I firmly believe anyone interested in a contemporary study of British life should just sit on a train. It’s the stuff of anthropologists’ dreams. This weekend we travelled to Manchester to see the Patriarch’s family.
In true British style, our Sunday train service back to London was doubly delayed. We were diverted onto a different line, which was in turn hit by signal failures. A lengthy period of being stationary was punctuated by the train manager apologising that we were waiting for a National Rail van to drive to the track ahead and put something back together. Most of the toilets didn’t work.
Our co-passengers were a spectacularly diverse and interesting bunch. A family with young children; a family with older children; some posh teenage girls; a man and a woman from two different Indian sects; a young Jewish woman, who, for reasons I still haven’t worked out, had two notebooks, three mobile phones, a digital camera and a lot of chewing gum. Then there was the gay twenty-something white man on the phone to his mother while she shopped for yellow sticker bargains before Waitrose closed:
“Yeah, no, he broke his leg. We don’t know how. It was a children’s slide. A freak accident… couldn’t do it if you tried.”
During our extended journey, I openly breastfed our wriggly mixed race baby.
Not one passenger batted an eyelid about any other passenger. No one complained about the train manager’s increasingly beleaguered messages (“You’ll know when I know!”). For three hours, everyone politely, impeccably, Britishly ignored one another.
I don’t kid myself that all of Britain is tolerant and made of cake and Pride flags, but train journeys, however delayed, do tend to give me hope in uncertain times. I should have gone to the toilet before we left though.