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The Independent Online
When I stopped to pick up a hitch-hiker in the week, he refused to get in. He said my car looked unroadworthy. I didn't argue. She is very rusty. And too tired nowadays for long journeys. For long journeys the kindest thing to do is to leave the old girl at the station and hop on a train.

Last week I left her at the station and waited for the train up to town in order to attend the annual PG Wodehouse Association cricket match and dinner.

The journey was an absolute nightmare. When I joined it, the train was already 40 minutes late. Why it was late nobody knew. A broken rail. A collapsed tunnel. An unusually high tide. It could have been anything. And the rolling-stock, when it came, was ancient. Late Fifties stuff by the look of it and very dilapidated. Until everybody started piling on, I thought it was a special train for railway enthusiasts.

The carriages were overcrowded, unventilated, filthy and smelled of stale urine. It was a hot day, and without air conditioning or ventilation of any kind it was hard to breathe properly. Children were crying. Some of the old folk were clearly distressed.

There was no buffet of course. But to the rear of the train was a goods van lined with planks, on to which some latter-day Schindler had thrown a couple of industrial sized pallets of canned drinks. Nobody was supervising the distribution of these cans. You just fought your way in there and helped yourself.

Nobody came to clip our tickets, or to keep us informed about the current magnitude of our lateness either. After a couple of hours, however, the Tannoy crackled into life. (I had presumed it was broken.) We looked up expectantly, hoping for information or at least an acknowledgement of our very real hardships. But there was only the sound of somebody making childish animal noises, then some diabolical laughter, followed by the amplified sound of someone's fingers fumbling with the sensitive part of a microphone. Then it went dead again.

Towards the end of the day however, a young lady come down the aisle distributing complaints forms. Nice-looking young lady too. With commendable agility, she was stepping over the bodies of those passengers who had given up and were lying groaning in the aisles. By the time she got to us, unfortunately, she'd run out of forms.

Instead of taking the normal three hours, we suffocated on that train for nearly five. There was an ambulance waiting on the platform at the other end. One joker knelt down and kissed the platform Pope-style as we got off. But many of us were too angry to laugh. It was too hard on the kids and the elderly to be laughed off.

I had to leave the PG Wodehouse dinner early in order to catch the last train back again. My return journey involved making a connection mid-way. But because the first train was running 40 minutes late, I missed my connection and had to sleep in the station waiting room.

At first there were just three of us sleeping on the metal benches in the waiting room. As time went on though, more refugees from other late or cancelled trains came in looking for somewhere to put their heads, and soon the benches were full and any latecomers had to doss down on the lino.

I slept surprisingly well, only waking up twice. Once when a man who was out of breath with running came in and said, "Bastard!" then, "Sorry!" when he saw that he'd woken some of us up. Another time I woke to the sound of a man's crying. It was someone lying on the floor. But I couldn't be bothered to open my eyes to see what he looked like and I went straight back to sleep.

The first train out in the morning - the 6.20 - was cancelled. The 8.02 was more or less guaranteed they said, though when it finally came it was half-an-hour late and there was no buffet owing to staff shortages.

By the time I made it back home, I had made a decision. I drove to a little second hand car dealership up the road. And 10 minutes later I had traded in my dear old heap for a big, gas-guzzling, motorway-loving car. Never, never again am I going to let the train take the strain. Bastards.

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