Monday 26 January 2015

Ice Station Yorkshire

I didn't actually see a Common in Silkstone Common.  I did look.  It made me think that perhaps it was a nickname that had somehow become official; that it was the place where Silkstone residents sent the working classes to live.  I pictured Victorian parlour maids and chimney sweeps trudging up the hill to go and work in the Downton-esque kitchens of the proper Silkstonians.

Still, the commoners got the last laugh, because that railway station is a lot more valuable in the 21st century.  It was only built in 1984, explaining its single platform and slightly cheap furnishings - the Eighties in South Yorkshire were not a time of great riches.  There had been a station here before, which closed at the end of the fifties when local services were withdrawn.  It's funny how, in 2015, we're told that closing railway stations is far too expensive and difficult to get through the legal processes, when fifty years ago they seemed to close entire swathes of the network without anyone really giving a monkeys.

Silkstone Common seems to be a thriving little community, judging by the notice board outside the Station Inn.  The British Legion, a Parish Council, a call to arms to fight the withdrawal of the mobile library.  There was a schedule for the "Good Companions", an organisation that provides entertainment for the elderly: it included "Tony and Heather entertain us with songs we know" and "The Maria Penrose School of Dance come to entertain us".  I dread being infirm and trapped in an old people's home already; don't make it worse by making half a dozen Shirley Temples do the dying swan to Bad Romance when I'm too old to run away.

The village was arranged along the edge of a hill, the railway line above us, then a steep drop below.  Large detached homes were built as high up as possible so they could get a good view over the valley.  Most of them were charming, but here and there they'd been augmented by tacky extensions and grandiose features to try and make them more impressive than their neighbours.  One home had added fibreglass columns to try and impart a bit of classical grace onto their 1950s residence.  Now that was common.

A little development of new, identical houses signaled the end of the village.  The only thing separating the homes was the colour of the front doors - one green, one blue, one cream.  I wondered if they'd had a conference about who got what colour.  A fraught discussion in one of the front rooms, hissed claims for each shade being made over the rich teas.  A red rejected as too outre; yellow simply out of the question.

The cleared paths stopped at the edge of the village as well.  Beyond habitable lands you were on your own; walk at your own risk.  I trod gingerly, wearing only a pair of trainers.  The lace on my walking boots had snapped that morning, so I'd just grabbed the first shoes I saw.  A mistake as they had no grip at all on the icy pavements.

(It has literally just occurred to me, as I typed this up, that I have a perfectly good pair of Dr Martens boots that I could have worn instead.  Fool).

The view was fantastic though.  Fields stripped with white filtered through bare trees; a soft violet sun breaking through swirling clouds.  I had to keep stopping just to take it in.

Over a rise in the road and then there were farmhouses.  Cows huddled inside their sheds, close together to keep warm.  The farmer kicked his way through the yard, followed by his dog, an Irish Wolfhound that looked bigger than the cattle.  At the next farm, I couldn't see the livestock, but I could hear them, wails rising up out of the buildings.

I was surprised by the whinney of a horse from across the road.  The steep slope meant that it was hidden from view, just a head poking up over the top.

The noise and smell of the dairy farm reminded my of my Great Uncle Ted and Charlie's farm when I was growing up; Charlie had died the week before so he was on my mind.  He'd worked on the farm all his life, right up until the end, even though he was in his 80s.  Visiting the farm as a child was always a thrill, the huge cows looking down at us through gentle eyes, the piles of straw to leap on.  Ted and Charlie came as a pair - two brothers who lived together and worked together, at least until Ted passed away a few years ago and Charlie carried on alone.  They never married; had no need to with a battalion of sisters willing to take care of them.  My nan would cook their dinner for them, and Auntie Elsie would come up from London at the weekends to keep house.  We'd be visiting on a Sunday and suddenly the living room door would open and one of them would appear.  I never got straight in my head which was Ted and which was Charlie.  Both were stout blocks of men, faces permanently darkened through hours outdoors, a flat cap squat on top of their head.  Ted or Charlie would always press a coin into my little hand with thick black fingers, unmovable dirt embedded beneath the fingernails.  Gone now.

The little trip into my past had carried me into the fringes of Dodworth.  I reached the village centre, a crossroads marked by a Budgens, a bookie, and a war memorial of a proud soldier.

I passed the Dodworth Central Social Club, which was advertising an upcoming performance by "Sophie's Choice".  Seriously, just do a little Googling before you name your band.  Not much, just enough to find out where that phrase stuck in your head originated.  Naming yourself after a gut wrenching Holocaust drama starring Meryl Streep and her latest Amazing Accent is not really suitable.  Unless I'm completely wrong, and Sophie's Choice are an anti-Semitic punk band whose name is a deliberate slight on the death of millions at the hands of the Nazis, in which case, have at you.  Either way, I won't be buying a ticket.

I walked up to the station, trying to ignore a sinister looking cat with a moustache who watched me out of the front window of one of the houses.  Two doors down, a pug did the same thing; that's a hilarious sitcom just waiting to be written, isn't it?  I found a seat on the platform at Dodworth station to wait for my train south.

I got out my lunch.  It was about that time and I'd been on the go since seven.  I'm trying to be healthy at the moment; cutting out alcohol and carbs, doing more walking.  It's a bit of a strain.  Fortunately the BF is doing the same thing, so there's an element of competition to it.  Never underestimate the power of being able to feel superior to someone else because you only had a celery stick for lunch and they had celery and some peppers.

That day I had a healthy salad with the barest glimpse of vinaigrette.  It was clean living, gluten free, paleo friendly, and utterly tedious.  I crunched through the leaves with a complete lack of enthusiasm until I was too bored to eat any more.  Then I pulled out the mini packet of pretzels I'd got from the First Class attendant on the train that morning and ate those.  Pretzels are sort of healthy, aren't they?

The next stop was Barnsley.  Sorry, no: the next stop was Barnsley Interchange.  The Council went to great efforts to rebuild the railway station and the bus station next to one another, and they renamed the resulting building.

The station didn't seem anything remarkable to me.  It was good to see a town with modern transport facilities, with a well cared for platform area and a ticket hall with members of staff.  There was even a public toilet (20p to use it, but at least it was there).

Climbing up and over the tracks it became clear that the railway station was very much the junior partner in the interchange.  While the Northern part had the vague air of a leisure centre, the bus station was grandiose and loud.

I ended up on a sort of floating balcony above a multicoloured barrage of noise and flash.  Escalators carried you down to a shopping mezzanine - the smell of Subway sandwiches filled the hall - and then onto glass fronted gates for bus services.

There was something of the Millennium Dome to it all; the high roof, the bright incursions into the space, the feeling that it was just that little bit too big for its purpose.  If there had been a giant pink model of the human body and befuddled Japanese people trying to work out what it was for I wouldn't have been surprised.

I left through the grand main entrance and entered Barnsley town centre.  I was immediately greeted by some lipstick on a pig.

I understand that a giant empty office block, particularly one whose best days are long behind it, is not the best first impression to give new arrivals to the town.  Those coloured windows though... They didn't work for me.  They were so bright, they made the concrete building look even dowdier.  It also smacked of a temporary fix, like the council were just killing time until they could demolish the building.  Embrace it!  Put your arms round its ugliness and love it!

There was, it has to be said, a fair amount of ugliness in Barnsley town centre.  At some point in the past they'd tried to improve life for the residents by covering it with a huge concrete roof and pushing the market hall and shops inside.  There were footbridges linking the buildings, footbridges that served no purpose any more other than acting as a place to hang Christmas decorations and Happy Diwali signs (even though it's January).  The markets had hung a sign outside, "STILL over 200 stalls inside!" which made it sound like they were dwindling all the time.

It was ugly and unfashionable, and yet, further up the road, was a 1990s version of exactly the same building - the Alhambra Shopping Centre, another soulless mall that sucked shoppers off the main street and sealed them inside.

I followed the hill round, up to the town hall.  An open space had been laid out at one corner, complete with a piece of rusting metal modern art and flower beds that hadn't quite taken yet.  A sign urged me to "Experience Barnsley"; it turns out "Experience Barnsley" was actually the name of the town museum and art gallery.  I think that name promises more than it could possibly deliver.

I rounded back to the Interchange for the sign picture.  There were grand signs on the front of the bus portion but it wasn't quite what I was after.  I headed over to Schwabish Gmund Way (named after the twin town; there's a Barnsleyer Strasse in Germany) and found the more traditional sign by the level crossing.

Inside the bus terminal I bought a cup of tea to insulate me against the Yorkshire chill.  And a steak bake.  Steak bakes are healthy, right?

Back over the footbridge to the railway station, past a terrifying Orwellian poster from the South Yorkshire police about CCTV ("MY EYES NEVER BLINK") and then down to the platform to eat my pastie and drink my tea.  Three more stations done on the Penistone Line.  Three more to go.


All aboard said...

Those coloured windows remind me of a set of Lakeland by Cumbria pencils

Anonymous said...

I'm in two minds about that interchange: it's a bit tacky looking, and I can't image that the smell of Subway does much for the place, but at least it's out of the wind and rain and shows a bit of thought for the users.

Scott Willison said...

I'm very much pro any large bus station - it's a confident investment in public transport, and that's to be applauded. The smell of Subway just made me hungry...