Sunday 16 May 2010


I love trains. In fact, I’m on one right now (okay, so I was) as I’m typing this. [Note to East Coast train's CEO – could you make the tray tables a little bigger? It’s impossible to type on this thing!] There is something altogether romantic and anachronistic (in the best way) about train travel. In the States, we have them in some fashion, but jumping on the Amtrak doesn’t feel quite the same. In England and Europe, train stations are like corner shops and it is one of the best, and fastest ways to see the country in all its glory – or not - depending on where you’re headed. It’s also a great way to get a feel for the people, which of course can be a negative and a positive. 

There are the working stiffs who do their daily commute with a stoic look of ‘god I hate this’ on their faces; the mother of two traveling on her own with her kids, of course with the same look; the inevitable group of lads going off to a football match or a stag weekend – usually carrying a case of beer and thirty ton bag of crisps. Right now I have a pack of ladettes in front of me on the way to a hen weekend armed with balloons, high heels and enough self-tanner to paint the train. And then of course there are the travelers/tourists who are usually sizing up the train and how it falls short from the train system back home.

Many years ago, my sister and I did the backpacking thing. Every day we’d wake up and point on a map to a different city in Europe. Then we’d hit the train station, pray we tackled the language barrier enough to get us to the right place, and off we’d go. Barring a few miscalculations and getting thrown off one train (for insufficient something – the man spoke Czech, it was never going to work) it usually worked out okay. There were the instances where we had to sleep in the hallway using our packs as pillows, the shared cabins with usually the strangest individuals on earth, or the couple nearby that was determined to get into the train equivalent of the mile high club. (What is the equivalent?? Has no one coined an expression for shagging on a train? I feel so let down).

Finding a seat on the train can sometimes be an exercise in Darwinian survival. I am forever an aisle girl – I like quick escapes  - and I will bodycheck just about anyone to get the last remaining one (okay, I try to exclude the elderly, but sometimes, a girl’s needs surpasses her better judgment). I also usually pick a seat in the quiet car. Although I have quickly realized that how I define quiet and how others define it are entirely different (My partner and I often come up against this beast of interpretation). Currently there is a two-year old, three seats away from me that has not yet grasped the concept. Damn him and his young rebellious constitution. When I am a Mother I see it as my duty not to torture those in the quiet car with my kids. In fact, I shall lobby the train industry for a car labeled – “the noisiest, most headache inducing car on earth, only the brave should enter.” It’s a long title, but I think it is only fair to warn my other passengers. I pride myself on being considerate.

Then there is the sheer challenge of trying to pee on a train. Sorry, I’m quite direct as you’ve gathered. Firstly, the bathrooms scare the germophobic skin right off me; in fact, I have been known to hold it for hours just to escape having to enter this vortex of filth. Sadly, these days this is not possible, as I have to go every fifteen minutes. But once armed with enough antibacterial gel and wipes to kill several rampant viruses, it is then down to the task of trying to hold oneself in the right position so that one does not touch anything, yet still makes the bowl while the train is bouncing around like a turbulent rocket ship. I’m telling you, this takes serious skill.

By far the best thing about the train, aside from the speed, is that you don’t have to go through security to get on one. And these days that is a blessing to be fully appreciated. You can just waltz right on with your bag armed with pretty much anything -  hell I could be packing a ginsu knife set and a live goat and I doubt anyone would stop me -  without getting yelled at by some pissy stewardess telling me my bag’s too big, and after a few hours, be in a different country. Why can’t everything be this easy?

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