Archive | July, 2017

Train Pain

24 Jul

It’s hard to believe that Viv has been gone just over a year.  I went to her funeral and I wanted to tell you about it at the time, but I couldn’t bring myself to write that post.  A year on, however, I have some emotional distance, so here goes. I am writing from memory because, when I checked back to my notebook, there is nothing at all.  Not one word; just the funeral programme, taped in.  I couldn’t even write about it for myself.  That’s grief for you.

Viv’s daughter Sally invited me to read Viv’s self-penned epitaph poem at the funeral.  I was honoured.  I wouldn’t have missed her funeral for anything, but it was lovely to be invited to be a part of it.

My travel anxieties have been well-documented on this blog so you won’t be surprised to learn that as the funeral was held in Newcastle and I live in Stockport, I made sure to leave with time to spare when I arrived.  To be fair, I’d have done the same if I was going one town up: that’s how I roll.  Or clickety-clack.  I don’t trust public transport; or myself on public transport (remind me to tell you why I once missed the first twenty minutes of The Lion King at The Palace Theatre, Manchester, seven minutes away by train).  

To be more fair, the Hub booked my ticket and made sure to leave me with some time to spare when I arrived – but not for my change at Sheffield.  I was miffed to have only 25 minutes because I had to find the platform for the next train and Sheffield is a big station and I am a big panicker.  The Hub assured me I’d be fine.  What could possibly go wrong?

He reserved seats on all four trains for me, over my objections: I always run onto a train and grab the first free seat I can, because that’s how I clickety-clack.  The train from Stockport to Sheffield was packed, however, and I was glad the Hub is bossy because I was able to turf someone out of my reserved seat.

The seat-with-my-name-on-it went a long way towards earning the Hub forgiveness, because it was standing room only all the way from Stockport to Sheffield.  There was no refreshment cart, ergo, no tea, ergo, anxious, panicky, uncaffeinated me.  There was a delay, a slow train, only ten minutes – NOT twenty-five as I had been assured by my perfidious man – to find the platform with my next train.  I fairly erupted onto Platform 1, hitting the ground running, eyes peeled for information screens, clichés exploding from every orifice.

DSCN0956 Sheffield was obviously still feeling the effect of Austerity because there wasn’t one uniformed human in sight.  I ran up the steps to the concourse – no screens!  I ran left – no screens!  I ran right – a screen!  Heaving, bent over my shaky legs, I slowed down enough to glare at the screen which informed me my train left from…Platform 1.  That’s right: the platform I had just run away from.  I had four minutes to get there and had to use the lift because Sheffield Station is just stupid in its weird layout with no stairs down to Platform 1 and absentee staff who probably don’t carry wheelbarrows on their person for exhausted travellers anyway.

I hit the lift button and…waited.  And waited.  And waited.  Finally – finally! – the doors opened and I ran forward; and then backed up as a thousand people who obviously had at least an hour to find their platform were disgorged.  At last they got out of my way and I jumped onto the lift, slammed the button, and was transported on the slowest elevator known to man to the platform below. Sucking in such oxygen as I could muster the energy for, I ran along the platform just as my train to Newcastle pulled in.

I collapsed into my thankfully reserved space and waited for the sweat to puddle on the seat, the breath to return to my aged lungs, and the spots to disappear from before my eyes.  Then I heard the bad news: no refreshment cart again.  I muttered to myself long and hard.  No one would have heard me if I’d muttered aloud, anyway, because I had no spit to help me articulate my uncaffeinated state.

I settled in, anxious and fidgety – you know, the normal addict state, except that my fix is Earl Grey, black, hot – for the longish journey, and became more anxious and more fidgety as the journey became ever-longer.  I discovered later that there had been a lightning strike on a signal box the day before, causing extended delays.  I watched the time and stressed.  I watched the time and fidgeted.  I watched the time and became tearful. I watched and watched and watched my watch and guess what?  I arrived in Newcastle about the time the funeral started.

I made sure to be first off the train – get out of my way, mother with a baby and elderly wheelchair user!  I’ve got a deceased friend to honour – and ran and ran and ran some more, finally finding the taxi rank when I wiped the sweat from my eyes and could read signs again.  I ran to the first taxi, but I was hailed by a uniformed human – better late than never, eh? – and we had the following conversation:

UH: Oi!  There’s a queue!

TB: OhpleaseI’mlateformyfriend’sfuneralandI’mreadingthepoemandit’salreadystart
edandthetrainwaslateIdon’tknowwhybutI’vegottogetthereassoonaspossibleplease
pleasecanIhavethistaxiplease?Sob

UH: Uh, sure, go ahead.

The taxi driver was wonderful and sympathetic and got me to the cemetery as soon as possible – perhaps wanting to get the hysterical woman out of his cab, but I prefer to think he had the milk of human kindness in abundance – where I encountered a problem: two chapels.

Seriously, folks, how I didn’t have a complete meltdown at this point, I don’t know.

Like a Wimbledon viewer trapped between two players serving high-speed aces, I gazed back and forth, back and forth between the chapels, paralysed by uncertainty.  What if I burst into the wrong funeral?  The odds were good that it would happen, because I never met a blunder I didn’t make. My favourite photo of Viv

Just then, a limousine rolled up and I was inspired to ask the sad-faced woman emerging, ‘Excuse me, I’m looking for a funeral and I know it’s not yours because you’ve just arrived; can you please tell me which chapel you’re going to because I’m so late and my funeral must be in the other.’ Bless her, she did.

I burst into Viv’s funeral as quietly as possible and only eighty percent of the people looked at me, including the eulogising vicar.  Small mercies, eh?  I was ushered to a seat, given a programme, offered a glass of water – because I clearly looked like Mr Rochester’s first wife at this point – and sat my trembling bum on the seat so I could frantically scan the programme to see if I’d missed my spot.

I hadn’t missed my spot!

If I had never believed in God up to that point, I believed in Him that day.  The vicar finished talking and it was my turn to get up and read Viv’s poem.  I’m proud to say I read it as if I’d travelled to Newcastle the week before and spent three days in a spa, being massaged from head to foot and back again.  I would never have let Viv down.

Several people came up to me afterwards and greeted me as if they knew me. Turns out they did: Viv’s friends I’d met and fellow bloggers amongst them.  I was still in Yellow Wallpaper mode, however, and couldn’t register anyone until at least two teas later.  I apologise if you felt slighted, but I assure you it was not on purpose.  Travel in general and lateness in particular send me a little crazy; throw in grief for a beloved friend and it’s a wonder I didn’t end up in Newcastle-Under-Lyme instead of Newcastle Upon Tyne.  Viv’s family were wonderful and understanding, and I was so grateful to them.

My only consolation is that Viv would have loved this post.  As far as I’m concerned, that makes any craziness on my part entirely worth it.  Just as well, eh?

 

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