Don't spoil my train of thought BR, the bike and the bass

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The Independent Online
This morning I woke up to the merry strains of the Today programme on Radio 4, depending on it as I do to get me out of bed. Sooner or later I know that there will be something so galvanisingly boring or grating that I will throw back the bedclothes and rush over to the radio to switch it off, and by then the surge of adrenalin will have woken me up and I can't go back to bed.

Sometimes it's Bosnia.

Sometimes it's the voice of Mr Ian Paisley, God's own pit bull terrier.

Sometimes it's the voice of Malcolm Rifkind, that strange half-vanilla, half-Irn-Bru voice, from which the native Scots twang has been inefficiently eradicated until it now sounds uncomfortably stranded without an identity, like a train stuck at Berwick-upon-Tweed.

Sometimes it's the voice of Malcolm Rifkind talking about Bosnia, which gets me out of bed quickest of all.

But this morning it was the irritation provided by some sweet-voiced lady talking on behalf of some strange part of the railway system called something like Network Central South-East. She was trying to justify the elimination of smoking carriages from their trains on the curious basis that more than half the people questioned in a small survey had declared they would like to be in a non-smoking environment.

(Of course, if the railway people are going to start believing what surveys say, they should listen to the polls that reveal that nobody wants the railways to be privatised, and Network South Central Mid-East should get up in public and say, I am sorry, a customer survey has shown that we are not wanted, so we are vanishing from your lives ... But I am living in a dream world.)

Well, I travelled to London by train earlier this week, by what used to be called the Bath to London InterCity but is now called the Great Western Shuttle, even though it is exactly the same train ("By the way, Tim, over 57 per cent of people questioned said that they trusted the word 'shuttle' more than the word 'train', so why don't we change the name?") and at one point the intercom came on and a voice said that he regretted the absence of a standard- class smoking carriage today and that if anyone wanted to have a cigarette they were welcome to adjourn to the first- class smoking areas.

This was a much more civilised attitude to life than the fundamentalist one of Network South Central. I no longer smoke myself, except in moments of rare weakness, but I think there should be a smoking carriage on all trains. Not just because smokers seem a jolly and interesting lot, even if smelly. Not just for the smokers to go to legally, to stop them smoking illicitly in other coaches. But because it is one of the many different kinds of coach we all enjoy walking through to make our own coach seem better when we get to it.

You know that long journey to the buffet on long-distance trains, through series of strangely different environments?

There is not just the smoking coach, there is also the very hot coach. When you walk through the very hot coach, you realise (as none of the occupants seems to) that the heating has stuck at maximum, the air conditioning is off, and it is 20 degrees warmer than anywhere in the world, but they sit there stolidly, like half-cooked flans.

There is the public nuisance coach where everyone is either reading broadsheet papers spread across the gangway or busy on their mobile phone or using personal stereos which let the sound leak out in a nasty sort of tutta tutta tutta tutta noise.

There is, at night, the single coach in which the lights don't work. The rest of the train is ablaze. This coach is dark. There is always one. The people in this darkened coach always live in hope and have books on their darkened laps, waiting for God to switch the lights back on. If I were the lady from Network South Central Surveys, I would get a megaphone and shout: "In a recent survey a clear majority expressed a wish for a non-waking environment, so this has now been designated the Dark Dozing Coach, set aside for those who wish to drop off in a low-light setting. Anyone wishing to read should go to a Bright Book-reading Environment Carriage!"

And finally you get to the buffet, where you queue for your drink and where, as happened to me on Tuesday, the guard stopped and said to me: "Haven't got your bicycle or cello today, then?"

Never mind that it's a bass, not a cello. Never mind that I haven't taken the bass or the bike on the train for a while. When I go by train again, it will be something to do with being remembered by that man - who no doubt was the same man who had offered first-class smoking facilities to everyone - and nothing to do with Miss Network No-Smoking South Central and her non-railway ideas.