Advice for those bored of enjoying life

Perhaps you are tired of peace and quiet. Perhaps you have been sitting in the garden, reading the newspaper, listening to gentle birdsong, sipping a nice glass of Bacardi and Coke, and have just said to your partner, 'Darling. How boring is this? If only we could take a trip on a British train and have our nerves jangled to perdition. Let us make our way immediately.'

If so, I offer these instructions to make your experience as close as possible to the one I had today on my journey back from a writers' holiday in Wales.

You will need:

1. a cheap ticket for a two-hour journey on a British train;

2. a hen party of eight twenty-something girls wearing lurid pink teeshirts emblazoned with 'JANE'S HEN PARTY' and carrying a supermarket's alcohol aisle in carrier bags. If you can get them to have conversations at volumes more suitable for shouting across canyons ('Who wants water? Anyone want water as well as the wine?' 'Oh, we're not going to do the bloody water thing, are we?') this will help enrich your experience;

3. a mother with three children under ten, one of whom has a voice so high that passing seagulls take a peek inside the carriage window, wondering how a fellow bird has boarded a train;

4. a deaf guard who, like my granny with her television, doesn't realise that the volume of his announcement tannoy is turned up to 40,000 decibels, and who also doesn't realise that a little warning before yelling THE NEXT STATION IS BIRMINGHAM NEW STREET AND THERE'S A DOCTOR THREE MINUTES FROM THE STATION IF YOU HAVE EAR PAIN is only polite.

If you are the type who can plan ahead, your experience can be even more fulfilling. Follow these strategies:

1. Attend a concert the night before your journey, performed by a 40-strong Welsh male voice choir in a small, hot, crowded lecture theatre. The tight conditions are imperative in order that you feel, as you will, as though they are singing personally to you, up one of your nostrils, using a megaphone.

2. Spend the two hours after the concert in a bar with people who keep topping up your wine glass when you're not looking. (Definition of 'not looking' here: 'pretending not to look')

3. While in the bar, drinking the eternal glass of wine, invite in the Welsh male voice choir and surround yourselves with its singers. Ask them to start songs spontaneously while standing approximately two nano-millimetres from your right ear. If they can adopt a technique similar to the deaf train guard, ie being careful to make sure that the very first syllable is at top volume, this will help.

4. Go to bed at one in the morning. If your head is thumping as it hits the pillow, all well and good.

5. Get up at 7.30 in order to start your journey. If your head is thumping as it rises from the pillow, all well and good.

I hope my advice furnishes you with an experience you will never forget. Please call and tell me. (But keep your voice down. Things are still pretty fragile.)


  1. I'm so glad you're back! But I must admit, I'm glad you went away ... I was hoping for some train, bus, and other transportation related stories. Nobody does them better!

  2. Fran, can I ask a totally unrelated question? There is a big hubbub here in the States about health care right now, and I'm just wondering if you are generally happy with the system over there in the U.K. We hear horror stories about long waiting times and government rationing. Would you mind sharing your thoughts? I promise not to blog about you.

  3. Very funny.

    We noticed the hen party as we waved you goodbye and I did feel a twinge of sympathy! We had a wonderful man who went down the train offering ice-cream and snake venom for sale and who managed to give me a cup of tea with no teabag! We both decided he's just too fabulous as a character for a book.

    Ah, the wonders (and characters) of British rail transport.

    You should be warned that I'm all signed up as a follower or perhaps a stalker ;)

  4. Rachel - yay! I love stalkers. This kind, anyway.

  5. Lesley - glad you like the train stories. I think journeys are so fantastic. There's always something that goes wrong, and therefore it's great material. Makes not having a car worth it. About the health service, I don't have a lot of experience as yet of it. I think the NHS struggles because of lack of resourcing, but waiting lists are (meant to be) shorter these days, and I think the general feeling is that if you have an emergency or need surgery, it's not too bad, but anything else means you need to be prepared to wait and, no doubt, suffer. There's a big issue here about hygiene, spread of MRSA and other bugs etc, which they're trying to address. But, to be honest, as a free at the point of need service (if you discount the taxes, that is ...) it's got to be better than many systems. By the way, I used to work for the NHS as a medical secretary, and I guess one comment from those days would be that it's top heavy with management and therefore money isn't always put where it's needed.

  6. Oh I agree with Lesley. Your transportation stories are wonderful.

    But when will we be treated to a rickshaw adventure?

  7. northernknickerwoman2/8/09 00:59

    Trains an endless source of delight for me!After three hours of our charmingly eccentric train hosts banter,I actually considered taking the sea snake venom!
    Do you think theres a blog somewhere from a bride to be describing two old bats acting out the last throes of haemorraghic fever on their train -thats what it loooked like from the platform fellow travellers.

  8. Seems like everyone's having fun but me. I just spent a miserable hour in a soft chair by an open window with a grand oak outside reading Atwood (in part because of your strong recommendation, thank you very much).

    Seriously, the book is "The Tent". Her drawings are nice and "Voice" reminded me of "The Other Borges".

    I haven't read "Of Human Bondage" but I did read "The Razor's Edge". His characters and their conversation is some of the most vivid I've ever read.

  9. Amanda - I need someone to treat ME to a rickshaw adventure before I can write about one. Or perhaps I shouldn't admit that and should just write one anyway in which I eat olives from a jar of oil while swaying to and fro and plunging through Moroccan markets. Hey, that sounds good already.

  10. NK woman - I think that's very likely. I also think that the lady sitting in the next seat to us, who so obviously objected to us doing Sudoko out loud (so that's a 4, so that must be a 6, so that's the 2, then ...) must have written a blog post about us.

  11. Mark - you are sitting by a tree reading Atwood, and you think you're not having fun? I am shocked! Haven't read The Tent. I shall add it to my list. And The Razor's Edge.

  12. Amanda - do they have rickshaws in Morocco? Perhaps I am just taking too much poetic licence there ...

  13. Oh how I miss your blog when I've been gone. My life is just too mellow. We've traveled the last two week-ends and encountered no mishaps or irritating strangers. Not even when touring a dripping, muddy cave which had me wrangling a hyper 3 year old who had been given his own blinding flashlight. Oh, I just realized, WE were the irritating strangers.

  14. CJ, the cave tour doesn't exactly sound 'mellow'! And yes, it's disconcerting to realise you were probably the ones someone is blogging about right now!!!


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