COLUMN: February 18, 2016

I HAD to go on a long train journey on a Sunday. Those of you who have been on a long train journey on a Sunday will currently be making me a hot tea with six sugars and preparing one of those foil blankets they have at the end of marathons.

But those of you who have not been on a long train journey on a Sunday, or an LTJOAS, as we seasoned travellers prefer, might not understand the weight of this statement. “Oh,” you will say, “so you had to sit in comfort for a couple of hours, perhaps devouring a Georgette Heyer and an iced spiced bun from M&S, while somebody actually took you at high speed to your destination? Boo-hoo. Pass me an onion.”

What people who have never been on an LTJOAS need to understand is that Sunday is the day the rail companies of Great Britain just give up, as if the strain of charging £1.60 for a can of Coke for the other six days of the week has caught up with them.

“Oh,” they say, “you’ve paid for a ticket to travel on a train, have you? Yeah, well, it’s Sunday. Here’s a bus, sucker, and don’t lean on the bell.”

For Sunday is the day the British rail infrastructure is dragged into the late 20th century, causing significant delays just outside Crewe, as slaves hammer the track into the ground, watched by Colt 45-wielding baddies with black hats. I am not sure that is exactly what happens, as my knowledge of rail engineering works is entirely restricted to Western movies, but the technology cannot have changed that much.

By the time I arrived at the station to change trains, I was already 90 minutes late because of weekend engineering works. This was really cutting it fine. There was a Premier League match that had taken place in the city where I had to change, and the away fans would be travelling on my route home. But they would not have time to go from the stadium to the station in time for this train.

I was at the platform first, and anticipated a quiet trip home, perhaps drinking a pina colada with an umbrella sticking out of it. But the train was delayed by other engineering works, the football fans started to stream onto the platform, and then there was a platform change.

My excellent initial position became a disadvantage, and I was stuck at the back, like the heel of a loaf. The last time I had been so far behind the front of the queue was when God was handing out luck.
When I was able to board the train all the seats were taken by people smugly checking their phones, people who claimed their good fortune by right, even though it was only an accident of fate that they were in the right place at the right time, like baby boomers, or Manchester United.

I took my place in the aisle, my bag between my feet, which I had planted in an attempt to prevent myself from ending up face first in a Pumpkin Cafe chocolate-style muffin, and adopted the stoicism for which I am noted.

The train began to move, and the football supporters began to explain to the rest of the carriage their strong belief that the team they supported was very much the best at football. After a while I was able to block it out, and then I became aware of a conversation being conducted across my bottom.

Two young women were seated on opposite sides of the aisle, and were chatting about whatever it is young women chat about – shoes, I suppose, or casual sexism – leaning back so that they could see each other without having my posterior in their way. I suppose the football fans in my carriage would have called it “restricted view”.

Then one of them, frustrated by my presence, looked at me and tutted, actually tutted.

And instead of me saying, “Oh, I am so terribly sorry. Is the fact that you have a seat and I do not inconveniencing you? How very inconsiderate of me to want to go home and, indeed, exist”, I bent myself backwards, forming a sort of crescent for the next 45 minutes, just so that my buttocks would not interrupt their conversation.

Apart from accepting the appalling service on the Sunday rail network, it was the most British thing I have ever done.

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