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Saturday, June 27, 2009


I love travelling by train. A lot of people criticise the various train companies, making out they are late all the time and the service is poor, but I have not experienced any of this. Yes, there are occasional problems, but by and large they are efficient, comfortable and convenient. Today I am headed to Harlow Mill, just north of London and train is my transport of choice.

I sit on the train, which is on time, open my book, ‘A Year of Festivals’, and drift off to Roskilder with the author, Jarvis Hammond. You can’t get lost in a book when driving, well, not legally anyway. I manage to detach myself from my surroundings and drift away to the festival with Jarvis as my guide for almost one hundred miles. Then I notice we are just outside Reading. I look out of the window, then get back into the book. Roskilder comes to an end and we start heading for Latitude. I look out of the window again. We are still just outside Reading. We have not moved since I last dipped into reality. A voice that appears to be everywhere and nowhere at the same time announces that there are passengers are on the line, but soon corrects himself to say trespassers. I slip back into Jarvis. Well, more precisely, his book. My faith in the rail system is still in tact, its not First Great Western Trains fault that some Muppet has decided to go walk about on the track. For a moment my humanity slips and I think to myself that it would serve them right if the train just ran over them.

You can’t just stop and start trains when you feel like it. It’s not like the motorway; you have to fit in with the schedule of other trains. But because it was not their fault, I decide not to blame First Great Western for the train arriving in Paddington a full hour late. It is not as if I had any deadline to meet anyway. I stroll the length of platform one to get to the tube station, only to hear the tannoy announce that the Circle Line is being replaced by a bus due to engineering works. Well, you’ve got to work on the track sometime I suppose, it can’t be helped. Although walking back the way I just came, carrying my trusty rucksack and tent down to the other end of the station to jump on the Hammersmith Line was something I could have done without.

By the time I got to Liverpool Street I decided a cold Strongbow was in order, after all, I had plenty of time to get to Harlow. It did not take long anyway, it was a warm day and it went down so quickly I hardly had time to savour the refreshing apple taste. Then it was off to the machine to purchase my ticket. It was only when I had my ticket in hand that I realised that I did not know which train I needed to catch. The helpful lady at the information desk soon put that right. “Well, you really need to Cambridge train, but you just missed it and there is not another one for an hour. Your best bet is to get the half past express train to Stanstead but get off at Harlow Town, then get a connection to Harlow Mill”. The advice sounded fine to me so I took it (although I did wonder if it should be called the express train if it was making stops on the way).

I considered stocking up on refreshments for the festival but decided to get something in Harlow, thus avoiding carrying it any further than necessary. Then I sat on the ‘express’ train and opened up Jarvis again (you have a dirty mind you know). He was just landing at Stanstead Airport. An omen I thought, this is the train for me. The carriages soon filled up with weary travellers on their way home and excited travellers about to start their holiday. Then another voice from everywhere and nowhere announced signal problems directly outside the station, which were causing a delay to all trains departing from platforms one through to ten. I looked out the window. Platform seven. Never mind, Jarvis and I were having fun. The train started to fill up with people that had technically missed the train, or would have if it had been on time. Forty-five minutes later we started moving. The train had emptied a bit by now, some had already decided they were going to miss their flight and had resigned themselves to another night in ‘The Smoke’. I was not too concerned; I had been spending quality time in Spain (Latitude was history now). I was at Benicassim, soaking up the rays; this brought a really big smile to my face as I had recently purchased tickets for this year’s event! Then I remembered the ticket was for daughter number one, not me. We raced out through the north of London and out beyond the M25 and soon I was deposited in Harlow Town.

I had not been to Harlow before and was not sure of the geography. I considered walking to Harlow Mill; it could not be that far away. Then I remembered my 24 hours lost in Falkirk, purely because I got off at the wrong railway station, mistakenly thinking it was only a village. I went in search of the platform I needed for my connection to Harlow Mill. After wandering for ten minutes (no mean feat on a station as small as Harlow Town) I came to the conclusion that I needed to wait for the Cambridge train that was due to leave Liverpool Street on the hour. If I had waited I could have taken my time on another pint of big boys happy apple, instead of standing on the platform of a station in a depressing looking town reading the Samaritans sign wondering if I was in need of conversation.

It started to rain. Not any old rain, but old skool, hardcore, biblical rain. It was accompanied by thunder and lightening. Jarvis could not distract me from questions in my head about what shape my tent was in when I packed it away. I had a nagging feeling that there was something wrong with it, nothing that would stop me camping in on a beautiful sunny day, but might put me off camping in a monsoon. It stopped raining. I don’t recall seeing hail this late in June before, but now I was seeing it. Thoughts of my wellies back at home went through my head. The thought of changing platform and getting on the ‘express’ train to Liverpool Street went through my head.

Eventually the Cambridge train rolls into town and transports me from one end of Harlow to another with the speed only an hour late express train can. The hail has subsided back to just plain rain. A quick squint around the area reveals a trading estate, an Indian Restaurant, and a pub from a famous chain and a tool hire centre. No sign of an offy. I had no intention of getting soaked in a search for an off licence that might not even exist so I headed for the river. There had been a promise of a water taxi, but I had already been alerted to engine problems. This was not a good day for public transport. I headed ‘north, with the river on my left, for about 15 minutes’.

Perhaps it is about time I let you in on where I am headed.

Shortly after the Tofu Love Frogs reformed Paddy came up with the idea of Frogstock, a festival that would feature the Tofu Love Frogs and bands featuring ex Love Frogs and bands that had a remote connection with the Frogs. It did not happen in 2007. It did not happen in 2008 either. Paddy is never one to give up on a good idea (or a bad one), 2009 is to be the year of the Frogstock, all be it slightly scaled down from the original plan. And this is where I am headed.

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