Trains, pains and edible meals

There’s something incredibly bloody painful about getting up early, even if it’s only half an hour. But on Thursday it’s compounded by the need to hammer over to Inverurie train station where I can start my eight hour slog to Harrogate, armed only with a huge rucksack, a couple of paperbacks, and a picnic composed of what can only be described as ‘shite*’.

~ fast forward eight hours ~

There’s a weird-looking bloke hanging around outside the hotel when I clamber out of the taxi from Harrogate railway station. He’s hunched into himself, like he’s trying not to be seen, black pinstripe jacket, black clothes, beard and darting eyes. Feral. And oh Christ on a stick he’s recognised me... Turns out it’s Russel, who’s been there since the day before, living only on his wits and a caravan site. Nice bloke, if a bit from Fife (which he proclaims loudly when anyone dares to suggest he hails from Dundee).

Of course, the first port of call, after checking in, going up to my room, unpacking everything and stealing all the bath towels, is the bar. The bar. Take a good look round Mr MacBride, because this is where you’ll be spending most of the next three days. It comes as no surprise that Mr Rickards is also here. His first words are “You’re shorter than you look on your blog,” and so is he, being a mere slip of a thing with an attractive vegetarian brunette girlfriend (what she sees in him is anyone’s guess, maybe he has an attractive collection of shrews?). Meeting up like this, in the bar after ‘getting to know one another on the internet’ actually feels a bit like a blind date, only with no prospect of sexual favours at the end. It soon turns out that Mr Rickards has a disturbingly similar sense of humour to mine own. If it were not for the fact that I’m a lot taller than he is, saner, prettier, and have a proper beard, you might mistake us for identical twins. But no one could be mistaken for Agent Phil’s identical twin: when they made him the broke the mould, strangled the guy who’d designed it, and buried the debris in a septic tank. They would never make that mistake again! Agent Phil (why I’d love another drink) has a permanent smile and seems to be known by pretty much everyone. If only they knew he had a DARK SECRET.

The lovely Julia Wisdom has wangled me an invitation to dinner! Haha, food. And some drinkies too. It’s a hard life. The meal is a lot of fun, once I get over the whole shy, bearded ninny stage. This is the first time I’ve met Legendary Agent Extraordinaire Jane Gregory, a lovely, loud, funny lady who tells scandalous anecdotes and laughs like a drain. I like her.

Then it’s back to the hotel for the Theakston’s Old Peculiar Crime Novel Of The Year Award thingie. Excellent readings by Val, Simon and Mark, but special mention has to go to Stella Duffy who had to pretend to be Iain Rankin, Andrew Taylor and Minette Walters. Mark wins, but then you probably already know that... Incidentally, notice what a namedropping bastard I’ve turned into? "Oh yea, me and Mark were… what? Oh, Mark Billingham, anyway..." Thing is, everyone is so damn nice it’s difficult to think of them as Mr So-And-So anymore. Excessive consumption of alcohol seems to discourage formality.

It’s not till the end of the awards ceremony, when the party is beginning to break up into two camps – one in the hall and one in the bar – that I bump into Russel again. He’s in the company of a young lady I recognise from dinner (Jane brought Emma and Jemma {seriously – I’m not making this up} along from her agency) and Russel and I spend a while traumatising her with Tales From Darkest Fife. For some reason she refuses to believe us about Fife being notorious for it’s cannibalistic past. Probably just as well, as we’ve got our locations all screwed up and Sawney Bean was doing his long pig barbecue in Galloway, on the other side of the country instead. Fife is actually famous for Linoleum and being the birth place of She Who Must, not cannibalism. But you can see why it’s an easy mistake to make.

And speaking of alcohol, the evening ends at three am in the hotel bar, but by then it’s just me and Agent Phil. This is to become something of a habit...

* Actually, now I come to think of it, I could have just called it 'junk food', but it's too late now.