Monday, 5 March 2007

Train journey.

This is a story in two parts – the journey to and from London and the time we spent there, so let me start at the beginning.
Last Sunday the two eldest children were farmed out to trustworthy friends with an appropriate three day supply of clean knickers and socks, probably pointless in my son’s case as he has previously returned from a week’s mountaineering in Snowdonia with one pair of pants for me to wash – the others still neatly packed.
The following morning a friend came to give me and the little ones a lift to Plymouth railway station. My ticket was for the 8.55 train but our first hurdle was the hellish queue on the Torpoint Ferry. At twenty to nine we were just driving off it and at ten to nine I was the mad woman running down steps, along a concrete corridor and up another flight of steps to where the train was ready to depart. Heaving an enormous ruck-sack on my back, a smaller one on my arm, a handbag and a small child, I was puce and sweaty by the time we clambered on board, the five year old trailing behind with her own little pink ruck-sack on wheels. Of course, no-one bothered to help, I don’t know why but it depresses me so much that politeness and compassion are things of the past, after all I’m sadly used to everyone looking out for themselves, being horribly rude and swearing profanities at the slightest provocation, which is probably why the very smartly dressed ‘railway’ employees standing on the platform just scowled at me instead of giving me and my kids a hand.
Once on the train I found my seat only to find that those around it were reserved and so my children had nowhere to sit after Newton Abbott. I had booked the tickets last month when my girl had been four and thus when she could travel for free – so the situation is thus, children under five can travel free of charge but they are not entitled to a seat! I went in search of the train manager and once found, realised to my chagrin that he was not the most polite of men and was most put out at having to help me. Eventually he returned to inform me gruffly that empty seats had been located behind each other in another carriage.
“I can’t sit separately from my children”, I said in disbelief, “They are only two and five. They can’t be expected to sit alone for four hours”.
“Suit yourself” he growled, “I tried to help you”.
At Newton Abbott, a couple came on and duly turfed the children out of their seats, thankfully a middle aged lady who had seen my struggle, graciously and kindly gave up her seat so that my children could share. At Exeter more and more travellers boarded the train so that soon there wasn’t a space to sit anywhere, in fact, other than there weren’t any passengers on the roof, we could have been in India with people everywhere – between the seats in the gangways, between the carriage sitting on their luggage and in the toilets. Had the train even braked sharply it would have been carnage. Curious, I left the children with their crayons, took my camera and excused myself every couple of seconds as I picked my way through the disconsolate passengers. Sure enough, the First Class compartments were virtually empty. I took some snaps as proof that 98% were travelling in almost inhuman conditions whilst the remaining 2% sat with their lap tops oblivious to the rest. This disparity between the first and cattle class was made more acute when I queued to buy a coffee. A woman in front of me asked for a small bottle of mineral water,
“Sorry” said the purser, “They are for fist class passengers only”.
The train finally made it into Paddington and I was delighted to find my friend waiting for me. We negotiated the traffic and she was more than happy to pay the congestion charge just so that my girls could see the sights of London. They were impressed by the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben, but by the time we’d whipped through Victoria to Buckingham Palace were both fast asleep.
That evening, once my friend’s three children were home from school and all five were happy eating tea, I took a stroll to Parson’s Green and looked at the estate agents window. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry – a common or garden garage, the like of which you shove a car and lawn mower into was for sale at £60,000, whilst a studio house i.e one room with a bed on the mezzanine had an asking price of £1,350,000. The following day after a trip to see the dinosaurs at the Natural History Museum, I dropped in on another couple of friends who have recently had a baby. The very young wife proudly showed me around her new home, a three bedroomed terrace house, no garage or garden. “We got it for a real bargain” she giggled conspiratorially, “Only £675,000”.
The friends I was staying with have their own real estate quandary. They are soon giving up the rat race – a job in which the husband’s junior left in a fit of pique after only receiving a paltry bonus of £750,000, well someone else had received - drum roll please - £50,000,000. They are not sure whether to sell it at £1,800,000 or let it for £2,000 per week. What a dilemma.After a fabulous trip to the Sound of Music on Tuesday night, it was time to return to the as yet, uncorrupted glory that is Cornwall. Is there any point telling you that the return train journey was just as hellish, where one charming man asked me and my children to move to another carriage? No, you probably guessed as much eh?

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