Ticket To Ride

I’m sitting in the bar at Preston station with a pint of Newcastle Brown. I could have bought Aldi Brown at a fraction of the cost five minutes down the road and swigged it out on the platform in the freezing cold. But the bar offers the attraction of global warmth so I’m using that as justification. This’ll be the slowest pint I’ve downed in many a long day.
The tannoy is announcing delays on all manner of services: I just hope mine in ninety minutes time doesn’t join the list: my train did at least leave Euston on time half an hour ago.
I’ve been down south for the last twenty four hours, courtesy of my work Christmas night out: there can’t be many people who travel 200 miles for a team swally but that’s basically what happened yesterday. Our team is tight knit but widely spread; we work by screen sharing, conference calls and intermittent meetings: we call it agile. But Liverpool is our hub.
When yesterday’s storm acquired a name (Caroline) earlier in the week, I made a strategic decision to best guarantee my night out. My train ticket had me travelling on the local rattler from Stewarton to Car Loyal, then changing for a booked seat on the Virgin (Landan) train, exiting (as opposed to merely being excited) at Preston. That Car Loyal to Preston jaunt was the leg that defined the whole journey because all the other trains were any choo choo.
Our line out of Stewarton (going either way) is arguably the most unreliable in Scotland. Station skipping to make up lost time is an everyday occurrence, with full blown cancellations not that far behind, especially on the longer cross country route down to Car Loyal.
So it was with some trepidation that I planned my journey for yesterday morning. My natural train out of Stewarton was the 10:40, leaving a fifteen minute changeover at Car Loyal. However with the wind blowing at 50mph through the night, I wasn’t for chancing that. I briefly contemplated going for the nine o’clock but when I woke at 6am, I thought “sod it, let’s push the boat out and make it the 07:38”. Even it was late….
Halfway down the line to the border, I got first wind of trouble ahead. “Obstruction on the line between Penrith and Oxenholme: services suspended until at least noon”. This is the very definition of why you need a contingent mindset and be able to think on your feet. Cue old trainspotter mode. In the hour between Sanquhar and the border, I’d sussed that there were emergency replacement buses operating between Car Loyal and Preston. A more relevant question however was whether a ticket that stipulated a one o’clock booking would entitle me to a bus seat at 10am. I needn’t have worried….
Virgin staff were plentiful on arrival at Car Loyal and I quickly sussed that their only objective was to see people on their way: no questions asked about tickets. “Just follow those barriers, sir, and you’ll find a bus waiting”. Almost right… there were two! With no ticket checks on the buzz either, we were on our way within minutes, whizzing down the M6 with the West Coast Main Line silent. There was a moment of fleeting interest just after Penrith when we entered what appeared to be a rolling road block. I’d clocked a squad car on the hard shoulder five minutes earlier but thought nothing of it. What then transpired came straight out of Wacky Races meets the Sweeney. A motor flew down the outside lane doing about 80-90, hotly pursued by two polis ice cream motors: lights, sirens, the full works. The pursuee dived across two carriageways followed by the polis: one polis shot across the bow of the dude in the middle lane in front of us while the other polis took him by the stern: bet he near shat himself: scary stuff in a rolling roadblock. The last I saw of all three motors was the polis chasing the pursuee up the hard shoulder over Shap at a rate of knots.
After that, Liverpool was a gimme. I was there two hours ahead of schedule and just as today’s bottle of Newcastle tastes good, so did the pint of Exmas in ‘Spoons opposite Lime Street Station. From thereonin, the night took care of itself, as these things have a habit of doing, although I would like to mention that you couldn’t shut the bathroom door in my Travelodge dig with the toilet seat down. I guess the builder guy had just one job (see what I did there?) and fucked it up: there was a millimetre between the swinging door and the pan.
This trip has been my second epic jolly of the week. On Sunday I Megabussed it up to Aberdeen (and back) for the inaugural trustee meeting of the Eileidh Rose Rainbow Charity Trust. I guess I’m still coming to terms with having been asked, but it was nice to finally meet up with the other guys n gals who are helping Gail to create a lasting legacy for wee Puddles. As luck would have it, I travelled up the way on a City Link Gold coach which I’d previously read about but never experienced first hand. Padded leather seats and a table for every passenger: how’s that for starters? It’s a shame the WiFi didn’t work but I wasn’t expecting the free coffee (x2), scones (with butter and jam) and cookies that came as part of the deal. I hadn’t got the heart to tell the cookie man that I was travelling on my codger’s buzz pass. All that for a 50p booking fee was a remarkable deal indeed.
As you may have gathered, all this galavanting about on trains and buzzes has messed big time with the LCFN schedule. Two weeks of hee haw miles going into this week was all I needed to keep the intermittent nature of my current attitude intact. I did manage out on Monday and Tuesday, banking something akin to my normal workload, but Wednesday was a write off as I’d to wait in for a delivery man after some pressing work commitments.
I haven’t got back up the road yet (obviously) but I’m expecting some ultra low temperatures that might invariably keep me off the wheels in the coming days. Gone are the days when I was prepared to risk life and limb on ice. Almost two years on from the thumb incident that wrecked my calendar year of two hundred milers, I still have residual pain from that black ice crash. There is little incentive to repeat that going forward.
In any case, Goldie is still off the road, awaiting a new box of tricks for the gear changer that sits outside the hub. My old road bike (now the reserve) is back on the road but I’m loathe to report that the gears are all over the place: they’re jumping, the chain is ripping round the front chain ring if you give it too much welly and riding out of the saddle is a no-no for both of those reasons. In its current condition, hills are to be avoided (difficult round our way) and speed has to be kept in check. Frankly, riding the reserve bike has become a balancing act of effort versus output.
What is going to happen however, assuming I can get out the door a couple of times over the coming days, is 9,000 miles for 2017. It’s a shame that the 10K dream went swirling down the plughole but hey ho, I’m still in one piece, even if my machinery isn’t. I’m also only three or four outings shy of 1.8 million feet of climbing since the off: that equates to over 400 ascents of Ben Nevis, or one every two and a half days if you prefer it that way: that’s on top of the miles.
Going back to this trip for a moment, while I was legging it to the night out last night, I passed the Beatle Experience at Albert Dock. I stuck my nose in the Fab Four shop and thought for a nanosecond about doing all my Christmas shopping in a wanna. Did I? Ask yourself whether you would risk trailing a load of poly bags around while you were getting progressively more wrecked. That’ll be a no then. I guess I’ll never know whether Jane would have appreciated a pink tee shirt with The Beatles emblazoned across the front.
Not to worry, despite that fact that I’m worn out and will probably sleep on the train back north (which is now due in a mere fifteen minutes), it was good to have a Ticket To Ride.