Thursday, 20 November 2008
An explosive Christmas
I dream vividly and in colour and, however weird, they always follow some kind of plot, a story that I never get to complete because, so far, I always wake up. Many of my dreams involve buses, usually green ‘Atlanteans’, and they often end with a journey past familiar landmarks that take me through Walton, then Aintree and the red-brick terraced house I grew up in. I never get there.
The dream probably reflects years of traveling from Wales to Liverpool, and journey’s end, my mother waiting for me with a plate of bacon, egg and chips. Four slices of bread.
She was always pleased to see me, on only one occasion was she worried.
It was Christmas in 1972, at the height of the IRA’s bombing campaign on the British mainland. The journey started off well. At Hereford, soldiers on Christmas leave burst into my compartment and shared round bottles of a peculiarly yellow drink – a kind of alcoholic egg-nog called Advocaat, It was interesting. I’d never try it again.
Some time after Shrewsbury the soldiers left, and an elderly woman took their place. She was looking forward to seeing her daughter and grandchildren in Liverpool, and as the evening drew in she itemized each present in her suitcase and her various bags.
“A ham for Julie because she never has enough meat and I don’t like to go into a house empty handed; it’s not nice is it. Then there’s Darren, always difficult to buy for. I always find men difficult. Settled for a shirt and some aftershave. I thought about a tie but then I saw some miniature whiskies – the kind they serve you on planes…What else…? Christmas pudding. They probably have one but you can never get enough of Christmas pudding…” And so it went on. She was a lovely lady, and I was about to ruin her Christmas.
We arrived at Lime Street Station and she was struggling with her two bags and suitcase even before she’d left the compartment. Yes, I offered to help, an unwitting tool in some demonic joke.
I staggered off the train with her suitcase and mine, a rucksack hanging from one shoulder, and joined the eager crowd straining for familiar faces on the other side of the barriers. I wished her a Merry Christmas, told her Darren was sure to love the shirt, and that she was right about never having enough pudding for Christmas. At the barrier I released the suitcase and darted off for the bus – which, as usual, I missed.
An hour later I was home. An anxious mother wrenched open the door.
“Thank God. I thought you were blown up,” she said.
“Why, what’s happened?”
“Bomb scare at Lime Street Station. Suspicious suit-case. There’s a police cordon.”
Over my egg and chips we got the late news. There had been a controlled explosion revealing not a bomb but what was left of a shirt, ham, Christmas pudding and various presents.
I’d assumed she’d been behind me. Now I wondered who I’d been chatting to, staggering along the station platform, carrying her suitcase. Maybe several different people each getting a part of the conversation and thinking I was mad.
Recently I’ve been wondering whether she’s behind those dreams about green buses, and whether, should I ever reach my destination, she’ll be waiting for me, a grim expression on her face, brandishing a bottle of Advocaat.