Posted in Personal life, Travel

I’m on the Train…

Pleasingly the April issue also featured the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival on the front page – click the image to jump to the Festival’s website

(My column for the April issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News)

Travelling by train to London yesterday for the first time in ages, I was pleasantly surprised by the changes in the rail service. So often corporate rebranding goes only skin-deep, but the changes at GWR are much more than a new logo, colour scheme and smart uniforms. Immaculate new rolling stock with thoughtful extras such as a recharging point for every seat, an efficient trolley service, and scrolling electronic displays with journey information all made the journey more relaxing. Not forgetting the high-tech new engines, of course!

But what really took my breath away was the toilet cubicle – and I mean that in a good way. It was big enough to hold a party. (I resisted that temptation.) The high-tech controls suggested I was about to be teleported, Star Trek style.

I wasn’t the only one enjoying the journey. The pleasant young man serving refreshments volunteered what a great company GWR is to work for. He confided that he’d applied for engine driver training. Engine driver – once the ambition of every small boy. I hope his application is successful.

In this anxious age of political uncertainty and turmoil, the whole experience soothed and reassured me. Britain can still be great, when it gets its act together, as GWR has done.

Meanwhile, I just wish we could persuade GWR to reverse the Beeching Cuts and even to add new lines.

Next stop, Hawkesbury Upton Station? In my dreams!

 

Posted in Personal life, Travel

Train of Thought

In my Young by Name column for the April edition of the award-winning Tetbury Advertiser, I’m getting all nostalgic about train travel 

cover of the Tetbury Advertiser April 2019
Click the image to read the whole magazine for free online

Growing up in a London suburb half an hour by train from Charing Cross, I became a seasoned railway traveller at an early age. The slam of compartment doors and the rattle of trains on the line are part of the soundtrack to my childhood.

When I went up north to university, I enjoyed the longer train rides because I always met interesting people. From my current perspective as a parent, the thought of a teenage girl seeking out strangers on trains makes me shudder, but for the teenage me it was all an adventure.

On boarding, I’d choose my compartment carefully, walking through the corridor to find the most interesting looking passengers. Before the first stop we’d be sharing the sweets and biscuits bought for the journey while discussing the meaning of life. We felt we were striking up life-long friendships, but of course they never lasted beyond our destination. This is probably just as well, particularly with the middle-aged lady who invited me to bring my swimming costume and sunbathe in her garden any time I liked.

I wasn’t the only one to treat train travel like a social occasion. Once, as I followed a group of girl students into a compartment, its only prior occupant, a middle-aged lady, gave a deep sigh. “So we’re all girls together.” She sounded disappointed. Was the sole purpose of her trip to search for Mr Right in the form of a random fellow passenger? I wondered whether she had a season ticket.

If you didn’t want to chat, too bad. The Quiet Coach had yet to be invented. For a bit of peace, you went out to stand in the corridor.

Then and Now

These days when travelling by train, I always book a seat in the Quiet Coach to avoid irritating mobile phone conversations. This week, too weary to trek to my reservation at the far end of the train, I settled down in a normal carriage, bracing myself for the noise. To my astonishment, it was as silent as the Quiet Coach. Every occupant was staring at an electronic device, most of them further isolated by earbuds or headphones. The train might just as well have had no windows, because none of them once looked out to enjoy the view.

The ever-changing view: another great benefit of railway travel. I still can’t board a train without Robert Louis Stephenson’s poem “From a Railway Carriage” popping into my head at some point along the way:

“…And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.”

cover of Young by Name
Earlier columns from the Tetbury Advertiser, available in paperback and ebook – click image for more details

So I was pleased to learn recently of a care home that has mocked up a railway carriage for the benefit of elderly residents too frail for real trips. (Click here to see the BBC News report, complete with picture.) Complete with scrolling scenery behind fake windows, and with an excellent refreshment service, it offers them all the pleasures of train travel without them having to leave the building.

I bet they’d be great conversationalists too.


Posted in Travel, Writing

Expecting the Unexpected

A post about chance encounters on our most recent holiday in our camper van
(Originally written for the May 2016 edition of the Tetbury Advertiser)

Giant Dutch Master painting reproduction with flower arrangements in front
We knew the Dutch had mastered tulips, but the displays at Keukenhof Flower Gardens near Leiden took our breath away, both figuratively and literally (that’ll be my hay fever kicking in)

As always, the highlights of our Easter holiday are the things we do not plan. The chances of being surprised on our travels are always high, because we are notoriously bad at planning our itinerary before we set off. We once embarked on a month-long tour of France with neither a country map nor a guidebook. Continue reading “Expecting the Unexpected”

Posted in Reading, Travel, Writing

How to Be an Armchair Traveller

(This post was written for the January issue of the Hawkesbury Parish News)

Cover of Sea Witch by Helen HollickJanuary is traditionally the time when holiday companies’ commercials start popping up on our television screens. What better distraction from our post-Christmas overdrafts than sundrenched villas and beaches?

In the depths of the January gloom, these adverts tempt us to raid the rainy-day fund reserved for moments of crisis, such as when dishwasher gives up the ghost. (Now there’s a middle-class problem.)

The Budget Travel Option: A Good Book

Debbie Young with Helen Holllick
With Helen Hollick, creator of the fabulous escapist Sea Witch adventure stories

I for one will be resisting the lure of travel agents and instead taking refuge in a good book. This time last year, through the pages of Helen Hollick’s excellent historical novel Sea Witch, I sailed away with her enticing pirate Jesemiah Acorne. After an interesting stop-off in South Africa, we headed straight for the Caribbean, where thoughts of palm-fringed shores and tropic temperatures helped me shut out the dark nights and icy winds of Hawkesbury Upton. It may have helped that I was reading in a comfy armchair by a log fire, with what was left of our Christmas bottle of Lamb’s Navy Rum.

Photo of bluestockinged scarecrow with Books are my Bag bag and Little Free Library
My Little Free Library – offering armchair travellers an easy source of escapist books

Good books are much cheaper than holiday bookings – and you don’t even have to wait till the summer to enjoy them. And, as with radio, the pictures are so much better than on television. If your budget doesn’t run to a new book, check out the huge range of £1 books in the Hawkesbury Shop and Head Start Studio, or the free books available round the clock from the Little Free Library box on my front garden wall in France Lane.

Last January, my sorrow at ending my voyage with Captain Acorne was cut short when I realised that “Sea Witch” was the first in a series. I’ve been saving the sequel especially for this winter. So wish me bon voyage – I’m back off to the Caribbean via the pages of Pirate Code. I just wish I could bring back some duty-free.

OVER TO YOU What’s your favourite book for armchair travelling? I’d love to know!

If you’ve enjoyed this post, please share it with your friends!

And if you liked this post, you may also enjoy this anecdote that centres on reading a book on a plane, inspired by my avid travelling: Flight of Fancy: A Cautionary Tale