In September, 2011, I arrived in Manchester, with a view to hiring a car and working my way down to London, but after two days of more-or-less steady rain, I felt like I was still home in a particularly wintry Melbourne. On the third morning, as I was leaving to catch the train to York, I was greeted by another downpour. My runners had dried out from the day before but it was obvious that wasn’t going to last long.
A man pushed past me, squeezing me against my case in the hotel doorway, raised him umbrella, almost poking out one of my eyes and took off into the deluge. I launched myself out as well, crossed the road through manic Monday morning traffic to the cafe opposite the hotel and ordered my first English breakfast, scrambled eggs and bacon on wholegrain toast. Delicious. Over coffee I prayed that the rain would ease just long enough for me to make it to the station. The prayer worked. As I left the cafe it stopped and I reached the station damp, as opposed to dripping.
Manchester Piccadilly railway station is fabulous, in that you walk in off the street and straight onto the platforms.
Not so with the toilets, or should I say, toilet, because in the whole two-storey concourse, there is only one set, and you have to pay to avail yourself of it – with change. I hadn’t thought to stock up on change, not realising I was going to need it for this activity. I expected the railways to provide toilets as a service to their commuters. I headed to a kiosk, bought a muesli bar and pocketed the change.
Standing in front of the turnstile, I realised there was no way of getting my large case through. You’d think in a regional train station they would have made allowances for getting cases through a turnstile. I wasn’t leaving it out there, that’s for sure. Two cleaners stood near me, deep in conversation, buckets and equipment on the floor beside them.
‘Excuse me,’ I said to one, ‘I need to get in but I’ve got this big case.’ The face that turned to me was so empty, I wondered if there was anyone at home. ‘My case,’ I said, ‘I can’t get it through.’
After a long look between the two of them, and something said in Manchestarian, a language which, up until the last two days I’d had no access to and so was having great difficulty understanding, she pointed at the turnstile. I still hadn’t put money in.
I dragged some change from my pocket, stared at the turnstile and back at the change. She grabbed a couple of coins, inserted them and clutched the bottom of the case, at which stage I grasped the top. Over it went. It was then I noticed how long the queue was at the other turnstile, and the harassed looks on the crowd, held up by the sleep-deprived, jet-lagged woman from Australia.
The case didn’t fit into the cubicle so I left it squeezed up next to the door. On the way out, I noticed a woman pulling her small case through a gate next to the turnstile.
The train was very comfortable and, in fact, I would have been quite happy sitting there for hours, watching Yorkshire rush past me. Fields, divided into squares by dry-stone fences, rolled across valleys and hills that rose and fell in colours of verdant green, purple and tan. Every few miles a village popped up, many with chimneys from the old mills of the Industrial Revolution. I couldn’t quite believe I was actually in Yorkshire, the place that spawned the Brontes, Captain Cook, Michael Parkinson and Judi Dench. There must be something in the water.
This is an excerpt from ‘Is This the Road to Stratford?’, the third book in my Planning to the ‘Nth’ travel series. The first, ‘The Edge of the World’, describing my adventures road tripping around Tasmania, is now published as an Ebook through Amazon.