Day Nine: Lower Earley to the Irish Sea

The morning is grey and foggy as I emerge from the chrysalis of G’s sofa, surprisingly comfortable once the kitchen scissors and sachets of tomato ketchup were extracted from between the cushions. No one else has been in the house since we left for Italy, so the household food supplies (the two bananas we ate then) hasn’t been replenished. G has bought some good hot chocolate, though (fair trade and organic) so I make myself a mug before we head back to the bus stop with an odd sense of reverse deja vu. I even have the great green suitcase that, like the Ancient Mariner’s albatross, cannot be lightly discarded.

The cross-country train from Reading is busier than it was last week; but I remind myself that this is a Saturday morning rather than Sunday afternoon.

At Stafford the sun has come out as I wait outside the station for my sister to pick me up in her car. Apparently there has been an accident on the M6 and the radio traffic bulletins are advising drivers to “skirt around it” which means driving into Stafford and out again. It reminds me that it’s not only public transport users who are subject to random disruption and in fact, in minutes per mile, this is the longest delay of the whole ten days.

After a couple of hours with my family I’m off again, on another quiet train through Stoke (pictured here) to Stockport. Usually there would be a direct train to Liverpool, but this afternoon the line north of Crewe is closed for engineering work.

At Stockport, as I photograph the station, I realise that I’m about to take the last of my twenty-one train journeys (including the Tube and Metro) on this trip. It turns out to be one of the busiest, as it passes through the main Manchester stations on its way to the dark and mysterious Liverpool Lime Street.

(View from the passengers’ lounge across the Mersey)

I arrive several hours early at the Norfolkline ferry terminal in Birkenhead but there are already a few foot passengers there. We wait in the lounge and watch celebrity Family Fortunes – Barry McGuigan and the Nolan Sisters. There’s something appropriate about the cosy Seventies celebrities in this relaxed atmosphere, like sitting in your granny’s living room watching television with your cousins. We chat to one another, rummage through our bags, plug in our mobile phones to charge. I don’t know quite why it’s so different from an airport. It may be the staff: the woman on security, asking to look in my bag, says, “No reflection on you, dear”. Later it gets a little bit rowdier as the lads come in from the football matches in their Liverpool and Man U shirts, but there’s still no tension or impatience.

As we get on the minibus to be taken onto the ship I notice that it originally belonged to North Yorkshire County Council. This explains a lot. We used to live on the edge of the North York Moors, and any vehicle considered too decrepit to take Yorkshire children to school must really be hanging onto existence by the thinnest of threads.

On the ship I stake my claim to a comfortable corner in the bar by the restaurant and get into dinner early, at a spacious window table. Afterward I settle back on the padded bench with a large volume of John Dickson Carr and, when the text begins to swim, curl under a ship’s blanket and listen to the adjacent party of dog-breeders who’ve brought their charges – pets doesn’t seem quite the word – across for a show. I sleep well, apart from an occasional glare as I turn towards the overhead lights and think that I should have brought one of those things to cover my eyes. But each time I am asleep again before I can think of the word.