The Real Transport Crisis

One of the worst things about living in the Midlands – apart from, you know, living in the Midlands – is the tedious and painfully slow journey involved in schlepping down to London, for those times when life requires a bit more than the Black Country can provide. While I’ve been shocked at just how many people around here have never, ever been to London (what’s up with that?) and thus have no idea that there is more to life than this little hole in the Earth, I also regard them with a bit of envy. After all, they who know not the horrors of Virgin Trains and Silverlink services are blessed individuals, indeed.

I do thank my lucky stars that I’m only about an hour and three quarters from the capital, as God knows how much complaining I’d have to do if I had to trek to London from someplace like Manchester or Glasgow. But that’s small consolation when the woman sitting next to you – inexplicably, as there are plentiful vacant seats all around – removes her shoes and socks, stretches her legs out to rest on the seat opposite, and you look at your watch and realise you’ve got another hour and a half before your train pulls into Euston. I mean, really.

So went my most recent trip to Londinium, which was relatively uneventful, as train trips in this country go. I travel out of Birmingham New Street, which is regarded as the cause of nearly all train delays across the rest of the UK, as it’s such a major link to the entire nation. Basically, this means that I never have to worry about being late for a train, because the trains are rarely on time, anyway. But should I happen to arrive with nary a second to spare, you can rest assured that everything’s actually running to schedule, and I’m left loitering in WH Smith for an hour while I wait for the next train. Strange, that.

Last Friday, though, I timed everything perfectly, arriving at the station with just enough time to purchase a grilled chicken sarnie and Diet Coke for the journey south, as I’d skipped breakfast and lunch. I waited until the train had travelled past Birmingham International and on to Coventry, and then proceeded to take tiny, careful bites out of my sandwich. Not that it made much difference, as I still ended up with a lovely orange drip of sweetcorn mayonnaise on my crisp, bright white shirt. That was nice. Luckily, I had four days’ worth of clothes packed in one of my bags, and was able to change tops; I’m sure my fellow passengers thought I was a bit odd, but the fact was that I didn’t think much of them, either.

As per usual, there was one Twentysomething who looked completely uncomfortable in his suit – no doubt purchased from Austin Reed or Kensington Freak – and insisted on making call after call on his mobile. Then, totally overestimating my friendliness, he asked me if he could read my NME when I was through with it, and tried to strike up a conversation with me about Coldplay. The thing is, right, that I’m actually quite a sociable person, and always try to smile at people and not regard them with the disdain I’m really feeling on the inside. It’s called being false, and I’m good at that. But this bloke was utterly creepy, and I just did not want to engage in any sort of chitchat or small talk whatsoever with him, and proceeded to hand him my NME without a word.

When I came back from the loo, where I’d escaped to get some fresh air (I shit you negative – the woman with the bare feet was sucking all the good oxygen from the car, and the toilet was positively glorious compared to the airspace surrounding her), he had returned the paper to my seat, and was talking loudly on his mobile to someone about the ‘classic’ Brian Molko interview he’d just read in the NME. Um, yes, because the two minutes I was gone gave him ample time to read a three-page interview. I glared at him from my seat, sending as many, ‘You sad little FHM wanker,’ vibes his way as I could manage without breaking a sweat.

Happily, this particular train journey saw no sign of the Hell-sent Child (who’s usually far too old to still be allowed to shriek in public, and whose parents seem far more interested in the contents of the buffet cart than in the fact that their child is running up and down the aisle, screaming and kicking random passengers in the shins), the Bridget Jones Wannabe (in her late Twenties, moaning on her mobile about how fat she is, how much she’s dying for a fag and how no men seem to want to date her, making her fellow passengers go crazy while they try to resist informing her that her bitching and self-absorption may have something to do with it) or the myriad of mid-life crisis-suffering businessmen on their way home from work, reading the Financial Times and rubbing their forehead with such an intensity that one fears they just may peel their face off completely. Not to worry, though, as I’m sure I’ll be catching up with them again sometime.

But if I ever become them, or am travelling with one of them, please be a dear and shoot me at once. Ta!