Is it just me or is the happy image of train travel dead?

If you think about the idea of a train journey, a romantic image comes to mind. Let me paint you a picture. You imagine £20 will buy you a return trip anyway within a day’s travel, you have your schedule so you KNOW the trains will be on time and stick to it. After all, they created the schedule so barring the odd freak occurrence, what could go wrong?! They have committed themselves, so they wouldn’t do that unless they knew it was possible!

So having got your affordable ticket and made sure you have got on in a standard carriage, you look around and while there is a well spaced splattering of people, there are still plenty of seats. You easily make your way to a seat with a table and are free to surf, read, sleep or just enjoy the British countryside. While we’re on that, it will of course be sunny. The other people in the carriage will be of minimal background interference, so you are barely aware when one leaves and another sits down. You while away the hours in peaceful relaxation with nothing but the affordable, nutritionist snack trolley and the polite ticket inspector to break your solitude.

Lovely image isn’t it? If only it were true. So, the correct version:

You check the timetable and head to the station. You queue up in an interminably long queue which if your train departs in the next ten minutes or so, means you stand no chance of making it. You eventually get to the front of the queue and the assistant is anything but helpful. For someone speaking through a microphone they are very low and unclear so you ask them to repeat it several times . . . then another time as you can’t believe the price. “What? How much? I’m only on the train for 40 mins! How can it be so much?!” After being incredibly British and complaining to the rest of the queue, (you can tell the seasonal travellers – glazed over haunted eyes that say, “what do you expect?” and the occasional day tripper – “OUCH! How far you going – Scotland?!” you get your ticket and shuff off through the barriers to the platform.

Assuming no strikes or engineering works, the train arrives but not on time and you feel the chill in your bones from the guaranteed icy rain while you wait impatiently. When you do get on board there are a group of people all vying to get on first, even before the passengers can get off. A lot of shoving entails before you reach the inside of the carriage. Of course the First Class carriage has only two people – you saw it as the carriage went past. The rest of the carriages barely have standing up room. Not only do you not get a seat, you end up permanently wedged between a lycra-cad biker and a teenage mum with a pushchair. The back begins to spasm in angry response.

Even if you DO get on at the beginning of the line and you DO get a table seat, within one stop someone will have sat down next to you and you will spend the rest of the journey with your coat, scarf and bag all creased up on your lap.

Whichever outcome there is a crying baby on the carriage. I think every carriage must have one. They must be as obligatory as the “No smoking” sign. The baby is crying and apparently is impossible to appease. A hoodie several rows behind is generating the unmistakable tinny sound of cheap headphones and either head banging rock or hyper techno music. He seems oblivious to the glares around him. Across from him on the back row right next to where you are bent into position, a woman is playing a game on her tablet; a game that intermitedly chimes as she scores. The noise resonates with you like fingers on a black board, or forks interlocked. You shudder.

The toilet door keeps banging open and the inside reveals a pungent odor and the floor looks like the Kleenex puppy has been to work on the loo roll. Scattered so thickly it is like an ice rink. You are momentarily distracted from the sight by a business man trying to get his laptop onto his table seat; the girl beside him clearly showing her frustration at his arrogance in taking up so much well needed space. The guy opposite keeps glancing at the girl diagonally to his right. He also treats the business man a thunderous look, but the businessman is already elbowing the girl further against the window as he reaches in his pocket for his phone. He locates it, but of course he has two and this is his personal phone. Not wanting to pay for the call, he again elbows the girl to reach the other one still in his pocket. She sighes loudly and pointedly, but he is already dialing. “I’m at your favourite station, can you guess?” he teases. “No, no,” a dramatic pause. “Clapham! Yes, meeting overran and carriage is packed yet again. Probably a while yet,” he continues. The man opposite indicates the “quiet zone – no mobiles” sign on the window. The businessman looks bored – the sign is not for him. He speaks for another five minutes in a dull monotone before hanging up. The girl is now permanently facing the window.

The food trolley arrives when a spare foot of space is revealed at the next station. Your choice – tea, coffee, Kit Kat bars, Quavers, what looks like a gluton-free muffin. The prices are double what you would normally pay. You either cough up, applaud your ingenious planning of a snack in your bag or make a stand and go hungry.

The tannoy comes alive to tell you there is a fault on the line – you will now be diverted somewhere that adds another 40 minutes to your journey, along with petering along slowly to allow all the other passengers on the new route, time to climb onboard. Now you are stuck between the mother with her pushchair and an ambitious student with a suitcase. The nerve pains kick into your back. Never again you vow.

Finally the ticket collector comes round. Anything but a smile, he laboriously checks the tickets, exudes an air of superiority, and inform you your ticket is only valid until 4pm. Unwelcome news indeed as you specifically asked for a late return during rush hour.

The irony of the above is when a friend recommends a day trip which includes a train journey, you forget all of the above, “Oh lovely!” you say and grab your phone to add to your calendar, and thus the whole process begins again.

#TrainJourneys #ShortMemory #WhatCouldGoWrong #DayTrip #Irony












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