Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Magazine article The Spectator

Low Life

Article excerpt

Next morning, Sunday, up early. I must have been the only person at the Butlins music festival minus a hangover. Day three, and I was yet to hear a live musical note or get myself an altered consciousness. I walked into town along the promenade feeling ever so noble. Perhaps I might go to church, I thought, and underline my great goodness. I savoured an image of my new pals, hands on hips, indignantly saying to me, 'So where were you last night?' And my answering, 'I had an early night.' And them saying, 'And today? Where were you today?'

And me saying simply, 'Church.'

The sea was flat and grey. Other festival-goers, cold and crapulent, were slouching grimly into town, as though on a forced march. The promenade ran out near a quaint old railway station. I was surprised to see one.

I'd imagined that the hills of Exmoor were a barrier to every line of communication except the unbelievably stoney, winding road that had brought me here.

I crossed the road to see if it was still functioning. The booking office was a homely, preBeeching affair, smelling of fresh paint and coal smoke. A loud whistle. A train was about to leave. A steam train. 'Don't worry about a ticket, ' said a man in a peaked cap with an unguarded, unhurried, perhaps pre-Beeching air. 'Buy one on the train. No need to hurry!'

he called after me, as I broke into an anxious trot past the second-hand bookstall.

I climbed aboard and passed through the train as far as the buffet. The carriages smelled of dust and smoke. The few passengers on either side seemed to be of a type: mild, elderly, quietly ecstatic. The buffet was a fully stocked bar, with upside-down gin, vodka and whisky bottles, big ones, on prominently displayed optics. The counter was manned by a woman who looked as if she'd seen everything. I was terribly tempted by these magnificent spirit bottles, but it was 10.15 a. m. , and I'm not Nigel Farage, peace be upon him.

I chose coffee and asked her where we were going. Bishops Lydeard, she said, an hour and a quarter away, with eight stops in between. I asked her whether she had any suggestions as to where I might get off. 'Watchet's nice, ' she said. So I went there.

Watchet, it turned out, is a tiny, ancient fishing port shielded from the outside world by the Quantock hills. …

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