Train, planes and … Well, just trains, really.

I am not good with trains.

A few months ago I went visit some excellent friends near Windsor, and then on to stay at the house of some other friends. I had a great evening. Too great, really. Spike drove me into the station the next morning, and the rush hour was not good. When he deposited me at the station, the train should have been departing. Sure enough, as I ran in, people were streaming off a recently arrived train. Without thinking (because thinking slows down your reactions when you’re moving in the jungle, doncha know), I dashed up the staircase and was in time to see the doors close.

Blast. This train was essential to get me to Reading, where I had a connection to take me to Devon. Without the connection, I’d never make it.

And then, by a miracle, the doors opened. Without thinking (as I explained), I dashed inside and stood in the packed train panting happily. The train began to move.

That was when the doubts set it. You see, I walk a lot. I camp a lot. I’m used to the stars and moon, and the sun, and I was pretty sure that if I was heading to Reading, the sun should be at the left side of the train. But it was here, on the right. Perhaps the rails took a loop around a village, I thought. Perhaps … the doubts became racing certainties as the train continued.

When we reached the first stop, which was, funnily enough, not Reading, but London’s Paddington, I was not happy. However, the very kind ticket collector who saw my panicked expression and informed me that “this ticket does not cover travel to London” took pity on me. He deposited me on the next Exeter train and all was well.

Yesterday I was going to London and had to catch the 8.51 train to Paddington from Platform 5. Now this was going to be a busy day and I had a lot on my mind. So when a train arrived, stating it was to go to Paddington, and it had the numeral “1” in the time on the board, I climbed on. It was peculiar that my seat didn’t have a reservation ticket, but what the hell. I sat down. The train pulled out.

Soon an inspector came. He studied my ticket and declared, “this ticket’s good and valid. On its train. It isn’t on this one. You’ll have to get off at Taunton and change trains.”

That was OK. I stood at Taunton and waited. Apparently the train’s driver had arrived late for work, so it was 6 minutes late. No, 8 minutes. Tell a lie, it was 10, no 12 minutes late. I could hardly keep up with the tannoy announcements. However, the train finally appeared and I got to the destination. 25 minutes late. And then there was a bomb alarm and lots of police officers and … well, I was late for the first meeting. It was a bit bad.


There are other times when I excel myself.

Every once in a while I have to go to London for meetings. Last year I had one such day. It’s a bit of a pain because I have to decide whether to go up to town and back the same day, whether to not go to any evening events, or whether to stay overnight and return the following day. Decisions, decisions.

That day last year, I decided I’d stay with a brother who lives a few miles outside London. Luckily he has a very large house, an amiable nature, and a patient, tolerant wife. Besides, it’s always good to see them.

Off I toddled. I had a good day filled with meetings, a couple of signings, and an excellent meal at a club in London. Not my club – I can’t afford such frivolities, much though I’d love to be able to join one. However, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening, and quite late, I ambled over to London Bridge to catch a train to his house.

I was in an affable frame of mind. I had no car, no dependents, I was footloose and cheerful. While waiting for my train, my brother phoned. He had been called away on business and wouldn’t be able, as planned, to pick me up. Instead, because he would be rising very early, he would need to go to bed early. No matter, I could get in.

Now, pardon me, but I’m more than a little deaf in one ear, and talking on a mobile in the middle of a busyish station was difficult. So I missed a section of what he was saying. But no matter – something about a taxi, I could get in, and see you later. Or something. Fine.

Off I went without a hitch. Train, check. Taxi, check. And by this stage I was feeling dozy. An early night would be a good idea.

But then there was a shock. The doors were all locked.

Now my brother doesn’t live in an estate of identical houses. His was once a farm building. It is unique and quite identifiable. But the doors were all locked.

I could have pounded on the door, but his bedroom is a long way away from the front door – the house is long and thin. There was clearly only one thing for it. I tested other doors. One was open. I opened it, made myself comfortable, and settled down.

Next morning he was bemused to find his younger brother asleep in his Jeep, but I did have a quite comfortable evening there.

Signing with the ever wonderful Goldsboro Books

Signing with the ever wonderful Goldsboro Books

Roll forward to last night.

Another busy day. Lots of meetings, signings, beers (thanks to Mike Stotter of SHOTS ezine, boy were those pints welcome in that heat!), and then on to a meal at a delightful club.

We had one of those meals that stick in the mind. A gorgeous terrine of meats and dates, lamb chops, followed by pudding or Welsh Rarebit. Quite delicious, and washed down with delicious wines (only two glasses for me – there was a car waiting for me).

At 9.00 precisely, I rose from the table, made my apologies, and left to catch my train. This time I had no brother to stay with, because he was away for a week, so I was going to return home to Devon. A long journey, but the train stopped at my station, so I couldn’t doze off and continue all the way to Cornwall!

All went well. I arrived at Paddington Station in plenty of time and kicked my heels for half an hour.

They have large display boards in Paddington. These great devices give details of each train. However, the operators want to have their trains cleaned thoroughly before a trip, so they work with speed and while they do so, they don’t say which platform the unwary traveller must go to. It merely reads “Preparing Train”.

Last night – sober, I hasten to add – I got so bored with waiting that I picked up an Evening Standard and flicked through the pages. I looked up, saw the train was still being “Prepared” and looked down again. Looked up, looked down, looked up, looked down and … suddenly people were moving off. I glanced at the boards and where it had read “preparing” it now read “Platform 10”. Along with many other passengers, I turned and made my way there, climbing aboard the correct carriage (I had a seat booked) and sitting down. I had time to send a text message, settle myself and wait, reading a book.

But although other people were there too, the train didn’t move. I grew suspicious. It should have pulled out two minutes ago. I rose, and then I saw it. A paper poster declaring where this train was heading. It wasn’t going to Devon. It was going somewhere else!

Like a shot, I grabbed my stuff, hurtled down the carriage, and opened the door. At least then the train couldn’t move. A passing member of staff looked bemused as I asked him whether this was the Exeter train. No, it wasn’t. My train had left two minutes before.

Lovely. So, last night was the first time I’ve had to experience the Night Riviera train. Lovely seating, very comfortable, and I had time to finish one book (FIRE ON THE RUNWAY by the very talented Mel Bradshaw – review soon) and start another. I had lots of time, because although the usual Paddington train takes about two to two-and-a-half hours, the night train takes nearer three and a half. But doesn’t leave until eleven thirty. It was 10.30 when I boarded, and I arrived at Exeter at 3.10. As I wearily climbed into bed, the birds were starting their dawn chorus.


Exeter St David’s at 3.20 in the morning!

So I’m glad to say that last night will be the last for several months before I need to worry about catching a train again. I can’t face the trauma!

4 Responses to “Train, planes and … Well, just trains, really.”
  1. Old Trooper says:

    This is a great short story! Looking at the trash that is put out by some so called authors, this bit of life’s tribulations would, at minimum, be great magazine story. No, I’m not joking.


  2. I travel by train daily, and I’m pretty sure someone out there does these things to test passengers. Having said that most of the time things run pretty smoothly, however I’m sure there’s a book in the different excuses given for delays…”wrong type of snow”, “swan on the line”; the latter is a real one!


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