The Future Doctor of Railways | Conversations on the Train

The Doctor of Railways

The Doctor of Railways

I meet David at the British Library. We go to the shop , then walk round the corner to King’s cross, get tea and a panini, and board an 11.00 train.

“Where are you going?” I ask.

“York,” he replies.

“What for?”

“I’m going to see my PHD supervisor.”

“How long have you been doing a PHD?”

“Four years, four months.”

“How much have you written?”

“A lot. I have to re-write a lot though. I submit it in chapters.”

“How long is it?”

“About 90,000 words.”

“That’s novel length,” I say, “does it have a beginning middle and end?”

He laughs.

“How much longer will you be doing it?”

“I’ve got to have it submitted by October next year, but want to have it done by the end of this year so I can get on with some other stuff.”

“What’s the title?”

“Running Round Screaming…” he says.

I laugh.

“No, something like; Management on the London Southwest Railway from 1870 – 1910. Basically, sounds very dull but covers the sociological aspects too. Questions like, who were the railway managers and where did they come from? What were their lives like? There were two types of staff – clerical and non-clerical. The clerical had a career laid out before them – inter-management. There were very specialised entry requirements, there were exams, and you had to get references from people like vicars etc.”

“So it could be a bit nepotistic?”

“Yes, it was full of nepotism. You tend to find that most managers were middle class and upper working class families who put their children into school – though that obviously wasn’t  so relevant after universal schooling was put into place after 1870.”

“What did you do before you started the PHD?”

“I did History at St. Mary’s, then an MA at King’s. I was always going to do a PHD – I initially had one in military history lined up but then thought – do I really want a PHD in military history? I thought about it and I’ve always been interested in railways and considered that I might be able to do niche journalism afterwards, so went with it.”

“So you’re doing it at York Uni?”

“Yes, York and the Institute of Railway Studies & Transport History at the National Railway Museum. In fact, my department is right next to the NRM.”

“When I finish I will be a Doctor of Railway Studies, which I think sounds pretty cool.”

“Yeah, I think you’ll be in there with all the ladies,” I say, “So you plan to be a journalist?”

“Or a teacher, I’m not sure there’ll be many jobs for writers of railway history. I might even try and be a freelance journalist. At the moment I have my job in the library, which pays quite well.”

“Which library is that?”

“Kew Public Library. I’m the manager, part-time.”

“Is the library destined for closure along with all those others?” I ask.

“I don’t know what’ll happen to it yet,” he says.

“Are you angry about the library closures?”

“Well, I think it’s true that there are some libraries which are open just because they’ve always been open. They might not need to be. And we do have to face the fact that people just aren’t using libraries as much.”

“Because of the internet?”

“Not necessarily – books are cheaper now. Then there are all the other forms of entertainment. Luckily there’s nothing to suggest people are reading any less than they used to – which is nice.”

“What else do you do?”

“In the ten minutes I have left over? Read, go to the cinema… I’m a big fan of beer festivals. Doing a PHD is pretty all-consuming though. Oh – I do go to the humanist group quite a lot.”

“Where’s that?”

“By Euston.”

“And how many people go?”

“It’s the Central London Humanist Group – the largest. We’ve got about 200 members.”

Not a lot for the largest, I think. A shame, I always think of humanists as being a collection of very gentle types.

“What do you do there?”

“Well, humanism offers a way non-religious people can celebrate the important events in life – people coming into the world, marriages, people leaving the world. So we have discussions about those things and drink,” he smiles, “that sort of thing.”

“I’m also a seminar organiser for History Lab – which is a community of post grad and early career historians. It’s a good place for early historians to give their first paper or present.”

(that’s present-ation – not gift)

“One of the problems a lot of people have is being able to relate their PHDs to the public. People perceive the public won’t be able to understand the complexity of their work, which is a mistake,” he says, “something History Lab have been doing to help break these misconceptions is running a blogging project. We hope this will go some way toward helping disseminate ideas.”

Sophie Collard on Google+

The Home Care Assistant | Conversations on the Train


Care Assistant

The Home Care Assistant

The local train in Bristol again.

“What do you do?” I ask the twenty-something woman sitting next to me.

“I support people to live independently in their homes,” she says.

“What kinds of people?”

“Elderly people, people with dementia, people with physical and learning difficulties.”

“So what’s your job title?” I ask.

“Home Care Assistant.”

“And what do you do on a daily basis?”

“We assist with daily living tasks – getting up, getting washed, dressed, having breakfast brushing hair, any laundry. That sort of thing.”

“And how many people do you visit a day?”

“About eight.”

“Tell me a story,” I say.

She thinks briefly, aware of the limited time the short journey allows and says, “I went to see someone last night and she thought I was trying to burgle her…”

“Did she know you were coming?” I ask.

“Yep, we’re there same time every time,” she pauses and then says, “a better story though… I was driving in to work and saw an elderly woman running across the road. I thought it looked like one of our residents, then saw a crowd of staff running after her. She was trying to get to the supermarket.”

“At one of the residences there was a lady who used to pack her suitcases every night because she thought she was going to Butlins. She’d beat us off with a stick if we tried to stop her. The building was in a square and she just walked round and round. Only way you could console her was if you got her into the dining room and gave her a guinness.”

I ask how it is that her job title is Home Care Assistant if she works in residential homes. She explains that she used to work in residential homes but changed job so the hours were better.

“A resident went missing once. Staff searched every room, as well as the grounds, but couldn’t find her. The police were called. They got a helicopter out. After half an hour, turned out she was hiding behind a bathroom door. And the helicopter cost like two grand – that was the same woman who’d been running to Morrisons.”

“Do you think you’ll do it forever?” I ask.

“No,” she replies.

“And how long have you been doing it?”

“Six years on and off.”

“Who was the most memorable resident?”

“I actually know the answer to that straight away. It was a woman who lived in the first care home I worked at. She used to call me ‘mum.’ Wouldn’t let anyone else care for her. We had a really good rapport. Then she died. That was the first time I saw a dead body too.”

I find it interesting someone can be so casual about death. I ask how many dead people she’s seen since. She says lots and I think how interesting it is that most of us very rarely come into contact with the dead.

“Will the job be any different next year?” I ask.

“As of April, we’ll no longer be providing a service for people other than those with dementia. So all the other categories of people we support will no longer receive that support. Not just the elderly and people with physical and learning difficulties – for example, there was a young woman who got stabbed in Stockwood the other month – in her shoulder and side four or five times – and we helped her dress and wash herself afterwards because she couldn’t lift her arms. That won’t happen. – Rehabilitation will no longer be something we do past six weeks. There’s a separate service – a short term assessment and re-enablement service. They’ll assess what help people might need. We’ll give care for the first six weeks as per the one-year trial we’ve done. Our long-term care for people other than dementia sufferers will stop. It’ll be done by agencies.”

(Not Quite) Conversations on the Train | The Railway Children’s UK Programme Officer

The Railway Children’s Sarah Lanchin is the UK programme officer. She’s a little camera-shy but is happy to be paper-interviewed. She has short brown hair and deep brown eyes.

“Tell me a little about the statistics,” I say.

“We use research conducted by the Children’s Society, which suggests 100,000 young people (under-16s) run away every year in the UK.”

I’m surprised by this. I ask, “and as the charity is called the Railway Children, does that mean you focus on kids hiding out at stations?”

“There used to be a perception young people ran to stations, but increased security – CCTV and ticketing barriers, mean this isn’t as true now,” she says.

“So who do you help?”

“We work with partners who help children who’ve run away.”

“And how are kids who’ve run able to access that help?” I ask.

“They get in contact through local helplines and in some cases text and email services. Some young people come into contact with the publicity…”

“The publicity?”

“Yes, this takes several forms, one of which is workers going into schools to educate children about the dangers of running away.”

It’s becoming clearer. I think I recall having a lesson at school about the dangers of running away, though I guess when I was younger it would have been much easier to run by train. So I ask, “if it’s more difficult to run away by train, how do they do it?”

She looks me in the eye and says, “if a young person wants to run away they will find a way. Any way.”

“So at the other end… where are these kids? It seems to me like there aren’t so many,” I say.

“They’re very good at hiding. Sometimes a young person is reported missing and the police follow it up and find them. A couple of the projects go onto the streets – to the places young people hang out.”

“And what do you do?” I ask.

“We help fund several projects.”

“And these are?”

“I’ll start from the top of the country… So in Glasgow we have ROC, which stands for Running – Other Choices. ROC has a refuge with three beds. And that’s for emergency accommodation only. Those three beds are three of the five beds available in the UK for runaways.”

“Gosh, five isn’t a lot,” I say.

“No…” she agrees, “ROC also have workers who go out into schools and who follow up cases on a  one-to-one basis. Then in Edinburgh we support Streetwork who have a runaways action project – RAP. they also have a detached unit in the city centre with workers who try and engage with vulnerable people with prevention education and one-to-one work.

Next, on the Wirral there’s SCS Kinder, who provide a very specific residential therapeutic resource for particularly damaged young people. They have lots of experience with young people who have run from care.

Then Talk Don’t Walk in Warrington has a supporting toolkit which enables any other service in the country to set up runaway services. They work extensively to reduce the numbers of missing.

Finally, Safe At Last in South Yorkshire. They have two beds which makes up the five in the UK. And a text and online service too. They train volunteers and have one-to-one outreach and prevention education. There’s a link between kids who go missing from school and from home.”

“And what about all the kids who can’t access these five beds?” I ask.

I ask.

“Each authority should have a provision for children in emergency situations… this isn’t necessarily always the case but.. be easier for them if they only ran away in the North really.”

She explains that the refuge that used to exist in London closed down. It makes me sad to think how easily we neglect looking after everyone in society. How we leave people behind.

“And why do they run?” I ask.

“They’re running away from or to something.”

The Writer | Conversations on the Train

Karl Webster on the train

Karl Webster on the train

My friend Karl ( is taking a train to his sister’s. I meet him at Waterloo. He’s been here for forty minutes. I’m late. We miss the 11.49am train by two minutes. I offer him breakfast. In the cafe there’s no bacon. I think he might cry about it. His blue lumberjack hat and glasses which enlarge his eyes invite you not to take him seriously.

We board the train and sit down.

“So what’s your next project?” I ask.

“I’m going away next year for a year.”

“Where are you going?”

“If it works out the way I want it to, I’ll be going to 60 countries in one year. I want do this thing, this project, where I go around the world in 80 festivals. And not just music festivals – no – Religious festivals, arts festivals… creative festivals, Burning Man – all that kind of stuff.”

“And can you elaborate more on which festivals?”

“I’ve got a list of about a hundred festivals and a rough itinerary, so most of the ones I go to will be on the list – not all of them, I’m sure I will find out about more as I go.”

“Are you going to all the continents?”

“Yeah, except Antarctica – there actually is a festival in Antarctica though.”

“Is there?”

“Yeah, yeah – it’s on the list but I’m unlikely to make it unless I get lots of funding – I want funding by the way,” he adds.

I mention the boo I intend to put up on Audioboo.

“Oh you can’t Audioboo any of this,” he says.


“Well you can, but you’re unlikely to find anything of use coming out of my mouth. Next question please!”

“Which festival are you most excited about?”

[a service announcement interjects with ‘…do try and keep all personal items with you. If you see anything suspicious please tell a member of staff’]

“Um, well I’m quite excited about La Tomatina, which is the one in Spain where I think for a whole day they just throw tomatoes at each other and get all wet.”

“Oh yes, I want to go to that,” I say.

In fact there are quite a few festivals I want to go to around the world. I’m quite envious.

“And in February, there’s the Frostbite Festival in Yukon in Canada. Yukon is obviously very cold but I believe it’s the best time of year to see the aurora borealis.”

“In Canada?” I say.

“Yeah in Yukon…”

“How do you spell Yukon?” I ask.

“Y-u –

y… don’t…u… look on the internet.”

I smile.

“Um,” he continues,  “there’s one in Malaysia where 800,000 Hindus with skewers sticking in their backs and pitchers on their heads climb to the top of a mountain.”*

“Are you talking about the vegetarian festival?” I ask.

“No, no, no, no, no…”

“But you know there’s a vegetarian festival where they pierce their skin?” I say.

“What with carrots? Sharpened swede? No I didn’t.”

“Next! Ask me something about trains. No, I’ll tell you about trains… I want to do this thing, chances of me being able to do it the way I want to are unlikely. I need 50 grand and I’ve got… minus two. But I’m definitely going to go travelling January 31st and leave the country for probably at least a year.

So what I’m thinking is, if it ends up not being an endurance test, you know, not being against the clock, then I want to do a lot more of the travel on trains. I really love trains and I really don’t like aeroplanes particularly. And I’d love to go on long train rides throughout Europe and the rest of the world.”

“So, a ‘Round the World in 80 Festivals’ book. Have you had books published before?’

“Yeah, a couple, but only one that I’m very proud of.

Karl takes out his (rather nice) green acoustic guitar.

“I’m going to sing a song about Jesus now,” he says.

“A song about Jesus?” I ask.

“Yeah,” he says. And he does.

“Don’t be embarrassed.” he says

“Why did you write a song about Jesus?” I ask

“Thought it would get a big audience.”

*(I look this up at later and discover he’s referring to ‘Thaipusam,’ which takes place in the Tamil month of Thai on the full moon. The skewers are called ‘Vel kavadi’ – kavadi being an expression of debt burden… ah Wikipedia, where would we be without you)

He Who Will Never Die | Conversations on the Train

I’m on the train I’ve travelled on more than any other. The Severn Beach Line to Bristol Temple Meads. I have a lot of stuff and put it down on two seats, then look up. I see him, the Yorkshire man I spoke of in a previous Conversation. He raises a hand. I smile and move my things.

“You’re bald,” I say.

“I’ve got cancer,” he sings.

“Oh,” I say, as if that covers it, “what kind?”

“Lymphoma, multiple lymphoma. I’m riddled with it. Incurable. In fact I’ve had it a long time. Found out in July.”

I look at the floor.

“Don’t worry… I’m not,” he says.

And I raise my eyes to look into his, which un-framed by his once ginger hair look more blue. His single hoop earring is also more noticeable. He looks like a 40-something punk.

“The doctor laughed when he saw it, said he’d never seen so much lymphoma.”

I wince.

“At least I don’t have to have radiotherapy. They’ve gone at it with what’s like a blunderbuss – you know what a blunderbuss is? One of those old guns you loaded with lead balls and they’d fire out all over the place,” he says, gesturing a miniature volcano with his hands.

“God.” I say.

“I shouldn’t be out in public really, my immune system is probably compromised as much as if I had AIDS.”

I must look surprised because he says, “Seriously, a cold could kill me.”

Even if he were on his deathbed I doubt he’d look like he were dying.

“I definitely don’t have a cold,” I say.

“Someone on this train will. But I’m not scared.” He says.

I scour the train. There’s nobody sitting nearby. Relief.

“I lost two stone in weight in the hospital.”

I look at his legs, resting up on the back of the seat in front of him. They’re thin. But he could never really look thin.

“I’ve put the weight back on now. It was horrible at first. I was in a lot of pain. I thought, childbirth? You should try this. But I’m not in pain now. Had to get the doctor to hit me with an H of smack at one point to keep me going.”

“It’s not heroin though is it,” I say.

“It is,” he says proudly,  “diamorphine, pure heroin. I didn’t get a hit off it, I just couldn’t feel the pain anymore. And I’ve been on morphine constantly… At one point I broke my arm. And that was in hospital, just reaching for a plug.”

“Bloody hell.”

“It was the bone marrow they said, said I should’ve known. I wished they’d told me,” he pauses then adds, “think it’s going though, I think it might be going, because I’ve put the weight back on. I’m invincible, me.”

And I think ‘yes, you are,’ as we pull in to Temple Meads.

“Oh, are we here?” he asks.

“Yes.” I say.

“Didn’t notice I was talking so much.”

We get off the train and walk toward the departure screen to see when the next trains are.
I hope we’ll be on the same one, as he’s headed not too far from where I am. But they’re different. Mine’s in eight minutes.

My heart is heavy.

“Well, I’ve got twenty minutes so I’m going for a fag but you don’t have time for a fag probably.”

Incredible. Still smoking. I think about catching the next train but it’s not too long until his and I don’t know when the next one will be.
I say I hope to see him soon and he kisses me on the cheek. I hug him. He who is invincible, who will never die.

The Transport Policeman | Conversations on the Train

Julian Dixon BSc (Hons) MCMI Dip. Management PG Cert (Terrorism) CPDA (ILEX) Inspector. Such a short title...

Julian Dixon BSc (Hons) MCMI Dip. Management PG Cert (Terrorism) CPDA (ILEX) Inspector. Such a short title…

I arrive at St Pancras on a miserable grey Monday morning to meet Julian, the officer in charge of the station. He collects me from a cafe inside and we walk to his office. He sits at a desk and offers me the empty seat opposite. Then goes to make tea.

When he returns I hear voices coming from his radio.

“Is that important?” I ask.

“It isn’t for me, we’re a national force so I get everything.”

“How do you differentiate between when it is and isn’t for you?”

“I tune in to it when I hear numbers. Every office has a code. The code here is bravo hotel one zero. The ‘b’ is for London North, the ‘h‘  for St. Pancras, and the numerals identify each officer.”

“And how does this office work?” I ask.

“The office is made up of a mix of tasking officers (guess what they do), neighbourhood police (NPTs) and Criminal Investigators (CID).

I’m responsible for performance management – performance of the station, HR issues, welfare, making sure we’ve got the right people in the right places, that sort of thing. Day to day I’m responsible for crime prevention and for looking after passengers. It sounds really minor but people want a hot drink in their hand, especially when something goes wrong. They need to feel they’re being looked after. Last year, before Christmas, with the snow and the Eurostar break-down, we made sure everyone had a hot drink. It helps temper tempers and it allows us to engage people.”

“And what about sniffer dogs?”

“We have numerous dogs. general dogs, dogs that find drugs, dogs that find explosives. This station is international – the DB (high-speed German train) coming in just demonstrates that. The continent at the moment is Belgium and France but we’ll soon be open to Germany . While the Borough of Camden is diverse, St Pancras is important for bringing people in.”

He’s changed the subject, gone off track,  I’ve lost him, I think. I am only slightly disappointed he can’t say more about the sniffer dogs and large-scale criminals. I ask,”How many people come through daily?”

“About 35,000 people a day are coming in and going out – and over 12 million people a year use Eurostar. Part of the job here includes some – (not enough!)* – trips to Paris for meetings. The last trip to Paris was three minutes meeting people, three minutes back. No time for a coffee and a croissant on the Champs-Élysées.”

“And what will you be doing after our conversation?”

“After I leave I’m doing some work on how we deal with demonstrations – this is a major hub so we often get demonstrators coming through.”

The sound of a train passes above our heads.

He says no more about the nature of his demonstrators meeting, but I guess he can’t really, so I ask what was involved in his training. He tells me basic Home Office training, then extras; track safety policing in an industrial environment, for example.

“How long have you been doing it?” I ask.

“Twenty-four years policing (he doesn’t look old enough)** I joined the transport police in 1986. When I joined I was at Euston, then did a variety of jobs – public order, searching, VIP escorts, football intelligence, spent some time as Head of Security of a train operating company.”

A loud alarm goes off and Julian explains that it isn’t an international emergency but a fire alarm test.

“Numerous VIPs travel the rail network – ministers of state – both UK and foreign governments,” he says.

“And what’s the most interesting thing that’s happened here?” I ask.

“One really interesting thing… Liverpool football club travelled through during the ash cloud. They were travelling to Madrid to play in the championships. Steven Gerrard donated his shirt to us. We auctioned it and raised  £3,200 for the Railway Children charity and Help for Heroes.”

“Great,” I smile, “and the most interesting person you’ve met?”

He thinks for a moment, “I’ve got to be careful what I say…. Jack Straw the MP was interesting. He’s quite a big football supporter so there’s some common ground. I support Leeds United. He’s a well known Blackburn supporter.”

I’m almost out of questions but ask one last one, “Do you wear your hat all the time?” I say, pointing to an inspectory looking hat on a shelf behind him.

“That’s a South Korean hat but yes, I have to wear this one ,” he points to a hat on his desk.

‘I would not have made a great inspector,’ I think.

* he actually said, ‘open bracket, close bracket’

** again, he told me to write that he looked young in brackets.

The Teacher and the Business Psychologist | Conversations on the Train

I’m not sure these two are going to talk. Clearly a couple, the woman looks like my old primary school teacher, a kind face with a long auburn bob. The man has grey hair, small blue eyes and a tight mouth with slightly wonky teeth. When the lady starts humming, I’m given hope she’ll be a good person. After all – good people hum.

The conductor comes round to collect the tickets.

“Have you got the card?” the lady asks her partner.

“Yes,” he says, pulling out an East Coast trains-branded wallet.

I go in for the kill, “What’s the card?” I ask.

“It’s for old people,” the man says, “for want of a more politically correct term,” he adds.

We launch into a conversation about discounts for the over 60s. I ask what the man does.

“All my career I’ve been working as a psychologist. I now run a business but I’m part retired. Because of my age I mainly do senior assessments for directors and chief executives of companies.”

“What does that mean?” I ask.

“I do psychometric testing and write reports for the client, usually looking at the skills of the job versus those of the employees.”

“So it’s business psychology?” I ask.

“It is. I mean, I hated clinical psychology. Education was a growth area and occupational is relatively new in the UK.”

With part retirement in mind, I ask about the changes to retirement age.

“You escaped that didn’t you, Glenys,” he says.

“I escaped that,” she agrees,  “I got ill and took early retirement.”

“And what were you working as before?” I ask Glenys.

“I was a teacher.” Her voice is lovely.

“Oh really, what subjects?”

“Art was my main subject. And English.”

“But then you got ill,” I say.

“I didn’t know I was ill at first. They were a bit bad with it at school.”

“Kept saying you’d hit the bottle,” her partner adds.

“Hmm, I started falling over and kept walking into things,” she turns to look at me and says, “I had a brain tumour.”

I raise my eyebrows and my eyes grow sad.

“It’d been growing for forty years,” she says, “it was the size of a golf ball.”

“That’s awful, how did you find out?” I ask.

“As I said, I’d started bumping into things and people at school were joking I’d hit the bottle and I suppose it might have looked like that. In a way I felt like that.”

“And when did you realise it wasn’t right?”

“I was decorating. I climbed a step-ladder and suddenly felt really weird – which I later found out was the pressure – so I went to the doctor, who said it was just a headache. I wasn’t happy with that, so we went to get a second opinion. The next doctor I saw asked me to do a couple of tests. For one, they get you to walk along a line. I couldn’t walk straight so they sent me straight to the hospital. I was lucky because it turned out to be benign.”

“How long were you in hospital for?”

“Only for days. And yet it seemed a long time. We drove 40 miles and got there at 2am. I had the operation on Boxing Day. Then there was a bit where they stuck what looked like straws in my head to relieve the pressure, which I found out later was actually the most dangerous part. I would’ve been more scared if I’d fully understood at the time. Obviously the location of the tumour affects the danger. I was lucky – you can end up paralysed.”

“Was it near the top of your spine?” I ask.

“Yes, it was here,” she points to the lower right-hand side of the back of her head.

“It was in an area that affects your motor skills,” her partner says, “a tumour at the front affects speech, at the back it can affect motor skills.”

Glenys nods and says, “I met this guy in there, we saw him afterwards, and he was such good fun to be in hospital with – if you were going to be in hospital with anyone. When you have brain injuries or damage, they’re always asking you general knowledge things – just to make sure your memory’s alright. We used to have learning sessions you know, and do stupid things between us. It was just a way of keeping going really. He was terrific.” She looks up, “he died not that long after he left.”

I comment on how sad it must be to make friends with someone only to lose them so soon. She sighs, in the way that people do when they’re accepting the gravity of the inevitable cycle of life and death.

Then her husband says,“Course there were a lot of jokes in there. Like when the nurses said, ‘it’s a no brainer.’ The best bit was when we managed to visit Glenys in hospital and there was a young male nurse who – and Glenys was looking her worst right (He winks lovingly at Glenys) – said to my wife; is that your s..s..son? I felt really good – I’d lost twenty years!”

And we all laugh.

The Man Who Designs 3D Environments | Conversations on the Train

Richard Fraser

Richard Fraser

I try something different on a trip home to Bristol. I sit down at an empty table and leave it to chance as to whether anyone will join me. Not long after sitting down, a man wearing a leather cowboy hat walks past.

“Do you mind if I sit here?” he asks.

“Not at all,” I say.

He puts the hat on the luggage rack and takes out a large Packard Bell computer. I make a comment about the size of the thing and ask what he does.

“I used to do website design but it became monotonous. I live and work in Glastonbury. Most of them are luddites, so they can’t afford a website.”

“Could they build their own?” I ask.

“No, they’re 30 years behind.”

“So, sorry, what do you do?” I ask again.

“I design 3D environments…Like Ringworld,” he explains. I stare at him blankly.

He shows me his screen. There’s a virtual image of a grassy landscape. He flicks through some more images. I think I get the idea.

“Hopefully, fingers crossed, touch formica, I’ll have an interview with 422 this week,” he says.

“What’s 422 ?” I ask.

“You know when you watch a programme like Horizon and you get a digitally created image of what they think the temple/fort/ship they’ve uncovered would have looked like?”


“That’s what they do.”

“So you’re a freelance 3D Environment Designer?”


“And what was your last job?

He pauses for a second, then says, “it was for EDF Energy. They were putting up windmills in Rutland. Part of the process of putting them up involved public consultations. They wanted to produce a virtual image of what the landscape would look like once the windmills were up. People could type in their postcode and see a computer generated image of where the nearest windmill would be. So if you saw a windmill planned for right in your back garden, you could point it out to them.”

“How were you involved?” I ask.

“Well the landscapes were real images, I had real digital terrain maps and real photographs – it was just a case of matching it all up. Just editing reality a bit.”

“And what do 422 want?”

“The 422 guys want real guesswork – I think they’re working on something at the moment that’s like; if you removed all the ocean in the world what would it look like? And if you think about it, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge would make the Grand Canyon look like a little trough.”

I notice a tattoo on his arm, “what’s that?” I ask.

Richard's Tattoo

“It’s the seven-antlered stag. It comes from the Mabinogion (eleven ancient Welsh romances). The line is ‘I am a stag of seven tines.’* The Welsh is the closest we’ve got to what we’re all thinking now.”

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“The Welsh folklore is the oldest in the UK and what connects us most to our original spiritual thinking.”

“You definitely are from Glastonbury,” I say.

“This is me unfluffy – you should see me when I’m fluffy,” he says, “and I’m from London, not Glastonbury – but I came to a small festival 23 years ago and I haven’t left.”

“Ah, so as a resident you get in free?”

“I haven’t paid for a Glastonbury ticket in 23 years – but not because I live in Glastonbury, it’s only a small radius around the site that qualifies people for resident’s tickets. I get in free because I’m one of a crew of about twenty to thirty running backstage passes in the circus area. Glastonbury Festival is the most nepotistic environment.”

I consider asking if he can get me in backstage but can’t think what circus act I would perform to justify it. We talk a little about where he lives – in a cottage off a main street, where Google Street View’s tentacles do not reach. And he has a girlfriend, ‘whose brother is a wizard.’

“A wizard?”

“Yes, one day I’m going to watch all the films he gets his quotes from,” he laughs, “he hates me though.”


“Oh I dunno, he’s Italian and I’m going out with his sister.”

At this point, two people come and join us on the table. And I think both of us know the looks we’ll get if we continue talking about Italian wizards. So I look out the window and make a comment about the beautiful autumnal colours lining the railway just before Bath. He calls me a hippy.

* On looking this up it appears to be from the Song of Amergin, translated by Robert Graves in The White Goddess.