The Joy of Travel

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No 1.  Trains.

Time was I loved to travel by train. I wrote on trains. I read books on trains. With the advent of computers, I typed on trains. Then came Wi-Fi and joy of joys, I could write and research on trains. Since a great deal of my blog and article writing relies on the Internet, this was indeed bliss. Until delays, mobile phones in supposedly ‘quiet’ carriages, over-crowded trains and that very English phenomenon ‘engineering works’ drove me off the tracks and onto the road.

So, last week, it was with some trepidation that I set off to take a train to Exeter via Waterloo. I was at the station in good time – which was a waste of time – the train was delayed. I’d wanted to be early to be sure of getting a seat because, after I’d gone through the whole booking palaver, including choosing my ‘preferred seat’, I was informed that ‘South West Trains don’t do reservations.’ Ye Gods!

I paid the, admittedly small, amount extra to travel first class. Not knowing that on South West Trains the first class provision is woefully inadequate. For Exeter you must travel in the first six coaches – with just two half-carriages between them. However, I was going to Whimple and for Whimple, you travel in the first three coaches with just half a carriage available.

Half an hour into the journey I discovered, by chance, that contrary to what I’d been told I was not in the first section of the train. Moving involved an obstacle course as I and others fought our way through packed coaches stuffed with cocky sub-teens, past sticky-out legs, great piles of luggage – and the refreshments trolley.

It was our ill fortune to get stuck behind this purveyor of over priced ‘fayre’ as it began its slow journey past the aforementioned sub-teens. Every single one of whom wanted some complicated combination of junk – and not one of whom had change. Nothing smaller than a tenner was proffered.  A snail could make it round Silverstone quicker than that trolley.

Our good fortune was to discover that said trolley was being operated by a charming, if somewhat slow, gentleman who finally agreed to move down the aisle, let us through and then go back and purvey that which he was purveying. This he achieved with some difficulty, hampered as he was by the cries and clutching hands of people a-feared of losing the trolley altogether.

He stuck to his guns, or in this case his trajectory. We were able to get through. In a manner of speaking. Several more coachloads of glassy-eyed adolescents, sticky-out limbs and thoughtlessly placed suitcases further impeded our progress until at last we reached the promised land.  Except that once there it was, metaphorically speaking, distinctly lacking in milk and honey.

Having, somewhat late in the journey, reached what we’d hoped would be a tiny oasis of space we were disappointed. Where people were not strewn across the seats, luggage was.  In one case a very tiny lady sat in a four-person table area with two extremely large suitcases on the two facing seats and all manner of objects piled on the one beside her.

As we struggled to find somewhere to sit, further chaos ensued when the majority of those in the oasis discovered that now it was they who were in the wrong part of the train.  And they who faced the momentous struggle back through the sullen sub-teens and the sticky out legs and indeed the refreshment trolley.

Finally, some forty minutes or so into the journey I was able to settle down. Only to discover another feature of travel on South West Trains. No Wi-Fi. So no Internet. So no possible chance of doing the work I needed to do.  Bummer, bummer and thrice bummer. To all those eager visitors preparing to visit Britain this summer for the Olympics, and hoping perhaps to enjoy a side-trip to our famed West Country, my advice is – don’t. Or if you do, go by car.  I wish I had.

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