The ups and downs of a travelling showman
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