Poor old trains, poor old railways, going without passengers after years and years of packed carriages, and squeezed-together passengers, and choruses of criticism. But, relief of Mafeking and joy of joys, trains are back in business.

Image of part of  a Sailing to Purgatory webpage to illustrate the article.
Tut tut, maskless! ... But masked or not, the 'welcome' for passengers on a train journey yesterday was astonishing to hear. Photo by Tandem X Visuals on Unsplash
Hooray, say we, and doubtlessly all railroad staff would join in.

This fellow, tapping away at a keyboard, shared a nation’s guilt at our almost abandoned trains.

So president Doris’s decree that we could travel again felt the most wonderful news which should be celebrated with a train journey.

A strange ticket

Yesterday, armed with an odd-looking Trainline ticket which seemingly was camouflaged in strange hieroglyphics, I boarded a train.

It seemed like a decade since I last travelled on a dear old choo-choo. Actually, it was three months, but it felt to be three months too long.

The train pulled out right on time. I looked around for the happy and relieved expressions in the carriage. There was just one other, a young woman, masked, too, and squeezed into a far corner.

Out came my laptop so I could keep busy till the conductor came round. I had my congratulations ready to add to his likely pleasure and excitement to be back in business as he checked the weird diagram on that sort-of ticket.

Image of part of  a Sailing to Purgatory webpage to illustrate the article.
Tickets for sale ... Tempting, even if the apostrophe is a little surprising. However, please don't expect exactly a warm welcome on your train journey.
The food trolley would arrive at any moment, too, with gratis celebratory cappuccinos and homemade gateaux.

Eggs for a year

I was heading for Portchester, near Portsmouth, to enjoy the company of Gerry Adamson, who greased a yearful of eggs for my solo around-the-world Cape Horner voyage and has remained a wonderful friend since.

An hour or so later we chuff-chuffed into Gerry’s station. Surprisingly, I hadn’t seen any staff nor the trolley.

Later, back at the station for the return journey, I found the old timetables had changed. No train home for an hour. Well, perhaps the pleasure of being back in business caused the timetable people to overlook the subtlety of returning trains.

However, the eastwards side of the rails offered a smart, well-washed train, bound for London the long way, via Gatwick Airport.

I took it and found once again very few customers. What an advantage, though, for the goodies trolley would be overflowing. That would probably please the happy conductor, too.

We called at ghost-like station after station. No trolley appeared. An unsmiling conductor did, walking briskly non-stop through the carriage.

Free tickets to celebrate

The intercom crackled. Ah, now we’d get the big welcome, doubtlessly even more enthusiastically than we hear on airlines. Probably, I mused, there’d be an offer of free tickets for all.

Surprise, surprise. An angry, reproving voice. He’d looked and found the wearing of masks was very poor indeed. Didn’t we know: We must wear a mask. It was compulsory … and on the platform.

We had no right to be travelling on a train if our journey was not vital. If only I had grabbed my shorthand pad.

It was the most astonishing outburst I can recall hearing on any transport anywhere in the world.

In the infantry in National Service, I heard some odd demands by NCOs, but even in the challenge of military transport and its huge passenger numbers, I don’t recall ever hearing such an out-of-place speech.

In the military we don’t pay for tickets, of course. Rather different on yesterday's journey.

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