A funny thing happened on the way to the office

royalty-free-detective-clipart-illustration-1047906

Well my dears, here’s a strange to-do! The eagle-eyed among you will have noticed that in my last post I included a photo of my legendary toothpick knitting challenge. To be fair I didn’t think many of you would look at it closely, but that just teaches me a lesson, good and proper.

It happened like this.

The day after I posted my whinge abut DPNs, I had to go across to Head Office for a Very Important Meeting. Naturally I sprang from my bed in the grey and chilly dawn, as eager as a squirrel after acorns, bright eyed and bushy tailed. I bustled in and out of hallways and showers and kitchens configuring breakfast, clothing and toiletries (not necessarily in that order). Within the hour I was booted, suited and ready to go, and so I went. Most importantly I took with me my briefcase  containing my knitting, along with some papers, tickets for the train and my phone.

The morning train to Leeds is a proper caution, packed with giggling schoolchildren from the kinds of families that can afford to send their children miles away to schools where the teachers may or may not have chins. Apparently commuting form the age of 11 makes a man of you; a very tired man, it must be said, but such is life. Then there are the grey-haired 30-somethings who toil in the industrial heartlands of York, wrangling whippets and wrestling puddings for a fiver a go. In addition the keen observer may note bespectacled academics heading for Leeds and the one and only EBL.

I found my seat and started to knit. There’s no mobile signal so emails and phone calls are out of the question. Knittingis the only answer, as in so many scenarios. The lack of signal doesn’t stop the kiddies trying, and we all enjoy being lulled by the endless rounds of “Benedict? Benedict? Can you hear me?” which punctuate the carriage air in tones of constant amazement, as if the Howardian Hills only arrived last night and the phones have always worked before.

The other thing punctuating the air that morning, or perhaps I should say glutinating (as in making it glutinous), was a perfume. Somebody, probably a female, was wearing a year’s supply of Rose Garden Extreme, and generously sharing it with the rest of us. I can only assume she, or possibly he, let us not make gendered assumptions, had had an unfortunate incident before leaving home and not had time to rectify the damage.

Anyway, I was breathing through my mouth and trying to think of fresh air and open skies, when a voice enquired hesitantly:

“Do you write that blog?”

I ignored it, obviously, because who would respond to that kind of a question at 7.32 in the morning? A nutter. That’s who.

The voice repeated its interrogation, adding “I saw your knitting. I recognised the wool marker and stitch counter.”

Well, that made it alright then.

I looked up to meet the eyes of a mousy individual in a dark wool coat and carrying a rather bedraggled back-pack. She leaned across the table and added “I really liked your post.”

Obviously an individual of sophistication and distinction was concealed by an outwardly anodyne appearance, and not the murderous serial killer I had initially assumed.

Apparently she lived not too far from me, and worked at one of the hotels just outside Leeds as a catering manager. I vaguely recognised her form other commuting days; the crowd is pretty much the same year in, year out. We had a very pleasant time swapping tales of stitches, websites and TV shows we both enjoyed, although I struggled to forgive her for “Call the Midwife” and I suspect she was confounded by my passion for “Waking the Dead”. We both agreed on the wonderful “Wolf Hall” though, as does anyone sane. It’s fiction, get over it.

It was rather strange meeting someone who effectively knew more about me than I did about them. I admit I felt a little vulnerable. I mean, I don’t use my birth-certified name here, in case you wondered, but I suppose it wouldn’t be hard to work it out if you wanted. Some of you do in fact know me in the human world anyway. Nevertheless I felt a ambushed, bamboozled, embarrassed and quite stressed.

In short my fanfollowerstalker and I chatted until we got to Garforth, when inexplicably my new found friend had to depart. Does anyone get off at Garforth when heading west? Really? Why?

That was when I knew I had fallen asleep and it was time to wake up and face the day. It was like that moment in “Dallas” – which I never watched, but even I have heard about.

It turned out I had no fanfollwerstalker after all. I felt some relief but also a little piece of my heart broke. How contrary!

Suppose you were suddenly famous (or else, remember the time just before you became famous). How would you cope when the first person come sup and asks for an autograph, metaphorically or literally?

Namaste.

Advertisements

The end of days

Well, perhaps I overstate it when I say “end of days.” However, it is certainly the end of the financial year and our Highways Authority is spending up like tarmac was going out of fashion. The main trunk road to the coast is closed off and traffic being diverted via the road at the end of our village lane. This very same road, now carrying more traffic than anyone would have believed possible, is only semi-open because of roadworks which have closed off one carriageway, and using a traffic light system to control flow. I say “flow” but I mean “stagnant pauses of sufficient duration to calculate pi to a new digit.”

Naturally when Sigoth and I decided to go into town this morning to look for essential items – such as circular knitting needles and pastries and coffee – we went the back way, through some other villages to avoid the snafu that is the usual route. We had forgotten in our haste and cleverness that the road through the next village was also closed while work is being carried out there.

We took the scenic route. It was several miles out of the way, but it beat going back home and then queuing in traffic.

Tomorrow we are going to York for the Viking Festival to hear Beowulf and to enjoy traditional Scandinavian activities, such as shopping and drinking coffee. We will take the bus, and leave the stress of finding the way to someone else. We would have gone by train but there are no trains running this week. Being half term the railway line to the coast is shut down while they do some work on the bridge over the Ouse in York and thus amputate the East Coast from mainland England.

It’s half term. It’s damp and grey. The families we saw in town were looking the worse for wear, seeking entertainment at reasonable price in a very small market town where the highlight of the town trail is a couple of small rooms forming a Victorian office allegedly responsible for inspiring Dickens to write about Scrooge. It’s not a barrel of laughs for most under-50s.

On the bright side, Vikings!

I hope you have a wonderful weekend and that the weather, transport system and barbarian hordes in your vicinity are kind to you.

Namaste

Grateful

Well, this is certainly a departure. I know, I know. EBL is hardly known for her humility or tendency to appreciate the small kindnesses and glimpses of fragile beauty that surround her. However, as usual, it has been a week of events, and for once I am in the mood for some gratitude.

Yesterday and today, that is to say Stormday and Aftermathday, I travelled up and down and round about Yorkshire by rail. At least, I went to Sheffield and Leeds, which is a reasonable approximation. Naturally as my first two days of travelling since my operation it seemed only sensible to do this at the worst possible time when the national rail network was still reeling form the frankly bracing weather which we have been enjoying recently.

All my trains were on time, except one which was almost 10 minutes late. That was the one from Scotland, so perhaps it can be excused. So I couldn’t complain. Literally, I couldn’t. I felt cheated. The breakfast news team, whom I trust with my life, had lead me to expect more trauma and my loins were seriously girt.

Nevertheless, two days in a row of hurtling in slow motion along railway tracks while it variously blew, buffeted, rained, snowed and shone outside left me a little weary. The irony is that York is not currently flooded, although there may be some minor seepage. However the rest of the country appears to be submerging slowly and gracelessly under the ocean. Honestly, all the movies about Atlantis sinking implied it would happen more quickly and with considerably more men in leather kilts and sandals dashing about. Again, cheated.

Of course I am genuinely grateful not to be flooded. We had that here some years back and it was appalling. However, the English can’t face disaster with anything other than a self-deprecating quip, unless it’s with a broken beer bottle and a Spartan “come on if you think you’re hard enough” face. I find the quip less exhausting, but don’t push me.

By the time I was on the final leg of my journey home tonight I needed to relax a little. I was tense from a tiring couple of days and a distressing work issue. In a moment of weakness I opted for some relaxation music which I keep on my phone for just such an occasion. I played the very nice music and took some deep breaths and stared out of the window at the scenery.

The Derwent has burst its banks along much of the way, and was muddy and bubbly with the effect of fast flowing water charging down to join the Ouse, like a toddler on a sugar rush. It’s a perverse river in that it rises in the Moors, flirts with the coast briefly then heads inland in defiance of riverly custom and best practice. During snow melt and heavy rain it gets deep and fast and strong, and very brown from mud and silt and Moors run-off. Today the brown water and the muddy fields and winter-bare trees combined into a pleasing palate of neutrals set against a pinkish evening sky. It has been observed, I believe by Stephen Fry, but am too lazy to check, that nature is incapable of being ugly. Even in this time of horrible flooding the scenery is beautiful – except for the man-made parts. Nature, I concluded, even in times of flood and fear and raw sewage on your carpet, was awe-ful in the original sense of the word: powerful, frightening and still majestically and cosmically gorgeous. If something is going to destroy your words it is only right that it is epic.

The music played through the head-set like a soundtrack to my own personal movie. It set the scene for some inner dialogue and reflection, and I obliged, trained up by years of film watching and exposure to the tropes and truisms of Hollywood (and more lately Studio Ghibli). The music and the landscape made me feel grateful for being able to live in such a marvellous world. I was seduced into gratitude for not being flooded, for living somewhere so clearly superior to the rest of the planet, for having a safe journey to a warm home and loving partner, for just, well, everything.

I even started a list. I know some of you keep gratitude journals and I’m sure it is a worthwhile thing to do. Whenever I try the list is the same day after day: Sigoth, Offspringses, work colleagues, a job I enjoy nine days out of ten (because there are always some occasions when people are simply disappointing). The list may have the odd additional entry, such as Netflix or tea in bed or whatever ephemera have pleased me that day. Yet the core remains the same, my foundation for living, and I don’t need a journal to remind me of it. I know I’m blessed, even if I sometimes forget for an hour or two. Even if sometimes I get impatient with Sigoth or irritated by a colleague, just as allegedly Sigoth is driven to distraction by my quaint and endearing eccentricities (not nearly as infuriating as his faults of course). In my heart of hearts, I know.

At this point I feel it highly appropriate to refer my honourable friends to the beat poem, Storm, by Tim Minchin. I love Tim Minchin (not in a creepy way). He is a Dawkins kind of a chap, and the poem is a paean to rational and scientific wonder. No hocus pocus, just honest glory in the natural world.

Isn’t this enough?
Just this world?
Just this beautiful, complex
Wonderfully unfathomable world?
How does it so fail to hold our attention
That we have to diminish it with the invention
Of cheap, man-made Myths and Monsters?
If you’re so into Shakespeare
Lend me your ear:
“To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,
To throw perfume on the violet… is just fucking silly”
Or something like that.

http://www.releaselyrics.com/1187/tim-minchin-storm/

If the very nice relaxing hippy music doesn’t soothe my troubled mind, then a dose of Minchin does.

Meanwhile I’m off to get into pyjamas and shake off this unfamiliar and bizarre gratitude. What is the world coming to? I’ll be turning into a nice little old lady at this rate and I can’t allow that. (Actually there’s no real danger of that happening. Don’t worry.)

Do you have your core list, your foundations, that keep you going through thick and thin? Hold them fast and share them if you will.

Namaste.

 

Snow train

The train had arrived early in Leeds in spite of Snowmageddon. Our management had told people to leave early in case of travel problems, with a predicted 15cm of snow across the Pennines which would inevitably cause difficulties for those travelling more than a few yards from Leeds City Centre. I left at my planned time and the train arrived early. It hadn’t read the memo, or, indeed, the weather forecast, and had crossed the Pennines in excellent time.

At York we sat outside the station for a long time, trapped as two other not-very-useful Engines gossiped idly on platform 5. We imagined them stamping their wheels and rubbing their fenders to keep warm, sheltered snugly under the Victorian roof and thinking little, caring less, for Engines which had arrived early or kept to their timetable.

“We’re waiting for two other trains to move so we can come in on Platform 5,” the conductor announced, keen to demonstrate his frustration and lack of culpability. We were all in it together alright.

The minutes crawled by, slow in the frozen wind, and we waited. There was sighing and tutting and raising of eyebrows. None of them achieved a forward momentum. I played Sudoku on my phone. It didn’t seem worth calling home where Sigoth was snuggling and thinking of dinner. Other passengers however chose to share their outrage with loved ones, and many conversations ensued along the lines of “I’m stuck outside York now, we’re waiting for a platform.” It was generally followed by a character-defining pronouncement of either “hopefully not long now” or “probably be ages, bloody trains”.

Eventually another trian strolled past heading north.

“That’s the culprit!” the conductor told us. “Feel free to gesticulate as he goes by!”

And everyone laughed. Some of us waved, ironically I’m sure. People turned to their neighbours and smiled and agreed it was good to have a conductor with a sense of humour. We felt warm and companionable, thanks to a single quip. Onward, fellow travellers!

One man made everyone’s miserable, cold, frustrating journey better. How easy it is to share a little joy, if only we remember to try.

Namaste.

 

The Invisibles

Today I went to the dentist for a check-up. That’s not what I’m going to tell you about though. I am going to speculate wildly about the automatic doors at the train station.

Usually you see, when I catch the early train, there is a constant coming and going, a turmoil of busyness, thrashing about the station waiting room-cum-ticket hall. The young folk who travel into York to attend school are huddling and shrieking about homework and OMG-ing about so-and-so’s new nail varnish or football boots or electronic device of choice, or moaning about Miss Battleaxe in Divinity who gave them detention for not being able to name the Apostles or worrying about the cross country run they have to do in the afternoon because they forgot their kit and everyone knows that Mr Satan in PE will make them do it in their underwear in front of the girls and what the hell is a bunga-bunga party anyway? Among their rumbustious throng the grey and weathered commuters stumble and bumble, breaking skin and shins with laptop case edges and dropping phones and e-readers and iPads as they scrabble for tickets or credit cards.

In other words, dear friends, it is a hubbub and frothing, frenzied confusion. It is Life’s Rich Tapestry in market town hues.

Throughout it all the doors open and close as travellers come in from the cold or go to wait on the platform so they can be first on the train and get a seat. They swish and slide for everyone and often for no one as the queue for the tickets gets too close or the teenage ant’s nest swirls into their orbit. The blast of cold air from outside acts as a prompt for the perpetrators to move aside before their legs freeze off at the knee, and so doing the doors whisper closed again for a few moments. Then it all begins again. It’s not like Brief Encounter, I can tell you

There is a tea room on the station, but it doesn’t open until after the early trains have gone, so I rarely see it on the inside. The tea is dark and thick, just the way I like it, and very reasonably priced, as we like to say in these parts when we mean cheap.

All of this was history when I went to catch the later train after my dental appointment. I am aware that some people across the Atlantic don’t realise we have dentists in this country. We do, and many of them are quite good and some even do all that cosmetic nonsense for people with more money than sense. The rest of us don’t care what the teeth look like so long as they masticate efficiently. I get irritated with my dentist for polishing my teeth each visit and removing the carefully built-up layer of tannin. Honestly, white teeth are just so shiny and sometimes one wants to be the Shadow. I don’t want to smile at the driver who waits for me to cross the road and blind him so he runs down the little old lady along the street. I wouldn’t be able to sleep at night. It’s a worry. Even now I am having to type with one hand so I can contain the nuclear-powered glow f my freshly minted chompers behind the other hand, for the sake of humanity

Anyway, back in the ticket hall things were quieter than the early morning rush. There was still a reasonable number of people waiting for the train, but not the dense throng catching the 7.23. Various people came in to buy a ticket and wandered outside to wait, only to return as the bitter wind and flurries of snow persuaded them of their folly. In between the incursions the rest us,, wiser and more patient, sat and waited quietly and peacefully. Waiting for an English train is akin to Zen meditation. I’m almost certain the noise of the tannoy is one hand clapping; certainly it is a bit buzzy and not recognisably a sound of the everyday world, which is how I imagine the Zen hand sounds too.

The doors at the front of the hall opened. No one was there or even walking about the ticket office, which can trigger the doors. We were all sitting down. No one came in or even walked past on the pavement outside. Interesting.

The doors closed again and then the doors to the platform opened. Still no one was there or even walking about the hall. We were still all sitting down. No one came in or even walked past on the platform outside. Interesting.

Clearly there was only one sane and rational conclusion to be drawn. There were silent, invisible creatures passing through the ticket hall. You couldn’t see their reflection in the glass, so they could be vampires. Now, I’m not mad enough to suggest they were necessarily catching a train. That would be not be supported by the evidence. They may have been trainspotters. Or lost tourists. From Alpha Centauri.

What did they look like under their invisibility cloaks? If not Romulans, then sufficiently large – humanoid equivalent at least – to trigger the doors. Of course, they also allowed us to walk through their bodies, or they would have been detected before. So large and substantial but also invisible, silent and insubstantial to human touch. Perhaps some kind of phased timey-wimey distortion or portable wormhole solution. Interesting.

The biggest problem I can see (or not see, I suppose, in this context) is how to communicate. I guess they can’t talk to us or they would have asked for help with managing the rail network. Everyone does, in the end. I have not noticed any written notes, but will keep an eye out for the next couple of weeks in case. They may not be substantial enough to hold a pen but perhaps they can use a touch screen and tweet us. Some of the tweets I see certainly seem to originate on another planet.

They wouldn’t need much intelligence of course. Pigeons can cope with travelling about on the London Underground, hopping on and off trains at various stations, and waiting patiently near the doors in order to do so. Pigeons may also, of course, originate from Alpha Centauri, and in fact be pan-galactic, hyper-intelligent beings like the mice. No one seems to have published conclusive evidence either way. At least they don’t tweet.

I don’t think the Visitors can be very heavy because this phenomenon is only noticeable with automatic doors. I have been typing this on Leeds station while waiting for the delayed train home, and the old-fashioned doors are behaving entirely in accordance with the well-known Law of Human Interaction, and only opening when a visible humanoid operates pressure. The Visitors may be sidling through the doors after the humans, as the doors are quite slow to close. Clearly more research is needed.

In an infinite universe, as every hip frood knows, anything is possible. Even Invisible Visitors on the National Rail Network.

Tell me I’m not the only one to have noticed!

Namaste.