Sitting on a train is where I do most of my writing. I should be composing the report from yesterdays assessment but trains make me feel nostalgic-back home as a child the whole idea of getting on a train was filled with curiosity and figity excitement. The reality was completely different, Iaronrod Eireann ( Irish rail) bless them, were not at the cutting edge of the rail industry and operated an antiquated rolling stock. Still, the summer holiday journey always seemed to have much more of a sense of excitement than getting the family into the blue Datsun that was my Dads pride and joy.
I often wonder about my fellow passengers, their back stories, like the couple who I saw this morning… I have a pretty standard routine when it comes to my morning coffee, panic across London to Paddington, on the various legs of public transport before the ‘proper’ train to Bristol, head to Starbucks and then amble around the station till the time of my train. On this particular morning I am in the queue waiting to give my coffee order and my name to the barrista who will no doubt hand me a completely bastardised version of ‘Ciara’, when I spot an unusual couple. He is 50 if he is a day, tall, with a rugged handsomeness that has clearly been depleted by alcohol consumption, the tell tale sign being a huge red nose protruding from his winter coated, high collar, rugby scarfed head. The coat is not a cheap and hides a suit that is of equal quality, an ensemble that would empower many a man. But it was just now quite right, it was too much of an effort and to be honest, the face didn’t fit. As they strode to the end of the queue the woman (more about her later) peeled off and took residence at a nearby table. He joins the queue and takes out a wallet that is brimming with cash, rips out a 20 and looks exasperated at the evident waiting time.
In the meantime my attention is drawn to the woman as she strides across the cafe. There is no doubt but that she is painfully thin, the sort of figure that a friend of mine would have been instantly drawn to but everyone else wanted to feed away from emaciation. She did nothing to detract from this potential health issue, her tight stone washed trousers and knee high boot combination adding to the fragile image. She sinks into a leather couch with a surprising lack of grace and arranges her designer shopping bags around her, logos pointing out, of course. She is much younger than her partner and I suspect if the inch of foundation was removed would look even more youthful.
It is then that I am drawn to her hair, the quality of which is in stark contrast to her travelling companion, she had also adopted the Croydon facelift approach to hair grooming where tighter is better. All of this was completed with a Madonna esque 1980’s white scrunchie-which to me screamed, rightly or wrongly, Eastern European.
My coffee arrives, name is completely un recognisable and I am off down the stairs to join the army of zombies gazing at the departures board before sprinting to the relevant platform, as only zombies can. Now the story could end there, but after I board my train I notice my fellow travellers, he is in command of the tickets for both it seems, martialling her thought the barrier with her clunky grace impeded by ridiculously high heels and outsized shopping bags. She doesn’t look happy, but then that might be just how she looks in repose, anyway he is off down the platform after rescueing back the tickets and her limbs are called upon to close the growing distance between them. Abruptly he stops, the way people stop for others to catch up but in fact don’t really want to slow the pace of their advancement. To his clear disappointment she slows to an awkward gait, the bags that had to this point acted as a governor valve, now return to her side – albeit she should have spent more time balancing their weight. Whatever she bought in Harrods is clearly the bigger prize. He snatches at the bag, more out of frustration than care and they are out of my sight.
I am taken to think about the ‘best’ train journey that I have been on, sure there are bullet train trips across Japan and the Eurostar etc, but I remember one that stands out for a different reason. It was Spring time and it was my sisters birthday, she was maybe 7 and the youngest of the family. I was a whole decade older and if I am being honest probably not a great role model. Why? Because is was her birthday, now I didn’t have much money, sure I had a wee Saturday job that paid me£20 whole pounds for a full days work, but I spent most of that on Karate and well, myself. So I had to come up with something ‘ cool’ for her present. We were living in Cork (south of Ireland) at the time and when I say Cork I mean we were roughly living around the Cork area. It’s more accurate to say we lived in the country with a few houses dotted around us and a bus service that went through twice a week, so impossible to make a return journey in one day. We therefore had to be resourceful in our transport planning. The range of which started at cycling, not a option as there were two massive hills, to begging the parents for a lift, to the most risky option which was to walk towards town and thumb a lift. I became regular feature of the local thorough fares my thumb cast out in search of that kind soul who would be ‘going my way’. Now where lived, everyone knew everyone else, and for the most part it was pretty safe, except for the one time where I was coming home and this guy stopped for me. He was of the farming stock, as suggested by his thick malty body oder, and not the most talkative… until we came to the Pub, the point at which our roads diverged. Turns out he might also have been deaf, as he didn’t hear me say that this was my stop! When we did come to a halt he leans over and I am terrified, bugger, still on reflection, it was bound to happen, he continues to reach forward and the I realise he is not going for my knee, rather the glove compartment where he fishes a religious medal out and tells this is to protect me.
Anyway for my sisters birthday I had decided to try and take her out rather than use my few pennies to buy her some tat. We hitch a lift to town, strength in numbers and all that and walk to the train station. Where we pick up a local train to Fota, a wildlife park where the majority of animals, the safe ones at least are allowed to roam the park. My sister is beside herself, she has guessed where we are going and is now incredibly excited. I on the other hand am now worried, see I don’t have the £8 each that it costs to get us both in, but I have a plan. The train station is on the ‘quiet’ side of the park, it’s not a main entrance and at this time ofyear there are not many people around. We pull in and are amongst the handful of people who head to the ticket office, the tin shed to be more specific. My sister is now beyond excited, she is making squeeling noises that are only audible to the local canine community. See I know that the woman who takes the money from the tin shed, is only there for the 3 trains that arrive per day after which she locks the gate and returns to the main entrance. 10 minutes later we see her head off to her next appointment. Perfect, we have gone for a short walk in the forest and arrive back at the gate just after it has been locked. Great, now excitement leads to disappointment as my sister is now starting to think we are now not going to the park, somehow I manage to convince her that she needs to help, there is an electric fence on the outside perimeter and I jump onto one of the small pillars that support the fence, haul her up and drop her over the fence with clear instruction as to how to open the gate. 10 seconds later and we are in… see told you, not a great role model. Now we had a great day, took loads of pictures and managed to stoke a park roaming kangaroo…but perhaps on hindsight perhaps getting my sister to become my accomplice was not a great ‘present’.
It’s at this stage that I become aware of the conversation going on behind me on my train to Bristol. It’s a female voice and I realise I am listening to my mismatched couple from earlier, she is far from Eastern European and in fact has an extremely posh British accent as does he… it’s then that I realise they are not a ‘couple’ in the true sense of the word, but that they are going to Cheltenham and they are ACTORS!!!! They are talking about how they are going to secretly film their antics against the background of the ‘rich and famous’ at an event in Cheltenham… C4 and ITV are mentioned in conversation and they discuss the various ‘scenes’ they will play out and the Harrods bag, for the camera. We arrive at Cheltenham and I don’t want to go to Bristol anymore now.