Christmas in Bury - part 1
The pattern for my Christmases is to alternate between my two daughters – one lives in Chester and the other in Shipley, Yorkshire. This year it was Yorkshire's turn, but due to my son-in-law's mother's health issues, they decided that they needed to go to visit her. So I was invited to tag along.
My eldest granddaughter, Natasha who recently changed from a stroppy plump child into a beautiful mature young woman decided she would take the train journey with me, to help me find my way over the various changes en route. My daughter had chosen of the various routes on offer, to book us on one that had a 10 minute changeover in Peterborough, a station I had never been to, and had no idea how complicated it would be to find our next train on.
Natasha is blessed with two parents who are never on time for anything. Her mother didn't inherit that from me, as I am always early – often way too early – for everything. But on this occasion Natasha's share of my genes took over and we were both packed and ready to go a good half hour early. The train station is a 10 minute down hill walk from my house, and although it was sort of wet outside, it wasn't pouring down, so we decided to leave at 11 for our 11.40 train, “just in case”. As you might expect we arrived just in time to catch the 11.15 train to Manchester, so thought we might as well do that.
Having arrived in Manchester, we checked to see what platform our train was due to leave from, and made our way to Platform 13, only to find that the hour earlier version of the train we were booked on was just coming into the station. We had a very quick decision to make. Should we get on it without booked seats and hope for the best, or sit in the cold wet waiting room for the one we knew we would have a seat on? If we chose this,we have an hour to wait somewhere in Peterborough but would be assured of our connection. I let Natasha decide, and she opted for getting on the train.
We each had a small suitcase, and it was obvious as soon as we got on, that there was going to be a problem. All seats had reserved tickets and no place was left on top or in the end bits for storing our luggage. So we thought we would get off and take the second option after all – only now our way off was blocked by other passengers getting on, and the train took off, so we were stuck. I told her to just get into a spare set of seats for the time being and we could think of what to do next. She was very nervous about taking somebody else's seat, and the thought of being criticised and shouted at was a very big problem. She almost said she would prefer to stand the whole way (5 hour journey) but I convinced her that certainly there would be some people who had done the same thing we had - booked one set of seats and then opted for an earlier trip.
The seats we had temporarily gone into were reserved from Manchester to Nottingham, so we quickly decided that it was best to vacate them. So across the aisle and up one were another set, which Natasha found were booked from Widnes to Sheffield. Widnes was long gone, and Sheffield was an hour away, so we decided to move there. As it turned out, nobody claimed our original seats either, so we would have been perfectly safe to stay there.
Because of the lack of storage space, Natasha had to put her suitcase between her legs, but mine was too big for that, so I had to hold mine on my lap – so we couldn't easily play cards, which was our intended occupation for this journey. Neither of us had brought a book – thinking that her father was bound to buy us books for Christmas anyway. (He didn't).
We raced over the Pennines, and through the lots of tunnels and as we neared Sheffield, we started to get nervous again. “I think we should go back to those other seats,” I said, “since they are free until Nottingham.” Natasha wasn't convinced that moving was a good idea. The conductor had checked our tickets in these seats and surely us moving would confuse him. But I won her over, and just before we stopped in Sheffield, we switched back.
I should add that when we boarded the train there was a message saying that anyone going beyond Nottingham should sit in the last two carriages. We had no idea why, but we certainly were in the last carriage, so we were pleased we had done something right.
The seats we had vacated were taken up by two people – a middle aged couple, so we were greatly relieved that we had left them for our more secure seats – but as before she was straddling her luggage and I was hugging mine.
As soon as we started moving again, Natasha suddenly said. “We were going forwards before, and now we're going backwards. And we aren't on the back on the train anymore, we're on the front. And we were told that we had to be on the back to go to Peterborough.”
“I think we must have backed out,” I said, and hoped I was right and that maybe the train had split in Sheffield – although why it should have done I couldn't think.
The next stop wasn't far – Chesterfield. I told Natasha to look out for the crooked steeple, and she was very pleased when she spotted it. When we stopped at the station, a man got on and wanted the seats we had sat in before, and told the couple they had to move. They didn't want to – as there were a few empty seats around he could have chosen, but he had booked that one, and that was the one he wanted. So the couple – now carrying large cans of Strong Strong Bow (which they later added to) , kissed each other, and then gathered themselves sufficiently to plonk themselves down on the seat in front of us – recently vacated by a very nice old couple. They somehow managed to shift their worldly goods into the racks above, and finally it seemed we were settled down for the
next phase of our journey.
Having started on the kissing idea, they decided to continue with that theme. And it wasn't just a peck from now on – it was long and deep and very purposeful. We didn't like to watch, but what choice had we. We couldn't see their hands, which was probably lucky, but I for one wondered whether a blanket would soon be coming out of the top rack.
Now I described this couple earlier as middle aged – which was pretty vague. Maybe I should add a bit of detail as we had such a look time to consider them. I very much doubted that they were married to each other, although both wore wedding rings. And I very much expect that this liaison was illicit, due to the hunger and urgency. Also a phone call full of embarrassed giggles and words like hotel and Vaseline and KY jelly painted a rather interesting bit of conjecture to the scenario. (Maybe it was their honeymoon.) Natasha, like me, was disgusted and fascinated in about equal measures. The woman was large, but not really fat, with brownish red hair in a sort of bob-like style. Her makeup was worn off and that perhaps made her look older, but she certainly wouldn't have come close to what I would have described as attractive. The man was smartly dressed and slimmer – with short cut silvering hair. He had a ruddy complexion as if he had spent a lot of time outside – probably sunbathing rather than plowing fields.
But our entertainment was cut short when they got off in Nottingham – with all their clothes more or less intact, although he seemed to have bulges in certain parts which he quickly disguised with his coat over his arm. We were pleased to see them go, partly because their seats might be our next refuge if the scheduled Nottingham passenger came to claim one of ours. But it was not to be, and we relaxed again. We had only Grantham to worry about and then we would be in Peterborough. We knew that we didn't have a choice of getting an early train out of Peterborough – although we would have taken one if it had miraculously appeared. But Natasha's mother had warned us that the next train, if we should for some reason miss the 10 minute changeover, would be two hours later. They were travelling by car from Shipley, and Natasha had regular text updates, so we knew that they had already arrived at Peterborough Services where they had stopped for a meal – having had very little of the expected motorway traffic. But the plan wasn't for them to pick us up there, but rather at our end of route in Bury St Edmunds. Or failing that, in Ely. Our one alternative had been, if we were late arriving in Peterborough, we could stay on this (the Norwich train) and get off instead in Ely – which they could then drive to from Bury to pick us up. But as we were not late – and in fact an hour early – we didn't need to worry about that option.
Grantham arrived, and we were all poised to move (or stand as Natasha said would be her preferred option) but the need didn't arise and we finally were able to relax, secure that we wouldn't be turfed out, for the last bit our of our journey.
When we got to Peterborough, at 3.40 we found we were on Platform 5 and our train, due in an hour and 10 minutes, would go out of platform 6. So we went up the steps and over the bridge, and down again and then found a warmish waiting room, where luckily a nice woman moved her luggage so we could have two seats together.
The place was crowded, and there was always activity – with people rushing in, and then another train would be called and they would rush out again. Two food trolley people sat at the far end – not peddling their wares, but waiting for the right train to exit on. There was a screen also on the far end, showing us the various comings and goings. And we quickly started to feel very smug about our decision to go on the early train. For on the list of 20 or so trains, many of them had been cancelled, including several London trains and one to York. And various others were late, some of them very late. The loud speaker person kept apologising for trains being late, and then later, and then way too late, and we noticed on the time table, that the train we would have come on, had we done the planned thing, was now in the late, rather than the “on time” category. Our train, which had Ipswich as its final destination was always “on time” but the Norwich train was 2 minutes late, then it was 7 minutes late, and then it caught up a bit and was 5 minutes late, and then our train was called. As we got on it – being one of the first, we chose a whole section with a table to ourselves and finally room to relax. This was not a bookable train – and also it wasn't very full. As we sat there waiting to take off, our original train pulled into the station, and how pleased we were that we wouldn't be one of the many queueing to get off, not knowing where our next train would be, and needing to run at great speed up and over the bridge to get it.
It was an interesting phenomena however, when having made our two small town stops en route to Ely, we had to sit on the track outside for a good ten minutes, to allow the Norwich train to go into Ely first – so if we had been on that train, and having realised how late we were, had decided to stay
on the train to Ely, we would still have been able to get onto the right train for our final journey.
As we sat there, I noticed what a remarkable view we had. Our train was probably heading due south. On our left, the sky was deep purple-blue with a full moon, reflected on water ( maybe flood water) and on the right, the sunset was at its best, with layers of pink and orange, with Ely Cathedral as a black silhouette.
Our space now no problem, we decided to play a quick card game to while away our remaining time, only to discover that our pack was incomplete. The five of hearts and five of clubs had inadvertently been left in Chester, when a game had changed track and instead of the cards being played as cards they had been used in a game of hide and seek, and some of them had hid too well.
Natasha was so relieved when we finally arrived in Bury St Edmunds, and her dad was there waiting for us. She had done her bit to deliver her grandmother faithfully and in one piece and it had been quite an adventure.