Impressions of British Rail

My niece was coming to this country for the first time, the object being to spend a year at an attractive university in the North. She interrupted her journey to see us. We were expecting her in the evening and were a little anxious because we didn’t know whether she was caught in the strike affecting certain ferries between this country and the Continent. Aldous’ wife told us comfortingly that she had seen a lot of chaos in the ports on T.V. However, it turned out, my niece got away unscathed.

She arrived smiling and saying, she rather liked it here. People had been very friendly and helpful, carrying her cases for her and directing her to the right places. Getting onto the right train from Dover to London, though, hadn’t been too easy. She asked an official who pointed out the train to her. She heaved her heavy luggage into it and sat down with a sigh of relief, only to be told by some kind fellow travellers that the train certainly didn’t go all the way to London. Duly alarmed, she heaved her luggage back out and addressed another railway official who informed her that the train she had just left certainly went all the way to London. Reassured she heaved her luggage back in and sat waiting with all the others for about fifteen minutes. Everything was quiet. Suddenly people started moving out, my niece had no idea, why. One after the other everybody left the train. She didn’t like to stay behind on her own and followed suit, tackling her luggage yet again. As soon as the train was empty, it moved away. My niece thought, this was funny. However, another train came in and everybody boarded that. She joined the crowd, full of confidence that she would get to London in the end. She wasn’t disappointed.

Next morning we took her to our railway station, quite a big one, from where she wanted to continue her journey. I hadn’t been there for a long time and was surprized to see all the latest technological equipment: No unsightly notice boards any more, but V.D.U.s, ‘video display units’, everywhere, three in a row above our heads, one empty, one with train times and departure platforms, one with special notices. My husband was pleased to see it. This was progress. This was efficiency. He went through the station in a bit of a rush, because he wanted to arrange a student card for my niece. The two of them disappeared into some office and emerged back out in good time. My son had been consulting the V.D.U.s and took us to the platform indicated.

I had been studying the ‘special notices’ which alarmed me a little. However, I didn’t impart my alarm to the others, what’s the point ? The ‘special notices’ said that due to a shortage of ‘diesel coaching units’ a number of trains on the line my niece was going to use would be cancelled. The line linking this station to the airport was also affected. We arrived on the correct platform and my husband asked how we could know whether this was it. My son pointed out the V.D.U.s, his father obviously having forgotten their presence. My husband was satisfied and started reading the given information, not very easy reading with these small letters. I drew his attention to the ‘special notices’. He said we could only hope for the best and what a good job we didn’t have to make an aeroplane. My niece was telling him about her experience in Dover which made him smile, if in a wry way, when a completely unintelligible announcement was made. My husband, a native speaker, couldn’t make out what it was. However, presumably as a result, everybody on our platform started moving across to the next platform. It was just like that in Dover! my niece exclaimed, delighted at the timely illustration for her little tale. My husband was unsure and thought it wise not to stay behind. Very soon a train came in and the chances were good that this was the one she wanted. Everybody boarded it, anyway. She got on, too, in spite of a notice on the train naming a destination in the opposite direction. There appeared a notice on the platform now, saying that this train would go to the right place. We had to take it on trust. There was no time left, for the train moved off. One minute early! How was that possible ? Normally … Which train on the timetable was it, anyway ?
I suppose it makes life a little more exciting. And she reached her destination safely – thanks to British Rail.