The Trials and Tribulations of Train Travel.
Train travel is such a bore, but sadly necessary when you don't drive. I will begin by admitting that half my issues are because I always pack too much and end up with a huge suitcase, a massive holdall, a handbag and a bag for the essentials which don't fit in my handbag, (book, flask, water bottle, and snacks).
It would help to have lifts that are better placed and easier to use, lifts in every station, more helpful staff and wider train compartments. Have you ever tried to manoeuvre down a packed train aisle with a huge suitcase? Unless it is a posh case with sideways wheels, which mine is not, then you cannot possibly wheel it down the aisle of the train compartment. You have to lump it along sideways in a dragging motion that only Quasimodo would be proud of. This is not easy, it hurts your back and it most definitely puts you in a foul mood. Meanwhile you also have to try not to decapitate the seated passengers with your holdall, which is precariously slung over your shoulder, and try not to get your handbag caught on anything, all while keeping that flask of coffee upright in your essentials bag. (You need that coffee and no one wants soggy snacks and a bag full of coffee and sodden tissues.)
You really need to sit down before the train pulls away and you really want to be seated before the influx of people at the next station. What you really need is a seat near or beside your case and definitely where you can see it. They announce on the train tannoy system not to leave your case unattended but all the case racks are up one end of the carriage. If all the seats are taken at that end of the carriage then you either leave your case unattended or stand by it, thus blocking the aisle. National Rail, (or whatever they are called these days), you cannot have it all ways. Maybe have case spaces throughout the carriages. To be honest the luggage racks are never big enough and there is always someone who has filled it up with rucksacks, holdalls, shopping and unidentified wrapped objects. If there is a space on the lower section my suitcase handle will go on strike and refuse to lower. If there is a space on the top section I have to lift a ton weight of clothes and presents onto a rack far higher than I can lift.
If you finally get a good seat near the cases and there is a space for your luggage, you feel ridiculously happy and grateful. It does seem ridiculous to have such an over-inflated sense of gratitude for something which, quite frankly, should not be a rarity. Considering you have probably had to sell your soul to the devil to pay for the train fare, you should at least get some average comforts for your money.
This brings me on to reserving seats. You have no idea when you book them whether they are near the luggage racks, toilets or on the roof of the train clinging on for dear life. When the train arrives I am just relieved I am on the correct platform at the right time, working out which coach I am supposed to be in is too complicated. Yes, they have the coach numbers on the outside but if you are too far up or down the platform you get on and wander hoping you are in the right direction. Along with finding the right carriage and reserved seat you often have to be in a certain part of the train. Newsflash! I have no sense of direction so telling me to be in a specific, yet unlabelled, part of a moving vehicle while lugging a huge case, is insurmountable.
Other passengers can be the biggest pain when you are travelling. If the gods of trains, travel and trauma are on your side you will get a seat with quiet and boring passengers. That is the best you can hope for. If, like me, you are unlucky you will get one of the following types of people as your fellow travellers.
Firstly you get the smelly passenger, my least favourite kind. Now whether it is a dirty smell, a body odour, stinky food, unwashed clothes, lingering cigarette smoke or a noxious combination, I don't want to smell any of them. I have a strong sense of smell so please keep away from me because it will only result in me wrinkling up my nose in a really obvious way until you feel distinctly uncomfortable.
The next type of annoying passenger is the space hog. Whether it is the bag on the seat on a crowded train, putting their rubbish on the other seat, using the seat opposite as a foot rest, or generally spreading out over several seats, it is not acceptable. Equally if you wish to slurp your drink loudly, crunch crisps in a manner that Dobbin the horse would be proud of or chew that vile smelling sandwich so that the people in the next carriage can hear, then just don’t do it on a train where other people have to suffer.
Why is there always a loud party of people who take up half the carriage and embrace the smelly person, smelly food, space hogging, crisp crunching traits of all the worst passengers put together? They should have their own horrific carriage. The shouting over each other, children running around and total takeover of the carriage makes the journey unbearable. I don’t want to hear your life story, the achievements of your odious offspring or how Uncle Mike chased the barmaid when you all went to Spain.
The group of women with their tales of “she said, he said” bore me totally. I don't care; I am just uninterested so pipe down. I am equally indifferent to what is being discussed on the phone by the know it all, the social justice warrior or the person breaking every type of GDPR rule by discussing inappropriate or classified business details on the train.
Sometimes you get into a conversation with someone fabulous on the train and I never mind talking to someone interesting. However, if you get stuck talking to someone you really don't want to converse with you can hope they are getting off at the next station because you are trapped. Once verbal contact has been made, there is no going back.
Changing trains is a delight that I am sure is filmed by the station staff for maximum laughs. I am sure they have award ceremonies for the member of staff who films the most stressed, fed up or angry passenger. Inevitably you will find there is not enough time to get from the train which has pulled in on the furthest platform to your connection six platforms, five flights of stairs and a broken lift away. Alternatively there will be a fifty minute wait for the next train on a station with no coffee machine, dodgy toilets and a clientele that look like they have escaped from a zombie movie.
Even on the stations there are several types of passengers. First you have the lemmings who mill about with no care for time or space taken up as they try to decide where they should be. I am sure the station staff love the great unprepared as they try to work out if they should have got off at this station or not. You also get the confident, seasoned traveller who strides around the station totally at ease with luggage and coats, balancing coffee and a pastry while talking on the phone and looking amazing of course.
I have seen some odd people on various stations over the years. Going to London on the same day as a rugby match I was most impressed to see a man in a full leprechaun costume, including beard and pointy shoes. On the same day I also saw a dancing Pikachu and someone in a sumo wrestler costume. It clearly takes all sorts. A man painted blue and wearing a Smurf costume certainly made me laugh on the station the way to work once, I just hope his colleagues had also embraced Children In Need and dressed up too or that could have been an awkward day at the office.
For me train travel is always going to be something that I have to endure but I do like to see different places and the strange and wonderful people who are also travelling. I must say I have been surprised by some unexpectedly helpful people and some downright rude and nasty people. It most definitely takes all sorts to fill a train carriage.
|Outside Bristol station a few years ago. The suitcase of evil is out of sight.|