An overweight woman and her even more overweight husband were trying to make it to the train before the doors closed. The man was closer to me than his wife who was several metres further down the platform. She was sweaty and out of breath.
‘Run!’ he shouted to her. ‘Come on, run! Run!’
I got level with the man at about the same time as his wife did. I was near enough to hear him when he leaned close to her ear and said in a low voice: ‘You can’t run can you? Look at the state of you.’
The blonde woman in the long black coat clacked along the platform in stilettos. In one hand she pulled a shiny suitcase on wheels, in the other, a lead attached to a tiny Yorkshire Terrier with gleaming fur and a bow on its collar. It was the kind of dog you normally see carried and cooed over – something you’d expect to be called ‘Precious’ or ‘Bitsy’.
As the woman reached the open door of the train, she lifted the case aboard, stepped up a foot or so onto the carriage and yanked the dog behind her by its neck.
After four days of traveling on the tube to work in the morning, I’ve taken to listening to the Cocteau Twins and napping. When the train pulls in, I’m so tired that I can barely open my eyes so I navigate the approach to the ticket barriers using smell. The freshly showered and groomed commuters give off aromas of aftershave and perfume – there’s a waft of a familiar shampoo, the occasional trace of minty toothpaste.
It’s a stark contrast to the journey home on a red-hot spring day during rush hour. Then there’s an entirely different set of smells.
The lad’s sitting on a BMX by the train doors. The bike has skin-scraping metal tubes in the centre of each wheel for doing tricks. Each tube is white and unscratched. He rolls backwards and forwards as he talks about his job, loudly:
‘So the airlines tell us the movie they want, yeh? Our company buys the rights for them? Then we edit the movie and send it to the airline?’
‘Prick,’ I think.
Then a woman approaches the doors with a pram and before I think about it, the lad’s off his BMX and helping her off the train.
I liked John, the train manager. Whether through boredom or sheer playfulness, he commented on each station we approached. ‘Welcome to the county town of Somerset and the tantalizing station we know as Taunton,’ he said. Tiverton Parkway was described as ‘titillating’; Exeter St Davids: ‘exciting’ and Newton Abbot apparently has a ‘naughty little station.’ There was a lovely ripple of laughter through the carriage whenever his voice came over the speaker.
As we were departing, he came on again and said: ‘thank you for journeying with us through the South West where the wheels of friendship travel with you.’
The man on the opposite platform was in his 60s. He wore smartly pressed suit trousers and an overcoat buttoned up to the neck against the cold. As soon as he saw the London train approach he grabbed his holdall and ran over the bridge to my side of the station. It pulled in as he clattered past me, skidding on the ice in his shiny business shoes. There were lots of carriages and he fished a huge camera out of his bag as he ran but the train pulled away just before he had time to photograph its number.