Wednesday, October 06, 2010

A history according to cabbies of the north west

I've been away for work. Up to a gritty northern town, it didn't really seem that gritty though I suppose they wouldn't thank me for saying so. A work colleague and I arrived at the train station after dark, greeted by the shining steel industrial tanks of some kind of factory. It was a small station, one of those that's basically a few platform linked by grim cinder block subterranean passageways and a minimal station entrance. No cash machine. But there was a giant queue of taxis and we duly made our way to the first cabbie in the rank.

We gave them the name of our hotel and he told us that it was too close for a taxi ride, that we should just walk. The hotel was just around the corner and gave us a garbled set of directions in which there was a right and a left and probably another one of those.

We were game enough and set off. The first right we saw was a road with an unappealing name - something like Scumshaw, but it might as well have been called Serial Killer Lane as dark and uninviting as it was. We consulted our map and saw that there was a probably another way - one that led through inhabited areas. But what the map didn't show was that the obvious route had been blocked by steel fences and the only path ahead of was an mossy, overgrown route through Ax Murderer Underpass.

But we made it alright to the hotel, which was on a retail park, the kind where no one ever arrives on foot.

The reason we'd stayed overnight was so I could arrive nice and early to the venue where I was one of the morning speakers. We duly ordered our taxi to a Fire Control Centre for a nice and early time. But the taxi was late, very late. And then we our cabbie negotiated heavy traffic through the town to our destination. We noticed an historical plaque on some beamed cottages from the car and managed to read only the words Oliver Cromwell. The cabbie noticed us craning and informed us that his great-great grandmother had owned that cottage or had a shop there or something. Oooh, we said. Awaiting a tidbit of interesting local history - though he said nothing more. Prompting him - my colleague asked if Oliver Cromwell had lived there. "Nearby," said the cabbie - in a building that had since been torn down. "So was there a big battle here?" I asked.

Cromwell plaque on the Cottage, Church Street

Oh, there was a war, said the cabbie. A civil war. And proceeded to give us a potted history of the English Civil War when Oliver Cromwell and the Parliamentarians wanted rule by the people and King Charles I had disagreed and it had led to his execution. But nary a word of what had happened locally. Oh really? You don't say. Thing is, most of that happened where I live. In London. Today, depending on my route, I may well walk in front of Parliament and the statue of Oliver Cromwell.

And then he dropped us off at our destination. In we came, to a receptionist who had never heard of our event. And we surmised, just as the cabbie was beyond site, that we were in completely the wrong place - although it was a place that did have the name Fire in it. But it was a commercial fire research centre. And yet the cabbie had seemed so certain.

Another taxi ordered, another cabbie - this one covered in tattoos from professionals and amateurs alike. Armed with an address, the cabbie seemed a bit uncertain - as we were being taken to an industrial/office park that was apparently huge. I told him I'd seen a picture of the building and his tone was as scathing as I'd ever heard "A picture? That won't help. Every building there looks exactly the same."

We arrived late. Quite late. Introductions to the day were being made. I slotted in to a seat in the back. But it was all ok. I came up and did my bit. And in a break I ordered a taxi to take us back to the station.

We waited. And waited. Taxi was late and we had a specific ticket for a specific train. But then another taxi turned up. He had a different name, but didn't seem fussed. No one else was there. He seemed to say "You're here. I'm here. Let's make beautiful taxi music together," and we hopped in. We worried about our travel karma for stealing someone's taxi, but we figured we'd had enough bad luck so far it would probably come out in the wash.

On the way to the station, he asked us what we thought of the town and we admitted we hadn't seemed much of it. "It's very small," he said. "Oliver Cromwell seems big here," my colleague prompted. "Yeah," he said. Apparently that kind of thing didn't interest him at all.

I was blessedly reassured by the site of the factory by the station. I asked him what it was.

Lever Brothers and Crossfield Chemicals - Warrington

"They make washing powder there. It's very historical." Historical, we reflected, as we gazed the corrugated cladding and the chemical tanks and pipes from the station platform. I guess the 70s is another century.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This could only have been Warrington! I know the steel towers at the station very well. The town has 2 stations by the way, Central and Bank Quay.
But I didn't know about the connection with Cromwell!