Magazine article The Spectator

Long Day's Journey

Magazine article The Spectator

Long Day's Journey

Article excerpt

Preston railway station, Lancashire.

Good Friday. Easter sun slanting down through the glass roof warming the concrete surface of platform three, which is crowded with trippers waiting for the train to Blackpool North. Except for the women wearing fake tan, everyone looks very white.

They are the whitest people I've seen for ages. Most of the younger lads have shaved heads. Virtually everyone over 14 is smoking.

The short hop from Preston to Blackpool North is the final leg of my journey. The station announcer mentions a train bound for a station called Blackpool South. I develop a small anxiety about whether I shouldn't be going there rather than to Blackpool North. I decide to ask.

A boisterous group of about a dozen lads, mid to late teens, beer cans in hands, well stoked up already, though it's not yet midday, are having a belching contest.

These lads are headed for the bars and amusement arcades along the sea front as well, presumably, so I ask one with a lovely, still ripening black eye which station is best for the promenade.

'F***ing promenade?' he says, in what must be the most melodious, most highly modulated regional accent in the British Isles. (It makes my Essex one sound gross and inarticulate, even to me. ) Words then fail him, and he makes a small half-circular gesture with his beer can towards the empty space into which a train is scheduled shortly to appear.

I double-check with the platform manager, another young skinhead, clad in the train company's regulation navy-blue ankle-length cavalry officer coat with smart red trimmings. He's lounging against a metal pillar, listening intently to something extremely interesting being told to him by a person in a wheelchair with learning difficulties. The platform manager senses my approach, looks up and says with genuine felicitousness, 'Are you OK there, pal?' I put my quandary to him.

It is Blackpool North I want, he says. I thank him. Had I not been to Blackpool before? It's f***ing brilliant. If I can't pull in f***ing Blackpool, he says, I must be f***ing queer. His wheelchair-bound interlocutor beams and nods enthusiastic agreement. I think I'm going to like Blackpool.

So now I'm all set. I'm on the right platform, which is becoming more crowded by the minute. The festive, tolerant, bank-holiday atmosphere is infectious. Though I notice that my small anxiety about whether to get off at Blackpool North has been replaced by another small anxiety about not 'pulling' while I'm in Blackpool and being accused of being f***ing queer. …

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