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October 1, 2013

I’m on a train, and have a major problem. Firstly, I need to wee (this isn’t unusual, but is impossible – I’ll tell you why in a moment). Secondly, and in an entirely modern-day quandary, I am completely without anything to do. My laptop has a dead battery (I’ve been working very hard), my phone’s last vestiges of power need to be saved for when I arrive at the train station and need to beg my husband to come and give me a lift home, preferably with some sustaining foodstuff that I can eat from a tray, with minimal social niceties. I have a blank piece of paper, an hour left to go, and in the absence of digital entertainment (and with the goal of trying to ignore my bladder), I’m allowing my brain and pen to choose a subject at random, and see where we end up.

I’ve been to Manchester for the day, for work, although really I should clarify that I spent approximately one hour and forty minutes in Manchester itself (ten minutes of which, perplexed in Sainsburys, trying to choose a sandwich), and seven and a half hours on a train, to and from.

You see all manner of life on a train. You can listen in to some great conversations too, as the seemingly intimate curved seats and tinted windows (this is quite a posh train), quickly make people forget they are on public transport, and you’re never more than about four feet (much like rats and Starbucks) from the next person. Writers have big ears, and I’d thoroughly recommend a long train journey to anyone suffering from a dearth of good storylines.

Admittedly, it’s more soap than opera, but today I’ve learnt what Stacey did to the woman she found her boyfriend messaging on Facebook, I’ve witnessed the next Super Nanny expertly disentangle two fractious toddlers intent on murdering each other through an inventive use of the refreshments trolley, as well as spied on a couple using the carriage toilet for a quite unintended purpose. To begin with I thought they were fare-dodging, as first one then the other slipped (virtually) unnoticed into the cubicle whilst the conductor went past. But they didn’t return for quite some time and then, a few stops further down the line, when all fares had been checked and paid for (including some stern words on mine – more later), they slipped off again. It couldn’t get any more clichéd if the guy had returned to his seat, zipping up his fly. I’ve thus crossed my legs and am waiting for my stop.

It’s dark now, or I’d be entertaining myself by looking out of the window. What you tend to forget, when you live in the Fens, is that there are these things called HILLS. They’re quite incredible – undulating monsters that appear out of nowhere (well, Grantham) and arrest the untrained eye with their vast and unexpected tapestry. The Fens are flat and sparsely wooded, you can see for miles, and there’s a definite line between earth and sky. In the winter you get huge snow-globe skies, a vast dome of crisp blue yonder, frozen ground and a watery sun, the vista stretching 360 degrees so you can almost see the curvature of the earth. Not so here, in the rich valleys and hills of the peak district, where sheep perch precariously on alarmingly vertical rockfaces, and rich green paddocks mimic storm-tossed waves as far as the eye can see. Which isn’t far, because there’s another bloody great hill in the way.

As much as I love the Fens, the odd hill wouldn’t go amiss. There are a couple of mounds, where children gather from miles around at the first hint of snow, and I do remember firmly believing there to be a significant gradient on my bike ride home from my Saturday job when I was thirteen, huffing and puffing my way up the road, having spent the last three hours inhaling feathers (and most likely asbestos fibres) at the local chicken farm. But at most it must have been about one-in-ten, unlike these geological bad boys, whose gradients would have even Bradley Wiggins gasping. (It’s ok, I’m not going to rant about Bradley Wiggins again. My brother has only now just started to speak to me, and that was only on the promise I would buy him a helmet wing mirror for his birthday. It’s in the post.)

I have another tip to Manchester planned in a couple of weeks, and I shall use the lessons I’ve learned from this journey to my advantage:

1. Firstly, I shall attempt to book my tickets when fully awake, so that I don’t accidentally purchase ones intended for the day after I travel. Imagine my indignation upon arriving at the seat I had booked, to find no tell-tale reservation ticket, and an old lady, festooned in knitting, sat in it. Making a mental note (ok, an actual note) to complain to East Midlands trains regarding their shoddy service, I was, upon arrival of the ticket inspector, most chagrined to realise my error. I’m just glad I didn’t actually tap my foot whilst waiting for the old lady to move.

2. I shall remember, and thus not be alarmed, that the train changes direction at Sheffield. I much prefer to face backwards on a train (I won’t get too psycho-analytical as to what it means that I prefer to look at where I’ve been rather than where I’m going), and so, whilst half-asleep, half-eating, I couldn’t quite work out why it was, upon leaving the station, I was suddenly facing forwards. Had I been moved? Had the knitting lady’s supporters (there were a few) physically picked me up and set me down on the other side of the table? Had I fallen asleep entirely and was now on my way back home? Puzzling.

3. I shall turn everything off between Grantham and Sheffield to enjoy the spectacular scenery. This will also help conserve my battery, which will in turn help with no.4 on my list…

4. I shall purchase new batteries for both my laptop and my phone. That way I’ll be entertained for the duration and won’t have to resort to blogging with a pen. Or, as it was formerly known, writing.

5. I’ll pee before I leave.

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