We roll on, wrapped in the smell of hula-hoops. Mum (second generation) conspires with Kirsty (third) over what to buy Gran (first, on the next seat with Bruce and Mum2) for her birthday. Georgia breaks another crayon.
Viaducts are fantastic
And cranes are cool
But sheeps make me queasy
With their trails of greasy wool.
At Stockport, I swap the family for a Chinese guy reading a paper about Multiple Sclerosis and another guy with huge brown eyes reading The Mirror, war stories only. It makes a peaceful change from most of the half-term crowd. Funny, people tell me that it always rains in Manchester, but every time I'm here, the sun shines.
One thing I wasn't expecting from my sisters was their casual contempt of all things North of London. We knocked against the Norfolk coast at Cromer, where Granddad had spent his final years. Farm-traffic delayed, tired and panicked from crazy-lorry drivers, we steamed into our meeting place. Just time for hugs, tears, and a ritual exchange of, "It's grim up North" before the funeral. The trick is to keep moving, and we did and got through without incident or accident. Still, it was a hell of a journey, in both directions, and countryside makes me twitch. Bizarrely, we were both actually glad to see the North Circular. It didn't last.
Enough brooding. I pull out my book (Murakami, Norweigan Wood). With luck, I'll just have enough time to finish it. I have luck, almost surreal luck; I finish the last page as we pull into Penrith Station, and I'm on holiday.
The first thing I see (after hugs from Mum and Clive) is a ruined red sandstone castle against a bright autumn-blue and grey sky.
It's cool up North.