I was up early on January 27th 2012 – well before I needed to be. Whenever I undertake a long journey I have a rigorous pre-travel routine, which has become more complicated since Trudy’s arrival on the scene. On this particular trip Trudy’s kit took up more suitcase space than mine! (Probably my fault for packing more dog food than necessary in case we got stranded somewhere). The motto “Just in case” unfortunately determines most of what I pack when I go away.
Sight-impaired people often find public transport a real headache. Travelling by train in the UK has been made easier thanks to station stops being announced on the train’s PA system. It is not very often nowadays that we have to resort to counting stops or checking the time to ascertain where we are on a train journey! But the noisy, smelly and busy platforms, crowded trains and huge gaps in between the train and platform can be off-putting. As for which platform to go to and which train to board, that’s another mountainous obstacle. Booking Assisted Travel beforehand reduces the stress of an unfamiliar train journey, but nevertheless it is not easy to put your trust in a “system “.
Hereford Railway Station has the most expert staff when it comes to assisting passengers who need extra help. Down to a T, they are faultless. Even so, until I was a hundred per cent sure that I was on the right train to Crewe I could not relax. As it was early the train was quiet and I found myself settling back very quickly. Trudy’s agenda was to hoover up beneath the seats and wriggle as far away as she could on the lead. After she had licked the floor and eaten all the stray crumbs, she grumbled and curled up in a big lump to catch up on some missed sleep. Labradors have it so easy.
Crewe was where I needed to change in order to catch the train to Glasgow Central. When I had Googled Crewe Station a few days earlier, I was dismayed to learn that the station had 12 platforms and several cafes. In other words, it was BIG. This meant that as the train approached Crewe I became steadily more anxious. What if there was no staff member waiting to meet me and assist me with the connection? What if I actually missed the connection and never got to Gourock? Suddenly my whole life seemed to hang on making this one train connection. It became my ultimate goal, my springboard, my future. Crewe Station was Rivendell, Mount Olympus, Utopia, Paradise. I had to get there, and equally I had to leave. The Quest was gigantic and seemingly impossible.
On arrival, I was met by an extremely cheerful young man who took charge of my suitcase and bad me follow. Off I went into the nether regions of Crewe Station, Trudy hoovering in the lead, completely oblivious to where we were heading. It paid to be trusting. In a few minutes I was comfortably established in one of the cafes I’d read about, relieved that at least I would make it over the border to Glasgow. The chirpy lad was unquestionably sure of his trains, and that meant that I was sure too. Ironically, I actually informed a fellow passenger that this was the correct platform for Glasgow Central – such is the ebb and flow of public transport!
The second leg of the journey felt like the real start of my adventure. For one thing, I am so used to Arriva Trains that sitting in a train which was owned by a different company felt decidedly unorthodox. It was like being in a stranger’s house. This train was very crowded, and Trudy received far more attention than she had done on the way to Crewe.
I could feel the tip of her tail thumping against my foot as one by one, people described her as “marvellous” and “beautiful”. Her ear flaps were pinned back against the side of her head as she licked the cream off the luscious compliments. She was the picture of stoicism – the perfect working dog, saintly, bordering on smug.
So when she dived into an un-manned crisp packet and virtually devoured the contents before anyone could intervene, the food crime appeared all the more shocking and unthinkable. I was expecting a Tabloid journalist to tap me on the shoulder and berate me for “creating” a thief. I felt the shame of a disappointed parent. The aisle was narrow and there were people jammed in every available space, so Trudy’s intention to finish off her ill-gotten gains was harder to contain. I succeeded in retrieving the crisp packet, only to realise that my hand and sleeve were covered in slimy, half-chewed crisp remnants fresh from the mouth of a Labrador. I pretended I was not with her. I was disgusted. Trudy was disgusted too, for she wanted the crisps. The atmosphere was a tangible bubble of bad mood.
Then we reached Preston. I remember Preston because the train suddenly became colder. This was my first awareness of being “on holiday”. It was snowing outside, and I began excitedly sending texts to friends and family relating that I was at Preston, and “guess what guys? It’s snowing!” The PA system decided to pack up here so I rapidly tried to recall how many stations lay in between Preston and Glasgow Central. There was a swift change of guard, and the new one was Scottish – so we truly were on the way to Glasgow!
Having survived Crewe, I was not overly anxious about Glasgow Central Station. I’m very glad, for this station dwarfed Crewe by far. It was like a micro-city, with swarms of passengers buzzing hither and thither. Thankfully the Assisted Travel was still up to the mark, as otherwise I would have disappeared into the underworld and never emerged again. In Glasgow Station I giggled like an over-excited kid – I was actually over the border, out of England, venturing into another country! My ears tuned into Scottish voices, some of which I could barely comprehend. I slid about in my own Englishness, for it felt totally inadequate in this environment. I so wanted to add a bit of Scot to my identity!
My third train was a relatively short journey from Glasgow Central to Gourock. By sheer coincidence I found that I was sitting opposite someone who was destined for the Murder Mystery Weekend in Dunoon. Trudy actually introduced us and hence made the discovery – in return for which I forgave her earlier food crime. The Snout has its uses.
Thus I reached my destination of Gourock Railway Station nearly seven and a half hours after leaving Hereford. The smoothness of the journey gave me untold confidence when it came to returning home three days later. Ironically this time I did miss the connection at Crewe which delayed my return to Hereford by over an hour. The event was almost an anti-climax and I smiled recalling the anxiety which had plagued me just a few days earlier. I can even whisper to the world that I think I now feel confident travelling by train. “If there’s a railway station,” I heard myself saying to someone a couple of days ago, “Trudy and I can get there”.
The second part of the Tartan Trilogy (in progress) will recount the Murder Mystery Weekend itself – tune in if you dare!