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.

The amazing expanding waistline…

I’ve still not worked this one out and neither has Matt, who I was travelling with.

So, I’m ‘enjoying’ a Ukraine Airlines B737, wedged into the middle of three seats between Matt (who sat nicely) and a wriggling young man who seemed unable to sit still for more than two minutes. UIA are a bit low on frills so once I was in my seat, I wasn’t moving anywhere and that’s simply because I couldn’t. What that did mean, as with any bargain bucket airline, is that I kept my seat belt on, even though Captain Yuri had switched the light off.

Finally, though, wriggling man succumbed to the urge visit the toilet and I had to uncoil my legs, remove the seat belt and contort myself into the shape of a human to stand in the aisle and awaiting my fellow passenger’s return.

Eventually my neighbour returned and I folded my legs back up and slithered into my seat. Conscious that we were only a few hundred miles from Kiev, I decided to put my seatbelt back on so fumbled for the male and female parts and pulled them together. Except I couldn’t. There was a gap of at least six inches. So, I assumed that somehow one side had recoiled so wrestled with my wedged frame to try and dig the errant belt out, but no. By now both Matt and wriggling man were getting involved, assuming that we had got our belts crossed over, playing a game of ‘that’s your belt’ until we realised that no, the stumpy belt was indeed mine.

Conscious that we’d started our descent I tugged and tugged to get the two parts together. Did I call the steward and explain that my waist line had expanded by six inches during the flight? Did I pretend it was secured? Did I pull it tight and hope that my circulation survived long enough in my lower body?

To much much hilarity, I decided that the only option was a huge deep breath, pull the buckle in tight and hope. Luckily I had as Captain Yuri thumped the plane on the ground and bounced it down the runway. My legs were slowly turning blue and beyond as we turned towards the terminal and I felt confident enough to the remove the buckle from the depths of my small intestine.

For the record I hadn’t gained that much weight (some may beg to differ) but none of us could work out why the belt had so dramatically shortened…

Seat A73, a eulogy.

I’ve written before, and no doubt will again, about the imminent replacement on Great Western mainline of the High Speed Train (HST). Gradually they are now being phased out and replaced by the shiny new Hitachi electric trains (don’t be fooled though, they run mostly on diesel and go slower) and so, forty years of railway history comes to an end. It won’t be the end of the HST but, for me, my regular trips to London will succumb eventually to Japanese trains and a train which I first travelled on as an enthusiastic nine year old train spotter, will cease to be a part of my working week.

In many ways the HST has been ruined by First Great Western over the years. The current ‘tombstone’ seats and fluorescent ‘interrogation room’ lighting have done little to improve an ambience that once saw comfy seats line up with windows and journeys that didn’t involve a trip to the chiropractor to rectify my sciatica after one hundred minutes sat in possibly the most uncomfortable seats ever invented (though I suspect Thameslink passengers will have a good case to disagree on this point). There are little gems remaining though; seats A01-08 are designed to accommodate the less well abled and have generous leg room. Seat A73 is particularly special though.

This is the railway equivalent of the naughty step. This is seating of choice for the chronically anti-social. For those with no friends. It’s the first seat on the train home, it’s the last one to arrive in London and that makes it rebellious. It’s occupant can peruse the whole of coach A and is safe in the knowledge that no-one, bar the train crew, an occasional inexperienced traveler or the commuter congo, will pass you by. No-one will try to push their ridiculous wheelie suitcase by you, no oversized backpack will wallop you as it’s oblivious host barges by, no-one will clobber you with their over-laden wares from Oxford Street.

Best of all, no-one will sit next to you. No barging elbows, no chompers, no apple eaters, no keyboard killers, no pastie eaters, no smelly people. NO-ONE EATING CRISPS. No-one.

It’s a blissful retreat in a chaotic world. Seat A73 will be misssed.

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.

73 people are quiet, but 2 can’t manage it….

Isn’t it amazing? 73 people in the Quiet Carriage managed to stay blissfully peaceful (though one man did have a particularly crunchy packet of Kettle Chips for breakfast) yet these two, sat under the word ‘Quiet’, failed miserably to keep schtum.

I’m not entirely sure where they boarded but judging by their appearances, it’s a pretty safe bet it was Bath. Let’s face it, you wouldn’t last ten minutes on the tough streets of Chippenham with such resplendent facial furniture. So, let’s assume they are Bathstards. They sounded like it too, talking as if they had mouths full of marbles and laughing like a horse refusing the first fence at Aintree.

Anyway, despite my best death-stare, the tuts of fellow passengers and hatred that only a full Quiet Coach can generate, they decided to talk all the way to London. Sometime in a hushed tone, sometimes in that whisper that actually louder than a child crying, sometimes just plain braying. But always at that frequency that, no matter, what music I listened to, their haw-hawing and guffaws would penetrate the depths of my cranium. Past David Gedge, past Stuart Staples, past Nick Cave and even past Lemmy.

They deserve to be shamed. Such behaviour would never be tolerated on the 0830, guess this is one of the perils of travelling super-duper-monster-off-peak. There are rules to be followed.

I’m now going to spend the afternoon at The Oval watching the rain and pretending to be a Bangladeshi (which I’ll fail dismally at, but wouldn’t want anyone to think I was an Aussie.), so imagine I’ll be similarly grumpy on the return.

Trumpet Gob, the sequel

I don’t generally believe in actually naming and shaming on these pages, to be pictured for the whole ‘net to see (well, the  bit that reads my warblings) just because you’d eaten your crisps rather loudly or decided to feast on pasty perfumed with the body odour of a hod carrier on a hot August day is, even to me, a little harsh.

But this guy, whoever he is, deserves it. I rather hope someone knows him.

Indeed, I’ve now walked the half mile home from the rather lovely Indian restaurant I dined in and have had to shut the windows as I can still hear him. The lovely Trumpet Gob of Frome (see previous post) has nothing on Tannoy Gob of Whiteladies Road. The consumption of lager is a wonderful thing for the young male and frees oneself of any inhibition or self-awareness. This allows you to sit at a table with your three mates and converse at a level equivalent to someone celebrating their team scoring an injury time forty-yard volley into the top comer in the European Cup Final after being four down at half-time.

This man has just blighted the evening of everyone in the restaurant. We were sat three tables away and I could barely hear my friend sat opposite talk. In fact, I’m pretty certain people in neighbouring bars were moving on because of the noise and small children in the locality were coming downstairs as they couldn’t sleep. I’m sure the earthquake centre in San Bernadino was probably registering the odd quiver in BS8 and causing puzzlement. Aircraft at 35.000 feet above reported turbulence and Bristol Airport was shut for several hours. Surgery at the local hospitals was suspended due to the vibration caused. And so on.

So, if you know him, please ask him nicely to never, ever sit in coach A….