Posted in Railways on Monday 2nd January 2012 at 10:52pm
Over the last few years, I've found myself deliberately revisiting some of the earliest rail trips I made in the 1990s. Partly, this is because the idea of comparing my hazy recollections of first impressions with how I'd view a place now is entertaining. The wide-eyed traveller of nearly twenty years ago, grateful for freedom and never imagining that I'd get very far along some of the lines on my rail map is a distant memory now. When my travelling was rekindled in late 2003 it was for similar reasons - a push for freedom, a wish to explore wider vistas - and a need to unravel some journeys from the past. However, some of these journeys have found their way into a repertoire which I'll nearly unconsciously repeat for comfort, familiarity or just the sense of movement. Liverpool has become one of these places.
So today, I popped out for a new year coffee. Nearly 200 miles from home I grant you, but after the unsatisfactory short hops of the illness clouded inter-holiday period I needed long, thoughtful journeys. In near identical circumstances last year I'd done the same thing - a late booking, the first train out from home, and a lazy trip to Birmingham and breakfast. After Bristol, there were just six passengers on the Voyager. I had the entirety of my favourite coach to myself. Bank Holidays can be tricky - empty like this, or suddenly rammed with shopping bags and students returning to distant universities. I enjoyed the quiet while I could, stretched my aching foot and coughed impolitely without fear of reprisals. New Street was busier, but still a little quiet. I watched the world go by over breakfast, realising just how good it was to be out and about. Back into the cavernous station and onto the waiting train for Liverpool. It had been cold and windy when I left, but now the sun was rising in a clear sky, and it was warm through the windows. Music on, I sank into my seat and thoroughly enjoyed the trip through Crewe and over the Mersey. Arriving at Lime Street nowadays is a joy - straight off the train onto the broad sweep of steps to the road, the skyline of the city ahead of you. Braved a longer walk than I've taken these last couple of weeks to get to my favourite spot for coffee. It was quiet, efficient and friendly just like I remember it from a couple of visits over the past year. I also recall my first visit - just like I sat here doing exactly a year before - a shameful, sorry time in many ways which has actually turned into a much better situation. I thanked my lucky stars and swigged strong coffee while a strange group pensioners assembled next to me. One at time they arrived - they obviously did this often - and chatted about their new year, the sales and the unpredictability of holiday period public transport. At one point, the sole female among them shushed her companions and nodded to indicate me. In a harsh scouse whisper she hissed "what's he doing? He's writing!". They kept pretty quiet after that - so who knows what they were planning.
Back to the station for a trip over to Manchester. I took a fast train at the risk of it being busy. It was, a little, but I found a decent seat and enjoyed the scud over the flat marshy Lancashire landscape of Chat Moss and one of my favourite views as Manchester builds from derelict edgelands into stepped brick towers and modern glass skyscrapers. Down to the main station, noting that the flat bit of the travelators had been switched off, presumably to save energy. Shamefully, this is one of the few escalator type devices I can use due to my terror, so I was sorry not to be able to. Out of the station into the bright, cold Piccadilly afternoon. I set off to wander and instantly thought I'd made a bad choice - my foot ached, and people were thundering around the place carelessly. I felt big, stupid and pointless in this monstrous retail jungle. A quick visit to W.H.Smiths to find that my beloved A6 casebound Black and Red notebook is apparently no more, then back to the station for more coffee in a nicely refurbished, but weirdly slow Starbucks which took forever to produce drinks.
The 17:05 was strangely quiet - in my coach at least, and despite "those standing in the vestibules" being urged to walk forward, few if any did. So, once again I had a relaxing sprawl home on one of my favourite trains, all the way to Bristol. It had been a day of fine music, a little reading, a little writing, lots of relaxing. I realised how much I needed these excursions - not for the first time and not for the last. Most of all, it was a day of remembering. Darker times on this route have often been offset by days like this one. Either way, it's good to have made my first trip of the year. I don't write here so often these days, and I'm sure when I do it's not interesting as all my thought's seem to funnel into Songs Heard on Fast Trains nowadays. This entry won't have helped - it's whimsical, a bit boring, a bit maudlin even. But there are days when only a good long blast on the train quite does it. Today was one of them.
I've had a home on the web for more years than I care to remember, and a few kind souls persuade me it's worth persisting with keeping it updated. This current incarnation of the site is centred around the blog posts which began back in 1999 as 'the daylog' and continued through my travels and tribulations during the following years.
I don't get out and about nearly as much these days, but I do try to record significant events and trips for posterity. You may also have arrived here by following the trail to my former music blog Songs Heard On Fast Trains. That content is preserved here too.