Today I’ve been to Oxford and back for a work meeting to talk about the next edition of this book. And while on my travels and while in the toilets of Oxford city (two of them), I had a few thoughts about train travel and train travellers.

Will this train get to Birmingham in one piece?

Will this train get to Birmingham in one piece?


You need to sit next to likeable people Just In Case

This first thought is quite a morbid one, but I have it quite a lot. And it goes as follows: were there were to be some sort of crisis, such as a train crash or a terrorist take-over / kidnapping, the people who are sitting around you on the train could become your future best friends. What I mean is, if you end up experiencing something quite traumatic with them, you would probably want to stay in touch.

Also, you’d probably want some very practical, calm types with you who know first aid (so seek such people out if you can).

This terrorist take-over or non-fatal crash I worry about has yet to happen of course. This thought only came to me in 1999 after watching an ITV drama about such an event called The Last Train.

So even today, sat on the 16.07 from Reading to Newcastle-upon-Tyne, I looked at the man sat next to me and thought ‘would you be a good in a crisis?’ If we have a crisis, will we be friends forever?

Predictably, this didn’t happen and the man got off the train at Leamington Spa.


It is better to sit next to someone already sat down than it is to find two empty seats or an empty table with four seats

Why, I hear you ask. This goes against instinct, surely? Most people when they get on a train that is relatively empty, will choose empty seats so they can stretch out their legs and belongings rather than seats with occupants nearby. They are wrong to do this because if you choose an empty seat, you cannot control who will then come and sit next to or opposite you. You might get someone smelly or unsavory (or someone who likely doesn’t know any first aid). However, if you sit next to someone already sat down, you can deliberately select a nice little old lady with a bag of sweets and bags of common sense to sit next to, or a likely-to-mind-his-own-business business man who has been on a first aid course for work.


 Despite the above, I always seem to sit with the eccentrics of this world

Most train journeys I take, I end up being sat next to by or opposite life’s interesting characters. I’ve been given Christmas cake on a train (and other food stuffs including sandwiches, fruit, and sweets). I once sat opposite a fat business man eating a very smelly bacon buttie whilst reading a paperback of short stories that you wouldn’t want your grandmother to see you read in public. People have fallen asleep on me. Strangers always engage me in conversation. People like to tell me their life stories and ask me mine.

Today’s interesting character was an elderly lady with a Sony Walkman (yes, in the year 2014, she was listening to a mixed tape). We talked about hot chocolate vs coffee, her wires which got muddled with her coat and trains.

A real Sony Walkman in the 21st century

A real Sony Walkman in the 21st century


It is in your best interest to be as normal as you can

Be normal, so that you don’t irritate your fellow passengers by being odd or smelly. Also, and more importantly, so that you reassure them in case they are also worried about a terrorist kidnapping or train crash. I find this tactic works well.


But in conclusion, I love train travel. I don’t get to do it very often these days (I used to commute to work by train every day) so it’s a real treat to me now to spend a couple of hours with a book and a coffee, and with life’s oddballs.

My favourite train station

My favourite train station