by Ona Journey
Loughborough isn’t a place you’d associate with romance. Mentioned in the Domesday book, it remains a small, obscure market town buried deep in the heart of England. Loughborough has produced few noteworthy denizens and its only landmark is the Brush Company, which despite its name, manufactures electrical motors.
There was a time when the merest mention of Loughborough (pronounced ‘Luffbruh’) was enough to stir up a frenzy deep in my nineteen-year-old undergraduate heart. You see, it was the home town of Alasdair, with whom I’d fallen madly in love when our eyes met over a steam bath. I should hasten to explain that we weren’t cavorting in a co-ed sauna at the time. We were assigned as laboratory partners in our chemistry practical class, and the steam bath occupied the bench we shared, for the purpose of gently warming our chemical ingredients to produce the desired reaction. We discovered the chemistry between ourselves quite coincidentally.
The Easter holiday came and with it brought the anguish of our first separation – I went home to my parents in Knutsford and Alasdair went to his mother’s in Loughborough. We wrote each other love letters by return (this was before the age of email) and I went through agonies pouncing on the post each morning as soon as it landed on the doormat to see if Alasdair’s latest response had come. We’d agreed to meet half way through the Easter break, and after what seemed an interminable two weeks I set off with joy to visit Alasdair, mixed with some degree of trepidation as I was to meet his mother for the first time.
There is no direct train from Knutsford to Loughborough. To get there you first have to take the train to Manchester, the industrial capital of Lancashire, then cross the Pennines, the backbone of England to Sheffield, Yorkshire’s city of steelmakers. The rivalry between Lancashire – the red rose – and Yorkshire – the white rose – that began in the fifteenth century Wars of the Roses lingers on today. My head whirled giddily with roses, and romance, and Romeo and Juliet. From Sheffield you take the train south via Nottingham to Loughborough.
The overall trip takes about three hours – it felt like the longest three hours yet of our separation. I paced the platform at each connecting station, impatiently willing the train to arrive, and once on board silently urged it onward, rocking my body back and forth on the velour seat as if I could hasten the train’s momentum. As we pulled past the Brush Factory, my heart began to beat in time with the clickety-clack, clickety-clack of the train. It slowed, then stopped. I flung open the door and looked wildly up and down the platform. There he was! The train, the platform, the station faded from view as I saw only him, and the world stopped for a moment as we ran into each other’s arms, reunited at last.