Monthly Archives: August 2018

Summer Tuna

Is she seriously going to sit there on this overcrowded train, outside thirty-two degrees celsius searing summer heat, no air-conditioning to save us from roasting in this poorly-cushioned oven whilst screaming children vicariously express their inner-demon, and she thinks it’s alright to devour that mound of smelly tuna and boiled egg? And with a plastic fork!

Is there enough mayonnaise?

Sitting there, shoveling fork pile after fork pile of stinking tuna into her overarching gob. My gut is wrenching. My nose attempts to cave-in, to shield itself from the agonising stench. The gall of her to look at me, as though I’ve infringed upon her sensibilities.

I feel sorry for the little train table jutting out from the seat in front of her, there is crusty breadcrumb litter from the offensive feast. Her, onboard picnic staining the Formica laminate, crumbs attaching themselves to the polyester seat coverings and the window filling with stains from stray offshoots of tuna flakes. When did consuming a meal on a train become such an invasion of the senses?

Standing at the edge of the station platform in the correct position, waiting for the train to position itself in its correct stopping position to allow the carriage door to stop directly in front of me, has become as natural as the sun shining. Then, one day, balding and eye-glasses wearing round man barrels himself towards me, hoping to intimidate me out of my platform position. I don’t think so. I have been standing in this exact position for years and no new plank will force me to move. Recently, he has taken to stretching and moving about whilst standing next to me.

“You’re not the first business suit to attempt intimidation with your stupid acrobatics”, I thought to myself. I shot him a look to let him know I won’t be moved.

The responsibility of alighting the train first means moving swiftly into the aisle and towards the centre of the carriage to find the first available seat. Unfortunately, Summer holidays means more passengers on the 17:46 train, limiting seats. Being first to board is a blessing, but today it’s been condemnation. Yes, I am grateful I located a seat, but not next to little Miss tuna-mouth.

And now I am sprayed with tuna oil, bread crumbs and little bits of lettuce leaf. Somehow, having lettuce leaf on an egg-tuna gives it a life of sophistication. It might be served in a fancy looking box from the local, but it stinks like any other.

And now I’m stuck in this wretched seat for the next forty-five minutes, feeling the pain of being the first on board at my platform to find a seat, here. Oh, how I wish the train would derail and we could all be mixed up like a cocktail shaker, having me land in a new seat, next to, no one.

But dreams are free.

Thank goodness I have a new bottle of Daz and disinfectant at home, I’m straight for the washing machine as soon as I walk in the door.

Ugh!

– Malcolm.

Spotting Train Spotters

Usually, Mike is standing proudly in the best viewing position at the start of platform 9 with Barry, his spotting companion. Mike isn’t there today. He’s at home caring for his mother, and it’s not looking promising.

We’re expecting the new fleet of Siemens rolling stock to pass through and he’ll miss a whole lot of unique train identifiers. They’re the numbers on the front.

Barry has a newbie with him, a Roland, or something. I know we always need new blood to keep our activity alive. The upstart has a very modern winter coat with sheepskin lining and zipped pockets, but he’s failed to adhere to our Anorak philosophy, there are no flaps on his pockets to keep out the driving rain. He’ll learn the hard way.

This morning he was bragging about collecting numbers from buses, taxis and planes. Planes, whoever heard of a plane spotter?

The young ones turn up with their electronic dictaphones and German specialist binoculars. What happens when the batteries run dry? A sturdy British lead pencil and paper pocketbook is the answer. None of that Brexit rubbish. Good old fashioned British made.

Me, I’m very knowledgeable about my subject. I find what I do more than a hobby, me. Others don’t understand it. Once, the wife and I were at a social, neighbour’s summer BBQ. Sometimes, people can’t contain themselves when I say I’m a trainspotter. Apparently, it’s something to be scoffed at. I’m out and proud about it.

The wife is good with it, gets me out of the house with a packed lunch and a thermos for soup and one for her special hot milky tea.

Keeps me entertained, and I suppose it does, but I also do my community duty at the end of the platform. You see those Samaritan signs, we show a physical presence. Of course, after what happened in Sept 2011 we were all being ejected from station platforms from around the country, claiming safety and breaching security. Bloody madness. Trainspotter terrorists, ridiculous, if anything we will spot them first before any of the general public, they’re too busy with their heads down looking at screens.

There are other Spotters in our hive. We’re a hive because we work together, but in different locations. Melvin and Vincent photograph their spots from a pedestrian walkover bridge at the end the platform at a different train station. We need to be discreet, especially when photographing, therefore I won’t disclose their favourite locations.

One woman accused Melvin of photographing her. Clearly, she was confused, to put it politely. You understand.

Roland thought he was cleverer than Christmas snow, lucky enough to write down the first unique carriage identifiers on the new Siemens rolling stock. Out of respect, we are reserving them for Mike. That’s his honour and he should be the first to collect them. Now he must wait for the next release of Siemens carriages.

It’ll take a number of years before the young upstart is able to walk on stage at the annual National Railway Museum Awards and claim an award for Most Consistent Carriage Identifiers, or Sensibly Dressed Spotter, or Best Numerical Identifiers.

Last year I won Best Antique Identifiers Collection. It’s called an antique collection because my collection has the oldest number of carriage identifiers. This is important because the carriage and wagon classification system changed in 1948. The Ian Allen’s train number books were popular in my family and that’s where it all started. It’s a family tradition.

The peak hour is about to start, best I free up my writing hand to start the competition.

It’s competition day, if I didn’t mention. Even though we’re all in the same Hive, we also like to keep our skills at their peak with a friendly match.

Our competition is a complex system of writing down identifiers, times and dates from our individual platforms, but also capture identifiers from other platforms, hence the binoculars and if I can spot an identifier before any other Spotter, I commandeer that identifier. It’s a friendly match and services can be verified by timetables. Plus, our companions also act as timekeepers.

Thanks for taking the time to learn more about trainspotting. If you’re truly enthusiastic, come to one of our weekly gatherings, details at our website TheSpotterWithin.co.uk.

And, if Mike were here, he’d have that upstart under control. March him straight back to the van to change into something appropriate.

– Phil

The Dairy Grind

I live by the position of the sun, where it sits in the sky, indicating the starting or setting of a season. Summer is the easiest to navigate by the blue skies and twits on the ground.

Summer at The Dairy Grind includes my ritual at the beginning of my daily rail journey. Without my reusable cup of hot coffee goodness, my world would be a disaster. It’s not just the coffee, it’s the echoing sounds of the coffee beans grinding, milk swishing and gurgling and cheerful tones of the dapper young dandy behind the counter in the Edison-globe lit cafe.

Dressed in a waistcoat, ankle length stripped trousers, brightly coloured socks, matching multi-coloured Cuban heeled leather shoes with a straight-edge toe, a belt buckle glimpsing the sunshine and crisp red collared shirt. He finishes off his fashion with a manicured full beard and a flat cap to match his shoes. He’s got it going on.

At first, I thought the dandy had commandeered the cafe whilst its owner was indisposed, but to my surprise, he is the owner. Is this his chosen career or is it a stopgap to something greater? I question what happens after the morning peak. Does he shut up shop and turn his skills to something greater?

Most mornings I’m first at the yellow line, to safely stand behind and await my carriage. It took three weeks to perfect the best waiting position, to align myself with the door of the train. It always stops in the same location every morning. Nine times out of ten. Except, this morning, a man in a beige business suit and brown shoes stood in my position. Firstly, those shoes did not match his suit. Secondly, who is this man standing in my spot? Seriously!

The best way to show him up was not to impart my fashion sense when it comes to shoes. Hah. I love the karma bus.

I was faced with an awkward decision, do I stand to his left or his right? The wrong decision could potentially impact seating arrangements on the train. I was not prepared to have blame laid at my feet.

Standing to his left meant I would be limited to seats at the end of the carriage. Generally, there are seats available at this time of the morning, but Sod’s law would interfere meaning I’d be left standing. How do I hold on with my reusable coffee cup in one hand and phone, in the other?

Standing to his right meant I would have a greater choice of seats, but fewer options to double seats, possibly being faced with having to sit in a triple seat. No one wants to be squashed against the wall or pushed off your seat into the aisle. And there’s the nightmare of sitting in the middle.

Standing there without knowing how best to approach this conundrum, the man looked sideways towards my general direction. Now I have to make up my mind. I’ve been caught out.

No! Where did she come from? She took my place, I was going to stand insitu of my original position because he took my place. I know it makes no sense, but women and I don’t get along. She’s standing to his left, leaving the right-hand side for me to stand. Now the equilibrium of the carriage will be unbalanced. I’ll be forced to sit in someone else’s seat. Then, the person I’ve inadvertently inconvenienced will sit in someone else’s space and so on. The domino effect intensifies. Eventually, someone is left standing.

Quickstep to the right and I’m in my sidestepped position.

I want to know who this trespassing businessman thinks he is! That’s my spot.

My coffee, I need to focus on my coffee. Hot. Sweet. Arabic. Comfortable. Unobtrusive. Breathe. Breathe. I have coffee. The train might stop up short and I’ll be standing in the perfect spot. They will alight the train behind me and the natural order of this morning will return.

The announcement for the arrival of my train is comforting, yet my anxiety begins to surge from the pit of my stomach. And it slowly rises. Breathe. Breathe. I have coffee. With a brave face, I leaned a little, looked towards the approaching train. A colourful glistening hue of beauty trundled towards the station with great anticipation. Agitation. Anxiety. My lungs tighten. My heart.

Breathe. Breathe. Coffee.

The train appears. Carriage number one. Carriage number two. First Class carriage. Carriage number four. The train slows. I clasp my reusable coffee cup. The train slows. Carriage number six. The train dramatically slows. Carriage number eight and the first door.

Edging towards me the second door on the eighth carriage gingerly works its way towards me. The Driver aims for his spot to safely bring his train to a complete stop. I can smell the carriage as it slows and slows. My anxiety reaches its peak and my hand clasps my reusable coffee mug to breaking point as the door comes to a complete stop.

Not only did the door of carriage number eight pass me, the door to the carriage missed the business suit and sneaky woman, completely. A movement of people, like I’ve never seen before, throughout the entire station platform shifted to the left, causing upset throughout the community of train passengers. For a moment, the man in The Daily Grind stopped grinding his beans and looked up, out his cafe window to investigate the upset.

Defeated, I had to stand back and asses the situation. Defeated, my anxiety drove me to snap. My brow beaded with sweat. My hands were shaking and some of my life-saving coffee spilled onto the station platform, scorching my fingers as I allowed the disaster to wash over me.

Behind me, a station bench seat lay empty. I had to sit down. There was only one thing I could do after such an outburst of anxiety and strain, was to sit down at the train station as the train departed without me. I couldn’t face the embarrassment of being looked at by the passengers waiting for us to alight their carriage.

– Pamela

First Class Nightmare

After lunch with Sandra and a cheeky glass of bubbles on that fateful Wednesday, in the middle of my retelling the moment when Frannie’s wheelchair-bound father finds out about his wife’s 6-month affair with her fitness instructor, really, at her age of 68 and a fourth grandchild on the way. My useless excuse for a husband, Andrew calls me as the bill arrived at the table by that handsome waiter, Georgi, to say he insists on taking the car to Glyndebourne to retrieve his Mother’s antique terrine serving dish. Why he just couldn’t send Botley, our Driver, is madness?

The picnic at Glyndebourne was a magical day with a ramble around the pond and of course the Lyndsey’s were there. He’s a bit of a catch, she always looks like a maternity nurse and how his brother expects to turn heads when in those ghastly green trousers, who is he trying to fool. Green is never fashionable, even if he is a merchant banker and owns a yacht in the Canary Islands, or wherever it is. Bloody pretentious if you ask me.

Of course, my Andrew doesn’t consider my transportation needs and doesn’t ask how I’ll fare with getting home. ‘Take a taxi’, he says. A taxi? Outrageous. Only last year a taxi driver was arrested for drugging and doing unspeakable things to innocent women. Does he not consider my welfare or safety? That’s why we have our Driver. And how on earth do I carry my bags. It’s Wednesday, he should know better. Only because I wouldn’t trip down to Savile Row to collect his shoes, he has one of his tantrums.

Then he has the audacity to suggest, ‘If you don’t like a taxi, take the train, darling.’ The outrage, finishing a sentence with the word, darling, doesn’t excuse him to exclude me. Train! A train. A public convenience and on a Wednesday. I have to ask myself, has he lost all his faculties.

When I thought my nightmare hadn’t concluded, Sandra says, with a spinach leaf sticking out from between her teeth opens her mouth and declares her newly found affection for first class train travel. With that leafy-green smile she upstages me with her rendition of her first class public convenience exploits. Of all people I lunch with, never in my days would I suspect Sandra as a public convenience woman. Her husband owns horses in Buckinghamshire. I felt forced upon, by Andrew and Sandra. I could hear that tone of defiance in his voice when attempting to convince me, ‘I’ll be fine’. And then Sandra’s slapdash comment, ‘I’ll show you’.

Is there no justice.

Before I knew it, Sandra had paid for lunch and Andrew had won the battle. Little did he realise, the war was not over. And there I was walking onto the concourse of the train station to purchase a ticket and find my train.

I grappled with my bags whilst Sandra asked the lovely lady behind the bulletproof glass for a ticket. First class, I demanded. I wanted to make sure she purchased the most expensive ticket, I love to watch Andrew frown. After some to-do, the bright orange cards were pushed through the metal grill and into Sandra’s hands.

The crowds are outrageous. Worse than a mid-year sale at Harrods. I don’t do, that, anymore, not since that coffee cup incident. Joan, our dry cleaner, has never been able to get rid of that stain. Such a waste of teal moroccan wool.

Once you step over the homeless, their snarling dogs and cardboard, make your way through the crowds and their snippy children, it’s then a battle with the platform barrier.

Sandra used the tickets to make the barrier open, she huddled me through with my bags and as the barrier closed, Sandra was waving, throwing air kisses and vigorously pointed at my train as she made her escape. I’ll tell her, next time, what I think of her air kissing escape.

Eventually, I found my train carriage. The subtly named carriage with First Class labelled above the window wasn’t easy to locate. I can’t see why the windows can’t be washed. It supposed to be First Class.

There was no one at the door to greet me, this clearly was a sign of the nightmare to come. I should’ve known it was going to go wrong, but Andrew can’t be told. I found a tissue to press the buttons, and after a long delay, a dreadful cacophony pierced the air as the doors opened.

Once on board, a second closed door greeted me and again I used the tissue to press the button.

And finally, leather seats greeted me with a dull sigh of exhaustion. I discovered a discarded newspaper on my allotted seat. Of course there was. So I sat in an empty seat nearby to await a cleaning crew to sanitise my seat.

I had to endure the common class passengers using this public convenience to meander through First Class to access other carriages. Don’t they realise I’m in First Class. As the train travelled through my stop and rattled on its merry way, I could only mutter expletives until we came to a stop at a station I’ve never heard of and doesn’t look like the one at home.

Eventually I found the train guard on the platform, why he wasn’t attending to his First Class passengers is beyond comprehension. He told me I was on the wrong train. Surely they knew I was on that train, I had a printed ticket. They could’ve stopped.

He reassured me the next train would stop at my destination. Begrudgingly, I found First Class, sat down and thought of monstrous pain to inflict on Andrew and Sandra.

The silver lining in this nightmare, the lady with the drinks trolley stopped by. Even though I had to pay extra for a gin and tonic, I was too exhausted to press the point of being in First Class. She served them in pretty painted drink cans, so I purchased two and enjoyed a sneaky drink.

To calm my nerves.

– Harriet

Millennial Nose Picker

She’s picking her nose! That’s right, she. My peripheral vision never fails me, this time I wish it had.

The young woman in the pretty floral dress next to me behaves like a Millennial; her right-hand swiping through a blue and white paged document on her laptop screen, switching focus with her thumb on her left-hand over stretching her mobile-phone screen, tapping out a message to someone elsewhere in the world.

A Millennial female picking her nose. Have I missed something about the new, cool. Somehow she multitasked rummaging around the inner sanctum of her right nostril whilst handling her devices.

The next forty-five minutes of my Monday morning journey into the city would be plagued with the avoidance of inadvertently touching her arm, the seat armrest or anything to do with the Millennial nose picker.

The carriage jolted. A collective moment of movement, yet no one seemed bothered. Another woman touched her hair, moving it away from her face. A man touched the centre of his reading glasses. Everyone continued reading their newspaper or book. Some looked out the window basking in the clean morning sunshine. Yet, only I were displaying a bead of sweat on my forehead, culminating from the rage of panic contained within.

She smiled at me. She wants me to know everything is going to be ok, the jolt from the carriage is over, the surprise of such a shock has passed. This is not why I’m sweating. This is not why I find myself in a flux of despair.

Where did the contents of your nose disappear to? Why haven’t you wiped your hands clean? How come no one else is horrified by such a public display of indecent behaviour? I’m engulfed with a burning need to stand on my seat to invoke a national debate., but I fear my head will bump the overhead luggage rack.

Oh, thank God! Here is my station. Time to get out of here. I have to touch the button on the door to open it. What if one of her nose picking Millennium have touched the button? I’m stuck.

– Malcolm