Railroaded

Over the years I’ve done a lot of miles by train. My earliest memories are of steam locos, because Carnforth was apparently the last English depot to run Steam locos. I travelled the length of the country before the railways were de-nationalised (or whatever you call it) and I’ve done the same since.
I remember travelling on a rackety dirty train from Newcastle to Carlisle. It was slow, cold (it was snowing outside) and noisy. The journey was enlivened by a sailor who joined us in Newcastle and was travelling home to Carlisle. He’d bought two cases of Tartan with him as essential supplies, having already had a pint or two before he’d got on the train.
He was a happy, friendly drunk. He was just delighted to be going home, glad to be mixing with people who spoke similar English to him and his wife and kids were apparently waiting for him at Carlisle. So happy was he that he walked the length of the train (a whole two, or perhaps three, carriages), handing a can of Tartan to every passenger so they could drink his health. It has to be said that he was followed by the guard who collected the cans from those who weren’t sure what they were supposed to do with them. The guard then drifted him quietly into the guards van where he sat and just listened to him talking.
Or there was the other guard I remember. This was travelling by Virgin rather than the old British Rail. An elderly lady was a bit worried when he checked her ticket. She was worried she’d got the wrong sort of ticket for the journey. No, she’d probably got the right ticket, it’s just she was on entirely on the wrong train and was heading in the wrong direction at over 100mph. I think this was the last straw and the poor lass was in floods of tears. The guard was brilliant. He phoned ahead, she was met at the next station by one of the porters who would see her on the right train back. He also got word ahead to the train guard of the right train who was told she was coming and was organised to make sure she got off at the right stop. Looking back on it, I might have been lucky, but the staff I’ve come across working for Virgin on the trains have been fine.
Then there was the other occasion when youngish chap started mouthing off at a female passenger who was of Indian Sub-continent ancestry. His comments were racist, no doubt about it, and there was a growing unease in the coach. Indeed a few people did tell him to pipe down. But unfortunately I think that for her, he was the last straw coming at the end of a bad day. She was an articulate and obviously well educated and intelligent young woman and she just lost it with him. She verbally tore into this not too bright lad, and frankly it started to look like bullying, her IQ could easily have been twice his. I wish I’d taken notes, you rarely hear anyone so comprehensively flayed. Everything she said was self evidently true. The guard was summoned, and by the time he arrived both of them were beyond reasoning with. As he tried to calm things down and sort things out, a sergeant appeared on the scene (I never noticed the regiment) and calmly took the lad in hand, sat him down next to him at the far end of the coach and just let him talk. Quietly and without obvious effort he got the lad to just pour out everything, a rubbish education, an ‘unstable’ family back ground, a couple of dead-end low-paid jobs that he’d been made redundant from when the government grant stopped and his employer could replace him with a new starter who came with full grant. The lass calmed down with the provocation gone, the guard faded quietly away, as there was nothing he was needed for and the rest of us relaxed.
On the other hand I’ve family who farm near a railway branch line. They had one working dog who was elderly, and somewhat eccentric. This isn’t unusual amongst border collies who feel that once you pass a certain age you’re entitled to do the canine equivalent of wearing your underpants out side your clothes.
But this dog, when sent into a field to fetch cows out, would run right round the field, keeping close to the hedge. An unusual technique but it seemed to work well enough, cows saw the dog, metaphorically checked their watches, realised it was milking time and came home happily enough.
Until one day the dog went across the branch line to check another field, found there was nothing there and came back. As it was crossing the branch line a train came, and the dog just lay down on the sleepers and when the train had passed over it, got up and carried on checking for cows.
They had watched this performance with stunned disbelief, and a couple of days later when the vet was in the yard, someone suggested he check the dog. The vet examined him carefully, stood up and announced that for all intents and purposes the dog was blind. He’d got into the habit of following the hedges so he didn’t get lost in the middle of the field and end up going round in circles.

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4 thoughts on “Railroaded

  1. M T McGuire July 7, 2013 at 9:17 pm Reply

    This has to be one of your best posts ever. The Virgin trains people… I’d guess they’re mostly like that. Anyone who has to work for a public transport is required to be able to go a bit beyond the call of duty. And the story about the dog… Wow.

    • jwebster2 July 7, 2013 at 9:20 pm Reply

      Glad to be of service. And commissioned because a lady wants something to read on a train in Vietnam.
      When the sailor was handing out his cans of Tartan, there was still a South Vietnam.

  2. keirarts July 9, 2013 at 7:07 am Reply

    The days of the rickety locomotive are not gone! Try Northern Trains, especially the slow train to Carlisle going up the west coast! I occasionally get the Virgin trains between Preston and Lancaster and they are nice. My only real complaint these days is the Railways are so Fragmented it becomes something of a nightmare if your journey takes you across patches owned by more than one company. Preston to London is fine for example. All owned by Virgin and the canny booker gan get a good deal going online. I also remember going from my Aunties in Bedford back to university in Stoke-on-Trent and it costing a small fortune. Cannot understand why we don’t just look at how their run in France and Germany, both countries operate relatively clean and efficient services, Or better yet strip all these dodgy railtrack style operations of their franchises and hand it all over to Branson,

  3. jwebster2 July 9, 2013 at 10:21 am Reply

    I tend to go north-south so have less bother, but then did a trip to Ely. East Midland railways are an abomination, I changed at Brum, sat down in my seat on a Virgin going north and wondered if I’d wandered into first class by mistake.
    Certainly we could do a lot worse than just hand the whole thing over to Richard Branson 😉

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