Train stations are haunting, romantic places: think of Brief Encounter and Anna Karenina; think of couples long parted sprinting along the platform to be reunited in an embrace, shedding petals and tears and train tickets.
So you won't be surprised to learn that one of my best dates with The Proclaimer took place in a train station, only it wasn't Carnforth or the Gare du Nord. It was in good old Partick on a bland and rainy Tuesday.
I am scraping around, trying to find romance in the Partick Interchange, to give it its proper title, but I'm struggling. The station isn't made of proud Victorian ironwork. There are no soaring glass ceilings. You won't find a quaint tearoom serving tiny cakes and porcelain teacups whilst an ancient clock ticks by reminding lovers they must soon part…no, there's none of that in Partick. You're more likely to find a damp, boot-printed copy of The Metro fluttering on the windy platform, commuters eating Steak Bakes, a Big Issue seller planted outside, howling babies and pushy old dears.
So, you may well ask what kind of smooth operator takes his date to Partick Station?
I had been walking home from work with new shoes on. Only an idiot would attempt a two hour walk in new clodhoppers but these weren't ordinary shoes, they were wellies and whoever heard of wellies being sore on the feet? It's smart shoes or heels which nip and pinch and need to be broken in, not floppy jelly wellies. So I'd gone out on my lunch break and skipped along to Primark to buy these cute new wellies which were all the rage as they were madly-patterned, colourful and only ankle length.
On the journey home that night, my feet were fine. The blood and the pain wasn't coming from my feet, but from my ankles. The short wellies were encircling my ankle like barbed wire and chafing and grating and squeaking against my damp skin till a cut opened up and my ankles ran with blood. I was only half-way home and couldn't possibly limp the rest of the way. I sat down in a bus stop and tried to mop away the worst of the blood, but how will I get home? A taxi was too expensive and we all know I can't get on trains due to panic attacks. Could I try for a bus? No, I'd be just as panicky on a crowded bus. I watched them go past, creaking and crammed, the windows steamed.
So I did what I hate to do: I texted The Proclaimer and said I needed him and could he please come and get me in his yellow Noddy car.
When he saw my crimson feet he became severe and practical. He took me to Braehead and bought me sensible furry winter boots and then said I need to get back on a train. I've been avoiding trains for over a year now. The time has come to tackle my terror.
So that's how we ended up hanging around Partick station one evening. Bundled up against the cold, we sat on the platform and watched the trains. There was no pressure to get on a train and no need to get anywhere by a certain time. No, we're simply at the station so I can remember what it's like: the crackling of the platform announcements; the screeching as the train slows and pulls in; the three beeps as the doors swing open. Get used to it, but without the pressure of having to rush and push for a space and get to work on time.
As one train pulled in, The Proclaimer said softly, 'want to get on?'
'No!' I grabbed his wrist and we watched the train depart.
As we waited for the next one I remembered a trick of my Gran's. Whenever I saw a spider in the house I'd be terrified but Gran would say 'what're you scared of? That's only wee Bobby.' She'd give them cute names so they were no longer beasties but Bobbies and Billies and Freddies.
So I suggested that we call the next train Bobby.
The Proclaimer looked at me and said 'Eh, whatever makes you happy.'
Soon, Bobby approached the station, with horrific grindings and metallic clankings. It's only wee Bobby, I thought and took The Proclaimer's hand.
I stood up. 'Let's see if we can get on Bobby,' I said and we waited beside the train doors. I felt a surge of bravery but when the doors slid open and the carriage invited me in all my courage wilted and I stepped away.
I sat down on the bench. 'Bobby wasn't right,' I said to The Proclaimer. 'Maybe the next one. We'll call him Peter, right?'
Soon, Peter came round the bend towards us.
'Here he is,' said The Proclaimer. 'See how you feel.'
I ran down the length of the platform, trying to find an empty carriage. There was one at the rear of the train. The doors opened and it was empty and clean and bright inside. I remembered how it used to be a good thing to find an empty carriage, to get a seat, and have the rest of the journey to relax and read and maybe have a Twix…it used to be a good thing. I shouted up the platform to The Proclaimer that we're doing it! We're getting on wee Peter! This is it!
We both jumped on and I told the Proclaimer to talk. Distract me from the train. Talk. Talk now!
'Em, what about?' he said, feeling under pressure.
'Anything!' I said.
So, he blethered on about some fancy sports car which goes so madly fast that you have to turn a special key on the dashboard before the car will let you reach its full speed. He was just starting to get into his stride when I grabbed his jacket and pulled him up. Next stop is coming! We're getting off. One stop is enough for me! The doors opened and we stepped down into the fresh lovely air of Hyndland and watched wee Peter chuffing away to Anniesland… I had conquered my fear.
So, this date wasn't as glamorous as others I've been on. The man didn't spend any money on me, unless we count the train ticket. He didn't take me anywhere nice, unless you're an aficionado of modern, glassy stations. I didn't wear a gorgeous dress. Instead I wore jeans and a look of terror, yet it was the best date I've been on as this was the point at which I felt the anxiety and panic I've been carrying on my back for a year begin to crack and slip and maybe leave me alone.
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