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)