Before you all roll your eyes and giggle into your hands, it's true. I don't know anything about classes, signals or tracks. I'm not interested in train numbers, and the only trains I recognise are wretched Pacers (spit) and the Desiros I used to take to work every day. I like train stations; I like train lines. I like their connectivity and their community.
I'm not completely immune to the charms of a nice train though, and as I waited at Wilmslow station I couldn't help myself. The trains on the line from Manchester Piccadilly to Crewe are Class 323 trains (I looked it up, alright?) and all day I'd been seduced by their silky electric whirrs. The noise was similar to the gentle purr of Jubilee line trains, something that Ian beautifully covered in his 150 Great Things About the Underground blog (only eight more to go, folks!). It hisses and clicks, then it rolls, then it sighs into a soft hum. It was a wonderful sound, and I did something I've only done once before: I recorded the noise.
And then a Pendolino rushed through the station at 0:20 and fucked it all up, but still: it was great up until that point. I totally accept that recording the noise of a train is a very odd thing to do, but please, play that a high volume and appreciate its magnificence.
(The only other time I've recorded the noise of a train was on the Jubilee Line. Obviously).
I finally boarded one of these electric seductresses and headed down the line to Handforth. I had absolutely no expectations; I only knew it as a place on the map. So I was delighted to find that it had a devoted Friends of Handforth Station group who'd gussied it up quite considerably.
On the Manchester-bound platform, there was a garden, with carved railway sleeper artwork:
which is nice. On the Crewe-bound platform, there was something far more special, especially for a train sign collector like myself. The Friends group had contacted other railway companies and got copies of the Handforth sign made in their livery. They were scattered along the platform, giving me a little sequence to collect:
So that's (from top left): the French SNCF, the old Manchester Metrolink livery, Iarnrod Eireann of Ireland, Northern Ireland Railways, good old British Railways, the Docklands Light Railway, what I think is the Dublin DART (though I'm happy to be corrected), Merseyrail (yay!) and NedRail from the Netherlands. A nifty little idea, and nice to see. It also let me collect the Merseyrail sign, just for old time's sake:
There was a fly in Handforth's ointment though, a big, dirty, offensive one. There was also, allegedly, a "London Underground" sign on the platform.
First of all the Underground doesn't use signs like that. Secondly, they don't use a font like that, and I can't believe they're trying to get away with it. Designed by Edward Johnston, the London Underground font is so distinctive that even recently discovered Brazilian tribespeople would recognise where it was from. Johnston Sans (and its various modernised versions) is easily one of the most beautiful fonts ever created; if I could, this entire blog would be written in it. My whole life would be written in it. This abomination disgusts me, and for the sake of human decency I should have ripped it down and burnt it there and then.
Was that a bit of an overreaction? Possibly.
With that nasty taste in my mouth, I took in the station itself, which is a perfectly acceptable pre-fab type building - functional, clean, not going to win any awards but it does the job.
By this point I was starting to get a bit tired of Handforth station. It's very nice that they have a loyal, enthusiastic band of volunteers, but the train weather vane and the medieval sign and the conifers all pushed me over the edge. It was just too much; the difference between having a gnome in your back garden and having an entire family of miniature people arranged around a fairy mushroom. The Millennium screen and the Golden Jubilee artwork provided by local schoolchildren and another heritage sign and... JUST STOP.
Incidentally, the ticket office is only open Monday to Saturday mornings (not Sunday), and there's no way to get down to the platforms if you're in a wheelchair. I'd prefer a proper working station to one that's got its own flag.
I finally dragged myself away and headed off for my final station of the day, Styal. Passing another kitchen and bespoke furniture shop - I was officially out of the Golden Triangle now, but its influence was still felt - I headed into a quiet residential road. As I walked, I slipped down the social scale with dizzying speed.
At the Handforth end, there were detached homes with gardens. Swiftly these changed to semi-detached houses, some of whom had concreted over the grass for more parking, then the gates vanished to reveal open driveways. The road seemed to end at a row of trees, but a footpath took you round the corner and into a council estate. A nice council estate, with cul-de-sacs and sheltered housing for the elderly, but it was still a bit like stepping over the border from West to East Berlin.
Beyond that the road turn to mush. Rain and mud were churned up on a back road through fields of horses. There was a smell of manure and no noise. It's always surprising how quickly you can find yourself in the countryside in England. Nature is only temporarily held back - turn a corner or find a spot of derelict land and it comes rushing back. We're living with a benevolent dictator, allowing us to temporarily occupy some of its space, but the earth could take it back any time.
I skipped across brown puddles and found myself behind Styal Golf Course. The greens were busy as sportsmen tried to fit in as many games as possible before winter struck and condemned them to the clubhouse. Styal station appeared on my right, but I was early for the afternoon service so I carried on to the village beyond in the hope that there was a pub or a cafe.
Sadly the Crown was undergoing refurbishment, though I did like the builder's little gag on the scaffolding:
Imagine the collective pearl clutching that went on when that sign went up!
There wasn't much else to keep my interest so I headed back to the station to wait. Styal used to get a pretty good service, but the construction of the Manchester Airport spur stole its thunder. That station was much more convenient, and got better services, so Styal was quietly allowed to run down to its current three trains a day. The 15:59 was the only service in the afternoon.
The sky was darkening; a reminder that I'd have to be pretty swift if I wanted to collect stations after lunch from now on. I'd thought about continuing onto Cheadle Hulme, but the encroaching night put me off. Plus, collecting Styal meant that I now had the whole of the line from Crewe to Maudleth Road under my belt; quite a significant chunk of the bottom corner of the map.
I huddled myself against the cold and turned up my iPod. Another line gone. Another reason to smile. I suppose I am a train geek after all.