It starts with ‘W’….

So, it’s a dark cold Friday evening and I am onboard the 1930 departure to Weston-super-Mare.

The preceding service has been cancelled and my train is two coaches shorter than it should have been, plus it’s a Friday, so this one is going to be pretty full. And it is, unpleasantly so. Inevitably there is a strong whiff of hot food and someone, obviously, is eating a stinking pasty in my vicinity. Someone else is playing a game on their phone with the volume on full (if ever there was a crime worthy of the death penalty, then it is this) and then there another watching something hilarious on their laptop which immediately rules out Mrs Brown’s Boys.

It’s crowded, smelly and uncomfortable. The only upside is, as far as I can see, that the crisp munching Darth Vader that sat opposite me this morning is absent.

The man next to me (TMNTM) is one of those special treats that decides to flop into his seat with his backpack still on, then fidget uncontrollably with the frankly impossible task of trying to get comfortable. This clearly isn’t going to happen ever on a Great Western train as, for them, they mistook the word ergonomic for economic thus deciding that padding on seats was an unnecessary expense. The only opportunity they have so far missed has been the creation of First Group Chiropractors who would, without doubt, do a roaring trade at every major station.

As ever, I digress.

So, TMNTM, unable to sit properly, adopts a seated position like a praying mantis and decides to eat his dinner, which is buried deep in one of several large carrier bags at his feet. I’m convinced he must be getting off at Reading but no, worse is to come; he pulls not one but two mobile phones from his pocket; setting one up to watch a film and the other, oh gawd, is for FaceTiming his (I assume) girlfriend. This is awkward as she appears to be in bed and I feel like I’m intruding in the early stages of foreplay for their weekend ahead.

Now FaceTime will get a deserved rant of its own at some point but who on earth thinks that absolutely anyone would want to be privy to a couple’s pre-rutting positioning? Why does anyone think it’s acceptable to share such intimate conversation with half a dozen enforced neighbours?  And what did his girlfriend think of the sound emanating from the man playing a game on his phone?

In between the several FaceTime calls, he switches to his other phone to watch his TV programme and, inevitably, the sound is set too high so I’m forced to put my headphones in just to drown the tinny sounds emerging from his brain ( reason number two for the death penalty).

Finally, our train entered the twilight zone of Wiltshire, the place where 2G is a fantasy and TMNTM cedes defeat with technology and decides he is going to have a sleep instead. So, he tries to lean back but has anyone ever managed to sleep lying on their back with a backpack still on? Undaunted, he pulls the little table down and puts his head on his folded arms, fidgeting left to right and walloping me with his backpack approximately every ninety seconds.

It is fair to say I am looking forward to the train’s arrival in Bristol greatly as, I cannot understate this, TMNTM is pissing me off massively, He’s in the top three of all time worst fellow passengers ever ( I still think the lady picking her feet retains top position followed by Wolverhampton death metal lady) and I’m positively willing him evil.

I’m delighted to see we’ve arrived at Bath. Ten minutes to go. TMNTM cranes his neck to look out of the window. Puzzled, he turns to me and asks ‘what time does this train get to Worcester Shrub Hill?’

I open the champagne.

Trains, planes and automobiles. And a taxi.

I have to admit it but, on reflection, it was a pretty silly idea and if anyone had realised my plan, they would have undoubtedly tried to talk me out of it.

I was to spend the top of the day at a funeral in the West Country and by the evening the plan was to end up in Edinburgh, checked in to a nice hotel and with a nice bottle on the go. The obvious plan would be to catch the evening flight to avoid any rush and guarantee my arrival in Scotland. However, my natural inclination is always to make my life just that little more complicated than it needs to be; with a little research I realised that the mid-afternoon flight from Bristol is due to arrive at Edinburgh at 1700, so, with a sharp exit and a short taxi ride, I should be able to have a ride on a train I’d been seeking out for a while and, should, if everything lined up nicely, depart the local station to Edinburgh Airport, South Gayle, at 1718. A quick check of Google maps showed a ten minute car journey so that was it. Another silly plan duly hatched.

Fast forward to then day and I attend the funeral and reception, it is of course unbearably sad. I realise that my escape and adventure is actually very well timed, I’m starting to look forward to it. Especially the train, which I shall refer to a ‘number six’. So my friend (who very kindly agreed to accompany me and provide the vehicle for the day’s travel) and I depart in plenty of time for the short hop to the airport. Indeed, we’ve left in such good time that we feel we have time to casually pull into the local farm shop for a cup of tea and browse around their displays of exquisitely over-priced wares. Though the cup of tea was fairly priced, I hasten to add.

And it is, I must point out at this point, a Friday during the summer holidays. On the M5. In Somerset.

Now, I haven’t owned a car for a couple of years (of which I will write separately) so had quite forgotten, indeed totally erased from my memory, the wondrous joy that is the M5 in Somerset on a Friday in the summer. We set the sat-nav which happily told us that I’d arrive at the airport with nearly two hours to spare and I happily planned a nice glass of red in the bar before wandering casually to board.

Then we joined the M5.

Or rather we joined the slip road that joined the M5.

Our post-farm shop self congratulatory smugness evaporated at the sight of a Blackpool illuminations scale of lighting, a beautiful harmony of glowing brake lights. It’s ok, we thought, in a way that I can use to convince myself that this situation really isn’t as bad as it looks… I mean, look! I’m sure that car over there just moved! Sat-nav’ expected time of arrival started to creep toward gate closing time…. we edged onto to motorway and accelerated in a way that a slug spotting a tasty piece of lettuce would, elbowing our way into late two and slipping into second gear. And so we moved for the next mile.

By the time we’d flown past Bridgwater at thirty miles per hour, I decided to go the back road across the levels and swung the car off the motorway and into 1956. Inevitably a tractor with a pile of bales at forty five degrees slowed our progress (I’m actually convinced these things lay in wait for anyone looking remotely in a hurry and not-from-round-these-parts) though, as looked westward to the motorway, we were still moving faster. Meanwhile, our arrival time moves past check-in time and (regular readers will have previously imbibed tales of my love of West Country roads) there is the full range of people pulling out in front of me and accelerating to twenty five miles per hour, more tractors, white van man driving so slowly he couldn’t-possibly-take-that-next-job, swaying sales reps of conference calls and (my favourite) Bert and Ada spending the afternoon ‘motoring’.

Eventually the airport comes into view, check-in has in theory closed and my trip is ruined. Undaunted, I dump the car (thank you my friend for the lift) and sprint (in the same way a walrus sprints) through the airport to departures, knocking people lying on the floor in my wake. I think I even got a ‘strike’ as I skittled a whole family with one flail of elbows and knees. I held my boarding pass to the scanner and the gate opened! I barged my way through security and fairly lolloped through duty free and to the gate. The lady on the gate, eyeing the big sweaty hyperventilating middle-aged in front of her, made a wisecrack about cutting it fine. A swift right-hook dealt with her and I jumped on the plane as the stewardess pulled the door to.

And relax. Well, at least for an hour as I absolutely had to be on that 1718 from South Gyle.

By the time we landed in Scotland, I’d regained my breath and was ready to leg it through arrivals to the taxi rank. Here I went through the bizarre ritual of having to order the taxi, having first registered with the company, and then wait for the chosen car (of dozens waiting) to come and pick me up. It’s now 1703.

‘So you want to go to South Gyle station?’ Says the driver, who we’ll call Hamish.

“Yes please”

“Why?”

“Because I’d like to catch a train”

“You can catch one from here” Hamish helpfully informs me, pointing at Edinburgh Park station.

“I want to catch the one from South Gyle. At 1718”

“I don’t think we’ll make that. Edinburgh has the worst traffic in the world you know”. (I think we know that Somerset actually holds this accolade)

I say nothing. I don’t want to engage Hamish but he persists.

“Where are you going on the train?”

“Glenrothes”

“Well I could just drive you straight there!”

‘No. I want to be on the 1718 train”

“We’re going to miss it”. Of course we are as it’s now 1712 and Hamish is driving at forty five miles an hour on the motorway.

So I ask if it’d be easier to drive to Inverkeithing?

“But that’s in FIFE” Hamish responds as if I’d asked him to take me to the nearest leper colony.

“Then we’ll stick with South Gyle”. 1715.

At 1717 we pull up. Hamish parks conveniently two hundred yards from the station so I tell him to keep the change from the tenner as thanks for his help. It was a £9.90 fare and I still felt I was being over-generous.

I’m too late to get a ticket so rush to the platform and to watch the train arrive, bang on time. I was stressed, sweaty and out of breath but, most importantly and despite everyone’s best efforts, it was 1718 and I was at South Gyle station. I would finally travel behind ‘number six’.

The train came into view. The culmination of several hours frenzied travelling and stress. But I’d made it, now I could travel behind the elusive ‘number six’. I dug my camera out of my bag, waiting to record the moment. I was actually now rather excited.

The train got closer.

It it rolled.

It was ‘number seven’.

So I didn’t board.

An open letter to all rural drivers… (especially those in Somerset)

Dear fellow West Country drivers,

Please consider this an appendix to your Highway Code;

  • A reminder, the nice white circle with a black line across it means that the national speed limit applies. This is 60mph in every county, including Somerset. For clarity, it doesn’t reduce to 20mph if it’s dark.
  • A red circle with the number indicates a speed limit. Please, at least speed up to this.
  • The road between Glastonbury and Wells, amongst many, is an A road and for the most part the national speed limit above refers. There are no sections where the speed limit is 10mph
  • If you find driving in the dark a bit scary, stay at home.
  • The same applies with fog.
  • Fog lights can also be switched off.  And I don’t mean in August having been on for nine months.
  • Fog lights don’t need to be used if it’s ‘a little bit misty’
  • If the car approaching your rear you has spotted you clearly, you can switch your fog lights off as, it can be assumed, the driver behind would rather not be dazzled
  • The A road you are driving on is nice and wide. You don’t need to brake for cars coming the other way
  • Don’t also brake for random things, such as hedges. Hedges generally take most of a year to cross a road so you’re perfectly safe.
  • Just because it’s just about light enough for you to see where you are going, doesn’t mean other cars can see you. You’re not saving your batteries by keeping your lights off. (Unless your car runs on AA batteries)
  • Side lights are basically useless.
  • Whilst driving watching your lovely bright SatNav, which you have placed in the centre of your line of vision, remember this doesn’t show on-coming vehicles. For this, please use the windscreen.
  • Yes, very nice cushions on your rear parcel shelf. Something for you to admire in your mirror.
  • Don’t slow down to admire the view. You live here and you will see it tomorrow. And the day after.
  • Tractors! Avoid pulling out in front of cars moving at speed, especially when you have a huge trailer loaded with hay bales and one rear light.
  • Also Farmer Giles, have a little think about what all those bright lights are in your mirror  )assuming you have one) and wonder why they have been following you for ten miles. Turn down the Scandinavian death metal and consider your fellow drivers.

 

Yours,

One City Dweller.