So the guitar concerto finished to tumultuous applause and Ravel’s Bolero brought the concert to stunning conclusion, but my evening’s entertainment was far from over. I found myself with a full hour to kill on Manchester Victoria station before I caught the last train back to Hebden Bridge. Now, in all fairness, I had been warned by several people that catching the last train from the big city, especially on a Saturday night could be ‘a bit of a bother’ but I had smiled to myself and thought ‘I’m a woman of the world – surely it can’t be that bad!’ Ha! Ha!
First off I headed for the toilet. Now, I’d used that particular public convenience on the station concourse before, so I had my 60p ready in my hand, tut tutting to myself about the outrageous cost of a pee on British stations when, to my surprise there were three teenage boys at the turnstile where you put your money in. “We’ll hold the bar and you can get in without paying.” OK, I thought. I’ll go for that. They held the bar and I walked through into the ladies only to find every stall featured a man peeing – with the door open. ‘Oh, my god. I’ve gone into the men’s by mistake!’ and rushed out, scarlet faced. I checked the sign on the door – twice. No, I was right. This was the ladies. Ha! Ha! Good joke. I returned, found an empty stall, locked the door, and went about my business with a huge grin on my face.
Returning to the concourse I set about waiting for an hour for the last train to Hebden. I had a sandwich to eat that I’d taken to the concert with me but didn’t get to eat it in the intermission as planned because of the interesting conversation I had with the man in the adjacent seat. I asked if he’d ever heard Rodrigo’s guitar concerto played live before. He hadn’t. He wasn’t used to coming to ‘these things’ but had been to an all black production of Hamlet at the Lowry Centre the previous week and had left at the intermission because he didn’t think that Shakespeare’s characters should dressed in ‘rap gear.’ I asked if he thought that the orchestra should change into appropriate clothing for the year in which each piece was composed. This brought out such a lovely laugh that I decided to continue the conversation, rather than barge my way past him to the bar. He has just taken up the saxophone and has had four lessons. He finds the whole experience is magical – his words, not mine. He’d always wanted to play the piano as a child but he was committed to football practice 6 days a week and so his dad said no to piano. After 20 years in the army, and 20 years in business at the age of 57 he’s semi retired and just beginning to do all those things he’s never had time for. A friend took him out on a yacht, so he bought a yacht with all the trimmings, and learned to sail on the sea. Then he bought a sort of road bike – a ‘Rolls Royce’ of the biking world after seeing the Tour de France. I asked him why he chose the saxophone. He’d gone to a Barry White concert with his first girlfriend and all the girls in the audience had screamed in girly admiration of the saxophonist, so that’s why he’s chosen the sax: for the sex! By this time the 4 minute call for the restart of the concert had been sounded and I still hadn’t collected the drink I’d pre–ordered from the bar. I rushed out only to find a tub of ice-cream on my number spot. I’d ordered a bottle of water! I ran to the bar tender, was issued with a bottle of water and hurried to my seat.
Back to the station concourse. I found a bench by the barrier on which to while away an hour. Luckily I had my new book with me carefully packed for just such a circumstance. There were two benches to choose from. I stayed away from the one with the girl throwing up as her boyfriend tenderly stroked her back. There was a high police presence on the station, this being the site of the Manchester Arena bombing last May and from time to time one of the policemen checked up on the couple. Soon however, they were joined by another girl who seemed to know them. She kept doubling up and screaming. She appeared totally normal one minute and screaming the next. All this was rather distracting me from reading my book, and when the concert at the Arena let out around 10:30 the station filled, the noise was loud and the women on their stilts of stilettos reminded me more of a balancing act in a circus, than people quietly going about their business on their way home. There was zero quiet here.
Eventually the train arrived and I was careful to sit in a different carriage than the guy with the two out-of-it ladies. I settled back for a 40 minute train ride and for entertainment I watched the locals at play. Each carriage was filled and lots of people were standing. Well, more like swaying, actually. The only sober person – besides me – was a guy with his arm in a sling. A couple were making out one minute and laughing uncontrollably the next as the guy sampled the girl’s friends in turn. I presumed they all knew one another, but when we got to Littleborough, that den in iniquity, the guy got off the train, shouting ‘Nice to have met you all.’ When on the platform he ran to the carriage window and unzipped his pants and held his penis up to the carriage window – MY window. The train started to move. He held onto the train and started to move with it. The train came to a screeching halt, the guard jumped from the train onto the platform and arrested him. As you can imagine this took some time. The girls were bouncing up and down with excitement and one of them turned to me ‘I feel so badly for you. You were just sitting there nice and quiet and then this happened.’ I laughed.
The next stop was Walsden, five minutes away. During those minutes there was some sort of altercation in the next carriage. Perhaps a fight? The girls got up to look, shoving each other out of the way to get a better look but they couldn’t make out what was going on but there was a lot of movement of people, and raised voices. Now Walsden is a tiny, tiny station in the middle of a little village whose only claim to fame is Grandma Pollard’s Fish and Chip shop. Eventually we could see the girl who’d been throwing up at Victoria Station. She was being propped up on a bench on the platform by a couple of fellas. We waited. And waited some more. The train was going nowhere. There was no information coming on the intercom from the guard. People started to get rattled. ‘Why should we wait because someone can’t hold their drink?’ ‘We want our money back for this ride!’ ‘Just leave her.’ It seemed that we had to wait until either the police or ambulance service came to collect her. So our 40 minute ride turned into an hour and a quarter. The girls called Bye Bye to me as they got off at Hebden Bridge. A very patient taxi driver had been waiting for the arrival of the train to take them through Haworth home to Keighley. I guess I now know what ‘a bit of a bother’ means!