A posh train to paddington

I often work and live in a bubble. It’s a rather liberal lefty bubble in which the rich are lined up against the wall, sweating as they hear the click of breaches being loaded, the UK is a republic with Prince Philip working as a butler to the Chinese, and there are free drugs for all. I read the Guardian, scoff at conspiracy theories and consider shakra alignment to be something to do with a civil engineering project in Goa. I do eat lentils, but only infrequently, never wear socks with sandals, and beards are for men with masculinity issues or who have a very loose relationship to personal hygiene. I also think Trident is a useless piece of American controlled technology used mainly for macho posturing on the ‘world stage’ by those whose buttocks still smart from the spankings they received at Eton.

I do not read the Daily Mail.

Today my bubble is being pricked. I have an inside seat to the ‘real world’ for the next 5 hours on the 1030 to Paddington, courtesy of two ladies of a ‘certain but also strangely indeterminate age’ who have both commandeered the table at which I sit. As I write, the iPad is perched precariously on the edge of the table taking up about 4 inches. I have had to place my coat, bag and hat on the overhead rack a little distance from my seat because the two ladies have also deposited bags, and other equipment required for the colonisation of an exotic land, directly over my head. They have claimed the whole of the table through the judicious placement of coffee, handbags, one copy of the Mail (for wives of those who run the country) and one copy of the Express (for those who think they run the country). As I take my seat, there is not one flicker of acknowledgment that I might, just might, require a little space in which to breathe. I pluck up the courage and do something ‘Un-British’ by daring to ask that the Tesco carrier bag of assorted victuals, be shifted slightly to one side of the table. One wears a bright purple jumper, the other a turquoise, and both colours matching their lipstick and eye shadow. Their seats have no reserved tickets but I somehow sense they are going all the way to London. As I contemplate this, my heart sinks faster than an anvil on a tissue paper raft. Their talk volume is set to ‘High’, oblivious to everyone else and uncaring that we are involuntarily co-opted into their southern county shire musings. However, every utterance is a gem, exemplifying everything I would laugh at in a sitcom and, as such, would consider it satire. But no, this is for real.

They are a microcosm of the Tory Party conference; self congratulatory at their own success, overly confident of their knowledge and myopic in their outlook and understanding of ‘people not like us’. And yet after an hour they have not yet mentioned ‘migrants’.

I have heard opinions on the new chief executive appointment at the local health trust (“bring back matron”); Osborne’s budget (“come out of the EU and we will soon have a surplus”); fuel duty (‘it should come down”); Trump (‘he speaks as it is’) and the EU again, (“Obama should keep his nose out”). However, and perhaps to my surprise, they rail against useless bankers, footballers and lawyers on the basis that they earn a wheelbarrow of fivers per hour and yet produce nothing. They get back on track through suggesting that the ‘drunks and druggies’ should be charged £200 every time they use accident and emergency.

Notwithstanding the bureaucratic nightmare of administering and collecting that fee, decided on who the best person is to do that job and chasing up non payers, I can’t see many heroin users, paying for a £100 a day habit, whose veins resemble the London underground map consisting only of the colours of the Piccadilly line, putting away £200 in a personal ISA just in case they need resuscitation at short notice. Those engaged in a ketamine fuelled weekend of hedonism and psychedelia, dancing to the lobotomising influence of psytrance, are not apt to future planning or strict pecuniary control. The rational allocation of resources to maximise one’s utility is not something undertaken by those who give themselves up to the irrational misallocation of personal judgement via narcotic, and often sexual, means in comprehensive attempts at self and spiritual development (at best) or pure naked oblivion (even better).

Are we really asking that nice middle class junior doctor, whose only dodgy experience with drugs is half inching paracetamol from the ward drugs cabinet following a night of over exuberant use of sherry, to face a drunk docker decorated from head to toe with tattoos the size of Nigeria, the smell of a cesspit and the attitude of a startled wart hog with piles, for “£200 please, there’s a good chap”?

Are we really expecting that nice fresh faced young nurse, whose “mummy was a nurse”, who “I’ve ways wanted to be nurse because I want to help people”, when faced with a meth crazed sex addict, high on a pharmacy’s worth of ‘alternative’ medications whose only goal is to snort, swallow, inject or insert (any orifice will do) medications (herbal, natural, industrial) at great pace and with increasing regularity and in any location including the local accident and emergency department, to extract anything other than piss and self pity from the aforementioned?

Drunks already pay through National Insurance or tax on beer and spirits, while ‘junkies’ would pay if the commodity of intoxication of their choice was regulated, taxed and controlled in the same manner as alcohol. Drunks, in many cases are also not ‘other people’ they are us or our children, parents or friends. But I digress.

The two ladies are still talking, not drawing breath passing comment on solar panels, housing associations and the use of ‘tablets’ by a family at the next table. As we cross the Tamar (oh my god, that means another three hours) they have covered more topics than University Challenge and Mastermind combined, only with less veracity or insight. I wonder if they can see the blood oozing out my ears.

Just as we enter Devon, it’s Bingo!

“If they were a migrant they’d get…”

Hurrah. A home run at last.


I have just used a time machine. It was easy.

All one has to do is catch the 1000 Penzance to Paddington service, wait until Plymouth for an announcement for the opportunity to be transported.

At the front of the train are three coaches, two for first class and one for the Pullman dining car, also kitted out as first class.

So to be whisked back in time when the Cornish Riviera Express, steam hauled, rattled and rolled at speed to and from London, just get out of one’s seat in Standard and walk to coach K at the right time.

At about 1300 I fancied a coffee, my head being assaulted by the galubriuos incessant jabberings of the two ladies of a ‘certain but indeterminate age’. The announcement had been made that anyone wishing to dine should make their way forward and as I rise out my my seat this enchantment tempts me onwards. The train slips past Dawlish on a beautiful sunny afternoon, the red cliffs on my left and the sea to my right. I make my way through standard coaches thinking that the coffee in the buffet car will be a welcome break. Teignmouth and the waters of the exe estuary glisten in the sunshine.


I’ve not eaten since breakfast?

Perhaps it is the sunshine, perhaps it is the promise of past glories, perhaps it’s because I’m a soft touch when it comes to dining cars on trains. Perhaps it’s all of three and more reasons I’m not aware of.

Sod coffee. I’m going for lunch in the Pullman car.

And oh what a delight. Now this is travel, this is the way to get to London.

First Great Western have rebranded themselves as the GWR, the Great Western Railway. I can hear the sighing of railway buffs across the country, grown men become moist at the thought, another age beckons.

I’m greeted by a smartly attired waitress who shows me to my seat. Since the rebranding the coaches have been refitted with grey leather seats, backed with a green logo and in gold lettering GWR. The table is laid out for dinner, table cloth, wine glasses, proper metal cutlery and a wine list. A wine list! I have a picture window seat, adorned with green GWR curtains. The glory that is South Devon eases by as I peruse the menu. All is quiet, save for the tinkling of the staff preparing lunch. I’m forced to order a half bottle of the Cote du Rhone. Forced, mark you, and choose the lamb shoulder.

I’m sitting grinning like the Cheshire feline whose not only found the cream but realises that he’s been given the keys to a feline harem with an ‘all you can eat’ (if you get my drift) remit.

The waitress pops the cork, asks me to try the wine and leaves me to consider just how fortunate I am. It is not cheap, if you only count the cost of the actual food and wine. But if you count the experience, and the service, and the peacefulness, this is a bargain. The train leaves Exeter and races alongside the M5 through Tiverton and beyond. We must be doing over 100 mph. No one is crying, puking, shouting into their phones, making racist comments or being just plain stupid. Every one smiles in this coach. There are more staff in these three coaches than in the rest of the train. I count at least 5 of them. The wine eases a dry throat.

It’s all I can do to stop meself ordering another half bottle of ‘that which pleases’. I do have another dinner appointment tonight in Covent Garden with colleagues from Napier University, Scotland. So, perhaps I need to apply the brakes a little on my reveries and lugubriousness. I’ve got three quarters of the way down that half bottle and the lamb has yet to appear. Maybe I’m channelling my sister who is a known and keen ‘friend of the grape’.

Taunton comes and goes in a flash, but soon afterwards, the lamb arrives, accompanied by dauphinoise and leeks. Considering that this is all cooked on the train, it is remarkable that the quality is as high as it is. The food is excellent (notwithstanding the effects of vintnery on judgement) and would stand easily against any immobile kitchen. The romance of the rails just adds to the totality of gastronomic delight. The waitress even remarks on my attire (pink silk time red waistcoat) as she serves (she has been well trained to flatter).

Somerset gives way to Wiltshire which gives way to Berkshire. A white horse stands sentinel, carved in chalk into the hillside. It is not the one with the big willy, or is that the Cerne Abbas Giant? Reading will be the next stop but I’m staying put for a necessary coffee to see me through to Paddington. I only hope the two ladies are not going through my bags back in coach B. I guess they may well be discussing immigrants and their deleterious effects on British culture. One of the staff on this train delightfully serves coffee, ‘despite’ being from Eastern Europe.

I note that the crockery has the GWR and Pullman logo. The thought occurs that I could perhaps liberate it from the table, but that is only the wine.

The dream is nearly over, I must get back to my reading on ‘Foucaldian post structuralism on care as gift v care as vigil’ before my ruminations on the place of the social sciences in nursing for tomorrow’s round table discussion at King’s College. For such is the life of the modern academic. Cosseted, despite a pay cut lasting 8 years. God knows what I could have afforded if pay had remained in line with inflation.

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