The only thing that can spoil a train journey for me is the other passengers
- Credit: Archant
If I had to choose my favourite way to travel, I'd go for the train.
Car journeys are too dependent on other drivers, who can cause snarl-ups, drive too slowly, drive too quickly, tailgate and ensure that eventual arrival at a destination comes with a tension headache and the fallout from a family fallout.
Ferries are great – if the water is calm. I recently spent eight hours on a Brittany Ferry from Le Havre to Portsmouth with Storm Hannah churning the sea (and my guts), flinging the ship around and making me think of Kate Winslet.
Buses have the same issues as cars – only with the added bonus that you can endure all the frustration while sitting next to a sociopath.
As for planes – don't get me started. Squeezed into a tin can, 30,000ft up, supported by nothing but physics, with turbulence, scary landings and the horrors of getting through security. Planes get me there, but under sufferance.
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Trains have their faults, but – when they are actually moving – they are generally comfortable, relatively spacious places to have a drink, read a book and let someone else worry about the weather and the traffic.
Someone will spout statistics at me, but I also feel a damned sight safer on a train than on a ferry or a plane. At least when a train has a shunt, there is a solid chance of surviving – unlike when a plane disintegrates or a ferry turns submarine.
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There is, though, one key component of a decent train journey – having a reserved seat, preferably in the quiet coach.
For the next six months, for very good reasons, that will not be possible on the Norwich-to-London route. It is a prospect that horrifies me, and might force me to book any capital trips via Cambridge until things return to normal.
That's because of the single most significant factor that spoils a train trip: people.
Yes, I might mean you, if you are any of the following specimens:
Mobile motormouth: Trains are not the place for chatting on mobiles, but that doesn't stop some people. Listening to a full conversation about whether Courtney should dump Brandon or whether Geoff is the right man to replace Nigel in accounts is bad enough – hearing half of it is infuriating.
Peacock parent: Mummy, Daddy, Peregrine and Bunty take a table and get out an iPad each. What unfolds is a public performance, with Mummy looking at houses: 'Darling, here's one for £900,000, but it doesn't have a steam room.' Daddy gets out the lunch: 'Peri, here's your hummus and falafel wrap.' All conversations are at 100db, with most telling Peri and Bunts how 'tremendously clever' they are.
Music moron: Music taste is very personal, so why do people have to make theirs public? The worst social lepers power it out from their mobiles without a headphones middle-man. Others wear headphones, but play it so loud that we have to suffer the tinny, tuneless noise. One day I'll take nail scissors onto a train and quietly cut their leads.
Streamer: As above, but this time with pictures. Have you ever tried to read a book while sitting next to someone who is watching a movie? Eventually, with concentration flitting between the two, the plots of Avengers: Endgame and War and Peace merge into a bizarre mash-up.
Nasal numpty: I am convinced that the pitch of a persistent sniffer hits the irritation bullseye for those nearby. Every snuffle and snort feels like real pain to my heart. As my heart blackens, I want to take the nose out of the equation with a heavy object. Instead, I do the British thing of tutting and aiming black looks.
Reserved seats in the quiet coach do not guarantee an escape from this confederacy of dunces, but they do improve your chances. They also improve others' chances of avoiding the tutting, grumbling, glaring, staring me.