Sunday 20 September 2015

All This, And Lesbians Too!

As a sufferer of obsessive compulsive disorder (I have a certificate and everything) I have a complex relationship with train tickets.  As a general rule, a day out goes like this

  1. Buy ticket.
  2. Put ticket in safe pocket.
  3. About half an hour later, worry that it's fallen out of safe pocket.  Check.  Transfer to a pocket I consider even safer.
  4. Wait at station for train.
  5. Think "I'd best get my ticket ready."
  6. Check the first safe pocket for ticket.  Find it missing.  Panic.
  7. Check every other pocket I have.
  8. Find ticket.
  9. Put in an accessible pocket that is neither safe pocket 1 or safe pocket 2.
  10. Board train.
  11. Panic because I have already forgotten that I have transferred the ticket to a different pocket.
  12. Check every other pocket I have.
  13. Find ticket.
  14. Put in lap or on the table in front of me.
  15. Present ticket to guard.
  16. Put ticket in the first safe pocket.
  17. Get off train.  Wave train off.
  18. Panic that I left ticket on the train.
  19. Check all pockets.
  20. Find pocket in safe pocket.  Transfer to a pocket I consider even safer.
Repeat, ad infinitum.

Every trip out involves a steady stream of sweaty palmed pocket checking and regurgitating of their contents into my lap.  It's an agonising but familiar process.

Worse is a new stage I've added to this insanity: (21) Lose ticket altogether.  I lost my return from Manchester when I went with Ian and Robert, and had to spend twelve quid on another, and I lost my day pass on the platform at Halifax.  Obviously I didn't realise this until I was just about to board the train, so I didn't have time to run up to the ticket office and buy a replacement.  Instead I had to get on board and buy the ticket from the guard, facing his judgement and his assumptions that I was just trying to get away with a free ride.

The final element of my humiliation came in the form of my next station.  It wasn't somewhere nice like Todmorden or Walsden.  It was Mytholmroyd.  How the hell do you pronounce that?  If I had my day ticket, it would never have come up, but now I had to buy a ticket to some unpronounceable Yorkshire place.  I did my best.  "Single to Mithulmroyd, please."

The guard looked at me.  "Where?"

Shit.  "Erm... Mithulroy?  I'm sorry, I don't know how you say it."

"Oh," he said.  "My-thul-m-royd."  And he dished out my ticket while I hoped the train would fall off a viaduct and spare my shame.

I stumbled off the train at Mytholmroyd, suitably chastened.  The only other person alighting was a woman wearing stars and stripes leggings, a bright red jacket and a woolly hat: it was my first indication that this part of the world was a little... different.

There is a station building, but it's no longer in use for - well, for anything, actually.  It sits under the viaduct, forlorn, boarded up.  The local history group have sellotaped newspaper headlines relating to the railway on the closed off windows, but otherwise it's a terrible waste.  Surely some railway nerd wants to live in a house under a viaduct?  I'm tempted myself.

It's not like the rest of the village is off-putting or anything.  I crossed yet another of those picturesque Yorkshire bridges over burbling rivers and crossed the road by the war memorial.

Pubs, chip shops, a Sainsburys Local - the place was thriving.  I turned off the main Burnley Road to find the canalside and was surprised to find a modern estate of luxury waterside flats that wouldn't have looked out of place in Manchester or Leeds.

Taking a towpath to my next station is probably a bit of a cheat, if you stop and think about it.  I don't really get a flavour for the district's unique features and charms down by the canal.  One towpath is much like another: trees, water, ducks.

It's just so much more pleasant, particularly in hilly regions like this.  The high gradients mean that there's usually only one route through the valley, and trains, barges and cars are all sent through it.  Following the road means a busy artery packed with trucks.  Who wouldn't prefer a silent backwater where the only noise is the rustling trees?

I'm not sure why they need a sign given that the alternative is falling in the canal.

The canal went into a tunnel, driving me up to the main road to be able to carry on, and I saw a sign to let me know I was nearly at my destination.

Hebden Bridge is different.  It's not just that they chose a sign that talked about their creativity and their commitment to Fairtrade products, when most towns just want you to please drive carefully.  Hebden Bridge is alternative in almost every way, a town that turns left instead of right just because.

The previously silent canal was now thronged with houseboats.  Barges permanently moored, solar panels to power the TV, inspiring boat names like Kanbedun.  I peeped through the window of one and saw an easel set up in the cramped living room.  Every boat had flowers in pots on the roof.

I crossed a pretty bridge behind the Little Theatre and a Working Men's Club-slash-arts centre and entered the town centre.  On the surface, it seemed antiquated, a town that stood still.

Look in the window of the grocer, and there are signs for a loyalty scheme and internet deliveries.  The roads behind, meanwhile, housed ethical clothes shops, alternative remedy stores, cafes that advertised their commitment to single source coffee and locally sourced food.  In short, stick the word "earth" or "natural" in your shop's name and you were sorted for life.

It was charming and interesting, the kind of place where even the shoe shop is called "Ruby Shoesdays".  I nipped into a book store and found a huge selection of local books and gorgeous stationery that I just wanted to sweep up into my arms.  Hebden Bridge is proud to be quirky and unique; there wasn't a WH Smith or a Boots to be seen, and I suspect if Tesco tried to open a Metro here there would be a riot.

Squatters helped to make the town what it is.  With the closure of the mills, after the war Hebden Bridge was down on its luck and empty.  Artists from across the north began to drift here, attracted by its beautiful spot and plenty of good, cheap, sometimes free accommodation.  They began to rebuild the town and, in turn, attracted more people who wanted to live a lifestyle out of the ordinary.  Now it's one of the most desirable postcodes in the country; the pioneers who bought ramshackle houses for a few hundred pounds in the Seventies are now selling them for a few hundred thousand.

I'd thought it might get annoying, like that vegetarian at a dinner party who says they're absolutely fine with you having a steak then tells you it takes eight years for the meat to make its way through your colon.  A kind of, "we embrace all lifestyles, but ours is better" smugness.  There wasn't any of that though.  There was just a quiet pride in what they'd achieved here, and a real beauty to it.  It's hard not to love a town whose high street is home to a haberdashery.

A clothes shop called "The Closet" also hinted at Hebden Bridge's other claim to fame: lesbians.  For some reason, and no-one's entirely sure why, there are more lesbians in Hebden Bridge than anywhere else in Britain.  Turns out the capital of lady-loving isn't Soho or Brighton, but instead a little mill town in the north (I nearly wrote "nestling in a valley" there, then realised that sounded a bit rude in this context).

When I mentioned to the BF that I was visiting Hebden Bridge, his sole response was a strangulated "LESBIANS!".  If you want to hear the very worst kind of homophobia, just ask a gay man about lesbians; a lot of the time they've already got a whole routine prepared.  There will be a lot of disgusted scrunching of the nose and veiled references to vaginas (possibly with a little dry heave).  I've been guilty of it myself, on more than one occasion; only the other day I saw two ladies shopping together and smugly declared them lesbians when I saw them buying soy milk.  We manage to conveniently ignore that if it wasn't for lesbians, nothing would ever get done; they're the practical ones at gay events, organising entertainment and booking venues, while the men are too busy trying to decide what colour the posters should be.  They're the ones who put their heads down and get on with things, in the way women of all sexualities have been doing for centuries.  Men don't tend to do things unless someone notices them doing it, which is why you should never let a man hoover the carpet because you will never hear the end of it.

I'd expected it to be lesbian central, all rainbow flags and adverts for Mooncups.  It wasn't.  There was a higher number of sensible looking women about, retired headmistress types with short grey hair and walking boots, but let's face it no one wants to be wearing stilettos and a skirt on a cold September day anyway.  There was a disproportionately large stack of Sarah Waters novels in the bookshop, too.  I reported the relative lack of Ellen Degeneres lookalikes back to the BF at the end of the evening, and he looked a bit disappointed.  He suggested that maybe they were all indoors on their period, because: gay man.

I had a few hours to kill until my timed ticket home, so obviously I headed for the pub.  The first one I tried was the White Lion, which clearly fancied itself as a restaurant that just happened to have a bar in it.  The barman ignored me for a good minute in favour of his clipboard, and when he finally delivered my pint of Landlord, he looked distinctly unamused.

The second pub was the White Swan, which was far cosier - by which I mean, "tiny".  Appropriately, it was staffed by a diminutive landlady who could barely see over the top of the bar.  She was defiantly foul mouthed - when one of the patrons jokingly asked her, "what do you reckon's the meaning of life?" she replied, "it's all shit, isn't it?" - but warm too.  The customers clearly adored her.  But before you start thinking this was a spit and sawdust haven for the unreconstructed male, they had a poster up advertising a fundraiser for the local operatic society.

The third pub was the Shoulder of Mutton; it was large, but empty, which is how I like my pubs.  I hid in a corner and ordered a plate of nachos, which were delicious, and I had a couple of pints.  It had free wifi too, which was apparently a rarity in the town (the White Lion wanted to charge me four pounds for an hour's access!).  Why won't pubs stick wifi in everywhere?  I can't be the only one who'd spend all day in a place where I could surf the internet and drink alcohol.  Actually, now that I think of it, perhaps it's best if they didn't.

The gents' toilet also featured this advert for double glazing.  I bet the lesbians don't know about that.

Stuffed with good food and a bit drunk, I tottered out of the pub and out to the station.  As with everything else in the town, it insisted on being embarrassingly picturesque.  I crossed a narrow bridge over the canal to reach it and found a working ticket office housed in a pretty building.

On the inside, the tilework could do with a bit of a scrub, but otherwise: adorable.

Northern Rail's Purple Gang must have been frothing at the mouth to get their hands on the station.  It had been carefully, classily restored to look as it must have done in the past.  Not a single mauve lamp post to be seen.

Again, if you want something done right, get some lesbians in.  Any other town would have just rolled over and let the men from Abellio redecorate their station to corporate standards.  At Hebden Bridge, though, I imagined a group of formidable women blocking the painters and refusing to let them by.  They knew exactly how they wanted their station to look, thank you very much, and they weren't about to let a bunch of Dutchmen tell them what to do.

Great little shops.  Lovely pubs.  Good food.  A station to die for.  Dip me in chocolate and throw me to the lesbians.


Stuart Samuel said...

Someone once said "Mytholmroyd" sounds like something you'd find on a chemist's shelf.

Scott Willison said...

Or a cousin to chlamydia.

David said...

The late Poet Laureate, Ted Hughes, was born in Mytholmroyd. Surprised you didn't make a pilgramage to his birthplace!

Mark said...

The man from Abellio tried to install the usual red confectionery vending machine on the Leeds-bound platform at Hebden Bridge. They were sent off with a flea in their ear and had to swap it for a black-sided one, far more in keeping with the decor of the station.

Scott Willison said...

You mean they allowed confectionery to be sold? Surely only vegan snacks and healthy fruits should be permitted?