|(Image courtesy of Clipartfest)|
Now I'm kept on a short leash by chronic neurological illness, it's easy to romanticise how I used to be a giddy gadabout.
- go on open-ended adventures,
- cycle down hills,
- wander around graveyards scanning masons' chiselled lettering on memorial stones for names of my ancestors,
- go on a summer jaunt to the coast or the capital,
- take a trip to the countryside, a museum, a gallery, a shop full of clocks and mysterious antique curiosities, a West End show, a Wednesday match, a weekend under the stars.
I can't pretend that's freedom I don't miss, even now. I can't just shrug and settle for memories.
Lots of these adventures used to begin at Sheffield Midland Station.
Two occasions spring to mind that have my rosy recollections face-planting with a down-to-earth kind of thud. There were, in reality, times when I wasn't really safe to be let loose on the world!
One of those times, I was in a queue in the main ticket hall at the station. I was juggling my purse, my luggage, a cellphone the size of Scafell Pike, shuffling forwards behind a snake of fellow commuters doing a slouching conga towards the ticket window. Nothing to see here? In fact, I was soon seeing a whole lot less than usual!
Somehow, under the harsh fluorescent strip lighting glaring from the ceiling, my contact lens parted company with my right eye, which was, at the time, attempting to protect itself from the ferocious flicker offensive by pouring out more tears than when Scott and Charlene got married on 'Neighbours' the week before.
I looked down at my chest. I felt gingerly down my front for the prodigal optic. Nothing. I blinked. I squinted. Nothing. At my feet, a sizeable rectangle of jute carpeting at the entrance to the ticket area. I dropped to my knees, feeling about for the recalcitrant lens, narrowly avoiding having my fingers trampled by travel-focused Dr Martens and kitten heels.
I never did find that lens. I wondered for years whether a passenger breaking their journey from Edinburgh Waverley to London St Pancras might some day see a flash of convex glass winking up at them from the Network Rail logo on the matting and wonder who once lost it there.
That would be me.
The second occasion of note at Sheffield Midland was during my days as an undergraduate, shuttling between my parents' home in South Yorkshire and the breezy platform at Leicester, the city where I studied English Lit. Most trains would pass through Nottingham, pulling into the station platform forwards before reversing out as if heading back in the direction from which we had already come. That in itself caused me several heart-stop moments in my greener days.
More than once I'd register the unnerving reversal of direction and leap from my seat to button-hole a passing guard, stammering my fears along the lines of the old Music Hall song 'Oh Mister Porter'; "I want to go to Birmingham and they're taking me to Crewe!" Or, as I imagined, back to Sheffield Midland, thus missing my lecture at Leicester University. The guard would roll his eyes at this common passenger panic trigger:
"Of course you're on the right train, luv. Always happens, you know. Tickets, please!"
It always did happen. I never did get used to it.
I never quite recovered, either, from the moment my last shred of dignity (dignity - what dignity?) fell away on Platform 1 of Sheffield Station circa 1982. The Eighties were a nadir in general due to my vague nods in the direction of fashion. As if corkscrew perms, shoulder pads and blue eye-shadow weren't enough humiliation, there was my underskirt. My pink nylon underskirt with the elasticated waist and the hem of greying lace.
I loved that underskirt. It had done me a lot of service. That underskirt had almost earned its long service medal and retired with a carriage clock and a nice little pension. But before it could rest on its laurels, there was "that incident on Platform 1."
I knew the waistband was getting a little "tired". The elastic wasn't so elastic, any more. That day, as I strolled from the concourse onto Platform 1, I felt a distinct slackening around my midriff. My mid-length skirt covered a multitude of sins. I wasn't certain if it was my knickers, my underskirt, or those 'serviceable' taupe tights that might be threatening to wrinkle around my ankles. I was only aware of an impending sense of doom.
I quickened my steps along Platform 1 towards the Ladies, to snatch a moment of privacy before my train arrived to adjust whatever undergarment was slowly but surely migrating down over my hips.
The passengers on Platform 2, parallel to my platform and adjacent, were obscured, thankfully, I thought, by the length of an intercity train with many carriages.
My underskirt, however, had scented its moment of liberation at that point, and would wait for no man. Or woman. Or, indeed train.
As the elastic finally gave way and the underskirt slumped like a puckered pink wreath around my feet, I followed what now seems an unthinkable impulse to step out of the thing. I did so with some magnificent hauteur, I like to think, or I would have done, if I hadn't almost tripped over its loop of textile smugness as I strode on towards the shelter of the conveniences just as the intercity locomotive pulled away from Platform 2, leaving me exposed to the gaze of all humanity.
I know I missed my own train before I finally re-emerged, hoping my audience on Platform 2 had dispersed to their various onward destinations.
No. I didn't stoop to scoop up the forlorn underskirt. It may still be there, along with my lost right contact lens, in the great Lost Property Office of memory, or imprinted on the traumatised mind's eye of some unfortunate punter on the 2.47 to Bristol Temple Meads.