I like my travel like I like my social media: authentic. So obviously, when I spend £250 on a pair of train tickets, what I’m looking for is a service that runs over 30 minutes late and is so rammed I have to stand for three hours next to some broken toilets. There’s nothing more authentically British than a piss-poor train journey.
Overpriced, over subscribed and under resourced, my recent Great Western Railway journey from Totnes to Paddington was basically a deluxe battery hen experience. I enjoyed a Giant’s Causeway of baggage in the aisle and a relentless stumble of travellers heading to the buffet car — all apparently unable to exist without gorging on a £3.50 tea and a KitKat bundle. While each time the train slowed to a stop, there followed a rhythmic wave of sighs and such mass eye-rolling I feared we’d de-rail.
Does anyone take the train these days expecting it to be different?
It’s tricky dressing for this kind of inconvenience. What I should have done was wear some non-precious, worn-in sneakers (no disaster when they’re driven over by someone’s wheely bag) maybe some shorts, perhaps a casual Needles track top. A context-appropriate, inconvenience-assumptive outfit, chosen for comfort and practicality. I, however, chose to go another way. I wore a virtually new Comme des Garcons Homme blazer and trousers and my new ‘best t-shirt’ imported from Japan’s Softhyphen. But that’s not the worst of it. I also wore brand new shoes — I know right. Never worn shoes x hours of angry travel ahead? Idiocy.
The shoes in question are huge. With an insanely thick tread and an audacious square front, they’re Kiko Kostadinov at his most what the fuck? And they squeak. Which I didn’t notice at first. But once I did, I couldn’t hear anything else. Every step, every switch of weight from one foot to the other sounded like I was walking on dog toys.
As the tenth passenger ‘excused me’d’ past my crunched up position in the vestibule, treading on the tips of my squeaky new shoes as they did so, I began wondering if a stretch in Belmarsh would be all that bad.
What you need in such circumstances is a little entertainment. Something to take your mind off the abattoir of basic human standards you’ve paid good money for. Fortunately GWR had thought of everything.
Three steps to my right, wobbling around between carriages, there was a crop-haired bloke who looked like an aging Russian assassin. And the fucker just wouldn’t stop laughing at his phone. Thirty seconds of some blaring military marching music, then a cat falling off a chair, then someone slipping on some ice, then military marching music again, then something that sounded like Abba… It was TikTok x You’ve been Framed, out loud, for ever… He was having the time of his life. I was searching my luggage for some polonium-210.
Nice clothes and real life are often completely incompatible. Floundering about trying to stop your bags from rolling away, as people barge by double-fisting coffees, to the relentless soundtrack of a simpleton’s phone… it’s hardly premium lifestyle. My shoes were rubbing, my back ached, I was thirsty (“no refreshments trolley today”, the tannoy crackled, “there’s too much luggage.”) All I could do was gaze blankly into middle distance and wish for the end.
I glanced at the faulty toilets I’d spent hours leaning on. Even the stick figures on the doors were broken. The stick man was missing a leg, the stick women was just a head.
I knew how they felt.