Trains, Trains and Automobiles

So after a week of heavy snow in the North East and Scotland, last week saw me ensconced again in The Paragon Hotel in Birmingham, a city that did not have any snowfall of any significance at all and so I relied on emails and texted photographs from home to exhibit the one foot or so of snow that was troubling my family back home, oh how I laughed, my hotel room was snug and warm, as it should be when someone else is paying the bill.

I had a return rail trip booked for Friday lunchtime. The Cross Country Train service starts in Plymouth and terminates in Aberdeen, thats the full length of the country calling at Birmingham and Leeds en route, its an hourly service, I booked myself on the 12.03 from Birmingham.

I arrived at Birmingham New Street at around 11.45, checked the platform and went straight to it, I had a reserved seat on the 12.03 and expected a short wait for it to arrive.

It was already there waiting for me which came as a bit of a surprise because it rarely waits in Birmingham for more than a few minutes, but there it was, 15 minutes early and waiting, I checked the display on the side of Coach D and it showed the correct route, calling at Leeds, hey ho, its my train, maybe it’s a bit early today – so I got on.

A couple of steps into the entrance lobby of the carriage is all I took, it was full, people were standing in the entrance lobby, I asked a man stood next to the carriage door if it was full all the way down, “Yes” is all he said and his face told me he wasn’t lying, some bastard had nicked my seat then, ah well, it wouldn’t be the first time I’d had to stand on this service, being an express service its very popular.

The doors closed and the train started to move out of the station at 11.50, it struck me as a bit strange to be leaving so early but the explanation came within a minute or so, “Welcome to the delayed 11.03 service from Plymouth to Aberdeen” is what the train manager announced.

Bugger, I was on the wrong train, this one was nearly an hour late and I should have waited for the 12.03, “so what” you may exclaim, “what difference does it make ?” and indeed I may agree with you, except for the fact that my cheap ticket was cheap because it was only valid on the 12.03 and not transferable, when the train manager inspected this ticket I’d have a penalty to pay, oh bugger indeed.

He did inspect my ticket, he noticed straight away that I was on the wrong train but in a turn of good fortune he told me not to worry, the services were all to hell today because of the weather and everyone was just grabbing whatever train turned up.

Result then.

As we moved out of Birmingham the snow became apparent, thick and deep it lay in the fields but hey ho, this train was still running, if a tad late, although of course for me it was a tad early being that it wasn’t really my train at all.

Thirty minutes later it stopped in the middle of nowhere and shortly after the driver could be seen walking up and down outside shaking his head, a few minutes later the very nice train manager announced that “This train is fooked and will be terminating at the next station, Derby”, ok he used slightly more technical terms than that but you could tell thats what he was thinking.

So 300 or so passengers were dumped onto Derby station and our train reversed back down the track to go to see the train doctor and we were all told to wait for the next train, the 12.03 from Birmingham, the train that I should have been on in the first place, the one that I had a reserved seat on, hip-ray, Kismet and all that, someone is up there doing all this stuff to me you know, this life doesn’t just happen randomly, someone up there saw that I was on the wrong train and thought “the crafty bugger’s not getting away with that”

Twenty minutes later the train that I should have been on arrived and it was clear as soon as the doors opened that it was already full and 300 extra people weren’t going to get on, especially me being that I can’t be arsed with queueing, pushing and shoving, I stood back and watched as frantic people scrabbled for the tiniest of spaces and the carriages became more and more rammed with bodies, “I’ll wait for the next one” is what I thought.

So the train I should have been on left without me and I sat on the platform in Derby and waited for 70 minutes for the next one to arrive. It was cold, my god it was cold, about 50 people had also decided to wait and they sensibly went into the station buffet to keep warm but for some idiotic reason I decided to sit on a frozen metal seat and read a book, call it stubbornness if you like.

God it was cold, this day was turning out like John Candy and Steve Martin’s journey in “Planes Trains and Automobiles”, but colder, it was cold, have I mentioned how cold it was, cold is what it was, I was cold, for over an hour.

The 13.03 from Birmingham turned up on time, it too was full but this time I abandoned all etiquette and just fought to get on, I may have shoved someone under the train to get on, I may have clambered over the shoulders of those in front of me to get on, I can’t remember, I was cold, have I mentioned how cold it was, it was cold.

Managed to find one square foot of space in the entrance lobby to one of the carriages and there I stood for the next two hours, rammed onto the train and unable to move, people chatted politely, said things like “Its awful isn’t it?” and “By god I’m cold, have I told you how cold it was on that platform?” (that was me saying that) and “No I’m sorry, we are all waiting for the toilet, you’ll have to join the queue” when anyone shoved their way through to use the toilet which by coincidence we were all standing outside of – none of us wanted to use the toilet but it became our own little in-joke to make other passengers wait in the belief that we were also all waiting for the toilet, five minutes we made one man wait before the person who was stood in front of the toilet door button revealed it saying “Actually there’s no-one inside the toilet” oh how we laughed, he didn’t though, I think he’d already pissed himself waiting.

Finally arrived in Leeds at 15.30 and went to buy a ticket for the local train that would take me the final three stops to within a one mile walk of home. The train was waiting and I boarded it, even managed to get a seat, what luxury, I’d stood all the way from Birmingham, frozen to death on a platform in Derby and now finally had a seat for the last ten minutes of the journey.

Not for long though.

The train driver had a piece of information to offer to us, “This train is fooked” is what he said, “You’ll have to get off and board the one waiting for you on platform three”.

It was no more than I expected on a day like this one, this would be the fifth train that I’d tried to get on today and once again looking at the huge crowd gathered outside its doors you just knew that they weren’t all getting on but I was a seasoned train traveller by now and with some vicious left, left jabs and a devastating right hook I managed to counteract a surge from some old ladies to get a foot on the train lobby, it was enough, it was my claim to be on that train and it was then an easy job to shove a bit harder and create a few more inches to get my other foot on board, ha!

And so home, just five and a half hours for a two hour journey, five trains boarded (some unsuccessfully) and a few people left thinking “Such an ignorant man…” such is life.

The automobile ?

Suzanne gave me a lift from the station for the last mile.

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