22 February 2008

Once upon a time in the West

I did an unusual thing yesterday - I took the 1845 from Paddington in the evening. I'd managed to record my quota of time and had reached the point at which I couldn't tolerate any more time in the office, and I'd turned down an invitation to run at lunchtime, so I was pleased to be on my way home and glad to be a few minutes earlier than usual. Unfortunately I missed the 1830, but more unfortunate still was the fact that the train I caught does not stop at Didcot.
I cannot imagine how this fact passed me by. I have looked at its listing on the departure boards many times and rejected it because it is usually so crowded (conveying, as I have written before, to their homes all those dozing Welshmen who populate the morning up trains). Today, however, the 1848 to Cheltenham was showing "delayed", an ominous admission which encouraged me to take the slightly earlier one. At least I boarded it early enough to find a seat.
By the time I had alighted at Swindon, waited 25 minutes for an up train and returned to Didcot, our evening was well and truly ruined. It was in part redeemend by encounters with two other rail users, both gentlemen in, I guess, their seventies. The first was alighting at Swindon with a large wheeled case ad a heavy shoulder bag, assistance with which he declined, although he was grateful to have the door opened. I observed that he was travelling well-laden, and he told me he was travelling for two days. Still, that seemed an inordinate amount of luggage for two days, but then he made himself a little clearer - he had left his home in Ukraine and was now, I assume, at his destination. He seemed as English as most, but I had no time to find out from him why he lived there. Romania and Bulgaria might be popular places for second or retirement homes, being cheap and having agreeable climates (though I do remember 25 years ago how bitterly cold it
was in Transylvania, and indeed in Bucharest: I don't suppose even the coast would have been much better in January). I suppose Ukraine has its Black Sea coast too - did it get Yalta in the break-up of the Soviet Union?
Then as I finally reached Didcot the second gentleman asked me to open the door as he lacked the flexibility to lean out and turn the handle, and indeed when we descended to the platform he walked with some difficulty, and a stick, and took the lift in preference to the stairs, curtailing our short conversation. But how refreshing - though it isn't that rare an occurrence on the railways - to eschange a few words with a fellow human being.
This morning, I arrived in time to see the 0700 pull in and leave before I could get to it - a couple of minutes late, but I had checked the latest on the web site 40 minutes earlier and it had reported that the 0700, 0711 and 0720 were all on time. However, the 0711 was missing from the screens that tell hopeful travellers when their train might be expected: one of my regular companions told me that he had learned that it had been cancelled. It was running 20 minutes behind schedule (all that time lost since I checked its progress on the web site - or perhaps not) so to help it along they cut out
its stop at Didcot. Well, if it were that late it would be no good to me anyway, and at least it is Friday, and half-term, so whatever trains do appear are likely to be fairly quiet.

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