Saturday, 4 October 2008

Manchester Grammar School 4 October

Yesterday I had a record journey time for a talk - 13 hours - but it was by train, so plenty of opportunity to use those hours. I speak at schools once or twice a month, but this was that most strange speaking engagements, going back to my old school.

The route provided by the railway company was a trifle eccentric, taking me via Bristol Parkway (a new and exciting station stop for me) and Birmingham on the way, and via Newport on the way back. I was struck as I waited for the first train of the day how much I hate those automated announcements for slow trains that end with the recorded announcer saying 'I'm sorry for the delay.' It wasn't my train that was late, but even so, who was sorry? The computer that was playing the announcement? The announcer when she recorded the message years ago? Did she have a concentrated bout of compassion, bursting into tears for all the late trains she would apologize for in the future?

Manchester's Piccadilly Station was very different to the way I remembered it - more like an airline terminal than the grubby station I expected - and Manchester itself has changed a lot since those many years ago.

The school itself is more subtly different. I could still find my way round many of the classrooms, and the corridors particularly are as I remember, but there are new buildings, renovations, a place that is simultaneously the same and transformed. I was hosted before the talk by a charming sixth former and had a good sized audience in a lecture theatre that was one of the few places where my memory let me down. I'd been in it many times for choir practices, lectures and the like, but it was noticably smaller than I remembered.

The reception was good for Faster than Light, and it was great to see a contingent from two local girls' schools.

Of all the talks I do in schools, this is the one I'm least happy with - each time I do it differently and one day I'll get it the way I want it. Afterwards some nice questions and a few books signed before a lift back to the station from a long-serving physics teacher. (Not quite long enough to have been there in my time, though my old maths guru Neil Sheldon still is, and very popular I would guess from the questions about him 'back then' from the audience.)

As always the journey back dragged a little, apart from the excitement of a five minute connection at Newport where we arrived 2 minutes after the other train was due to depart. Thankfully they held it. Nothing personal about Newport, but an unplanned night there wasn't a happy thought.

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