Category Archives: Creative Writing

Lady Itchenor

My ears are bleeding. They ring with the alarming shrill of piercing agony. Banality of family history and distant relatives dying from lunacy in eighteen century London ticks boxes of things I desperately find dreadfully dull. 

If it were possible to stop Lady Itchenor, otherwise known as Maude; Sandra’s older sister from drowning out the sanity and sublime countryside serenity, I’d pay her five-pounds to draw breath. 

Lady Itchenor’s drawn-out, shattered children stare out from the speeding carriage window with wistful eyes of roaming the aligned empty fields as her husband, Frank steers their family vehicle towards their family home. Sandra promises a Jules’ French Horn recital in their back garden complete with a builders and a hobnob. I’m quietly questioning myself why her, of all people would invite a builder over for a cup of tea. Ashamedly, I distance myself from the thought of a hobnob. I would never consider such a topic of conversation to be raised in such close proximity to children.

If I were able to conjure up an out of body experience, I would find myself grazing with the cows in the distant fields. Meanwhile, Mariam their vibrant fourteen-year old child sits in the middle seat staring at me with a menacing grin. I keep expecting her head to spin in a circle and green bile to emit from her evil grinned mouth, spraying the surrounding plush interior.

The car took a hard left off the motorway turnpike and suddenly a glimpse of the village, Itchenor came into view upon the distant horizon. 

The Lady of the village squealed with delight how I would be thrilled with her invitation to a garden party hosted by Lord Giggleswick. I’m not sure if she were proud to know a man who had transitioned from straight to gay, (her words) or a Lord of the county had the support of the local women’s auxiliary having moved to her town (her words), to live in a converted fifteen century church. When she made the connection between transitioning as a person and converting a church, her snorting and giggling engulfed us all. 

I prayed she could incorporate Jules’ French Horn recital and any surprise for me when it comes to Mariam. As though my thoughts were broadcast through the car speakers, Lady Itchenor encouraged her menacing fourteen-year old to share a song she had written for her departing school teacher. It was at this point I hoped my time in purgatory would come to its blistering end with my heart to, ‘cesse de battre’. 

Alas, although somewhat irreverent my heart continued to beat and the menacing fourteen-year old took great delight in howling nonsensical tones and sounds akin to a cat mowed down by an electric lawn cutter. Like chipped fingernails dragged down a chalkboard. 

It is through gritted teeth and strained knuckles I encounter this attack on my delicate senses. To counter the pain I recall memories of my childhood, of strict Nanny Briquet, Frannie’s wheelchair-bound father and his wife’s six-month affair, my useless husband Andrew and even visiting Glyndebourne brings more pleasure than this howling banshie. Oh dear, I said the B-word.

I encourage children to follow their dreams and improve upon their basic artistic skill, yet this child’s lack of simple tempo and ear for tone, methinks her mother could spend more time on creating other inspirations for the wretched child.

Suddenly, without warning, the tight carriage in which we travelled from the long forgotten train station where I departed the public convenience back to London, to my home and some sense of sanity, came to an abrupt stop. 

Without any sense of subtlety, I placed my fingers in my ears and waited for Lady Itchenor to screech the announcement of having arrived at the family home. It was clear where we had landed as the display of garden adornments, figurines and gnomes drowned out the landscaped plants and shrubs. 

It was at this moment and only in this moment did Jules make a last-ditched effort to connect with me on an altruistic plane almost as if to make his final statement. We had an understanding of what it is to live his life.

An overbearing urge expelled me from the car as it did Sandra, Jules and Frank. Once in a while I share the same urges as men, yet it surprised me to see Frank move faster than sloth under water. 

I found myself taking in the air of Itchenor as Lady Itchenor shrilled at the mention of the Itchenor sailing club. Before I could stop my head from spinning, Lady Itchenor had her arm hooked into mine.

Sandra simply stood opposite with her mouth gaping as though she were half way through saying something slightly intelligent and suddenly forgot to close it.

At this point I knew Lady Itchenor and I were going to be the best of friends. I couldn’t stop her.

– Harriet

A Country Practice

Once again, whilst I were left to grapple with our bags Sandra muscled her way to the front of the queue and asked the lovely lady behind the bulletproof glass for our tickets. First class, I demanded. Nothing can unfasten the stain of indignant stares from the travelling masses when someone as loud, both in dress and demeanour, bellowing and flailing in motion and indigence pushes forth with an exaggerated view of one’s self importance and public convenience journey. The lady behind her bulletproof glass witnessed Sandra’s public display and reactions from the public. This is why I believe we find ourselves in third class steerage. 

I’m uncertain if my uncontrollable involuntary intake of breath is from the acidic stench exuding from the seats in common class of this public convenience or my instilled fear from last year’s accidental adventure into the countryside, but the audible sounds of a distressed large gregarious double-tusked marine mammal emits from my distended throat and into the general population of the great unwashed. 

There could only be one last resort to wash away the public stain of shame and drown out the stench, if not to calm my nerves as the outside view dramatically changed from terraced houses to cows and sheep. A little chilled tin, or two, of gin and tonic. I’m not sure if the lady with the travelling trolley would discover our position in third class steerage. Without a doubt our journey were not to be a pleasant one. Strangely, I found myself longing for the company of the old flat capped toothless urchin.

Sandra, with all her glamorous parties and shiny friends came up short in this adventure to visit her sister. Why I listened to her inane babble and why I didn’t stop myself from agreeing to this outlandish journey into the unknown, is something I shall ponder until the end of time. 

“You will love her children. They are talented beyond belief. The eldest boy is destined to attend the Royal College of Music. He plays the bassoon, french horn, trumpet and piano. He taught himself to play the guitar and only last week he took up the Ukulele.”

Love Sandra like a sister, but I thought of multiple places where I’d like to  place that Ukulele. I’m not sure what a Ukulele is, but I’m sure it is quite painful. 

As I wish-away my uses of a french horn, Sandra pushes my arm to bring me back to the present and announces with great shrill, “We’re here. Grab my bags, I’ll find my sister.” And before I could form a multitude of unlady-like words which shot across the front of my mind, she was gone.

Draping in the finest luggage, I found myself swaying in time to the movement of the public convenience as it departed the station platform. I’d be forgiven to think Sandra has an identical twin sister. Alas, she is a few years older, but similar in volume, appearance and stature. 

Standing beside this woman where two smaller, yet languishing persons of similar facial distinction looking either vacant, disinterested of under duress; I couldn’t determine which. And standing in the distance were another adult with as much lack of occupation were what I immediately assumed were the father of the children. When I gained my senes and smiled, a similar shrilled voice bellowed, “You must be, Hilary”.

Sandra corrected her sister with matching colour and vibrance, not only proudly stating my name to be Harriet, not Hilary, she also blurted out the names of her niece and nephew and then began to wave at the mouse in the distance. With a look of uncertainty he returned the wave. He gave a distinct impression he wasn’t allowed to interact, little-lone exist. 

Sandra’s sister turned her back and faced the little man in the distance. In an exact copy of Sandra’s performance at the train station in front of our fellow passengers, she bellowed out instructions to lift and carry our suitcases.  

When the man was in close proximity, liberating the suitcases from my hands, I wasn’t sure of the words he muttered in my ear to be, “run” or just an involuntary noise as he lifted Sandra’s suitcase. 

Upon approaching the children, I reintroduced myself, with my hand extended. The boy, Jules, seventeen years-old, showed little interest. Mariam, a vibrant fourteen-year old girl shone towards the slightest interest I showed. My first impressions of the children where to be that of typical teenagers of today, but there was something not quite right.

Sandra returned to my side as her sister continued to bellow instructors at her brow-beaten man. “He’s the local doctor.” I’m not sure what her admission was meant to instil in my opinion of her extended family, but to look upon him as a man to give comfort in a time of need left me pondering, maybe a doctor in the veterinary practices. I didn’t wish to come across as inappropriate.

We piled into the cramp family car and drove away from the only known place where I could make my escape, should I need to take the good doctor’s advice.

– Harriet

A Rickety Track

Being the sort of South East London woman I am, direct, unashamed and proud, all I will admit until the day I pass about my most recent experience on that public convenience in First Class is this; the fish-eyed, flat cap wearing urchin with breath to burn boils off skin, rescued me from a carriage ride from hell. I tell you, it was his street-smarts and fondness for footing it through tough terrain was which saved me from frostbite and an evening of slumber in an ice-coffin. 

Those poor souls who remained onboard the public convenience surrounded by all that snow spent the night shivering and from what I read in the daily papers the following morning, slept on luggage racks wrapped in the clothes in which they boarded and borrowed blankets. Could you imagine actually having to talk to the common class passengers? I’d rather have died.

Andrew, my useless husband  will never live this down, nor will his mother’s antique terrine serving dish see the light of day for as long as I care. In exchange for my rescue, I proudly presented the urchin with the toothless grin, mother’s terrine. Once I explained to the urchin how he could bathe in it, or put beer in it, he accepted the gift and I made him promise to never return to my street. I’m not convinced he understood what I were saying as his gaze never left his reflection.

Calling out for Andrew or Botley with no response, I stormed towards the garage expecting to find my useless husband sawing another piece of wood for his ridiculous tree beehive. Yet, nothing, not even a spec of sawdust.

Checking our wall calendar I spied an illegible entry in Andrew’s scrawl. Unsure and to be honest, not really caring I’m convinced it read, chicken coop. 

To have our home to myself, I could think of nothing more comforting than a long, hot bubble bath, a very large gin and tonic and some relaxing music for ambience.

There are many things about Sandra I adore and her timing is one of them. Sarah Vaughan had just finished playing on the CD, the bubbles were starting to lose their lustre and the water began to tepid when the landline called out. A bright and breezy invitation to meet Sandra for a few glasses of bubbles and gossip were not to be dismissed. Of course I said yes, even if it were to meet in an hour. Sandra was lovely, she gave me an extra thirty minutes since I had recently finished soaking. 

I didn’t care Botley was not present when I were dressed, perfumed and quaffed. Andrew’s lack of presence made no difference. I am a South East London woman with new experiences to draw upon and by joining the rank and file in First Class I’ve been liberated from the need of depending on such depravity. I can take a public convenience to the city and with a nod to the lady with the drinks trolley, I was prepared for anything. 

This time, at my local train station I approached a smiley man behind bulletproof glass. A first class ticket, I requested. The most expensive ticket to watch Andrew frown, you understand. Moments later, the orange cards were pushed through the metal grill and into my hands. 

Quite liberating this public convenience. It’s such a discovery for future moments, one I shall keep to myself. I am never letting Andrew off the hook, no matter how much those past experiences have benefited my new found freedom. 

As I bathed in the warmth of my dear friend Sandra in the comfort of our regular window table, Georgi with a tray of glasses tempting us with refreshing bubbles and salmon, cottage cheese and chive blini’s on white porcelain plates, I felt at home as Sandra invited me to her sister’s home. At this point the glow of the afternoon began to twilight. This would mean taking the public convenience into the countryside. 

Although, I have discovered my new unfound freedom with a sense of safety and comfort darting across Greater London, should something go astray, as I promised myself in my ambient bubblebath, I were convinced I could call Botley to retrieve me. Or call Andrew at last resort, but then I thought a final last resort would be to take a bus, God forbid. I quiver at the thought, as goodness knows where they go or finish up. At least when the public convenience is on a set of rails, it gives me some comfort to know it will end at some stage and hopefully proceed in the correct direction. A bus is too unpredictable and unruly. 

But, Sandra’s sister’s place in the country is a bridge too far. The comforting fact I have on my side, this time Sandra will be with me. Instead of jostling me towards an unknown First Class seat. 

What could possibly go wrong? 

Besides, I’ve only heard about her sister. To meet her could be nice. Surely?

– Harriet

A White Old Mess

The stinging blare of my ringing phone woke me up, again, from a shattering dream.

I dreamt there was a homeless man snuggled in my arms as I rode this public convenience to a place, of only the Goddess knows where she was taking me.

Andrew, it says on my phone. My useless husband. Calling, to find out where I am? Why I haven’t come home? I doubt it. Probably calling to find out where his Mother’s antique terrine serving spoon has disappeared. I know where I’d like to deposit it, but I think his mother wouldn’t approve.

All this because I wanted to spend an afternoon with Sandra and have a few glasses of bubbles on a Wednesday afternoon. Where is the crime of a few cheeky glasses of bubbles delivered on a tray by my handsome waiter, Georgi? Oh Georgi, where are you now?

That acrid stench from earlier has returned to haunt my nostrils. There he is, the man of my dreams, or more poignantly, the man in my dreams. Nightmare. Sitting in First Class, giving me fisheye holding a brown paper bag, inside it, a glass bottle with its own special brew. Lifting it in the air to suggest we pick up from where we left off. Thankfully, I can’t remember where we left off, little lone where we first started.

To drive my message home I throw the chocolate biscuit and leftover Wotsits from my hair, in his general direction. I’m not a subtle woman. It’s part of my charm. My direct approach once captured the imagination of my Andrew, now he hides in his garage dressed for afternoon tea, sawing pieces of wood as he builds his tree beehive.

My new mate stands, blurts his black-yellow stained tongue at me, spital flys through the air, falling to the ground well before it finds its target. He turns and stumbles away, back to the rock he crawled out from under.

I’ve come to a realisation, having wished I’d taken up my useless husband’s suggestion of taking a taxi home and fending off their lascivious behaviour and hideous hairy hands. Still, I can get myself a drink and sit back and watch the world go by. Where is that woman?

The train continued on its mysterious journey, gently stampeding through the countryside, towards a sea of white.

Outside the light changed from a dull yellow to a greyish green/blue, almost pure white. The multiple coloured landscape is suddenly replaced by a stark landscape of white.

Snow. Where is my taxi, now? Why am I heading towards snow? Yes, it’s been cold, hence that rancid smell of a man taking refuge in this public convenience, but snow?!

I can feel a stern, considered worded complaint letter drafting in the back of my mind to the operator of this public convenience. I’ll gather as much evidence as I can, but look out.

A sudden bang from underneath my carriage, a jerk of the train and then silence from the engines, yet the train continues to move forward. I can smell a burning metal type of stench. I look about, but can’t see my vagrant mate. The train is slowing down, the snow making it difficult for the train to move forward.

Silence. Utter silence, except the wind’s gale force pressing against the windows. The lights go out.

Is this my punishment for gossiping with Sandra the moment when Frannie’s wheelchair-bound father finds out about his wife’s 6-month affair with her fitness instructor?

– Harriet

Last Safe Seat

There is no way I can be seen. It’s dark, a tight space and alone in the back corner of the last train carriage. There is only one way in, ahead of me. Behind me is the Conductor’s cabin and his door is locked. My bag sits on the seat next to me, eliminating any possibility of blocking my escape. It goes against my grain, stopping someone in need of a seat is utterly against everything I stand for, well, of some of the things I stand for. I stand for a lot of things, especially those things against humanity. We need to look after each other on this lonely planet spinning around in the same circle, each day.

Today, I have to think of self-preservation. This isn’t conducive to being a responsible public transport passenger. I know there are others to think of. Today, I strongly feel I must look after myself and I must be resilient. I’ve seen the outcome of those thinking of others when some think of themselves, and these are the very few on our planet, and today I join the ranks of those few.

It’s a dark and sombre place where I find myself. A safe space. A comfortable place and to my right is the window of the train. Nothing can see me, as I hide with a view of passing fields, homes and people standing on platforms. The gentle sway of the train comforts me, but I have decided I can’t let my guard down as I keep myself safe. It’s more about not letting my guard down when it is about protecting myself. I’m of an age where I am expected to take care of myself and a time when everyone is looking after themselves. We’re all too busy trying to get through the day.

I have to be brave, even though there is a smell of hot, sweaty suit pants emanating from the man sitting in front of me. It’s not as bad as the woman who eat a plate of eggy tuna on the train in the middle of the summer heat. It’s not as bad as the pretty girl who picked her nose on the way to London. It’s bearable, but I have to make it bearable as the alternative is not acceptable and I have to be brave.

The scratchy material of the train seat stings my fragile skin. The black stains merging into the seat fabric is somewhat disconcerting, but as I don’t know what they are, I try not to fixate on them. They look like black tare from the road, but who is to say what they are. It’s clear someone had a cheese sandwich here in the past few days or hours, one can never truly tell about these things.

The underneath of the tray table is something I will have to write to the Train operator about. The state of this dangerous health and safety offence, is exactly that, offensive. A congealed collection of drained fluids from multiple, unrecognisable sources. And of course, and why not, the obligatory pieces of discarded chewing gum. At least two of them have clear fingerprint impressions and with the right detective work and man-hours, the offenders could be placed in gaol for this offensive behaviour.

Today, I’m not wearing my headphones to block out the sounds of my fellow passengers’ incessant babble, as I have to keep an ear open for station announcements. This pain alone sends shivers throughout my skin, akin to the beating pain of a shin splint. Yet, sacrifices need to be undertaken for these strained circumstances.

The train conductor towers over me as he attempts to gain my attention, to inquire if I am “OK”, as he indelicately puts it. I’m sure my fellow passengers are eager to ascertain who the Conductor is talking to and the motivation behind my actions.

My only let down is not remembering to bring a blanket or some type of sheeting to place on the floor as I hide underneath the filthy tray table at the back of the last carriage of the train, travelling to work on this overly awkward Monday morning.

– Malcolm

Sick (Sex) On The Beach

O.M.G! O.M.G! Seriously, O.M.G! I went on holidays, on a plane. And now I’m back on the train, going home. Kill me now. I’m so embarrassed.

I actually made it. I actually made it to Heathrow last week from that nightmare train full of stupid suits. And not only did I actually make it to Heathrow, I spent a long number of brilliant tropical sunlight hours sunning myself on the beach. And not only did I sun myself on a tropical beach, I also got to have my favourite cocktail, Sex On The Beach served up by a hunky local named, Francisco. He was hunky, very attractive and he kept bringing the cocktails.

I WhatsApp Pippa a selfie with Francisco, from the beach. She didn’t get it. I sent a photo of me having Sex On The Beach and she sent me a selfie of her and the girl she likes at the cafe she goes to, to read her books. Pippa thinks she’s so amazing and so intelligent, but I’m the one with Francisco and his cocktails on the tropical beach.

When she sent me a selfie from the cafe, I replied with, “☀️☀️☀️”.

Pippa messaged me one word about this girl from the cafe, “Date”. Yawn. I’m on a beach and you’re in a cafe. So, I told her Francisco and I were having a date.

I have my suitcase with me, my broken suitcase. The handle is falling off and the wheels are broken. Baggage handlers. I saw them from my plane seat window, throwing everyone’s bags about. My hand luggage, well, the largish overhead cabin locker-bag, and my handbag stayed safe with me on the plane.

My phone just pinged. It’s Pippa, again, dying with jealousy, wanting to know all the gory details. I’m not going to tell her Francisco gave me too much Sex On The Beach, a pounding three-day migraine, severe sunburn, a hangover from hell and the weeping blisters on my legs. I don’t recommend passing out on a lounge chair in the sunshine, on a tropical beach after having Sex On The Beach.

The train is moving rapidly from side to side, rocking my head, turning my stomach as the other passengers, a whole raft of stupid suits staring at me with my red, peeling face and blotchy skin. My hair hurts. I just want to die. It would be less painful and less embarrassing. One man in his three-piece zoot suit stands in the doorway, swaying from side to side as his stiff felt wide brim hat shadows his face. It’s creepy. He’s watching me from afar but also looking straight through me. He looks like a giant wedding cake decoration, without the bride, or another groom, depending on your bent.

We stop at a random station to pick up more passengers. Some get off. My broken suitcase and hand luggage hide me from the brunt of the other suits. Why is it only suits who get on my train? Where are the normal people?

My phone just pinged. Oh God, I fell asleep again. Ugh! What is it with train travel and falling asleep. It’s Pippa, again. “U @ 🏠”.

“No. 🚂.”, I replied. I’m not inviting Pippa to meet me at the station to pick me up or greet me. I can’t let her see me like this.

Next year I’m going to Margate with Mummy and Daddy.

This is so unfair. FML.

– Nancy

A Victoria Sponge Lesson

Mike is back on the platform after a spell taking care of his mother. She’s an old stalwart and feisty woman. Bless her. She sent Mike back to the station with a tray of Battenberg, Maderia and Victoria Sponge with a Chelsea Bun for yours truly. She’s a good woman, is Mike’s mother; would give you her last penny if she thought you needed it.

Roland, Barry’s newbie thought he was well clever to be on Platform 9, Mike’s platform, a good half hour before Mike arrived. Said he was keeping Mike’s position, safe. We all know why he was there, and it wasn’t for the cakes. That in itself would’ve been a good enough reason, but, no, it was because Roland, over there, was writing down all of the unique train identifiers of the new Siemens rolling stock. The sod. He wanted to show off. He thinks being all pally with Mike is going to wash over? Mike won’t be fooled.

Sunday roast with Mother last weekend brought it all out in the open. Mother makes a cracking roast beef and potatoes; we’re not racists. She almost caused a riot by pretending she forgot the Yorkshire puddings and gravy. You could’ve cut the air with a knife. A strange sense of humour that woman, but I see where I get my cracking sense of humour from. Mike and his mother were sitting opposite when it came out, what that newbie, had been up to. My dear old mum spat out some of her white wine, back into her glass when she heard the news. Sunday is the only day she has one glass of white wine with the Sunday roast. She says, ‘If the good Lord above can have a rest day, so can I.’

Mike handed out the cakes at Platform 9 to the rest of our Hive. He kept the Chelsea Bun for me, of course, and when the Newbie put his hand out to receive a slice, Mike handed him a condensed copy of, Ian Allen’s train number book. That sliced right through his smug face. By his look, the embarrassment of admitting he’d been bragging about collecting numbers from buses, taxis and planes, put him back in his place. And, worse still, no Anorak. You can’t teach young people the simple things.

Vincent won our friendly competition the other week. He cleverly captured a number of train identifiers before my good self and Melvin. Now, we all know Melvin is a little compulsive and enjoys the art of debate, to put it politely. He argued the toss about one train identifier and a five-second difference between his time recording and Vincent’s time. In the end, due to the written facts, the award went to Vincent. Fair play and all that.

Next month is the annual National Railway Museum Awards in Yorkshire. We are making plans to travel up to Yorkshire for the night. I’m putting care plans in place to accommodate Mother’s needs. I’m tipped to win the Most Consistent Carriage Identifiers and Mike the Sensibly Dressed Spotter, and the Best Numerical Identifiers. Lucky devil to be nominated for both categories. Of course, the Newbie has been removed from the nominations because of the scandal surrounding the unique train identifiers of the new Siemens rolling stock. Shocking behaviour.

Some of the Hive are up in arms over this scandal and are calling for a town hall meeting to discuss the Newbie’s actions. I am conflicted; I see what the lads are saying, but I also have to uphold our constitution. It’s a sticky situation.

I best get myself started and prepare for the peak. It’s been a strange day, in the sense there was a young man loitering about the end of the platform. As I approached my position he made a hastened exit back to the cafe. I’m not saying he’s one for the Samaritans, might just be an interested person in Trainspotting. It’s an amazing hobby with a band of lads behind you. But with his European look about him, I doubt he’d be interested in our British past-time. You know, with Brexit and all that about to kick off.

– Phil

Sitting Down

I’m holding onto my coffee. Breathe. Breathe. It’s a reusable cup. I’m doing the right thing, saving our planet. The Dairy Grind cafe advertise their little logo of eco friendly and sustainable coffee harvesting. We are supporting local farmers in some country. Small communities. The milk is local, so they say. Just me and my coffee.

There’s a train coming. I missed my last train, so I’m completely out of my comfort zone. I don’t know what the schedule is, but I do know it’s stopping at my station. The display board says so. It’s slowly coming a stop.

I’ve only have to stand behind the yellow line and I can alight the carriage, but how? Where do I sit? These aren’t my people, my community of travellers. They aren’t my village. Am I intruding?

The carriage door blankly faces me. The deafening warning tone of the door lock release alarm my senses. I find my finger pressing the button to open the doors. With a swish, they open. It’s quiet onboard. Deafeningly quiet.

There are lots and lots of empty seats. I freeze. There’s a woman in the seat, where is usually sit on my train. I turn, there are five empty seats in the six seater. A man wearing headphones looks up from his screen and looks at me. Someone else coughs. I quickly sit down.

There’s a man sitting in the two seater I’m sitting in. His shirt blends in with the colour of the seat fabric. ‘I didn’t see you’, I think to myself. I’ve made my decision. I pull down the tray-table, placing my coffee cup on it. My handbag becomes squashed on my lap. I fidget. I realign my weight. I fidget. The man next to me does nothing. No reaction. I look over, he is squashed in the corner.

I look back to my coffee cup. I move my arm, but my forearm is touching his. Why did I move my arm? It wasn’t offending anyone? I have to get out of here. The man next to me does nothing. He stares out the window. I’m staring at his wild eyebrows. His nostrils expand and contract, can he smell something I can’t?

I remove my coffee cup from the tray-table, return the tray back to its position, lock it back in place, take hold of my handbag and stand.

There are more empty seats further into the carriage. I move past a woman, her shoulder peeking out from her seat. How can I manoeuvre past without touching her? I spy another seat before her. I sit down.

I sit down with a sigh or frustration and relief. I hear a, “haaaaa” exhale from my lips. The man next to me imitates my “haaaaa”. Surreptitiously, I glance sideways, but he isn’t facing my direction. Just like the other man, he looks out the window. Was there an echo in the carriage? I have to move.

The crackled announcement over the PA tells me the train is approaching my stop. “Haaaaa”, I say to myself. Again, I hear the echo.

Standing by the carriage door, and as the alarm sounds to warn of the opening doors, I press the release button and make my uncomfortable escape.

– Pamela

Two Gins Too Many?

Those pretty little painted cans of gin and tonic are the devil in disguise. The trolley lady was too well helpful with her personal service for my need to calm my nerves. My head is thumping. What is this public convenience hell?

The feeling of cold hardness against my head interspersed with the gentle movement to an under-toned rumble. Newspaper stuck to my face, a mirrored imprint of Boris Johnson smeared across my forehead, Wotsits in my teeth and a chocolate biscuit in my, once upon a time quaffed, hair. I dare not look up in case someone notices me.

My eyes drink up the passing view, my blurred vision turns to rolling hills and floating cows. A farmer’s tractor. Am I in Switzerland, the land of the cows?

The conductor told me I’d be back home in no time. I touch my seat, yes, I’m still in First Class. Yes, I’m still on the same train. I can tell by the leather touch on my fingers. I must be in England. But there’s a smell. Something not familiar to my South East London senses.

At first, I smell something akin to a burnt whiskey; smokey, full-flavoured and weighty, but then I’m completely thrown off course by a smell I’ve not smelt since Reception School, when Becky Forthright, at the age of 5 years old ran through the class with a full and wet flannelette nappy. She was from a supported family.

Turning to face the centre of the train carriage, I’m confronted by a man. A man covered in muck. He’s wearing a flat cap, unshaven and, oh, his stale breath, strong enough to peel paint. Snoring. A bent cigarette balancing on his lower lip. Pages from the offending newspaper in his hand.

These are those moments I wish the earth would open up and swallow me whole. I’m living an unbearable hell and it must be close to afternoon tea. Where is my husband? Probably in his garage sawing another piece of wood for that ridiculous tree beehive. I’ll saw his left testicle off if he comes into the lounge wearing his mauve cardigan, covered in saw dust.

He heard about saving bees on a programme on BBC1. We only watch BBC1, although I know when he’s been on ITV, there’s a ghost image of that gobby Susan woman on my television screen.

I can barely stand up, my heel is broken and I don’t want to disturb the street urchin. He’s saddled right up next to me. He must think I’m his next meal ticket. Not on my watch.

I’ve broken free of my homeless shackles. A gin and tonic can makes a deafening clanging noise as it rolls away, it imagines seeking freedom, too.

Thankfully, my shopping bags are on the overhead luggage rack. Even in my unsolicited state of inebriation, I managed to fulfil some sense of humanity and humility.

At the opposite end of First Class, I settled myself in for the long haul trip.

Then I start to think, have I died and this is the long train to hell? Does no one know how to reach me? Where is my mobile phone?

– Harriet

Stop That Pigeon

Circling me with its evil beady eyes and maniacally jiggling head, it draws closer. Diseased, and more annoying than as a restless six year old craving attention. Surrounded by an air of innocence, but I know better. I know.

Oh, why are these vermin attracted to me? Can they smell fear? What do they secretly know? A businessman standing next to me juts out his briefcase to shoo it away.

Relieved, the sudden arrival of the train frightens away nature’s beast. As the carriage doors open, a crowd surges forward and we stampede inside. My cares about that fiend vanishes just as quickly. The doors close, a muffled announcement crackles over the speakers and we commence our journey.

Relaxing into the gentle sway of the train, the clickity-click persuades me into a warmth of slumber. Breaking through the caressing peace comes a subtle, yet distinctive call. A call of an indignant, coo. At first it is subtle and distant, without a care in the world. It draws closer.

In the corner of my eye, a woman rises ever so carefully, so not to raise alarm. In front, a man looks up from his screen, but doesn’t look down. He put his screen down and looks towards the woman. His face says a thousand words.

Gently, I turn my head. At first, the only picture in my vision is the woman and a group of strangers staring at the same point. I focus my gaze. There. On the headrest of the fourth row aisle seat is, the pigeon.

Before I can drop to the floor, the eye of the pigeon stares directly at me. Why, me? ‘What have I done to you’, my thoughts run wild.

An explosion of screams breaks the silence. A sudden powerful forward upward motion of newspapers, briefcases, hats, phones and discarded fast food wrappers litter the once empty expanse above the our heads. Frightful arms and legs lash out, punching and kicking the air as the invasion of swooshing feathers from an invisible source cuts through the mayhem.

Through the airborne debris, I hear a woman, her screams from her bright red lipstick lips, I see her, clutching at her hair, ragged and disarrayed, whilst tears stream from her distorted face. A man clings to the window as he attempts to climb onto the luggage rack, slamming his battered briefcase into the carriage window, swinging whatever his in his hand at his attacker. A younger woman cowers by the carriage door, forlorn, defeated in her battle for survival. What feels like hours of battle against the warring pigeon, the train stops to pick up more passengers.

The doors open. A collective of battered and beaten survivors, my fellow passengers, stampede onto the platform. Suckered by the onslaught of escaping passengers, airborne debris litters the platform. Warnings of ‘run for your life’, echo throughout the station. Stunned onlookers watch as our collective come to a stop, calm down and turn our attention to our war zone.

The inside of the carriage settles into a litter of wrappers and newspapers, as the pigeon stands at the carriage door, cooing. Cooing! Looking innocent and vulnerable, the pigeon alights the train. Cooing.

With its evil beady eyes and maniacally jiggling head, the pigeon disappears into the crowd.

– Malcolm