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"I've served you before," the woman at the ticket counter in Piccadilly said when I said yes thanks I was fine changing at Huddersfield, I'm used to it. "Because not many people want to go to Brighouse, she explained, as if to offer a reason (maybe one that wasn't "oh yeah, you're the blind one"). "Yeah, boyfriend, Brighouse, you're an old hand at this aren't you," she said and we both smiled.

She handed me my tickets and said "poor thing, can't you get him to move closer?" My smile changed to that of someone who'd just remembered she is presumed monogamous.

But even without that, why say I should make I'm move here, why couldn't I move there? I'd love Brighouse as a place to live if it didn't mean being so far away from the rest of my friends.

Even if it weren't for the fact that we've both got established households where we are, I don't really mind traveling to visit. Yes it'd be nice sometimes to just be able to see somebody for an hour or whatever or without having to plan it, but I like the train journey (in the daytime at least) and I think the change of scenery does me a lot of good.So much that at first I was wary of how much I liked James, recognizing the possibility that part of what I liked was an afternoon's vacation from my normal life every week.

Turns out I do like that but James is even better than I thought he was at first.
hollymath: (Default)
Of course I'm the lucky one who ends up with the really high person, sucking something out of an aerosol can, sitting next to me on the bus. When the driver tried to get her off, she flailed until she hit another passenger who started fighting back and screaming...all this by lunchtime! I'd only been awake half an hour at this point!

(I'm fine, except before she started the fight the druggie pulled on my sideys and asked "Are these intentional?" which made me tense up so much I didn't even think to go tell the driver when she started sniffing again. It hurts too; even if I didn't want them I wouldn't cut them off because that always hurts.)

The cops had to be called and most people piled off the bus for a while. It being a Sunday there were no other buses so we had to just pile on like sardines again to get get rest of the way into town. If I hadn't been on my way to Bi Coffee, when I knew there wouldn't be other organizer-type people there (not for long, anyway), I'd have just turned around and gone straight back home. I was so fed up, and a little shaken. The screaming and flailing and hair-pulling h happened right next to me. The flippant responses of some of the other passengers as we filed off the bus ("Why does this always happen on our bus?" "At least we got to see the fight this time"...) didn't help me me better.

But I soldiered on and am really glad I went to Bi Coffee; some lovely people and good conversations happened. Since I was somewhere that didn't have whisky I treated myself to afternoon tea, got the most decadent cake I could see, had two refills on my pot of tea, and generally had a great time.

After a little self-pitying, I cleaned up bathroom, got through the first conversation I've had with my parents in a few weeks (who insist on calling on Sundays even though I haven't been around for any of them lately), made nice food for dinner, and then was up until three in the morning trying to help Andrew deal with how much #piggate had DDoSed his brain.

Here's hoping today is calmer and a bit easier to get through!
hollymath: (Default)

Lady and small child carefully examining this train which has just pulled into the station.
hollymath: (Default)

I'm sure it's purest coincidence that it was the train conductor I immediately thought was cute (she clearly had a sense of humor) who left me a heart on my ticket.


Nov. 6th, 2014 01:38 pm
hollymath: (Default)

For a variety of reasons, I haven't gotten the train from Levenshulme very often lately, but I'm glad I did today. The ticket seller was the old man I'm most familiar with, the one who commented I was dressed up one day and congratulated me when I said I was going out to celebrate getting a job.

Today when I said tiredly, automatically, "Return to Brighouse, please," rather than just asking if I was coming back today (often I remember to say this, but today I didn't), he said, "What's it like, this Brighouse? Is it lovely?"

"It is!" I said, excited both because that is true and because this guy was the first worker at Levenshulme train station who I taught to recognize the word "Brighouse." (All those months ago! Aww.) I think all the ones who work in the mornings are pretty used to it now, but there used to have to be lots of spelling. 

I've seen [personal profile] magister have trouble getting train conductors to understand "Levenshulme" as well, so we're even there (oonce I just showed the conductor my train ticket so she could copy off that). 

One thing I do like about getting the train from Levy, as opposed to getting the bus in and having a ticket that says Manchester, and then getting a train from Piccadilly to Huddersfield. These trains go from Manchester or Liverpool all the way to Hull or Middlesbrough or Scarborough or Newcastle, and I can tell sometimes the conductor checking my ticket has no idea of where either Levenshulme or Brighouse is, of whether I belong on this train, but they always just scribble on the ticket and hand it back to me without saying anything. But I like to think that James and I are slowly educating the Trans Pennine Express train conductors by increasing their exposure to these strange words in this combination. ‎

"Is there a house with a brig there?" this Levenshulme ticket seller asked me, back in the present. I laughed and confessed I didn't know how the place got its name. "It's a nautical term, isn't it? Brig?" he said. I agreed, but I'd been about to say that I expected it was more likely to have something to do with "bridge" (indeed for the longest time I could never remember if "Brighouse" was pronounced with a hard or soft g, and I don't feel completely stupid about this because there are places like Brigend where it does still sound like you're saying "bridge" at the beginning). 

On the train now I've looked it up, and sure enough:
The placename is recorded in the Yorkshire Feet of Fines of 1240 as "Brighuses", and means "the houses by the bridge", from the Old Norse "bryg(gia)", bridge, with the Olde English pre 7th Century "hus", house.
I don't think I can credit my exposure to first-millennium languages in the north of England (which is never as good as I'd like it to be) as much as the fact that I walk across a bridge over the River Calder every time I'm in Brighouse. 
hollymath: (Default)
I got the most lovely e-mail from Andrew, a perfect travel send-off:
Hope there are no lines, that the vegetarian food is edible, that there are three films you want to watch on the little screens, that you accidentally get upgraded and get free spirits, that the flight from the US takes just long enough that you have plenty of time in Amsterdam to get to your plane but don't have to wait a long time, that you get some proper sleep on the plane, and that you get home tomorrow feeling refreshed, happy, and loved.
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Insomnia has meant I've listened to a ton of Sherlock Holmes radio plays lately. (I absolutely adore these Clive Merrison ones.)

I must be feeling like I spent a lot of time with him, as I just found myself wondering what could be discerned about me from my things.

My handbag tells an amusing tale of my travels: I just tipped out the return half of a ticket from Birmingham to Manchester, a single from Manchester to Urmston, another from Huddersfield to Manchester, and a bus ticket from Bradford to Brighouse.

And yet most of the traveling I did this weekend was in a car, and leaves no trace. Even my offers to help pay for petrol were dismissed.

I think the bus ticket is my favorite, for the story it tells me. I was offered a lift back to Bradford after the handfasting yesterday, and my first thought was "fantastic, that means I won't spend nearly as long on the train home as I thought." (I'd previously been expecting to get a train from Northallerton.)

My second thought was "I'll beat Andrew home, because he'll be in Brighouse eating roast dinner."

Only my third thought was how stupidly close Brighouse is to Bradford.

When I had phone signal again I got a text from [personal profile] magister asking when I'd get to Bradford. I asked the driver and she said possibly as late as seven-thirty, but that she liked to guess her precise arrival time and she guessed 7:10.

The next text from James said there's a bus I could get from Bradford at 7:12. Any later than that wouldn't really make it worth me going; I wouldn't have time between when I'd get to Brighouse and when I'd have to leave again if I wanted to get back to Manchester before this morning.

When the magic words "seven twelve" passed my lips, the driver of the car I was in started laughing, and gunned it.

I admired her commitment to the cause, zooming around twisty hilly Yorkshire roads, cursing a woman in a blue Renault (we were following her close enough that even I could make out the logo on the back of her car) driving slowly in front of her where she could not overtake. And if there's any merit to psychic powers, the Evil Boat Man is going to have a very bad day after all the vitriol directed at him from our car (so called because he was pulling a little boat (actually I think it was a jetski but the two people in the front car were calling it a boat) and his license plate included "3V1L") because he was going slow enough to make us late. When we finally reached a dual carriageway, I started to feel like I was in an action movie (except with lots of giggling that was sounding increasingly hysterical). We flew past other cars. Each traffic light offered more drama than the last. The person who had been planning to be dropped off first pointed out her window to me, only fifty yards or something from the station, as we sailed by her block of flats, still hoping to get me there on time.

James was right outside my car door when I opened it, and we ran up the escalator and through Bradford Interchange, just in time to jump on the bus and breathlessly ask the driver for this lovely ticket now in my possession. I never would've made it in time if he hadn't arranged to go all the way to Bradford to meet me, a very sweet gesture.

(Meanwhile, the driver of the car was happy because she swung into the station car park at what was, at least by the more generous clocks, 7:10 exactly.)

When I thought there was no way I'd see Andrew or Team Brighouse yesterday, I was sad but okay. The closer it got to being a possibility, though, the more I wanted it to happen, the more I needed this lovely cozy house full of my favorite people rather than a train by myself back to Manchester. The closer it got to seeming like it could happen, the less willing I was to accept that it might not. As we got closer to Bradford and then closer to the station I switched more and more frequently between "we'll probably make it" and "we definitely won't" until I was a spinning ball of pure uncertainty. It took me most of the bus ride to stop jittering from the adrenaline come-down; despite my best efforts to convince my body I wasn't really in an action movie, it didn't seem to believe me.

So I got hugs and kisses and I got to see some amazingly surreal drawings, and a very gingery beer, and a lovely dinner. Andrew even had time to shovel dessert in his mouth before we had to leave for our train. It was a whole evening's worth of loveliness, compressed into about an hour.

If I wasn't the kind of person to lose or destroy such things, I might have kept that bus ticket. I like that it'd mean nothing to even the world's greatest detective but it made me grin this morning when I saw it, because I know what it means.
hollymath: (Default)
Damn, I thought. Only half an hour into this stupidly long flight, and I'm already struggling just to get to the damn menu to find movies I want to watch?

Only after a while longer did I realize I was struggling because the menus were in French. I didn't know whether to think I was doing really well considering how little French I know, or doing really badly because it took me so long to figure it out.

Despite my uselessness at French, and my dislike for Charles de Gaulle, I still think flying Air France might be worth it!

First of all, the food is actually good. (Not for the first time did I think the food on the plane is among the nicest I'll have for the next week. At least they have a vegetarian option.) The flight attendant praised my choice, risotto (I sewar they teach those ladies to flirt in flight-attendant school) and even remembered who I was enough to ask me how I'd liked it when she came back to clear the rubbish away, which made my heart go a-flutter a bit.

But what really sold me on this is that after the meal, when we were offered tea and coffee, I turned both down. I wanted some water to drink. When I saw another flight attendanct with a big bottle of water on her trolley, I opened my mouth to ask her for some but before I could say a word she said "Cognac?" I couldn't believe it. You can't even have a Heineken on a Delta flight without paying a fiver (or something) for it.

So I sat there after dinner, watching a movie (Cartographie des Nuages), sipping away, pretending I was more sophisticated than I am, like a kid playing dress-up.
hollymath: (Default)
"Hope you like trees," the bus driver said as he opened the door for [personal profile] po8crg and me.

There was something so...well, I'd have called it Mancunian if we weren't in Salford, I'm not sure enough of the distinctions to know which I should be using, and I don't know if the two cities will allow the existence of an adjective that encompasses both... Anyway, there was something so this part of the world in that -- the delivery, the understatement, the humor that always tends towards -- that it's come to represent the whole evening in my recollections of it over the past week.

This Friday is rubbish -- the work I've been too busy or too distractable or too tired to do all week now needs to be done -- so I'm going to tell you about last Friday instead because last Friday was awesome.

Have you ever sat in a pub with someone, after possibly a bit more to drink than you strictly needed, and talked enthusiastically about vague future plans? "Oh yeah, we should definitely do that!" Yeah, me too, all the time. The difference is, this one actually happened, months later. [personal profile] po8crg and I found ourselves talking about rugby league, which seemed to me like an intriguing combination of rugby union (which I know a little about and sometimes like) and American football (which I know a little about and sometimes like). He's from a rugby-league town, and proposed we find out when his team was playing the local one and go see it.

Which we did, last Friday.

After dinner in the sunshine, the weather warm enough that I was fine with drinking lager, we walked to Shudehill to get the bus to the other side of Salford, and only then realized that we'd left the tickets on the table at the restaurant. Finally on the bus we talked about, among other things, how difficult it is to navigate buses on unfamiliar routes: he said he ended up getting off a stop too early because he was never sure where the next one would be.

If that had happened to us this time, we wouldn't have had to like trees.

We watched what was, unbeknownst to us, the stop we wanted zoom by -- no one wanted it, of course, as it was already twenty minutes after the game had started, and in the way of new stadiums it was in the middle of nowhere so there was no other reason to go there -- and were convinced it was the next one we wanted. But the bus driver (who knew from us telling him when we got on the bus where we wanted tickets to, knew this and actually stopped before we got to the next stop, which was why we had to walk with overgrown foliage on one side of us and cars zooming about a foot from us on the other side because there was no shoulder.

I was already thinking This is the sort of thing that's going to be funny later, but I was laughing already, in disbelief or possibly just due to the adrenaline.

Then we had a slapstick running-hither-and-thither scene in trying to be let in: first finding the door our tickets said we should go to for our seats (which of course was the one furthest away), finding it locked, going back the way we came to find a hostile G4S person who very reluctantly made a phone call to find out if he must deign to let us in, telling us we had to go to another door which was..the one nearest to where we'd started.

Finally, though, we were inside and felt we both deserved a pint. He, being coeliac, had an easy choice of Strongbow, but I faced John Smiths (extra cold, of course) or Fosters. "John Smiths, please," I said. A tiny bleach-blonde teenager appeared from nowhere to tap me on the shoulder telling me not to get the John Smiths. The woman behind the bar told me it was flat. "Fosters, then," I said. She said they were out. I really couldn't face the fizzy pop that is Strongbow. But then it turned out they had cans of Deuchars IPA hidden away in the fridge behind them, which was actually perfect for me.

So finally we get to our seats, right in the front row right in the middle (I was going to say "on the fifty-yard line, but that's handegg). We've got about ten minutes left before halftime, and St. Helens are winning. I cracked open my beer and was sure there could hardly be anybody as happy to be in that stadium as the two of us.

Anyway, it was the second half that was worth being there for: the score was pretty close at halftime, but St. Helens scored seven tries in the second half. Their fans had lots of reasons to sing (I didn't recognize it at first amidst all the frantic clapping, but of course they sang "When the Saints Go Marching In" -- rugby league teams all have weird arbitrary names, like American sports teams or IPL teams, and inevitably St. Helens are the Saints).

In a way, the front row was almost too close for me. It was hard to follow the general sweep of the game from so close up, and once we couldn't tell whether something was a try or not because from such an angle we couldn't see the try line. I am very ill-suited to live sports, really (except baseball, which I know so well), unless I've got a radio or something. But [personal profile] po8crg did a lovely job of telling me what was going on, knowing that the game would be unfamiliar to me, so I was fine.

Of course all too quickly it was over and a bunch of us filed to the bus stop just in time to pack the bus full (no more Bus Adventures!). It was funny watching my stealthy St. Helens friend try to contain his glee while all around him were bitching; on the noisy bus he told me very quietly that Salford is bottom of the league right now, but the latter at least I could have deduced from listening to anyone else around us. In the resigned tones of someone who was both committed to going to see his team play in London (which will be tomorrow) but sure it'd be another miserable experience. That kind of grudging devotion to a poor team is something close to my heart.


Mar. 6th, 2013 04:41 pm
hollymath: (Default)
The beauty of York is the beauty of made things. My favorite kind. I'm reminded of the time I went to Salts Mill and thought an engine bolted to the ground, a testament to the now-art gallery's original purpose, was more beautiful and evocative than all the art-for-art's-sake.

York's is the beauty of things that have been fashioned for a purpose. Some of this, I was aware of already. The walls are beautiful, but they were built to keep people out. The minster is beautiful, but it exists to worship a God I don't have any connection to. But it really struck me when I was there in January with Andrew.

We first went to the railway museum, a shrine to iron and burnt hydrocarbons -- the smell hits me first, the grease and oil and burnt dust that makes me moan like many other sensory pleasures might be expected to. And it is a shrine, because it commemorates a dead age, of supremacy and efficiency and ubiquity. The Shinkansen O-series car Andrew and I listen to a talk about was running in the 1960s; now Japan might compete with France or Germany for the fastest trains, but this 50-year-old train is still unimaginably futuristic in Britain.

Britain's superiority is all in the past, like the Mallard (ever really fastest? when American trains only had to break the law of the land rather than the (seeming) laws of physics to beat it?) and the evocatively-named trains I'd like to jump on: the Cambrian Radio something-or-other, the Day Continental...there was even one nameplate amidst all the boring "The Prince of Wales"es and such that was simply labelled "Mars" (which if you have a dear friend you greet every morning with "Onward to Mars!" rather than "hello" is especially delightful).

There's nothing more functional than a sign that says "weight must not exceed 5000 tons" (or whatever they say); today they would be plastic, but here they are stamped iron ovals, that don't look at all out of place in a museum though I can't imagine their creators would ever have expected them to end up in one.

The beauty of things not meant to be beautiful is evident everywhere here. And though I perhaps take a delight in knowing the beauty will one day make these things special and admired, the people who used these trains and turntables had the pleasure of using them, which is one that's forever lost on me as I step on and off diesel multiple units or electric multiple units to get to York and back.

There are books about these modern trains in the gift shop, but the juxtaposition with the books on Victorian engineers, art deco British Rail advertising posters ("it's quicker by rail"), and the steam engines as problematic as they were pragmatic. Still, maybe future generations will see the current rolling stock of First Transpennine Express to have the same functional beauty; maybe Virgin Trains advertising will end up in an art gallery like the posters we saw there that day, advertising winter holidays ("Go South for Winter Sun", makes it sound like it's heading for the tropics rather than Brighton or Southport*).


Ghost stories are all about forming functional history into beautiful narrative. And yes, even when it makes us shudder or shriek, history's beautiful. If nothing else, it makes me appreciate the present. Much better to stand in modern insulative fabrics on a bitter winter's night next to someone you love (I noticed, until the hen night invaded, our walking-tour group was mostly couples (as well as mostly young and mostly Londoners and Americans) with the knowledge that you have warm beds in centrally-heated rooms to go back to than to be hanged for murders you didn't commit, strangled by a jealous lover, or frightened to death by a ghost who doesn't want you re-decorating his empty house.

The story that people who stay at the Black Swan walk in their sleep though they've never done it before elicited shrieks from the hen party, one of whom had done just that the night before.

Andrew and I walked up the Shambles arm-in-arm, which is supposed to bring good luck for a year. "Don't let go until I say so," said our guide in the accent that reminded me so much of Jake Thackray ("it's Yorkshire Catholic," Andrew pronounced confidently when I said this, but I wans't thinking of just that but something about the cadence and the melody and the way it sounds soft and brittle at the same time, also beautiful in its unintentional way), "or you'll die." But even after he told us we could let go of each other, Andrew and I didn't move.

The guide had a stick, which I'd noticed early on he carried; it was not to help him walk but it had a purpose nonetheless: to point, to be dramatic. I was glad he made reference to it at the end, telling us a friend had bought it for him in Whitby (I was unsurprised, but glad it was saved from being the affectation of a goth). It had a carved devil's head at the top, and bright red eyes, and he said people could wish good luck onto it. He had leant it against the door of a neighbor who was having a bad time, and the neighbor won the lottery soon after.

"One day I'll have to give it away," he said, and extended it outwards to the half-circle of people around him at the last stop of our tour, and it happened that I was in front (I'm always in front; habit of a partially-sighted person, drilled into me since school) and he held it out toward me, but I just grinned and was not surprised when he pulled his arm back and said, "but not tonight." It was part of his patter, just like all the stories. Functional, again, and beautiful still. I was grinning because I knew what he'd do, and I was right, but also because I was convinced that if he'd actually offered the stick to me I'd have taken it happily and confidently.

* When I found out how close Southport was, I wondered if it'd been named by the same spirit of (possibly apocryphal) Viking cunning that gave us "Greenland."
hollymath: (life)
Friends invited me along to Saltaire the other day, a place I'd been assured I'd like but had never been. The predictions were correct; I liked it a lot. I delight that my friends are so good at knowing what I like.

Saltaire is a model village, a philanthropic endeavor by a nineteenth-century industrialist, Titus Salt, to get his workers out of the horrors of the living conditions in the slums of Bradford. Salts Mill now contains books and cafes and art supplies, the work of localish artist David Hockey and prints of art from further afield. And little touches of its original purpose, not just in the architecture but in bits of machinery and furniture that had been left, untouchable, dotted around the ground-floor tables of colorful art and books.

I looked at the art on the walls, and in the books, but I always struggle at least a little with visual art. My easy explanation is that, as a visually-impaired person, I find it difficult to appreciate visual art, and I think most people are content with this, but I'm not really. I think despite all my efforts at "art appreciation" I find it really difficult to see most paintings or drawings in anything other than the way Leonard Cohen talks about looking at the Moon, here in my favorite poem of his.

I am a poor lover of art. Presented with a friend's favorite painting, I am as likely to think "Wow, those hands look good, and hands are really hard to draw!" as about the inherent metaphors or the brushwork. I can do it with prose, sometimes poetry, usually music... but not paintings or photographs. I enjoy representational over abstract, but not because I think there is no value in abstract art, just that I like to look at things. Like trees. David Hockney's 25 Trees Between Bridlington School and Morrison’s Supermarket along Bessingby Road in the Semi-Egyptian Style is brilliant, because it's a very skilful rendering of what trees look like at different times of the year: dipped in sugar during winter, a perfect green during summer. But then I'm thinking about how much I like trees, not how much I like art or pictures of trees that aren't really there.

Similarly, the one book I fell in love with in the shop was a book of railway posters. From The Night Scotsman to the Orient Express, Interlaken to Canada, I was enchanted. But I knew I couldn't buy the book, not just because it was expensive and impractical but because I didn't want to look at the posters if I couldn't ride those trains. I wanted to go everywhere in that book, on those trains, and I can't. Divorced from their context, those posters' beauty is too bittersweet.

I loved that art because it is using its artistry for something, as surely as the gears and chains on the engines I was admiring are for something. It has a function, even though that function is advertising and I am normally philosophically opposed to advertising. But I like trains, almost as much as I like trees.

Still I lingered over the decorative engines more happily than I did over the other art.
hollymath: (Default)
I'm on a train to Middlesbrough. I'm getting off in Huddersfield. I think it's been a while since I have been on a train going so much further than I am going on it.

This used to happen a lot when I was coming back from band practice; I'd get a train from the airport to Piccadilly, but the train would keep telling me it was for Barrow-in-Furness. I was always enthralled by this and a strange compulsion to stay on, travel through the night to the wilds of the real north of England; get there at two in the morning or something with nothing to do but look at the stars. All the names along the way sounded so tantalizing too.

Anyone who knows anything about Barrow-in-Furness or Middlesbrough is bound to laugh at this, but it's not about the destinations so much as the distance. There feels like some kind of gravitational pull, or something like a rubber band stretched tight that wants nothing more than to snap back to its faraway origin, when I'm on a train like this.


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