24 Hours From Preston
Day One – Wednesday 7/4
In my early twenties my pride and joy was my new Ford Escort 1.6L. One night the police called. They said my bright red escort had been ‘spotted’ in Preston!
“Preston?” I asked, “Where’s that?”
“Up north. Lancashire,” they said.
I’m a London gal; they might as well have said the moon. I hadn’t been further than the Watford Gap, way back then. They believed me. Later I discovered some low lives had cloned my number. They’d ‘done’ a post office. My Escort then had notoriety and I lost any desire I might have had to go to Preston.
Twenty nine years and numerous cars later, Paul and I are living in northern Spain. The Preston instant was long forgotten. Paul’s dad is in a care home in Chorley, a neighbour of Preston. The care home manager phoned.
“Can to come over for a chat?” she enquires.
“To Preston?” Paul asks back, nodding.
“Yes,” she says. Paul doesn’t know what to say and the woman understands his hesitancy. Seemingly, he has a woman friend who wants his money rather than his friendship. Perhaps it would be a good idea if Paul sought advice from a solicitor.
“I think I need to go,” Paul says, nodding again. He is good at nodding.
“OK, I’ll go too,” I reply, nodding. It’s catching.
We go. Tickets booked. Taxi arranged.
The cats go on holiday to the cattery. They go the night before. We can pack in peace but we miss them ‘helping’. The house is far too quiet and peaceful.
The taxi arrives early. We don’t mind; we’d be kicking our feet otherwise. It’s just after midday when we arrive at Asturias Airport. Check in opens at one o’clock so we have a coffee. Asturias airport isn’t a shopper’s paradise and what there is can be seen in two blinks. We check in and then have a glass of wine and a chicken pincho. The flight is on time. There is a party of Spanish teenagers on their first overseas flight. Ugh, I thought they’d be unruly, like their compatriots back home. No, they made enjoyable travelling companions. They shrieked on takeoff and landing; shrieks of delight at something new. Their life is just starting. We practice our Spanish; they reply in English. We laugh. Friends for a moment in time.
We land at Stansted. It’s raining and cold but this is England. I can never understand why the rain seems wetter in England. The cold is always colder too!
We’ve booked a night at the Radisson. It’s a two minute walk from the airport. It’s room only at £105 per night. The Travelodge is cheaper but then that involves a £14 taxi ride each way so doesn’t work out that much cheaper. The Radisson is a touch of class. The staff know what you want before you do and discreetly provide it. The only class the Travelodge offers is what the local Essex girls can. We stayed there once and asked for extra milk cartons.
“Ain’t yer got none?” the girl whined as she chewed hard on her gum and carried on talking to her friend. Thank goodness I wasn’t having a heart attack.
We arrive at the Radisson just after 5 o’clock. We check out our room; it’s so comfy and welcoming. We are tired and don’t want to go out to eat. We do need to get tickets for the National Express coach the next morning so take a stroll to the ticket office in the terminal building. As we cross the grassed forecourt a family of wild rabbits go hoppity split towards a thick cluster of shrubs. Paul isn’t the only touch of wild in this hive of mayhem. Tickets bought, we visit the Spar shop close by. We buy ‘dinner’ – a beef salad baguette (we’ll have half each) and a tub of chicken pasta which we’ll also share. A couple of bags of crisps, a bottle of wine complete our dinner menu. A banquet fit for two weary travellers. Thank goodness I packed the melamine plates and the plastic cutlery. Paul had scoffed when he saw me packing them.
“Why do girls always pack everything including the kitchen sink?” he’d snorted. He didn’t nod that time.
“I was a Girl Guide. We’re always prepared,” I tell him.
He’d just looked. Words failed him. As I serve our dinner that evening, he smiles. I can tell he is glad I was one of Baden Powell’s girls. We relish the money we saved which will go well towards feeding us for several more nights. We relax on the bed and enjoy our feast. Heaven on earth.
Man U are playing Bayen Munich.
“Mind if I watch?” Paul asks although he knows I won’t. It means I can compute. I am tired well before the footie finishes. I lie down and sleep. Paul says I had something in common with Fergie’s boys. That is a different story.
Day Two – Thursday 8/4
Our body clocks wake us an hour early. We haven’t adapted to the time change yet, albeit it an hour. We potter and enjoy the room. A room with breakfast was £30 more; £15 each. I suggest we grab a BLT sarnie from the Spar shop. Paul nods. We gather up our possessions whilst watching Jeremy Kyle. He is the only ‘thing’ I miss from English TV; the best at what he does. The sad thing is that there are so many degenerates in England!!!
In the terminal we discover O’Neils, the Irish bar. We look at the breakfast menu. Paul chooses the full English breakfast. I choose the vegetarian breakfast. With coffee, we pay £16. Two breakfasts, in effect, for the price of one. That can’t be bad. I’m renowned for being canny where money is concerned. The proof of the pudding and all that.... We still buy the aforesaid sarnie and an apple to aid us on our journey. A couple of magazines and the Daily Mail will help while away the hours too.
The National Express leaves at 1pm. It’s full. Everyone wants to go to London. We get seats across the aisle so are still able to chat. The country bordered motorway gives way to the suburbs of the capital. Forty shades of brick blend with posters boasting pointless slogans advertising products with equally pointless uses. Boarded up flats secrete an air of dubious mystery. Sky rise flats with handkerchief lawns and not a soul in sight. The empty bleakness gives way to the capital at its best.
We arrive at Victoria. Congestion reigns. Paul stands guard over our luggage whilst I go to the loo. I remind him to beware the low lives out for what they can get. He reminds me of Barcelona and I know he’ll beware. I pay 20p for the privilege of having a wee. There isn’t even any soap. I feel robbed. Paul says afterwards there was soap in the gents. I wonder if this is an indication they perhaps think perfumed soap is sissy but decide not to follow that line of thought. I shudder and look forward to the journey instead.
Our connecting coach whose ultimate destination is Blackpool, leaves at 3.30. It pulls out of London through a similar route to which we arrived. It’s only a third full. I look around and wonder how many people are ‘going all the way’. I remember Blackpool – capital of sleaze and tack. I shudder. I’ve never thought of myself as a snob but I am grateful that our journey terminates somewhere to the north east of this den of iniquity.
In a blink we have left the metropolis. We’re on the motorway whose direction boards tell us we are heading ‘to the north’. I remember when I was small I wondered where this mysterious ‘north’ was. How many miles did you have to travel before you got there? How did you know when you got there? So many questions. I don’t think I know the answers even now. As a southerner, I don’t think I’ll ever know. I still find the direction just as mystifying.
A Jamaican gentleman sits behind us. His mobile is constantly in use. It rings three times and then he answers. He tells the caller he isn’t unavailable; doesn’t explain. He does tell the caller, though, he can’t get ‘it’ to them for a couple of days. He hangs up. This is repeated another two or three times. Then he has a solution. He tells the now frantic caller that he’ll get ‘his boy’ to force the door to his room and the caller can have ‘it’ in a couple of hours. A bank is also mentioned. This conversation is repeated through umpteen calls. Then we learn that the caller is talking bullshit according to our travel companion. The caller is reminded that the bank is now closed and the figure of twelve hundred is mentioned. My imagination goes into overtime and I invent a series of plots to explain this one sided conversation we are privy too. The Jamaican leaves the coach at Coventry.
Coventry is an ugly monster of a city and Birmingham isn’t any more attractive. I am grateful I’ve no need to live in either. I shiver at the thought of what might have been. We’d stopped at Birmingham bus station for fifteen minutes which was a quarter of an hour too long but took the chance to take a pee in a proper non moving toilet. At thirty pence the experience at Victoria was cheaper. Here they had soap but nothing with which to dry ones hands.
“Have we reached the north yet?” I ask wearily.
“Not yet,” he replies.
Does he know when we will? He shakes his head. Well, it’s different from a nod!! I see signs for Preston – eeeekkkk. Paul assures me that we won’t be going through THAT place.
“Phew,” I think.
We turn off the motorway just after the sky has turned indigo. Pink fingers bleed through the night clouds before fading into obscurity. Twinkle, twinkle little star; one, two, three and then there are ten. They light our way into Leigh. I can tell it’s countryside but it’s too dark too appreciate and I’m too tired anyway. Leigh village is radiated in neon and I can tell it’s quaint. I think it’s my kind of place. I hope Chorley is its twin.
“Night time can be deceptive,” Paul says.
I ignore him.
“Chorley is next,” he continues as if he has read my mind.
Cement city looms and he responds to my expression.
“It must be after Wigan, not before,” he states the obvious.
My turn to nod.
“Ah, there’s the pier,” he announces as if I’m supposed to be excited. I don’t see anything that resembles a pier. Besides, it’s not by the sea. I grunt. I’m too tired to question his statement.
The coach finally rolls into Chorley. I peer through the night and decide I’m not sure what to think. Thinking can wait ‘til the morning. The bus station is empty; we didn’t think it would be anything else. We can get a taxi if we knew where we could get one. The information desk looks as if it’s still manned. Maybe he is about to go home; if we hurry we can just about catch him.
“I can call you a taxi,” he says, his Lancashire eyes smiling, “but why not take bus route 125? It leaves in nine minutes and stops right outside.”
Sounds good to us and we wait. The 125 arrives right on cue and leaves nine minutes later as predicted. Lancashire buses run like clockwork. Twenty minutes later we stand outside the Hartwood Hall pub with rooms. We are weary and the barmen deal with our registration jovially and I’m even willing to take a bunk in a car bay. We have room nine in the coach house. It’s a small room; rustic and cosy; the kind of decor I’d have chosen. We dump our cases and with energy I thought we’d lost somewhere south of Birmingham we hot foot to the bar. There is twenty minutes left til last orders. A large red wine hits the spot. We retire and rest in peace.
Day Three – Friday 9/4
We awake before the alarm goes off. We can take our time and enjoy doing so. Breakfast is a leisurely affair. I relish in the crackle and pop of Rice Crispies. It’s the inconsequential things I miss. We have a cooked breakfast. No one can make or cook sausages like the English.
“Ah, baked beans,” Paul drools.
I spy the sachets of Marmite. My turn to drool. I take two and thickly cover my toast. We’re in Heaven. Who’d have thought we’d feel that way in Chorley. We ask the ‘breakfast’ lady for directions to the care home where Paul’s dad is resident. It’s too far to walk. We get a taxi. It’s £7.90 for a twenty minute ride. The manager is waiting for us and says she knew Paul was Vinnie’s son straight away. She takes us to Vinnie’s room. He doesn’t know we are coming; it’s a surprise. He can’t believe his eyes. It’s so touching. The manager wipes tears from her eyes. I’m in the background and the emotion bypasses me. I’ve noticed already, though, how alike father and son are. Fifty years separate these peas in a pod yet they could be one. I see the future of Paul but I’m not afraid. It doesn’t put me off! This is the thing they call love. The manager leaves us to talk. We sit in Vinnie’s room. They haven’t seen each other for some twenty years although they recently started talking on the phone; Paul phones him once a week. It’s as if the years have fallen away.
The manager asks to speak to Paul regarding a second will Vinnie has, apparently, had drafted. It would appear a woman neighbour of his has being helping Vinnie for her own gains. The care home manager, quite rightly, sought legal advice from an independent solicitor. As a result, the second will is no longer in existence. We leave things with the care home manager and his father’s own solicitor.
The manager suggests that Vinnie might like to take us out to lunch. She drives us to a nearby pub ‘The White Crow’ and leaves us to take lunch and chat, It’s such a lovely ‘family’ affair. I have creamy chicken and ham pasta whilst Paul opts for chicken masala and Vinnie chooses steak and chips. The conversation continues to flow. Whilst Paul is ordering our meals, Vinnie tells me he wants Paul to have the bulk of his estate which bears out the first will. I just smile and tell him the solicitor will honour his wishes. The comment came from the blue after which the conversation took a different route.
We bid our farewells around 4pm and this time we take the bus. The manager has enlightened us into the delights of the local bus service. We take the 362 hoppa to Chorley bus station. Time for a short walk around the town. We are pleasantly surprised as to how pleasing the town is. I’m in my element as there is a variety of charity shops. I never shop anywhere else. Yes, I’m a cheap girl who loves the element of surprise; I never know what I’ll find to buy. Why should I buy something at full price when I can buy something just as good for a fraction of the price? Gives me more money for travel – hey, ho! My treasure on this trip is a navy and grey scarf come wrap threaded with silver. I paid the princely price of £1.75. They had a similar one in pink but that was £2. I’ve 25p now towards my next bargain. I’m a happy bunny. We buy a packet of muffins for supper. Back at the bus station we catch the 125 double decker to the Hartwood Hotel. The bar beckons. We respond. It would be churlish to refuse. Paul has a pint of local beer. I have a large red wine. We retire to our room. Muffins and coffee in bed....... What a way to end the day.
Day Four – Saturday 10/4
We decide to skip the hotels breakfast, good as it may be. We are full from the day before and decide to walk into town. It’s an easy walk and takes around twenty five minutes. The market calls and I respond. There’s a coffee stall that boasts a range of breakfast fayre, Paul opts for a full breakfast whilst I choose a cheese and bacon omelette. We’re pleased with our choices and the price. Satisfied, we visit a couple of charity shops. Lo and behold, we find a photo frame suitable for the photo Paul has brought up for his father. The frame costs the princely sum of £1 – a bargain.
We stroll towards the church, St. Mary’s. St Mary's Parish was founded in 1847, the present building dates around 1872, with the eight peel Bell Tower added in 1894. St Mary's Church is often described as the "gem" of the Archdiocese of Liverpool. There is a window dedicated to St. Lawrence, the patron saint of Chorley. Lawrence is said to have been martyred on a gridiron as a part of Valerian's persecution. During his torture Lawrence cried out "This side’s done, turn me over and have a bite." This is the legend often quoted explaining why Lawrence is the Patron Saint of Comedians, butchers and roasters.
There is an air of tranquillity in the church. The silence is absolute. I feel the love of Christ caressing my body. There is an old, grey headed man kneeling, his knarled hands clasped in prayer. His patience deserves an answer. We leave him with God and head back towards the bus station.
We arrive at the care home just after 11am. Vinnie had asked us to let him have a lie in. I think he had become emotionally drained the previous day.
“He never was an early riser,” Paul said, reminiscing. We respect his wish. He greets Paul as if the years have fallen away.
The suspected gold digger’s boyfriend turns up. We think he is taken aback that we are there. We don’t say anything detrimental; just politely pass the time of day. Vinnie lets slip that we had been out to lunch the previous day. It doesn’t matter; it’s not a secret. I say that the manager had taken us but omit to say that she’d just provided the lift. I let him think she dined with us. I add that we had a good ol’ natter. Let him make of that what he will. He doesn’t stay long, slinking off to tell the woman! Our ears will be burning throughout the week, no doubt.
“Are we bovvered?” I ask myself.
“We don’t think so!” I answer my own question.
It’s almost 1 o’clock; he is tiring. We think it’s best if we leave. He thanks us for visiting and we feel so humbled. He hugs us both. It’s such a warm and genuine moment. Paul feels so thankful that he has visited.
We have seen most of Chorley town and don’t want to kick our heels for the rest of the afternoon. It’s too early to go back to the Hartwood Hall.
“Let’s go to Preston,” I say.
What the heck. Perhaps I should see this den of infamy where the number plate of an innocent can be cloned. Has the offender paid the price? Is he still in the area or was he just passing through? Who knows?
The 125 bus goes to Preston and stops close to the Hartwood pub. Convenient for coming home. We go.
Paul engages in a conversation with a portly, retired gentleman across the gangway who is eager to chat. He lives in sheltered accommodation he says. Every so often he spends the day riding the buses.
“I have a bus pass. It makes for a good day out. Weatherspoons have some good lunch deals too,” he explains, chuckling. Seemingly he likes his food especially if accompanied by a pint.
“Good for you,” Paul says, nodding again. He asks him about Fleetwood and Leyland, places from his youth. Leyland Motors is now a housing estate. The gates are still there, the aged gent tells Paul.
“If only we had more time,” Paul says and I’m glad we don’t. I’m happy just to hear about his motor making days from him. I don‘t have to visit the site.
Large greying colonnade buildings that have seen better days loom above Preston bus station looms. Buses from Bolton, Blackpool and the surrounds converge here, bringing shoppers to this busy shopping centre. We walk to the market. A huge book stall invites me to browse. Literally hundreds of second hand books. If I had the money and luggage allowance, I could do serious damage to my bank balance. I don’t leave empty handed so am a happy bunny. We walk through the main shopping centre. It’s busy. It’s a long time since I’ve seen so many people. I feel claustrophobic. I endure as I know it’s just an afternoon. We feel it’s time for coffee. Our eye is caught by one particular cafe. The atmosphere is very nineteen twenties. There are black and white photos around the walls showing famous people from over the decades. A young Margaret Thatcher is there as is Mohammed Ali in his prime. A smug Diana beams her naive smile and Frank grins knowingly as he does it his way. The coffee is good. Paul has cake too; he says that is good too. Paul doesn’t remember the cafe from his youth. He asks the lady how long it’s been there.
“Sixty years although it’s changed hands several times,” the waitress says. Paul nods again.
Paul has forgotten his sweatshirt and shorts he wears when we visit my mum. He needs to protect his modesty. I suggest that maybe we’ll see a Matalan but we spy a Primark. We go in. They have offers. We find him a hooded sweatshirt for £3 and some shorts for £2.50. Definitely the bargain of a life time; we’re pleased. His modesty is protected.
We need a few bits for supper and to sustain our appetites on the coach journey the next day. We find an Iceland. We buy a selection of goodies and come away pleased. That evening we pay the bill at the Hartwood and book a taxi for 7.15am the next morning. We pack and sup. Sleep comes easily despite the residents of the next room coming in just after eleven. I hear them unlock their door and walk across the floorboards. I fear a sleepless night but all goes quiet after some five minutes. I breathe a sigh of relief and fall asleep.
Day Five – Sunday 11/4
The alarm sings out at 6am and we rise without a grumble. Showered and dressed we throw the final bits into our cases and throw our keys through the pub letterbox. We wait in the car park in the cool of the early morning. The peacock and its mate strut their stuff in front of the box windows. The taxi arrives on time and in a blink of an eye we are down at the bus station. Local buses don’t start running until 8am. The bus station radiates a ghostly mood. The surrounding streets are silent. Sunday morning in Chorley is a nonentity. Locals prefer to lay in than walk the streets on a Sunday morning. We check our tickets just to be on the safe side. Yes, we have the right time. Two other couples arrive and we figure we have the right time. Minutes later the Birmingham National Express rolls in. Very few people have opted to travel this service and who can blame them.
The scenery passes by, pleasing to the eye. Constable country northern style. Two and a half hours later the scenery changes. Industrialisation develops. Ugliness reigns. My soul dies. I could never live in a grimy atmosphere such as Birmingham. Perhaps the Brummies would disagree but to me there are a thousand better places to live.
We have an hours’ wait at the coach station. Time for a cup of coffee. The queue is long and I fear we’ll be standing there the whole hour; there is only one girl serving and no apology for the wait. I wouldn’t have minded just a smile. Customer service is lost. I wonder if it were ever there.
Our connection is on time. It’s one of the newer coaches and the seats are leather. My bottom slides with the motion of the bus. The seat belt saves me from sitting on the floor! I can’t be bothered to keep righting myself. Slipped, I’m comfortable despite the beached whale look!
We continue spotting Eddie Stobarts’ along the way. Since we left Stansted, we’ve reached nineteen. We pas a depot containing at least fifty.
“A depot doesn’t count,” Paul says. He doesn’t nod this time.
“You just have to spot them.” I retort. I get no reply.
Two more pass and I’m up to some seventy one! I wonder what the record is.
We pull into Heathrow on time. We see the 504 service boarding for Penzance and are glad we’re not booked on that service. Cornwall is in the past and I’ve moved on. Just a two minute wait and the 285 pulls in. It leaves with a full load. I’ve never seen so much luggage on this route before. I’m soon on my home ground. You can take the girl out of London but you can’t take London out of the girl. The rainbow of skin colours and ethnic tongues remind me I am home. They’re like a cloak of comfort. Kingston looms and my heart lurches. I’m thrilled to be back home. Cromwell bus station and an array of red London buses tugs the heart strings. We get off the bus just as the 213 pulls up. Perfect timing and we’re almost home. My home. Wherever I go, London will always be my home; it’s where my heart is. Twenty minutes later, we’re at Orme Road. My heart leaps.
Day Six - Monday 12/4
Mum didn’t have too much in her cupboard. She has Wiltshire Farm Foods delivered. Ranji, her carer, gets her any extras she wants plus her household shopping. Paul and I decided that we’d take Mum in her wheelchair to the Triangle. I figured we could take her in the Tesco Express and she could help us ‘choose’ our shopping. That worked out very well. She enjoyed that. Beverley and David had phoned to say that they’d come up in the afternoon. In Tesco we saw that strawberries were on offer – two large punnets for £3. Strawberries and double cream for tea sounded good to us!
Pat – my mother’s so called friend – phoned. You’ll see why I say ‘so called’. She said the Day Centre had phoned her! Why, I think. She answers without being asked. She says they couldn’t get hold of me as I was travelling. Hang on, I think. The brain ticks into action. They didn’t know I was travelling to Mums. That proves they hadn’t attempted to contact me! Obvious. So this friend says the Day Centre says my mum is incontinent and they have a problem with it. They have had this ‘problem’ for several minutes. I hang up abruptly. None of this makes sense.
a. They didn’t know I was travelling until they phoned Pat. That proves they didn’t make any attempt to contact me.
b. If, as they say, I was unavailable then how come I spoke to Ranji on the phone?
c. Did they try to e mail me? No, there was no e mail asking me to phone them? I had my laptop with me so was able to e mail regularly with people.
d. My mobile was on 24/7. My mum was able to contact me. Why couldn’t they?
Many questions. No answers. There seems to be some sneakiness but I can’t quite prove it. There are things that don’t ring true here. This ‘friend’ says they say my mum is incontinent. This upsets me and my mum. I am upset they’ve not made any real effort to contact me. They’ve lied. Mum is upset that Pat hasn’t spoken to her about it. We’re both upset as we know this incontinence business is a lie. I phoned the Day Centre to ask about this. Their manager can’t explain why they didn’t bother to contact me first other than to say I was travelling. I tell them they didn’t know before they called this person. I tell them it’s funny as I was able to be contacted.
I tell them she isn’t incontinent. They argue the fact. I chat with her carer who confirms she isn’t! The carer keeps her washed and clean; probably more than necessary!! She sends her to the Day Centre in clean clothes so she can’t possibly smell first thing in the morning. Her clothes are dry at the end of the day and her bed is dry in the morning. I wonder what the hell they are talking about. As I speak to the day centre my mum asks me what the call is about. I have no alternative but to tell her.
She asks why they are lying. She asks why they are being so horrible. I have no answers.
“I’m a damned nuisance. I wish I was dead,” she says. I tell the centre manager and she has nothing to say.
“I don’t want to go again,” she says. I tell her she doesn’t have too.
I am furious with their attitude. I cry as I don’t know how to fight them. I KNOW I’m right. I feel the only thing I can do is stay with Mum myself. Live with her. But as Paul points out, Ranji is an ideal substitute. Ranji knows my mother almost as well as I do. I have almost two thousand percent faith in her, or more. She and I sing from the same hymn sheet.
Even if my mum was in favour of going back to the Day Centre, I wouldn’t have the faith for her to attend there. Paul says that maybe Mum is better off at home than at a place where they breed lies. I agree with him.
Beverley and David come later than we expected. The traffic was horrendous. We chat. As they are late they’ll be later home so I suggest we have fish and chips from the Triangle. Appetites satiated, we still found space for strawberries and cream. The evening is good although soured by the lies of the Day Centre.