Taking a Train in England - An Adventure
© Copyright 2021 by Victor Pogostin
A coloured serpent of railway cars may look attractive and even invoke the sweetest of childhood memories, but it can be very annoying, if you risk traveling by train across the green fields of England.
My wife and I boarded the train in Yeovil, I with a warm feeling of anticipation of the night of “cheers” with my niece’s family in Basingstoke and a deep affection of the good old England and the hospitable Brits. I ended up in Brighton hating everything from Adam Smith to the Industrial Revolution. It was a hot Sunday afternoon when, after a week in Faro (Portugal), our plane smooth-landed in Bristol. A friend offered to help find a train station in Yeovil – the starting point of, my niece assured me, of the shortest and therefore, presumably, fastest route to Basingstoke.
Over the centuries the town had built several railway stations and, though some had been shut down decades ago, the reality was that very few locals seemed to have noticed it. After multiple “Oh, yes it must be this way… oh no, I beg your pardon, that way…” we finally emerged by the tiny old world charm of a station.
A Dickensian mustachioed specimen of a Station Master welcomed us to his tiny office. After greeting us in his wonderfully articulate baritone, he kindly advised that now we were in the hands of what was once Her Majesty’s best in the world railway service and “oh, yes indeed” we could leave our worries behind and comfort ourselves with a cup of the best tea one could possibly find in Yeovil. Tea was offered in a cozy tearoom next door to the office.
We waited for the train right in front of the ticket office and the Dickensian character waived us a friendly goodbye. We boarded the nearest car and fell asleep, drowsy after a long trip on a hot day. Two hours into the journey, my wife touched my hand and pointed to a sign on a passing platform. It had an unfamiliar name of “Something By-Sea”.
“There is no sea in Basingstoke, is there?” she said, her tone reminiscent of my long forgotten geography instructor.
“England is an island, dear. Any place here is “by-sea”, said I. A conductor rushed by, ignoring our feeble effort to stop him with a question, and fellow passengers were of little help either. Finally, our “are we in Basingstoke yet?” attracted the attention of a fellow traveler with a distinct American accent.
“I am afraid you are on the wrong track”, he said.
“As if Americans always know,” sighed my wife.
Well, this American was right. What the stationmaster’s deep baritone failed to convey was that we should have watched which car we were boarding. After privatization, the “best railway system in the world” became so innovative, that the trains no longer run from station “A” to station “B”. Not that they do not start at station “A”, they do, but at a certain junction the many-hued serpent is sliced into two or sometimes three chains of cars and each makes its own journey. Mind you that, at a minimum, at least two of the destinations have nothing to do with the one on your ticket.
Next station was in Brighton; three hours travel time from Basingstoke. Angry and tired, I called my niece and cancelled “the night of cheers” with her family. Our “Air Transat” flight to Toronto was to depart the following morning and the Brighton ticket Master offered us tickets for a 30-minute ride to the Gatwick airport hotel.
“Your train is #5.”
“What car?” I asked, but the window was already closed.
It was almost midnight and we were about to board the train when a lonely figure of a police officer stopped us.
“Going to Gatwick? Then take the next car. That will get you straight to London”.
I felt too tired to argue about the meaning of the word “straight”, not even with Her Majesty’s bobby.
Victor Pogostin was born in Moscow. He graduated from The School of Translators of the Moscow State Institute for Foreign Languages, worked as translator for the Soviet Trade Mission in India, taught Russian Language and Culture course at the Aligarh Muslim University, served in the Long Range Naval Reconnaissance Aviation of the Northern Fleet. After his return from military service defended his PhD dissertation on Ernest Hemingway’s Nonfiction. For many years he worked in the Institute of Sociology of the Academy of Sciences, while working as a freelance author/translator for national newspapers and literary magazines throughout the former Soviet Union. In addition to translating fiction and nonfiction into Russian, he has compiled, edited, and written introductions and commentaries for over a dozen books by North American authors, including the works of Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck. In 1993 he relocated to Canada with his wife and son. My non-fiction has appeared in The National Post (Canada), Canadian Literature magazine, Russian Life magazine (Vermont) and The Epoch Times (US & Canada editions), As You Were, the journal of Military Experience and the Arts” (US)