From Homer to Bacardi... just another day on the trains

PUBLISHED: 08:04 17 May 2018

A sleek Virgin Trains West Coast main line service. Picture: Martin Keene/PA Wire

A sleek Virgin Trains West Coast main line service. Picture: Martin Keene/PA Wire


A recent long train journey gave David Clayton time for a bit of people-watching.

I’ve been to Glasgow on a train or, to be honest, a few trains. I had to travel on Bank Holiday Monday and yes, you’re right, inevitably there was a bus replacement service to Peterborough, thus making the East Coast line up to Edinburgh, thence to Glasgow, rather unattractive.

So, counter-intuitively, I headed south to London to go north via the West Coast line. Here we go again with the inequality of trains and facilities compared with this part of the world. On a lovely smooth Virgin train, I watched a feature film beamed free to my laptop without even struggling to log on to the train’s wi-fi. “Interstellar”, starring Michael Caine, was about astronauts trying to find an alternative to our failing planet by hurtling through a wormhole in space and time, to a bright new world. A metaphor for my journey, I thought! Wormholes are a tad unpredictable, it seemed. Had the battery in my laptop not expired ten minutes before the film ended, I’d have let you know how they got on.

I “landed” in Glasgow on a fine sunny evening for a week’s work. The next morning it turned chilly and wet. “Aye, at least you were here for Glasgow’s summer!” said the taxi driver. It remained much the same for the rest of the week.

Three different trains to get back to Norwich. Firstly, Glasgow to Edinburgh when, with no embarrassment at all, nor any reduction in her vocal volume, a senior HR lady in the seat behind me rang three different people to discuss a new training plan after telling everyone that she’d got back to her hotel after 1am following a function last night. I tried not to listen but several rows of us were drawn into the dialogue. A few of us, I’m sure, were itching with suggestions for the training plan.

I marvelled at the scale of Edinburgh’s Waverley station as I walked towards the Virgin East Coast train to Peterborough.

I’ll get back to that film, I thought, or at least the last ten minutes of it. Frustratingly, I couldn’t get back into the Virgin system. Instead I resigned myself to some discreet people-watching. Every single one of my fellow passengers were gazing at their smartphones and did so for much of the journey.

At Peterborough, I had an hour to wait for a connection so did the usual thing of watching trains hurtle through the station or I did until a lumbering goods train parked at the platform where I was sitting and blocked my view for twenty minutes.

On to the Norwich train which had come all the way from Liverpool, found my seat and with no “in-flight” entertainment to distract me, gazed around again. Yep – everyone in their own worlds, peering at their smartphones. Then a dapper man opposite reached into a plastic bag and pulled out a full-size bottle of Bacardi and a full-size bottle of Coke. Had I missed a Duty-Free shop at Peterborough station? Fair enough, I thought, I’ve consumed the odd mini-bottle of wine or can of beer on a train, good luck to him. But then he pulled out a glass, proper chunky ice cubes, slices of lime and served himself a drink or three. That’s class, I thought.

With the unremarkable flat fens outside the window, I wrote a report relating to my week’s work north of the border, rang for a taxi from Norwich station and texted my wife. I’m as guilty as everyone of being undetachable from a range of electronic devices. Only a young lad in the seat next to me from Edinburgh had remarkably managed without. He read a book for the entire time. Yes, a proper book. Not just any book, Homer’s Iliad, no less. I was so impressed I nearly asked for a selfie!

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