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.

Monday 6th December | Last Week in Trains

Sure, this is a picture of snow on the Underground tracks. And sure, the Underground was working, but what the hell there's snow and electrics...

The Telegraph and Mail had a field day last week when thousands of commuters froze to death on trains across the country. I’m kidding, of course. This was the news that hundreds of commuters were forced to sleep overnight on trains in Sussex due to line failures and breakdowns. The commuters braved a night without dinner, having to wait until early in the morning when train staff went to a 24-hour supermarket to buy food. It probably wouldn’t help anyone for me to say that I would have quite enjoyed being stuck on the train. I like an adventure. Plus, think of all the Conversations on the Train I could have had in aid of this blog. Anyhow, it can’t have been fun for those with kids (I think there were some kids).

Meanwhile, the Guardian reported a similar picture from Berlin:

‘Hundreds of commuters were stranded at railway stations as conditions were deemed too severe for German trains to run. At Leipzig and Frankfurt scores of passengers had to sleep in railway carriages as hotels ran out of room after train journeys were cancelled because of snow drifts.’

A Chinese Passenger train (AP Photo/Xinhua, Liu Junxi)

In other news – No surprises here – A Chinese passenger train hit a record speed of 302 miles (486km) per hour last week. Xinhua News reported the record for unmodified commercial trains. Great promotion for the new line currently being tested between Beijing and Shanghai. They are unlikely to run the trains so fast when passengers are actually on board – but if they did, travel times between the two cities would halve , to a mere five hours.

Lastly, a 17 year-old boy was taken to hospital in the early hours of Friday after he fell from a train he was ‘surfing.’ He rode for three miles in temperatures of -6C and fell off as the train pulled into Benfleet station, Essex. He suffered head and back injuries. Paramedics were called to the scene at 4.45am by a passenger who saw the boy fall.

Full article here.

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.

29th November 2010 | Last Week in Trains

So the big news last week was the £8bn investment in rail the government has promised over the next decade. I’m not sure ‘sorry’ is what I felt for Transport Secretary Phillip Hammond facing probing questions from one BBC news presenter. But it’s obvious you’re going to face criticism if you say a big number then slap conditions on to it. I suppose if someone told you they were going to buy you a pony for your birthday but you had to wait ten years for its legs to grow, you might be a bit miffed (unless, like me, you’ve never really wanted a pony… but I digress).

What Phillip Hammond was offering wasn’t all bad though. 650 carriages over the next two years with more after. The losers were those who had been waiting for news of the London to Swansea electrification. Their answer remained the same: It’s on hold.

On a lighter note, December’s issue of ‘Today’s Railways’ brings news that SJ (Swedish Rail) has surveyed passengers to find out what annoys them the most. With results as follows:

1. Other people’s screaming children

2. Mobile phone users

3. Ill-tempered passengers

4. Unwashed passengers or passengers with bad breath

5. People making noise in quiet carriages

6. Intoxicated passengers

7. Seat kickers

8. People listening to their music too loudly

9. Passengers not flushing the toilet or leaving the seat up

10. Loud passengers who swear.

Sounds like the things that annoy me at home then…

And lastly, on Friday an elderly woman in a Nissan Micra (what else), blinded by the sunshine, drove through red and white level crossing barriers, ripping them off. The car travelled a further 100 meters before stopping safely. The windscreen was smashed but she was unscathed. The incident happened at Caherdaly, just 500 metres from the village of Ardrahan, Co Galway, on the main Ennis to Galway N18 road. And the driver of the train on its way to the area was alerted with enough time to stop.

Full article in the Irish Independent

@irenep At St. Pancras | A Toast to the Eurostar Man | A Guest (Re)post

The lovely @irenep

I met @irenep at a travel tweetup in London a couple of weeks ago. She works in PR but has an invested interest in travel and had persuaded work to let her go to the World Travel Market. She spoke of a trip to Brussels and I asked her to write about it. I like the sentence at the end of her bio on her blog irene-in-london.blogspot.com, ‘right now I’m the happiest I’ve been in a long time.’

My fourth grade math teacher once wrote on my report card – “Irene is a very caring and bright child, but she needs to work on her attention to detail.”

Those three words – attention to detail – would continue to follow me from simple algebra onto university, personal life and work. Send emails without attachments? Yup. Show up on Wilson Road instead of Wilson Street, making me almost half an hour late for my date? Happened last week.

It seems like I rush through life without taking note of the little things, the small details. Typically this doesn’t really matter, except for this past weekend…

I was due to travel via Eurostar to Belgium with a few friends. Taking after my father, I showed up at St. Pancras station much earlier than I needed to. But I like the feeling of having loads of time to get a coffee and relax before checking in for travel.

Upon meeting up with my travel companions, myself and one other noticed that our train was delayed. There it was in big capital letters – BELGIUM: DELAYED ONE HOUR.

After a little grumbling, we settled down to breakfast. Still relaxed. Still chilled out. 45 minutes later we walked up to the Eurostar gate.

Strangely enough, our ticket wouldn’t scan. Upon closer examination, the Eurostar man said “I’m sorry, but your train left”

There were shouts of protests –

“But it said delayed on the board”

“We’ve been here for over an hour now!”

Which was followed by the Eurostar man asking us which board said this…to which I triumphantly replied “That one!” pointing my index finger at the big capital letters that said “BELGIUM DELAYED ONE HOUR”.

And there it was, just half an inch above where my finger was pointing at, in even bigger capital letters, the word “ARRIVALS”.

Perhaps it was the prospect of dealing with four tearful (in my case, sobbing) girls that stirred some strings of sympathy in the Eurostar man, but he directed us to the ticket office whereupon we were booked onto the next train out to Brussels at no extra charge.

With that, I strolled up to the Champagne Bar in St Pancras, and amidst the trains rolling in and travellers spilling onto the platform, I toasted the wonderful Eurostar man.

Despite the mishap, the trip to Belgium was a wonderful albeit hazy 30 something hours of delicious beers, even better frites and countless chocolate shops.

As for train travel? I learned my lesson. Reading the wrong board? A rookie mistake surely. And even with that, we all agreed that going via Eurostar was a much more civilised way of touring the continent. For one thing, train carriages that rock from side to side make most people pass out. That means no annoying person sitting beside you who wants to talk for the entire journey.

Also, people just seem nicer on trains. Perhaps it’s because they haven’t been up at the crack of dawn to catch a bus to the airport, only to stand in a huge line for security and get stuck behind that person who has a bottle of water in their bag, keeps their belt and shoes on and has a piggy bank of change in their pocket.

All in all, it was a pretty amazing first foray into Belgium.

It’s My Birthday, I Want to Share it With You | #postclub

In another Twitter life I go by another Twitter name. A while ago in this life, I discussed with @siansparkles how I missed getting things in the post. As much as I love the internet (it gave me a job, amongst other things) our love of emails, Facebook and indeed Twitter make the thread I hang my cards on at Christmas increasingly bare.

@siansparkles had an idea and I created a hashtag: #postclub. We’ve sent a few letters and postcards between us and I think it would be great if it caught on.

So in honour of my birthday tomorrow, I have a collection of postcards and stamps. If you want some post (or mail, if you’re in the States) drop me a DM with an address for me to send it to – or email sophie@quno.com – And I’ll think of something to write on the back.

Runaways and Bollywood Films | Last Week in Trains

A train ran away last week. It was on the front page of the Metro and everything. This taught us lots of things – like the BBC can make computer generated recreations of these incidents really quickly (click here and scroll down to the video). The Southeastern London to Hastings train was travelling at 65mph when it slipped. It slid for 2.5 miles. Luckily no one was injured.

A Southeastern train. (Copyright, Daily Mail).

Director Farah Khan launched the music for her forthcoming film, Tees Mahr Khan on board a train last week. The film is about a conman who masterminds a train robbery.

Katrina Kaif, Akshay Kumar and Farah Khan alight at Lonavala Station (photo, Indian Express)

I won’t embed the trailer as well but if you want to watch it (I enjoyed it) click here.

Aaron Gowell, CEO of SilverRail on stage

SilverRail Technologies, Quno’s parent company, was voted the winner of the prestigious 2010 PhoCusWright “Travel Innovation Summit” last week. PhoCusWright, held this year in Phoenix Arizona, is where world travel industry leaders come to discover the latest trends and opportunities in travel. “Winning the Travel Innovation Summit against very stiff competition from across the whole travel industry is a fantastic honour for us” said Aaron Gowell, CEO of SilverRail, “We’re enabling customers to get easy access to rail services online and more and more Rail Operators are joining us to distribute their products.”