It was an old tutor of mine, down in Falmouth, Cornwall, who first introduced me to the Quiet Carriage. We were going up to Exeter in the summertime, to meet with some other course mates on the Masters course I was taking. I can’t remember if we’d agreed to travel up together – his stop was a few after mine – but I do remember him looking at me, his face in disbelief and shock: You didn’t book a reservation on the Quiet Carriage?
I don’t remember what I did – probably shrugged and ignored it, as with most things. But soon after, I did book myself a reservation on the Quiet Car and what a revelation. Peace, serenity, no tables of people drinking beer out of cans and jeering at one another! I know my hearing isn’t great, but the quiet car is more than just quiet – everyone gets on, takes their seat, and for the duration of the journey they are silent and still.
I travel frequently between London and Glasgow. Glasgow is another city in the UK where I’ve lived, had a life, and keep, if not a life then certainly a shadow of a life, sleeping cryogenically until I need to warm it back into being. Anyhow, the train out of Euston up to Glasgow Central is proof of the glories of the Quiet Car. I remember telling The Mom about how things take a turn for the worst at Carlisle, and it was one of those things she accepted as random information and generally ignored it. Until it popped up in one of the chick books she likes reading in summer. I remember she came rushing over, stabbing her index fingers at the book with force: “Ah! Look! Carlisle on the train! Nightmare of a place!”
Anyhow, if booked on the regular carriages, at Carlisle, there seems to be hoards of teenagers hired to board the train, complete with cans of lager (Tenents usually) and infest the journey: they drink, they shout, sometimes they sing, they are generally loud and obnoxious – and Glasgow is still a fair ways off.
But if you’re in the Quiet Car, you remain blissfully unaware of this phenomenon.
Recently, I was travelling from Bristol to London. I booked myself into the Quiet Car, and prepared to settle in for the nearly two-hour journey with my laptop and some work. And then from behind me, voices. As the train hadn’t left the station, I let it pass, thinking that once the train got going, the British voices I heard – one thick West Country, the deep tenor of an old dear on a rare journey into the big city – would surely settle into the rhythm of the train and quietly enjoy the journey.
But no! The talking continued. In fact, it may have grown louder. I turned to see where the voices were coming from and caught the gaze of a woman seated opposite me. Our eyes grew wide, indicating how inappropriate this talking was, and we both shook our heads as if to say, ‘How rude!’ But of course, this is Britain, and the idea that one could reasonably stand up, go over to these chatty Cathies and politely remind them that this was the Quiet Car was out of our grasp. Other people got on at the next stop – Bath Spa – sat near the talkers, and once they learned there was no end to the talking did the most British of things – they got up and sat somewhere else.
My hearing is not so good, but I could hear these old women. In fairness, they were utterly delighted with one another and having a grand old time. I don’t think they knew each other before getting on the train, but once we arrived in London, I felt certain they would be fast friends. The part of my mind that is nice, didn’t begrudge them their growing friendship. The part of my brain that hates dull stories and loud noise wanted to throttle them.
As we continued on towards London, I kept trying to think of how best to say to them to shut up or move to a different carriage. This was in the first few days of Brexit, and I was slightly anxious about my accent: you never know who you might meet on the train, it could be transporting rabid Brexiters, looking for any opportunity to berate a foreginer. I remained silent.
Somewhere around Swindon or Didcot Parkway, or one of the in-between stations that to me are just names and not actually places, an old gent got on our carriage. Navy blue blazer, double breasted, gold buttons. After the train got started and the women got back to talking, he marched down the aisle and said to them: “Ladies, I remind you this is the Quiet Carriage!”
There were chastened murmurs and the talking stopped. The rest of the journey was peaceful.
I told The Mom about this and she shook her head.
“Oh, don’t worry,” I said. “When you come to visit, we aren’t taking the Quiet Car. You can feel free to chat.”