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I’m back in Blighty and boy does it feel like it. Waiting for my train from London to Wales at Paddington Station this morning, I felt – and saw – a large splash of liquid onto my leg. Had the rather animated man sitting next to me in the crowded terminal spilled his Costa coffee onto me?
I looked at him accusingly and he gestured upwards and then laughed. The splash had indeed come from above, as in from the posterior of one of the many pigeons to have taken up residence in the otherwise magnificent iron arches high above hapless travellers such as me. Residence replete with, alas, an en suite bathroom.
After that none too promising start to my trip to Ystradgynlais in South Wales – now officially the headquarters of Moodie International Ltd and The Moodie Davitt Report – things could only get better, right? Wrong.
When Platform 4 was announced as the embarkation point for the Paddington-Swansea train, my wife Yulim and I headed towards our pre-booked first-class Carriage L seats 50 and 51.
L is the 12th letter in the alphabet and as we passed the rearmost carriages, A to C it was clear there were not 12 carriages. There were five. Ending therefore in E.
As what appeared to be the equivalent of a sold-out rugby crowd at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium descended on the quintet of carriages, I turned to a bemused-looking guard and asked for help.
“We have reserved seats in L, what do we do?”
“There is no L, sorry. We only have five carriages,” he replied, confirming what I already knew.
“Just take any seat back in first class,” he confirmed, gesturing towards carriages A and B.
Carriage A was full. Piling through to the other side of the ruck like Richie McCaw in his prime, I managed to secure the last two adjacent seats in Carriage B. We were luckier than many. For most of the circa 3-hour journey to our stop in Neath, our carriage – like all the others – was packed to the rafters (at least they were pigeon-less) with passengers forced to stand.
I offered to give up my seat to a young mother, who got on at Bristol, carrying an infant strapped to her front. “No, it’s ok, I’m getting off at Cardiff, and it’s actually easier for me to stand,” the woman replied a little unconvincingly as she swayed stoically in a carriage resembling a human club sandwich.
Each time we reached a stop the driver would apologise both for the late-running train and for the overcrowding, the explanation for the latter being, “We are only running five carriages today.”
There was no explanation as to why, on a peak demand holiday season day, you would REDUCE capacity. Each of those passengers forced to stand (who had all bought either a first-class or second-class ticket) was stung for their fare, and treated instead like cattle-class.
There you have it, a very British Christmas. Pigeon droppings and then a seasonal carol.
“No L, No L,
No L, No L,
Born is the sting of Great Western Rail.”