They say there are 70 million people living in the UK now. Last Sunday on the day of the London Marathon, I’m fairly certain half of them were on my train to Edinburgh. Of course, it wasn’t exactly a train to Edinburgh, it was just a big tin can crammed with bodies sat stationary at platform 3 of Kings Cross London. In their infinite wisdom, Network Rail had decided that on the same day several hundred thousand people would be descending on London for the marathon, they’d have engineering works on all but one track going north east. All it took was one train to breakdown at a key point in the network to screw the plans of a couple of thousand travellers. Since when did we stop having a Plan B?
After standing in between carriages with half a dozen others for an hour wondering if we’d ever get moving, I decided I’d search the train for a reserved seat which hadn’t been occupied. If someone came along and demanded it, then I’d move, but I was too tired and hungover from the Stag-Do I’d participated in the night before to be dicking about outside a toilet that smelled like it hadn’t been flushed in years.
So I sat my ass down for a while, eyeing up my fellow passengers to see if any would be worth speaking to to pass the time. The couple opposite were reading a copy of the Sun on Sunday. Nope, they’ll have absolutely nothing of value to say to me. The chap across the aisle isn’t any better as he is reading a book called “The Essentials of Marketing” which has to be 3 inches thick. This is a man that should be jumping under the train and not riding inside it. It’s going to be a nightmare journey and we haven’t even left the station yet.
*bingbong* The train announcer chappie gives us an update that if any passengers wishing to go to Scotland get off the train and head for Euston Station, Virgin Trains will accept our tickets. Even though I’m loathed to use anything Virgin at the moment, getting out and walking back to Scotland will be preferable to getting kicked every five minutes by the Murdoch supporter sat opposite me. Off the train! Halfway up the platform a lone East Coast employee is surrounded by about 20 irate passengers all yelling at him that ‘Somebody has to do something!’, like he can suddenly magic the tracks back into service or move the stricken train blocking the line at Stevenage.
When I get to Euston, I thought it best to check with a Virgin employee to find out if I’ll still be able to go from Glasgow to my final destination of Bathgate, or if I’ll have to do some crazy cross country shit and go via Edinburgh. “Yeah probably.” is not a fucking answer. I wanted to say to him “You really couldn’t give a shit could you? You aren’t that happy that you work for a scumbag company for what is probably minimum wage, answering queries from people that care even less about you, and doing it all on a Sunday.” But instead I let him continue pretending to be interested in the customers who needed his ability to give half arsed answers.
The main concourse below the departure boards in Euston is fairly packed now. I’m stuck here waiting to find out which platform the 16:25 to Glasgow will be boarding at. There’s no need to look at the board, because as soon at it shows up as Platform 16, everyone within half a mile heads that direction so quickly there is a sonic boom, leaving just me standing there on my own. There’s no point in me rushing, since the number of passengers getting on this train has effectively doubled, so my chances of getting a seat are about the same as David Cameron has of being awarded Humanitarian of the Year by the Women’s Institute! So I stroll down to the platform, get on board and park myself in the vestibule nearest the on-board shop, as I will more than likely be needing more beer before this trip is out.
There are 3 other guys stood with me between the carriages. A Geordie that is clearly looking the worse for wear. A younger guy that looks pretty much like a student, and a fairly perky looking Scotsman that seems totally nonplussed about the whole train packed like a sardine tin affair. This is confirmed as soon as he reaches into his bag for a can of beer. Which is my cue to do the very same thing, an act he toasts as the train starts to pull out of the station. While the Geordie and the student sit themselves down on top of their bags by the doors and get ready to pass out, my fellow countryman and I start sharing our travel horror story so far. Useless station staff, no information, travelling families ignored…yeah, I think I’ve found someone fairly decent to chat to on this journey.
For the next couple of hours as we head to our first stop of Warrington, we’ve effectively laid claim to the area next to the doors and turned it into our own little pub, and we chat about a range of topics, from how crap public transport has become in the UK and how envious it should be when compared to mainland Europe, to the merits and/or pointlessness of some of our crazier health and safety laws we have to adhere to in our jobs. We share various tales of travels near and far and some of the more silly situations we’ve ended up in, as well as a few more tins of beer. By the time we reach Warrington, I no longer care that my feet hurt, or that I’ve been standing way too long and that I still have no idea when I will next get an opportunity to sit down. At Warrington, the Geordie leaves us.
As we get on the move again *bingbong* what is normally the usual welcome on board speech from one of the Virgin staff, turns into one of the worlds worst apologies for the train being overcrowded. She then goes on to say that any passengers unfortunate enough to be standing who had planned to go to Edinburgh, well they should change at Preston as they are sure to get a seat on the connecting train from there. This idea is appealing, especially to my new drinking buddy who is trying to get to Dundee. We have a quick look online at the train times and the connections we’d have to make, I’m still fairly sure my fastest bet for getting home will be to stay on the train to Glasgow. Our decision was made for us when another bingbong announcement informed us that the shop which sold the expensive, but only supply of beer, is now closed. Fuck it! We’re getting off in Preston.
Thankfully the shop inside Preston train station sells beer, so me and my friend stock up. The student joins us on the platform to await the Edinburgh train and we crack open our next drink. We share one with our student friend as he’s been smart enough to examine the board for train times, and has discovered that the train we are getting is a splitter. We must get on the front half of the train in order to carry on to Edinburgh. The back end of the train could well be going back to London. “Cheers dude! if you hadn’t found that nugget out we might never get home. Ever! What’s your name by the way?” Our clever lad is called Lawrence and the Scotsman is called Allan. We chink our cans and toast the adventure that is a journey on public transport.
It’s not long before the train pulls in, and we stand back to marvel at how tiny it is. The entire thing is only 6 carriages long. 3 carriages to carry all these people to Edinburgh? It’s already half full! We curse the Virgin staff member for their shitty suggestion that we change at Preston. Oh well, time to make another little pub for ourselves, keep the conversation lively and carry onwards to Edinburgh. We also carry out more internet searches as Lawrence needs to get to Newcastle. I dig into National Rail to find if he changes at Carlisle, he’ll have about 30 seconds to work out which platform the last train to Newcastle is on. Just beyond the doors is a helpful chap who works for First, and he knows which train it will be. As we arrive at Carlisle, he instructs Lawrence to head up the stairs, get over the bridge and pointing out of the window, “That’s your train there! Go! Run!” And we say farewell to Lawrence.
And we also say hello to about 100 friends we’d left on the Virgin train. All the ones that decided not to change at Preston had to change at Carlisle. They didn’t really have to change at Carlisle. They could have stayed on to Glasgow and carried on from there. But obviously the Virgin staff had been at it again. Our train is now beginning to resemble a train to Calcutta. Crammed in along side Allan and I are a mother and daughter who had gone down to London to see the Lion King, a husband and wife from France, heading to Edinburgh with their two rock star looking sons for the week, and all their bags. And that was just on our side of the vestibule. There’s at least another half a dozen folks opposite us. And I’m getting desperate for the loo. I hold it as long as I can, but after about 20mins I have to try and swing from the overhead hand rails to get past everyone. It’s utter chaos and Allan and I cannot stop laughing at how ridiculous it has become. And it’s going to get worse at the next station. We just don’t know it yet.
But we still continue on. We do our best to make fun of it all, and keep our fellow passengers laughing. One or two of them may well have been pissed off at our jokes and howls of laughter, their smiles only there to keep the two mad drunks happy. But when we finally pulled into Edinburgh, got off the train and breathed in the fresh air, everyone waved to and bid each other a pleasant life. I stare up at the board through bleary eyes trying to work out when I’ll get a forwarding train to Bathgate and realise I’ve just missed one. So it’ll be another hour where I am. I head off to pay 30pence and find myself standing next to Allan again, who has about 40 minutes to wait until his 22:25 Dundee train leaves. “Come on then,” says Allan, “I’m buying!”
There are seats in this pub, and it’s an actual pub this time. Allan and I sit ourselves down and take a huge weight off. I’m exhausted. We comment on how our meeting on the train was a lucky one, as our day of travel nightmare turned out to be a bit of an adventure. As Allan is recounting a time as a younger man in Berlin, when he’d plucked up the courage to go over and say hi to John Lydon, a fact I’m rather envious of, and as I’m saying so I glance over his shoulder to see the clock reading 22:26. “FUCK FUCK FUCK!” Go man Go! Good luck!” And he was gone.
I’ve no idea if Allan made it to his train, but I hope he did. Otherwise I have visions of him blagging a late room at the Balmoral on Princes St. I finished my pint and made my way down to the platform for the Bathgate train, which from experience I know will be waiting there at least 10 minutes before it leaves. I sit myself down on what feels like the comfiest of sofas (and we all know train seats just ain’t that comfy) and I think of how every overcrowded train should employ an Allan. One near each door, with a bag of beer, a cheery grin and enough tales and chat to keep passengers from getting pissed off at how shit our public transport system has become. Call it Public Relations.