Ah Christmas with Northern Rail. What a delight! Having favoured bus transport over trains for many years (for reasons that I am now remembering), I am not used to such levels of unreliability as I am experiencing over this festive period. My train home from Manchester on Friday had been cancelled for the second time this week but my auto stress management system immediately kicked in and I went to take a seat in the waiting area for Platforms 13 and 14 at Piccadilly Station, drawing out my Kindle to keep my eyes away from the departure boards and the clock. I was in between books today, having just finished ‘The Woman in the Window’ by AJ Finn.
I’d particularly enjoyed that novel (which I now see is being made into a film, for release in 2020). But I love the excitement of choosing and beginning a new book. It’s comparable to setting out for the football on a Saturday morning: you just don’t know what is in store when you begin. Now my Kindle is already filled with more books that I could probably read in my lifetime (unless, perhaps, I did nothing else but read for the rest of my life) and I am trying to work my way through these without purchasing any more books (although obviously this is never going to happen because there are always more books to tempt me). Today I selected a play, ‘The Difficult Gentleman’ by Hugo von Hofmannsthal.
I haven’t read a lot of plays historically but they are wonderfully condensed stories. I recently very much enjoyed the science fiction classic ‘RUR’ by Karel Čapek (which brought the word ‘robot’ into common usage). This play is about the creation of robots who can perform most human functions but are deliberately designed to have no creative thought to make them more efficient.
Before I could get into my latest reading material, I decided to check if there was another train I could catch that would at least get me as far as Preston (not my favourite station but at least it is a step closer to home). The Trainline app told me that, yes, the train now standing on Platform 14 could take me there. I immediately made my way down there, slower than I would have liked owing to the bustling stairway that I was anxious not to tumble down. I once fell down the stairs the morning after we beat top-of-the-Prem Birmingham City in the cup – losing a big toenail in the process (the nail slowly went black and fell off, as all of my toes would have done if we’d played Oldham away during that period, when I had to wear sandals all the time). I have been careful when descending steps ever since. I glanced at the departure board as I walked down the platform to the less-busy-end and it didn’t look like it was heading in the right direction at all. I double-checked the route and it involved a change in Manchester as well as a change in Preston. I decided that was too much of a faff and took a seat on the concrete block at the exposed but quiet end of the platform. Brr it was a bit chilly here compared to the waiting area but I only had half an hour to wait for the next train, so I could cope with that. Out came the Kindle and off I was transported to a drawing room in Vienna…
It was an hour before I finally boarded the train to Blackpool North (Pole), by which time the platform was heaving. There was a little dog dressed as Rudolph waiting patiently next to me at the front of the platform, wagging his tail vigorously against my leg.
‘I’m sorry about his tail.’
‘No, no, it’s fine. I’m glad he’s happy. He could be doing much worse against my leg. I love his outfit.’
‘Aw thanks. He’s got some antlers as well but I’ve had to take them off as he’d probably lose them in the bunfight to get on this train when it finally turns up…’.
Now I learned something during this lengthy wait on Platform 14. At the bottom of the departure screen announcing the next train on the platform, there is an image depicting how many carriages the train will consist of.
That was a revelation and will help with my positioning on the platform going forward (I can get caught out when there are only two carriages and the train pulls up short of my usual position). Our train tonight was to consist of SIX carriages. Woohoo!
As the train finally approached I was delighted to see it was one of the new trains that are gradually (more quickly now) replacing the old rattlers. Now I am a little bit in love with these new trains. They have charging points. They have screens announcing stops and arrival times. They have brakes that make the cutest little toot-tooting sound as they pull into stations. They have stop announcements SO LOUD that I can’t sleep and am forced to be productive. They have tables, which allow me to work comfortably on my MacBook onboard. As a consequence of (a) tables and (b) constant delays I have resolved to continue work on my novel on my daily commute. Penning an international bestseller should prove easier, more profitable and a more efficient use of my time than claiming compensation from Northern Rail for delayed services.
The train did catch up some time by failing to stop at any station between Preston and Blackpool, which wasn’t helpful for those passengers whose cars were parked at Poulton. I have noticed recently that they have slotted in an extra stop on this route, at Salwick, which puzzled me until I found out there was a turkey farm there. Is that the reason for adding this as a stop during December?
Still it was almost 7pm before I arrived home on the Gold Coast. In the taxi home the conversation turned to food and I realised that I was now very hungry and resolved at once to order a takeaway. Well it was the holiday season and I hadn’t broken up from work yet so I was going to treat myself. I also had a lot to do tonight, taking full advantage of Lee’s absence (he was out DJing a Christmas party tonight). I tapped my order into Just Eat, loaded the washing machine, wrapped the last of my Christmas presents (I had been shopping on the high street in Manchester today not without success), chuckled at the great cards I’d bought, got into my inspirational pyjamas (‘Chase Your Dreams’), battled with technology to get Amazon Prime working, unloaded the washing, answered the door to the man from Gulshan and plated up my tea. Tonight’s tucker was Chicken Chaat (with salad and raita) followed by Chicken Tikka Nepali and Pilau Rice. What would you have had?
Tonight’s entertainment was the first of the current (and final) Star Wars trilogy, ‘The Force Awakens’.
I can find it tricky to follow films at the best of times (a combination of complicated plotlines, slight deafness and not paying attention) and I realised I had little hope of following ‘The Rise of Skywalker’ (which we’re going to see on Monday) without having seen the first two films in the trilogy. Historically I’ve not been a prolific film-watcher so, despite enjoying the original Star Wars trilogy, I don’t think I’ve seen any of them since ‘The Saga Begins’ (and I only remember what happened in that one because of the utterly brilliant Weird Al Jankovic song).
Once I’d polished off my curry, I tucked myself up under a blanket on the sofa and painted my nails as I enjoyed the film. I did manage to follow the story, although I felt they didn’t use the names of the characters enough for me to pick up what they were all called. By the end of the film – nails now a festive red with a glittery top coat – I was nodding off after a hectic week and retired to bed.
I found myself wide awake at 6am on Saturday and resolved to get up and put the time to good use. I left Lee to have a lie-in, as he had been working until 1am, and set about some jobs that I had failed to undertake the last few nights owing to impromptu visits to the cinema (Jumanji: The Next Level, a very funny film and wow hasn’t Amy Pond changed! Phew!) and the Trafford Centre (which, despite harbouring a dislike for shopping, shopping centres and crowds, I found I actually liked); and the constant battle with Northern Rail meaning I was late home a couple of nights. I loaded up the washing machine again, completed house sale paperwork, prepared a flask of hot chocolate for the match (Mint Choc Options), counted and packed fanzines for sale this afternoon and caught up on Corrie and The Apprentice. By the time Lee surfaced I was ready to prepare breakfast (crumpets). It seems rising early on a Saturday could be the solution to my home game eating problems (I’m never usually hungry in time to consume anything of substance before heading out to the match). In addition to the crumpet (with lashings of butter, applied by Lee as I dried my hair) I wolfed down some magnificent chocolate (which I can’t tell you about at this moment in time because I’ve bought Karen some for Christmas and I know she reads this blog) and a full large pot of fat-free cherry yoghurt. It was unlikely that I’d eat again until I was home this evening, so I needed to make sure I was suitably sustained for the day ahead. Frankly I felt a bit sick now but at least I wouldn’t need or want food now for several hours. Job done.
Of course we were STILL late heading out of the house for our hectic pre-match routine, simply because we always are. First stop today was the Winter Gardens, where Lee was unloading his DJ kit ahead of his job here tonight. He showed me into the Spanish Hall, where his gig was – a stunning room in the Winter Gardens that I hadn’t seen before.
I love that Lee introduces me to the beauty of my Blackpool that I have been away from for so long. When I returned to guard the car, I spent some time reading the work of my fellow blogger retiredmartin, which made me howl out loud as I sat alone in the car, attracting worried looks from passers-by (not that I cared). I learned that spreadable chorizo is a thing. Who knew that? Martin spends his days visiting Good Beer Guide pubs across the country and having adventures with pubcats, gigs and good food along the way. Give him a read (and view his wonderful photographs) and treat yourself to a good chuckle:
By the time Lee returned to the car we were already late for our next rendezvous. I was meeting Karen in The Corner Flag at 1245pm to exchange Christmas presents…and it was already 1245pm. I messaged Karen to say we were on our way.
Lee despatched me outside the BFC Hotel entrance and I made haste through to the lift lobby, but not before taking the time to tell the reception staff that they had gained bonus points for opening both sets of doors for me. I had to press the button in the lift myself but you can’t have it all :). Presents quickly exchanged – as we both had other places to be – Karen and I headed down to the ticket office together to undertake some away game transactions. There are a lot of away tickets on sale at the moment (Tranmere, Rotherham, Reading and Lincoln) and I have Lee and his clan to take care of on matchdays now, so ticketing is becoming a tricky business. Karen only added to the complication by suggesting we undertake some sort of ticket exchange because she had bought tickets for matches she couldn’t attend, but that was all too much for me. Not only did I get that wrong, but I realised later that I ended up failing to purchase two tickets into the bargain.
Now it was time to assume my fanzine selling position on Bloomfield Road. During the early lull I took a moment to post on social media where I was standing and, whether it was this or the Christmas spirit I’m not sure, but sales went particularly well today. I had more people than usual stopping to chat – including non-football fans.
I was approached by a lady who wanted to provide feedback on an article in Issue 2 of the fanzine entitled ‘The Golden Years’ – a wonderfully detailed piece written by John Bennett on what it was like to watch Blackpool in the 1940s and 1950s. She told me her father followed Blackpool in those days but now suffered from dementia. She showed him the article and he read it over and over again with a huge smile on his face. Dear reader, it has only been during these last few months, writing for you and relaunching the fanzine, that I have come to realise the powerful effects that writing can have on others.
Now there is a new Blackpool blogger on the block by the name of Matt Jones, who introduced himself to me today. I had already told him I was a huge fan of his work and he said he would be happy for me to include his work in the fanzine (which of course I will). This blog – entitled ‘Mitch Cook’s Left Foot’ – contains such wonderful detail and is an absolute delight to read. I am currently reading one a day to Lee as we catch up on past pieces. I have lost count of the times that I interrupt myself as I read aloud, saying ‘yes, it was exactly like that – I’d forgotten about that’. And it is so beautifully written. Do give it a read at the link below:
There was much festive and fancy dress on display today. Mine is a prime spot for observing both sets of fans passing by. As well as the obligatory Santa hats and Christmas jumpers, I saw someone in full Santa dress and a group of sailors accompanied by a giant penis. I love Blackpool, where no-one bats an eyelid at this sort of thing. You can see the man-sized member for yourself in Lee’s video of the day’s events here:
I was later told that this man had to remove his penis before being allowed in the ground, which is surely stewarding at its most extreme?
I packed up around 2.55pm and headed into the South Stand. On my way up to my seat I spotted a man in a full Christmas suit which made me smile so much I had to compliment him on his outfit. This man always makes an effort with some cracking outfits. There should be more dressing up at the football. It brings smiles.
I was sitting with my friend Matt today. I first met Matt when we were planning our overland trip to Latvia, which you can read about below:
None of us really knew Matt at the time, other than as a lad who travelled to matches with Karen. But when we learned he could speak German we quickly invited him to join our travelling party. We had a Belgian to get us through, well, Belgium; I knew two words in Polish (‘white’ and ‘cinema’ – and guess what was one of the first sights we saw on alighting in Warsaw…?) and had a GCSE in Russian, so we were covered in Eastern Europe; and now we could communicate with the natives in Germany, too – result!
I haven’t really seen much of Matt in recent years, having been away from the football, but today he had brought me a couple of copies of the Sunderland programme that you may recall I was in last week (but failed to locate a programme seller).
In return I secured him a match ticket at member’s rates (which I didn’t even know was a thing – and the girl in the ticket office insisted it wasn’t – but Matt seemed pleased with the price). This whole buying tickets for matches is most perplexing. It was so much easier when I got in for nothing as Match Secretary in non-league.
We each settled down with our respective flasks (mine branded, Matt’s monogrammed – not hip flasks but hip flasks, dude) and the game kicked off. Blackpool started brightly but failed to capitalise on their opportunities and at the break the game was goalless. Most frustrating.
I didn’t really need the loo at half-time but decided to go anyway to ensure I was comfortable during the second half (I had been sipping hot chocolate during the first half to ensure I stayed warm – not that it was cold today). Now these are different toilets that I have been using, as I was in my actual season ticket seat for only the second time today. As I exited the cubicle I saw that there was a queue for the sinks. As I waited patiently for a gap to emerge, I peered through a gap between people and noticed something quite remarkable. There was water gushing from a hot tap. Surely it wouldn’t be actual hot water, though, would it? In a lower league football ground? No way. It’s not even a thing. I stepped forward with a frisson of excitement and pressed the hot tap.
Dear reader, THE WATER WAS HOT!!! I couldn’t believe it! We’ll be getting free lady products next. On a serious note, the provision of free sanitary products at football grounds is an important and growing movement and one that I would love to see arrive at BFC. It’s always a lovely touch to see in Ladies toilets at grounds.
With warm hands and a broad grin on my face (actual HOT WATER!!!) I strode back up to my seat for the second half. Shrewsbury Town took the lead from a penalty that Jak Alnwick almost saved and then proceeded to close us down incredibly effectively for the rest of the match, allowing us neither space nor time to create and convert. We lost 1-0.
Post-match, Lee went off to work after despatching me at home. I was so tempted to have another takeaway tonight but found some restraint from somewhere and raided the freezer for some Chicken Satay Skewers, which I enjoyed with M&S Sweet Chilli Sauce (recommended to me as being the best ever chilli sauce, but which frankly I find slightly sickly). I finished off my meal with some of the best chocolate I have tasted for a long time:
After unloading the washing and changing into my pyjamas, I settled back down under the blanket on the sofa for the second film in the current Star Wars trilogy, ‘The Last Jedi’.
I enjoyed this a little less than its prequel but fell further in love with BB8 and began to understand the family trees of the various characters. The name of the lead female character remained lost on me, though (not Leia, before you say it – the other one).
With the Christmas tree and decorations up, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas chez nous. Wishing you and yours a wonderful festive period. If I don’t see you at the match on Boxing Day, I’ll be back here with my blog all about it shortly afterwards. Merry Christmas, dear reader – and UTMP.