The Northern Powerless

When Julius Fabricius, Sub-Prefect of the Weald,
In the days of Diocletian owned our Lower River-field …

That’s Kipling, about his Sussex river-meadow. One either is aware of historical perspective, or one is a boor (and probably drives a Chelsea Tractor).

Perspective

Yesterday I was musing whether this blog should be renamed “North of Dere Street”. “Dere” because it ran the length of the subsequent Anglian kingdom of Deira; “street” because stręt (and its variant forms) was how the early English referred to these marvellous paved roads. No: the Angles and Saxons, Jutes and Frisians did not ruthlessly exterminate the Roman legacy: most — there were few exceptions — major Roman settlements remain what they were then, important strategic points. Similarly, we have laid tarmac on top of most of the main Roman roads.

Once upon a time Eboracum was the nerve-centre of Britannia Inferior, and the locals have felt inferior for much of the subsequent eras. Somewhere near where the south transept of York Minister now stands would have been the Praetorium, the headquarters building. From there  would run the Via Principalis.

In the fastnesses of the night, I imagine detachments of legionaries or (more likely) auxiliaries being paraded off, through the predecessor of the later Bootham Bar, out through Bootham (the hame of native booths), to start the march up Dere Street to a posting on the Wall. First main stop-over, Cataractonium — the modern Catterick.

So, in the year AD79 Gnaeus Julius Agricola would have led a legion past the top of the road on which Redfellow Cott now stands.

Isn’t it nice that we can now travel so much faster, more smoothly, more comfortably, than those poor squaddies of Roman times?

Yes … and, comparatively, no.

Today the Lady in my Life needed to go to Belfast. Flights out of our nearer airports (Leeds/Bradford and Manchester) were all at inconvenient times — too early or too late. Aha! Let’s try Liverpool. After all, the Transpennine Express (it does cross the Pennines, but more leisurely than “express” suggests would deliver her, via Manchester Piccadilly, to the new South Parkway station, just down the road from what I still think of as Speke, but which the proud burgers of Merseyside have renamed for John Lennon. It ought to have been a two-hour train trip, no changes.

Things went wrong. The train made a delayed arrival at Leeds. And stopped. The passengers were then told to joint the stopping train to Manchester — but, after a bit of argy-bargy, suspect it’s going to be Manchester Victoria. You’ve spotted the problems: already delayed, wrong station in Manchester, no obvious onward connection to South Parkway. And no help from the information system.

Credit where it’s due.

It wasn’t essentially a railway operational problem. There were a number of surprises for all concerned. They included:

  • an “incident on the line” (which transpired to be a young man under a train at Deighton), and
  • “operational difficulties” (now, I know of an attempt to steal signal cables near Sheffield).

Whereupon the whole on-line information network broke down. So I’m being phoned by the Lady to work out how she will make her flight. And I can find out zilch.

The Magical Mystery Tour is coming to take you away

Once she’s out of the tunnels with telephone communication restored, she’s reporting seeing platform signs for New Pudsey, Sowerby Bridge, Mytholmroyd, Hebden Bridge. Yes, folks, such places do exist outside of fiction and romance.

By one of those ironies, that route will pass not far from “Ravensgill”, which is fictionalised, romanticised and featured in a post yesterday.

More by luck than judgement I’ve worked out her best option is the fast train direct to Liverpool Lime Street, and mosey back to Speke by taxi.

And look here! Manchester Victoria departures tell us that’s out of platform 3. Wonderful thing, these information systems. Except all those waiting for platform 3 are told it’s really platform 4. Oh, wait-about! we actually meant platform 3 after all.

This third train of the day (remember: this was supposed to be a direct connection) runs fairly to time. So, with minutes to spare the Lady is queuing for the gate at the airport, and her flight leaves and arrives on time.

Phew!

There is a lesson here for the likes of Gids Osborne and the pedlars of the “Northern Powerhouse” fantasy.

The systems don’t need Grand Designs and pastry promises: they need routine finance and support for upgrading.

Small miseries, like small debts, hit us in so many places, and meet us at so many turns and corners, that what they want in weight, they make up in number, and render it less hazardous to stand the fire of one cannon ball, than a volley composed of such a shower of bullets.

No, not Kipling again — even though the Internet claims it for him. That would be too neat, too convenient. It’s the Reverend Caleb Charles Colton.

 

 

 

 

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