Wednesday 22 October 2014

The House of God, and Other Mistakes

Four hours.  Four hours of travelling to end up in Nafferton.  I could have got to Glasgow in that time.  I could have got to London, checked into my hotel, and been halfway through a nice lunch in that time.  Four hours.  The sooner they electrify the cross-Pennine routes - or even better, build HS3 - the better.

I was here to finish off the Yorkshire Coast Line, only two years after I started it.  Running south from Scarborough the route picks off a variety of small, historic towns and villages, plus some seaside resorts, before terminating in Hull.  I'd done as far as Bridlington so now it was time to cross off the last half a dozen stations.

I got off the train behind a wild-haired student, who strutted down the platform and across the level crossing with supreme confidence.  I hung back, the weirdo trainspotter in an anorak, skulking under the sign with my camera and trying not to look like a pervert.

The air was thick with the smoke of morning fireplaces, a scent of coal and logs that made the village feel warm and welcoming.  I strolled into the centre along a narrow footpath.  There were cottages pressed against the roadside, a red phone box, a lady walking her dog.  Mixed in amongst them were larger, symmetrically fronted homes behind green verges.

It was all thoroughly charming.  On a day that wasn't coated in drizzle it would have been lovely.  I reached the centre and found a lake, complete with island in the middle, just a few metres from a historic parish church.

Shame about the name, really.  It was all very nice but imagine living here and telling people you lived in Nafferton.  I bet almost all the conversations at dinner parties include the words "'s not as bad as it sounds."  The place names in this part of the world are distinctively old English, with an undercurrent of Viking, and now, to our English language that's been softened by namby pamby Norman French, they sound cold and harsh.

I passed the village noticeboard, which included a picture of a lady on her doorstep saying "Not tonight darling - I'm off to the WI!".  Bit risqué for the Jam & Jerusalem crowd, I would have thought.  Further on was a curious little brick building named the Citizenlink.  It was a kind of video booth so you could talk to the local council; push the button, take a seat and someone at the Town Hall would appear to talk to you about benefits or your bins.  I'd never seen one of these before.  It was a lovely idea, but I bet there's a fair few times when the poor man from the Council turns the camera on and just gets a big close up of some pervert's genitals or a befuddled old man who thinks it's a public toilet and is looking for the flush.

The picturesque country scene was sort of ruined by a police siren on the bypass as I left the village.  I was the only pedestrian on a narrow strip of pavement by the side of the road.  Churned up empty fields stretched away on both sides.  I saw only one other person during my walk to Driffield; an old lady stood at the side of the road outside her house, apparently waiting for a bus.  She stood so still I thought she might be a scarecrow, or a Hallowe'en advert, until she turned to watch me pass.

Driffield Hospital is next to Driffield cemetary, which I'm sure saves the council a lot of money in transport costs but probably wouldn't fill me with confidence if I was in the geriatric ward.  I crossed the road by a large square box that concealed a leisure centre and soon I was reaching the town.

Driffield itself seemed to be much like Nafferton, only larger.  It was genteel and tightly buttoned; I've never seen a shop specialising in bowling accessories before - not ten pin, crown green.  There seemed to be a disproportionate amount of furniture and homeware shops.  Small, one man operations, promising genuine offbeat pieces.  One was called "Auntie Audrey's Vintage Home", which made my teeth ache like I'd just chewed a hundredweight of toffee.  There were also a lot of solicitors advertising their cheap will writing services.  I drew the conclusion that Driffield may be to the Yorkshire coast what Bournemouth is to the south coast; where people go to wind their clock down.

The pockets of pensioners blocking the pavement in the high street added to the impression.  Every five yards some old dear stopped to chat to someone; a lovely community spirit, I'm sure, but some of us have trains to catch.  I was intrigued by a board for a "silent barber" - can we have that franchised and rolled out across the country?  Talking to the man cutting to your hair is one of the most excruciating experiences men have to endure; I think I'd rather have a vasectomy.  It's why my hair is always such a mess.  I'd rather look like a state than put up with those ten minutes wedged in a chair talking about my plans for the weekend (especially as my plans for the weekend are usually "drink some wine in front of Doctor Who").

I was taking a picture of the old bus garage when I heard the level crossing alarm sound a bit further down the street.  I got a prickly feeling at the back of my neck; that couldn't be for my train, could it?  Mine wasn't due for another ten minutes.  I began to hurry down the road, and got their just as the southbound train - the "Fred Trueman" - the one that I wanted - passed through the level crossing.

I'd got my timings wrong.  I'd mixed up the arrival time for my train at the next station with its departure time from Driffield.  Instead of hurrying through the town as I should have done, I'd stopped to take stupid pictures of stupid abandoned bus garages.  Worse, the train I'd planned on getting was the only one outside the peaks that stopped in Arram.

I sat down on the platform bench with my sandwich and a timetable to try and work out an alternative route to Arram.  There was another train around four o'clock, but Arram is a lonely village.  I'd calculated it'd take me a couple of hours to walk into Beverley, and it was a dark Autumn day.  I didn't want to be on possibly pavement-less roads after sunset, not least because if my calculations were wrong, I'd miss my "this train and NO OTHERS" trip home from Scarborough.  I'd cocked up.

Driffield had a charming station, to be fair.  A canopy, and decent platform buildings, and a waiting room with a cast iron fireplace.  The pub on the end had, sadly, been closed by bailiffs, but the rest seemed well-cared for.

I wasn't in the mood to enjoy it.  You may be able to tell from the subtle body language in my sign picture.

It meant that my schedule for the day was derailed, so I decided to head into Beverley - the largest town between here and Hull - and spend a little more time there.  There was a fast train passing through Driffield half an hour later, so I boarded that.

The station was opened in 1846, as you can tell from the pitched roof.  The earliest railway stations, where they had roofs, had ones like this - there are similar examples at Filey and on the Darlington line.  However, the fashion changed for large curved roofs, no doubt inspired by Joseph Paxton's Crystal Palace opening in 1851.  It made Beverley feel quaint, outdated; like a heritage railway that Northern were just borrowing for the day.

I crossed the footbridge behind four excitable old ladies.  They were noisily debating where to have lunch, so noisily that they failed to operate the door that let you out of the ticket hall.  After a few moments of tense silence, I pushed the button that opened the doors for them; they all leapt out of their skin as it were possessed.

I was impressed by Beverley station's grand frontage, though I have to confess I was even more charmed to find a white phone box outside.  This used to be part of the much unloved county of Humberside, so they had the Council-run telephone network rather than British Telecom.

I'm quite easily pleased.

Beverley is almost exactly what you'd expect a town called "Beverley" to be like.  While I was on the train, I tried to come up with a list of all the Beverleys I could think of.  I ended up with:

  1. Dr Beverley Crusher, mumsy chief medical officer on the Starship Enterprise;
  2. Dr Beverley Marshall, the mumsy second Mrs Jim Robinson on Neighbours;
  3. Beverley Craven, mumsy piano tinkling singer of Promise Me, whose tour was sponsored by Tampax; 
  4. Beverley Knight, mumsy soul singer who does the Lulu bit in Relight My Fire on Take That tours;
  5. The Beverley Sisters, three mumsy singers who were sex symbols because there was a war on.

Beverley is that nice lady with the big hair who you can rely on to give you a lift back from the shop in her estate.  Beverley is white, heterosexual and happily married.  Beverley is the poster girl for the Daily Mail.  And Beverley the town is just like that.  I wandered round its nice, historic streets, with its nice pedestrianised arcades and its nice quaint buildings, and wondered if I should perhaps hand myself in to the authorities as a loony leftie.  There was an M&S and a Holland and Barrett but no sign of an Argos or a Home Bargains.  

I should incidentally point out that Beverley is a very different person to Bev.  Beverley has a cup of tea and a custard cream if she's feeling daring; Bev drinks Tesco Value Vodka out of a mug.  Beverley wouldn't dream of leaving the house without doing her make up and hair; Bev wanders down to the chippie with a coat over the top of her nightie.  There's a clear distinction, like the difference between Barbara and Babs.

I finally gravitated towards Beverley Minster.  It's so huge, so out of proportion with the rest of the town, you can't avoid it.  It's like a giant black hole that will eventually suck you in whether you like it or not.  I thought it would at least be dry, and there was free entry, so that was a positive.

I was immediately accosted by a man inside.  He had a badge that said he was a "welcomer"; I didn't get his name but if this was a film he'd be credited as "God Botherer #1".  He welcomed me loudly and enthusiastically and pushed a leaflet in my hand.  I think the older lady at the back - the wise counsel - spotted my slightly bewildered face and gently asked, "do you want a leaflet?"

I wandered the wide open spaces of the church.  Beverley Minster is one of the largest churches in Britain (it's not a cathedral, despite appearances) and it was hard not to be impressed by its scale and grandeur.  It was epic and had a beautiful symmetry.  Every facet of it had been toiled over with love and devotion.

The more I walked around, though, the more angry I got.  I should say that, in the rush to catch my train that morning, I'd forgotten to take my medication, so my emotions were out of control.  But I kept thinking, how much did this cost?  How much money was spent on all this grandeur and craftsmanship?  How many people devoted their lives to building it, and what was their reward?

This wasn't like, say, Westminster Abbey or Liverpool Cathedral, where the huge religious building lay at the heart of a large population of worshippers.  Beverley was tiny.  Everywhere you went in the town the Minster stared back at you - it was grossly disproportionate to its parish.  The people who lived out the Middle Ages in filth and poverty had to spend their days looking up at this folly.  It was obscene.

Even today's church angered me.  If you're going to have a huge religious building, then embrace that.  Make it a building devoted to God.  Don't - as happened here - squeeze a gift shop into the North Transept, stacking your shelves up against memorials to dead benefactors, making the customers actually push their way round a tomb to some long-deceased worthy so they can reach the CDs of Christian music.

Oh, and definitely don't sell mugs like this in the shop - 

- because that's just revolting.

I went back outside, nodding a yes to the welcomer's enthusiastic "did you enjoy yourself?", and walked round the Minster.  It was, absolutely, a beautiful building.  I just couldn't get on board with it that day.

I was feeling a bit miserable now, so I went to the market place and found something more deserving of my devotion.

With the beer inside me, I headed back to the station for my next train.  My last two stations were jump on, jump off affairs; there wasn't going to be any extreme walking between them, so I had a bit of a lazy afternoon ahead.  First was Cottingham.  The Purple Gang had been out in force here, but their determination to spread the Northern way hadn't impeded on the pretty ironwork of the footbridge.

What will happen if Northern lose the franchise?  I wonder if their successors have realised that they'll have to devote millions of pounds to erasing every trace of them from five hundred stations.  They might not have bothered bidding if they knew.

The buildings at Cottingham are original to the line opening, and are listed buildings.  Sadly, the station master's house is in private hands, and the goods shed is empty and up for lease.  I'm not sure what you could do with it either - it's out of the village centre and not a large enough stop to attract a cafe or restaurant.  You could turn it into a ticket office and waiting room, but I realise that's a ludicrous idea.

There was a burly man stood under the station sign - he looked like Sandor from The Spy Who Loved Me, only not quite so lively and vivacious - so I decided to get the picture on the way back and instead walked into the village for a look round.  

It's actually been swallowed up by Hull, and is now basically a suburb of the city, though it still clings to its villagey heritage.  It had attractive homes, a pleasant church, and a Victorian school.  In its centre it was much more "towny"; there were pubs and bookmakers and a bus exchange.  I felt a bit peckish so I bought myself a couple of sausage rolls, then ate them on my way back to the station, their greasy glow keeping me warm against a sudden downpour.

I shivered under the footbridge at the station as the rain barrelled down, heavy and cold.  Nearly done, I thought.

Between Cottingham and Hutton Cranswick the rain changed.  Instead of a downpour it shifted into a soft misty precipitation, the kind that doesn't seem to fall from the sky but instead just hangs in the air for you to walk through.  It's like standing in a car wash.  You end up dripping all over yourself.

The station straddled a level crossing, with the station house now a home.  It was clearly cared for though; on the southbound platform was a train shaped planter, and the waiting shelters looked clean and graffiti free.  I paused in the wet for a photo.

I was fascinated by the station sign, because there had obviously been a mistake with the name and it had been rectified with a small patch of white plastic.

What was under there?  A misplaced letter?  A rogue comma?  A small, offensive cartoon of Allah?  If I'd had more time and longer fingernails I'd have picked at it to find out, but instead I hurried on, pausing only to stick my tongue out at this poster:

I really, really hate Hallowe'en; it's like St Patrick's Day, but somehow everywhere.  I know it comes from an ancient pagan tradition, but that's not what these idiots are celebrating; they're just using it as an excuse to eat sweets and get drunk and wear stupid outfits.  Newsflash - I do that ALL THE TIME and I don't need Mr Kipling "Fiendish Fancies" to enjoy myself.  We have a perfectly good pagan festival around that time: Bonfire Night.  We stand around in a field, we eat toffee apples, we watch some fireworks explode, and we burn an effigy of a Catholic traitor.  That's a fine British tradition.  Not this appalling American pumpkin rubbish.  PUMPKINS AREN'T EVEN FROM THIS COUNTRY.

And, yes, it's called Hallowe'en with an apostrophe, no matter what your spell check tells you, because this is England, dammit.  

At the centre of Hutton Cranswick is a huge village green; more of a field, really.  It's the kind of green you can imagine a May Fair being held on, one with maypoles and Queens of the May and teenagers drinking cider and vomiting into the pond.  Oh yes, there's a pond as well.

There was a pub across the way, so naturally I decided to go in and sample the local ales.  Or rather, Kronenburg, because it wasn't a "local ales" kind of place.  It was panelled in what looked like chipboard and had a pool table dominating its centre.  There was only the barmaid in there; she looked at me, dripping from head to toe, and said, "is it raining?"

I managed to not punch her in the jaw and instead went and sat in a corner.  A man came blustering in through the back door from the smoking area.

"There's a dead rat out there."

The barmaid didn't seem surprised.  She went out and had a look, then conceded, yes, there was a dead rat out there and yes, it did look like a cat had had it.  "On t'doorstep this mornin', two gullies," she confided.  "I 'ad to chuck 'em in t'pond."

Ah, country life.

I leaned back against the radiator to dry myself out and sipped at my lager.  At least that was another line crossed off the list, I thought.



Fnarf said...

Have you got, like, a big map of all of Northern England's rail systems with all those stations crossed off? How are you doing overall? 30%, 50%, 80% of your goal? Go on, give us some statistics! Or maybe a Google Map with the stations you've done in green and the ones you haven't in red.

I picture you walking up the path to the very last station on your list and finding a ribbon and crowd of well-wishers and the CEO of Northern Rail there to greet you with a hideous plaque.

Anonymous said...

I agree completely about Hallowe'en.

tommy166 said...

There'll be another day for Arram

Mark Cooper said...

Very brave of you to refer to Cottingham as pretty much a suburb of Hull. When I was reviewing the area for the Boundary Commission for England during the last Parliamentary Boundary Review I did the same. We got loads of angry letters and a write up in the local paper.

Klepsie said...

And just think, not only did Dr Beeching want to close Arram, but Flanders and Swann actually namechecked it in "Slow Train"...

Dan said...

I'm guessing you purposely omitted Beverley Callard from your 'Beverley' list?

Scott Willison said...

I knew that Cottingham fancied itself as an entity of its own - its Wikipedia page says it claims to be England's largest - but I'm sorry, you're one stop away from Hull Paragon and you've got a Greggs. You're not St Mary Mead.

Unknown said...

The sign at Hutton Cranswick is hiding an errant 'S'. The locals were quite unhappy when the railway tried renaming their village...

Scott Willison said...

How self obsessed of them.