An Early-Morning Expedition


Where to go to go

There’s a brightness to the sky and a coldness to the air on Manchester Victoria Platform 3 at 07.35. I’m going down to Liverpool.

The normal routine of my life has been interrupted in its carefully composed emptiness. A friend has asked for help, which may involve flying out of the country for a couple of days to lend support, which means renewing my Passport (expired 2012 and kept only for ID purposes: what chance have I got of holidaying abroad? Unfortunately, when I look where it has been kept these several years, it is not there.

Which means reporting a Lost Passport. Which means I can’t do the Fast Track, one-day, available this week and all you have to do is stooge around Liverpool for four hours, I can only do the 7 Day, maybe that’s too long for my friend process. So I have an appointment in Liverpool at 9.00am today.

You know my paranoia when it comes to train times when it’s only for entertainment, but this is serious. I’ve had to book a taxi to get to Victoria for the early train that gets me to Scouseville early for my early appointment. And I’ll be doing a 1.00 – 9.00 shift later today.

Leaving Manchester means leaving the familiar hills behind. The bottom end of Lancashire is flat and green, all open horizons and nothing to see. I have my mp3 player and a Reginald Hill. The trains wobbles more than a 203 hitting all the potholes down Hyde Road as I scribble, illegibly, the first notes for this.

They’re re-modelling Lime Street and I’m at a loss as to what is where so, after checking I have enough cash on me, it’s my second taxi of the day. Lumbering around Liverpool in the morning rush-hour is not my idea of Paradise, and every minute we spend at red lights (and every 20p that clicks onto the fare) sends my twitch rate even higher. Nevertheless, I’m there for 8.30am, and being seen immediately, ‘because it’s quiet’.

Disaster! My counter-signatory has completed all the details, signed my photo – and forgotten to sign the form! But my helpful lady calls up my last photo onscreen and calls in a colleague for a second opinion that we are indeed the same guy (even though I looked older then, despite most of my hair still being brown). I’m done and out for 8.40am.

Last time I was here, we’d barely gone 100 yards before we passed a group going the other way, on the other side of the road, looking like a party going to a wedding. In their midst was Alan Moore. Alan and I go back a bit, into my comics fandom days in the Eighties, and he’s a genuinely nice and friendly guy. I am still in awe of one moment, at a long ago UKCAC, when I got him to sign one of his landmark Swamp Thing issues. I’d given it a glowing review in Fantasy Advertiser, which sparked a riposte or three. Mentioning that to him, I was more than taken aback when he stared at me, his face lit up and he said, “Are you Martin Crookall? I’ve been wanting to meet you.”

The world was inverted. It was a moment beyond being completely wrong. The Alan Moore’s of this world don’t ‘want’ to meet amateur critics, it’s the other way round. But that was Alan Moore for you.

I thought for a moment about going over and saying hello (it would, hopefully, impress the boys) but decided not to. He was on his way somewhere, with friends, it was their private moment: not right. I’ve never seen him since. And he’s not hanging around the Passport Office today.

It took just over 20 minutes to walk back to Lime Street, relying on nothing but a sense of general direction, and I didn’t recognise a thing on the way. At 9.22am, I’m on a train back to Manchester. It sways just as badly.

I’m back in Manchester for just after 10.00am. I can either go home for a couple of hours or take a bus direct to Stockport, head for the Sorting Office and collect the latest eBay purchase that’s too big for my letterbox. So that’s what I do.

It takes me a long time to realise that getting through the ordeal of the Passport Office has allowed me to relax. I’ve been on edge since this started, hung up on the sense that I’m letting down someone who’s turned to me for assistance. That plays on my lifelong lack of self-confidence, my immediate willingness to accept the blame. But for now it’s out of my hands, I’ve done all I can, nothing went wrong.

Until the evening, that is. But that’s a different and private story.

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