Here’s a story about what happens when you have a really bad idea while running on too little sleep.
I have my brilliant idea as the Megabus leaves Doncaster, somewhere around 1am. It’s simply brilliant.
It goes like this:
I live in East Yorkshire. This bus is dropping me off in York sometime around 4am. Before that happens, this bus goes through Hull. It’s cheaper for me to get from Hull to the East Coast (1 further bus ride, £6) than it is to get from York (2 further bus rides, £11). The price I pay for getting off in Hull? I have to wait around an extra 2 hours. No problemo! I just go into Paragon Station, find a warmish corner and catch up on my reading until the local buses start running at breakfast-time. Easy-peasy. Oh, I’m such an idiot for not thinking of this before!
I’m about to discover that there are three things wrong with my brilliant plan.
I disembark in Hull at 2am. It’s bitterly cold and I can’t wait to get indoors. The bus rolls off, and I pull my suitcase in the opposite direction, towards the welcoming glow of the train station. There’s a coffee machine in there, and with the cash I’ve saved in bus tickets I should have enough coins to feed it until it gives me a plastic cup of a grey liquid topped with yellow scum than I can use to keep my hands warm and, if I get really desperate, drink.
I reach the station, and…
Well, that’s odd.
I pull on the station’s front door, to no avail. Well – it must be open round the side, then.
First Thing Wrong With My Brilliant Plan
Oh shit. The station is closed.
Where…where do I go?
Through a deepening cold I’m starting to feel through 3 layers of jacket and a jumper, I check all the entrances. The station is shut for the night. I’m confused about this. Aren’t city train stations like airports, even in this country, even as far north as this? Do they not all cater for people passing through, the way York Station does with its waiting rooms, one of which is always open? I pull out my laptop, WiFi-hotspot up my phone and go online. The National Rail website implies the station should be open: “waiting rooms available“, “staff help Mon-Sun 24 hours“. This is clearly not the case. I later find out it’s common knowledge that the station is locked shut at 2am.
So, I’m locked out. And now I start to think through everything I know about Hull, and I get scared.
I grew up round here. As a teenager, Hull was my nearest city. There’s a tendency in every culture to poke fun at the place you grew up – to enjoy slagging-off rights that non-residents aren’t issued with. I’m opinionated about Hull in just that way, but deep down, I know it’s mainly bluster. Hull isn’t that bad really. Well – except at night.
It can get really bad at night.
With a dull, sick feeling settling in my stomach, I go exploring in the hope there’s a 24-hour McDonalds somewhere nearby. A trawl of the pedestrianized shopping area shows me that everything is shut. I return to the station and head over to the St Stephen’s indoor shopping arcade. The door is open! I head into its depths and find a 24 hour Tesco Extra, from which I buy a sandwich and a can of Vimto.
But…now where? I ask the lady at the till. She eyes me with unveiled pity before answering.
Second Thing Wrong With My Brilliant Plan
Between 2am and 4.30am, there is nowhere to go in Hull City Centre. Everything is shut, apart from a Tesco Extra, and since it would be weird wandering round a shop for 150 minutes, there is basically nowhere to go.
For a short time I think I might be able to lurk inside St Stephen’s, sitting at one of the tables outside the locked-up Starbucks booth positioned in the middle of the walkway. I sit there for five minutes, but then I’m spotted by a roaming angry drunk who comes after me with a bottle. It takes me 15 minutes of hurrying to shake him off. When I return to St Stephen’s again for a second try, there’s a gang of…kids? teenagers? failed graphic designers? It’s so hard to tell under all that mismatched sports-leisurewear…hanging around inside the doors, smoking, jittery with aggression, pushing each other and stamping on their cigarette butts like they’re just practicing until someone’s head comes along. I can’t go back in there.
After a while, a homeless lady takes me under her wing. She comes out of nowhere with a weird flapping noise, which originates in the single pink foam slipper she’s wearing on her left foot. She asks me if I’m ok, sat out here on a bench in the freezing cold. I mumble something, wishing she’d just bugger off. She doesn’t. In fact, she does her best to help me, leading me round a back-exit to St Stephen’s that might offer some shelter (it’s locked), offering advice about trying a church that’s 20 minutes down the road and is always ready to offer a cup of tea to those needing shelter, and finally taking me round the back of the station to a gate that’s almost always open – and is tonight.
The worst thing about all this is that I don’t get to thank her. I turn to do so and she’s gone. She did all that for me. I should have given her my spare cash- and I didn’t even get the chance to say thanks.
Now I’m into the station. The relief is overwhelming and I’m emotionally exhausted. The coffee machine is locked up, so I make my way to the seats near the bus ranks and get comfortable. After a while, a man in a National Rail uniform wanders up. I nod in a friendly manner.
He tells me I’m trespassing.
Third Thing Wrong With My Brilliant Plan
Even if you manage to find your way into the Paragon train / bus station between 2am and 4.30am, it doesn’t matter – you’re trespassing. In every sense, it is closed to the public. No sanctuary for man nor beast.
We talk for a while. I explain my situation, fighting the urge to shout at him in frustration, keeping calm, reasonable, sympathetic. He explains it’s just the rules. Then he says that it may be highly irregular, but he will let me stay – it’s not long until the station opens again and anyway, this is Hull, even the police are wary of coming out at this time of night.
He leaves me to my book, but I can’t focus on the words. My spirit is broken.
Never again, Hull.