February 2009


I have had a headache for the past three days. Nothing bad, just annoying when I’m trying to do other things. It’s like the top of my skull is in a vice, and it’s slowly being tightened. Paracetamol helps, but I’m not a fan of doping myself up unless I really need to.

It occurs to me that it might just be itchy feet. Until yesterday, I had no plans to go anywhere. When I was in Paris, I would never make a trip without knowing that I had the next train tickets booked. I like having one place to call home, but I like travelling too. If things where you are are good, you can savour the anticipation of an exciting trip; if they’re bad, then you’ve gt something to look forward to. Yesterday, though, I booked theatre tickets so that I’d have to head off again. It’s not for another couple of weeks though, so until then I’m stuck in London.

This is, on reflection, perhaps not such a bad thing. I haven’t got much on for the next few weeks and the flat is in dire need of a top to bottom clean out.

I was on a remarkably civilised train to Oxford yesterday. The same, unfortunately, cannot be said for the London Underground, which changng its mind about bits were open and shut – or perhaps the announcers just changed their minds about which parts they were gonig to tell us about. Either way, it wasn’t very helpful, especially when I had a ridiculously heavy case and was trying to negotiate a step-free (or as step-free as possible) route to Paddington.

The Paddington to Oxford train, however, was perfectly behaved, as were the passengers. It ran perfectly to time, had plenty of space for luggage and lots of free seats, and very helpful guards. I’d comment on the scenery and sunlight forming beautiful pictures, because I’m sure they must have been, but I was too busy curled up in my seat doing cross stitch. Two rows further down, an elderly couple were completing a crossword together. Opposite me, a girl was reading the complete works of Jane Austen.

One person had music playing through their headphones, but none of us seemed to mind, given it was gentle classical music (not something I could identify, though that doesn’t narrow it down much).

I wish more train journeys were like that.

Settling myself into a seat on the train to London Paddington yesterday morning, I heard teenage voices calling to each other.  Twisting round in my seat (cunningly positioned near the doors so I could keep an eye on my case, which had mysteriously lost the luggage tag with my name on it), I saw a girl, 16 or so, pressed against the door as the train pulled out of the station.  Looking out of the window next to me, there was a boy who was probably a couple of years older, waving goodbye.  He didn’t look quite as upset as she seemed to be.

I smiled wryly as I settled back in my seat, and when the girl walked past me with tears streaming down her face I handed her a tissue.  She looked at me startled, then snuffled a thank you before finding an empty seat where she could curl up.

I remember those train journeys when I was her age.  Every time I left my boyfriend, I thought my heart was going to break, because it would be so long until I’d see him again – three weeks, at least.  I’d sob my way through a pack of tissues, leaning against the door, then look thoroughly miserable for the rest of the journey home.  The other passengers must have thought I’d just been told someone had died.

I know better now, of course.  I know what it really feels like to think your heart is breaking, and to know that it really will be a very long time before you see someone again.  A lot of those involvewd train journeys, too.  Still, I remember how it felt at 16, and I remember how eventually the rhythym of the wheels stops the crying and lulls you into contemplative dozing out the window.

If that girl was anything like me, by the time the train got to London she was chatting to her friends on her mobile and planning the next few days, the trauma of the departure entirely forgotten.