The ups and downs of a trav­el­ling show­man

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

My strong­est mem­ory of this sum­mer’s pro­longed heat­wave was a July week­end in south Wales of all places. I was wilt­ing like an un­shorn sheep. Ev­ery chip and crack in the town was show­ing up. The stains on the pink pavers looked like an un­washed fry­ing pan. (We rely on rain to clean our streets in Bri­tain.) I felt tired, fed up, in need of a rest. But, of course, I still went on stage. This was show­busi­ness.

The next day, I had to catch a train back to Lon­don. It grad­u­ally be­came a refugee cat­tle truck. There was no buf­fet car. No one had turned up to pour cof­fee. The air-con­di­tion­ing had failed. There were more peo­ple crowd­ing aboard at ev­ery stop. This was be­cause other trains had been can­celled. Cat­tle men­tal­ity. Sub­dued moo­ing. We were al­ready late. It was Sun­day. It was hot. So what was GWR do­ing, then? Can’t they run this ser­vice? Do they have no “show must go on” men­tal­ity at all?

I had caught an­other train to Birmingham, three days ear­lier. There had been no chance of it cop­ing with the heat at all. It broke down out­side Lu­ton. I took four hours to reach my des­ti­na­tion.

Then, leav­ing Birmingham, the train got stuck in a field for an hour or so. But that was OK be­cause the con­nec­tion was late, too. The train that had car­ried me on to Neath had been on time. It strug­gled through the apoc­a­lyp­tic 86F (30C) of burn­ing mid-Wales. Ar­riva? Justabouta. But it was in­cred­i­bly crowded.

There were peo­ple stand­ing in all of th­ese trains. Is there no func­tional busi­ness to be made out of this de­mand? The costs of this form of trans­porta­tion are al­ready colos­sal, far more ex­pen­sive than air travel or car hire – so hav­ing to stand is the last straw. I sus­pected, on my swel­ter­ing, prickly-heat, Sun­day refugee crawl back to Lon­don, that much of the dis­rup­tion might have been caused by Eng­land win­ning a foot­ball match. Was that pos­si­ble? Surely not. Were the Gin­sters-pasty-for-brains fans still out threat­en­ing Ikea stores and tak­ing a sickie in a state of ju­bi­la­tion? Mind you, it was sunny. And a Sun­day. And peo­ple de­serve to take a nice day off if they want to. It’s not show­busi­ness you see.

I al­ways go by train if I can. Trains con­nect me with the land­scape. I can read. I am old-fash­ioned in a click­ety­clack­ety kind of a way. And lately I have been trav­el­ling all across Europe. With some suc­cess. I took the train to Naples, about the same tem­per­a­ture as south­ern Bri­tain. The trains, how­ever, still got around. They do ev­ery sum­mer.

Out­side the train win­dow in Shrop­shire and wind­ing through the hills of Mon­mouthshire, I did ac­tu­ally con­grat­u­late my­self on my good for­tune at be­ing able to wit­ness such ec­stat­i­cally up­lift­ing land­scapes. A Cana­dian writer op­po­site urged me to join her in wor­ship­ping the hills out­side Led­bury. I did. And all this joy is only re­ally vis­i­ble by rail. In a car you look at the back of an­other ve­hi­cle for hour af­ter hour.

I would say it’s a mat­ter of will. I some­how sus­pect that the rail com­pa­nies don’t re­ally want to run a good ser­vice and think that buzzy,

Up­lift­ing: the Mon­mouthshire land­scape

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