COLUMN: May 25, 2017

Sock Man by NIL L (Flickr, Creative Commons)
I HAD to go to Loughborough from Liverpool by train for reasons which need not detain you. I am a sophisticated journalist and one of the metropolitan elite. I have to travel to and from exotic places all the time, like Alan Whicker.

Unfortunately, travelling from Loughborough to Liverpool by train is a complex affair. And while it is half the distance to London, it takes roughly twice as long to get there. Also, I did not want to go to London.

The problem is that, in the history of the world, only about four people have needed to go from Liverpool to Loughborough on a Saturday, which means that there is an eye-watering number of changes before you actually reach the East Midlands home of the Sock Man (look it up).

And travelling on trains at the weekend provokes the sort of tense nail-biting and leg-jiggling you might perform while watching a Hitchcock movie. All the planets must align, you see, for you to make all your connections in time. Just one late-running train on the line ahead of you, and you could arrive at your destination four hours late.

So when the third of my four trains was 10 minutes late arriving into Leicester, just nine miles away from Loughborough, I was in something of a state. I had roughly 90 seconds to get from one train to another and, while I run for fitness, I am 45 years old.

I will never be mistaken for Usain Bolt. There are many differences between us, but the biggest difference by far is in our running techniques.

And, despite the fable telling you otherwise, the hare always beats the tortoise when it comes to the sprint. We know this because sprint coaches don’t stand by the side of the track saying: “No, Katarina Johnson-Thompson, you must, if anything, be MORE lackadaisical in your approach. Here, have a Werther’s.”

I tore through the station in pursuit of my train. Maniacally, I demanded of a station guard, as I raced past him: “Where’s the Loughborough train?”

“Platform 6,” he called out, as I disappeared into the distance. (Look, trainspotters, I don’t remember the numbers of the platforms, so I’ve probably remembered this wrong. Trains are not my be all and end all, I am a bus man.)

The doors were closing as I reached the train. I knew it was my train, because it was the correct operator – one of the benefits of a privatised train service is that you always know if you’re on the right train – and I flung myself dynamically through the sliding doors.

My clattering entrance having announced me to everybody in the carriage, I sat in a seat and began the important work of making myself newly inconspicuous. I texted my Loughborough contact to say I would be there in nine minutes, and smugly settled back.

“Tickets, please,” said the guard. I handed her my ticket, mangled by three previous inspectors. “Um, where do you think you’re going?” she asked.

“Loughborough,” I chortled.

“Right,” she said, “It’s just that this is the train to London St Pancras.”

I felt my blood chill. It suddenly occurred to me how much “Luffbruh” might sound like “Lundun” when spoken by a scouse-accented man sprinting past.

“Oh,” I said. “Can I get off at the next stop and come back?”

“The next stop is St Pancras”, she said, fighting back the laughter, and she wrote, “Got the wrong train,” on the back of my ticket. “Give that to the guard at St Pancras.”

The worst thing about doing this sort of thing is not the inconvenience, or the time wasted – it is having to explain what has happened to other adults. I texted my Loughborough contact, who knew me well enough to be disappointed but unsurprised.

And then I travelled for 90 minutes to London, a place which, as I mentioned, I did not want to go, before waiting an hour for the train back.

Then I had to explain to a guard what I had done in a way that did not make me A) look like a fare dodger; and B) like a total imbecile. His expression of, somehow, both amusement and disgust demonstrated that I was only half successful, but I was allowed to board the train.

And so I arrived in Loughborough four hours late, and a broken man. It was worth it. It always is when I go to Loughborough.

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