I do not normally travel first class on trains but it was a longish trip (Birmingham and back in one day) and I had managed to get a keen price by booking online. The relative comfort and quiet would, I anticipated, enable me to prepare for my meeting. I managed to get the work done quite quickly and then turned my attention to my fellow passengers.
Most of them conformed to expectations. There were business types, women travelling on their own, a few elderly folk. One passenger, however, was quite different. He was big, bald and beefy, wearing a black tee-shirt and jeans. Beefy (as I shall call him) ignored the free copy of the Times on offer and settled down with the sports pages of his Daily Record.
After a while he put this aside and extracted two books from his suitcase. One was a biography of Ally McCoist, the other a study of Glasgow criminals. The latter helped me to decide that it might not be wise to engage him in witty badinage in case an ill-judged quip led to an unwelcome direction (the casualty department of the nearest hospital). This was reinforced when he received several calls on his mobile from guys with names like Shug and Benny. The callers all inquired after Beefy's health. He assured them he was 'brand new' but kept the calls short, explaining that he was on a train and would ring them later. By now my imagination was working overtime and I had visions of a network of gangsters planning a bank heist or a drugs deal.
I wandered along to the buffet in search of refreshment (a steward service in the first-class carriage was available only after Preston). Here I discovered an important class distinction. A passenger paying the standard fare who asked for a bacon roll would receive a big coarse version of this delicacy. But a first class passenger would receive a breakfast pack with a much daintier finger roll, a small pot of yoghurt and a pack of fresh apple slices. Clearly the train company operated on the principle that first-class passengers were likely to be health conscious while the rest would be happy to clog their arteries with cholesterol to their heart's discontent.
Back in the carriage, the steward service duly arrived and Beefy was surprisingly picky about his food. He was disappointed that Irn Bru was not on offer. Instead of the liquid nectar made from girders, he had to settle for Diet Coke. The sandwiches did not please him either and the steward was bold enough to ask, 'Are you on a special diet?' I was tempted to venture 'A fish supper and deep-fried Mars bar diet perhaps?' but my survival instinct ensured that my lips remained firmly buttoned.
The homeward journey was much less interesting. The carriage was full and overheated, with self-important executives parading their laptops. At Crewe a group of four young men joined the train and proceeded to bore the rest of the company with boastful talk of their sporting exploits. I found it hard to concentrate on the crime novel I was reading, even though I had by now started to identify one of the main characters with Beefy. By the end of the journey I rather missed his menacing presence. I bet he could have reduced the young loudmouths to silence with a single glance. There's something to be said for having a rottweiler in first class.
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