October 03, 2005

Durham With A Bullet

I've put this entry in the Travel Writing category, partly because it is writing about travel but partly because it's ironic. In the proper sense, not the irritating student sense. Basically irony is saying one thing and meaning another and I class travel writing as writing about interesting places and not actual travelling which is satan's very own scrotal pleasure. Ack! But this entry is about the act of travellling to Durham and, oh gods, was that an experience.

Five bastarding hours on a Virgin train.

And that's the actual stated journey time. We didn't have any hilarious Virgin excuses to add to the journey ("I'm sorry everyone, due to a porn film being shot at Banbury, this train i being diverted via Constantinople and Vladivostock, we apologise for any inconvenience"). All we had was five hours in both directions. Erk!

The new Virgin trains were designed by someone who lived in a bucket for 37 years before having the Starship Enterprise described to him by a man for whom English was merely a third language. This man was then asked to design a train and decided to do so in a way which would appeal to James T Kirk. However rather than the ship train being built by Vulcans from the 26th century it was built by people in Rotherham or somewhere similar. Therefore the doors go whooooshuck like on the Enterprise, but they don't actually open that far. Or for that long. And when they close you have to push to button to get them to open again, otherwise you get sliced in half. For some reason this happens a lot to the elderly.

Then there's the toilets. The only place where the doors don't obey the above rules rigourously. In fact these doors open when they feel like it, regardless of whether you have pressed the Lock button or not. This exposes you and your shame to the crowd of pissed up rugby fans who couldn't get 7382578245791 seats together in the crowded coach D and so decided to fulfill their life dreams of being a fire hazard on public transport. Also the toilets stink. Bad. Like the toilets at the Leeds Festival do after five days of continuous, cannnabis drenched piss. Do they clean train toilets?

Anyway, spending five hours in the company of dismembered geriatrics and piss stained rugby fans is great, as any LSD victim can tell you. But I wasn't on LSD. Or even Nytol. No, all I had was glucosamine sulphate (yum) and sandwiches. My own on the way there (chicken caesar, ridiculuously large and costing 12p) and the bought Virgin ones on the way back (a sliver of chicken, an unidentifiable spread, a small amount of hamster droppings and all costing a tenner). Plus the newspaper (Grauniad Saturday edition) and a coursebook. Five hours there and back. Is it any wonder I went batshit and tried to gnaw my own leg off?

The fellow travellers were the usual mix. The two nice old Geordie ladies who had a big conversation about cannabis and heroin and Kate Moss. They concluded, despite the Daily Mail one was carrying, that it was probably best to legalise cannabis and treat, rather than jail, those caught with drugs. The Daily Mail has clearly not triumphed yet over common sense. On the way back it was three trainee soldiers who all turned out to be about 12 years old. They mildly abused students for a while whilst I just shrugged. It's not wise to argue with someone who can get their hands on a tank.

So what did I learn? Nothing. Seriously, I can't afford a car, and I don't like coaches so there's really no other conclusions. My friends from home are still pretty much entirely found at Durham, Newcastle, York and Leeds, all of which are a long way away in the north. I can only reach them, and their 21st birthday parties, by train. Even if it does involve arriving at the party with old people giblets on me.


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  1. Hail to the train traveller! I feel your pain. It's my 'preferred' method of travel too. Last time I went on a Virgin train, we stopped, inexplicably, for forty minutes, which gave the argument at my table between the strictly-Christian-I-live-in-a-yorkshire-village-old-woman and the atheist-student-going-to-a-gay-wedding time to really gather steam…

    The student was putting up a good fight, but the problem was the woman was either really stupid or really obtuse. So conversation for forty minutes ran something like this:

    Old Woman: I don't believe in all this science stuff. They've no business to be meddling. Don't agree with it.

    Student: Don't agree with what?

    Old Woman: Inventions… none of them.

    Student: Well, correct me if I'm wrong, but you seem to be sitting on a train, reading a newspaper – both of which are modern inventions that you're taking full advantage of.

    Old Woman: Don't agree with them… and anyway (seeing glimmer of a defence) I never normally get a newspaper. It's only because I'm travelling.

    Student: Well, you can't dismiss science outright if you're making use of what it has to offer.

    Old Woman: I never normally get a newspaper…

    And so on. For three hours. I would have found another seat if the train hadn't been over-run with a school trip, full of psycho little boys with drippy icecreams and bad BO.

    03 Oct 2005, 08:03

  2. I'm going to don my anorak for a second and explain the smell in the toilets… I'm assuming you travelled on a Voyager from the route you say you took. Bombardier, who built the Voyager trains, made a serious design flaw which they realised too late and could do nothing about – the exhaust pipes from the engines run right next to the toilet retention tanks, so for the duration of your journey the hot exhaust gases are heating up gallons and gallons of shit in the tanks and causing the carriages to stink. The best thing you can do is try and get a seat as far away from the toilets as possible. That's if you can get a seat at all.

    03 Oct 2005, 08:53

  3. Gordon R

    Holly – ahhh holly, you never fail to amuse and entertain me. I might adopt you when I have more than 50p in my pocket. Would you like to come and live with Eim and me?

    03 Oct 2005, 11:36

  4. I've been to Durham once. On the way back I was bumped up to 1st class, and my fellow traveller was Dame Maggie Smith. I spent the whole journey in equal amounts of awe and fear. Fear that she would give me The Look, as seen in films such as Secret Garden, which can be truly terrifying when you (I) are (was) young. In fact, she had already given me The Look, as I was one of the people filling up the station waiting room on a cold windy evening. Also I was the only one who looked up when she opened the door, resulting in both the full force of the afore-mentioned Look, and the lack of belief from my fellow wait-ees.

    03 Oct 2005, 11:55

  5. I've seen Penelope Keith at a train station before, i didn't talk to her though.

    Anyway, as someone who's main means of transportation for the last 9 years has been trains, i feel your pain Holly, really i do.

    03 Oct 2005, 23:03

  6. Dave tCB

    I saw Tony Blair at Darlington train station once. I glanced up at him from my paper as he was passing and he said "hello". Not sure where he recognised me from.

    The train arrived in Darlo 20 minutes late. Funnily enough it arrived at King's Cross with both me and TB on board exactly on time.

    03 Oct 2005, 23:39

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