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I texted James on Friday to say the day that would work for me to visit this weekend was Saturday and was that okay with him. He said yes, and that there was the free wine-tasting at Czerwik's.

So I turned up, after a horrible journey comprised not only of rail-replacement buses but of absolutely no information about anything anywhere, very ready for a glass of wine. We listened to some cricket first and managed to turn up at Czerwik's just as the other customers and the guy who works there were wandering off upstairs or to do other things, leaving for a while just me and Jennie and James in the wine cellar, sitting on the cool floor demolishing the rest of the available cheese and an amount of wine that probably would've been shameful for people who had any shame. It was awesome.

But as if that wasn't enough, we'd walked past a new place advertising itself as doing cocktails and food, right next to Czerwik's, called Villain. They weren't open then but we peered through the windows of this place with the black exterior and shiny purple letters, to see an interior that was also black and shiny purple, and from what Jennie could tell a decent selection of gin.

By the time we left Czerwik's it was open. We thought we had to test it out.

Jennie and I had color-change gin, which starts out bright blue in the bottle, turns purple when you add the tonic, and then turns pink. In case this black-and-purple villain-themed place (with posters on the wall of different Jokers and That Guy From Breaking Bad and similar) wasn't Jennie enough, it also features gin in all the colors I have ever seen her hair be.

It also seems like the most bisexual thing ever. I mean: gin that's all the colors of our flag?!

Because Andrew had kindly said I didn't have to brave a worse public-transport nightmare on the way back, I stayed over which meant I got to eat mincemeat-with-cheese vol-au-vents (that might've been an idea we thought of once we started drinking eating the nice cheddar...) and watch game shows. And then Black Books, a delight for me because I know it so well it's so easy to watch. And then an early bedtime, by which point I was almost sober again.

In the morning I still had a similarly horrible journey to face, but at least I had more sleep before I did it. It wasn't too bad, though even abled people were still complaining at the lack of information (Brighouse is an unstaffed station and there was no indication of when or where the rail replacement bus would arrive; I'm seriously tempted to find out who to complain to because I've never had such an inaccessible journey. Even to the point where when the bus got to Huddersfield, the driver stopped at what I thought was an intersection, instead he opened the door and got off the bus and I was like..."oh, we're...here?" It took a while for anyone to get off the bus so I don't think it was just Blindy McBlindface here who wasn't sure what was going on.)

However in Huddersfield the staff got a lot better...a bit suffocating, really, but at least they made sure I got on the right rail-replacement bus for the next bit and made sure Stalybridge knew to expect me and to help me get to the right platform where I got an actual train the rest of the way to Manchester.

Nothing like losing the express route across the Pennines to make you appreciate it. It's fifteen minutes on the train, it took 45 minutes on the bus. It's a very pretty area and would be nice to live in or go to. But when it's just in the way, and you're worried about getting home in time for a thing, it's just stress-inducing.

I got home just in time to shower and go out again, to the Women in Science walk that went along with the talk my WI had last month. It was done by one of our members who volunteers with Manchester Girl Geeks who have done a walking tour of the city centre focusing on women who've had some connection to Manchester. What she was doing for us lot, on her own, was a smaller version of the same thing. About twelve of us showed up and everyone really enjoyed it.

We learned about Kathleen Drew-Baker, a phycologist whose work inadvertently saved Japan's supply of nori after it was nearly wiped out, Margaret Beckett who was a metallurgist before going into politics, Beatrice Shilling, engineer and motorbike racer, Cicely Popplewell and Mary Lee Woods, early computer scientists, and then Margaret Murray and Professor Rosalie David, pioneering and current experts on mummies. I liked that for all the historical scientists the last one is a currently-working woman.

It was nice to end up in Manchester Museum too, where I haven't been for ages, probably since the course I did two summers ago because it was one of the heritage sites that was part of it; some of my coursemates volunteered there afterwards just like I did at MOSI. And actually the MOSI person who oversaw that course is now working at Manchester Museum and asked me last week if I'd be interested in helping one of the conservators there who wants to make an exhibit accessible for for people with visual impairments. So I'm going to a meeting about that later this week and I'm pretty excited about that.

I know I just gave up one volunteering thing, but I'm not committing myself to anything yet by going to a meeting, and it sounds like it might be more satisfying/a better use of my time. We'll see, anyway.
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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.
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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. 
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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.
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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.
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"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.
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When I'm waiting for a bus I often think, being partially sighted, I'm living in a slightly altered version of the children's book Where's My Cow?
Where's my bus?
Is that my bus?
It is close enough now to look blue.
That's a different kind of bus!
Stupid privatization of public transport. All the buses down this street go the same place, but some of them cost twice as much as others.

And they're also far more frequent.

I am poor. So I keep waiting.

This is the only time I miss London. You don't have to care about this there; all the buses cost the same. This is why they can all be red. Of course, like everything else in London, that cost is many lots.

It could be argued my cheap buses cost that much too, it's just that I pay some of the maddening price in having to ignore a bus going where I want to go, knowing it will get there before I can.
Where's my bus?
Is that my bus?
It is close enough now that it doesn't really look much like a bus at all.
It is a big stupid truck!
Everything looks like a bus when you're half blind, though. Especially when it's cold out.

There are lots of big trucks and vans and things speeding along this big road. Tricking me. My dad once told me he always looks at the cabs of semis to see where they're from. He will regularly see ones from Wisconsin and Iowa. Here I see a van hired from Salford.

I traded the boredom of nearly-uninterrupted farmland for the bustle of the big city; rather than the smell of good topsoil and freshly-minted oxygen I get vans from Salford roaring around the concrete jungle.
Where's my bus?!
Is that my bus?!
No, it's tiny.
It's a goddam car.
What's the matter with you, Holly?
Wishful thinking, I guess. The bus should be here in time to get me to work, but it's a close thing. I hope nice people are working today, who won't glare at me too much.

Sometimes this wait makes me wish I could drive. Oh to be free of these shackles of surly bus drivers and never having the right change. But then I contemplate parking, affording gas, learning to call it petrol, taxes, insurance, and then what happens when something breaks? I can't even handle it that our washing machine isn't working again.

Not being able to drive is part of the reason my parents accept that I live so far away. In the spare words we share with each other it's impossible to explain the benefits of living here, but I don't want to hurt their feelings by seeming too grateful to be so far away, so I point to the buses as a good, safe excuse.

But they're not meant to be just an excuse. They're meant to get me to work this morning. I check the time, watching it tip to the wrong side of 7 a.m.

I look up just in time to see...

A tractor! The tractors I'm most used to are my dad's, most of which were older than me and not as speedy as this. They bumped along through clods of that good topsoil, chewed up grass, or at best rumbled along on gravel roads. This wide smooth black road would've been sheerest luxury for their poor old suspensions.

This tractor is a Massey-Ferguson, I note when it gets close enough. A brand I am delighted to recognize, though I know it from tractor shows I went to with my dad (and even my grandma) when I aws a kid.

I loved them: the smell of oil and grease, the ancient rhythmic pulses of small engines, the exotic names. On the John Deere/International schism -- which loomed large amongst the boys in my school, as did Chevy/Ford and Arctic Cat/Polaris -- we were firmly on the red side, with representatives of a few minor denominations thrown in (Allis-Chalmers, Farmall, even a Ford tractor). But at the tractor shows there were strange brand names: White, whose tractors, to my great childish disappointment, were grey. Minneapolis-Moline, which made me feel dizzy because the name of a town I'd heard of and been to was there on the side of a tractor. And Massey-Ferguson. A name that evoked sunny days watching old-fashioned threshing with my dad and a flood of memories were superimposed on the grey road and the grey sky...

...And my bus, the one I'd been so earnestly, optimistically, magical-thinkingly waiting for, was suddenly zooming past me. I may have sworn. I might have stamped the ground while doing so. I am sure I flailed my arms at the receding bus, halfway between throwing roundhouse punches at it and futilely signaling it to stop, much too late. I saw red, even if it was just its tail lights quickly shrinking into the distance towards more alert commuters.

I plucked my phone out of my bag to share my misery. Although even as I tapped out the text message to a friend, hoping to elicit pity, I was aware of how ridiculous a predicament I was finding myself in. How many people could say "I just missed my bus because I was preoccupied admiring a tractor going down the street"?

I got a reply while I was still waiting for the next bus. It broke through my gloomy thoughts about being late for work as if the sun were breaking through these damn Manchester clouds:

"Machinery is 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.
hollymath: (Default)
I just saw my first atheist bus!

Well, technically my only atheist bus. So far.

And it's not really that the bus is an atheist... (I suppose all buses are atheists, come to think of it. You'd have a hard time showing me a bus that believed in God.)

Still, I'm excited.

THERE'S PROBABLY NO GOD, it says. NOW STOP WORRYING AND ENJOY YOUR LIFE. Just like the ones I read about! Hurrah for signs of life outside London. I hadn't even known we were going to get atheist buses in Manchester.

Needing someone to tell, I dragged out my phone and texted [livejournal.com profile] innerbrat, who's just written about this, and [livejournal.com profile] matgb, who told me that they raised enough money that the atheist buses are everywhere. Hurrah!

Even more deliciously, though, I just realized that it was a Stagecoach bus. Take that, crazy CEO! Brian Souter, well-known bastard who campaigned to keep the homophobic Clause 28, is (surprise) an evangelical Christian and there was concern that the outside-London campaign might not happen on buses anyway because of him.

Obviously he apparently decided that atheist money spends as well as any other money, but I still like to think it needles him to see this on "his" buses, just like it needles me to think of giving him any of my money, which is why I don't do it if I can help it.

So ha on him anyway.
hollymath: (eyebrow)
Where am I?

Who am I?

What's going on here?

These are the sort of questions everybody asks themselves first thing in the morning, especially when the answers turn out to be something a little strange, like "A couple hundred miles away from where I was the last time I went to sleep, on someone's couch" and "I'm on holiday! I'm going to the British Museum today!" The answers start flooding back amid the ale and Leffe and Hooegaarden and red wine (only one of each though!), and chocolate muffins (two of those) and you start to feel good despite the scratchiness in your throat that makes you wonder if you're finally coming down with the rest of whatever has been making you sneeze too much for the past few days.

But then a new memory of last night hits you and you have to ask yourself more questions. I did what? Can that be right? I'm sure it made sense at the time and everything, but why?

And then I wake up a little more and realize yeah, I really do have my own Oyster card now.
hollymath: (teeth)
Sometimes I'm sad that, despite living in the future tee em, I still have no magical teleporter.

But it's some consolation to me that the necessity of nonmagical transport means I can get excited about things like this. Don't know if I'll manage it on this trip to Madrid (though that is of course why I've got this particular window open in Firefox now), but I definitely want this to happen some time, to go somewhere.

(Shame our anniversary seems to happen at the time of the year when we're brokest (though this year our passports will also be zooming away in the residency application, so 'tis a moot point anyway), or I'd make Andrew whisk me away to somewhere cool that we can get to on a train. Look at the train!)

In other interesting public transport news, in town this afternoon I saw a bus that said it was going to JOHN LENNON. In the time it take me to do the double-take I realized I knew well what they meant, but still it made me smile. Ah, if only it were so easy.
hollymath: (Default)
I saw this in a souvenir shop yesteday and spent the rest of the afternoon regretting not buying it.

Apart from the times when I was thinking Surely you can't fit enough of it on there to be worth bothering with! (I only saw it for second at the checkout, and wrapped up in a little plastic box. It looks a little more impressive in the photo. My yearning only increases.)

In other tube-related titilation, I have changed my desktop's background image from a snapshot of the Minneapolis skyline (I like looking at the road signs in front of it; the exit to W 94 particularly) to a photo I stumbled over today when looking for something else; this lovely Escheresque photo of the Morden station. (Lest you wonder, Morden is way at the southern end of the Northern Line, which goes more or less through the middle of the tube map, so it'd be way off the naughtiness scale, according to the above knickers.) The last few times I've minimized the browser window, the photo's given my brain that feeling that your elbow gets when you hit it just wrong, but I figure that sort of thing must be good for me.

P.S. Andrew asked me to mention that The National Pep's new EP, Love Punks Want to Make You Cry, is now available, for the princely sum of £2 or $5. At the moment you can get it directly from him, if you paypal the money to andrew@thenationalpep.co.uk, but it'll soon be up on CDBaby too.
hollymath: (Default)
Dedicated to Maggie, of course, because she made all this possible.

Say what you will about London — and there's plenty to say, starting with the fact that even the cheap day-travelcard costs what I pay for a week's bus pass — but once you have that travelcard you can get on anything going anywhere in the alloted area.

On first visiting London I had a moment of panic when I saw all those made-for-TV (and the movies) red buses, as I'm used to the color of buses mattering, a lot. Here it's cheaper to get a pass for only one company's kind of buses rather than the any-bus passes, and that means you have to care about, say, whether you can get the blue-ish ones or the white ones.

A week's pass for the white ones costs me about half of the blue ones' price. The white ones only do a couple of routes, but since their route goes by our house, the hospital where we work, and the city centre, they're good enough for us.*

The white buses are also not as frequent, so I can wait a long time for a bus (= 20 minutes, which still makes me feel spoiled because for my whole life until I got to Manchester, if I got in a car (which of course I'd have to find a driver for) and drove very fast for 20 minutes, I still wouldn't be anywhere interesting).

Tonight, after a long day at work that got far too exciting just seconds before I would otherwise have been able to go home, of course I waited ages for a bus. It was 20 minutes before I even saw a white bus at all, and of course it was the much-more-popular 42 and not any of the other numbers, all of which go closer to my house. Sometimes I get the 42 anyway and walk the extra ten minutes or whatever, convinced it'll get me home faster than waiting for a better bus and that, even if it doesn't, it'll make me feel better to be moving, but today was the complete opposite of those times.

A mere (ha!) five or ten minutes later I saw another white bus and, as always, my hopes soared. (It takes me a lot longer before I can see the number on the bus, which more often than not dashes said hopes, of course.) Except I could see problems here right away: the white bus was behind two other buses. The bus stop is in a little lay-by that's long enough for about two buses. I have seen this scenario enough to know what usually happens: the third bus unloads its passengers who want that stop, if any, and takes off as soon as possible. This one had a few people who wanted off, at which point I was running toward it and realizing it was in fact a bus I wanted.

Usually one can scamper on while people are getting off, of course, but in this case the bus had stopped far enough behind the proper bus stop that it was next to a railing that's put on some corners of intersections (which this is) between the sidewalk and the road, to keep people from jaywalking across the street at those points. There was no way I could get down to the end of the railing and back to the door of the bus in the very short time alloted in this suboptimal situation.

I waved frantically at the white bus anyway, hoping it'd move up when one of the buses ahead of it left ... which sometimes works, but I wasn't surprised it didn't now. I ran between the other two still-stubbornly-stationary buses to try to flag my intended down as it zoomed past, which also sometimes works, but I wasn't surprised when it behaved as if I weren't even there.

I stomped angrily back to the bus shelter, wanting to kick it or swear or burst into tears of frustration and exhaustion, but violence is not the answer and I always knew crying in public was a bad idea, and cursing my rotten luck would be not just useless but redundant at this point. Instead I flopped down next to the one other person still at the bus stop, a lady who looked like the kind of forty-year-old who's actually in her early thirties, who said something about how it was never going to stop. She knows the standard operating procedure as well as I do. I sighed and said something about how I'd already been waiting 20 minutes and... She nodded sympathetically.

Then I realized that she was busy realizing that the second of these two buses was still there. No one was getting on or off. Its driver was looking at us, though we were clearly not interested in a 143 Magic Bus.

Magic Buses are called that (as I'm sure I told [livejournal.com profile] setharoo when he commented upon them during his visit) because if they hold together long enough to get you to your destination, it'd be magic. They are owned by the blue-ish bus people (obviously old decrepit squealy-braked versions of their regular buses), the people with the expensive tickets and the CEO who donates money to schools that teach creationism, so even though the Magic Buses are cheaper than the other blue-ish buses, we don't use them. (This might also have something to do with the fact that their route stops not far before it'd go past our house.)

Even with my crapness at discerning stuff like body language in the murky dusk (boo! it's getting dark noticeably earlier now) after a long and tiring day, I started to notice that this guy was not just looking at us but beckoning to us. With the help of the lady, I realized that he was telling me to get on his bus, so I could catch up to the bus that had just passed. Though I'd barely noticed him when I stepped between the two buses a couple of paragraphs ago, he'd clearly noticed me waving and then stomping off with a deep desire to throw a tantrum.

I got on the bus gratefully, with renewed faith in the Magic Bus and thus all of humanity ... for if these rattletrap contraptions have a redeeming feature like compassion, all good things are possible again. It was quickly dissolved, though, by the realization that I was stony broke. I could probably get home for 70 or 80p from here, but I'd spent my last 90p on a cake for lunch, at least five of which p were indeed pennies. If I hadn't gotten the Tesco clerk who always tries to flirt with me, I probably wouldn't have been able to buy anything at all because it took too much patience on their part to count out the handful of 5p coins (with a 20p or two for good measure).

I weakly held up the white-bus pass I'd been brandishing at the white-bus driver, which is a trick Andrew and I have learned to say "no, we really do want your bus, not the one in front of you/just coming up/etc, now stop!" Like the other good bus-conjuring tricks, it works — occasionally. Obviously it hadn't aroused a mote of pity this time, which was why I found myself in this situation at all: "This is all I have," I apologized, waving my white-with-orange-trim pass, for the buses that matched it and not for this blue monstrosity. "I don't have any money..." If he said anything I didn't hear it, but he smiled and that was enough for me to scoot back to an empty seat before he changed his mind or something.

Despite the long day and the stress, I was smiling too at this point, grinning like a loon in fact. I was so happy I couldn't stay still; I came back to the front of the bus to look out through the windshield in case I could spot my bus. But my surrogate bus was still just behind the one it'd been following when it got to my stop, my alleged bus having of course zoomed around them already.

Soon I went back to sit in my seat in case the bus driver realized what a subversive thing he'd done. I realized that this was indeed the route that would take me nearly all the way to my house, so I was content with not catching my real bus. The walk wouldn't be so long as the from-the-42-bus one that I had refused a few minutes earlier. Besides, walking didn't seem so bad now that I was nourished with the lovingkindness of the Magic Bus driver. I did not pull out my book, as I usually would on a bus, but I did sit demurely with my hands in my lap, accepting my new fate.

Then the reason I didn't start reading, the thing I was hoping would happen, happened: I saw us pass a white bus and wrenched around in my seat to verify: yep, it was the one I'd tried to get on before. It stopped right there, and I flew to the front of my bus, not bothering to ring the bell, not noticing if anyone else wanted off or on, but it worked out anyway as either my lovely bus driver noticed the same thing I did, or he just noticed me rushing like a linebacker to the front of the bus, because he stopped (and I don't remember anyone else getting in my way on or off the bus as I made my exit, and thinking that he stopped just for me makes me feel all warm and fuzzy, as well as very slightly conspiratorial, both of which are fun).

I rocketed out of the bus, jumping over the steps between bus floor and pavement and landing on both feet at the same time, like a little kid jumping in a puddle. During my air time I pondered what I'd do if the white bus took off at this point. I heard (didn't bother to look) my Magic Bus pull away as soon as I was clear of it and suddenly I could picture my rotten public-transport luck continuing, leaving me stranded with the same do-I-get-the-42-or-do-I-wait-all-night dilemma, but with the added unpleasantness of being in Fallowfield.

As I sprinted full tilt boogie for the second time in the last half-hour, I figured the white-bus driver might take off just out of spite. Maybe he'd recognize me. Worse, maybe he wouldn't recognize me but would do that anyway just because he's like that. (Personally I'd rather be right about paranoia; I'd rather think the world is out to get me because the other alternative seems to be that it treats everybody else just as badly.) But someone else was already getting on the bus and had to buy a ticket, which bought me more than enough time to scamper through the doors.

I held up my bus pass with all the aggressive defiance such an action can muster — not much — and hoped at this point that he did recognize me: the girl you thought you left behind, probably with a smirk on your face, back there by Tesco. I bet you laughed at me, I thought (though it seems unlikely now ... but he did look grumpy; perhaps he sneered at me), but I have the last laugh!

I bet he did recognize me. I was wearing my hat. It's not like any of your hats. A co-worker noticed it as I was leaving. "Nice hat! Very French chic," he said.

I don't even think he was being sarcastic.

* Until I started making friends in Levenshulme ... but that wasn't a concern until two weeks ago! And I can walk there. Yesterday I even made it across Kingsway without dying; I was proud.
hollymath: (Default)
The robot voice on the train I got for the few stops between Preston and Manchester O Rd (as it said on the sign) today kept saying, after whatever te current and next stops would be, "This train is for Manchester Airport."

I like that.

I'm sure that somewhere my favorite Shakespearean character (well, he was six years ago when I read the plays) says something like "You, Roderigo! I am for you." Anyway, it sounds good for duels. And maybe at the end of the story the roguish character can mend his ways and say it to a lady. Rakishly.

But none of that's as cool as a train being for ... something. Somebody. Some place.

I had never heard that before I read in the superlative Pies and Prejudice (which I bought when I discovered it'd be three more hours before I could get a train home), that guys on trains used to say things like "We are for the north." When I read it I thought it was one of those quaint auld-lang-syne things, but even in this age of robots on the tannoy there it is.

But then the book seemed to be following me around anyway; I read about Crewe station just as the Americans sitting next to me were talking about their two-hour stopover there (though I have a feeling it might've been longer than that! if they got there; I bet they're not in London as they hoped to be tonight). I read about the guy who owns a chippy in Crewe but lives in Andrew's hometown, which is not usually the sort of place you hear mentioned in books. I read Preston in a list of something-or-others just as we pulled into that station and I had to frantically pick up all my stuff and get off the train. (I only realized as I was strolling down the platform that my umbrella was in fact still on the train, and after carrying it all around and using it constantly for the last two days, it'd be going to Birmingham without me!)

In between synchronicities, the book has been hugely informative and delightful. When I ran for my bus home I wondered why, since I obviously had to pee so much, I hadn't done so on the train; I didn't seem to have realized it at the time, and anyway I hadn't wanted to leave my book. How great an endorsement is that, eh? Pies and Prejudice: so good, you'll forget to pee!

When Andrew called I told him I'd bought this and he got all outraged before saying "Oh, pies." I chastised him for thinking otheriwse. I don't care if he thinks I'm a Jane Austen fan but, since I know how much he hates her, he shouldn't think I'd be so dumb as to openly admit it to him! Gimme credit for a little bit of guile! He blamed bad phone reception for the mistake, anyway.

The book, as you might expect from someone who grew up in Wigan, speaks better and clearer of Manchester than anything else I've read (Bill Bryson just mentions the rain; Tony Wilson is incomprehensible to me), and if only because the sky was the best shade of blue with cotton-candy clouds when I got off the train at O Rd and that chapter was still swirling around my head, I loved Manchester more then than I've been able to manage for some time.

Of course the clouds are back again and I've remembered about the Peterloo Massacre and the fact that I don't actually like The Smiths or know much about Joy Division, and I'm far more enthralled by Edinburgh at the moment (it's always something with me! usually it's Yorkshire, but now it's Scotland, because usually wherever I've been last is the thing I'm most convinced is lovelier than Manchester).

And now I don't have an umbrella.


I might be for the north, too, but it's hard work.


hollymath: (Default)

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