I sat on the train at Kings Cross last night with these thoughts racing through my mind. Next to me, a young man sat rummaging through his bag. All around us, a flurry of activity as people lifted bags onto the overhead racks, opened laptops and generally settled down for the journey ahead. The train was packed and I was feeling a little rattled because I had left a large family lunch early and was just a little bit tipsy. I had run from the underground to the train and as a result of my impromptu sprint, a large amount of vegetable curry was threatening to leave my stomach and make a reappearance in my lap. As the young man next to me settled down, I made sure I gave him a good, hard glare. That should keep any flyers at bay for at least a half hour.
Somewhere overhead, the train driver moaned something inaudible over the intercom. Goodness knows what he was saying. Something about the journey being too long to be worth living through I suppose. Or maybe he was listing all the rules of what you can and can't do whilst on the train. I'm amazed at just how spoon fed we are by people in authority. Give anyone wearing a uniform a microphone and an intercom, and they'll spend hours announcing the most ridiculous things. Just as a quick example, whilst dashing across the station concourse earlier, I heard a female voice over the station intercom announce that "Passengers are advised that platform zero is next to platform one". Do you see what I mean? Who are these people that need assistance finding the location of platform zero? Why are they not looking anywhere in the vicinity of platform one? Are they that dumb? If so, how are they still alive? I'd love to meet them and find out. But I digress.
As I sat in my seat wondering what on earth I was going to do for the next five hours, a couple in their late middle age began to make themselves at home on the seats in front of me. The man looked to be ex-military type. He sported a rather grand moustache of the kind that you might have seen perched upon the lip of a colonel of the British army in Burma circa 1935. His wife, a tiny mousey creature, was setting out an alarmingly vast selection of objects on the small pull-down tray in front of her. From her seemingly bottomless handbag she pulled newspapers, two thermos flasks, a biscuit tin, at least fourteen different spectacle pouches, bottles of water, enough books to furnish the British Library, a large assortment of small tins that are too small to keep anything in, a neck pillow, magazines, two pairs of slippers, and my favourite item of all: another handbag!
Her husband, meanwhile, was busy trying to lift a small wheelie suitcase onto the overhead rack. Goodness knows what they had in there - bowling balls perhaps, or a complete collection of Catherine Cookson novels - but whatever it was, the guy was really struggling to lift it up. I would have helped, but the young man/prospective flyer distributor sat between us and I didn't want to undo all the groundwork my earlier glare had established.
I watched Colonel Mustard (my nickname for the moustache enthusiast) attempt to lift the suitcase. The process involved a large amount of wheezing and puffing on his part. His mad blue eyes bulged until they looked as if they would pop out of their sockets. A large vein throbbed in his left temple and his bottom teeth bit his moustache in fierce concentrated effort. In a short amount of time, his face had turned a bright crimson (thus rendering my nickname for him totally inappropriate) and he seemed to be on the verge of experiencing serious cardiac arrest. The vein seemed to be dangerously close to popping.
His efforts, however, did not go unnoticed. Pausing briefly from bringing stuff out of her handbag (a small dachshund at this point, if I recall correctly) his wife piped up, 'Can I help you dear?'
The man looked at her like she'd just informed him about a decision she'd just made to strip off and run naked through Kings Cross.
'No you can't help me,' he barked. 'This damned suitcase is too big. I said it would be. We shouldn't have brought it with us.'
'It's yours,' she replied with an air of someone used to this kind of conversation.
Another look. 'I know it's mine,' he replied in the tone someone like him might use when addressing an animal with serious mental deficiencies. 'It's always too big to fit on these small racks.'
'Then why not use another suitcase?' asked the wife, pulling out a small lampshade from her handbag.
'Because it's MINE!'
That's when a thought struck me. These people seemed to be a little different to the average Edinburgh theatre-goer. Now I don't wish to sound like I'm making a broad generalisation (although of course I am) but I can't really picture a person like Colonel Mustard sitting through a sixth form production of 'Return to the Forbidden Planet' in a basement somewhere under a pub three miles from the Royal Mile. I looked around me. Even though the train was full to capacity, most people on it seemed to be wearing suits. I had expected to find myself on a train surrounded by actors going to Edinburgh but these people, plainly, weren't. I mean, it's only a couple of days until the festival begins. Where were all the actors?
In fact, when the train finally rolled into Edinburgh Waverley, I was almost alone in the carriage with Col. Mustard and his wife. Even prospective flyerer had disembarked at York. The carriage was silent apart from the nearly constant rustling of Col. Mustard's broadsheet newspaper page turning/folding attempts. I sat pondering the month ahead. This was the calm before the storm, the silence before the assault.
Col. Mustard stood up and began to try dislodging his suitcase from the overhead rack. Directly beneath, his wife was packing away her stuff. It didn't take a genius to realise that gravity might soon introduce her head to the suitcase in a very direct manner. Col. Mustard in the carriage with the suitcase. Game over. Actually, game's just begun...
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