On train encounters

Don’t you know you’re in for a treat when the train door opens and a guy gets on, mobile in hand, and booms out, “Hello, Bob Shmeichel here”.

Should I have known this man?

As his conversation continues I find out he has just been on TV telling of his experiences and the public have gone potty over his tale. Unfortunately they got his name wrong and called him Schmickel but they were so amazed they have put him on to someone who will make a book of it.

“I’ve got no money”, says he.

“You will have when its published”, say they.

Just then the train goes through a tunnel and his signal is lost.

“Eh up!!!!”, says he. The signal comes back. “Eh up!!!”, says he.

“My experience was such a unique one”, says he.

“They left me alone over Xmas and all I remember is rushing out of the house shouting,”They’ve won, they’ve won!! Who knows, if my father had won, I might have had a happy childhood”.

Just then the train goes through another tunnel and his signal is lost.

“Eh up!!!!”, says he. The signal comes back. “Eh up!!!”, says he.

The caller rings off and our man of the moment gets off at Meadowhall.

Worthy of note is the fact that on the same train, getting off at Doncaster, was a man in an illustrated leather jacket, biker boots, a knuckle duster and eye make up carrying his shopping in a bin bag with handles. I recall thinking this must be the first time I’ve seen a man wearing eye make up at noon travelling standard class. Maybe I’ve led a sheltered life.

On the return journey I was sat next to a very sharp-suited gentleman who wanted to talk freely about his life. Maybe I should have worked for Samaritans because I always seem to be considered a good listener and find it easy to accept the role of mobile therapist.

He told me about how he had always been good at modelmaking and when he was in the Army they had offered him a position down in London for £70,000 per year making models alongside artists like John Piper. He was married at the time but his wife had turned schizophrenic after the birth of their child and the mother-in-law had plotted to try and thwart his success by hiding the Army letter inviting him to accept this post. He only found it years later and by this time he was making a living driving long-distance trucks around the country and getting more and more bitter.

Along came the British Legion and arranged for him to move into a new apartment and make a fresh start in life. He had recently bought himself a set of drums. The guy who lived downstairs from him suffered from night jitters and moaned and screamed in the night. He said he had threatened to start playing the drums if he was woken up again. Am I painting a picture here?

He finally showed me a photograph of the armoured car he owned, which he kept at the local Territorial Army base. Handing me his calling card, we parted like patients in a doctor’s waiting room and he left the train at Sheffield.

Some days you can watch the film of several lives without appearing in it yourself. You are just placed where you are as a passive observer but obviously have some healing effect on the life you have brushed against and they, in turn, open up caves of deep thought in your mind to be explored when circumstances provide the links.


8 thoughts on “On train encounters

  1. Don’t talk to me about trains! I spent 12 houars yesterday (3 on trains) with the most boring man in history. The fact that he is a political colleague cuts no ice when he tells the umpteenth random glassy-eyed stranger where he works and what he does for a living. By the end I was ready to poke my own eyes out with a British Rail sandwich.

    • I always enjoy travelling alone because you can either shut off and dream or you can casually explore a stranger’s world knowing that you are probably never going to see that person again once you get off the train. The worst thing is to be travelling with someone you know who insists upon having a non-stop conversation and all you want to do is stare out of the window and think of nothing at all. You feel like taking out an eraser and rubbing them out of the picture until you reach your destination.

    • Do you have a licence to carry that British Rail sandwich sir?

      Also I take umbrage (and then we take Berlin) at the fact that there is someone more boring than myself. I challenge you to a duel – British Rail sandwiches at dawn, siree

  2. Fascinating! i am also a fantastic listener and looneys are attracted to me like flies to a piece of shit. i think I mentioned my story of the middle aged transvestite on Manchester Picc station. Dressed like Mrs Buchet (Bucket) but with an adams apple and slight 5 oclock shadow. I think a lot of British live lives of quiet desperation, stiff upper lip and that as opposed to Israelis who tend to let it all out at mega decibel levels, and that when they find someone comfortable and that they wont meet again as ” a chance encounter on a train” they go for the jugular.
    i dont know what the guy has to be bitter about if he owns an armoured car. Also why didnt the mum in law just burn the letter from the army.
    i remember when I was travelling in back from Israel “sans bike” in 1972. I caught a train from Athens to Thessaloniki which didnt have corridors. The train travelled at 5 mph and stopped every 100 yards. We were on the train for 26 hours and each carriage turned into a party. people brough out meat bread, wine and Ouzo and soon a rip roaring shindig was going on in each carriage. At every stop, people would get off and replenish their stock of wine or Ouzo. There was a girl in my carriage who was about 17 who was travelling alone, a Slavic beauty who was called Anastasia. We got talking and became close friends. i was smitten and she was a temptress. She was going to visit her gran. At journeys end we exchanged addresses and i continued on my way like a ship passing in the night. I would think she is now a roly poly middle aged Greek lady. Well thats my story

    • I think this freedom we feel when we are in the limbo land of a train en route has something to do with being between realities. It somehow doesn’t matter what we say or who we talk to because we are unformed molecules, a bit like when figures are being beamed up in Startrek. We are just part of a rush of air travelling from A to B. It is strange how the experiences we have on these journeys stay with us probably because they are chances to shed a skin.

    • Ha. Brilliant story. When I read the bit about Anastasia it made me immediately wonder what she is doing now, what she looks like etc.

      All I will say is that I’ve never met anyone called Anastasia who has not been absolutely drop-dead gorgeous, at what ever age.

      You should have gone with her to her gran’s. Possibly because ‘Gran’ is Slavic for ‘threesome with me and my twin sister’*.

      *I may have made up the bit about the threesome.

      • Its strange when you meet people from your past after a break of 30 or 40 years. A few years ago i went onto Friends Reunited and “bumped ” into Mick, a guy who I was friendly with in high school. When in England later on, we agreed to meet and have continued to meet off and on for the last 7 or 8 years whenever I’m in the Motherland and we communicate daily by e-mail. He and his wife have also been out to Israel for my son’s wedding. Suddenly after all these years I’m back in the gossip mill with about half my class from when I was age 12 to 17 and have developed a keen interest again in the local history of my home town, Doncaster.

        You are correct about any girl called Anastasia by the way. Its physically impossible for them to be homely. in fact in my humble opinion most women with Slavic names are usually drop dead sexy or drop dead ugly. ‘Gran’ by the way is Yugoslavian for ‘keep your hands off my granddaughter’

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