The tannoy crackles into life to apologise for the late running of the 07:42 to Birmingham New Street and any inconvenience the delay has caused. Every two minutes the automated announcement is repeated, with identical stuttering syncopation and insincere plummy vowels more at home in Surrey than Stafford. The female voice has been programmed to say zero-seven-forty-two instead of o-seven-forty-two, and for some reason, this makes me angrier than the overdue train.
To kill some time, I leave the station and cross the road to a public park that reeks of nostalgia. Dilapidated children’s play area, flaky railings, cracked pathways, a bandstand drenched in graffiti. To my surprise, there’s an aviary where, much like me, parakeets are trapped against their will. Greens and yellows zip about with desperate chirping easily mistaken for happiness. I sit on a bench and immediately a squad of grubby pigeons sidle towards me. That they beg or scratch through litter despite being free to fly anywhere must make the parakeets livid, so – with a surge of fraternal solidarity for my caged comrades – I aim a violent kick at a limping specimen. My toe narrowly misses and amid the squawking and flapping an old gent walking by loses his hat. He stoops to retrieve it and asks if I know the time. I say ten past. Past what he asks. Past eight I say, laughing. He says thank you very much and he hopes I have a great day, then wipes his brow with a handkerchief and sits down, explaining that he often doesn’t get a feel for the time as he gets up at two o’clock every morning and days pass quickly now he’s getting on a bit. I tell him I understand, but I don’t.
He pulls a slice of bread from a jacket pocket and tears it carefully as scores of pigeons scuttle over, bickering. There’s enough for everyone he proclaims, calmly scattering pieces in all directions. Once finished, he tells me about the cooked breakfast he’s going to order from a local café. Cheaper than it looks from the outside he says, then tells me sometimes he can’t remember which day of the week it is, whether it's Tuesday or Wednesday. I tell him I’m afraid it’s Thursday. He says he knows today is Thursday because it's Friday tomorrow and he knows it's Friday tomorrow because he teaches groups of children to bake bread on Friday mornings. I say really? He nods and says the flour goes everywhere but he never had children of his own, so it doesn’t bother him, and they enjoy it. It sounds wonderful I say, and sniff tangy, imaginary sourdough.
The man stands, bids me a wonderful day, Friday and weekend. In return, I wish him well with the bread class and his own weekend, then brush the breadcrumbs from the bench for the pigeons and wander back to the station.