Birmingham International was thehappy exit point from which we jumped off, via the medium of cheap airlines, to sunnier climes a thousand miles south. We’ll be back to that, but first we were back there last night wondering why it was so bloody cold.
Early this morningI found myself negotiating familiar motorways to park up barelyhalf a mile from where a dustier, more cheerful version of myself had stood justtwelve hours earlier.
In that preceding half day, I’d returned to a loving family, stupid dog, a fifty quid parking fine and a medium sized hole where I expected 40 days of work to be. This wasn’t mere situational context, it was a bloody warning of what was to come.
Travelling to London isn’t much fun. It’s better than being there of course, but options from this far West are divided between start close, go slow and finish late or drive 70 miles DUE NORTH to catch a train built after the last war. Thisdeposits you somewhere near the middle of our great capital, rather than First Great Westerns’ attempt pretending East Reading is actually a) named after a bear and b) in London.
NowadaysVirgin is my preferred carrier. Sure their trains hurtlearound corners in an amusingly terrifying manner and the carriages smell mostly of wee, but it’s barely an hour* and booking ahead cuts the price to a still ‘how much of the train do I now own?‘ seventy quidwhich includes a seat reservation providing the guilty joy of throwing some chancer out into the aisle.
So at 6:30am. a pre-caffeinated me was prodding the non touch sensitive touch screens which promise ticket-spitting once you’ve provided sufficient information to trace your ancestors back to Roman times. Each time this transaction teeters between data entry and receipt exit, I always expect something to go terribly wrong.
It never does. Or never had. Today despite typing the same number in three times with increasingly glass shattering force, a nasty message suggested my reference was somehow invalid. Giving up with electronic pointlessness, I went searching for a human armed with a laptop presented email and a disgruntled expression.
‘Already collected’ she declared having typed in my train lottery numbers. Oh bollocks. Of course they had. Now sat at home safe from loss but not entirely geographically useful. Okay no worries, can you reprint them for me now?Apparently not. Something about fraud despite my obviously honest countenance.
Wearily then ‘how much for a return to London then?’. Barely pausing she pretended this one hour trip could be purchased for the princely sum of£168. A brief exchange failed to resolve the obvious issue that such licensed robbery vastly outstripped flying to Belfast or spending 4 days eating myself stupid in Spain.
£168. Take it or leave it. I had to take it which made me the grumpiest man in London some 90 minutes later. And that was before I was forced to descend into the seventh level of hell neatly represented by the Tube system.
It may be a grotesque stereotype to categorise all Londoners as empathy voids afflicted with the spacial awareness and grace of a mole caught in the sunlight, but based in a sample size of ‘everyone whotrod on orshovedme today’, I’m happy matching correlation with causation.
Three hours later I had a ‘sod this‘ epiphany and sacked off the remainder of the day to get the hell out before something else went wrong. Arriving back at Euston, clutching the most expensive ticket in the world**, a train was vibrating impatiently on the platform ready to blast us back into the real world.
Striving purposelyup the platform, it became clear dignity must be sacrificed for a safe position on the inside of the carriage. Falling into the nearest seat after swerving past a man apparently uniformedin a discarded Butlins redcoat, it took me a second to notice my fellow traveler slumped in the seat opposite.
My olfactory system had already stepped up to DEFCON 2 before anyvisual cues suggestedthe gentleman might be slightly worse for drink. He smelt of many things of which Special Brew rated strongly and recent bathing less so. Not a concern, if a man wants to get shitfaced having looked around himself in our great capital and thought ‘fuck this, I need a drink’, he certainly has my sympathy.
Lifting a grubby cap, he engaged me in a conversation which needs transcribing verbatim:
Him: ‘Hey Mate, does this train stop at Coventry?’
Me: ‘Er, Yeah, Yeah it does‘
At which point, the cap was pulled firmly over bloodshot eyes and picoseconds later, a light snore harmonised with the majority of my fellow passengers who suffer the twin problems of low boredom thresholds and access to a mobile phone.
Two minutes later, there was a mega-snore, a fully body shake followed by shuffle upright and a vertical realignment of the cap. At which point he asked me EXACTLY the same question again. This happened twice more before I cracked and attempted to break free from this conversational centrifugal force.
Me: ‘I tell you what, shall I wake you at Coventry?‘
Him: ‘Huh? Why would you do that? I’m going to Glasgow‘
He silenced any further conversations with a look of disdain marking me out as the idiot in this discourse.
Based on the day I’ve had, he may very well be right.
*HS2 – cut it down to 45 minutes. I’d rather than spent something on the Cotswolds line so the early morning train actually arrives on the same day.
** I worked out you based on the cost/mile, you could comfortably run a Chieftain tank on that. Next time I might try it. You could park that anywhere.