Tag Archives: train stories

Train Stories: That Old James Bond Trick: The Angel of Paddington Station: Part 4

“Why do trains make you horny?” said Amy.

“Me?”

“One.”

“You tell me,” I said, referring to a past incident in her life.

“Ah, that,” she had the decency to say. “No, something Alfredo told me.”

“You can’t tell me what Alfredo told you. Secrets of the small back room, secrets of the confessional.”

“This is different.”

He was on a train, she said, the other day, a dim dirty commuter train into London. It was late at night, the rain was relentless outside and the carriage was almost empty. In the next section there was a little old lady of mild and benevolent demeanour. Opposite him sat a young woman of Caribbean origin. As he looked up from time to time from his dull book he glanced at her. Sometimes from the tail of his eye he saw that she was glancing approvingly at him. These things, he told Amy, often happen with him on trains – it’s probably his thick black curls – and nothing comes of them.

“Did he stand up and caper around, first on one leg and then the other, clasping his private parts and crying ‘Bellissima, bellissima!’?”

“He does that less now.”

“The kefir is working then.”

Kefir reliable make people less Italian. It is the science but nobody knows why.”

The tannoy, she said, announced that the ticket collector was about to pass among them. To Alfredo’s surprise, the young woman leapt up and crossed the carriage to him.

“Kiss me, kiss me, I have no ticket.”

“That old James Bond trick,” Alfredo had said, but nevertheless took her onto his lap and kissed her. She took firm hold of the thick black curls to ensure that he persisted. They were in that attitude when the apparatchik arrived.

“Tickets please, sir and madam,” he had said, but to no avail. Their mouths were on each other and their hands were encumbered with each other’s outer garments.

“Tickets please, madam and sir,” he said again. He knew the old James Bond trick too; they had screened it in Training.

At this point the little old lady intervened.

“Can’t you see they’re in love?” she said.

“Love it may be,” he said, “or filth in breach of the Bye-laws, but they need a ticket: each.”

The young woman of Caribbean origin sucked greedily on Alfredo’s tongue, Amy said.

The little old lady said, “Please don’t bother them. I’ll buy them tickets. We have all been in their position.”

“Speak for yourself, madam,” the apparatchik said, “and in your own case not I hope on a facility delivered by this service provider,” but he gave her two single tickets. Alfredo, who has a tidy mind when all is said and done, felt aggrieved, having provided himself with a ticket in advance, but was unable to speak, for the reason already reported.

The apparatchik went off satisfied to his lair. The little old lady said, “Don’t you mind me. You just carry on. I won’t look.”

And so, as Alfredo was to tell Amy later, it was necessary – good manners demanded – that he do so. He did not mind in the least, since his book had proved uninteresting, and it was increasingly clear that the young woman did not either. It was not however the case that the little old lady would not look. Indeed the reflective effect of all the windows is that everything can be seen on a suburban train at night, like it or not.

The young woman loosened her jeans, took Alfredo’s hand and put it in.

“Aah!” said the little old lady.

Soon afterwards they arrived at Charing Cross Station. It was deserted. Alfredo paid the little old lady back for the tickets. She went off towards the exit marked ‘Taxis’ and said, “I hope you have somewhere to go.”

Alfredo was turgid with lust, Amy said.

“Turgid!”

“New word for me. I need check it on iPhone dictionary.”

Their fingers tore at each other’s palms, Amy said. He proposed a hotel, but the young woman said that she had an established domestic commitment, which made that impossible. My flat, where Alfredo was staying, was too far away.

“Half an hour, tops,” she had said. “But where?”

A figure materialised beside them, as if out of nowhere, the station having seemed deserted: a young woman, Alfredo had told Amy, also of Caribbean origin, with blond hair, boots and a ripped mini-skirt. His immediate thought was that she was about to announce that she did couples, professionally; but then he noticed the transcendental innocence of her gaze, and felt ashamed.

“Come,” said the woman, leading them across the platform. Alfredo told Amy that even fixated as he was on the woman from the train, whose name he had not yet secured, his attention was caught by red knickers, glimpsed through the rips in her mini-skirt.

She took them to a kiosk operated by the West Cornwall Pasty Company, or possibly one of its so-called rivals. It was shut for the night. There was a locked door, bearing the warning: NO CHIPS LEFT ON THESE PREMISES OVERNIGHT. She passed her hand over the lock, which fell away. She ushered them in.

“I turned round to thank her, but she seemed to float into the air: she disappeared,” Alfredo had told Amy.

“He too turgid,” she said to me. “He not think straight.”

“No,” I said. “I think that’s exactly what happened.”

It was totally dark inside. They undressed and laid their clothes on the floor. There was just enough room. She lit a match.

“Do you like me?” she said.

“You’re perfect,” he said. “But put that bloody thing out.”

“I don’t believe for a moment that he said that,” I said.

“Saki last words,” Amy said.

“That’s why I don’t believe for a moment that he said it.”

But such is the human desire to embellish our stories that I had my own vision of the young woman of Caribbean origin, like a line drawing by Eric Gill, sensual and pure in the dark and silence of the West Cornwall Pasty Company’s little tabernacle, with the Angel of Paddington Station – for it was surely she – hovering beneficently above.

“I do hope that he brings her for tea,” I said.

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Train Stories: The Angel of Paddington Station: Part 3

Every time I pass through Paddington Station I look round for her. The other day I arrived there deliberately early. I spent half an hour wandering up and down chewing on a curiously unsatisfactory pasty but she was nowhere to be seen.

It was a ‘traditional’ pasty, by the way. My maternal grandmother’s family came from Cornwall and I have strong views on the subject. Pasties should be made from beef, onions and turnips (as they call swede in Cornwall) and should not be adulterated. Those found in the new range of pasty shops are quite good, particularly the ‘West Cornwall’ ones, though not a patch on those made by my maternal grandmother.

And the ‘a’ is pronounced long. The Cornish long ‘a’ is different from that in the south-east of England but it is still a long ‘a’ and not short as pronounced by George Osborne, who cannot be expected to know any better.

Anyway, I had timed it so that the announcement of my train coincided with the last tasty piece of crinkly crust, which I popped into my mouth and set off to the west.

Not only have I not seen her since that first time but I have been subjected to a tiresome attack for writing about her at all. You may have followed it in the Comments under the original post, although I eventually became very irritated and I may have succeeded in deleting them. People seized on the fact that I initially thought that she was a hooker and then discovered that she was generally regarded by those who make their living in the station as an angel. Inevitably I have been accused of ‘pandering to the old patriarchal Madonna/whore dichotomy’.

What nonsense! I incline to the view, as in Barbarella, that an angel has no sex. In Barbarella, of course, the angel was male, but I think that the principle holds. I also note from the reports that I have read, some of which I have shared with you, that she is generally the one in control. I really think that in some circles it is no more than a Pavlovian reflex. ‘Whore’, ‘angel’: must be a patriarchal dichotomy.

All of this of course I explained, as you may have seen, in my counter-Comments. Were they convinced? Of course not. A huge amount of huffing and puffing then ensued about the red knickers. All that I can say is that, as regards the red knickers as with everything else, I speak as I find. I am incorruptible like that. But you can see why, especially since I had failed to see her again, I became irritated.

The other evening however I was letting Google take me where it would and I found something that, if it has any relevance at all, only deepens the mystery. It takes us back to the latter half of the Nineteenth Century. This was the time of Frith’s The Railway Station, that painting, sensationally popular at the time, which depicted people of all classes of society teeming – in the way people did in the Victorian age, whether in the paintings of Frith, the novels of Dickens or the earnest sociological investigations of Booth – in Paddington Station itself, beneath the splendid roof girders and a healthy dollop of steam.

The piece that I found was from an account of a journey written by some Victorian novelist, Trollope or Thackeray, possibly one of the others, and posted recently onto one of those sites where you can find material that is out of copyright.

Trollope, Thackeray, whatever, arrived at Paddington Station (I read) an hour early for his train. Dismayed by all the teeming going on in the main concourse he decided on a bite to eat. He dismissed his manservant and went in search of a chop and a pint of port.

In the 1860s there would, curiously, have been stalls like those of the vendors of pasties that we might find today. What there would not have been was anything that we might recognise as a restaurant. Restaurants as we know them emerged rather later. TTW didn’t want to eat standing up at a stall. He wanted to rest his legs and he wanted something more reassuring than a pasty. Finally he found a room where meat and a drink might be bought. It was within the station boundaries but at first-floor level, up some steps – and this is important. There was no choice (like restaurants, menus had yet to be invented) but he was served with his chop, some dubious potatoes and, as I say, a pint of port.

The room was crowded. He describes it as ‘hugger mugger with commercial gentlemen’. Suddenly there is a commotion. TTW looks towards the door. ‘An unaccompanied female firmly desired entrance.’

This was sensational. An unaccompanied woman would have been regarded without question as engaged in commerce – and not in the same way as the ‘commercial gentlemen’. Even when restaurants emerged, it would be forty years before a respectable woman could eat in one by herself. The staff tried to eject her.

‘But I have money. And I am hungry.’

“‘No seats, no tables,’ said the head waiter,” as TTW reports. “’Madam,’ he added, satirically.”

TTW then did an uncharacteristic and generous thing.

“Taking pity on the poor creature (tho’ why I should call her ‘poor’, since she was dressed as a lady and not wanting in assurance, I cannot say) on an impulse I called to her, ‘Oh, you have arrived’ and to the waiter, ‘Fetch me a second chair and victuals for my companion.’

“With sour grace the man did as I bade, bringing her a further chop and more of the grey potatoes my portion of which I had already decided that I could safely commit towards the preparation of the following day’s soup. I had drunk my pint of port and so we shared another.

“Looking back I cannot recall our conversation. Maybe we had none. It was noisy enough to make it hard to do so. I remember no uncomfortable silence between us, however. Then, finishing her plate and her portion of the wine, my new friend wiped her lips on a cloth and stood up. She turned on me the most radiant of smiles but said nothing further. She walked with purpose to the window that gave onto the concourse. She turned for a moment, took in the room with her gaze and – stepped thru’ it.

“There was silence for a moment. Then we rushed as one to the window to see her body below. But there was no sign of it.

“Fanciful as it may be, it is my belief that she disappeared or she flew away.

“For my part I paid the bill and left. I found my man at a stall consuming a vile-looking pasty, we caught our train, and soon I was in Berks and had new adventures to divert me.”

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Train Stories: The Angel of Paddington Station: Part 2

Extracts from “‘The Angel’ of Paddington Stn: Misc. Interviews”

Interview conducted by X- B- on – 201-.
Subject: Ms D- O-.
Copied by ALB onto iPhone on – May 2013.
Personal identifying information redacted per Data Protection Act

I was travelling to London from Swindon. I had mislaid my ticket. I thought that there was no exit machines at Paddington. On arrival and attempt get through machines I was apprehended. [Note. This was by K- Y-]. I explained to the officer I mislaid my ticket. He ask where is return ticket. I explain I mislaid my return ticket too. The officer says he will have to give me ticket. He will have to give me penalty ticket for £20 plus cost of ticket. He takes out his pad and a pen. I explained to the officer I mislaid my ticket. As he is writing on his pad a beautiful young girl comes up. She had golden curls and a miniskirt. She is tapping the officer on the shoulder. He says, one at a time Madam I am dealing with this lady who has travelled without prior purchase a ticket. I explained to the officer I mislaid my ticket. The beautiful young girl doesn’t stop tapping the officer on the shoulder. Finally he turns round to her. Good God he says and stop writing on his pad. The beautiful young girl smiles at the officer. He says bugger it and tears out the page he has been writing on. He says to me don’t do it again and lets me through. He turns to the beautiful young girl. She looks at me in the eye. She waits till I am properly through the barrier. She grins at me. Then she vanishes.

Interview conducted by X- B- on – 201-.
Subject: Mr T- P-.
Interview conducted at St Mary’s Hospital
Copied by ALB onto iPhone on – May 2013.
Personal identifying information redacted per Data Protection Act.
Smoking references redacted due to health and safety issues.

I am currently in hospital consequent on my heart attack. I understand that I was brought here from Paddington Station on – 201- consequent on my heart attack. I do not remember that. All I remember is when I was at Paddington Station on – 201- prior to my heart attack. I am a heavy smoker. At least – cigarettes a day. Actually I am not allowed to smoke in the hospital but I was a heavy smoker prior to my heart attack. I was late for my train and I was running across the station concourse. Platform -. I live outside of Reading and was travelling home after work. Actually after a pasty and a couple of pints with friends after work. I remember that the station was empty, no one near me, although I may be remembering badly due to my heart attack. Suddenly I have great pain in my chest. I fall down. Next thing I know, my chest no longer hurts but there is white light everywhere. Bugger me I thought, this is it. Then a lovely girl is bending over me, with golden curls. Bugger me, an angel, I thought, this is really it. She crouches beside me. Even in my terminal condition I cannot help notice with approval her red knickers. Red knickers and honey-coloured skin, she was gorgeous. She holds out her hand and touches my chest. Immediately I know that after all I will be OK. I look at her to thank her even though I am pretty sure I cannot speak. She grins at me. Then she vanishes.

Interview conducted by T-O- on – 201-.
Subject: Mr S- R-R.
Copied by ALB onto iPhone on – May 2013.
Personal identifying information redacted per Data Protection Act.
Mild smoking references approved by appropriate authority Mr U-W-.

I am a homeless person. I often come to Paddington Station. Sometimes there is food to spare from the concessions. Sometimes you can beg at the Station, though if the officers sees you at it they throw you out. Sometimes it is that little bit warmer in than outside which is a benefit if it is cold out. Sometimes things go all right but sometimes it is very bad, no money no food and the officers taking liberties. On – 201- when it all happened it was very bad. I had not eaten for some days. Usually cigarettes take the edge off the hunger but cigarettes are harder to come by these days due to public health concerns. It was late in the evening. I was making myself scarce so as I could avoid the officers and stay at the station all night if possible. I find a corner and try to look like I am not there at all, just some old rags. I am not proud. I am trying so hard to be invisible that I fall asleep. I am very tired with the malnourishment remember. When I come to the station is deserted and I am on the floor. I tried to get up but I was too exhausted due to hunger to. Then I saw this lovely girl. She is walking across the concourse to me swinging her hips. She has golden curls which shone as they suddenly got in some beam of light, maybe from a night train. She is like an angel. In her hands there is a pasty from the West Cornwall Pasty Company. I saw at once it was their top of the range Large Traditional Pasty. She puts it into my hands and she grips me by the shoulder and with a voice of infinite compassion she says, ‘Will you have chunky potato wedges with that?’ After that things got better all round, I found resources so as I don’t have to beg. She saved my life I believe. Who is she? I don’t know, I never saw her again. I reckon she’s an angel. At the time I was busy with the pasty I know but when I looked round to thank her she vanishes.

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Train Stories: the Angel of Paddington Station: Part 1

I like the way that the London railway terminuses are grouped round us like close fielders. In our part of London they are so numerous as to be almost intimidating: King’s Cross with its wonderful frontage visible again at last and its new atrium clinging to the side of its neck like a lovely shiny carbuncle, ruined plastic Euston and fabulous St Pancras.

(It is ‘terminuses’ isn’t it? I think that even pedants don’t say ‘termini’.)

I was brought up to be a Waterloo man, London’s gateway to Surbiton and the Surrey hills. For many years I never went through the station without seeing someone I knew, emerging from their platform dressed to the nines and smiling confidently in anticipation of their assault on the City or as it might be the shops, the theatres and the Chinese restaurants – or else rushing to escape.

Other more speculative attacks on London, involving foreigners and the ports that serve the Continent, are made through Victoria or Liverpool Street.

I also like the more borderline terminuses. Marylebone I have visited. There are no trains there. It has no function except as a counter in Monopoly. The same could be said of Fenchurch Street. Has anyone ever disembarked at Fenchurch Street? Does it still exist?

My story however relates to Paddington, originally the terminus for the Great West Railway and the most prestigious terminus of all. Paddington, if it were a Western European country, would go straight to the final of the Eurovision Song Contest notwithstanding a run of nul points that would have shamed an emerging nation. I was standing by the departure board because my train was delayed. ‘Due to operational difficulties,’ it said, ‘the train will arrive at the time of departure’. I had one eye on the board and the other on a sandwich bar; I was considering whether the delay was sufficient to justify a second breakfast.

As I watched, a young woman sashayed up to the sandwich bar. She had dark honey-coloured skin, improbable blonde hair, cowboy boots and a ripped denim mini-skirt through which flashes of scarlet knickers could be seen when she walked. At first glance I assumed that she was a hooker, improbable though that might be early on a bleak weekday morning, but two things convinced me otherwise. The first was that unlike most prostitutes of the Paddington area she was glowing with health. The second was the benign smiles with which all the shopkeepers in the concourse regarded her.

She bought a soft drink and set off away towards Platform 1, or at least towards that end of the station. I decided that a second breakfast was called for and I went to the sandwich bar, selected and bought an enhanced flapjack. A woman’s scent lingered faintly at the counter.

Who was that? I said.

The girl? They call her The Angel.

Why’s that then?

He looked embarrassed.

Don’t know, he said. They say she goes around doing good.

I would have enquired further, but at that point the departures board indicated that my train had indeed arrived at the time of departure and was about to depart: to do so moreover from the very far corner of the station, Platform 14 in fact. The train might have arrived at the time of departure but the schedule was not to be trifled with.

I took my enhanced flapjack and ran. There was a mêlée where the arriving passengers met those like me who wanted to get onto the train, the latter spurred on by the sounds of keen Network Rail personnel blowing whistles and slamming doors. I put my head down and charged. Suddenly to my astonishment I saw the woman coming straight at me. We came face to face.

I thought you were going to Platform 1, I said.

It was not a remark of which I am proud, but I was flustered.

She looked me in the eye, grinned broadly, and vanished.

Or so it seemed. One minute she was there and the next there was no trace except the faintest scent of perfume. Anyway, there was no opportunity to investigate the matter. Deftly tripping up a railway employee who was intent on slamming the last door I threw myself in and a second later we were Berkshire-bound.

Paddington serves some of the most delightful country in all England (as well of course as Wales). I was not to get that far however. I spent the day at a business meeting with liars in a tired hotel in the Thames valley, and when it was time to return it was raining hard. On an impulse I took the long way round to the entrance to the Tube, so as to go past the sandwich bar.

What do you mean, doing good? I said.

Oh, that’s just what they say. She’s a feature.

And he would tell me no more. All I got from him was the location of the station manager’s office.

I will not bore you with the details of my protracted dealings with the station manager’s office. They were helpful and professional but it was an enquiry that they were not trained to deal with, and although they were acquainted with the Angel (as they too called her) they did not really think that she was any of my business. As with any other business there are insiders and there are customers and what a customer is entitled to know is curtailed by reference to the service provided. Had I wanted to talk about the fact that my train had arrived and departed without leaving time to catch it, had I had some query about the eponymous Bear, they would have been in (as they would probably have put it) their comfort zone. This however was different.

Did she really disappear? I said.

We can’t really say.

Has she disappeared for other people?

They didn’t answer.

I noticed a file lying on the desk across from me. I read its title upside down. “‘The Angel’ of Paddington Stn: Misc. Interviews”, it said.

I tell you what, I said. Opposite Platform -, there is a sandwich bar. They do excellent enhanced flapjacks and a fine, strong cup of tea. I’ll treat us both, I said. Only problem: a spot of trouble with the knee. Could you possibly?

I passed across a £20 note and then another.

When they returned I had what I needed.

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Train Stories: Into the Vortex

Trains held a special place in the heart of Albert Einstein. Read his book Relativity: The Special and the General Theory. There they are: not only described but illustrated in neat diagrams.

In his thought experiments he has you standing on a station platform as they hurtle towards you and past you. He has them speeding away from each other in opposite directions (but never, he notes, at more than the speed of light).

Then he has you on the trains, holding lights aloft so that they may be discerned by those others now fulfilling your former role on the platform.

One imagines the trains with which Einstein’s imagination had to work in that era before the First World War: fussy Middle-European steam trains of the sort that are nowadays confined to chugging up and down mountains so that the tourists inside can exclaim, not at men on platforms with lights, but at snow-topped peaks. These are infinitely more picturesque than men with lights but, in terms of the physics, straight-forward and dull.

Then one imagines the lights that were to be inspected as they came and went (though never, as he would caution, at a speed greater than that of light). What sort would they have been? Probably they were not electric lights. Those were very rare then and confined to the drawing rooms of the quality. They would not have been made available for scientific experiments, even thought experiments. Perhaps the lights were naphtha flares.

I am not entirely sure what naphtha flares are but I seem to remember their featuring gloomily in the visuals for the catastrophe that was to come, the Great War which replaced the gemütlich, pleasantly bourgeois world in which Einstein’s ideas first occurred to him. No doubt there came a point when they needed something that would cast a baleful light over No Man’s Land, and some bright spark remembered. Naphtha flares! Wasn’t there was a man, the bright spark might have exclaimed, who used to stand on the platform at Zurich Central holding naphtha flares when the trains went past. It was a scientific experiment apparently. He’s probably in the trenches now but the flares will be there still, in a cupboard owned by the railway company or something.

And so they would have been, though, being Swiss, the man on the platform had probably avoided the trenches and was peacefully awaiting the outcome underneath his home mountain in hobbit-like tranquility.

Einstein’s’ world may have been gemütlich and pleasantly bourgeois but there was nothing gemütlich about what went on inside his head. In there the little Swiss steam trains flashed past at impossible speeds (though never, as he noted, at more than the speed of light) and, almost buckling under the more extreme provocations of his thought experiments, elongated themselves to multiples of their length when at rest (whatever, as Einstein would have said, looking at things relatively, ‘at rest’ means – ‘at rest’ vis-à-vis what exactly?).

One thinks of the immense trains of the imagination of the old, weird America, the mystery trains, multiply-coached, implacably bearing the singer’s baby away (although, to be fair, they never, unless Alan Lomax was careless in what he recorded, even approached the speed of light).

When I think of Einstein looking out between his nice lace curtains, with all of that strange stuff going on inside his head, gazing onto the streets of Zurich with its good burghers going about their business at very much less than the speed of light, I remember George Harrison in that scene in the film Yellow Submarine: in his head all the weirdness that state of the art graphics could suggest and quotidian Liverpool all about him.

I love the idea of relativity, the idea, as it is in my no doubt fatuous arts-education mind, that motion is not absolute but relative, and that when we plunge towards the centre of the Earth in the broken lift the centre of the Earth is also plunging towards us.

And I have a mental picture of the General Theory of Relativity, with the universe bent around its mass like Richard III bent around his kingship. Sometimes I think that I understand it and then I lose it all again.

I have a secret idea. If at the point of the Big Bang the universe was all bent around its own mass, and nothing existed except the singularity that was about to explode and become our universe, what changed when the Big Bang happened? It’s still bent around its own mass, beetling away. Only the scale is different.

My theory: the Big Bang never happened.

Yet!

I also love the idea of Schrödinger’s Cat, the much later thought experiment where the single photon goes through one of two holes and it’s not that we don’t know which hole it goes through, it’s that the Principle of Uncertainty has it that it goes through both holes until a later event (the death or survival of the hypothetical cat in the late Professor Erwin Schrödinger’s nasty imagination) establishes, after the event, which hole it was.

I always think of Professor Schrödinger when I travel on the Tube.

Use all available doors, they instruct me.

The good burghers on the streets of Zurich before the Great War would have found that a meaningless instruction. ‘How precisely can I use all available doors?’ would have been their sensible Swiss response. We know better. The uncertainty of the struggle to get in is succeeded by the realisation of the actual carriage that one has penetrated and its actual occupants with whom one has become a fellow traveller. Admittedly their identity is rarely critical, though if Professor Schrödinger is prepared to poison a cat in the interests of science he is quite capable of sending a terrorist to bomb the Underground, occupying and demolishing with his little bomb this carriage and its occupants but not that.

Some time ago the whole business of relativity was brought home to me graphically on the Tube. It was Piccadilly Circus in the rush hour. I was on the east-bound Piccadilly Line. I was already in the carriage and a father and his child were trying to force their way on. (They thought that they were using all available doors, but I, inside and cat-like, knew better. That however is a different thought experiment.)

The father fought his way in. The son was still on the platform when the doors started to close. The son screamed. The father seized him and dragged him in, the other passengers, being only human, making room. The father soothed his distraught child. He said:

Don’t worry. Daddy’s not going anywhere.

The good burghers on the streets of Zurich before the Great War would have said, possibly unfeelingly:

Yes he is: he’s going to Leicester Square.

But we know better, thanks to Einstein. I gazed paternally at the couple, a little singularity, half of it whimpering but all of it almost fully recovered from its crisis. I knew the right answer:

No, Daddy isn’t going anywhere. Leicester Square’s coming to him.

(But not at more than the speed of light.)

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Train Stories: South by South West

I miss the Court of Appeal Judge, said Amy.

This was peculiar, given what she was to tell me.

So you always say, I said. But I thought that you were going to tell me your train story featuring Hampshire.

It is my train story. It is an old story, from when the Court of Appeal Judge was alive. (If you report what I say, is it the usual rules?

The usual rules? I demanded quizzically. You don’t talk in broken English but I can use drivers for reported speech other than ‘said’?

I had anticipated her response, she twinkled, which was, however, in the affirmative.)

It was, she said, like mine, a strange story, involving lurches into the fashions of times gone by and also unexpected desire, the latter undercut by moments of farce.

Everything that one looks for in a story, I said: trains, nostalgia, lust, jokes. There was no lust in my train story. But Amy, unexpected desire and the Court of Appeal Judge? Surely not. You told me that he always wanted to have sex with you and you said: No: you married people from Hampshire, I married people from Kettering: no sex.

Once, she admitted wryly; only once.

He asked her to travel with him by train from London to where he lived in Hampshire. Something or other for Great Secret Miss had to be delivered or collected.

What about your family? she had asked. What do they think if you turn up with a Chinese person from a kefir bar?

Silly girl, he had said. You can be inscrutable with the best of them.

So she had gone.

You were right, she said, it was Waterloo. Many destinations not from the top drawer: Woking and so on – but then, in a corner by itself, the platform for the Hampshire train.

Have you read Harry Potter? Amy asked.

Haslemere, Brockenhurst, New Milton; all those Hampshire stations.

The Court of Appeal Judge ushered her into a First Class carriage. They had the compartment to themselves. A wine waiter appeared as if from nowhere and produced a bottle of St Emilion, two glasses, a linen napkin and a small table covered in red leather on which to place them. The Court of Appeal Judge thanked him with a meaningful look and pulled down the blinds against the corridor.

When you’re unsure with a wine list, he lectured her, go for the St Emilion. It’s rarely of the very top flight but you can’t go seriously wrong.

They drank. Irony, she reported. They drank more.

And the old goat seduced you! I expostulated.

Seduction, she told me, she was prepared for, but he was too straightforward for that. Before she knew where she was she was invaded.

He talk vintage she said, vintage this, vintage that, and suddenly he fingers in my knickers.

He carried on talking vintages as his fingers did their despicable work. Then it was too late.

In spite of myself, I shout, ‘Oh! Excuse me! I come!’”

So it was you, I said. I despised him for boasting to me about it.

He cleaned his fingers with the linen napkin, and finished the bottle.

Waste not, want not, he said. Well timed! Here we are.

Her mind was entirely confused, she recalled, as he steered his Daimler too fast through the lanes. They got to his house. I was curious what it was like, but Amy’s cultural references deserted her at this point. Maybe she was too shocked to notice; but I persisted.

Was it Lutyens? I enquired; Lutyens-type?

Lutyens Schmutyens, she replied. Not architecture story.

I forgot to tell you, my dear, the Court of Appeal Judge said, with a nasty laugh, the wife is away and the servants have been given the evening off. We’re alone.

He was unexpectedly powerful and before she knew what was happening she had been manhandled into the master bedroom and onto the bed.

Why, I asked, did you allow him to?

She’d thought about it. Two reasons, she said. One was that Court of Appeal Judges have decades of successful bullying behind them. The other was the nice things that he did with his fingers on the train.

The bed was a four poster, Jacobean in style but not, she noticed, right; it was Chinese early-Twentieth-Century repro.

He had her on the bed. He had the grace to use a condom but that was the beginning and end of his consideration.

He very strong, she recalled wistfully. Very strong, so old. He kill me. Of course, so old, only once.

When he’d finished he flung the condom into a corner of the room and lay there looking enormously pleased with himself. When he had recovered his breath he started again on his account of the wines of the Bordeaux region. Then it was time to get dressed.

There, he said, is the rubber johnny but where is the wrapper for the rubber johnny? Where did I put it, my dear? Little silvery wrapper.

She told him, recovering something of her self-control, that she had absolutely no idea; nor cared.

Must find it, my dear. Her ladyship finds it, all hell breaks loose.

As he searched she said that he gradually lost his self-possession and his pride. Within ten minutes he was on his hands and knees.

It can’t have just disappeared. What the hell have you done with it?

She said: Stop whining for a minute and listen. Then if you want to you can put your head back under the bed. You very strong but you bad man. You touch me again, I kill you. I go. Car keys please.

She left him feverishly turning over cushions (brocade, Peter Jones) and took the Daimler to the station. She dropped the wrapper for the condom and the keys for the car into a rubbish bin in the forecourt.

For all I know, she said, he was searching till the day he died.

The First Class carriages were at the back of the train. She got into the next one after them. She stared through the window at the First Class carriage. She stared hard. She stared so hard that as the train picked up speed it became detached. With the benefit of inertia it travelled, unhooked, at first at almost the same speed but fell further and further behind. Then it disappeared.

It disappeared!

I say pouf, and it is gone. Nasty smell and no more. No more little compartment, no more wine waiter, no more linen napkin, no more bloody Bordeaux wines, maybe no more Court of Appeal Judge. All gone.

You made it vanish, Amy!

Train story. Maybe.

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Train Stories: West of Paddington

I had a strange and unnerving experience on a train, I told Amy.

So did I, she said.

Would you like to hear mine?

Yes, please.

The other day I went out into the country, to a village that you would not expect to be served by an express train direct from London. It was on the old Great West Railway, west of Paddington, and the station was of the sort that you get in television adaptations of books by P G Wodehouse, except that in the television adaptation the sign board with the name of the place would be in the same satisfactorily carpentered style but with a fictional name on it.

Escaping on first train to London after disgraceful episode at dinner the night before?

Just so, I said. You have it exactly.

Is Hampshire west of Paddington?

Possibly south-west. But it is not served from Paddington, it is served from Waterloo. Wodehouse’s characters would come and go from Paddington and might travel to the Continent from Victoria but they would probably not use Waterloo: Waterloo’s rather middle class.

Ukridge might, Amy said, when prowling the Surrey suburbs in his morning suit, scouting for shop girls.

She had me there.

I speak of the Wodehouse of the classic years, I said.

My story is a Waterloo train. With Hampshire.

Good, I said. Mine isn’t. We may yet come to yours.

It was an unpleasant evening, I continued. It was raining steadily and cold, just above freezing. The people of the village had retired indoors, to their homes or pubs. A few lights could be seen through the drizzle in the distance but no one was around and it was very dark. I had consulted a time-table to find out when my train would arrive. The time it gave turned out to be entirely different from that on the electronic board and with some irritation I settled to a forty-minute wait. I paced the platform to keep my feet from freezing and was unable to find anything consoling to listen to on my iPod.

Then, some fifteen minutes early, an express train roared in.

Roared? said Amy, her eyes wide.

Figuratively. It was a great express train, on its way from some western metropolis, such as Hereford. Suddenly the dim country station was flooded with light.

Flooded? said Amy.

Again, I said, a metaphor. It was as if light poured down from the windows all along the platform, which was already shiny from the drizzle and reflected it back, like lovely electric triangles. Inside were laughing, happy people.

Like Orient Express.

Just like the Orient Express. You have it exactly, the sudden irruption of colour and sophistication into the dim village station.

Orient Express Poirot. Not P G Wodehouse. Agatha Christie.

I looked at Amy critically. Was she taking the piss? It appeared not but when it comes to inscrutability she has always had me.

You can take these things too far, I said. Anyway, I got on. As soon as I was seated there was an announcement:

Well (it said) we’ve got here early. Nearly fifteen minutes early. We’re not going anywhere for fifteen minutes. If you like smoking, why don’t you get off and have a cigarette? There’s plenty of time. Nearly fifteen minutes.

There was a pause, and then he said:

This is a non-smoking station, repeat, a non-smoking station. Smoking on the platform or elsewhere on the station premises is strictly prohibited. But there’s a gate right there into the car park, and the car park’s all right. And there’s plenty of time. Nearly fifteen minutes.

I would like to report that the passengers flocked out with laughter and enthusiasm, handing round their Passing Clouds, calling cheerily to each other, one of them perhaps with a guitar, another a picnic basket, yet another a hip flask. But no, they all sat there staring glassily over their crisp packets and lager to see who would be the first to break ranks, who would voluntarily jeopardise their seat in the pursuit of pleasure…

Who admit be smoker, said Amy.

That too.

Train man not send very clear message about health risk.

A lamentably unclear message, I said. But as it turned out no one took the opportunity to engage in the filthy habit, so no harm was done. We sat there for the fifteen minutes and then the train set off again into the darkness, a band of brilliant light threading through the silent countryside, leaving the little station in darkness once again.

How you know? You don’t see. You on train.

Imagination, I said. My strong point. But what about your story? What about Hampshire?

Very different story, Amy said.

Good, I said. Variety. Good.

And not for today.

She sought to soften the blow.

Green tea?

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