Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Travel Stories.

As I sat in the waiting room of Greenfield Station yesterday I was greeted by an old almost friend. I say an “almost friend” because this is someone who is more than just an acquaintance but has never quite become what you could really call a friend, not someone you would tell your troubles to, confide your secrets in or just meet up with for a drink. And yet for years we have got on well although when we first knew each other our relationship was quite different. 

When I started teaching in a big comprehensive school, more than 40 years ago now, hard as that is for me to believe, her daughter, Anne, was in my very first tutor group. I also taught Anne, and later her sister, Lyn, French and Spanish. After my own children were born and grew old enough to join the local library I found that Anne’s and Lyn’s mother was our librarian. Small world syndrome strikes again. 

Then, a year or two ago, we had some very snowy weather and I sat on a bus, uncertain whether the bus was going to go anywhere as so many of the small side roads that formed part of its route had not been cleared. I got chatting to a young man, a sixth form student trying to make it into the town centre to college. As we swapped snow stories, I told him about my first experience of winter in our part of the world. 

At that time, I was still working at the big comprehensive in the town centre but lived out here in Saddleworth, in the valley between Delph and Denshaw. At the end of the afternoon in question I was marking and chatting when someone commented that it had started to snow properly and that he had had a phone call about how bad the roads were becoming. No internet weather checks in those days and no smart phones to check it up on: no mobiles or computers in classrooms either! He advised me to set off for home before I got stuck. 

Duly warned, I set off to pick Phil up from the school where he was working and we made our way up the long, slow hill from Oldham to Delph in our trusty little red Citroen 2CV. Travelling mostly in first or second gear we got along fine, although the heating in that little sardine can left something to be desired. But we had more traction on the snowy roads than bigger, heavier vehicles and didn’t slither around anything like as much as they did. However, it still took us a good couple of hours or more to make it home. We tucked the trusty 2CV away in the garage and trudged the last couple of hundred yards up the lane and then tucked ourselves away for the night. 

Next morning we dug our way out of our house and went round to the garage, only to find that there was a huge snow drift in front of the door, not to mention the snowdrifts all the way along both lanes leading out of the valley. Well, we thought, no work for us. So we phoned our respective schools, explaining that we were snowed in and spent the rest of the day enjoying the winter weather. By next day the roads were cleared, we were able to get out and about again and we put the whole thing behind us. Until, that is, the next pay day when we discovered that we had lost a day’s pay. Had we said we were exhausted after our arduous journey home, all would have been well and we would have received sick pay but as we were merely “snowed in”, we should have walked to the nearest cleared road, caught a (possibly non-existent) bus and made our way to work. All this even though half the pupils had also been snowed in!! A crazy situation that, fortunately, made us laugh more than rant and rave. 

Anyway, the young man I was talking to asked the name of the school I was working at and revealed that his mother was a pupil there at that time: Anne, the daughter of the librarian, my now “almost friend”. For, both retired and still living in the same area, we come across each other and reminisce from time to time. 

And that is what we did at the station and on the train. A little nostalgia trip! 

I went to my Italian conversation class as usual and travelled back, again by train, this time packed like one among many sardines into a train that should have had four carriages but only had two. When I had arrived at Victoria Station in Manchester to catch the train I was surprised to find that my train was due to depart from the same platform as two other trains at almost exactly the same time: one to Liverpool, one to Kirby and my train, final destination Huddersfield. The platform was full to bursting: loads of people watching the electronic boards and listening to the announcements. 

When you see shoals of fish in the sea, they all move in unison, suddenly changing direction all at the same time. Flocks of starlings, and indeed other birds, do the same in the sky. Well, when the announcement came that one of the trains, the one to Liverpool, was departing from another platform, masses of people turned in unison and made for the stairs, amazingly avoiding collision with those of us who remained standing on platform 4. Shortly after that the Kirby arrived and took away another group of people. But just before that, our train was changed to platform 5 and once again, when the announcement came, a host of people turned round all at once and stepped towards the newly allocated platform, for all the world like fish in the sea or birds in the sky. 

I cannot say that our journey home was pleasant – and I’m sure many people had to wait for the next train – but I had a strange chat with a music enthusiast, swapping notes on which artists we had seen live. This is what happens on trains! 

My evening ended in Stalybridge Buffet Bar where the poetry group I attend meets on the last Friday of each month – although not next month as that will be New Year’s Eve. The bar was all decked out ready for Christmas and ready to celebrate having been selected as Manchester Pub of the Year for 2013. And, as it was our last meeting for the year, we had mince pies with our poetry. 

Not bad!

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