Once Upon a Time in Newcastle: How I discovered that 'normality' really is returning – Susan Morrison
The last time I was on a train it was coming home from Newcastle The world shut down behind me. I try not to feel responsible for that.
I’ve always loved trains. Even back in the days of good ole’ BR when there was a strong chance of delays, cancellations or mad detours via Carstairs. Or Inverness. There was a certain Wild West frontier feel to any train journey back then.
The tables were always sticky, like all the surfaces in a dodgy pub and the Travellers Fare coffee tasted like it had been drained from the engine sump. There was always a bunch of drunk blokes with an endless supply of Carlsberg Special.
And of course, you did not go to the toilet on the train, not even when it had left the station.
Things have changed, and not just since the 80s. The tables are not just wiped, they are sanitised. The food has improved. I still draw the line at the coffee. Train guards are now managers who endlessly inform us that face coverings are still compulsory and must be worn, even when in our seats.
Got to be honest, even when that glorious day dawns when the masks come off, I think I’ll still keep some handy in my bag for public transport use. Who among us has not found themselves opposite a sneezing, coughing snot monster, ignorant in the ways of the paper hanky and oblivious to the sound of tutting?
The train route to Newcastle must rank as one of the great little rail journeys of the world. After being locked down and locked in, walking only an hour in all directions from my house for months, the jaw-dropping view over the North Sea looked like the whole world opening up.
The smooth glide into the station felt as thrilling as the first time I landed in a plane.
Newcastle has a reputation as a party town and one I have always found it has maintained, magnificently.
As the automatic station doors closed behind me, I stepped adroitly to avoid the back splash from a young woman throwing up. Lucky she could wipe herself down with that sash she was wearing that told the world she was a bride-to-be.
Across the road, outside a ‘beer garden’, two lads in England tops were bellowing at each other like rutting stags and clearly preparing to move the action to the next level. Predictably, there were friends hanging off them saying soothing phrases such as “leave it, Gaz”, and “c’mon, mate, not worth it”.
There was a startling moment at the pedestrian crossing. A middle-aged woman in sky-high heels, a micro-mini and more makeup than an entire branch of Boots started screaming at the traffic, pointing at something furry in the road which was about to vanish under the wheels of oncoming traffic.
For one awful moment, I thought she had come out on the bevvy and brought her cat, but then I realised it was her hair extensions.
It was 6.30. Yes, things are definitely moving back to normal.