Public transport and I have a difficult relationship. I won’t even entertain catching buses. Trains are tolerable. Occasionally, depending on the weather, the view, and the severity of one’s hangover, they are pleasurable. I will even concede that I can now appreciate the value of the tube. Nevertheless, my relationship with trains in general remains tumultuous, and I fear my indifference has backfired: trains hate me. And this week has exemplified this perfectly.
I spent last weekend, much like I’ll spend this one: at home and with my ponies. I caught up with friends and with my quota of fresh air, something I feel London is lacking, even in the most pleasant areas. Having dreaded returning to my 11-stops-and-counting commute, I found myself actively blinking hard, resisting the prickle of tears as I stepped off the platform. I love listening to Dolly Anderton’s ‘Love Stories’each week, but it was a bad choice for me that morning, because for the second time in what feels like weeks, her guest waxed lyrical about her enduring love of London. As I wondered how many of those around me also loved London, the comments left me feeling intensely isolated, completely displaced. ‘Don’t cry,’ I told myself. Do. Not. Cry. I felt trapped, unable to escape either the carriage or the stifling heat. A bead of sweat trickled down my back. I felt a heaviness in my chest, as if someone was sat on my lungs. On one hand, what happened next diverted my attention sufficiently to avert my attention from the creeping sense of impending doom I felt. On the other hand, it was probably the last thing I needed and hammered home my loathing of having to negotiate public transport each morning. Someone farted. Enough said.
So today I am escaping. As I write, I am freshly returned to a sunny South Wales for the weekend. It’s not been an especially straightforward journey. It was never going to be: I set off with three heavy bags and an excited dog. It was going fairly smoothly until the conductor informed me somewhere between Swindon and Bristol that my dog had to be on the floor. Apparently, it’s company policy. I checked: it doesn’t state it on the website and, as I informed him, I have never been asked to keep her on the floor before. In fact, only last week another member of staff told me not to worry about putting my coat underneath her as she was probably much cleaner than a fair few of their passengers. “Can’t have dog hairs on the seat,” he retorted, not on his “watch”.
A broad South Wales accent intervened: “She doesn’t molt, actually. And we don’t mind her.”
“No,” piped up the woman opposite me, “she’s lovely. Here, let me see if I have some dog treats in my bag for her…” Now, this is precisely why I love the Welsh, and in particular, that special breed of South Wales ‘Mam’ figures. They’re like terriers when they feel there’s a cause, and are unafraid to stand up and stand in. Except then we got chatting, and it all went downhill.
I very nearly missed my change at Cardiff Central. Mainly on account of the chat. Luckily, one of my defenders pointed out where we were, otherwise I would have missed it entirely. Imagine the scene: the carriage is full despite several having vacated. Nevertheless, several more are making their way down the isle, scrambling to find a seat. Whoever made the isles so narrow? Because I am frantic by this point, attempting to squeeze myself, a very large backpack, a smaller – but full – rucksack, a carrier containing a riding hat and boots, and a dog down the isle past all of the people attempting to board. At one point, a man, obviously frustrated with my efforts, swore and threw my rucksack into the air backwards. I gasped, horrified. Both my personal and work laptops were in the bag. I reached to pick it up, flustered. It was precisely at this point that I heard a tear. For a moment, I froze. I couldn’t feel a breeze on my bum cheeks but there can be no doubting where the tearing sound came from. My cheeks – the ones on my face – flushed and I didn’t know where to look. Still I needed to get off the train so I hurriedly scrambled forwards, heaving my bag behind me. On the platform, I let the dog go, there was still no breeze on my backside but I threw my coat around me just in case.
For the remaining two hours of the journey, I boiled in my coat but was too scared to take off the coat. Now that I’m home, the damage has been assessed. My trousers have indeed torn, but at the pocket, rendering the tear barely visible to my sister, deployed immediately to assess the damage.
Walking down the drive, I caught sight of my car. It’s stood idle here since last weekend when I chose to journey back to London on the train rather than face tyrannical city drivers. But I couldn’t help smiling when I saw my lovely little motor. Bring on the tyranny.