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Monday, April 22, 2024

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Why is the last mile the hardest mile?

Local Author, Matthew Jacobson reflects on a Friday night train journey back home to Liverpool.

There were no questions to be asked, no debate and no letter of complaint required. Friday night was officially over. And I was happy the nighttime had been so clear to cut all of its ties with the day. It was the right decision for me. My original daytime plans had gone off track as the day progressed. The intention was to shop and then have food and drinks with friends, but friends met early, and we spent the day drinking in bars, no shopping and not much food either. Intention isn’t everything anyway…

As I headed for the train home and as I approached the station, a small queue of people waited to buy tickets. I stood five deep in the queue, regularly checking the electronic notice board to ensure the journey was in hand. Through the wobbly wrought iron gates and wire mesh railings I could see the platform, with no train on the track and no train in the distance. I walked through the barrier and knew I was on time. It wasn’t the last train of the night, but it was certainly the last journey I wanted to take on this cold bitter evening.

Why is the last mile the hardest mile?
Matt Jacobson – Photograph by Michelle Marshall

But the train was late. Five, six, seven, eight, nine minutes went by and then it shunted to ten minutes late and steamrolled my patience to fifteen minutes late. However, I spent all of those fifteen minutes singing in my head because that is where my singing belongs. The train then ended my encore as the snake-like track light lit up and the train made its way towards the station.

The train stopped directly in front of me and I could see an empty seat amongst the busy carriage. The one lonely seat was ready to be allocated to me, by me. But I was going nowhere fast. The doors opened and I stood back to let three passengers off the train. The first two left quickly scurrying into the distance, but the last person to leave was a 50 plus year old man. He stood to the left of the door, then to the right of the door and wobbled off the train, I think he had been for drinks and forgotten the shopping like myself but he held his chip shop meal with a tip top love. I thought nothing of it and said even less.

I moved forwards towards the open carriage but the man stopped me in my tracks to tell me “Whatever you know is wrong“ and then he walked into the darkness of the night without a care in the world. I didn’t really take much time to consider his words until I sat down on the train. I looked back at the station and asked myself ‘Do I know him? Do I want to know him?’ – how does he know what I know? But then, I don’t really know what I know, so why shouldn’t he know what I know? What if he does know what I know and he’s right?

Before I could answer questions that drained my brain, there was an announcement from the conductor: “Due to the late running of this train, this train will not stop at the following stations…” And low and behold, my station and destination sat comfortably within the list of stations. “This train will go direct and will be a fast service.”

This drive by analysis and the driver kidnapping my station from the planner was a declaration of destruction and a big blatant blip. The train then commenced its journey. I sat and stared out of the window looking for answers, but, to be honest, I couldn’t see answers – I only saw myself because it was dark outside and even my reflection raised its eyes and tutted at me. I continued to think about the character assassination from the character in assassin or Aladdin’s trousers. 

I looked at my watch, it looked at me and told me it will take around 55 minutes before I leave this taxi on a track. But I was now due to leave this train three stops after my intended station.

However, it was only 55 minutes on an express train, time would fly by…

55 minutes in the mystery chair

55 minutes of moving here to there 

55 minutes of beaming carriage lights 

55 minutes of gleaming Northern sights

The train zips by with passion, zest and dashing desire

We fly past houses and shoes hanging on a telephone wire 

It’s a page by page flicker book filled with beauty of the North 

It’s a plot of earth filled with grit and Northern warmth

55 minutes of a train ripping through the wallpaper of the night

55 minutes of this jut jawed juggernaut clinging to the rails

55 minutes of doubt and praying in case all else fails

Time stops as a drunken man slides down the walls

Part of me dies from the smell of petroleum overalls

Workers finished work but taking home industrial chemicals 

As a teenager shouts down a phone talking all things festivals

55 minutes of steel shoes on the hard and worn carriage floor

55 minutes of the masses screaming in the corridor

55 minutes on a real and moving revellers battery farm

55 minutes of the bloke next to me leaning on my arm

A mother’s youngest in a gorilla mask screams “I am not sharing”

Her eldest in a tiger mask confuses all hissing for lack of caring 

Their Mum and Dad scream out and pray for peace and easy existence 

Dad kicks the chair in front of him lacking control and resistance

55 minutes of group talk about Becky’s skirt and its debatable fit 

55 minutes of Becky debating but not really giving a debatable shit 

55 minutes of groups talking love, loss, TV and death 

55 minutes of talking so fast and running out of breath

The gentle elderly couple watch, smile, hug and hold hands

Loving the activity around them, it won’t scupper their plans 

At a time in their life when they can say they’ve seen it all before

They have love for each other and don’t want much more

55 minutes of a man singing songs in a shirt only described as exotic 

55 minutes of a group of day trippers handing out Gin and Tonic 

55 minutes of make-up laid out on a table and big hair with rollers in 

55 minutes of comparing fake ID to get them in

The stations flash by and it’s time to stand up and leave 

I pick up my coat but the guy next to me is sitting on its sleeve 

It’s a challenge and what a way to end the train reality show

But in a strange way, I am really sad to see this episode go

Photograph by Michelle Marshall

At the end of the journey, I stepped off the train to a standing ovation in my head. The night was over, no more analysis by strangers and no more stations disappearing. The station was lit brightly in the middle of shadowing trees and black and bruised clouds. I climbed slowly up the steep and dark grey steps to the station exit. I spotted a cat peering down from the station roof, its eyes brightly shining as the car park was dark and uncaring.

Matt Jacobson – Photograph by Michelle Marshall

With no buses at this time and a walk home out of the question, I called the local taxi firm and ordered “a taxi for Matt” and sighed with relief. I was nearly home, and one last nightcap was waiting for me. I was reliably informed “the taxi would be with me as soon as possible – they are pretty busy but it will be with me when they can.” This is the news I wanted to hear, this is it, this is really it. But I wanted more information, I was keen, I was eager, I was thirsty, I was hungry, I was tired and I was still confused by the drive by analysis from the gregarious guru holding chips and a carton of curry. So I asked for more specific information: “How long will the taxi be, please?“

“55 minutes”.

Love & Peace,

Matthew Jacobson,                                                                                         

Explore Liverpool

READ MORE: The Edges Are No Longer Parallel – Local Author, Matt Jacobson & the Magic of the Mersey

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