A to B
I cannot drive. This is something which surprises many people, particularly those who I meet in my taxi.
Before you pass judgement, may I add that my dad cannot drive and his dad could not drive either, so this is not down to laziness. No, instead it is merely the dutiful continuation of a legacy. Subsequently, despite being in my early thirties, I have covered more tracks than your average wedding band. And so through circumstance and necessity, I have become a slave to the rails; a life’s progress dictated by engineering works.
There are two myths about train travel in Britain. The first is that the trains are rubbish. Not true. We are actually served by one of the most extensive rail networks in the world. But if you listen to your average Brit, or read a tabloid, then trains are always late and if not late then cancelled and when they do turn up they are always overcrowded. Again, not true. British people just love a good moan, and love to have the biggest moan too; the Four Yorkshireman sketch ad infinitum. You once caught a train that had no buffet car and was half an hour late? That’s nothing my train was an hour late and it had no doors. Much of the time passengers simply have unreasonable expectations and little to no patience. For many, the instinctive reaction to the announcement of a fatality on the line is a sigh, a look at the watch, then an angry tweet to the rail network. It’s a tough crowd.
Such high demands have perhaps been set up by the second myth; that train travel is romantic. The nature of train travel has changed dramatically, where once it was farewell embraces on smoke cloaked platforms now alas the nearest you’ll get to romance is a teenage couple necking against the luggage rack, while one of their mates films it on their mobile. Oscar Wilde once penned the line “One should always have something sensational to read in the train”, a ideal notably dispelled by the success of the Metro.
That sepia-tainted ideal of romantic train travel has spawned documentaries and television programmes. But the problem with Great Railway Journeys and its ilk is that whilst the railway journeys it featured were certainly great, they were just far too obscure. From Ulan Bator to Pyongyang with Clive Anderson. Brian Blessed barks his way from Tbilsi to Tehran. Real train travel is too removed from this for those of us who rely on trains to relate. And so Platform Four is an attempt to bring you rail travel as it really is; no more La Paz to Montevideo with Sue Pollard, instead this is decidedly much more Loughborough to Mansfield Woodhouse with the cast of Jeremy Kyle.
Trains don’t irritate me, people do. This will probably become apparent as we move on. I’ve moved quickly to defend the rail network in this prologue, but I won’t move as quickly to defend people. Frankly there are a hell of a lot of oddballs out there and the oddest and ballsiest of the lot usually travel by train, and sit somewhere near me. If you’ve gone cold turkey on reality television, and still desperately need your fix of socially inept opposites and attention seeking annoyances crammed into a relentlessly small space then I suggest you take a train sometime soon. Who needs three months of tasks and phone-ins when it’s all there in front of you in a twenty-five minute journey from Newark Castle to Lincoln Central.
No more Great Railway Journeys, welcome to Grating Railway Journeys. All aboard.