Stationed at Slough

Is there anything better than a Victorian station with a stuffed dog?

I hate Slough. I love stations

However much I dislike Slough, it provides a fantastic train artery. If I am sitting on one of its station platforms I am either heading off on an adventure towards the countryside of the West, or East into my old friend Paddington, from where I can access the throng of London and the rest of the country

I love adventures, and this is a route steeped in fond memories. In the eighties I used to finish work at 8.30 on a Sunday night and frantically ‘tube it’ from Bond Street to Paddington to catch the 9.10 train to go home to Bath. One Sunday, a passenger called Solomon sat next to me. He spent the weekend with his family and then worked Monday to Friday in Penzance. We got on so well that it became our weekly routine to seek each other out, and sit together drinking gin and playing backgammon

One Wednesday, as my late-afternoon return train from Bath emptied onto a Paddington platform, an announcement came over the tannoy: ‘Would Mr Brown meeting Mr P Bear please go to the Lost Property Department’

On the repetition it was cut short: ‘Would Mr Brown meeting Mr P ….’

Must have been a new guy. Hundreds of passengers sniggered

But, I digress…

Last Sunday C and I headed to Olympia to visit a customer at a trade show. As we waited for our train to arrive at Slough, C asked if Station Jim was still around, and suggested we go and pay our respects

Station Jim was a sick stray, adopted in the 1890s by the station staff. Taught to cross the tracks only by the bridge, he apparently took the occasional train journey but was always spotted by staff at other stations and sent home. For the most part he was happy just to collect donations for local causes, and he seems to have led a pretty good (if short) life. Upon his sudden death at home one evening in 1896 the station staff and local residents paid for him to be ‘stuffed’ and mounted on display on Platform 5, where he remains, proudly dressed in his collection harness station jimHowever gruesome this Victorian behaviour sounds, he must have been very loved, don’t you think?

One hundred and twenty years on he’s still in pretty good nick and he looks very noble. He has a very prominent spot on the main platform to Paddington, so that new people still see him for the first time every day – not something that a simple plaque could have achieved

And those of us who have ‘known’ him for years continue to visit

 

 

Are You Really Going Out In That?

More stories of spandex. And inappropriate smoking

IMG_2469Running isn’t for everyone. But if it’s your thing – if you are used to just popping out and running fairly good distances – and then suddenly you can’t anymore… well, it’s hard to explain how that feels

Tonight the towpath beckons and I decide to do a couple of miles. I’m easing myself back in slowly after hurting my ankle back in March. It seems incredible that an injury caused while standing still can have set me so far back

Sadly, this will be the year I hang up the Hawaiian bikinis for good (it probably should have been a few years back!), but even that sturdy and sensible one-piece swimsuit won’t wear itself. So I’d better get on with it before the summer hols

There’s a honeysuckle that stretches along the path by the river, and as I pass it the scent is incredible. I fill my grateful lungs with the perfume, taking a reward for my small discipline this evening and feeling so glad I came out

Breathing is everything. I mean, obviously, because we wouldn’t be alive if not breathing, but also in running terms. It’s easy to put one foot in front of the other but it’s the right breathing that allows you to run. If you can’t match your body’s oxygen requirements you’ll just be exhausted in no time

Of course, there’s an exception to prove most rules:

Norman, a friend and associate in Singapore, is a hard-living heavy drinker who has chain-smoked all his life, but after suffering a heart attack in his late fifties in 2008 he told me he had taken up running on the advice of his doctor. He was fully expecting to hate it. Yet in 2014, while I was injured and had to forego my first ever marathon place at Brighton, he was running regularly and looking forward to his first marathon in Singapore. By the next time we got together for a few drinks a year later he had run two marathons and I was absolutely in awe of him

I asked if the second one was much easier

Norman told me how he had struggled on the second one, but had really enjoyed the first one. He was eating up the miles, he told me, and he only stopped for a cigarette at eight miles, twelve miles and twenty-one miles. I honestly thought he was joking. I didn’t know it was possible for a smoker to run a marathon, let alone to stop for a fag break along the way

I wonder if he stopped for a Scotch too?

As I hit the end of my two and a bit miles I stride out a bit, get a bit of momentum going, and I feel how my lung capacity has improved

I am no Norman. But for the first time this week, there is more in the tank 🙂
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Beautiful and Brutally Honest

An Unexpected Truth in Lincoln

It’s never good to be behind someone who has stayed at the hotel before and wants to check that her room is ‘not by the refrigerator units because they’re quite loud’. The guy’s response that she’ll probably be fine doesn’t do much to reassure me because I know the hotel is full all week, so if my room is awful, I’m stuck with it

When I reach the desk, the manager advises me that I have received an internal upgrade. I  pay little attention because I am (a) soaking wet head to sandals from the tempest, (b) wrestling a heavy two and a half foot wide and three foot tall brass light fitting picked up at a train station sort-of-en-route and (c) almost in touching distance of the bar

Things get better very quickly. After squeezing into the tiny lift with all my crap I discover that my room is in fact a four-poster suite on the fourth floor, with cracking far-reaching views over the rooftops and access to a large roof terrace facing the stunning Cathedral

Just me and my random metal objects snuggling up for two nights until Baz arrivesIMG_9959.JPG

Lincoln really could be the fudge-lovers world capital, and there are plenty of places to stop and get a cuppa or, indeed, an ice cream. I had a strange craving for rose petals that day so I had Turkish delight, Stem ginger and Liquorice flavours all together and loved it!

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The spirit of creativity runs high in the Bailgate area. Galleries and small independent shops are plentiful, and Baz and I LOVED the photographic exhibition at the Harding House Gallery by Jane Wright inspired by the beauty in the dereliction of industrial sites in Sheffield

The Bailgate streets are full of character and there are frequent glimpses of the Cathedral and castle between the houses

So what hadn’t I expected?

Inside the fantastical Cathedral building, alongside the historic tombs, very contemporary works of art reside, such as the incredibly beautiful and moving ‘Forest Stations’ by William Fairbank. I found no online links that do them justice and my camera battery ran out so I have no pictures, so my advice is simply to go and see them

And more surprising to me was ‘Little Hugh’s Tomb’, where a warning against racial hatred and bigotry, illustrated by a terrifying true piece of local history, ends with the wonderful greeting of ‘Shalom’. For me as an atheist this was really refreshing and honest in such a grand Cathedral, and I welled up as I read it:

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Times are strange right now. There are many people feeling resentment and fear in the world and many more suffering terribly, but no good ever comes of bigotry or cruelty. History has provided enough evidence that people are capable of terrible acts, but also of wonderful kindness and creativity. Let’s remind ourselves that it is our responsibility to find the goodness and nurture it