My journey to Leeds started with a trip into London from High Wycombe on the Chiltern Line. It’s kind of a backward step doing it this way but getting from Wycombe to Leeds involves so many changes that it’s easier and quicker to travel in to Kings Cross and take the high speed GNER. Consequently, 90 minutes after leaving home I found myself at our first stop – Stevenage – which is just 52 miles from where I live. I’ve always said that what we need in London is an Outer Circle Line. Just as the Circle Line (the yellow one) on the London Underground links to all of the other lines, an Outer Circle would allow you to travel around London’s train lines without having the visit the centre. They did it with roads when they invented the M25 … Why not trains? And, if you dare to say ‘But the M25 is crap! It’s one huge orbital traffic jam!’ I will say back to you, ‘Yes, but how many people use the M25 because of the lack of an Outer Circle Line?’ I know when I have to visit places on London’s fringes like Enfield, Barnet, Hounslow etc. I have to take the M25 as the alternative on public transport is just too soul-destroying to even contemplate.
Anyway, I’m on the train and it’s pretty comfortable. The seats are okay. There’s even a power point and wireless availability if you fancy a second mortgage. There’s no trolley service however, due to staff shortages. Well, that’s not strictly true. There’s no waiter/waitress service (I was once at a restaurant where they’d employed the bizarre non sex-specific term waitron – sounded like some kind of robot or Dr Who monster to me) in First Class due to staff shortages … so they’ve nicked our trolley service. I rarely travel First Class as, unlike airlines, you don’t seem to get much more for your money. Certainly today I’d have been Royally pissed off to have paid £30-40 extra for a can of sprite and a plastic packaged sandwich off the trolley. Ha ha ha. Sorry. How childish.
The extraordinary roof of the Leeds Corn Exchange. Felt like being inside a Zeppelin.
I sat next to a man who was obviously something important up North and who smelled of tweed. He didn’t wear tweed, he just smelled as if he did. Or maybe what I associate with tweed is actually the smell of mothballs? Anyway, he had a big pile of paper in front of him that was headed ‘Minutes of the General Meeting of the bonkers and wibblers or something equally obscure Association’. I can’t remember what the actual words were because they were strangely unmemorable. I think one was ‘tenter’. Is that someone who makes tents? Or is it related to the term ‘tenterhooks’ which, as I understand it, were items used to stretch fabric and hides over frames while you waited for them to dry or cure – hence the term ‘waiting on tenterhooks’. It would make sense. Yorkshire was a major textiles county for many years and its iconic mills – dark and satanic as they may have been to the workforce – once dominated the skylines. My travelling companion was going through the hefty wad of minutes, adding his pencilled comments here and there in the margins. To my delight, I saw that what he was writing were angry little vitriolic squiggles like ‘Lies!’ or ‘Rubbish!’ or ‘Suspicious!’ Looking at the man, I realised that this was a form of catharsis; a small, private act of rebellion. He would never have the nerve to shout ‘Liar!’ during a real meeting with real people but here, on a train and armed only with an HB pencil, he could vent his outraged spleen with gusto. I warmed to Mr Tweedy as I occasionally glanced over at his graphite ranting. He may have been silent but he was infinitely preferable to the chap sitting diagonally opposite.
If, perchance, there is an International Boring Bastard of the Year competition running in Leeds this weekend and he’s a contestant, I’d put my house down at the bookies to back him. The man was insufferable and interminable. He didn’t stop all the way from Kings Cross to Leeds, speaking in a stentorian voice in which every single vowel and consonant and schwa was pronounced with deafening precision. His voice rose above the general murmur of the packed carriage and the noise of the engine. It ensured that we all endured a three hour lecture on the future of electronics, bandwidths, streaming technologies, broadcast systems, his career as an engineer, all the famous people he’d met and then more electronics. By the time we reached Leeds I firmly believed that he was electronic. No one can speak for that long and at that volume for so long without a breath surely?
In the evening, we had a very passable Indian meal indeed. Akbar’s in Greek Street was tatsefully decorated, packed with punters, reasonably priced and the food was pretty good. The naan bread in particular was some of the best I’ve ever tasted (and I’ve tasted a lot). It arrived at our table hanging on a sort of metal frame and was huge; it looked like half a pig on an abbatoir hook (a tenter hook?) or a very large flat lung but it tasted fabulous. I was sharing with two other guys and we delighted in tearing off great chunks and using it to clean up the sauces on our plates. I put on three pounds just reading the menu. Then it was on to the local Wetherspoon’s and the experience of watching England lose 3-2 to Croatia at footie.
I’m not a football fan. Things might have changed by now but when I was growing up in Cornwall, football just wasn’t a part of our lives. Go on … name a Cornish football team. See? You can’t. The nearest league side to us was Plymouth Argyle and we couldn’t support them out of principle. Devon you see. That’s in England. So football for me as a youth was something that happened to other people in other countries. Closest we ever got was watching local town and village derbys. I remember watching a school friend one Saturday playing for Ponsanooth. We tried our hardest to come up with convincing football chants and songs about the team and failed horribly because nothing rhymed except maybe 'tooth' or 'forsooth' or the slightly more dodgy 'proof'. Not that it mattered. There were only about five spectators there anyway and the game was delayed several times while they chased the cows off the ‘pitch’. Not so much injury time as milking time. It all just added to the feeling that we were there to watch something really rather pointless and amateur. So, it's perhaps no wonder then that football, for me, means 90 minutes of watching 22 millionaires kick a bag of wind pointlessly up and down a field. I’m sorry, but that’s the way it is. Which is why I found standing in a pub watching England getting a drubbing from the Eastern Europeans to be a matter of extreme indifference.
But it was fun listening to the pundits. I was fascinated to hear that whenever England did something right, the people nearby would analyse the various moves and make intelligent comment. But as soon as someone made a mistake, this erudite commentary was suddenly swapped for raucous abuse. A typical example would be … ‘Oh yes. Look at the way he chipped that up to midfield on his left foot. That’s a very passable chip shot that. Reminded me of that chip in 1985 when Barry Millions chipped one over the heads of the Wombleshire defence to score that goal in the 66th minute. Oh and look, he’s using the Grambley attack on the rear forward now and … you wanker! You twat! What the feck are you doing? You are an arsehole!’ etc. etc.
We lost. We’re out of Euro 2008.
And the subversive naughty boy that lives inside me says ‘In the grand scheme of things, so what? People are starving. Our troops are dying overseas. AIDS continues to spread. Global warming and global dimming are slowly but surely destroying our biosphere and affecting our climate. Fossil fuels are running out. Terrorists live among us. New cancers are appearing every year. Species are becoming extinct. Identity theft is on the increase. The NHS is collapsing. Education is not what it should be. Is the fact that we didn’t play a game of football as well as we should have really so important?’