Bognor Man goes off the rails

Glenda Cooper joins commuters who converse just once a year

The 6.20 London-Bognor Regis service is full of sedate bankers, lawyers, accountants and civil servants. Predominantly male, fat and balding, they quietly commute for up to five hours a day. And they never speak.

Except one night a year, when anarchy reigns in the buffet car and the space into which about 30 people are crammed would contravene all rules on animal transportation.

Three commuters are organising the annual "Wot a Party" for the Bognor regulars. For £2 you get wine, unlimited Twiglets, and Slade pumping out "Merry Christmas Everyone" through the ghetto blaster provided by DJ Paul (alter ego Paul Heslop).

By day, Gavin Leach works for "a major financial institution". But once a year he transforms himself in a dress-shirt and bow tie. Along with DJ Paul and Vicky Mason, a secretary from Horsham, they leave work early to decorate the train with tinsel, bells and streamers for the commuters' party.

Once a year these people squash themselves into one carriage, wearing party hats, pulling party poppers, trading greetings, insults and drunken confessions. "It's male bonding," said Jim Carruthers. "We like being squeezed in corridors," he tells David Matthews, stage manager for Blind Date.

"That man over there has seen Prince Charles with no clothes on. He was at Gordounstoun with him," he adds. The poor man denies it so vehemently it can only be true, as he spends most of the rest of the evening hissing: "Don't print my name."

Pat Sangster, a businessman who uses the 6.20pm every day, is not shamed that he usually never talks: "I prefer to do the crossword in the mornings. I don't want to chat. Yes, I'll speak to people at Christmas and then never again till next year." So howdoes word about the party get round? "People just know," he says mysteriously.

Strict demarcation lines are laid down for partygoers. Those who sit are "boring bastards"; those who sit playing bridge are "boring bastards who should know better".

Your true commuter stands in the buffet car, sloshing wine over everyone's Burton suit and falling into bowls of peanuts until he falls out at Horsham.

Women tend to keep away. Political correctness hasn't arrived on the 6.20 yet and, after Crawley, hands start wandering.

Impostors are shunned. "I don't know you. I've never seen this man before," yelled a regular trying to manhandle a hapless intruder off at Clapham Junction. "No, I never get this train," admitted Peter Statham. "I just heard there was a party to Bognor on this train and thought I'd gatecrash." As the train approaches Billingshurst, DJ Paul lurches round, trying to collect enough money to pull the communication cord. He only makes £12.

By Pulborough, most stumble off the train with shouts of "Are you driving?" "No I'm a lawyer." The same joke is doing the rounds. "Are you going all the way?" "No, only to Barnham [the penultimate stop]."

By the end of the line there are only the steward and a couple of diehards left to take down the decorations.

They tumble off the train with the faint sound of "He's seen Prince Charles with no clothes on . . . " floating on the air. Tomorrow morning the Bognor line will be silent. Pat Sangster will do the crossword; Gavin Leach will read the FT. And you're leftthinking: "Did this really happen?"

Suggested Topics
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsSchool leaver's pic YouTube video features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

PHP Developer - MySQL, RDBMS, Application Development

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: PHP Developer - MySQL, RDBMS, Applicatio...

SAP Business Analyst - Data Migration, £75,000, Manchester

£60000 - £75000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Senior SAP B...

SAP Data Migration Consultant, circa £65,000, Manchester

£55000 - £75000 per annum: Progressive Recruitment: Senior SAP Data Migration ...

SAP Data Migration Consultant, circa £65,000, Manchester

£55000 - £75000 per annum: Progressive Recruitment: Senior SAP Data Migration ...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star