COLUMN: December 21, 2017

Not really my thing

I HAD to pop down to London for a function, which is my favourite word to describe an event in which people stand around with drinks in their hands while eating small pieces of toast.

This is because the word “function” makes it sound as if a party were grimly necessary, like plumbing or paying your council tax, instead of being a jolly business involving a free bar for the first two hours.

I always enjoy going to London, because it allows me to witness one of the best things about living in the UK in the early 21st century – people using public transport looking genuinely angry about having to wait half a minute for the next train.

It is all I can do to prevent myself from telling them about the two trains an hour that run from my local station, and how there are people in rural parts of the country who will be reading this and thinking, “Look at that fancy pants remoaner Bainbridge with his two trains an hour. We have one train a week, every Thursday, and that gives us 38 seconds to get all our shopping at the market in town or we’ll miss the only train coming back.

“This is why we voted for Brexit. Not to make our lives better, but to make his life worse.”

I travelled down to London by train, and unfortunately there was an incident down the line which caused my journey to be cut short at Rugby. A light-hearted column is not the place to dwell on what the incident was, but my sincere sympathy goes to the family, especially at this time of year.

As a result, my entire train was decanted onto another entire train, on which space was already at a premium. This meant that people who had paid for seats were forced to stand. Nobody, of course, could complain, and nor should they have done. Soberingly, we had all been reminded that things could definitely be worse.

And this meant that we could focus our full attention on the very specific problem of remaining upright on a fast moving and tilting train while being unable to move one’s feet because of luggage on the floor.

I have rarely been accused of being well-balanced. I have to stop before descending stairs because of vertigo. My record distance travelled on a skateboard is 1.5 metres, and that was mostly by accident. My PE teacher used to call colleagues to watch whenever I attempted to walk from one end of a gym bench to another. I suspect there was a book run on it.

So standing in a very small space while battling the twin forces of momentum and gravity is especially taxing for a man like me. All of this is to explain that what happened was not my fault.

Five passengers including me were crammed in a small space between the toilet and the on-board shop. One of our number decided that this was the ideal opportunity to learn everything he could about four new friends, while four of us were more sceptical, focused as we were on being mostly vertical while everything else was diagonal.

The others were holding safety bars. But I did not have one to hand, and had to grip a slightly dimpled part of the wall, like one of those rope-free climbers you see dangling from overhanging rocks. And it was heating up, and my fingertips were becoming increasingly slick with perspiration.

“And why did you leave your last job? Have you had any sexual problems? What’s your favourite colour?” our garrulous friend asked. I was distracted, and, before I could say “green”, the train jolted violently, my grip was lost, and I was flung forward, my face ending an inch away from that of a recently retired elderly gentleman.

“Sorry!” I said, and flung myself back, my elbow hitting the sliding door between our tiny compartment and the on-board shop. It hurt my elbow, but that was the least of my issues.

For I had hit the button which activates the sliding door, and the elderly retired gentleman’s similarly elderly retired wife was leaning against the door at the time.

And the door slid open, sending the woman spiralling backwards into the on-board shop, just shy of the display of Snickers bars.

I apologised to her, as she staggered back into our shared area, but somehow it did not quite seem enough. Or functional.

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