My life is full of stops and starts. Starting out from a station with four platforms in the morning, I welcome people of all shapes and sizes, a few dogs, bicycles and luggage in all shapes and colours. Sometimes I wonder how I put up with the noise. My engine is noisy, I know. But the passengers! Some of them have ear-phones with noise going straight into their lug-holes. Others are excited to be travelling with friends and talk animatedly, getting louder and louder as the train fills up.
Weekends are the noisiest. Take this one in July as an example. There were the usual stops and starts, surges of people going to visit friends and family in some of the villages, hikers setting off on their weekend walks from beautiful places, shoppers going to the larger places. Then it all began to be too much of a good thing. More people had been getting on than getting off. My two coaches still had a few empty seats, but out of each pair of seats, at least one was occupied.
A platform at a pretty village was busy. A few people climbed down from my four doors. There were far more waiting to climb inside. A party of little girls holding hands in pairs expected to find seats together. Their adult friends accompanied them onto the train. Not much room. Some passengers moved round, so that the girls could sit together. The adults remained standing.
Another station, more bodies (living ones, I mean). A tunnel. “High, low,” goes my horn. Out into the light I come, slowing into a station. Oh, my… All those people.
Fortunately quite a number are heading for the carnival here today. The ones waiting climb aboard.
My conductor has given up trying to move along the centre of the coaches, checking tickets and collecting fares. Hardly any stations on this line are manned or have ticket machines. All he can do is operate the doors and try to keep the passengers safe as they enter and leave.
Who are those women in uniform? They look very official. Aircraft cabin crew? No. There are RAF-style uniforms, yellow uniforms, other costumes and lots of makeup. Some people are applying more as they travel. They are entertainers – a dance troupe heading to a carnival farther along the line. I can hear them chatting to another passenger, who was as mystified as I was about their gear.
I call at more little stations and one of the main ones. Oh, dear. Oh dear. It is very crowded. If I had arrived empty, I’d be leaving full. But I’ve arrived full. What now?
Good. A large group of adult and junior rugby players are headed for this town. And some shoppers. I’ve heard there is a good shopping centre here now with lots of chain stores and some independent shops. I have to take the passengers word for it. I can’t leave my tracks and find out for myself.
What a crush! They’ve all managed to pile in. Those entertainers are relieved that some more of their number have come on board. They might have had to wait for them to come by bus. Whatever next?
The next station is the one for the other carnival. The dance troupe musters its forces and begins to pass the standees in the aisle. They alight from the front of the train and have to walk along the platform to the exit. Not much delay here. How a train is supposed to run to time, when loading and unloading takes so long, I cannot imagine. My conductor will have some explaining to do. He has targets to aim for; sometimes they are impossible to attain.
The track leads inland now and we pass fields and rivers. There are still more people joining the train than alighting at each station. Did someone say they are going to the races? And it’s a sunny day. That makes a difference to the number of shoppers and sight-seers. People with luggage and another train to catch travel regardless of the weather.
The conductor is at his wits’ end. The quiet little station with its floral decorations and its murals is over-populated. He walks along the train banging on the windows and indicating to the standing passengers that they need to squash up a bit. A man with a young dog was waiting for the train – or was he? Someone has given him a suitcase and off he goes on foot with it and the dog.
At the next station I wonder what the mature lady with her long-distance bike will decide to do. The panniers might have fitted in the bike area, but there is no room for her and the bike. There’s another train behind – almost an hour behind. And will it be full? And will it be full?
I heard that the train ahead of me took ill part way along. Did the passengers wait an hour or was a bus laid on? They never tell me. They never tell me.
Two more station stops and we’re there. “All change. Remember to take all your personal possessions with you.”
No apologies for the delay or the crush. I’ve got you there. What more can you expect at my age?