Debs, As you may or may not know, and we don't discuss literature much, I love Charles Dickens and when I read a book [oh sadly less and less these past years] it's Dickens for me, Bleak House and Nicholas Nickleby. Barnaby Rudge for the first time earlier this year. And it's that feeling of London being a series of dark villages, speckled by bright jolly inns, which only serve to make the night-times darker that is so gripping. So though I never meant to go to Purfleet . . . .
But first, Debs, on Friday, instead of chillin' out in dreams of the Rest of the Best I am on the train to Bristol and the SMA [Schools Music Conference] run by Carole of Lindsay Music fame. The cheaper trains were early, so I have a couple of hours to check out the centre of Bristol, buy the Rough Guide and a Russian dictionary. [Can't afford to get behind on the Languages, and there are three long train revision sessions]. And inevitably, Debs, I have a trolley and an empty pan case with me - which will be worth it in the end. ...
Meanwhile it's the number 1 to the Arnos Manor Hotel. En route from my bus seat, I spot Sue from the conference leaning over her suitcase. Hmmm. I wonder about panicking that I should have got off, but turns out that Sue has decided to walk for the pleasure of it.
Carole's working us hard this evening. From 6 till 9.30 it's keynote speech, dinner, singing workshop. From 10 till 12.30 I'm on the old Mac, eventually booking the hotel in Purfleet and the train back to Leeds on Monday. Briefly I pause to go down to the bar, take in a pint and try to make a joke of the lost password and the disappearing hotels situation.
Next day's workshops were full-on. I have Lola's ukele and now I know how to use it; I've seen the apps, I'll be buying the ipad; Henry shows me how to edit an audio clip; I rescue Nigel's presentation by getting on the internet wifi and finding his needed youtube clips before his talk ended [teenagers the world over will marvel]; I remeet the Adamses; and Steve gives me a lift to the station.
Sadly as I got dropped off at Bristol Temple Meads I remembered that my train to London was from Bristol Parkway. Is it only me, Debs?
At Paddington the best laid schemes come to an abrupt end, as it seems little bits of all the Underground lines that I need are closed for maintenance; and at one point I have to pay £2 off my Oyster just to get off the Circle line platform to get to the Hammersmith and City one. One tube stop later I get off at Baker Street to find that the Jubilee isn't stopping there, so it's back to Finchley Road to get it there; and every time I'm up and down steps also with the metal trolley and now laden with all the extra books I bought at Conference.
It's 5 past 11. It's Purfleet and it's nearly a quarter of a day since I left the SMA conference in Britol. I am only coping with this because paying for travel on a card doesn't seem like paying. It's Purfleet and there's no taxi rank. In fact, Debs, it's the middle of nowhere; there's no houses either. I accost a man on the level crossing. "Which way is the town my good man?" Well, not exactly. He unplugs his ears and advises me in a Scottish accent that he doesn't really know but it is posher to go that way, and waves his hand one way.
Now it's Dickens' England; it's dark, with the very occasional street light; the station lights disappear behind me and there's a sound from the hedge beside me. Unsure, I cross the road; looking back a fox pads alongside the hedge; in the distance I see the M25 bridge; the street lights get more frequent; and then, as Hope is springing, the Fleet does indeed hove into view. This weary traveller accosts the smoker by the door. "Are you open?"
Modern Britain reappears; the private birthday party, lava lamps and disco, lets me in; the barmaid offers me cola or juice; I buy a bottle of wine, and sit at a table with the first glass; waiting for the taxi; which takes me to the Premier Inn. There's a moment of doubt when the receptionists tell me that are three Premiers in the immediate; and someone else called called Victoria J-Something in my room. Was I Lithuanian? I opined that I wasn't and waved my mobile phone confirmation email at them.
It's Sunday morning and I should be at a Steelpan Conference in Stratford. Debs, I can't move. Mysterious luggage -inflicted bruises cover legs and shoulders. It's cost me a packet to arrive nowhere near where I should be, so I am having a moment of going with the flow. Or, as it happens, not going anywhere. But I wouldn't have missed the Dickens moment in Purfleet for anything. And Purfleet, what a wonderful name.
[Here's two random pics from St Pancras from the week before - my phone pics seem to have burst the levees of the download world.]