I've probably mentioned this before, but there's no place finer for writing than on a train. Now I know that some of you will be commuters, and will have torrid tales of there being no seats and of being squished up against faulty doors between Hither South and Yon Central, and all for the price of a gajillion pound season ticket, but I don't have to ride those kinda trains.
Most of my train travel is east-west across the middle of the country, on the train equivalent of the M62, the service run by the aptly-named Transpennine Express. It's pretty quiet, at least between Cleethorpes and Doncaster. Donny's where the action is, you see. Change for London and points north. Keep an eye out at the western end of platform 4 for the gaggle of what Network Rail somewhat coyly terms "rail enthusiasts".
Sometimes there's a few on board; in the run-up to Christmas and those making their retail pilgrimage to Meadowhall shopping centre; a portal to Hades, except with a Debenhams and a Nandos. Football will put a few on board too, generally stalwart fans of non-league teams with a pleasant sense of ironic distance from their obsession. Otherwise, it's holidaymakers. Yep, we've got our own little airport, but there's plenty who take advantage of the direct rail link to Manchester Airport to start or finish their vacation in style, with a few cans on the train, the way God intended.
Time your journey right, though, and it's pretty blissful. A bliss punctuated by the remnants of the industrial north; Grimsby Fish Docks, Scunthorpe steel works, former collieries throughout South Yorkshire. Meadowhall itself is built on old mining land; locals reckon they dug too deep, and had to cap the shaft with something worse than anything Old Nick could come up with himself; and that's why Meadowhall's where it is.
These are flatlands for the most part. Reclaimed land, silt-rich soil clawed back from the Humber and the Trent. If there are growth industries around here, then they're in crumbling warehouses on the edges of conurbations, and wind farms. When coal was king, this was where the country generated its power. Now we claw back what we can from the sky, but it's not the same.
Only three stops, most journeys, along this bit. Habrough, Barnetby, Scunthorpe. That ghostly works is a titanium dioxide plant; the white filler they put in toothpaste and Polyfilla.
It gets busy around Doncaster. Busy for Lincolnshire folk, anyways, blinking our eyes in metropolitan wonderment at the paved roads and the kids with shoes instead of clogs. Doncaster to Sheffield is a through-line past the backs of Virgin Actives, Tesco warehouses, and the friendly-looking Big Red Shed, which might wholesale booze. There's a chirpy-looking gurdwara, and some not-bad graffiti. Keep an eye out as we zip unstoppingly through Mexborough and you'll see Conisborough Castle.
Meadowhall is an arrogant surge of Thatcherite brick, red as City slickers' braces, a Loadsamoney fuck-you to them who don't have much from them who took it from you.
Five more minutes and we're into Sheffield. This is not a point to be locked to your screen or huddled into the fictional arms of your paperback; check out the evidence of some glimmers of the old ways. Cutlery workshops. The English Pewter Company. The run into Sheffield station is sheathed in tall brickwork on both sides, but this time it's the soot-grey of honest work that keeps you close till you get stationwards.
There'll be a kerfuffle here. Those hopping from Donny or Meadowhall will be off, and those commuting to Manchester crowd on. Now's the time to relish your seat, to give yourself a little power-up for having the foresight to have booked.
Sheffield's behind us now. There's a chance of a brew. The trolley gets on at Doncaster; no drinks between there and Cleethorpes, so come prepared. The coffee they have these days has fancy new lids. A straining contraption to keep you filtered from the grounds in the cup. Puzzling as heck first time out. It's not bad, but it's not the same as a brown spoonful of Nescafe from a catering drum of the stuff into a polystyrene beaker.
Civilisation cuts out, and you've got a good twenty minutes of the middle of nowhere. Forget your 4G, phone boy. Watch the clouds over the hills. Count the sheep in the upper fields. Then what it would be like to be that woman hauling hay from the back of a Land Rover for a day.
Manchester comes up on you slowly. Places you'll never get off; Hazel Grove. Then Stockport; the pyramidic Co-Op building, the hat museum. A brace of pleading signs on the outward surge; office blocks from a previous generation pleading with you. Low rents. Ample parking. Anything.
Pack your stuff away. Manchester in less than ten minutes. Again, the backs of industry. A cemetery, an old cinema, long-since converted to other use. Cash and carries, breakers yards. Up ahead its skyscrapers and stadia; Manchester's an ambitious city. Here, though, the railway line remembers what got it there.
It's two hours twenty minutes Grimsby to Manchester Picadilly. That's maybe 1500-2000 first draft words if I'm on a roll. A hundred and fifty pages or so if I'm reading. A thousand words if it's a commission. You can get a lot done. But that's no reason not to keep a check every now and again on where you are.