24 September 2003
A bedraggled young woman with blank eyes implored me for a travelcard, but I'd bought a single, and was quite clearly entering, rather than leaving the station. Did she think that I had come looking for someone to donate a train ticket to? Mumbling a lame apology ("My arms don't work") I hurry on.
I sat (my train was heading into town, opposite the evening gush of commuters) with my holdall on my lap. Scanning around the faces I am not surprised but disappointed that I don't recognise anyone. I always am. Only the same types of faces of people who look like other people with the same type of face. Practiced staring into space occupies the rest of my journey to Euston.
There's just enough time to buy provisions for the journey before the long dormant sleeper train pulls up. My ticket specifies a berth in a carriage mid-way along the train, but it's still a satisfying hike to that point. Being that kind of man, I marvel at way the train almost disappears into the distance, before wondering if that thought is too phallic for a Tuesday night.
Finding my allotted cabin, replete in its plastic convenience, I slump on the bed and polish off the bread, cheese and wine I'd just bought (too gallic for a Tuesday night), and start to wonder if all my thoughts occur in rhyme. Only then do I take the official envelope back out of my bag and re-read the letter that had started this journey.
I had arrived this morning, and I'd picked it up off the floor only two and a bit hours earlier, my body clock having become shifted by my recent late-night recording sessions. Being the only one in the band to have quit my job for the greater good, it fell to me to be the studio engineer, gig-getter, as well as all the normal layabout duties required in an as-yet-undiscovered saviour of modern music band. I'd just had enough time to shower, shove some clothes in a bag, and get to the train. The distraction of the immediate had kept me from pondering its contents.
For the attention of James Ropemaker jr., resident at flat D, 38 Penchant Road, London. Please attend at the offices of Dunn, McGunash, Trench and Dunn at 9:15am, 15th October. Enclosed was the train ticket in my hand, plus a simple map of where their offices were located. Nothing else was said.
I'm the kind of guy who wouldn't turn down the chance of a good story to tell, and this one looked like a corker. After all, it would be fairly lame to tell people in the pub "Yeah, got this bizarre letter - hand written - telling me to go to some Scottish solicitors the next day, with a train ticket, map and everything." "Yeah, and...?" they'd say. "But I couldn't be bothered to go" is not a very interesting response. So I went.
I reclined on the bed, thinking about the chain of events that led to me being on the train. How likely was it that someone receiving that letter that day could have made it to that train that night? The fact that I'd only just left my job was a big plus in its favour. When I used to work, the post normally only arrived after I'd left, and the hours meant that I'd have had absolutely no chance of catching the train.
Not only that though, but given the terseness of the letter, most normal people would be assumed to it be some kind of joke, marketing ploy or scam and chucked it straight in the bin. But for as long as I could remember I'd always been a curious cat (as yet un-killed by this inclination, obviously), and now that I had the temporal (if not monetary) freedom of unemployment, I had been pursuing and encouraging this faculty. It was something either inherent in me or learnt from a very young age that I'd been like that, and now I gave it free reign. I drifted off to sleep, dreaming that I was at school again.
Waking up with my mobile alarm, I dressed in peace before the butler guy serves the tray of simple processed breakfast. Train stations are in essence the same all over Britain: Old structures from a grandiose industrial time, but now smeared with the bright colours of convenient signs, flickering information screens and cluttered advertising. I choose to revel in the background evidence of past glory as I slide over the wipe-clean flooring in the direction my map indicates.
I turn up at the ancient-looking offices early and am greeted with courtesy but not friendliness. I sit on a stiff leather backed chair flicking through an impenetrable legal periodical as the receptionist sorts through the post. A discrete buzz on her desk and she stands and leads me up a narrow flight of stairs to Mr. Dunn's office.
He is old, must be over seventy, tall and narrow. He greets me at the door of his office, dismisses the receptionist, and strides back behind his immense immaculate desk. No computer, I notice. Before he sits down, he looks me up and down and says:
"You never knew your paternal grandfather: James."
"No. No, he died in the war".
"Sit down, Mr. Ropemaker, and allow me to tell you a story".