Tuesday, 21 February 2017

On the train to Wales

I strongly believe, and often say, that rail is the luxury form of travel of our time.

It’s also romantic. The sound of the wheels on the tracks. The sense of speed as the lights from the windows flash on the houses, fields and embankments as we race past. No car, no plane, perhaps only a ship can rival the sense of adventure coupled with wellbeing.

Still, for the third time in four days? I’m learning the hard way that you can have too much of a good thing. Especially when your train isn’t due to get you to your destination until a minute past midnight. Tomorrow, for Pete’s sake.

I started the journey in Luton. Well, it’s where I live. So I guess that makes sense.

Across the aisle from me was a strikingly elegant young woman, by which I mean a young woman who had obviously gone to great lengths to appear elegant. There was perhaps just a touch too much makeup on the face, the lack of a coat was a trifle too obvious a way of highlighting the tightly-fitting dress, the heels were perhaps just a smidgeon too high.

I became aware of all this as I paused between a series of phone calls, remembering how irritating I find it when people make calls in a carriage I’m sharing with them.

“My apologies,” I told her, “I hope I’m not disturbing you by making these calls.”

“Oh, no,” she said, “I was trying to see if I could understand any of the French you were talking. I think I got a word here and there but no more.”

I’d been talking to my (French) wife and it’s true we tend to switch to that language when there’s a stranger close by (at least in England). And the strategy had worked. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted this fashion plate understanding anything I was saying, however innocent.

Especially as I’d noticed that she was resting her fine high heels on the seat in front of her. That’s a gesture I usually associate with young men in dirty jackets and low-hanging trousers. With boots.

It seems to me that elegance is what elegance does.

We left the train at the same station, Farringdon, in the City of London. I thought basic courtesy at least required me to acknowledge our brief contact half an hour earlier. Since she was obviously heading for an evening out, I thought I’d offer some appropriate wishes.

“Enjoy your evening,” I said.

“You too,” she replied.

I suppose the length of the journey ahead must have caught up with me because I couldn’t resist answering, “oh, I won’t be enjoying it. I’m travelling to Llanelli.”

There was a couple ahead of us, by the door. She smiled. He burst out laughing.

“Well,” he said, “there really is no answer to that.”

I felt I’d perhaps gone too far.

“Oh, I’ve nothing against Llanelli. I’m sure it’s a lovely place.”

It’s true. I like Wales. I like the Welsh, unless there are fifteen of them in red shirts facing the England rugby team. I had no reason to suppose that Llanelli would be anything but lovely.

“It is, it is,” he picked up from me, “but you just don’t want to spend the evening travelling there.”

“Quite,” I confirmed.

Llanelli. Charming place. In the daylight...
The young woman left the train with never a backward look. She may have suspected my motives in addressing her, worse still in leaving the train at the same station. But if she had found my air of satisfaction questionable, she was entirely mistaken: it was due to my managing to leave the train with my suitcase. Last time I arrived at Farringdon, I left one behind on the train, with lots of annoying (and expensive) consequences, not least the need to buy a whole new set of relatively formal clothes before my 11:00 meeting the next morning.

The couple headed for the exit. They were still, I swear, chuckling. 

 I made for the Hammersmith and City line platform to get a tube to Paddington.

And the not-quite-so-elegant-as-she-imagined young lady went tripping along the platform, her heels clicking her off to the evening ahead of her.

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