Into the Jaws of the North…

By August 12, 2005No Comments

I bade farewell to the office contingent, offering my last pieces of advice and advising on the best course of action if I failed to return. I was off, I said, to a dangerous place. A place where drinks are a penny a pint and where even Boris Johnson would be lynched. I was off, my friends, to Northern Liverpool.
The five hour trip started with a shock. Bombing along the M40 at a rate of several hundred knots, events came to a head. To kick off, a BMW – what else – had cut me up, deciding without warning that my lane was far more superior for his car. Within a second the car phone rang and, thanks to my ability to constantly fiddle with technology, the auto-answer feature helpfully and surprisingly answered the incoming call. And as a finale, before I’d even managed to answer the mystery caller, an improbably large and very green grasshopper emerged from the sealing of my driver door, twiddling its antenna as if to announce, “And for my next trick…”
Needless to say, I was stunned. I was happily driving along mere seconds ago and now here I was swerving out of trouble while finding an intruder in the car. And, of course, there was a mystery caller listening intently to all of it. Eventually I found my tongue. “Hello?” I uttered – and was relieved to find Paul D’s stepdad on the other end. The call having been answered, my next worry was my new green friend. God alone knows how he got in, but out he would most definitely have to go. I pulled over and opened the car door, shaking its metal frame in and out to dislodge the grasshopper while trying to pretend nothing was amiss to the caller. This was no mean feat. I temporarily lost concentration on the insect and when I regained focus, it had gone. I never did find out whether it flew in or out of the car.
Luckily, the rest of the journey was more humdrum. I found out half way through that I was actually heading for Lancaster which was a huge relief. After finding the hotel and munching through a small supper, I bedded down.
The morning broke with an argument outside. Attributing it to early morning blues, I dressed and trundled downstairs to find myself in the thick of World War Three, with several veterans arguing over their bar bill. Leaving them behind, I made my way to Heysham Power Station.
That’s right – a power station. A perk of my job is that I get to go to wierd and wonderful places and power stations are certainly wierd and wonderful. Housed in the wastelands near the sea, the stations have their own microcosm, their own way of life. And, in an unreported side effect of the recent terrorism, not reported on any maps which made it a bugger to find. I arrived a good half an hour late, before enduring a thirty minute search of my belonging, a test of my laptop for viruses and my power supply for legality – and an airport-style search of my clothes. Contrary to popular opinion, the safest place to be at the moment is in a nuclear power station.
All the while, I was being educated by my “mentor”, someone who is responsible for my whereabouts at all times. For example, did you know that every forty years a nuclear power station has ended its useful life and a new one has to be built? Also, were you aware that every nuclear power station is beside the sea so that the sea water can cool the nuclear reactors? Or that every employee is on an ultra-rare final salary pension? Or that after every station is shut down, people man it for ten years, twiddling their thumbs, in case anything goes wrong?
Then, finally, I was in. And as I was travelling home an hour later, I begun to question whether to whole travel/work ratio (a whopping 10:1 on this trip) was cutting a little off-balance…

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