Thursday, November 19, 2009

My hell in the Quiet Carriage

The long, sleek, purple train pulls into Bath Spa railway station, pretty much on time. You climb into the Quiet Carriage, find your seat and settle down, ready to head west.

It’s late morning and the train is practically empty. It swishes along merrily, the only distraction being those strange semi-literate arrival announcements from the train manager.

“Arriving into”? Where did they drag up that particular prepositional distortion?

It’s  “arriving at” or (at a pinch) “arriving in”. The phrase “Arriving into” is downright, and unnecessarily, wrong.

But don’t let it bother you. The English language is a flexible beast and can cope with anything that First Great Western Trains throws at it.

Onwards, ever onwards.

Things are pretty quiet in the Quiet Carriage. You take advantage of the fact that you’re allowed to use a quiet personal stereo. You stretch yourself out in a quiet sort of manner. All very civilised. All very quiet.

Read a magazine, in the words of the song, and you’re in Baltimore. Well Exeter, actually, but never mind.

Somewhere around Taunton, though, the trouble starts.

“Oooh look,” comes a voice from a couple of seats in front of you. “We’re in the quiet carriage! Look at that sign on the window! It says we’re in the QUIET carriage! That sign’s got a picture of a crossed out mobile phone! Does that mean your mobile phone won’t work in here? Because we’re in the QUIET CARRIAGE!!!”

Now from the general Tiggerish over-excitedness and sheer technological witlessness of the above, you might assume, dear reader, that these are the innocent ramblings of a precocious two-year-old, perhaps being taken on its first railway jaunt by its doting parents.

But no. These words spring from the mouth of an ordinary looking middle-aged lady, who yammers away to her travelling companion about the QUIET CARRIAGE!!! for the next 20 minutes, while he grunts and tries desperately to make it look as though he’s not with her. So much for quiet.

Business concluded, it’s time to head back. And this time we’re on CrossCountry Trains rather than FGW.

Now for those who are interested, CrossCounty trains look a bit like Eurostars, with automatic doors rather than the kind you have to be a contortionist to open from the inside.

They don’t go quite so fast, though. Especially round Bedminster.

To add to the air of international chic the staff address their customers as “Folks” rather than “Ladies and Gentlemen.” And there’s a Quiet Zone, not a Quiet Carriage.

But do your fellow passengers take the slightest bit of notice? Well, the six nattering businesswomen and the bloke on his mobile phone certainly don’t. Any chance of a post-meeting doze are blown out of the window in a stream of  inconsequential chit-chat.

What can you do? Sigh huffily? Stare pointedly or point (pointedly) at the Quiet Zone signs? It'll only make your fellow passengers think you’re a nutter. So the only solution is to pump up the volume on your previously quiet iPod Touch and attempt to drown them all out. Which rather misses the point.

A French philosopher once said that Hell is other people. A French friend said the other day that France would be great if not for the French.

And grumpy old Dixon says train travel would be an absolute dream.

If it weren’t for the other passengers.

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