Another Sunday morning and yet another trip to London Town, this time weighed down by too many bags in lieu of a birthday party prior to a trip to warmer climes. Whilst waiting, I play ‘guess whether the taxi will arrive on time’; a forerunner to ‘guess whether the train will be cancelled’. Martin Lockyer turns up in his cab. He plays golf at the same club as my father and thinks he’s heard of him. Unsurprising.
At the station, Martin follows me with a view to using the gents’. It’s out of order and he forms an orderly queue outside the disabled facility. ‘You could use the ladies’, I suggest and he regards me as some sort of demented idiot. ‘Bloody gents’ is always out of order’, he grumbles. ‘You want to try being a woman’, I don’t say. I dump my baggage with an away-day family and instructions to look after it whilst I take advantage of the working ‘ladies’. Hope I don’t look like a terrorist.
At Bournemouth, there’s a delay whilst another portion of train is added. I always think what an ugly construction Bournemouth train station is but, as with most architectural blots on the landscape, it’s now listed as some sort of award winning establishment. Holidaymakers arriving here for the first time must find their excitement speedily dissipated when they discover how far they are from the town centre; and even further from the unseen sea.
An announcement: ‘this train is now going to Waterloo’. Must’ve missed the earlier one that suggested it was going elsewhere. Katherine, today’s guard, goes on and on with her instructions to remove baggage that may deter the buffet lady who’s yet to be seen on her journey from Eastern Europe. There’s barely a trolley now – what will happen in the buffetless days of Brexit? Travellers will starve whilst those in south coast retirement homes will pass lonely and uncaring ends to their days.
We speed onwards along the rubbish strewn tracks to New Milton which Katherine announces abruptly. I don’t know why. No-one ever disembarks at New Milton. Why would they? In fact, the train stops so far from the platform that no-one could. The folk that live here never get off on the return journey either, preferring to catch a bus from an earlier or later stop rather than risk being identified as an inhabitant. I once went to New Milton as someone mistakenly informed me they had a nice department store in town. It was a lie.
Little grows along the railway embankment apart from ivy and butterfly-forsaken buddleia as we enter the treeless New Forest. Brockenhurst: welcome to the National Park and Cyclexperience with a missing ‘e’. Two types cycle past. The first is making sole use of his rear wheel in an impromptu circus cabaret. Behind, his mate is smoking a fag in that way that serious covert smokers do i.e. not holding it between two fingers, but covering it with his hand and drawing quickly.
Ferns now overpower the ivy and the first of the ponies appear. Followed by herds surrounding tiny hamlets where trains seldom pause. Then, the first water of Southampton where once we spotted an unexpected seal. The vague sun glitters on this morning’s high tide in a desperate attempt to make it appear attractive. A sorry and pointless attempt with the backdrop of steel cranes, gantries to load and unload containers, rubble tips and row upon row of cars waiting to be transported somewhere else. Sunday morning football matches.
Katherine arrives and brusquely demands to see tickets. She doesn’t look at them though or their accompanying rail cards. Just points at them and hurries on in time for Southampton Central where, on the same seal-spotting journey, we saw a large rat. I can’t imagine anyone’s ever going to list this pile of concrete. New passengers board and the once more invisible Katherine introduces herself, reiterating instructions to avoid the trolley lady who no-one ever sees on this trip.