Saturday, 29 October 2016


In the interests of balance & equality,  I’d just like to say that my recent journey back from the West Country was faultless.
I am a curmudgeon when it comes to rail travel.

My tickets were valid, and accepted by both machine & man.
The trains arrived (almost) on time, and they were half-term busy, but not overcrowded.
South West Trains free wi-fi was again ‘excellent’, and Abellio managed to get me to my destination without too much hassle.

I would also like to re-iterate that I adore London Underground.
It’s a completely different kettle of fish when compared to the fractured, self-interested, privatised rail operators, and I am always amazed at how they manage to keep millions of us on the move;
efficiently, democratically (no First Class elitism here!) and daily, regardless of whether it is a weekend or a windy, leafy, rainy, hot day.

I saw the power of a smile today.
A Bakerloo train full of tourists and people of all shapes & sizes.
A little boy fascinated by his own reflection.
An infectious giggle, followed by a series of smiles, passed willingly around the carriage;
first with him, then all of us with each other.
I could’ve wept it was so sweet.
Let's be honest, there is far too much hate and resentment in this world; and even though I know I am a perpetrator of ill-feeling towards my ‘enemies’ and The Establishment and The Man, I would like it to be known that my anger is contained, and reserved entirely for social-media (and the odd demo).

But loving shit, as I'm learning albeit slowly, is so much easier than hating stuff.

I spent the latter half of my journey chatting to a fella of a similar age, also from south of the Thames, also on his way to visit an ailing father in hospital.
He was struggling with modern public transport and needed a wee, so asked me to watch his bags.
When he returned we both discussed our inabilities to find a WC at Stratford.
I let him know about the one deep inside Westfield Shopping Centre, and we laughed about how it was never an issue back in the old days, when every station had a toilet, but we were young enough to hold on.
It then transpired that his father had been a Warrant Officer in the forces for many years, similar to my father. They had both been stationed in Aden & Cyprus, and were both of the same age.
They were also both in the throes of fighting their final battle, and we couldn’t help thinking that the Sergeants’ Mess  on ‘the other side’ was gearing up for an onslaught of Douglas Dakota aficionados.
Mike had recently been trying to arrange a series of football games between his two loves, Crystal Palace and Panionios in Southern Athens. They were amateur level games between supporters.
He had also seen a large influx of Syrian & Yemeni refugees to the area, and was hoping to develop tournaments that helped with the integration of the new population.
Panionios were famous for embracing migrants from Izmir in the early part of the last century.
And despite having no financial backing nor any assistance, Mike saw this as his raison d’etre.
I told him to contact the Eagles' biggest corporate sponsor Nestle’, and demand that they support his cause.
I insisted.
It was all I had.
I then shook his hand, wished him well and disembarked the train at Ipswich.

When Mike dumped his bag in front of me "busting for a piss",  I felt the same sort of affront that anyone does when they’ve claimed a table-seat all to themselves, only to have it snatched in a last minute coup, by an outsider or foreigner that insists on sharing.
I outlined my space with demarcation gadgets, coffee flasks and rail tickets, and made it clear that he wasn’t to sit opposite me at the window, by stretching out my dungaree’d leg barriers.
I immersed myself in the details of my phone’s message inbox, whilst peering surreptitiously from behind the safety of my paperback fence.

He wasn’t familiar to me.
Not a friend.
Not an acquaintance, nor even an eye-catching pretty girl.
A stranger who seemingly had nothing in common with me.
A public transport ‘refugee’,  from another place entirely.
None of my business.

That was until we established the fact that, at some point in our journeys, we both needed a wee.
A normal bodily function.
Just like everyone else.

I hope Mike got to see his dad before it was too late.
I hope no-one is denied access to their parents at times of crisis.

And I thank him for reminding me that despite our perceived differences, we are all essentially the same.