In ordinary circumstances, those of you who follow this blog would have received an e-mail, late this evening, regaling you with the events of my fifth annual Birthday Week Day Out in the Lake District.
At some point, early on, I would have made the by-now traditional, self-deprecating remark about my paranoia about missing the train due to my reliance on public transport. This is the year it stopped being paranoia.
I had the same plan as last year: the early train, change at Oxenholme, bus to Grasmere and at least venture onto the slopes of Helm Crag. How I might fare from there, given my overall lack of energy, the increasing amount of gyp I am suffering from my right knee and the fact that it’s supposed to be snowing in the Lakes was impossible to tell in advance, but if I wound up snug in the Ambleside Tavern, drinking, reading, watching it sluice down like last year, I would at least be there.
When I travel by train, to make the fares manageable, I book well in advance, and I book specific singles, the cost of which is usually pretty much fifty percent of an All Day Return. Of course, these are inflexible: if you miss your train, there’s no waiting for the next one.
I’d packed my bag carefully last night. The train, like last year, was 9.16am at Piccadilly Station, and I planned to be at the bus stop for 8.00am. That would leave me kicking my heels around the Station for at least half an hour.
Unfortunately, I just missed the 8.00am bus. However, I had built in ample leeway, and as my stop is only the fourth outside Stockport Centre, it wasn’t as if the bus had any time to be late.
But the 8.10 bus didn’t show up, and the 8.20 didn’t arrive until almost 8.25. That cut drastically into my overlap. And the rush hour traffic had had so much extra time to build up and every stop was full of queues waiting. We jolted slowly onward. I conscientiously avoided looking at my watch continually, but that meant that when I did check the time, it was horrifying how much had elapsed for how little mileage covered.
Of course, once you’re moving as slowly as that, every little thing that can delay you delays you. The sinking feeling had long since sunk. On Hyde Road, we were overtaken by the 8.30 bus.
When I eventually jumped off the bus, diagonally across the busy junction outside Piccadilly Station, it was 9.15am. Exactly one minute to get across the road, up two flights and round to the furthest platform: there has never been a time in my life when I could have done that. But the train had been five minutes late last year, with all the consequent effects of that, and if it was late this year, I could still get there.
And late it was, but by only three minutes this time. Which proved to be literally ten seconds fewer than I needed: I was charging down the steps to platform 14 when I saw the doors shut. I pleaded with the guard but they were locked and once they’re locked they stay locked until the next stop – in this case, Oxford Road, but I had no hope of getting there in time. So I had to stand on the platform and watch my train and my Annual Day Out leave without me.
And that’s why, instead of being at Windermere at this moment, I’m at home, writing this. Though it’s cold outside, the sky is wonderfully blue, clear and serene, with cotton ball wisps of clean cloud around the edges. I joke with myself about it being paranoia, but it isn’t paranoia this time, and how early do I set off next year? How much time is enough time to get somewhere simple and easy to reach. Do I camp out overnight on a bench at the Station? Do I get my money back for the tickets I can’t now use? Of course not.
Happy Birthday Me.