This is going to be the least interesting of the three posts about my expedition to Portsmouth, because it’s about the coming away again, and that is never inspiring.
There couldn’t be much more of a contrast between yesterday and today. I really did fll on my feet for that one, because when I raise the blind, everything is grey: dry, cold but enwrapped in a light mist, several points short of a fog, with vision limited to about a hundred yards.
Technically, I should be getting down to Portsmouth Harbour Station for 9.45am, but when I’m less that ten minutes walk from Fratton Station, two stops nearer, why should I? The twitchiness returns, especially as I am boarding the train at the wrong station, and besides, I prefer to do my waiting in the cold of Platform 1 rather than the comfort of my room.
So farewell the Ibis Budget Hotel, which was simple, neat and clean and ideal for my short break. I rattle my suitcase along, over the bridge and into the Sttion where no-one gives a toss about my ticket. I’ve nearly an hour to wait here, so I inculcate patience and a blank mind upon myself.
Trains tick away, each one moving my service nearer to the top of the teleboard. I finished the penultimate chapter of my current novel last night and I have a complex last chapter to write, of which I wrote three paragraphs before going to bed, and I am trying to avoid serious thought until I’m somewhere where I can write at length. But a structure is evolving in my head, no matter how much I try to keep to the business at hand.
The last train before mine is for Southampton Central. As it eases in, I estimate there are fewer people on it already than are waiting to board at Fratton. Guess it must be true what they say about the rivalry, eh?
At last, my train approaches. I board, select a quiet little space and lever my suitcase awkwardly onto the rack. I then board my headphones and resumewhere I left off with Jerusalem. We’re a long way past Petersfield before I look up and realise that we’ve outrun the southern mist, and that the sun is now beaming down and crowding it into small, feeble pockets.
In fact, by the time we reach Woking, the last stop before Waterloo, it’s a really nice day again, the sun warmer in its light than yesterday on the water. It’s too nice a day for long train journeys now, especially ones with no better purpose than coming back.
Truth to tell, I’ve spent most of the journey alternately immersed in Alan Moore’s mighty tome and developing the structure of this important chapter. Sometimes, I have lines to write down, brief paragraphs, things I don’t want to lose. The rest of it: all I need to know is what each movement is about, not the exact way it plays. This is what I mean about building a structure. As long as I know, and understand, the steps, I don’t need all of the words.
As we ease in sslowly through Clapham and Vauxhall, I pay a bit more attention to my surroundings. For a few moments we follow the line of the grey, churning Thames, four or five views between tower blocks. I catch sight of part of the London Eye. We pull in about ten minutes late.
That shouldn’t make a difference as my schedule allows me an hour here to get to Euston, so I don’t panic, even when the Northern Line ticket machine won’t accept my Bank Card. I have the cash, I get the ticket, I walk straight onto a Tube Train and I walk off it six stops later with nearly half an hour to spare.
When the Manchester Piccadilly train is called, my reservation in Coach B turns out to be a bloody long walk away. I get there only just in time to board and wrestle with the suitcase again before we’re moving off.
And it’s more of the same, reading, mp3, the occasional note, slotting words into place, for the next two hours.
I think that I can tell I’m heading North in this November of 2019 when the rain starts sluicing down some time after Milton Keynes Central. But I’m wrong about that, it’s a South Midlands belt that dires up before we reach Stoke-on-Trent. Rain streams aross my window, the theme from Department S across my ears: why do all the best theme musics come from the Sixties?
At last, I start filing my shoulderbag with all the things that have alleviated the boredom of travel, and I haul down the suitcase and get out at Stockport, where no-one shows the slightest interest in my ticket. That completes the set: no-one bothered at Euston or on the train. Outside, the wind is something fierce.
There’s a final spit in the eye from the weather, which starts to rain just as I get off the bus, and blows in my face all the way to the end, where I live. The first thing I do when I get in is stick the kettle on: I need a coffee. I also need to unpack my case, put everything away, and flop out.
Usually, when I take the week off for my birthday, Thursday is my day for heading up to the Lakes. This time, I chose something more ambitious, something I’m glad I did. Though none of this post is really about Portsmouth, I’m going to signal the end with a photo taken down there. Maybe I’ll go back, one day.