I like trains. Well I thought I did. You enter, it takes you, you read, talk or look out of the window. I don’t clutch a clipboard and spot them but most small children are excited to see a train passing underneath a bridge or viaduct, the thrill of noise and speed and smoke. The steam trains we used to take to Prestwick to see my sister seemed almost alive – enormous armoured beasts that panted and exhaled, steam and smoke, then a collecting yourself for the fray sort of shudder and the pounding of pistons. But trains have gone to the dogs.
I went to Kings Cross to get a train to Norfolk. I asked for a train from Kings Cross to Norwich arriving about 11.30 on Good Friday. I asked for a return from Norwich about 9.30 Easter Monday. I didn’t ask about changes – I thought I would be told. And nobody mentioned “wotl” (work on the line). As he handed me the tickets, abjuring me not to lose the receipt, the counter clerk told me I was leaving from Liverpool Street. There was a queue behind me and it didn’t seem to matter much. I always leave lots of time when travelling. Just as well. The Circle Line of the London Underground is a threatened species. It took 25 minutes for a sighting. But I had time and arriving at Liverpool Street station I went to Information.
“Please could you tell me where I would get the 9.30 train to Norwich ?” I asked. “There are no trains to Norwich” he said. “Not from Liverpool Street.” I protested that I had been told …. “Well” he said. “You gotta sell tickets.” I asked how I might then get to Norwich. He ringed Newbury Park on the Central Line, he wrote down Ingatestone and he said that would get me to Norwich. I had a momentary attack of PS (pensioners’ sag) and then went off to travel in a tube so fast and apparently deep, it screamed and we sat holding our ears. At Newbury Park I approached a man in a company jacket – Greater Anglia indeed.
He gave me to understand I was most fortunate, that the company had laid on these buses (he made them sound like limousines), that they would take us to Ingatestone where we could catch a train to Norwich. I was waiting to try on the glass slipper … And when I jibbed at him, he said “Well, we’re not charging you any extra !” Try.
I entered the bus, found a young woman with a kind heart and a mobile (I don’t have one, the mobile I mean) to ring the friend who was meeting me in Norwich to explain. I asked the driver how long the journey might be to Ingatestone, to which he was unwilling to commit himself “because something might happen on the road …” We drove.
At Ingatestone we filed past company employees in bunny ears (Happy Easter!) laden with milk chocolate eggs to a train where somebody muttered something about changing at Colchester – “you only have three minutes …” The woman across the gangway with the same nose as Singer Sargent’s portrait of Madame X, ravishingly pretty, didn’t get it either so I grabbed my handbag and summoned a handy youth in the company tabard. “Do we change at Colchester ? How long do we have to change at Colchester ? Don’t lie to me, everybody else has …” “Three minutes “ he said, “it’s just across the platform.” “Would you swear that on your child’s head ?” I demanded. He grinned.
I told the pretty woman who turned out to be half Turkish (I hope not the Erdogan half), who translated Turkish/English/German/French for a big legal practice in Paris, travelling with her Franco/Chinese partner, a lecturer at the Ecole Militaire. I thanked heaven for the pleasure of their company and they were going to Norwich. We piled out of the train across the platform at Colchester, we asked what time we might get to Norwich from the onboard staff and in due course, a bit ragged round the edges (the French couple had been up since 5.00 and come over on the Eurostar) that’s where we arrived. Choooooooooooooooooo …