had to take, but I couldn't see it.  All the time I was aware that the railway line was receding behind me; perhaps I should have just risked it and cut through a field and hoped that I could get out by the station without a barbed wire fence or an irate farmer.  Little Lane appeared on my right, blessedly, and I broke into a jog, or at least the best I could manage.  I don't jog, I just shift my legs into a slightly higher gear for thirty seconds before I start wheezing and want to die.

Yes!  There was the station!  There was the crossing gate, and the signalbox, and it was 11:39.  The station sign was on the opposite side of the tracks.  I didn't want to risk crossing over them, only to have the gates close and trap me on the wrong platform, so I took a photo from a fair old distance just to make sure I got it.  It is in that photo, I promise you.  Just look past my enormous head.

Damp, dehydrated, a little giddy, I staggered onto the platform as the alarm sounded and the gates closed.  I felt a tiny moment of euphoria and I brought up the National Rail app to see just how close I'd been to missing the train.

It turned out that the train was due at Broomfleet at 11:45, not 11:40 as I'd thought.  And it was four minutes late.  I'd broken my lungs for no reason at all.

At least I made it, I thought.  Another station crossed off.  I reached into my pocket for my East Yorkshire Round Robin ticket.

It wasn't there.  

It wasn't in my other pocket either.  Or the back pocket.  Or the pockets in my hoodie, or my backpack, or anywhere.  It had vanished.  I realised that when I'd pulled my phone out, back at the level crossing, the ticket must have come with it.  Twenty two quid's worth of ticket was flapping around in a hedge somewhere.  

Panic, self-loathing, horror; emotions crashed into me from every direction.  My head had a small spasm.  I didn't have a ticket any more, I didn't have a ticket any more.  I was going to have to buy one on the train, but I didn't have any cash; I'd foolishly passed the cash machines at Paragon thinking, "I've got my lunch already - what would I need money for?"  I'd have to buy another Round Robin - another twenty two quid I could ill afford - and hope that they would take my card.  

The guard didn't actually scratch his head when I asked for the ticket, but it was definitely implied.  "I'm not sure if I can sell those," he said doubtfully, then began tapping away at his little pad.  I shifted anxiously from foot to foot, feeling adrenaline pump round me, aware that I was getting very close to having a panic attack, aware that the train was pounding along the tracks towards Gilberdyke, aware that if I didn't manage to get off there this train was headed for Doncaster and the Round Robin would stop being valid and I'd definitely be travelling without a ticket then.  He tapped at his screen a few more times - "Let's try EYR" he said, half to himself - and I wanted to wrench the machine out of his hand and find it myself.

"Ah, there it is.  You learn something new every day, eh?"

While the card machine bounced my pin number up to a satellite for authorisation, he asked me where I was going, and I could only remember Selby.  "You must be going on a lot of trains," he said.

"A few, yeah," I said.  My mouth no longer seemed to contain any saliva.  He handed over my new Rail Rover and I stowed it safely inside my wallet.  Inside a pocket.  Inside my bag.

I think it's fair to say that the person who staggered off the train at Gilberdyke was only semi-human.  I collapsed onto a bench and took long, deep, undignified breaths, letting the air hiss out between clenched teeth as I tried to get my body back under control.  

After a while - it seemed like forever, but was probably about two or three minutes - I was able to limply make my way up and over the footbridge to the exit.  I had to pass three girls on the way, girls who I might uncharitably have termed "slags", with bellies showing above tight shorts and hair pulled back to reveal faces caked in make-up.  They stared at me and my sweat soaked hoodie, judgement running out of every pore.  The London 2012 logo on the front probably didn't help - there was a million miles of difference between the fit lithe bodies of a Chris Hoy or a Jonny Peacock and my fat lumbering mass.  I cowed my head and went off to find a sign to stand under.

Gilberdyke was one of those villages that had been built up after the war; uniform houses had been grafted onto the old parish and made it into just another place.  It was uninspiring and dull.  Bored kids rode their bikes and their scooters on the pavement, not really going anywhere, just moving.  A Methodist church had a poster outside with a couple of people in swimwear on it and the slogan Join us for a bit of Son worship this Summer?, which is sort of brilliant.  There was a little row of shops, with a post office and a butcher - I wonder where you buy fibreglass Fred Elliots?  Is there a catalogue?  Why don't they do it for other professions?  Why do you never get a five foot greengrocer, or a mechanic, or an undertaker?  Where are the life size models of graphic designers?

I turned left at the crossroads and was soon trudging through the long grass at the side of the B1230.  Despite its unimportant sounding number it was a fairly busy road, with lorries speckled amongst the cars, and I had to occasionally press myself into the hedge to avoid being blown over.  As I approached the railway bridge, a footpath spluttered into view, the tarmac cracked and worn away by the weather.  It was rough to walk on but better than the nettles and thistles.

Once again, there was nothing to see.  There was noise now, at least, the drone of the traffic, but the views were of flat uninteresting fields, uniform in colour.  Some wind turbines would occasionally appear but the only breeze was thin and treacle warm; their blades remained unmoved.

Everything is so straight in this part of the world.  There aren't any hills or contours of any kind so roads are a single black line across the map.  Agriculture comes in squares.  Electricity cables score through the clouds.  It was a dispiriting landscape of conformity and regularity, almost entirely shaped by humans and yet feeling cold.

I came off the main road to walk to Eastrington station.  On the way I passed over the M62, another reminder that I was on the opposite side of the country to home; my position was connected to Liverpool through this single route.  The last time I'd crossed this motorway it had been a tense trek over a narrow footbridge, but this was a generous carriageway built for roads so I didn't get the same rush of vertigo.

There was a speckle of houses around the station; a homeowner leaned on his gate to gas to a passer by.  A blow up pool was half-full of water, balls and cricket bats floating abandoned on the surface.  I took my sign picture and went and sat on the platform.

I started to cry.  I'd had enough.  The grey had won.  I'd pencilled in three more stations to collect, including Wressle, which only gets one train a day; I just couldn't face it.  I was tired and drained.  I really wanted to go home and lie down.  I wanted to be anywhere except in this miserable hot shelter in Yorkshire.

Thunderflies congregated on my skin, too many to ignore, not enough to irritate me.  I guzzled my water and wiped away my tears and decided: Howden and Wressle would have to wait for another day.  I pulled myself off the bench and onto the train to Selby.


The Shillito said...

Losing a train ticket is the worst feeling. It happened to me once, but fortunately it was only the out portion of the return, so I had both the return section and the receipt to persuade the several conductors who asked for my ticket that day. Thankfully, I survived to my destination without being forced to buy a new ticket or fined.

Mark said...

Sorry to hear that you'd had such an appalling day. I've walked from Broomfleet to Ferriby, and then did Ferriby to Hessle another day. Hessle is good as you get to walk under the Humber Bridge.

gottago said...

It's kind of scary just how flat that part of the country is. It's just endlessly flat.

Unknown said...

This is a map of what would have been the Outer Loop line(West Derby) and the Canada Dock Branch(Tue Brook)

Unknown said...

Or, my favourite merseyrail map of all times

Anonymous said...

Onward and upward!

Klepsie said...

As a veteran of many Bad Mind Days like yours I can genuinely sympathise. But you will bag Wressle and all the others in due course, and I shall still be reading avidly when you do! Chin up, chest out, stick with it.

Andy said...

Yep agreed with the above Scott, keep going, your doing a great job, your writing is excellent, you can always bag the stations on another day :)))