Well, having adhered religiously to my new regime of sitting in a normal carriage or even the entertainment one, (where you quite expect someone to stand up and do a bit of juggling or something) on the principle that surrounded by normal noise it would be far easier to concentrate than in the Quiet Carriage with the one person on the mobile who thinks 'Quiet' doesn't mean them, I may have to have a rethink.
Going up to London on a packed train so no chance of moving, I and the whole carriage were in the company of Cameron (probably about 5yrs old), ever such a lot of bags of crisps, his mother, his father and roughly five brothers and sisters... they were on the move and I kept losing count but they all took up occupancy in the disabled bay at the front of the carriage.
Actually I have huge sympathy for anyone travelling with that many children, I mean think of all the things you need to take along with you to keep them amused for three to four hours in a confined space ? Books, puzzles, games, colouring... but sadly parents of Cameron were woefully unprepared and whilst father sat with his feet up on the table and relaxed into the journey, poor mother sat and did the shouting... non-stop. It was obvious things weren't going to go well when Cameron, bored before we'd even left the station, was commanded to sit still or he'd be thrown out of the window and all that before we'd even got past the sidings. The moment when Cameron locked himself in the toilet was a tense time for the entire carriage to be honest especially as we all knew when his mum shouted
'I TOLD YOU NOT TO DO THAT'
...well we all knew that actually she had.... many times.
Anway, mine is not to judge and I immersed myself successfully in the books I was going to be discussing, then listened to a few podcasts (The Guardian one on Writing and Illness...very interesting) and we all hit London not a moment too soon, crunched our way through a carpet of crisps and out of the carriage to the heady aroma of a cheese and onion. I hope Cameron et al are all are having a lovely time wherever they are.
Coming home that evening the train back to Plymouth was even worse. I've never seen the like, how can there be standing room only on the 7pm train? I mean it's not rush hour anymore, or does everyone work late these days?
Anyway, no matter, after a night spent awake and talking to myself in advance of being ready for the radio programme, plus an early start and a full day, I was unconscious by the time we'd gone over the points coming out of Paddington and it was only a really odd dream in which I could hear the distant voice of someone saying 'Tickets please' over and over again, and getting louder and louder, that I woke with a jump to find the 'Train Manager' very much in my face and a completely different person sitting beside me to the one who'd been there when we set off. Clearly we'd gone through Reading and I'd missed it. Anway I sat and had a moment or two of inner mortification wondering whether I had been dribbling or worse snoring, got over that and proceeded to spark up the old Kindle and get on with this month's episode of War and Peace.
Except I couldn't because the young girl sitting next to me was watching an episode of Hustle on a very out-sized laptop screen. Most considerately she had headphones on but that was worse in a way, it wasn't even as if I could sneak a look too and laugh out loud with her ... you know, that loud laugh you do when you have headphones on? Instead all I could see was the flickering of the screen out of the corner of my eye each time the scene changed and though I tried a bit of lip-reading I really couldn't get the gist.... not surprisingly because Hustle is often complex enough with words, let alone without them. And there was no escape, if I turned to face the window I could see the reflection, if I looked down there it was in the corner of my eye...if I looked ahead the same.
Well it wasn't her fault was it, so once the train cleared out a bit at Taunton and a four-seater table in front of us vacated I politely shifted myself there. No sooner settled and with the Kindle sparked and propped than a giant sized net of footballs landed on the seat opposite and spilled onto the table, swiftly followed by two track-suited footballers.
'Now come on Steve, ask the lady nicely if she'll move her bag, don't just shove it'
And I did, so Steve and his crate of lager sat next to me and Ricky (names changed) sat opposite and I propped my Kindle on the balls...in the net. To their credit they were two very polite young men working for a professional club in the south west who had obviously been out all day at football trials with hundreds of schoolboy hopefuls. There were a lot of phone calls to be made and there was a lot of lager to be drunk by Steve sitting next to me, whilst Ricky sensibly stuck to cups of tea.
I was interested to hear Steve suggest to Ricky that for his birthday treat to himself he was planning to travel on the train from Plymouth to Edinburgh in a day, drinking all the way, and then he was going to come straight back the same night on the sleeper.
'Watdya want to do that for mate?
'Well I just do.'
Ah, they know how to have fun these days don't they, we'd never have thought of that. I really wanted to say there's no point because you wan't remember much past Totnes but instead thought no... don't be such a curmudgeon, let the youngsters have their fun and tried to concentrate on this month's rather gory Team Tolstoy War and Peace hunting-the-wolf scenario. I'd got to the bit where the half-dead wolf is draped over the horse and I'm also starting to struggle a bit with the haze of lager fumes.
Suddenly the conversation turned to websites and I was all ears at the suggestion that theirs needed some improving sections 'for the kids', interactive pages on keeping fit and healthy in order to be able to play good football... diet, exercise, dedication, discipline...
'Well, Steve, you're the Fitness Coach, you decide mate... you know what you're doing.'