“And that is why I always now tie my laces with a double knot!” He smiled. I looked at my watch.
136 minutes since he had begun talking. Without break or interruption. A monologue so tedious, I was worried I would pass my liver. I had stopped listening 135 minutes ago.
I was doing the Sudoku in the paper. It is a little ritual I have between Paddington and Reading. It breaks the journey. Alas, my pen stopped working at Ealing Broadway.
I asked him, sitting next to me, if he had a spare pen.
“Certainly. Always carry a spare. That and a pocket sized torch. Never know when you might need one…….” He spoke in a flat monotone accent that conjured up the image of a rain soaked, deserted car park in a storm lashed Northern seaside town. In Winter.
Twyford - “So that is why I never use toasted sandwich makers.”
Reading – “The Doctor thinks they will grow back. But I am not sure.”
Didcot Parkway – “That’s why I shy away from manmade fibres.”
Swindon – “You never see that on maps do you?”
You may ask what I did not change seats. I still ask myself that question, months later. It was as if he had cast a spell over me, in some traction engined fairytale where a man so dull, so utterly dull, can suck the very life essence out of others with his droning cant. I was mesmerised by tedium.
The Train Guard appeared in the Carriage to inspect tickets. He saw him and said, “No need to see yours,” and scuttled away.
Kemble – “Always preferred long socks to short ones. Very protective of my calves since childhood.”
Stroud - “I don’t know about you but Knight Rider is still up there with the best.”
Stonehouse - “And that is why I always now tie my laces with a double knot!”
The sun shone through the carriage window. Flecks of dust danced in the rays. It shook me free from this soporific, maudlin spell. I heard a voice, “Get off the train. Get away from him. Now!”
“My stop!” I cried, a touch too eagerly.
“Oh. Right.” He was speechless!
I made for the door, managing to step onto the platform just as the burly Train Dispatcher put the whistle to her lips. The train snaked away.
The Sun’s warmth felt good. Welcoming. After a few moments of endearing silence, I studied my surroundings. It was a short platform. There was a timetable near the exit gate and a sign pointing to the town centre. Nearby stood a coin operated toilet.
Three people were on the platform, huddled together engaged in conversation. I sensed a bond between them. Call it intuition.
The tallest of the group, a middle aged man sporting a gray flecked beard smiled and said, “You too?”
The other two, a thin man in his twenties dressed in cycling gear and a thin woman in her thirties also smiled. All had their front teeth missing.
“You’ve travelled with him haven’t you.“
I knew who they meant. Was I so traumatised by his conversation that my boyish good looks had become disfigured?
“Did he mention his love of long socks?”
“Yes. It was him,” I replied, “How did you know?” They laughed hysterically. The lack of front teeth was disconcerting.
“The train left five minutes ago and you are still on the platform. We have all done the same thing after meeting him.”
The woman hugged me. She smelled of cigarettes and sweat. “He told me of his love of shelves, fear of lettuce and devotion to N’Sync.” She shuddered at the memory.
“It’s OK Sheila.”
Harvey and Sheila hugged. He looked over at me and mouthed the word “Drinker” whilst pointing at Sheila.
Harvey spoke, “He spoke to me about the quality of the modern day key ring.”
The Cyclist spoke, “He told me of His admiration for the banister.”
Harvey explained that he had listened to him two years ago and that he too had made a break for freedom at Stonehouse, some 60 miles shy of his destination. Traumatised by the tedium, he had returned to the Platform a few weeks later to relive the experience. It was here that he met both Sheila and The Cyclist reliving their experiences. There were others to, but they were loathe to revisit this nightmare.
“Things are on the mend for all of us now. Thankfully,” Harvey said.
The Cyclist spoke. “Left me bike on the train just to get away from him. Haven’t seen it since. First Great Western say it never reached Worcester. Lying bastards.”
He had made a deep impression upon them. The dark power of banality upon reasonable, if dentally challenged Britons. It was odd to be standing there. But there is something to be said for shared experience. I felt better than I had for several hours. Cleansed.
I needed a pee. I made for the toilet, fishing in my pocket for the correct loose change as I walked. I dropped the coins in the slot, the automatic door opened and I stepped forward. But something curtailed my stride. I tripped and fell head first.
I recall biting on the stainless steel rim of the toilet bowl and then regaining consciousness as the Paramedics wheeled me towards the ambulance. There was blood on my shirt and a space where front teeth once populated me gob.
Harvey, Sheila and The Cyclist looked on as I was lifted into the ambulance. I noticed double knots on their shoelaces.
My right shoe poked out from under the stretcher blanket. The lace was undone.
I double knot as a matter of course now.