It was Saturday and the beginning of a week’s leave; always a happy time for old Fitrambler. I planned on spending it with my parents who live in Plymouth. It’s like a holiday and parental visit rolled into one.
The weather forecast was not promising but then it hadn’t been promising for some time. The recent snow in Swindon caused vast problems recently, even though it only lasted four or five days. I’ve never been able to understand why bad weather during the winter months is such a surprise for our public services. The comment “we weren’t expecting it” always rings out. I mean if you can’t expect snow in Winter, when can you expect it? You would have thought the severe weather warnings would have given it away?
Needless to say, once I’d paid for my train ticket I was told I’d be travelling by coach. Well, of course, why wouldn’t I be? Buy a train ticket, travel by coach. Yeah, makes sense!
So, clutching my ticket, I was told I’d need to go to the car park where the coach would be waiting. I frowned, slightly; maybe if I paid to go by coach they’d put me on a train? No, thinking about it, that was silly. More likely I’d end up being put on a rickshaw pulled by an old man!
I was directed to the high spot, above the ticket office, where the cold wind cuts across, not directly outside where all the other coaches leave from. Well, of course it would be, why not shove the passengers to where the wind is likely to cut through their bones.
So, once up there and spending two minutes in the cold, slight flakes of snow making me dread what could be ahead of me on my journey, I was approached by a rail official.
‘Where are you travelling to?’ he asked politely.
‘Hopefully, Bristol Parkway,’ I replied, my optimism wasn’t at its best.
‘That goes from here,’ he informed me.
‘Great, that’s what the lady who sold me a train ticket told me. It’s good to see we all agree…’
He ignored my less than good cheer – he probably saw a lot of irritated passengers during the course of his days – par for the course. Probably from the naive ones who thought that when they bought a train ticket they’d be travelling on a train.
He told me I could wait in the building behind me. I followed his directions through two automatic doors. There were some comfortable seats and I chose one, dragging my purple suitcase on wheels. It’s only a small case, but it had a couple of towels, DVDs of “Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple” for Mother, slippers, my shaver, medication and some photos I’d printed off, again for Mother. I don’t pack much by way of clothes because I have plenty I’ve left down there from previous visits with the family.
I was alone for about five or so minutes, thinking at least I didn’t have to deal with the biting cold from outside. It was grey and bleak out there, a few flakes of snow had fallen but not settled. Snow was forecast again but weather opinions change so frequently, rather like the weather…
The comfort of being inside in a relatively warm area was short lived. Others turned up and played the game of “let’s walk in and out of the doors so that the cold air cuts into the room”. It was quite a popular game played by half a dozen or more, especially those with kids. It was such a great game the rail official decided to join in. Funny how things catch on? It left me thinking I’d have been no worse off if I’d stayed out in the cold.
It was setting itself up to be another one of those wonderful journeys. All that was missing was the obligatory noisy brat; the one that cannot talk below a thousand decibels!
Finally, after a false alarm, the coach arrived and we boarded it. I stayed back a little and was one of the last to get on, even though I was the first there. I didn’t mind too much as there was a brat (yes, “it” had arrived) and it’s mother was in front of me. I wanted to see where “it” sat before I found the furthest seat away from it. You get to learn these things.
I took on board my rucksack and let the driver put away my wheeled, purple suitcase in the compartment on the side with the other passengers’ luggage. I wasn’t too happy about not having it near me on the journey but understood why I couldn’t.
Once settled, in a seat and with no one sat next to me, I relaxed a little. In the interests of fairness, I have to report that the brat was quite quiet and very well behaved (probably given a sedative before “it” left). It was a pleasant change…
However, two seats in front of me a man talked the whole journey, which wouldn’t be much of a problem if he hadn’t been doing it as though he was on stage performing; a poor man’s Brian Blessed. I could have sat right at the back of the coach and still heard him loud and clear. From the expression on the poor sod who he was talking to, I got the impression he was no more enamoured by this “talking machine” than I was. The poor listener seemed to only be allowed three contributions to the conversation “did you”, “yes” or “Oh dear”, neatly slotted in the appropriate place.
I can never understand people who feel the need to tell strangers their life story. I can accept people who tell the odd anecdote about something amusing that happened to them, but the autobiography renditions, running to several volumes, no.
When I’m travelling, unless it’s with someone I know, I prefer to do it as quietly as possible. I don’t want to be involved with anyone travelling with me. If I do have the inconvenience of having someone sit next to me on a train then I’d prefer it if they just kept quiet.
The coach left a minute late (laudable by train standards) and the journey took about fifty minutes.
I was so glad to get to Parkway and have the chance to leave the talking machine behind. I also felt for the bloke who’d been listening to him up for the best part of an hour. He was relieved to see Talking Machine get off the coach; some peace and quiet for the remainder of his journey.
‘See you again, maybe,’ said the talking machine and disappeared.
The expression on the talking machine’s victim suggested “not if I see you first!”.
I dashed off the coach and made my way inside Parkway. Out of the two Bristol Stations, I like Parkway the best. Not exactly sure why, perhaps it’s because it’s not so busy and crowded like Temple Meads.
Of course, it could be that there were only four platforms on Parkway. That means when they decide to change platforms for a train’s arrival, there’s only a few minutes travel between them. Unlike Temple Meads where if there’s a platform change they make sure it’s the furthest one away and with fifteen platforms, that’s quite a distance, and usually you’re only given a couple of minutes to do it. Maybe it’s part of their plans to get customer fitness up. (Side-bets by staff about who goes ass over tit trying to catch their train in the meagre time given is purely an added bonus.)
I got inside and checked the timetable. It was 15.55 and the next train that would get me to Plymouth was at 16.30. I walked along to Platform 2 where I decided to take refuge from the cold wind inside the waiting room.
It’s amazing how things catch on, so I wasn’t surprised all that much to see that the game of “let’s walk in and out of the waiting room so that the cold air cuts into the room” was being played here as well.
It wasn’t until I checked my watch and saw it was only thirteen minutes to go, that I noticed my purple bag wasn’t with me. My little suitcase on wheels…
I looked around anxiously and then remembered that I’d been so anxious to get away from the Talking Machine that I hadn’t waited for the coach driver to unload the bags and collect mine.
I rushed out of the waiting room and back to where the coach dropped me off. It was thirty minutes since I arrived so didn’t expect the coach to still be there. However, there were two blokes who were supervising the arrival and departure of coaches.
I explained my problem and he patiently listened. Once he dealt with the current coach he made some phone calls. Unfortunately, he couldn’t get hold of the coach who dropped me off and speaking to Head Office resulted in very little. Finally, he told me that when the driver came back the bag would be discovered and more than likely be dropped off at the ticket office.
Still trying to avoid the natural instinct of doing a Corporal Jones impression and running up and down yelling “Don’t panic!” I went back inside Parkway Station. I’d now missed the 16.30 train and the next was due in less than an hour.
So, I went into the ticket office, being as I’d been told that was where my suitcase would go to. However, I wanted to know what they’d do with it then? I mean was I to pick it up on my return journey? Hmm?
So, I spoke to a chap in the ticket office who said it would probably end up in the small office upstairs. However, he took my number and said he could ring me when it turned up, which I thought sounded helpful.
I thought it would be an idea to cover all bases and speak to the blokes upstairs where all the lost property ends up. As I was making my way towards the stairs – feeling I was getting a lot of exercise, so not all bad – I saw the two coach blokes coming down. The one I’d spoken to earlier smiled at me.
‘We’ve found your bag and it’s being brought back here, should arrive at around 17.23’
I thanked him, went back into the ticket office and updated him and then looked at the departure boards. The next train going to Plymouth would be 17.26, three minutes after the coach arrives with my bag.
I frowned and saw that the train was expected ten minutes after its scheduled time. For once, the train being late was to my advantage. No doubt I’d suffer later for that piece of luck…
While I had time on my hands – it was only 16.50 – I went upstairs and got myself a chicken and bacon baguette and a hot chocolate. I handed over a tenner and the change I got back made me feel like I’d been mugged. I mean I can take a joke but…
After a scoff and a drink, I walked around a little, while I waited for the coach to arrive with my estranged bag. I felt I might as well get a bit more exercise in, so just wandered aimlessly around.
Fortunately, the coach turned up on time (are you paying attention train companies?) and I was reunited with my bag. We didn’t quite run at each other like Cathy and Heathcliffe, shouting each other’s names, as the scene goes in “Wuthering Heights” but when Coachguy held up the case, I did feel a little emotional.
But no kiss and cuddle; I’m English, after all.
I offered to buy coffee for the Coachguy but he refused. He told me it was part of his job and I wasn’t alone in losing a case or a bag. Obviously he was a veteran of many bag loss campaigns. Whatever, it was nice to know that someone in the rail transport system was on the ball…
Keeping the bag close to me, I walked back into Bristol Parkway, onto Platform 2 where I would catch the train that would take me back to Plymouth. It was now seventeen minutes late, but for once I didn’t care…
Feb 1 2021
You can’t fool me, Blameworthy! The Captain to whom you are hoping to compare yourself is obviously Captain Sir Tom Moore. And perhaps you’re on to something in terms of physical decay (see comments passim). But the true Captain – one thinks of Horatio Hornblower, Jack Sparrow or Kremen – has leadership skills you singularly lack. Any ship under your command, for instance, would almost certainly sink and far from going down with your ship, you would do all in your power to save only yourself. Washed up on a desert island despite your selfish antics, the men who survived only by their own wit and ingenuity, would find you both reluctant to sacrifice yourself for their sustenance AND horribly tough to swallow down, even with the aid of salvaged rum.
When first you wrote on this blog, you billed yourself as Mr Blameworthy. Now, you are Blameworthy: this seem an appropriate trajectory to be taking and a find example to Fitrambler, whose professorial illusions continue to be completely disrespectful to Professors from Max Challenger to any of the Professors in Morse / Lewis / Endeavour.
Steady on, now, GloomLaden! Perhaps you are being a little harsh on Professor Fitrambler to compare him in an unfavourable light to the great Chris Whitty, who surely deserves a knighthood, or even a peerage, for services to informed pessimism. Fitrambler, after all, is a relative novice in the professing business. Given time, he may, perhaps, fine tune his talents and go on to achieve great things. At this stage, I am sure he would not expect to be spoken of in the same sentence as heroic achievers such as Professors Yaffle, Plum and Pending.
After all, if I opted, on the spur of the moment, to call myself Captain Blameworthy, I could hardly expect, without years of hard work and dedication, to stand comparison to the likes of Pugwash, Haddock and Underpants. Give Fitrambler time, he is still a relatively young man. Well, relative to me he is, anyway.
And another thing: Fitrambler has started calling himself Professor, a title to which he has no right. Look at an actual Professor – Chris Whitty, for instance – and you see the gulf yawning wide. Did Fitrambler tragically lose a parent in his mid teens? Did Fitrambler climb the academic ladder with dogged humility, rising through the ranks to become Government Chief Scientific Adviser by the age of 54? Has Fitrambler been a key part of the response to ebola, let alone covid19? No. What was Fitrambler doing while Chris Whitty was making his steady, measured progress to the apex of the medical administration of the nation? Well, the above blog shows us pretty clearly the answer to that. ‘Oh,’ you will say, ‘not all Professor’s are Chris Whitty.’ Perhaps. But such Professors – Brainstawm, Jimmy Edwards, the Radio One producer referenced on Jimmy Savile’s Old Record Club in the 1970s and 80s – can hardly be considered in the same breath as the man on whose epidemiological prognostications all our fates presently hang.
And another thing…
I could have taken offence at your unflattering portrayal of my appearance had it not been more than 18 months since our final drinking session in Oxford. If you could see me now, you would understand why some might consider your remarks to have been rather complimentary.
You do yourself an injustice, GloomLaden, in stating that you are no Bronzino statue of youthful manhood. Except that, even allowing for the five centuries between your existence and his, it is unlikely that a famous Italian would have deigned to travel all the way to Swindon to portray a man who rarely leaves the security of his own terraced home.
On one of our pub crawls in Bristol a few years ago, I remember thinking that the statue of Edward Colston, had it been able to climb down from its plinth unaided, would have been more than capable of outpacing you from pub to pub after a hogshead or two of Imperial Stout.
I disagree with Fitrambler on the point that, meeting Blameworthy on successive occasions, it is possible to feel that nothing has changed bar the odd gray hair or wrinkle. On every occasion I ever met Blameworthy, it was like meeting a totally different person, each more like a barely animate cadaver than the last. Even at our earliest meetings, one felt the presence of a gerontologist would be helpful in fostering understanding between us and later on in our friendship, I went so far as actually to carry the telephone number of an undertaker on my person against what seemed the inevitable moment of his demise. Our conversations always had the gravitas – false, as it turned out – of those one has in hospices with terminal relatives: all past tense and no future. His skin was always parchment thin and eerily, luminously discoloured, his eyes rheumy and red as Leonid Breznev, his bones unsettlingly audible, clicking and clacking away as if they were the soundtrack accompaniment to a Heath Robinson drawing of some unoiled machine. The intervals between our meetings in those days might have been mere weeks but Blameworthy’s physical condition wore their passage as if they were decades. I am no Bronzino statue of youthful manhood myself but to watch a man decline so vividly before my eyes was a terrible thing. It does me credit that I continued to attend our meetings when it would have been better to remember the man as he was. Except that he was a crumbling ruin at the inception of our acquaintance.
Heart-warming to see a new Fitrambler blog post after such a lengthy absence. I sympathise with you concerning the mislaid suitcase. Over the years I have absent-mindedly left my small rucksack in a wide selection of pubs across the land, not to mention most of the railway stations on the GWR network and beyond. Many of my days out by train have been undertaken purely to travel back to the place where I left my bag, containing jacket and camera, the day before. Even I have yet entirely to forget a whole suitcase, though.
I feel I must take issue with you over your preference for Bristol Parkway station over Temple Meads. Parkway has the look of a life-size setting for the filming of another Thunderbirds movie. If you pause and look closely you may even spot the strings from which many of your fellow passengers are being operated. The Parkway platforms are also too narrow to cope with the volume of travellers using the station at busy times.
Temple Meads on the other hand, is a splendid collection of buildings which have blossomed from roots at the site of Brunel’s original station. In his book Britain’s Best 100 Railway Stations, Simon Jenkins rates only eleven of the entries as five-star and Temple Meads is amongst those best of the best. Even the station bar is housed in a classic building. Whilst I accept that Parkway, with its more modern design, may be more user-friendly, it’s a soulless place with nothing of architectural quality to attract the eye of the true connoisseur.