It transpired that they were both South African expats, living in the same Surrey town, not far from each other; she was tall, athletic, ash-blonde – but with dark roots – and a PA/Exec in the City with a beauty spot above one lip. He was similarly tall, a brown and slightly wavy-haired David McCallum-esque figure, in a black trench-coat, turn-ups, and cheap wingtip shoes.
They both wore conspicuous wedding-bands which they flashed at each other, or otherwise toyed-with, all the while.
It further transpired that he’d seen her out walking her dogs at weekends, they knew the same shops, and might know some people who knew some people who also each knew them. He was also something in banking. Her husband worked “all the hours” in IT, and she touched a cupped hand to her cheek and said how happy they were. They swapped conversational roles for a while, him talking about why he’d come to the UK, while she tweaked errant hair strands with increasing frequency.
Although it was particularly fine beer, I began to wonder whether the pint of Battersea Power-Station Porter before the late sushi dinner with PJ, mightn’t be having a synergistic effect on top of the several, diuretic, customer-meeting-driven strong coffees.
I was in the drop-down seats of the Sprinter carriage – the wall-mounted ones near First Class which fold-up to allow wheelchair parking – watching this brief encounter play-out. A couple of matrons bustled in the seats to my right, and the rest of the train was occupied, with dire warnings for passengers who might slip into the First Class section without a proper ticket.
I was also right next door to the loo. Very convenient.
I soon emerged to find that someone was sitting in my seat. Someone had stolen my seat. On a train where no-one was standing. Bizzare. I looked at the miscreant quizzically, and then around the carriage, and a cute, Cosmo-wielding brunette saw my predicament and shuffled her bags aside to give me a space.
I thanked her, and sat.
“Excuse me,” says the miscreant, “did I steal your seat?”
“Er, yes. Yes you did…”
“Oh! I’m sorry, would you like it back? I was looking for my friend, he said he’d be on this train…”
“No, it’s all right, I’m fine, thanks…”
At which point one of the matrons, now to his right, cackles into life:
“Oh! I thought you’d changed your trousers!”
“I thought you’d gone to the loo to change your trousers! When this gentleman sat down, I didn’t see his face but the trousers were a different colour! “
Reassured that I was not a closet trouser-changer, Very British hilarity – shared, mild amusement – ensued. The newly-acquainted couple were swapping addresses and phone numbers as we pulled-up into Brookwood, and exited the carriage with a confident step.
Good luck to them. I cranked-up the iPod with Voice of the Beehive. “I say nothing, I talk to no-one…”
We shed more passengers at Woking, and yet more at Farnborough, only to pull out of the station and come to a complete stop. This stoppishness persisted. An announcement was made that a train had broken down in Fleet, we wouldn’t be able to stop there, and that we’d reverse into Farnborough and swap to the Express line.
We got back to Farnborough to find that swapping to the express line meant we would not be stopping at any of Fleet, Winchfield (my stop) or Hook. Nor would any other train be stopping at those places, because the engineers were “going to turn the juice off, for maintenance”.
Oops. Bugger. Hang on, trains run on juice nowadays?
Cutting the next two hours short: an East European woman of insecure demeanour screams to the world that they are all playing with us and suffers major dramatic collapse because her husband is waiting for her at Winchfield – 9 miles away – and cannot be reached via cellphone so he will probably come back here, which is truly ironic because they surely only live two minutes away from Farnborough station.
A slick suit orders up a car, and a taxi to take the woman to Winchfield if she likes – well intentioned, no doubt, but she cannot make any decision for several minutes, instead bent upon asking everyone else what they are doing, and repeatedly insisting that “They are all playing with us!”
What am I doing?
“Well, I’m disinclined to throw good money after bad, I’m going to hang around a bit and see what happens, get home, and then perhaps write a snotty letter to Southern in the morning, for all the good that will do.”
I hook up with Maartin – yet another South African, and a business analyst with
Price Waterhouse IBM, and we spend the next 90 minutes jumping on/off trains, blockading them by standing in the doorways until we can establish where they’re going, until overshoot our destination, get to Basingstoke, swap platforms, and wait for the 2054 up-train to Winchfield.
“I’m a South Efrikan; we hijack transport that goes faster than this. Shall we get the next train?”. He grinned. “That said, it’s not been too bad recently. It’s much better than it was a few years ago.”
The 2054 is late. Its arrival is blocked by the one that is parked on the platform, which transpires to be the one that died outside Fleet and caused the whole mess. I consider kicking a carriage for dramatic humour, but decide against it in favour of hexing it roundly and dramatically whilst the staff scuttle to get it off the platform.
The 2054 arrives around 2110. Maartin and I thaw-out on the 15 minute ride to Winchfield.
I wave him goodbye, get home, and change the cat-litter.