No, not the title of an S&M novel from Nexus; I was off yesterday morning to the Deansgate Waterstone’s in sunny (yes, it was) Manchester, into Ariel’s old stomping ground (SF section with space I can only dream of now run very well by Mike Rowley). I had an interview for a head office position running the Fiction Core Stock range, which luckily you can do from a branch and don’t need to do at the head office. Very fortunate since that is in the miserable suburban mire of Brentford, famous for being the home of Robert ‘Mad? Me?’ Rankin and for… Er, well nothing really – it is a dismal place you pass through quickly.
Started off badly. My bus got caught in a huge line of buses because someone broke down across a main junction and caused a huge tailback. Had to get out and run for Waverley train station, but made it, sweaty but in time. Except there’s no Manchester train on the departure boards. Check again. Nope, nothing. Only a few minutes to go, so I rush to the info point and they tell me where to go. Arrive at platform, no train yet. Running late already and I’m not even on it yet! Ah, British train travel… Spot nearby ATM and decide to get cash out, not being aware if they had such machines in Manchester (also took bottled water in case you couldn’t drink the local stuff, always a wide precaution). ATM jams with my card inside and swallows it. As the money doesn’t come out until you take your card that meant no money either. Train pulls up and I have to leg it with a whole £4 in loose change to get me through the whole day. Not the best way to start, especially when you’re going for an interview.
Get a text message from Ariel who points out that perhaps this gets all that bad juju out of the way before the interview, which was a better way of looking at it. Anyway, had a reasonably nice trip after that in a pretty comfortable Virgin train (no, not a train with onboard catering for thirsty vampires – the Richard Branson Laughing Gnome variety). Been a while since I’ve taken the train anywhere apart from Glasgow and it was pretty good. Power points at each seat so you can recharge your phone or plug in your laptop. A shame then that I left my laptop at home since I was only gone a day and didn’t bring my recharger for my mobile or MiniDisc. Another nice touch was the Quiet Coach, where you can’t use mobiles or have loud personal stereos. Nice idea, especially if you’re going to do over 7 hours total there and back.
Arrived much later than I should have and was worried about getting to a location I had never been to in a city I’d never visited as an adult. But thanks to my good sense of direction (it’s the inbuilt chip which lets the sanatorium know where I am at all times), an A-Z and directions from Ariel I walked there in fifteen minutes and arrived early! Oh well, chance for a nosey round Deansgate branch then.
Lucked out afterwards when I was hit with the idea of using my bonus points in a nearby Boots to buy some sandwiches and grub to keep me going (no Switch card, no ability to use the ATM or to debit purchases, a real bugger – made more ironic by the fact the first bank I saw right outside the doors of Piccadilly Station was a Royal Bank of Scotland!). Wandered around town for a while taking pics of interesting buildings, of which there were some very cool ones (see the building with the Triffids on it!). Met up with Ariel who nicely diverted his homebound trip after work to take me off for a nice pint of Boddingtons (hey, when in Rome). As a bonus he brought along TAO’s resident sea-side dwelling Viking, Vegar, who I’ve known for a while but never actually met, so it was cool to be able to sit back and share a few ales with them before heading home (although the boys had to buy so I owe them some fine Caley ale when they are up here). As it turned out Vegar’s train was right behind mine on the same platform, so I was pretty much seen off right from the platform, which was very nice. This is Ariel (left) and Vegar (right) as we left one pub for another. The bizarre, Chad-like creature peering over the corner is me. Ah, self portraiture. Big thanks once more to Ariel and the V-Man.
The journey back gave me a sudden stab of nostalgia since the train came up and stopped at Lancaster station, right in the shadow of Lancaster Castle. My parents used to keep a caravan in nearby Morecambe (before the oldsters Mafiosi who took over turned it into a ghost town by shutting everything fun so no-one would visit) when I was a kid and I well remember enjoying tours of the dungeons of the castle. Yes, I was a Gothic freak of nature even then. A few minutes later and the track runs only a few yards from the huge sweep of Morecambe Bay, which was enjoying one of its trademark spectacular sunsets. A glowing copper disc slowly burning its way below the horizon. With the tide far out the sand of the beach was turned to a shimmering, warm gold. The only drawback to train travel of course is when you see something like this you can’t just stop to watch… I lucked out again when I discovered the train stopped at Haymarket Station which is only ten minutes walk from my flat. I came in on a line I hadn’t travelled before which actually goes right past my house before Haymarket. I could actually see my flat going past – pity you can’t just get them to stop then and there and let you out (now wouldn’t that be a great bit of customer service!). 7 and 1/2 hours on the train, but at least I got hours of reading time in uninterupted.