Ian was back from America this weekend and drove down to see me. Hurrah! We’d had tickets booked for this weekend away for months. It was Eve’s 60th birthday and she was having a party. I like parties. However, a drive from Motherwell to Sheffield then Sheffield to Ware seemed like too much driving for Ian so we decided to let the train take the strain.
Which was all well and good, but having missed lunch at FFW (Food & Fine Wine) for weeks we went there first, Ian dragging our little red trundley bag on wheels and me carrying my knitting and Dune in my new Ecorotic (because sex should be sustainable) bag, a gift from Good Vibrations in San Francisco. Sally came with us and we arrived in good time, a little damp from the grey Sheffield drizzle. The food was excellent, as always, and the Shiraz/Grenache red wine was lovely. And, of course, there was lots to talk about; winery visits and French versus Californian wines and etc. So much so, that we forgot the time a little.
We tumbled out of the door with half an hour to catch our train. On any ordinary day we’d have made it in time but when it’s wet in Sheffield the people who normally walk huddle under bus shelters and catch buses. At every stop it seemed to take forever to load the passengers aboard, the traffic was reluctant to let us out, the lights were against us. To cut a long story to its sad conclusion, despite running we missed the train, bought as an advanced (non-transferrable) ticket. Damn! Two new singles to London would have cost over £120. Oh. I suggested we just ditched the party and went home. Ian was coming round to that way of thinking when he had a thought. How much would it cost on a coach?
We trundled to the bus station where it turned out we could get to London for under £40. We climbed on board and sat in the front seats. As the coach meandered through Sheffield I started to worry about travel sickness but once we got onto the M1 I was fine. It was a revelation. Comfortable, speedy and so cheap! Our fellow passengers were from a very different demographic from those on the train. Other than one small family and the driver we were the only white faces on the bus. Wonderfully, the constant irritating iPhone tones were not heard during the journey, not even ours. I shall be looking at this travel option in the future. We got off at Golders Green and dived Underground heading for Tottenham Hale to pick up the rest of our train journey. We arrived an hour and a half later than planned but otherwise in good order.
Julia and Dougs were already at the hotel so we met to stroll to the Drill Hall together. As we walked other fans emerged from the dark and we converged on the party en masse. The Drill Hall is an interesting place. A huge cavernous space with scattered tables and vast quantities of food laid out on one side, drink on the other. The consensus was to camp out by the wine and so we did, a rowdy fannish table. Luckily the other friends and family members were up for dancing and having a good time. Most of us remained determinedly rooted at our tables, gossiping delightfully. Despite this I didn’t catch up with Joe and Judith or Rob and Avedon. We need more parties! John’s band was enjoyable, as always and if I hadn’t been so busy chatting I might have danced. Another time. We need more parties! Again, the food was wonderful and I ate more than I should so that at midnight I was ready for my bed. Luckily there were fun activities to keep me going for a little longer. The clearing up, performed as a group activity, didn’t take very long and then Claire and I ganged up on Nolly to get a lift back to the hotel, there to keep the bar open in the traditional fannish manner. Julia arrived a little later, thoughtfully carrying wet wipes so I could divest myself of the makeup I’d put on without thinking how to get it off. A good sized group gradually gathered in the debris of someone else’s party but we gave up by 2am due to a decided lack of stamina. We’re getting old. However, I still maintain, we need more parties.
At breakfast the next morning we heard about the top-of-the-voice argument that had kept Julia awake for much of the night and had disturbed Eve and John as well. What a joy. Nothing could have kept me awake by bedtime but I counted myself lucky that we had been on the floor above. Eve was continuing the celebrations at her local pub but Ian and I thought that one missed train in a weekend was enough and decided to give lunch a miss, heading back to London after checking out.
The problem with this decision, of course, was that we had originally planned to go to the pub so we arrived back in London at 12.30 and our train back to Sheffield wasn’t due until 16.25. That left us with a dilemma. What do you do in London for almost four hours when you don’t want to spend lots of money and you’re dragging a suitcase? Ian found a website on his iPhone that said we could leave the bag at Left Luggage at St Pancras for £6.50. This seemed a bit steep but better than being encumbered. We balked at the £8 it turned out to be when we finally found the place though but, turning away despondent, Ian noticed a sign for the British Library. What a marvellous idea! And so convenient. And open on a Sunday. We scurried over the road and entered paradise.
I know there is a lot to choose from but the very nicest thing about the place is that you can leave your luggage locked up for nothing. The bags were dumped with relief and we headed for the exhibition, Evolving English. This was a fascinating interactive display. My favourite bits were the wall displaying phrases from speeches (‘the Lady’s not for turning’ turned my stomach briefly) and lists of word origins (we’ve borrowed a lot of words over the years) and the dialect machine. Only one of the two machines were working and lots of people gravitated towards it so I didn’t have long to explore it but it was fascinating to listen to recordings of dialect from all over the country. I was disappointed that they didn’t have the Stoke on Trent dialect of my beloved grandparents. My dad commented once that it was strange in Knutton how an ash tray grew leaves and an ash tree was for putting cigarettes out in.
I could have spent hours in the exhibition but my feet were hurting and I get weary of queuing quickly so we ascended into the Sir John Ritblat Gallery to see the ‘Treasures of the British Library’; displays of the most beautiful books, maps and illuminated manuscripts. When we tired of the subdued lighting, presumably needed to protect the displayed material, we went to the café for yummy cake and coffee. My lemon curd swiss roll was nice but Ian’s coffee & walnut was better. We shared. As with all such places there was a gift shop. I was fairly restrained. Or at least I walked round picking up everything that I wanted and then walked round again and put most of it back again.
I feel we’ve only just begun to explore this marvellous place and envisage many more train-related visits. I have, in fact, planned an ideal visit for our friend Spike. She should arrive in the UK, maybe spend a day tidying Ian’s kitchen then come to Sheffield to go to FFW and sort out cataloguing and ordering my books before we take her to Sheffield station, gateway to St Pancras, the loveliest station in London. On arrival she could stay in the soon to be completed station hotel at night and live in the library during the day. What could be better? I’m guessing the hotel won’t be cheap though.
So, exhausted, we retrieved our bags and adjourned to the John Betjeman pub at St Pancras for an early lunch before sprinting for our train and heading back for Sheffield. We bickered gently about what to listen to on our shared earbuds, beginning with an ELO genius playlist, sliding off into depression with Justin Currie and ending up with jolly songs and Eliza Doolittle.
It just remains for me to thank Eve for a great party, Claire for some useful advice, Nolly for the lift, Julia for the wet wipes, Dave Hicks for the promise of a fanzine cover, the British Library for being wonderful and Ian for coming back despite the lure of Californian wineries. We need more parties!
PS Have a look at the British Library podcasts