Winter Draws On by Hugh Williams
Until a few years ago I was the SRC Webmaster. Basically because nobody ever sent anything to me for publication, I formed the habit of occasionally writing an article about travel on the North Staffs line using the services of East Midlands Trains from what was then my local station at Blythe Bridge. Services on that line ran hourly in one direction to Derby and in the other direction to Crewe. Habitually they were run using single 153 cars which, more often than not, were overcrowded. The running joke in this series of articles was that the Webmaster and his wife used the train to travel to places from where the latter could purchase a winter coat. For reasons which utterly escape me, this series was remarkably popular and I would be asked when the next one would be published!
East Midlands Trains will soon be no more, being replaced in August by East Midlands Railway. They have announced already that the first thing they will do is to withdraw 153s. I have moved house and no longer use the North Staffs line. My wife has a serviceable collection of winter coats. Therefore, for these reasons, I thought it might be appropriate to bid a final farewell to the series by repeating the last article which was published during my tenure as Webmaster – and here it is as published on 14 October 2015.
WINTER DRAWS ON
Basically, it was the fault of the proprietor of a well-known model railway emporium in Stafford (POAWKMREIS).
Whilst the Webmaster was about his lawful occasions at a model railway exhibition, where his layout “Longnor” was being exhibited, he happened to mention to the aforementioned POAWKMREIS that his Management was sitting at home planning an attack on the shops so that she could purchase a winter coat.
Readers of this website, who have been unable to shake the habit for several years, will be aware that the Webmaster’s Management is constantly attempting to purchase a winter coat. Not, mark you, a winter coat, but a definitive winter coat. Quite what makes a winter coat definitive is a mystery of such depth that no mere man can hope to understand it. Think of it as a mystery surrounded by an enigma, and then add to it computing the number of angels that can be accommodated on the head of a pin. All the Webmaster knows is that it generally involves travelling by train to some far-flung destination and generally also involves returning home empty handed. And, when travelling by train, it generally involves using the services of Blythe Bridge Betty, a local train service provided on the North Staffordshire Line by East Midlands Trains.
Cast your mind back to the POAWKMREIS. Although his appearance belies this, he is a kindly man and given to being helpful. Yes, really. Admittedly not often, but it has been known. But only when not taking your money. Having heard that another sortie on the winter coat shops was being planned, he thought he would help out by sending the Webmaster an email link to a national newspaper’s winter coat department. This duly arrived on the Webmaster’s PC where, during the Webmaster’s visit to the little boys’ room, Management espied it on the screen and duly clicked it. By the time the Webmaster got back, Management told him to zip up his flies and then explain what the POAWKMREIS meant by sending a link to an on-line winter coat site. Much stuttering (Webmaster) and stern looks (Management) followed, but the ultimate conclusion was an announcement that the following day both Management and the Webmaster would board Blythe Bridge Betty and head to Derby where a thorough search would be made of all premises possibly possessing winter coats for purchase. This would be infinitely more satisfactory than an on-line shopping experience where you couldn’t actually try the things on!
By 9.30 the next morning, some 15 minutes in advance of the due time for the train, the twosome were on the station platform at Blythe Bridge. There were many others waiting for the train and, as usual, the Webmaster was wondering if they would all get on. After all, a single 153 doesn’t carry more than 90 or so and there seemed to be about 156 on the platform (well, about 20 anyway). The level crossing alarm had obviously caught a cold. If you have ever heard a pregnant hippopotamus announcing the imminent start of labour, you will know exactly what the noise sounded like. The barrier came down as the hippopotamus roared and the station recorded announcement suggested that the train would call at Uttoxeter, blah-blah crackle and Derby. Then – shock, horror! – a two car 158 appeared around the curve from Caverswall and the twosome realised that luxury awaited them! The train pulled in and everyone boarded. All of them got seats, but the train was remarkably full. There were even one or two standing passengers, but they were diehards with lots of North Staffs Line experience and were doing it just for effect. They could have sat if they wished. As the train pulled away from Blythe Bridge the conductor welcomed new passengers on board. At least, it seemed to be what he was doing. What came over the speaker was “muffle-muffle-muffle, sneezing fit, arf barf and Derby.” Just a little later he appeared from the rear cab door with a luminous red nose, brandishing a hankie and looking pretty naffed off with everything. Tickets were duly purchased and the train sped on its way. A nice touch was the sight of the conductor polishing his ticket machine with his handkerchief.
The train arrived on time at Derby. Now, the thing about Derby is that the railway station is not where you want to go. It’s nowhere near the centre. Fortunately, outside the railway station is a new bus stationette at which buses call at least three times a day, and these can waft you to the bus station. Now, the thing about Derby is that the bus station is not where you want to go. It’s nowhere near the centre. So what most people do is walk. Now the other thing about Derby is that between the railway station and the town centre they are doing so much building that it looks like an entirely different city every time you go there. It took the twosome about fifteen minutes to walk from the railway station to the big shopping centre – but a lot of this time was spent going “Oooh!” and “Aaaah!” and “Are you SURE this is the right way?”.
It will come as little surprise to those who have read these accounts before that the entire visit to Derby was unsuccessful. None of the 3,254 coats tried on was satisfactory. OK, maybe that figure is a slight exaggeration, but you get the general idea.
A walk back to the railway station, again punctuated by “Aaaah!” and “Are you SURE this is the right way?”, resulted in the twosome finding themselves boarding a single car 153. This was comfortably full, but seats were available. Precisely on time there was an exchange of buzzers, a roar from the engine, some rocking from side to side, and then barely perceptible movement towards Crewe.
In the middle of the coach a couple of young people were listening to “music” on their headphones and, even towards the back of the coach, much of their “entertainment” was audible to the twosome. Passengers nearer the young people were obviously put out by this intrusive noise and, from shaking heads and obvious annoyance, this discontent escalated into action. A bloke sitting behind the young people stood up. He was quite tall. Basically, he would have trouble in getting under any bridge banned to a double decker. He bent over the two young people and obviously said something to them. By actually tugging out the earphone on one side of the young person sitting nearest to him, he emphasised his point. Immediately there was a blissful absence of pop “music” and the young people alighted at the first station (Tutbury and Hatton). As the 153 pulled away, however, they were standing facing the train and each was giving a “V” sign on the fingers of both hands.
Alighting at Blythe Bridge, Management announced that she was going to pop across the road to the newsagents and would meet the Webmaster in the car. Half an hour later she turned up, carrying a parcel. This, she said, was obtained from a rather nice little clothes shop situated just near to the newsagents. It was a winter coat. Not only that, but it was definitive…