Sunday 29 June 2014

Day Two: While England's Dreaming

The more observant reader will have noted that on Day One of doing the Barton Line, I visited two Grimsby stations and Cleethorpes.  I completely missed out New Clee.  This station is a request stop a little further out in Grimsby, so I thought I'd start my second day from there.  I hate asking the guard to stop the train; I'd much rather climb on board at a request stop so I don't have to talk to a human being.

It was the morning after England went out of the World Cup and everything was subdued.  I'd not watched the match obviously - there was free Wi-fi in the hotel, so I spent my evening reading reviews of 30 Rock on my phone - but there was a palpable sense of gloom hanging over the town.  The streets were, in the main, empty, even though it was 8am on a Friday.  I'm guessing that a lot of people booked the morning off to recover from their celebratory/commiseratory hangover.  The only people I saw who looked jolly were two fishermen, sat by the riverside and chatting amiably.

First, I had to buy a hat.  The strong sunlight of the day before had turned my face red and left me with a brown ring around my throat where the collar of my t-shirt had been.  I do this every time I go away in summer.  I forget that I have an enormous forehead that absorbs sunlight like a solar collector, so I have to buy a hat.  Then I take it home, throw it in the back of a wardrobe and forget about it, which means that next time I go away, I have to buy another one.  I have a collection of single use hats building up.

Worse, the only type of hat that doesn't make me look like a total wanker is a baseball cap, and I'm 37 now.  I'm getting a bit old for a baseball cap.  I tried on a couple of other hats in Asda - shut up, it was the only place that was open at 8am - and they did not work at all.  A straw hat makes me look like Michael Fabricant hunting for some poor children to shoot; a flat cap turns me into the worst kind of indie twat.  I settled for a £3 baseball cap, stretched to fit my enormous skull.  (It's now in the back of my wardrobe amongst its poor dead brothers).

From there it was a walk through quiet streets to New Clee.  Occasionally a parent would appear, dragging one or two kids behind her on the way to school, but mostly the pavements were all mine.  I crossed a busy dual carriageway by "Playgirls Massage"; I wonder what their reaction would be if you went there with a knee injury and asked for a rub down?  I'm guessing the girls who work there don't have a BTEC in Sports Therapy, though I could be wrong.  Perhaps the busty woman on the sign was actually a fully trained physiotherapist and I've got a dirty mind.

I entered a trading estate on the fringe of the docks, a series of metal sheds that mainly dealt in fish and food processing.  Four women had gathered on a wall at the edge of some waste ground to have their last fag before they started work.  Cyclists whipped by; the flat terrain and the fenced off dock estate mean that bikes are a great way to get around.

New Clee station is tucked on a side road behind a home interiors warehouse.  It's another station that might have been useful for dock workers once, but modern changes in the way people work have made it irrelevant.

It doesn't help that when the line was singled, the platform on the side of the docks was put out of use.  It made sense at the time - the industry was on its knees - but without even a footpath to the other side it's an inconvenient walk round the block to get anywhere.

I leaned up against a fence post to wait for the train to arrive.  There are only four a day stopping here, and every one requires you to gain the attention of the driver.  I'm not a fan of sticking your arm out, like a bus; that's a bit obvious.  I'm stood on a station platform and you are a train - it's pretty clear what I'm here for.  Instead I prefer to go for the casual scratching of the head, sticking my elbow out in the direction of the track, so the driver is aware of my presence but isn't offended by me patronising him and his vision.

I may be over thinking all this.

I was dropped off at Healing, four stops up the line.  Most of the stations along the Barton Line are two platform halts serving small villages, where the old Victorian building has been turned into a private residence, and Healing established the tone.

I'm calling it the "Barton Line", but tiny stickers on the platform signs revealed it had undergone a rebranding.  Now it's the "Humberlinc Line", and if you read that without thinking of Englebert you're a better man than I.  I get the principle behind it - it connects the HUMBER with LINCOLNSHIRE, do you see?!?! - but I prefer the original.  Not least because I don't think any train company should mentally connect itself with a song called Please Release Me.

My Ordnance Survey map indicated there was a footpath running alongside the railway, but it was evidently a few years out of date, because there was a housing estate in the way.  Just a little one.  I followed its gentle curves and found a back alleyway behind the houses with a small yellow "public footpath" arrow beside it.  Putting on my best, "I'm not a burglar, honest" face, I walked down the passage, waiting for the local homeowners to accost me and demand to see my particulars.

Before long, the path opened out onto the village's sports ground - a football pitch with a metal packing crate to change in - and then I was on the edge of a field of green wheat.  The ears whacked at my naked legs, making me regret wearing shorts, while the last of the dew splattered into my boots.  Then there was a high pitched whistle, and an East Midlands Train appeared on the tracks above me, the morning service from Grimsby to Newark.

The path veered away from the fence then, taking a diagonal across the field, until it hit an embankment with rough wooden stairs embedded in the side.  I clambered up them and was a little surprised to find myself on a busy bypass.  I nipped between the cars and back down the second flight of stairs on the other side.

Houses appeared on the horizon.  As I got closer I realised how large they were - one had a courtyard, another backed onto a field of ponies.  The footpath eventually brought me out into a cul-de-sac that was so posh, it didn't have tarmac on the road, it had block paving.  A couple of builders were in the middle of constructing an extension to one of the already huge detached homes.

I crossed Station Road at the same time as a little Miss Marple lady on her bike (obviously there was a basket on the handlebars) and went looking for somewhere to sit down.  I still had a couple of hours until my next train and I hadn't yet eaten my breakfast - a falafel flatbread I got at Asda with my hat.  The village of Great Coates didn't seem to have a centre, just a series of houses strung along the main road, but I finally found a little bench by a bus stop opposite the church.  I ate my flatbread and drank my travel mug full of tea.

Walking back along Station Road, I found a lot of decent, well appointed homes with long drives and discreet entryphones, but not much to catch my eye.  Before I knew where I was I'd reached the station, and more or less the end of anything interesting.

I still had an hour until my train so I took my sign photo and resigned myself to a long wait on the platform.

It was then I spotted the "local information" map, with its handy key to vital amenities.  It seemed there was a post office within ten minutes' walk; I imagined that if there was a post office, there might be a row of shops, and possibly a little cafe where I could have a sit down and a cuppa.  It was reached through a footpath I'd already seen on the way up, so I turned back the way I'd came to hunt it down.

Remember The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe?  When Lucy pushes at the fur coats in the wardrobe, and walks through, and keeps going, and when she comes out the other end there's a lamp post and snow and Mr Tumnus?

Going down that path was a lot like that experience, except without James McAvoy.  I left a comforting green English village, and when I emerged at the other end, I was on the set of Shameless.

A long road curled around a series of differently angled houses, blocks of flats and maisonettes.  Narrow concrete paths ran between gardens.  The walkways delighted in names like "Fountains Avenue" and "Melrose Way", plus "Buckfast Way", which just has unfortunate connotations.  However, they were reached via Service Roads, each one numbered and leading into dead ends of garages and fencing.

If you want to dehumanise an area, give its streets names like "Service Road 22".  The whole district was a frustrating mix of bad architecture and bad planning.  I could imagine the town's designers, sat in their office, thinking that the tight walkways would generate community.  I pictured them drawing children playing in the gaps between houses.  I imagined their drawings of ladies leaning over the fence to chat to one another.  Mums walking home with the shopping.  Dad coming home on the bus, because there was no need to have a car.

I'm guessing none of their drawings featured teenage girls walking home after dark.  Or delivery men looking for a front door.  Or people parking their cars in garages and having to trek another 200 yards to get to their kitchen, with bags of shopping and a pushchair.  The principle of a pedestrian friendly housing estate is a sound one, but people don't live like that.

As I walked around the walkways, two things struck me.  Firstly, how close together everyone was.  Each house crowded against its neighbour, and there was only a three foot wide walkway separating front gardens.  It was claustrophobic.  Imagine getting just one bad neighbour in there, one person with a loud barking dog, one person who didn't mow their lawn, one person who listened to Iron Maiden at top volume at 3 in the morning.  There would be no escape.

The other thought was how quiet it was.  Without the gentle pulse of traffic in the background, the "streets" seemed dead and lifeless.  There was no sign of humanity in there.

With a slight shudder, I headed back towards the Narnia-alley.  I didn't find the Post Office, never mind a cafe.

A short train journey took me to Stallingborough.  I had a brief moment of confusion as I tried to take the sign picture; a shirtless workman appeared from the old station house and threw my concentration.  I can normally get my fat head and the station sign in the picture first time, but this one took me eight tries.  Ahem.

I crossed the road and found the pathway by the railway track that would take me to the next station.  There were two vans parked there, with a small barrage of men leaning up against the bonnet and laughing.  I assume they were there to do some work but they didn't seem to be in much of a rush to start.  I suppose it was almost lunch time.

I kicked the chalk with my boot as I followed the straight path through the fields.  In the distance, a red tractor was spraying the crops, performing languorous turns at the end of each run before going back for another spray.  Butterflies flew up in panic as I approached.  The white surface of the walkway made a perfect spot for them to bask, until my lolloping great steps intruded.

Cards on the table time.  Lincolnshire's dull.  It's flat and it goes on forever and there's nothing to see.  Everywhere I looked was just a plain vista of green going off to the horizon.  Not a hill to break the view.  When you start looking affectionately at electricity pylons as a break from the norm, you've lost it.

And it's so straight!  Roads, paths, fences; with no obstacles in sight they just go from A to B in the shortest, most boring way possible.  I could see every inch of the path ahead of me, and when I turned round, I could see everywhere I'd been.  There were no surprises or excitement.  Just long, straight, tedious walking.

I crossed the road at Little London - very Little London; there wasn't even a house, which makes me wonder if the name was sarcastic - and entered a small paddock.  The two horses inside barely looked at me.  A sign on the gate had warned that they were microchipped and freeze marked, which made me expect some kind of cyborg super horse, but they looked quite ordinary.  After a brief moment where the path detoured through a tiny copse, I came out by the signal box at Roxton Sidings.

The signal box is not much longer for this world.  The whole line is due to be upgraded and resignalled very soon, a process which will see it all remotely controlled from York.  The manned level crossings will be replaced by automated ones and the signal boxes will be closed and demolished.  I'd feel sad, but that portaloo out the back makes me think it's not the nicest place to work.  (Where did the old Victorian signalmen go to the toilet?  Never mind; I don't want to know).

More walking, more grass, more stinging nettles to avoid.  I could feel the back of my neck toasting.  By the end of the day it would be pink and flaky, like gammon.  I was distinctly bored with all this.

Then - blessed be! - I saw civilisation appear in the distance.  The buildings got larger, revealed themselves to be houses, and shops, and best of all, a pub.  I practically ran inside.

The only customers in the Station Hotel apart from me were a small knot of middle aged men.  They'd arranged themselves in a square in the centre of the pub, beers carefully placed to one side, and they were chatting through thick country accents.  They were all racing fans, and talked at length about odds and the different bookies in town - going from one place to the next to get the best odds.  One man suddenly said, "I don't know what to do w' meself until half two, when the racing starts.  I just potter about."  There was a moment of quiet, and I suddenly felt sorry for him.

Inevitably, England came up.  I guessed that they'd already done the post-mortem earlier on, lengthy, emotive discussions about the shortcomings of every player.  It seemed that the national team's failure had already gone from tragedy to farce.  "In t'Racing Post they're already doing odds for Euro 2016.  England are 14 to 1.  Should be 14 fucking thousand to 1!"

Weirdly, I like it when we're pessimistic about England's chances.  It seems much more English.  Shouting "we're going to win the Cup!" doesn't feel right.  I much prefer, "hopefully no-one will get hurt and we might beat a couple of decent teams."  It makes any actual victory even sweeter; the London Olympics were so much better because the country was deeply cynical about them, only for them to turn out to be really bloody good and Team GB won hundreds of medals.

I was mulling it over when the landlady appeared.  "I'm just closing up now, love.  You can take the beer and sit outside if you want."

It seems all day opening hasn't hit rural Lincolnshire yet.  It was one o'clock; time for everyone to go off and do something else.  Clutching my beer I wandered outside, a bit discombobulated; it's a long time since I was in a pub at last orders.

On the plus side, the railway station was right next door.  I took up a seat on the platform to wait for the train.  After a while, a woman was dropped off by a passing car and she came towards me.  A small glance and she decided, no, she wasn't going to sit on one of the spare seats beside me.  I was insulted until I realised I was still clutching an empty beer bottle.  She probably thought I was still drunk from the night before.  I hastily dropped the bottle in the bin, just as the train came in.

Thursday 26 June 2014

Day One: Child's Play




Cleethorpes proffered all these before me, the saucy coastal temptress.  Well, not the last one.  But walking out of the railway station I was immediately presented with a vista of yellow beach beneath clear blue skies.

As far as I'm concerned, there are two "ideals" when it comes to seaside resorts.  One is that it's hopelessly down at heel, its best days long behind it, and you get the vague feeling that everyone else is smoking Capstan Full Strength and is on a day trip from t'factory.  New Brighton used to reek of teenage fumbles and candy floss and men called Murray in their vest; now it's got a Starbucks, and it's not the same any more.

The other ideal is a place that's clean and pretty and undemanding.  It gives you amusement arcades and a pier and a beach, the stuff you want at the seaside, but the real pleasure is just to wander along the prom.  You can have a Ninety Nine and saunter in the sunshine and it's just unfailingly lovely.  It's Southport, or Scarborough; it's places where you can sit on a deckchair on the front and no-one will bother you.

(There is a third type of seaside resort, epitomised by Blackpool and Bridlington, but we shall speak no more of those depraved Sodoms soaked in dried vomit and used condoms and regret).

Cleethorpes is very much in the second category.  It's not perfect - that pier is frankly embarrassing; it's more like a gazebo on some decking - but it was laid back and charming.  I found myself smiling as I walked down along the sea wall, strolling past kite flyers on the beach and tiny children tipping sand into piles with glee.  One Dad had marked out the beach with lines in a sort of rudimentary architectural plan, and was putting together an epic sandcastle.  His daughter hovered around him, clearly an afterthought, occasionally sent off to do busy work so she didn't ruin Dad's monumental construction.

I turned right behind the land train (£1, with a free lolly for the kids!) and climbed some steps behind the Crazy Golf.  It was decorated with fake-Donald McGill postcards, updated (just barely) to the 21st Century; one showed a man holding a recycling bin and saying "The Council say we have to do it every other week!"  Cue a shocked expression on his busty blonde wife's face.

Up on the clifftop there were gardens and a trail for small children to follow.  And there was also - I can barely contain my excitement as I type this - a hedge maze.

I genuinely, 100%, unashamedly adore mazes.  It's a completely unironic love.  It appeals to that part of me that loves tunnels and underground bunkers and spies; it's about secrets, and hidden places.  I launched myself into its walkways.  I was thrilled.  I am not lying when I say that I giggled the entire time; thank goodness it wasn't high season because a fully grown man sniggering to himself like Jim Carrey on poppers would probably have resulted in a call to the police.

Trust me, that is a face of unadulterated joy.

It would have been better if the hedge had been adult sized, so that I couldn't see over the top, but I appreciate I'm not the target market.  And it was a disappointment when I reached the centre and found that (a) it was just a bit of wooden decking and (b) it was roped off by what looked like crime scene tape.  Perhaps Alice had murdered Christopher Robin there the night before in a crime passionnel. 

I worked my way back to the exit - going a different way to how I got there, because otherwise it's boring - and carried on down the prom.  Further down is a folly, Ross Castle, which was built by the first railway company to serve Cleethorpes as an attraction.  They also built the gardens around it, charging admission for tourists, until the Council took it all over in the Fifties and made them free.  Remember that period of time when the local Council would provide a service for the benefit of residents and visitors alike, and wouldn't charge you for it?  I miss those days.

I don't know what those two are doing, but they seem to be enjoying it.

I was heading for the Cleethorpes Coast Light Railway.  It's a miniature line that runs between the town's park and the sea, and I thought it might be a nice way to pass the time.  I even took the sign pic.

But what's this, in the window of the ticket office?

DAMN YOU CLEETHORPES.  I mean, if I'm completely honest, a part of me was glad; I don't think there's a dignified way for grown men to ride a miniature railway.  There are always knees and heads poking out in the wrong place.  I'd come all this way though.

Instead I walked through the park.  There was a little cafe, where a toddler was screaming with fear and happiness as he fed the geese.  A pair of pensioners strolled by, hand in hand.  Eventually I realised I'd walked to the end of the Light Railway track, so I took another sign pic, even though it had totally violated the rules and I hadn't actually taken a train anywhere.  Consider it a bonus.

I had a poke round the museum space, and considered a cup of tea in the tea room, but I really wasn't in the mood.  I walked back into town.  By now the schools had emptied, and we were joined on the seafront by uniformed teenagers "hanging out".  They wedged themselves into the bench alcoves - usually sitting on the back, with their feet on the seat, which annoyed me beyond all comprehension - and watched the passers by.  On the beach, the donkeys were packing up for the day.  I took one look and felt a terrible sadness.  Working animals bypass the cynical parts of my brain and get me right in the heart.  Donkeys are such maudlin animals anyway, with their big eyes and permanently cowed heads, and donkeys on a beach are even sadder.  No grass, no fields, just a series of hyperactive six year olds who jam their heels into your flanks and pull your mane.

Past an elaborate waterfall, I took a rest on a bench.  It had a tiny bronze dedication on it, to Suzette (Ra Ra) Henley: "For the first time ever there's nothing left for her to say."  That sounds a bit like an insult to me.  I hope, when I die, I'm not commemorated with a plaque saying "For the first time ever he's stopped banging on about bloody railway stations".  I'd prefer something much simpler, like Birkenhead Central being renamed The Scott Willison Memorial Station.  With a statue.  In gold.

I thought about an ice cream, but again, that would have just been a load of sugar for no reason other than it was something to do.  The helter skelter was sadly closed - helter skelters appeal to the same giggly nine year old I have locked up inside me - so I went into an amusement arcade and chucked a quid's worth of tuppences into the penny falls.  I got a couple of tokens, but you needed 35 just to get a packet of sweets ("one win!  She only had one win!  You're supposed to have twenty four to win that dog!") so basically I could have saved everyone a lot of time by simply pressing a pound coin into the hand of the bored lady behind the change counter and walking out.

A quick poke into the streets behind the front revealed an economy constructed entirely for the benefit of visitors: a Co-op for snacks, a Boots for suncream, and lots of pubs and cafes and chip shops.  I spied through the window at the menus in all the chippies and finally, at the Monarco, I spotted what I was after.  Saveloy.

I rushed in and ordered a saveloy and chips.  The woman looked bemused; they obviously didn't get much call for it.  "Be about four minutes for your saveloy, okay love?"

Much as I like living in t'Norf, the refusal of its chip shops to embrace the saveloy is a constant source of frustration for me.  I guess Lincolnshire is close enough to the South for some of its influence to filter through.  I found a bench and tucked into the sausage.  It tasted... different.  There were spices in there, which was odd, and the meat tasted different.  I strongly suspect that it's proper meat, instead of artificially recovered mashed up pig testicle and newspaper.  I bet the flavourings are all natural as well.  We need to stop this madness.  Sometimes all you want is fake, plasticky tasting food, lurid flavours that make your tongue fizz and then turn it orange.  Not everything has to be hand crafted artisan organic natural foodstuffs.  Sometimes shit is all you want.

Though it tasted different, there was still that joyous moment when you puncture the taut flesh with your teeth, and hear it pop.  The tight skin bursts in your mouth and ejects a load of pink meat inside.  It's a rush, and gave me immediate flashbacks to having saveloy and chips on my birthday.  My whole day in Cleethorpes seemed to have turned me into a child again.

Like all childhood visits to the seaside, it all has to end; you have to pack up your bucket and spade and the pebbles you've picked up on the beach.  Shake the sand out of your shorts - not much point really, because you'll be finding it in every crevice for the next four days - and walk up to the station for the train home.  Cleethorpes station was built to accommodate thousands of excitable holidaymakers, a terminus designed to feed its passengers straight out onto the seafront with the minimum of fuss.

In 2014, the six platforms have been reduced to three.  There's still a clock tower peering over the rooftops so that drunken Dads know where to aim for as they stagger out of the pub for the last train, but the station restaurant is now the Mermaid Fish Bar.  It's also home to something called the "Doom Bar"; I'm no expert, obviously, but that seems like a very sinister name for a place to have a couple of pints.

I boarded a waiting Northern Rail train for the journey back to Grimsby.  Back to cynical adulthood.  Away from the seaside, and back to where there's no fun any more.

Wednesday 25 June 2014

Day One: The Four-Letter Word

I arrived in Grimsby absolutely determined to do one thing: never, ever refer to it as "grim".  That was lazy and reductive.  Even if I found a smoking crater of a town, recently nuked by a rogue Russian missile and leaving on the railway station standing, I absolutely refused to use that four letter word.  Too easy.

Plus, Grimsby station was rather nice.  The two main platforms (a third hides to one side) are housed in a simple shed-like building, with lifts at one end and a footbridge at the other.  It's not grand and overpowering, but it's more than a bland halt.

I headed into the refurbished ticket office to get my Freedom of the North East Rover.  It's been extended and knocked through, and still feels a little clinical and empty.  The situation's not helped by the space for a cafe at one end being taken up by a very low budget shop - just a couple of fridges and a display of sweets.  It doesn't offer much more than the vending machine on platform 2.  Still, the man behind the counter in the ticket office was very friendly; he didn't react with bafflement when I asked for the ticket, and he gave me a nice First TransPennine Express wallet to put it in.

Outside the tarmac has been replaced with a sort of council crazy paving.  There's no separation between road and pavement, which is probably meant to encourage promenading and careful driving, but actually just means things get confusing when a taxi turns up.  (Who has right of way?  Where is he heading?  THERE ARE NO WHITE LINES).  It's a good mix of new and preserved though, with some decent 1950s light fittings and a pretty porch.

Crap sign, though.

I crossed the road to check into my hotel.  I'm not going to name it.  It wasn't actually dreadful, just a bit of a time capsule.  It was like staying at the Crossroads Motel - not the modern, camp one with Jane Asher, the orange and brown 1970s version with Meg Mortimer and her blue eyeshadow behind the reception desk.  The hotel was a bit tired and threadbare.  Still, it was fairly cheap and it was clean and it was sixty seconds from the station.

Having dumped my bags, I headed out for a leisurely wander to the town's other station, Grimsby Docks.  It didn't start well - I went out the wrong door of the hotel, and ended up amongst the service streets and car parks for the local shopping centre.  Things didn't improve inside the actual shopping centre, a soulless dark precinct that had seen better days.

Going out onto the Market Square was a breath of fresh air, in every way; if Grimsby's market was still out here the Freshney Place shopping mall might not smell quite so noxious.  I took a moment for a look at Grimsby's Minster, but its clock was wrong, and I'm sorry, I won't stand for that sort of thing.  One has to have some standards.  Instead I walked along Victoria Street, a pedestrianised thread between chain department stores on the one side (M&S, House of Fraser, BHS) and fast food restaurants and payday loan providers on the other.  One chicken takeaway advertised that it was open until 4am on "Fridays, Saturdays and Tuesdays", which immediately made me wonder what goes on in Grimsby of a Tuesday night.  Is there a weekly rave?  Famished fishermen in search of a burger?

It brought me out into a square crafted around an inlet of the River Freshney.  It seemed this had once been the town's bus exchange, and it was in the process of being rationalised; there were new bus stops at one end, with that checkerboard pavement that I'd seen outside the station, but there was still tarmac outside the shopping centre.  It was a pleasing little place to rest, and I could see why the Council had decided to get rid of all the double deckers taking up this prime bit of real estate.

I followed the river north.  An early stab at regeneration had produced some brick apartment buildings, a Sainsbury's, and the National Fishing Heritage Centre.  I considered going in until I noticed it was six quid.  Six British pounds to see a load of mannequins in sou'westers and bits of netting?  No thank you.  

Like Liverpool, Grimsby is a port that's suffered from huge losses over the past fifty years.  While Liverpool's problems came from containerisation, Grimsby was dealt a succession of blows by the Cod Wars, fishing quotas, and cheap foreign imports.  Many of its trawler fleets simply disbanded.  It means that there are still huge warehouses and dockside equipment around, but they're silent.

The lower end of the dock estate, closest to the town centre, has been handed over to big box retailers.  Tesco, Asda, Homebase, Currys PC World - all the usual suspects with enormous metal sheds and convenient parking.  The retail parks were squeezed in alongside one another, so instead of a big stretch of shops, you'd get a Wickes and a Sports Direct then, in a separate development, a Halfords and a Next.  It felt bitty and disparate.

I paused for a bit of lunch in what turned out to be the universe's worst Burger King.  I don't know why I continually subject myself to Burger King meals; I find them greasy, they're impossible to eat without getting special sauce all over your fingertips, and they're overpriced.  At least when I visit one in a railway station - they have the monopoly on fast food there - it's out of a lack of other options.  Here, I'd voluntarily thrown myself into the Home of the King.

Tara, the girl behind the counter, was unenthusiastic; after taking my order she walked to one side and stood behind a pillar so she couldn't be seen by any new customers.  She didn't do anything while she was there, just leaned against the wall and stared into space.  I finally got my Steakhouse Double meal - though I had to ask for a cup for my Coke - and then I chomped through its uninspired meat while mayonnaise dripped over my mouth and tongue.  The oversalted fries added nothing except a dryness.

I left it behind, swearing never to go back to a Burger King ever again (until the next time I'm in Sheffield station at 8pm and it's the only place open and I'm starving hungry) and began sucking on a mint to try and get rid of the taste.  Passing the Landings Hotel, an elaborately painted building with a Chinese restaurant belting out the smell of spices and chicken, I entered the dock estate proper.  Cleethorpe Road rose up above me on a flyover over the railway line, but on the other side was the Dock Offices, with a statue of Prince Albert outside.

Now, finally, I could smell fish.  I thought I'd be whacked with the scent of cod everywhere I went in town but it was only here I got the full scent.  It was surprisingly pleasant, not overpowering at all.  I went back in search of the footpath up and over the flyover, and found a lonely ramp underneath it.

I was surprised when it brought me up right between two lanes of traffic.  Someone in the Highways department must have been even more OCD than me, and wanted the bridge to be perfectly symmetrical.  It was distinctly disconcerting.  There were fences and a footpath but I still felt like I had wandered the wrong way.  The only plus was that I got a better view of Grimsby's famous Dock Tower, an Italianate structure built by the Victorians to power the hydraulic docks.  Sadly it's not open to the public.

Gratefully descending back down to ground level, I dodged around the offices of the Grimsby Telegraph and into Freeman Street.  I'd seen signs pointing towards the "Freeman St Shops", so I guessed there'd be a small local centre here, but I actually found a row of miserable, boarded up stores.  Even the sex shop, "Little Amsterdam", was shuttered.  Past the Grimsby Martial Arts Academy - there seems to be a disproportionate amount of karate and boxing clubs in the town; perhaps the local youths are really good at kicking the shit out of one another - I ended up in front of a concrete lump without any merits whatsoever.

That was it.  I metaphorically threw up my hands.  I'd not seen anything that could really convince me that Grimsby was a decent place to visit.  It was grubby and miserable and ugly.  I'd tried, I'd tried so hard, to find something to like, but the best I could come up with was a distant vista of a tower.  That was it.

I turned away to find Grimsby Docks station.  It's just a tiny halt on a single track; maybe it was busy in the old days when the fishermen were all over the area, but now it's only a platform behind a garage.

I felt bad.  I needed something to cheer me up.  Time to go to the seaside...