Saturday, 31 January 2009

Collective Mistakes

It's nearly midday and I'm on a train from Reading to Basingstoke on my way to collect a landrover from a dealership there to take to a nearby RAF base.

The train has made it out of Reading station and past Reading West, but has now come to a stop at nowhere special. After about five minutes the conductor announces that there is 'trouble ahead', somewhere between here and Basingstoke, and we will have to go back the way we came.

I have been on countless trains that have not reached their final destination for one reason or another, but I've never before been on one that has turned around and gone back to where it started from.

After a few minutes I hear a couple of smartly dressed guys behind me talking about the delay. One of them has evidently located a guard and obtained a more detailed explanation. I can't quite hear, but it sounds as if a freight train has hit 'a load of diesel,' which sounds potentially catastrophic.

However, a couple of minutes later I hear a young woman with an american accent, further down the carriage but louder, explaining the situation on her phone. It turns out that what the freight train hit was 'a bunch of deer,' which seems less serious (although not for the deer)

We chug back into Reading station where an announcement on the platform confirms that the culprits were indeed 'a group of deer.'

I find that the only way to Basingstoke now is via a train to Farnborough North, a walk across to Farnborough Main, and then a second train from there.

If I had been the conductor on that returned train I would not have talked vaguely about 'trouble ahead' but would have announced straightaway exactly what had happened. The novelty of the incident makes the delay seem less dreary. I might even have described the deer as a 'herd' if I wasn't worried that this might be seen as showing off.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

Nothing Much

It's mid afternoon and I've just got off a train at Maidstone, Kent, on my way to collect a car from a Vauxhall dealership somewhere on the outskirts of the town. I know I'm only about three miles away, but my satnav is having a bad day and is insisting that the shortest walking route is nine miles.

Not far from the station, in a pedestrianised area, is a billboard with a detailed streetmap on it - surely the cheapest and quickest way for any local authority to give the impression that their town is a welcoming place to visit.

I stand there working out a route from 'You are here' and trying to figure out whether the distance really is reasonably walkable or whether I need to start a probably stressful search for a bus.

I have a cold coming on and let forth the latest of many sneezes.

'Bless you,' says a calm and quiet male voice from amongst the passing crowd. I glance up but no-one is looking my way and I can't begin to guess from the backs of people's heads who the mystery well-wisher might be, although it doesn't really matter.

As with the provision of the map, all it takes is an unexpected blip of thoughtfulness here and there to brighten up my opinions of an unfamiliar town on a dull afternoon.

Saturday, 17 January 2009

No Idea

It's just after eight in the morning and I'm on a train from Birmingham Moor Street out to Kidderminster where I'm due to collect a Golf from a company on the outskirts of the town.

A young guy two rows forward is filling the crowded carriage with an incessant 'tish tish tish' from his headphones. He is wearing a zipped up green jacket and has the smart haircut and clean shaven face of an office worker. I can never figure out whether people like him realise that an emasculated but unignorable version of their music is spilling out into the air around them.

We approach Snow Hill and he gets up and stands by the doors. I surreptitiously study his face, looking for some sign of a smug secret thought that says 'yes I know, but I also know that you're all too polite to say anything,' and then I will be free to dislike him to my heart's content.

He looks straight ahead and then screws his eyes shut then opens them again, like a nervous twitch in slow motion. We pull into the station and he gets off along with a throng of other morning commuters. He walks leaning forward slightly and with his shoulders hunched, as if he has been caught out in the rain.

It occurs to me that I don't want to hate him after all, particularly as I don't have to listen to him anymore.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

Not Just Me

It's just after nine in the morning and I'm in the small village of West Meon in Hampshire, where I've dropped a car off, and am now waiting for a bus to the slightly bigger town of Bishop's Waltham about ten miles away.

I have a large takeaway cup of steaming coffee in my hand, bought from a small cafe across the road. I've been waiting out here for about ten minutes, and the temperature is somewhere below zero, but in defiance of the laws of physics the drink is refusing to cool down enough for me to take more than an occasional scalding sip. Consequently, when the bus arrives I still have almost all of it left.

As I step on board the driver, a middle aged woman, looks at the coffee and says -

'You can't bring that on here,' in the kind of flat and final tone of voice that you would not want to hear from anyone who had any real power in this world.

I've never been to West Meon before, but the buses apparently run only once every couple of hours from here, and so I'm too relieved to be on one of them to care much about the loss of the drink. There is a litter bin on the other side of the road, and I summon up my most polite middle class accent and say -

'Oh, alright then, can you hang on a moment while I pop it in the bin?'

She doesn't reply, or give any indication that she has heard me. I get off anyway and cross over to the bin, not entirely convinced that she isn't going to drive away and leave me if she thinks the chance is there. But she doesn't and I get back on and with continuing politeness buy a ticket from her and take a seat at the back, vaguely wondering whether it is specifically me she dislikes or everyone and everything.

There is only one other passenger, a thoroughly wrapped-up elderly woman sitting at the very front. We pass the half hour to Bishop's Waltham rattling along country lanes and through small villages where no-one gets on or off.

At the end of the line the elderly lady gets off in front of me and ventures a question to the driver about where to catch another bus to Winchester.

'I've no idea I'm afraid,' replies the driver with an indifference which is emphatic enough to save her the trouble of adding 'and I couldn't care less,' and which makes me feel happier than it ought to.