I DON’T want to worry you, but I’ve been on a train. The controversial incident occurred last weekend, and I doubt if I’ll be repeating the experience.

Here’s how it came about. I needed a wee break, change of scenery. Hadn’t been anywhere for ages. I hate long drives, and had been toying with this train fantasy for some time. I’d really wanted to see my mates in Edinburgh but hate the six-hour drive and, besides, the “budget” hotel I’d stayed in during spring at £28 a night was now £130-odd a night. Bizarre. And it was fully booked.

To cap it all, the indirect train journey would take seven and a half hours. I’ve a restless bottom that can’t take sitting long and, with a mind of its own, would probably start blowing loud raspberries to embarrass me so much I’d have to fling myself from the moving carriage.

So I conceived the idea of going to another “city” (one of these wee places with a cathedral). Journey time: two and a half hours direct. The cost wasn’t bad, so I booked it and a little, reasonably priced “garden annexe” in the suburbs. However, as usual with anything unusual, when I woke up on the morning of the trip, I didn’t want to go. I told myself I had to be brave. Even so, as soon as I was away, I wanted to come home.

I’d heard the trains were empty due to the pandemic, but mine was absolutely rammed 40 minutes before it was due to leave. There were only two carriages, and my fears were first aroused when, on my way to the station, I found myself preceded by a coach-load of elderly tourists.

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Once aboard, I discover I’m the only passenger who isn’t English, over 65 and obese. Everyone else starts eating as soon as the train starts though, to be fair, it is lunchtime. All the same, my precious and doubtless irritating sense of otherness is enhanced, meaning that quite soon I shall spend my life sitting atop a pillar in the middle of the desert.

Holidaymakers who’ve come to see the sights stare down at their phones or into their crisp packets as the pretty scenery passes by. At least, the first half-hour was pretty, bit like the Lake District or Norway, before degenerating into typically Scottish moorland.

I nearly die, my face turning blue, as I stifle a cough. Don’t know why I bother. Nobody else does. Somebody spent the entire journey sneezing. The guard declined my suggestion of having the police arrest her at the next station.

A commotion erupts behind me as someone is having a to-do with the conductor about a seat. In a surprise development, this individual then sits next to me. Although the most anti-social person on the train, I’ve kept the seat next to me free for others, while the sociable Thatcherites have put defensive bags on theirs.

This old hooligan has loose hair and dandruff on his shoulders. I toy with telling him to clean himself up but opt not to converse at all. For a start, his mask isn’t on properly, so his nose is uncovered. Luckily, he’s a mouth-breather. He’s looking at my notes, so I change to shorthand, which is unfortunate as I can’t read that.

I wish the journey would end. Mentally, I’d called it 2 hours, 30 minutes. But it was 2 hours, 40 minutes, and so it was the last 10 minutes that nearly killed me. Bear in mind I’d been seated for 40 minutes before the journey started, and there’d been a 30-minute car journey to the station.

My butt had been sorely oppressed for three hours, 50 minutes. Whole thing would have taken two hours, 20 minutes by car. True, I hadn’t had to make decisions about overtaking or to endure tailgaters, speedsters and slowsters. But, whether by car or train, I know this: it is better to arrive than to travel.

Laugh a minute

WITHOUT my car, I couldn’t go anywhere so, on my visit to the “city”, usually ended up in the mall. I’m a mall rat. I don’t know why I go, as I never buy anything. It’s probably just for the atmosphere.

Alas, the mall was where the most embarrassing incident of my visit occurred. As I approached an intersection of shopping corridors, a clock struck 11, and I noticed people coming to a halt down the corridor to my right. Thinking it was a minute’s silence for 9/11 (which was actually the previous day) I took my hands out my pockets and stood respectfully to attention.

I was appalled to see others, particularly on my corridor, just breenging past, ignoring the remembrance. Some even gave me funny looks. Then I noticed that the ostensibly respectful people in the adjoining corridor were looking up at something, so I went over to investigate and found they’d actually stopped to watch a decorative clock with mechanical figures marking the hour.

Waving my fist at the contraption, I scuttled off, hoping this wouldn’t make the mall staff’s Christmas CCTV video.

Tweedle dumb

I WORRIED about people tittering at me in the city and, predictably, they did. As usual, I think it was my hair as, back at my digs, I detected a sort of ridge on top. You’d need hawk’s eyes to spot it. But they did. Extraordinary.

The alternative cause was my trousers. I’d ordered black Wrangler cords like I’d worn when young and sexy, but now they bunch at the knee à la mode, so maybe folk were thinking I was an older guy trying to look trendy.

The only mercy was that I decided not to wear my tweed jacket. I counted only two decent jackets during my stay. One was on an eccentric old guy who also wore a deerstalker (like the bow-tie, a nutter giveaway).

The other was on a fellow in his nineties who stopped me to ask where the cathedral was. When I said, “I don’t know no shit about no cathedral, man”, he hobbled away rapidly, looking distinctly discomfited. He was probably thinking: ‘Next time, I’ll ask someone in a proper jacket. And no daft ridge oan his heid.’

Massive pants

OTHER anthropological observations on my trip include a disturbed young woman shouting to the world that, even if we’re good, we’re all going to hell. I’m tempted to tell her we’re already there.

There are few foreign tourists, but I make notes in my investigative reporter’s notepad of home-grown ones doing that “on holiday” walk where they take steps but make no progress. Perhaps they’ve picked up bad habits abroad. When I attempt to interview them about it, they’ve no explanation. Again, as with the cathedral man, they look slightly panicked.

I stare in the windows of coffee shops. They look right sophisticated, so I don’t go in. I wouldn’t know what to ask for. “What kind of pies do you have?” Markies men’s clothing department has shrunk, but the pants have got bigger. I buy a huge pair but later find they’re actually “lounge wear”, with pockets and everything. I’m not sitting around the lounge in my pants. Load of nonsense.

So, overall, did I enjoy my trip away? I did not. And I do not look forward to the next one.

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