IT WAS ONLY AFTER SEVERAL YEARS OF TRAVELLING on what, from 1998, was known as the TransPennine Express that I discovered the song Trans-Europe Express by Kraftwerk.
I still believe the former continues to miss a trick by not customising the latter for a publicity campaign.
Imagine the TV advertisement: to the sound of an infectious disco beat, immaculately polished carriages glide through dazzling city centres and exquisite pastoral scenes, accompanied by the urgent chant of “TRANS… PEN-NINE… EXPRESS!” and such lyrical exhortations as “From station to station/’Cross town, hill and dale/Our train never tiring/Our food never stale”.
Hmm. I’m not such which part of that fantasy is the most preposterous.
The journey to Sheffield was always one of my favourites when I lived in Liverpool. By way of a starter you had the route to and through Manchester, which I’ve written about already but whose extremes of shape, colour, history and sentiment I never grew tired of.
Then came the main course: the journey across the Peak District, with the line burrowing through coarse, winding tunnels to emerge suddenly in the crook of the most enormous green hills and below the largest, bluest of blue skies. Well, that’s how they always seemed at the time.
There were stations that punctuated the most rural and remote part of the route: the likes of Chinley, Edale, Hope and Bamford, at which troupes of ramblers and outward bound enthusiasts would materialise and dematerialise in a rustle of Rohan. A part of me envied them, but a part of me was also forever too distracted or disorganised to think about following their example.
On this occasion, Friday 14 June 1996, I was visiting a school friend who I’d known for five years and who was now a student at Sheffield University.
The journey across, which I describe in my diary as “tortuous”, I spent mostly listening to The World Won’t Listen and finishing reading High Fidelity, which rather neatly sums up the sort of person I was in the summer of 1996.
The return journey on 15 June was more eventful.
It was the first day of Euro 96, and I’d already had to fight my way back to Sheffield station through various manifestations of “street theatre” which had been laid on throughout the city to mark the tournament’s opening.
I’m afraid I was not in the mood to be entertained by interpretative dance or satirical busking. It was boiling hot; my neck got burned. Then, once on the train, I had to sit in direct sunlight; my face got burned.
Of chief concern, however, was the fact it took much longer to get back to Liverpool than usual. The train was delayed by almost an hour. No information was given for the hold up. I was especially bemused by how slowly the train crawled through the centre of Manchester.
It was only when I got back to Liverpool that I realised I had passed through the city only a few hours after this had happened, and although I saw no obvious evidence of the damage from the train, in retrospect the clues were there: police out in force at Piccadilly and Oxford Road, a subdued atmosphere among passengers getting on, a wary atmosphere among those getting off.
I spent the rest of the day catching up on this and other news that I’d missed by virtue of simply being away from a TV and radio for several hours.
Then I stole some of my housemates’ food, something I did with increasing nonchalance towards the end of every term, and went to bed.