Strangers on a train (2)

6 Feb

There are some trains for which a first class ticket costs barely a farthing more than cattle (or ‘standard’) so why not go for it? And so here I was again at Manchester Picadilly, a couple of weeks on from my last visit, enjoying the delights of the Virgin first class lounge which sits, like a mobile TV studio above platform 1, with a view to die for…or from. I positioned myself as Gabby Logan did when overlooking the Olympic Park.

As I was settling in to my machine cappucino, iced water chaser and Wolf Hall, I noted my fellow loungees. Asian – Indian husband, wife, daughter. Well-behaved, quiet. Two smart 30+ladies, all business suits and laptop bags. Two younger men, one power-overcoated, the other thin grey suit, thin grey tie. Top buttons undone – both.

Thomas Cromwell’s wife, Liz,  had just passed away when a thought occurred. None of the noises off in the room were being spoken in English. I thought that I recognised Malayalam – the Keralan dialect – from the stern Indian father;  the smartie ladies were definitely French; the boys were bantering in a growly eastern european way, between iPadding, iPodding and playing with their androids. I cast my eyes over the seething mass of rush-hour Manchester.

And on to coach H, seat 05. The 18.55 under way. I turned pages. Cardinal Wolsey’s position getting dodgy and Thomas More serving notice that he’s a smarty-pants. I was restless, however, since my evening tastebuds were telling me that it was past wine-o’clock. Ears wandered. More strange sounds. Russian? And Chinesey? Certainly more French. Then the train manager intercommed. I think I caught Stockport, and Crew but missed Wilmslow and Milton Keynes. He spoke with the fast asian certainty that his passengers could understand every word. His voice was light and comforting and impenetrable. I have a lovely friend in Cochin with whom I have spent many hours of delightful whisky-laced conversation: he in the certain knowledge that I understand all his rapid-fire RP English; me in that exhilarating state of second-guessing and linguistic ‘catch-up’ where the game of jigsawing sentences or knowing grunts and gestures becomes an art. I didn’t get to meet the train manager. Pity.

Shortly a drinks trolley rattled in, prodded onward by a tall blond hunk of a young waiter – all Third Reich and noble bearing. A step behind was a gorgeous dark-and-olive waitress looking as if she’d just shoe-horned herself into her unform after jetting in from Mauritius or Hawaii or wherever else these visions are created. I waited for the language hit. From the mouth of Adonis came the uplifting harshness of South London –Looks like you could do with a stiff one, Sir – no word of a lie. What do you suggest? said I. Nothing better than the Cab. Sav, if you like a bit-o-red…and why not have it in the tumbler, y’never know how long the food’ll take. Well the deal was done and I was showered with undersized packed of pretzels and Tyrrels’ crisps. Bloody silly these piddling little packs. Barely get a mouthful. I was all agreement and gratitude.

Then he rumbled off and Aphrodite appeared with menu and pencil and when she opened her mouth out came Joanna Lumley, Moira Stewart and Fiona Bruce all rolled into one. Too shy to ask her where she hailed from, I restricted myself to mumbling my preference for the chicken and stuffing sandwich, fresh fruit and coffee later. And so I sank back into the arms of Hilary Mantel and the crimson warmth of the Cab Sav.

While my ear struggled with the sounds around me I was buoyed by the crisp and surprising clarity of my attendants. On delivery the sandwich turned out to be a white-Sunblested nightmare. The packaging sported an image of Nelson. I wouldn’t have advertised the Englishness of this product; the great admiral would have spat the thing out. Aphrodite was all apology and offered me another banana. Adonis reappeared near Milton Keynes to announce that I needed a double top-up to see me through to Euston. You’re very chirpy at 9pm on a Friday, I offered. Easy job,  I like people, got the weekend off. Well it’s easy if you smile, I said. You make it look easy. Well, Sir, the way I look at it is that life’s too bloody short, innit?

Too right.

One Response to “Strangers on a train (2)”

  1. Steve page February 7, 2013 at 1:37 pm #

    You know what? When I read the above i could have been in seat 06! Although, I would of plumped for a G&T on this occasion as the atmosphere in coach H warranted one.

    How are you Paul?

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