Posts Tagged ‘Tales’

I’ve taken to cleaning the smartphone’s screen with a cloth
My skin’s oils smear today’s world’s gadgets
But if I do dishes without gloves or read newspapers my fingertips burn for
lack of oil
A legacy from carrying papers to sell on the streets maybe.
Maybe a reason too
Why I love another’s skin
Beauty skin deep as my drying digits
If let
Would suck the other’s skin to the marrow.
Hunger of skin and all therein.
I write to leave marks but some I hurriedly must smear away.

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Still stuffed? Well kick back and read this full version of  Train Travel Tales #50 – The Bigot and The Claustrophile.

Time for a mince pie and a pint!

Thanks for all the positive comments about this sad little tale of Eunice and her great-nephew Francis from one of England’s most established families.

Part 1 – December 1996 – An elderly Dowager and her feckless great-nephew are in a taxi, bound for Kings Cross Station. The Dowager remains unhappy with her luncheon……

“………..Cod! You know I don’t like Cod! Breaded too!”

“Sorry Aunt but as I told you, I thought it was haddock I- ”

“- Breaded cod. Where are we Francis?”

“Tottenham Court Road. Not far to Kings Cross.”


Francis and his great-aunt Eunice sat in silence in the taxi. Only the energetic note of the idling diesel engine was audible. Eunice picked shreds of breaded Cod out of her top set, examined them and wiped the findings on the cab seat.

“I must say the driver’s ears are enormous Francis.”

“They don’t look that big.”

“If Father were here he’d be scurrying up wind with the twelve bore to bag the elephantine beast. You’ll have a pair of flappers like that when you reach his age Francis. It’s a trait in all the D’aubisson males. Ears. In fact all of your features seem too large for your face.”

Francis studied the driver’s ears and gently stroked his ear lobes, concluding that there were some similarities, in surface area if nothing else. He didn’t reply but flexed his right ankle joint, a subliminal response to her goading. Getting the old girl on that train to Scotland and away for two weeks was central to his plans for a most enjoyable Christmas.

He looked at his watch. Terry, the spot welder he had met at the creative metalwork classes was due in less than two hours for a final fitting. Two blissful weeks of encasement beckoned. Eunice’s jibes were a price worth paying.

The cab crawled forward.

“What time is the train again?” asked Eunice as they passed Holborn station. She kneaded her hands.

“Twenty five past two.”

She looked out of the cab window, aghast to see so many black faces walking the streets of London.  She settled into the past to reduce her discomfort.

The summer of 1926.  Eight year old Eunice, dressed in her favourite summer frock, was taking the train with her parents, her beloved younger brother Bertie and their Nanny to Scotland for the annual sojourn to the family’s Scottish Estates at Moray Castle.

Nanny, a Roman Catholic but that was never held against her, would scold Eunice and Bertie for poking their heads out of the carriage window to wave at the peasants in the fields as the train rushed by. Eunice thought that Father had paid them to stand in the fields for her and Berties’s amusement. The children would also attempt to catch the steam billowing along the carriages from the engine, hands outstretched like little stars waiting for the clouds to come. Another game entailed holding their breath between the shrill blasts of the train’s whistle, a game soon halted by Nanny after Bertie’s Consumption made the game a matter of life and death. 

Her darling Bertie. She still missed him and hummed the melody from, “I’m Just a Fascist in Love”, a song from his ill-fated production of, “Mosley: The Musical,” a tribute to one of the greatest ever Englishmen.

The curtain fell after two and a half performances. Bertie had sunk the remnants of the family fortune, so assiduously built up by Great Uncle Percy, into the production. The Scottish Estate had to be sold off to pay the debts.

When the Police called her that June morning in ’59 to inform her that Bertie’s body had been found in the Thames, Eunice’s life spluttered to a broken hearted stop. She retired from the world to reside in heartbroken, delusional grandeur.  She blamed the French for the show’s demise and for Bertie’s death. She missed him. Missed his touch and his kisses and the warmth of him next to her at night.  He should not have jumped. She would have made sure that he would be fine.

What had that wastrel Tibby done? Nothing. Nothing at all. Oh, there were copious tears at the funeral, a delicate veil covering those ruddy features telling the world of her grief for her husband.  There was even talk attempted suicide. Just so that everybody would know that Tibby loved Bertie. But Eunice knew better, Bertie had only ever loved her.

Eunice seethed.

Part 2 – The Oik

The journey to Scotland had been Francis’s idea and she had noticed the unusual vim and vigour her great-nephew had approached the myriad tasks involved to ensure an octogenarian misanthrope could travel to the North. Alone.

At first the trip had seemed so far away, so distant, that she had acquiesced on the basis that none of Francis’ ideas ever came to fruition. And, she did admit to herself that seeing the old Estate, probably for a final time did hold a certain degree of nostalgic excitement.

She sighed, “Scotland to see Tibby, in a second class carriage. Thank you Francis.” She was not sure what was worse, second class travel or the awful Tibby McVitie. Tibby and her honest country ways. Ruddy cheeked and surely shod. Tibby. Why did her memories always arrive at Tibby?

She had never liked the McVities. Too earnest and open minded for her liking. Dangerous attributes.

Her Uncle Peter had married Tibby’s Aunt, Dulcie McVitie in 1908. Uncle Peter was a marvellous man, full of vim and vigour. Owned The Border and Lothian Railway Company. Terrible business sense though. He placed inordinate trust in the goodness of mankind. Most unlike the D’aubissons.

In 1898, he put the Company up as collateral for investing in the  burgeoning railways of  Argentina, The Southern Patagonian Steam Company to be precise, confident that the growing beef trade with Europe would allow him to quickly recoup his investment and make a substantial return. Alas it was not to be. The Argentinean railway ran a total length of seven hundred and twenty yards before the finances disappeared. Peter was forced to sell the Border and Lothian to repay his debtors, which as it turned out were the very people who sought his investment in Argentina in the first place. Capitalism at its finest.

The marriage to a McVitie and access to their biscuit wealth was thus a means of repairing the D’aubisson family name and fortune.

Uncle Peter died at Ypres in the Great War. Strayed into no-man’s land and was shot by a sniper. A British one,  who had been a  a footplate man for The Border and Lothian Railway.

According to Father, Peter should have chosen a girl who did not consider kindness to strangers a virtue. As his letter to The Times in the winter of 1919 stated  “We must retain a distance from others and not succumb to their own fanciful ideas. The D’aubissons have always stood apart and sought out nobody but their own for comfort and solace. There is a danger in intermingling races and classes as we see only too easily these days with widening the franchise.” Eunice was sure that Father was the wisest man she had ever known.

Francis did not want to open up the debate about the ticket classification once again. He needed the thirty two pounds saved on the price of a first class ticket to meet the last minute revisions to his caliper design.

The taxi pulled into Kings Cross Station, “Twenty Eight pounds.” The cabby said.

“Pardon?” Eunice replied.

“Twenty eight pounds.” The metre flickered unequivocally. Francis rummaged theatrically in his pockets for change to pay the taxi fare, laboriously sifted coins and handed them over to the Cabbie counting out the amount as he went.

“But the distance from Kensington can be no more than five miles.”

“No mistake.”

“Francis, this man is a robber and a charlatan. Socialist too I’ll be bound. To think of the sacrifices the D’aubisson’s have made down the centuries for this country only to allow secondary modern oiks like you to embezzle what remains of our fortune. I shall report you to the relevant authorities.”

“Come on Aunt Eunice, there is no point arguing,” He handed several handfuls of coins to the driver who failed to spot that he had been short changed by thirty seven pence.

Francis decamped from the taxi and helped his bellicose matriarch exit the cab in as regal a fashion as possible. After she was safely on the pavement, he struggled to lift two battered, tan leather suitcases from the cab.

The taxi pulled away with the driver gesticulating at a group of Asian tourists nervously making their way over a zebra crossing towards the station.

Francis spotted a five and a two pence piece coins on the pavement. He set the cases down, picked up the coins and trousered them. If his calculations were correct that took him to £42.78 for the year. His third largest source of income after Welfare and Eunice’s purse.

The old woman walked toward the station entrance. There was a discernible limp in her right leg.

“Are you struggling with the luggage Francis?”

“They’re a little bulky.”

“Nonsense! Too many desserts my boy and never too keen on Lacrosse, the sporting home of the D’aubissons.”

The low grey sky and traffic noise gave a claustrophobic feel to the station entrance. A newspaper vendor bellowed, “Tory Sleaze latest – MP forced to stand down.”

Part 3  – The Cripple

Once again Eunice sheathed the present and returned to 1926 and the scented alchemy of steam, tobacco and heavily polished wood. Locomotives arrived and departed,  producing great plumes of steam in their imperious wake.  Scurrying porters moved luggage, eager for healthy tips from grateful customers. Men touched the brims of their hats continuously and women wore great dollops of headwear, nestling on lavender scented hair.

Two boys, of a similar age to her were selling newspapers. “General Strike imminent. Mine owners refuse to back down. Troops placed on standby.” People hand over a penny to the boys for a paper, reading the headlines as they walked away.

Her father spoke, “Come along Euni, we don’t want to miss our train now do we?” She felt his powerful grip clasp her dainty, gloved fingers guiding her to the Platform. It was the same grip that had provided so much comfort in those long nights fighting the Polio. She was sure that it was only Father’s strength, seeping into her that kept her from death.

Now after a slow, painful rehabilitation, where she had resided a world of darkened rooms with only the slow languid mechanical language of clocks for company, the trip to Scotland was to be her first engagement with the outside world. The caliper attached to her right leg to support her weakened limb, was the only visible trace of her illness.

The endured isolation and caliper had made her self-conscious, leading to a diffident  manner in company, anxious to prevent her lameness drawing attention to herself.

“Look at the cripple!” one of newspaper sellers shouted after Eunice. In an instant both boys began a chorus of, “Cripple, Cripple!”

There was a malevolence etched on the boys faces, deepened by the shadows cast by the gloomy station lighting. Salty tears of shame welled in her eyes.

“Cripple! Cripple!”

The Policeman was a burly creation. Probably a veteran of the trenches, Passchendaele or the Somme – she would never know. But she was grateful for the summary justice he meted out to the boys in the form of swift clips round the back of their heads, applied with a ferocity that knocked both boys’ caps from their heads. She saw the policeman mouth admonishment but didn’t hear the words.

Her father nodded to the Copper who touched the brim of his helmet. Neither men spoke.

“Don’t listen to them Euni.” Her father said as he bent down to comfort her.

“But why are they so cruel Daddy?”

A look of stale anger ran across his face, “I do not know my dear. A war has been fought and brave men sacrificed their lives so that these cruelties should persist. By rights I should be entitled to thrash the little beggars but alas there are laws preventing me from doing so now. So much death for so little gain -”

She was startled back to the present by a drunk’s basted features appearing before her, “You haven’t got ten pence for a cup of tea have you?”

“Certainly not, my advice to you is to get a haircut and wear a tie. That will stand you in far better stead when seeking gainful employment!”

Francis, still struggling with the luggage also turned him down, but wondered if begging could be a useful source of additional income.

“Thanks for nothing!” the drunk shouted as he returned to a companion, who was arguing with a nearby waste bin. “No fuckin manners these days.” He took a deep slug from his can of cider before continuing with his soliciting.

The noise and movement on the Station concourse surprised Eunice. The sight of so many foreign people unnerved her. She had read of the growth in the ethnic population and had warmed to Enoch Powell’s words in his famous speech. But this?

She wondered how Great Uncle Percy, the man responsible for so much of the D’aubisson family fortune through his mining interests in The Cape, and Botswana and Tobacco in Rhodesia, would have considered talking to a black person on an equal footing. A large oil painting of Percy dating from the 1880’s hung in Eunice’s dining room. He was dressed in the garb of a great hunter. Slung across his right shoulder was the Martini Henry rifle he used in the Zulu wars and as a further reminder of his military days, a Royal Engineers lanyard lay across his right breast. He stood on the pelt of a Lion and rested his left foot on its head, staring into the distance with a proud confident swagger, every inch the son of Empire. A young black boy stood in the foreground proffering him a plain wooden beaker.  In the background numerous scenes of Great Game hunting were depicted with brave Victorian gentlemen taking aim at a variety of wildlife.

To this day Eunice remained fearful of the painting as it hung over her during mealtimes. Its dark hue and bloodthirsty subject matter she found disturbing and the great black mutton chops Percy sported in the canvas raised in her a sense of bafflement and inexplicable dread. That and the surprise still evident on the long dead Lion’s face.

Part 4 – The Concourse of Kings Cross Station

A limp Brass Band rendition of Hark the Herald Angels, an admission of the approaching festive season, played over the public address system, regularly interrupted by the echoing information detailing train departures, arrivals and security announcements.

The sense of awe she recalled as a child from the steam engines was now replaced by the heady smell of diesel and fast food. The lighting gave the atmosphere a soiled, used feel. She looked down to the floor and saw it pocked with discarded chewing gum like a grubby Dalmatian pelt.

She had studiously spent most of her life avoiding these situations, eager to avoid the pitiful stares and had convinced herself that all and sundry whispered cruelties and gibes about her gait when they saw her. Those paper vendors cries of “Cripple! Cripple!” were a constant menacing whisper in her imagination when she ventured into public and convinced her that a life apart was a much more satisfying path to take and thus avoid ridicule. As a consequence, she had taken consolation in her own brittle company and a highly select coterie of relatives and friends who visited her in Kensington.

Now this small number either as a result of death or her insults had been whittled to one. Francis.

Eunice looked around the milling humanity seeping out of the station’s nooks and crannies.

“Nobody wears hats anymore Francis. People used to doff their hats too as a mark of respect. That all stopped after Suez. Where can I sit?”

Francis directed her to a metal bench near the WH Smiths concession.

“Excuse me are these seats free?” Eunice asked a man sitting on the bench.  He shuffled along the bench.

“Thank you.” She sat, tucking her legs neatly under her in a demonstrable display of poise and ladylike gentility. Francis placed the suitcases on the floor and sat, kneading his hands in an attempt to lose the stinging sensation the luggage had foisted upon them.

The beggar who had asked her for money now approached a knot of Japanese tourists.

“The beggar is after the Japs! You can almost hear their discomfort as he approaches them. But, the defensive square they have adopted to repel his onslaught would have drawn admiring glances from Wellington. Say what you like about the Japs but they are instinctive soldiers. The beggar cannot find a way to isolate any member of the group and pounce. Text book operation.” The beggar sidled away from the tourists flailing his right arm towards them and levelling a volley of oaths and curses which thankfully they all appeared to be totally nonplussed by.

She retrieved a ten pound note from her purse and held it out for Francis, withdrawing it slightly as he reached forward to take it. Their eyes met. “Run along and buy me a cup of tea. Exact change.”

Francis sneaked a furtive glance at the chest of an attractive woman as he waited to be served at the Coffee Shop. His thoughts turned to the pleasures of confinement over the Christmas period. She would be out of the way with the McVities. Callipered and two weeks in the box. All by himself. He checked his watch and stared at the back of the head of the tall man who stood in front of him, studying the spiral of hair running down the nape of his neck. He ordered two teas, pocketed thirty pence in change for himself and returned to Eunice, gazing slyly at the breasts of another attractive woman standing nearby.

“Will you stop leering Francis.”

He flushed.

From his earliest days, Francis had failed to inspire Eunice. As a child, he had seemed withdrawn and overly preoccupied with his own thoughts. He was a listless and pale specimen and she had little hope that he was to be the one to restore the family’s fortunes, still reeling Bertie’s foray into Theatre.

Francis hated his childhood visits to aunt Eunice’s often being literally dragged to the house by his mother, Eunice’s cousin,  who had accepted the importance of sustaining family ties even when faced with the belittling onslaught that commenced as soon as they crossed the threshold and only ceased when they made their way home to Amersham.

In fact the only time the pallid boy had shown any animation was when Eunice discovered him marching around her bedroom in her old caliper. To him it was a marvellous toy, to her a confirmation that the boy was peculiar.

Although he had received a severe admonishment from his mother about the incident, the feeling of a tightly strapped brace made a lasting impression on Francis. Confined yet supportive and strong, a feeling that he grew to love and yearn for in his lonely, reasonably pathetic adult years.

He rediscovered the caliper four years ago in the loft of the house, where he had been rummaging for artefacts that could be sold to the antiques dealer, without Eunice’s knowledge. He cleaned, oiled and polished it and felt that same feeling of security he had all those years ago when first wearing it. Eunice would hear from Francis’ room the sound of straps being tightened, the squeak of metal joints for so long still and her great-nephew crashing into his wardrobe with a stifled moan, but she decided not to comment about these nocturnal activities. Secretly she was glad of his company and allowed him his privacy.

She took a sip from her tea, “Disgusting.”

Part 5  – The Bench At Kings Cross Station

A woman and toddler sat next to them on the bench. Eunice shrank from the child as it had a coughing fit. Eunice whispered to Francis, “Get rid of the child. You know I’m susceptible to consumption and this urchin contains diseases of poverty.”  She kneaded her hands.

The child sneezed. Eunice calculated that the infection gained from the diseased infant would lead to her demise near Berwick upon Tweed. She stared at the child with such ferocity that it whimpered and drew into the protective shield of its mother.

A two note jingle filled the concourse, interrupting the opening chords of Away in A Manger. A female voice hovered over the station, “Great Northern Trains are pleased to announce that the 14.27 Great Northern Trains Bannockburn Flyer to  Aberdeen is now ready for boarding on Platform 1…..”

“That’s your train!” Francis said, a tad too enthusiastically.

Not long to go now he thought to himself. Eunice clung to the sleeve of his jacket. He knew that she didn’t want to go. He couldn’t, wouldn’t allow her to stay. Months of preparation lay at risk.

“Please Francis, I’ll stay in my room if you wish.” Her desiccated self esteem creaked and groaned with the thought of so many strangers in her proximity. And only Tibby to greet her. Tibby.

“There is nothing to worry about Aunt; the change of scenery will do you the world of good. You said so yourself.  I’ll get someone to give us a hand.”

He flagged down the driver of a trolley passing nearby, “Excuse me, could you help us please. My aunt needs to catch the train on Platform One and I was wondering if you could assist us.”

“Me?” the driver replied, “I can’t. I’m not authorised. Besides I’m full of comestibles for the 15.35 to Leeds. I have a pallet of sausage rolls and Scotch Eggs in need of refrigeration.”

Francis took the driver aside, “I will give you twenty quid if you help.”

“All right then, but you’ll have to accept the consequences for these sausage rolls.”


The whispered, harsh memory of “Cripple! Cripple!” returned to Eunice. She adjusted her overcoat to hide the as far as possible her right leg, convinced that strangers were sneering at her infirmity as she began her journey. On a pallet of Scotch Eggs.

Please don’t abandon me to these ridiculers and commoners Francis. Please.”

But he wasn’t listening.

The driver was less than impressed when his twenty pound payment was made up of small denomination coins, 73 pence short of the agreed tariff and contained a number of pfennigs.

Part 6 – The Boarding

“Have a lovely time aunt.”

Please Francis.”

“Don’t worry; Tibby will meet you at Pitlochry. She’s so looking forward to seeing you after all these years!” He brushed bread crumbs from her overcoat, checked his watch, pecked her on the cheek and left the Carriage, double checking that the suitcases were securely stowed in the luggage rack. He had plenty of time to get home for Terry’s visit.

Please Francis.” But he was gone. Within minutes the train pulled away from the platform. Eunice kneaded her hands as she wallowed in her predicament. She was alone, for the first time in living memory without the sclerotic cocoon of the Kensington House. Fear turned to anger. Anger at being afraid. It was weak. As Father used to remind her, “Fear is weakness Eunice. Never be fearful of anything! We D’aubisson’s are exempted from this frailty!”

But she was afraid and no amount of self loathing would remove this stigma as the train sped northward through the crowded suburbs of North London in the ailing December light.

A young man sat opposite her, nodding his head to the tinny sounds emanating from his Walkman. Worse still he was unshaven. Criminal underclass she concluded. He was probably the father of numerous offspring from numerous council estates. She had seen his sort on the television programmes Francis watched in the morning. She heard a voice;

“Is this seat free?”

The black woman smiled as she pointed to the empty chair next to Eunice. She old woman clasped her handbag close to her.

“Is this seat free?” the black woman repeated.

Eunice nodded hurriedly, afraid to look at her.

“Thanks.” She placed a small suitcase in the overhead shelf. She took off her overcoat and placed it next to the suitcase, sat down and said, “That was a close call!”

The woman was dressed in a two piece navy blue business suit with a plain white blouse beneath the jacket. Three buttons were undone on the blouse and a large silver necklace made up of rectangular squares plunged towards her cleavage. She had expensively manicured hands and on her right wrist numerous silver bracelets rattled an imperfect tune with each movement of her hand.

“Excuse me,” The woman said. She spoke with a crisp, clear-cut Home Counties accent.

“Take anything you want. Please don’t hurt me!” Eunice replied.

“I’m sorry?”

“You can have it all, please don’t hurt me.”

“I just wanted to know if you found his Walkman annoying.”

Eunice had last spoken to a Negro in 1962. This experience had proved equally as traumatic. He was a Postman and she was unhappy that the post was arriving after nine thirty in the morning. She had written the following day to the Chairman of the General Post Office the following day asking for the man’s removal on the grounds of his slovenly demeanour.

The woman turned to the man and asked him to turn the Walkman down. He did so with the minimum of fuss. He smiled at her inanely and continued to nod his head in a palsied fashion to the sounds coming from the Walkman.

“That’s better,” the woman said, “I do find these things so annoying, don’t you?”

Eunice made a mental note to write to the Chairman of British Rail about the availability of train tickets for black people.

She truly was on her own, journeying to Scotland sitting next to a Negro in second class with a member of the criminal underclass sitting opposite. The disease of poverty she had caught from the coughing toddler now seemed like blessed release and she faced death with equanimity.

Scotland seemed a lifetime away. On so many levels.

Where was Bertie when she needed him?”

Part 7 – Is It Christmas?

The sterile silence between Eunice and the black woman was tangible and deeply uncomfortable for both.  When the woman alighted at Peterborough Station, Eunice slightly relaxed the grip on her handbag. Respite was only temporary however, as a mother and her young daughter occupied the empty seat. The child had a hacking coughing fit and began to cry loudly. Eunice calculated her death to be imminent.

The trolley attendant scuttled into the Carriage. She was a stout woman with heavy thighs that tested the quality of the seams on the Train Company’s uniform.

Eunice considered that the serving classes were not what they were. Not like Davidson, their faithful butler who lost an arm in 1928 retrieving her bonnet from a steam driven hay baler in the Moray Estates. Such was his sense of duty, Davidson did not even balk when having returned from hospital several weeks later with no right arm, Father terminated his employment due to his persistent absenteeism. In fact Davidson had agreed with her father’s that dismissal was only right and proper course of action to take, apologised for the damage he had caused to the baler and asked for the repair costs to be taken out of his final pay packet.   

“Would you like anything Madam? Tea or maybe a coffee?”  The attendant asked

“Coffee! You ask a D’aubisson if they would even consider drinking coffee? In public?”

Father considered coffee drinking in public to be a sign of latent homosexuality and discouraged his children from ever doing so. As it was her Father’s considered view Eunice never felt the need to query its logic.

“OK,” replied the flummoxed attendant who turned her attention to the mother who ordered a coffee and a fruit juice for her daughter. The child slurped her drink, much to Eunice’s chagrin.

A train sped past in the opposite direction, the pressure of which caused the carriage walls to buckle slightly. A young man in a T-Shirt with “Shit Happens” stencilled on it stumbled towards Eunice. She recoiled in horror as his features loomed towards her.

The child cried and her mother tried to soothe her. Strangers drifted past. The tinny, incessant beat continued from the headphones of the young man opposite. She felt lost amongst so many strange alien faces. Afraid and hemmed in. She was now a member of the everyday world she eschewed so virulently.

She wished Francis was here.

Francis. Feckless, workshy, untrustworthy and largely unlikable. She thought of him as a skin tag, permanently attached but unwanted. Whether it was cluttering up the house or eating noisily from one of those ready-made meals he lived on. He had become a permanent, unseemly feature in her home rather like the old armchair in the sitting room he had colonised for the best part of twelve years.

Twelve years!

“Just for a few weeks aunt, until I find a new job and get myself back on my feet.”

Apart from his nocturnal peculiarities, the boy had spent most of his life since then off his feet with his slender hairless legs draped over the old chair’s armrest commenting on the career progression of daytime television presenters. He could quite have quite easily existed without a skeleton, just a sloshing collection of muscle and skin, wrapped in the towelling skin of his threadbare dressing gown. The gown itself was a gift from her twelve years ago.  Moss now grew alongside a variety of food stains and bodily excretions that had forged a successful parasitical existence on the garment.

Even so she wished he were here now to accompany her in this strange, poorly dressed, incoherent world of clattering idiocy. She winced at the thought of his deliberate acts of self-injury and decided to think of it no more.

She turned her hands slowly noticing for the translucent sheen of the skin, liver spots protuberance of her wrist bones. Again she felt her hand nestling in her Father’s and thus a world free of ridiculers and commoners.

Calm again, the young girl scratched through a film of condensation with her left index finger to trace a droplet of rain that snaked down the outside of the carriage window. Her face was a mask of concentration as she followed the water’s path and mirrored its movements with her finger.



“Will I get my dolly for Christmas?

“Only if you are a good girl.”

Was Christmas near? Eunice thought to herself. She was sure it was only June!

It was 1935. She was Fifteen. A gift. From Oswald Mosley, a great friend of the family. A small bound book entitled “Eugenics for Beginners” by Doctor Albert Strobe. The gold lettering embossed on the cover of the book seemed to shimmer a magical mantra and the Serrano binding gave a feeling of certainty about the contents. Eunice loved that book, so many interesting diagrams and drawings of people’s heads, bodies and deportment.

She spent many hours that Christmas using the book as a benchmark with which to establish the racial purity of the entire household, measuring head sizes, nose and hand widths. Bertie was happy to play “National Socialist” in his new uniform which Father had  imported from Germany. He wore the uniform for weeks, often to bed and howled uncontrollably when Nanny forced him to take it off in order to wash it.

Eunice though was disappointed with the results of her trials finding that the servants conformed to a much higher degree of racial purity that those of the D’aubbisson household; Father in particular faring very poorly. She never shared the results of her findings with him, fearful of the consequences.

Best not to sow seeds of doubt amongst members of a great landed family whose history was so intermingled with the development of England itself. War, pestilence, famine and , industrial strife through the years had seen the D’aubbisson family advance aided tradition and astute political connections. Even if The Argentinian railway fiasco head dealt a substantial blow to the family’s fortunes, this was England; where breeding still mattered more than substance.

“I hope I will get my dolly Mummy.” The little girl said.

The train rumbled onwards to Scotland.

Tibby and her passenger drove towards Pitlochry Station.

Part 8 – Pitlochry Station

When they met at Pitlochry Station, Eunice was surprised that Tibby’s appearance had barely changed. The ruddy distilled complection remained and the warm bountiful eyes still conveyed that awful bonhomie that a true D’aubisson despised. It had been nearly forty years since they last met.

Tibby’s was drinking coffee. From a cup. In public. Her Father’s considered view of the relationship between homosexuality and public displays of coffee drinking once again surfaced in Eunice’s mind and she wondered if Francis had exiled her to some sickening octogenarian lesbian Stalag.

The only visceral memory of Tibby that Eunice possessed was that the woman smelled of disappointment. That smell still lingered when she recoiled from Tibby’s gratuitous hug of welcome and warm words that focussed on Eunice’s journey and the inordinate amount of time since they had last met and how Eunice still looked remarkably well. “For a woman of your age”.

For her part, Eunice was glad of the company after the exertions of the train journey. Mingling with  children, the working classes, blacks and latent homosexual coffee drinkers had all but exhausted her. At least she knew Tibby’s name. Even if she had stolen Bertie from her.

“The car is parked just outside the station Eunice. Not far to walk. I hope you are hungry. I’ve bought some Breaded Cod for dinner. Francis said you liked it.”

“Breaded……” But before she finished,  Eunice saw him. Walking towards them, waving as he did so.  It had been nearly forty years. He hadn’t changed at all in that time. The double chin, thinning hair with pronounced side parting, rounded shoulders and the slightly protruding front teeth.

“Bertie!” cried Eunice, “Bertie. My darling Bertie!” The years slid away and Eunice stood in front of her beloved Brother once more. She felt an emotion that she never thought she would experience again. Joy.

“Bertie. My Bertie.” Tears rolled down her cheeks.

“Eunice, this is my son Archie. Bertie’s son.” Archie nodded and smiled. His teeth were even the same off white shade as Bertie’s.

“Son?  I didn’t know I -”

“- I only found out I was pregnant after Bertie’s death and you were not best pleased with me at the time to say the least.  I thought one day you would find out, that we could be reconciled, in truth I never knew what I had done to upset you so, but time then has a habit of making our decisions for us. But isn’t he the spitting image of Bertie…….” Eunice heard no more of Tibby’s meanderings and focussed on her Brother’s incarnation. All these years of sadness, anger, bitterness and longing for him now fell away like melt water. Even the thought of Breaded Cod did not fill her with ire. Bertie had returned to her.

She knew now. Knew that the fates had decided to test her, ask her to prove her love for Bertie by the one thing that tests all love. Separation.

The past and present  melded themselves into a contiguous whole as Eunice held her beloved brother’s hand in the car as Tibby regaled Eunice with tales of kindness and generosity of spirit. Eunice even enjoyed them and readied to immerse herself permanently in the past and rekindle Bertie’s love.

As Nanny used to say to calm her fear of the dark, “Don’t worry Eunice, we need the night so the sun can have a rest. Ready to warm us and make us happy for the tomorrow.  Every day the sun giving us the thoughts, words, dreams, and hopes for us to live good Christian lives and the night to allow us to rest and reflect on our daily transgressions and seek atonement for them.  When I was younger, I had this dream of being able to live in perpetual daylight. Chasing the sun around the world on a magnificent Charger. Always chasing the daylight. Chasing the day. Now, I think I’d like to catch the dawn instead. Everything would be fresh, new, slightly dewy to touch as if you were in possession the keys to each and every day. I used to believe that the morning dew covering the fields and valleys represented the souls of all those young children who had died not baptized and were left in limbo. What a nice place to rest your soul, at the break of each day.”

She knew that 1960 was going to be a great year. The best. A new dawn had broken in her life.

Boxing Day 1996 – The House In Kensington

“Yes aunt. No Aunt. I’m sure Tibby is not a latent homosexual.  I’m delighted that Uncle Bertie is alive and well. 1960 will be a good year for us all. No, I don’t think the McVities have any Negro in them – there is someone at the door. I have to go. I will speak to you tomorrow.”

Francis set the telephone down. He realised that he missed his aunt more than he anticipated. She was all he had. But now was not the time for introspection or reflection.

He walked back into the Dining Room, stared up at the portrait of Great Great Uncle Percy and raised his can of cider to his distant relative. The calipers were now broken in; the initial discomfort now apparent when he bent over. On a couple of occasions they had become snagged in his dressing gown and his foreskin had been pinched on one painful, enjoyable occasion. He was pleased with his plan and concluded that this was the most memorable of Christmases. With luck the Old Girl would not be around much longer and he could set about encapsulating himself at will. Yes, it all added up to a marvellously peaceful, confined Yuletide.

He clambered into the box Terry had helped him locate in front of the television. Luckily Terry did not comment on this as Francis would have struggled to come up with a plausible explanation. It was probably because he was too busy counting out the £280 in loose change that Francis had paid him for the calipers. If he looked closely he would have realised that he had been short changed by 68 pence.

Francis closed the lid of the box and opened its grill. He admired his surroundings and toasted Percy once again and then bit into a date. He enjoyed the succulent sweetness of the fruit.

He waited for the final credits of Calamity Jane to roll.  The Sound of Music was on Television next.

It was his favourite film.

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“I’m on the train,” the man brayed into his Blackberry.

I looked at him. He was staring out the window, oblivious to the notice on the window that read, “Quiet Carriage”.

“Yeah, yeah, it was OK. But I don’t think Gareth was happy with the sales projections. But you know Gareth, in love with his own voice.”

He nodded and said, “Yep! That’s Gareth to a tee.”

A middle aged man looked across the aisle. He rustled his newspaper profoundly and raised a bushy grey eyebrow in opprobrium. The Caller caught his gaze.

“No, it will be fine. Listen I’ve got to go, upsetting other passengers……… Yeah I know, it’s full of them. Catch you later.”

He rang off and apologised to the man, who returned to his paper.

The Caller was in his thirties. Suited. Very proud of his hair. He smelled of expensive balms. He wore a fine pair of shoes too. Leather uppers and soles. Hand stitched by the look of them. Classy.

His phone rang again.

“I’m on the train,” the man brayed into his Blackberry.

I looked at him. He was staring out the window, oblivious to the notice on the window  that read, “Quiet Carriage”.

“Yeah, yeah, it was OK. But I don’t think Gareth was happy with the sales projections. But you know Gareth, in love with his own voice.”

He nodded and said,”Yep! That’s Gareth to a tee.”

The middle aged man looked across again. He rustled his newspaper, raised both eyebrows and added a cough to highlight his dudgeon. The Caller caught his gaze.

“No, it will be fine. Listen I’ve got to go, upsetting other passengers……… Yeah I know, it’s full of them. Catch you later.”

He rang off and again apologised.

He moved to allow me to reach the carriage aisle. I nodded my thanks. His phone rang.

“I’m on the train,” the man brayed into his Blackberry.

As I reached the carriage vestibule, I noticed a green button encased in a glass casing. Above the casing a sign read, “In Case Of Knob. Break Glass And Press Button. Penalty For Improper Use £200.”

I broke the glass and pressed the button.

There was a hiss of compressed air. Then a mini sonic boom as The Caller’s seat shot upwards, towards the Coach’s ceiling.

A ripple of applause accompanied my return to my seat. The middle aged man extended his hand. His fingers were inky from the Newspaper so I declined to shake it.

The Caller’s head and shoulders were jammed into the roof of the carriage. He was silent.  His well shod feet dangled limply from the seat. Dust particles danced around them.

I saw his Blackberry on the floor. The reedy tones of a voice were emanating from it. I picked the phone up and held it to my ear, “Hugo? Hugo? Are you OK?”

“He’s in the train.” I replied.

The shoes pinched a bit to begin with but they fit like a glove now.

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The train was heaving. Not a seat to be had. Latecomers and their luggage obstructed the aisles. The Guard offered repeated apologies. One passenger who had set out for the Buffet Car hours earlier was declared legally dead by his partner.

I had had the foresight to reserve a seat.

A heavily pregnant woman walked down the aisle struggling to overcome the obstructions. We, the smug seated, concentrated on our newspapers, laptops, books or the passing scenery rather than catch her gaze. She was followed by an elderly gentleman, shuffling unsteadily with the aid of two walking sticks. War hero or not, this was my seat. Not to be given up.

I flicked through my copy of The Economist, humming quietly to myself as I did so.

“Greensleeves?” the man next to me asked.


“You were humming Greensleeves.”

“Was I?”

He began to hum the tune too. The man was an excellent hummer. Rich tones and expressive. He honoured Henry the Eighth’s greatest gift to England (although the Dissolution of the Church may have run it a close second. I’ll let Academics argue about that).

“You are a good hummer.” I said.


A mother and toddler tottered passed. The child bawled inconsolably. A man looked up from his spreadsheet analysis, annoyed at being distracted. She wore the weary look of the desperate. Keep moving Mama, I thought to myself. The man spoke again;

“Was Three Counties Humming Champion in the Seventy Eight. I Saw off Jeff Belcher that year. A combination of Greensleeves, Hard Day’s Night and Jerusalem. Belcher couldn’t live with me. I was mustard.”

I became wary. He might have been after my seat for a pal. Old people are like that when it comes to seats on public transport. Crafty.

“Humming’s a dying art these days. Top level humming anyway. Bloody Whistlers.”


“Whistlers are hardcore. Fanatical about the purity of freeform oral expression. Succeeded too. Bastards. Drove us Hummers underground. And when we went underground, mime humming reared its ugly head.  Drugs too. Steroids mostly. Ruined the sport. Wally McEwen vowed never to hum again because of Belcher’s shenanigans at Humfest ’81. Wally was the best. A humming Sinatra. May he rest in peace.”

“So you don’t hum competitively anymore?”

“No, no. I got hit on the head by a golf ball.” His eyes moistened, “I was in Confession, a lengthy list to be contrite about, when out of the blue I’m struck on the head by a Slazenger 7 Series. Father Maloney was practicing his short game apparently. God’s vengeance for coveting Kathleen Doherty’s ankles I thought.”

“Did she have nice ankles?”

“Very shapely.”

I was slightly aroused.

“When I competed for the Three Counties title the next day, I fell apart. Greensleeves was fine. Stairway to Heaven immaculate. I had planned to finish with My Way, but instead out popped a very poor version of Father Abrams and The Smurfs. God knows where that came from. Belcher played it safe with Yesterday, Danny Boy and Hound Dog. He took the trophy home. I never hummed competitively again. It broke me. Where did the Smurfs come from? I’ve asked myself that question over and over agan. Must have been the golf ball. Lost my faith in God and humming. Now I ride the rails to forget.”

I felt for this Hobo Hummer.

The train rolled into Didcot Parkway. There was unsightly scramble for vacated seats. A young woman, student by the cut of her gib,  was knocked to the ground by a business woman as they both pushed towards a spare seat at a table. Both had nice ankles.

“See that fella over there?”

I looked across and saw a middle aged man, heavyset, thin on top and wearing a pair of gold rimmed glasses. “That’s Tony Thrubb, the only man in The County who could hum “Flight Of The Bumble Bee” He paid a terrible price though – now suffers with chronic Humming Lip.”

Tony’s top lip was in a state of continuous independent motion.

“Busy train!” The man said.

Silence fell between us for a few minutes.

I began to hum Greensleeves. The man accompanied me. Then Tony Thrubb fell in with us, spraying his neighbour with saliva as he did so. But a magical thing happened. Other passengers joined in, one by one, humming the golden melody. The overcrowded conditions were forgotten as an opiate like euphoria descended upon our Carriage and the air of Greensleeves seeped into all our beings.

Laptops were shutdown. Daily pressures and frustrations ignored. Broken hearts temporarily fixed and over powering body odours forgiven.

We hummed with pride. We hummed with pleasure. We hummed with joy. And for a fleeting moment, sadly just a fleeting moment, we were all free.

“Thanks for making an old man happy.” The man said.

I alighted at Swindon.

I later found out that the pregnant woman had given birth to a baby boy in the toilet between Carriages A and B. Complaints were made about her agonised cries from passengers in the Quiet Coach. Mother and son are doing well. The baby’s name?


I wondered if it was a coincidence or not. It probably was.

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