Monday, 22 October 2012

Nasty Preston


I’m on the West Coast Line tearing through the ink black fields of Lancashire. We’re south of the lakes, somewhere near Preston, which seems to be a place where a fair few inadequate people either live, visit or pass through. On the way up to Carlisle there was a distinct mood change on the train after we’d picked up the hordes of people standing on the platform at Preston Station. A family of lard-buckets got on. I see this particular family in every Northern city I visit. The woman are universally enormous, like great big jam roly-polys wrapped in flabby marzipan, and the men are weasely; half the size of their women, with wisps of facial hair poking out over fields of late-onset acne. The family got on and tried to make their way down the carriage but had to give up because it was impossible to roll the fattest of their number that far down the aisle. Eventually they asked a few people to vacate one of the tables next to the exit and the four of them folded themselves into various contortions which seemed to involve the train table cutting into rolls of flab in several places, including, rather strangely, their elbows. Upon sitting down, the late-teenaged son immediately had an anxiety attack, and spent about 20 minutes huffing and twitching. With every new gasp, I spun around, thinking I was going to have to rush over and with a paper bag and a soothing demeanour. His family didn’t seem to be at all worried about what was going on, however, and continued to eat crisps nonchalantly whilst the shaking, weeping lad covered his face with a wet one and tried to control his breathing. It was a peculiar display which made me determined to lose at least a stone before Christmas.

I’ve been in Carlisle all day with the lovely Nell, trying to work out who our final 100 Faces are going to be for the BBC project we’re working on at the moment. Each of the 100 people chosen is born in a unique year between 1912 and 2012. We’re still about 12 people short, mostly individuals in their 90s, but it’s just fabulous to see everything coming together. We put all the faces on a table top at Nell’s Mum’s house, out in the wilds between Carlisle and Silloth, and for the first time got a sense of what a remarkable project this is going to be. We have such a wonderful mix of faces. Black people, white people, Asian people, gay people, trans-people, disabled people, able-bodied people, red heads, blondes, those with swarthy skin, gold medal winning Olympiads, famous people, unemployed people, retired people, fat, thin, rich, poor, ordinary, extraordinary, hippies, Goths, punks, yummy mummies, freaks and poshos... and, of course, one representative from every age from 1 to 100...

I love train journeys; particularly long train journeys when there’s a power socket and a table in front of me for my computer and paper bag filled with a cup of tea in scalding-hot water, those horrible milk cartons and the wooden stirrers which give you splinters. It’s possible to get so much work done in this kind of situation, yet everything achieved feels like a bit of a Brucie Bonus. I get the same feeling when I work on a bank holiday, or through a weekend.  Today I reckon I’ll have done six hours’ composing on the project on top of all the useful stuff we did in Carlisle. Two days’ work for the price of one! Bingo.

October 22nd, 1662, and it did nothing but rain all day. It’s done nothing but rain all day 350 years later, despite our being promised an Indian summer with gloriously warm weather. Pepys spent the day trying to sort out the business of his brother’s marriage. The mother of the bride, Mrs Butler, was offering 400l per year for her daughter, which was less than Pepys’ family wanted, but Mrs Butler was not impressed by Tom Pepys’ house, nor for that matter, his weird speech impediment. I’ve never really understood why the family of a 17th Century woman were expected to cough up an annual sum simply to see their daughters married. Surely the expectation was that the man would provide for the woman he chose?

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