I came back to London from Swansea First Class on Sunday.

It was a nightmare.

Not because there was anything wrong with the train service – we were on time, the train manager was courteous with a sense of humour (nice combination) and handled things well when we paused at Severn Junction, neatly persuading anyone who might have fancied jumping out at the back of beyond into the driving drizzle to stay in their seats… No. The extra money I had spent to indulge myself in a comfortable seat, a table and a window large enough to see out of (remember the good old days when this was a description of any train carriage? Before the sardine and blindfold treatment?) danced before my eyes as I listened, from before Bristol till after Reading, to a man talking loudly into his mobile phone.

And I don’t really mean just talking.

I mean ranting. Effing a lot.

I eff quite a lot. But not into a phone in a reasonably full carriage on a train for more than an hour.

At first I thought I could handle it. Especially as within twenty minutes of leaving Swansea I had asked a man in his early 60s if he would mind turning down the mobile phone on which he was loudly playing a game – you know, the blip beep whistle clang, blip beep whistle clang bang! variety that my six year old son enjoys. The ‘man’ pretended not to hear my ‘excuse me’ four times before eventually turning it off and muttering loudly ‘You are NOT welcome’. I didn’t check, but it’s more than possible he stamped his foot and stuck out his tongue as I went back to my seat.

After this episode I didn’t want to be seen as the carriage kill-joy. So when Motor Eff Mouth began, three seats behind, I ignored him. I ignored the stuff about the woman at home spending all her money on fags and how she won’t effing be told. The stuff about his bonuses, how he’s scammed extra, what the tricks are.

While he berated the person – man, surely – at the other end of the line for their appalling choice of car, I doggedly amended my novel synopsis. I plugged in my headphones and tried to listen to Gil Scott Heron as Mr Effing Eff discussed how big someone had grown – Child? Dog? – and how effing MASSIVE he was going to get, this being a good, exciting thing. I turned up my music, tried to read the Sunday paper.

Still he effed on.

A hammer wrapped in cling film is still a hammer.

I know this situation lasted over an hour because I remember thinking hurrah, Severn Tunnel, he’ll get cut off. And he did. For five minutes. Before he started again. Without a pause. Till we got to Reading.

At which point, all sentimental thoughts of an old-school train journey full of space, sunsets and inspiration effed into a pulp, I stood up. I looked round the carriage. The man I’d asked to turn down his mobile had coughed irritably a couple of times. But that was the only protest from a compartment of at least a dozen people, 11 out of 12 of them men. I looked round again, trying to catch the eye of an ally. Nothing.

Of course this should have been my Nora Ephron moment. This should have been the instant I cleared my throat, shook out my hair and hollered, ‘Hey, could you say that again? A little louder please? I didn’t quite get the really important effing bit about how small your effing penis is?’ to resounding laughter and applause, and a shamefaced nod from the culprit.

But it wasn’t. Instead I stroppily put my computer away, thinking desperately how best to salvage the last half hour of my shattered idyll. I had it. I would – wait for it – walk into the next carriage. But not repeat NOT without making my point.

I dragged my bags together, picked up my jacket and as I passed his table – taking in the can of Stella and the fact that he was still wearing his coat – slapped down my paper and said loudly but not too loudly – wouldn’t want to disturb anyone ‘– d’you want a newspaper… bit of peace and quiet… terrific!’ in what was intended to be a tone bathed in sarcasm. I kept on walking. There was definitely no applause.

I then spent the final half hour of the journey shaking in The Quiet Carriage –  which though in no way silent was like a nunnery compared to the Bedlam I’d just endured – waiting for him to rampage through the automatic doors and knife me.

People. Fellow passengers! Why? Why!

Why do we put up with this? It HAS to be fear, surely? You can’t be human and not have felt irritation, mounting, sweating, scratching, exploding irritation. Or were all your first class tickets paid for? Do you do it all the time? Is it always this way? Don’t you want quiet, a comfy seat that doesn’t cut off your circulation, and a view? Were you secretly craving a dose of something akin to five vodkas, four expressos and an enjoyable journey spent scraping out your own eyeballs with a pointy cheese grater?

I only buy First Class if it’s no more than £10 above the Second Class ticket price. It’s a naughty treat in a life that’s been a bit lacking recently. I don’t want free refreshments, newspapers, obsequiousness, classical music, whatever. I just want a bit of peace, a view and space to breathe.

How I craved the yodeling baby, the good humoured, unfeasibly be-rucksacked Duke of Edinburgh’s students and the disturbed Labrador I traveled to Swansea with in Second on Saturday morning. I can handle my always quietly lurking and occasionally terrifying claustrophobia better than I could handle this man and the silently pathetic shower who put up with him.

Lost for words in the face of an effing torrent?

I’m sorry, Nora.


6 thoughts on “I’M ON THE EFFING TRAIN!!

  1. Alison, I SO sympathise! I wish you had done the full Nora Ephron impersonation but bravo for your gesture anyway. I think the reason people don’t complain about this sort of thing is that they’re (usually) English and brought up Not To Make A Fuss and not to get involved. I am temperamentally and culturally a fuss-maker but having lived here for a long time, I’ve more or less adapted, reluctantly. I think mobile phones should have a built-in gadget which sprays the speaker with water (or some less agreeable fluid) whenever his/her voice goes beyond an acceptable sound level.

  2. Alison, you can at least take comfort in the fact that you have created something truly hilarious out of such an exasperating situation. Boy have we all been there! I was in the ‘quiet’ carriage listening to a conversation going on several rows away from me, until I couldn’t take any more. I walked over and crouched down in front of the two ladies and said: ‘I think you should leave him.’ Both of them looked like I’d just flashed them my boobs. ‘Yes, I know,’ I said. ‘It’s shocking. I eavesdropped the whole conversation!’ Then I went back to my seat to the wonderful sound of silence.
    Keep up the writing and good luck with the novel.

  3. Alison, I was right there with you – I love the way you are able to bring such deadpan humour to this situation which we have all experienced at one time or another…really good fun! Yes, I think it is fear, fear of the pathetic shower not supporting us, that somehow we mightn’t be being reasonable or that it could ‘turn bad’.

  4. Oh yes…

    Horrifyingly familiar to me being something of a veteran of train journeys to and from Devon. I, too, have gone through a multitude of similar stressful train journeys with rambling nutters in the carriage, or boozy bores, aggro rugby chaps, etc.

    I have no explanation for quite why the number of journeys marred by such unwelcome train companions is so high… and I’ve also noticed precisely the same jarring, anxiety-inducing experiences frequently happen in post offices (and specially my local one on Brecknock Road, about which the word ‘surreal’ springs immediately to mind – every time I go through the door the theme tune to The Twilight Zone plays in my head).

    The only thing I do think is there’s something uniquely, depressingly English about it.

    Really loved that piece, Alison. Great stuff. Should be a newspaper column!

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