The Awkward Guide

In every situation in life, there's always a way to make a tit of yourself

Trains and Boats and Planes (but mostly trains)

I, like most students I’m sure, spend quite a lot of time on trains. My time on trains is usually spent in convenient four hour parcels travelling between Edinburgh and Manchester. This journey is not a particularly pleasant one, there are rarely even any sheep to look at out of the windows.

First Transpennine Express don’t seem to have worked out yet that they should probably stop selling tickets once the train is full, instead of herding as many passengers on to the 2pm service as is inhumanely possible. And people say the British are good at queueing. No we’re not. We queue very nicely outside the train while the doors are closed, but as soon as they open it turns into a scene from a David Attenborough documentary. We all attempt to crawl over each other to pile into our tin can, like slightly grumpy baked beans, often reduced to sitting in the aisles or trying to fold ourselves up to fit into the luggage racks.

Having made this journey many a time over the past year and a half, I have noticed that there always seem to be some stock characters amongst my fellow baked beans. Recurrent figures who always seem to crop up.

There is usually someone who appears to be posing an alarming threat to public health by dying of the plague, rather loudly. Either that or you sneeze once and everyone within a twelve-seat radius looks at you like you’re infecting them with the plague or something.

There is often a couple, sitting together, usually sharing some sort of romantic train-picnic, and giggling, in a disgustingly in love way.

There is always, always a businessman (or woman) in a suit, having a really very important phone conversation with a colleague.

If you are lucky then there may only be one out-of-control child on your journey. But, if you have angered the gods in some way, there is a very good chance of there being a veritable swarm of out-of-control children bouncing on seats and pretending to shoot each other before deciding that their siblings have just been very mean to them and crying about it.

Well, on my journey back to Edinburgh this Sunday evening I had all of the above, all of the minor irritations that make public transport just that little bit more annoying. Actually, that’s not strictly true, I didn’t have the person who decides they want to tell you their life story when quite frankly their life has been mundane and a tiny bit shit. I was at least spared that one.

The person allocated to sit in inconveniently close proximity to me for four hours was a little old lady in a red coat. Sounds fairly harmless, and she didn’t even smell, so I felt pretty lucky. However, for the entire journey, at approximately two-minute intervals, this old lady would make a noise somewhere between a cough and clearing her throat. Now, I am very aware that this does not exactly sound like something you would hold an international tribunal over, but let me tell you, after the five billion and seventh time she did it, it was getting really quite irritating. Unfortunately I’m fairly sure that it would be considered impolite to bludgeon a sweet old lady to death with a half-empty bottle of Copella apple juice, so there was very little I could do about my predicament. And as shouting “for the love of God will you be quiet!” would probably also have been beyond the bounds of social nicety, I did nothing. I simply grimaced quietly into my book and tried to ignore her.

A few minutes of respite were offered to me when she decided to visit the buffet cart (always a misleading name – I don’t think a packet of salt and vinegar crisps and a decidedly mangy looking blueberry muffin really counts as a buffet but hey, that’s just me). An operation she carried out with impressive speed for someone with a walking stick. She returned with a cup of tea and an excitingly mysterious paper bag. Fortunately I was not kept in suspense for too long as she soon finished her tea and proceeded to reveal and consume the contents of the paper bag – a bottle of Chardonnay, which she finished somewhere between Carlisle and Lockerbie. This was entertaining on a number of levels; firstly because the bottle had on it a picture of an elephant balancing on a stool, always fun; but also because witnessing geriatric alcoholism is a joy never to be missed.

The drinking did at least stop the almost-coughing for a bit. Even so, Waverly came just soon enough to prevent me from going all Steven Seagal on the old dear. Having said all this, I’m sure that I was a contributing factor in someone else’s annoying train journey. In fact, there may even be another blog out there somewhere about an annoying passenger who fidgeted a lot and kept grimacing into ‘The War of the Worlds’, you never know.

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