Saturday, 4 February 2012

Glorious Mud

Greetings from Manchester, which is presently sitting underneath about an inch of snow.
Today started a little too early for my liking. It was still dark and I couldn’t wake myself up. I was due to catch the 8.20am train from Euston, but some kind of derailment near Bletchley yesterday meant it had been cancelled. I went to speak to the bloke at the information desk, who helpfully told me that I’d need to catch the 8.40 instead. “If you’d arrived with enough time, you could have caught the 8am.” “But I was booked onto the 8.20 train, why would I have turned up to the station with enough time to catch the 8 o’clock?” “I’m just saying for the next time.” “But I didn’t know the train was cancelled. I hope there won’t be a next time.” “But if you'd turned up early you'd have had a choice!” “Perhaps you might refrain from saying that to the next person" I said "It’s really not helpful, and it's actually quite irritating.” His lips went to lemon and his eyes went to half. A homosexual will usually out himself if crossed...

The train steamed north through frost-bitten countryside. Lonely horses in fields seemed to be wondering why the grass had suddenly gone all cold and crispy. Somewhere in the Midlands the train ran parallel with a canal for some time. For mile after mile it was frozen solid. It was such a romantic English view; barges with smoking chimneys, ducks and moorhens skating on the ice. I was instantly taken back to my childhood.

The bloke opposite me smelt of aftershave and stale beer. He told his mate he’d been out on a bender the night before, and was terribly hung-over. I think the motion of the train was making matters worse, because at about 9.30am, he cracked open three cans of beer and polished them off in half an hour. As he opened the third, he said “last one... until six tonight” rather proudly. And I wondered what his life expectancy was...

The woman opposite was screaming at her embarrassed children, who eventually had to tell her to be quiet. Her response was somewhat draconian; “don’t tell me to shut up, Caitlin unless you want pepper in your mouth.” I don't know why I found the threat quite so shocking - probably because it's a punishment that actually happens. Whatever next? Vinegar in the eyes?

We spent the late morning and early afternoon on the Hattersley estate with June and her son Charlie. I was very proud of June who’d obviously worked really hard on her song. Charlie took us on a tour of Hattersley as the snow began to swirl. We visited underpasses covered in graffiti, strange demolished buildings nestling under enormous pylons and Baptist churches in prefabricated buildings. Hattersley never ceases to amaze me, not least because for much of our journey we were accompanied by the sound of a ice cream van! Only the Mancunians would buy ice cream in a blizzard! Charlie also brought our attention to a weird box in the eaves of the local Co-op which emits a crazy irritating sound at a frequency that apparently only younger ears can hear. It’s designed to prevent groups of young people gathering en masse. Charlie said the sound used to really irritate him, but now, at the age of 20, he can only just hear it. I could hear it incredibly faintly, but it was the kind of sound that would probably really get under the skin. It’s probably also the reason why all the dogs I’ve seen tied up outside the shop do nothing but bark!

At one stage we visited a building site, and I stood on a raised pile of earth to take a photograph. It immediately gave way, and my feet sank knee deep into a pile of incredibly soggy mud which left my shoes looking like they’d been shat on by an elephant. We went back to June’s house, and I sat on the step with a dish cloth and a bowl of water trying to clean them up. June gave me a couple of freezer bags to put over my socks and I left looking a little eccentric, but feeling dry!

350 years ago, Pepys went to his friend Lord Crew’s house, where he met a Northamptonshire vicar called Benjamin Templar, who he described as an ingenious man and a person of honour. Templar was a man of the world, and talked about dim and distant lands (probably Italy) where fiddlers were hired by farm hands during the harvest season to play for those with the, probably mythical disease, Tarantism, where those who had been bitten by the wolf spider were said to need to dance frenetically to avoid death by the spider’s venom. Hence the tarantella.

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