Public Transport is a great way to get to know the Great British public. It’s like a window onto the world. If, say, an alien wanted to know about our culture I’d buy his a train ticket and tell him to enjoy himself. Oh, and to make sure he had a notebook to take an accurate record of the things he’d see.
When we went to London earlier in the year, there was that awkward moment on the tube. No, not the moment when you accidentally make eye contact with another customer. Something that, like crossing the streams, must never, ever be done because it will cause a total protonic reversal and that would be bad. Very bad. Almost as bad as the first time I went to London with Carole and she sat opposite me on the tube miming the words “We’re going to London, we’re going to London” and dancing in her seat. Until someone looked at her with, I don’t think I’m exaggerating here, a glare that could have stopped a clock. Anyway, the awkward moment I’m referring to is when I glanced down the tube carriage to see a Jewish man seated on one side of the carriage. Nothing unusual in this, nothing at all. Perfectly normal. Opposite him was a made reading a book about the life and times of Adolf Hitler.
This time, as I rode the tube back from some form of show in Leicester Square, a man on the tube declared that the Earth being round was debatable. Now, before you start being all picky and saying that actually it bows out a little in the middle so it’s not technically round, I will just point out that the man on the tube wasn’t even willing to plump for any kind of spherical form. It just wasn’t happening. If Galileo had been in my carriage that night it would have all kicked off and, had he been able to get any mobile signal, I suspect he’d have called on Copernicus to put the boot in as well.
On my first trip to Leeds, a man staggered up to me on the platform at Huddersfield and asked me if this was the train to Leeds. I confirmed that it was and he seemed happy with that. He got on and sat down a few seats away from me. During the course of the journey, he started talking to the person next to him. Yes, he was one of those. I’d dodged a bit of a bullet by only confirming his train destination, it would appear.
“I’m going to Leeds. Having a bit of a trip out from Huddersfield. I’ve heard there’s a really cheap pub where it’s only £1 something a pint.”
It was ten past seven in the morning. Ten past seven. Even the fact that I paid £4.50 for a bottle of Budweiser last week doesn’t even pray on my mind that early in the morning. Although, as you can tell, it does occasionally float through my consciousness – a bit like that muffin and two drinks that came to nearly a tenner when we went to the Lake District.
But seriously, who catches a train at ten past seven in the morning to go to Leeds because you’ve heard that there’s a cheap pub somewhere? We once went to Edinburgh and the guy sitting opposite us was travelling up – all the way from Leeds, a four-hour journey – just to go for a chinese in the restaurant next to the station because they had a really good lunch menu.
And then I wondered if he was one of those people. The people you see queueing outside places like the Post Office at some ungodly hour in the morning. Just waiting there, one hand on the door knob, for the place to open so that they can pile in and get served as soon as possible. If they came into town a little bit later, they might have sold out. Or run out of money. I know it can be a problem with places like Post Offices – if you’re not in first there’s almost no chance of getting a stamp that’s still sticky.
I haven’t seen him since. Obviously the cheap pints haven’t swayed him that much. Or he realised that he ended up standing outside this fabled drinking establishment until 11am and that his early morning trip was slightly unnecessary.