Thursday, February 10, 2005

The Stupidest Thing I Did in England

I was in England with a boyfriend for a month (December) about 10 years ago. His parents lived there, so our plan was to stay with them most of the time and take day trips out to see things, and occasionally stay over in this town or that one.

At one point, we were in Edinburgh (Scotland) for a day, and we decided to go to Penzance. Penzance is at the southern tip of England, and is fascinating because the Gulf Stream flows past there, resulting in mild weather and palm trees(!). I understand that English people think it's nuts to travel on the train for 6-8 hours at a time to get somewhere that you might stay for only a day. But hey, we're from Canada. People from Saskatoon drive 6 hours each way on a long weekend to go to IKEA in Calgary. A long trip is no big deal if you have a book.

So we got on the train and had a great trip south through the countryside. Twenty minutes before we got to Penzance, the odyssey started.

I picked up a discarded newspaper from a table on the train, and glanced through it, discovering that Billy Bragg would be playing on New Year's Eve, in London, at the Hackney Empire. New Year's Eve was the next day. I really like Billy Bragg's music, and he's great live, so I got wildly excited. Gwen, with a mission, is a scary, scary thing. I can be very resolute when I want something (unfortunately, my two-year-old has inherited this trait).

We got off the train in Penzance, found a gorgeous little B&B, and had a potentially-fabulous steak dinner at a local pub. I say 'potentially-fabulous' because I spent half an hour on the phone in the lobby trying to get more information about the Billy Bragg concert. The phone recording that I got for the Hackney Empire sounded promising - some tickets might be available at the door if you line up early (God, I'm stupid), and so I was resolved.

The next morning, the weather was perfect. The sun was sparkling off the ocean, and Penzance had lovely little shops, but I rushed my poor fellow around taking it all in in under two hours. And then we caught the train again, destination: London. We arrived in London in the afternoon, and spent 2-3 hours trying to stow our stuff, eat, and find the venue. Our plan was to go to the concert and then get back on the train and go back to A's parents' house (near Manchester). When we finally got to the theatre, it was dark out and there were wild long line-ups. While we were staring at all the lines and trying to figure out what to do, someone hollered out, "I've got one ticket that I'm not using! Does someone want to buy it?" Instead of snapping it up, we started to argue with each other: "You should go." "No, you should go - you've never seen him play." "No, you like him so much, you should go." And so, someone else bought the ticket while we bickered sweetly.

After a while, we realized that the whole thing was fruitless (how many tickets will be left if there are 100 people waiting in front of you), and we decided to go back to the train station. There was one train leaving for Manchester at 11:45 p.m. or something, and it was 9:00 o'clock. We spent a long hour nursing pints in a grubby little pub full of silent, sullen men, and then we got on the train.

We arrived in Manchester at 3:00 or 4:00 o'clock in the morning, and there was no train to W until 7:00ish. To deter homeless people, the train station in Manchester had no doors on it. This did not deter the homeless people, who just curled up in corners covered with newspapers. So, freezing and exhausted, we moped around, dozed, and tried to bide our time without bed, or food, or coffee.

The stupidest thing was not going to a concert without tickets on New Year's Eve, or sleeping in the freezing train station in Manchester, or greeting the new year with 3 drunks on the train. The stupidest thing was turning my back on the ocean at Penzance.

3 Comments:

Blogger liz said...

If those aren't actually Billy Bragg lyrics, they darn well ought to be!

3:11 pm  
Blogger Lisa Ganda said...

*sigh* thanks for the escape. And so true about the travel time...my husband is British and thought we were all nuts taking 4-6 hour day trips!

11:26 pm  
Blogger Carmi said...

You replaced one experience with another. Despite your regret, there's some poetry to the futile pursuit of tickets and the grubby environs in which you found yourself as a result.

Not quite as genteel, but colorful on retelling nonetheless. Wonderfully related.

12:14 pm  

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