Train journeys… (v)

I’ve met many very interesting and lovely people on train journeys, some at a time when there were no mobile phones, no social media but if there had been I’m sure we would have extended our fleeting friendship to something more. However there are fellow travellers who can cause a completely different response. I’m not talking about the rude, the aggressive, the sometimes scary, I’m not talking about the drunks, or the weird people, but people who are just inconsiderate or discourteous.

I’ve shared this story before… and maybe it shows me as being intolerant – although it was private, my thoughts were just in my head! I apologise to the lady concerned for my thoughts, but…

I was looking forward to our train journey, travelling through Somerset, Wiltshire, Hampshire, passing through pretty towns and interesting cities.

I had my latest book to edit, and if I became dull with that I had other things to read, and a pad to write on, and my tablet too… we had a packed lunch, we could buy tea from the tea-trolley, we had window seats so a lovely view was guaranteed especially as it was a decent day, lots of blue sky and sunshine.

Across the gangway, sitting by the window on the other side was a woman of maybe late sixties, seventy. Well, by the time she left the train two hours later I knew everything about her life, her daughter, the famous bands she had sung with, the school she went to… she just went on and on… and on and on… She wasn’t shouting but she projected her voice so I could hear every detail about her family history, her Austrian and Russian connections, her daughter’s job, catching the train to Gatwick, problems with security guards at Butlin’s in Minehead… She spoke about her knee replacement and how she had progressed from a wheelchair to crutches to a walking stick… She just never stopped…

She was talking to a man who was sitting opposite, and surprisingly he didn’t make an excuse to start work on his computer, he didn’t move to another seat, and his ears didn’t explode…

I couldn’t concentrate, I couldn’t block her out, I could just hear her prattling on and on and on… She was loud enough for people across the aisle to keep glancing and frowning at her. Someone sitting directly across the aisle tried to have a conversation, but it was no conversation, it was just the woman steam-rollering over any attempts to converse.

Maybe I should feel charitably towards her, but if she had been a young person talking endlessly about stuff, I’m sure they would have been asked to lower their voice. If it had been a sweary man, someone would have complained to the guard. If she’d been someone who didn’t have a posh accent, I’m sure comments would have been made.

In the end I fell asleep, and didn’t edit my story, didn’t see the lovely views, didn’t read… driven into sleep by this woman who just WOULD NOT STOP TALKING!


Train journeys… (iv)

Today’s train journey is from last year’s Father’s Day:

Yesterday we had a belated Father’s Day celebration and went by steam train (yes a puffing Billy) from the little town of Bishops Lydeard to the seaside town of Minehead. When we were children, steam engines were an everyday but still exciting feature of our lives. A vivid memory I have is of walking with my grandma to visit my great-grandma and stopping on a bridge over looking the railway. I always hoped to see the little green engine, There was that wonderful steamy, coaly smell, and all the chuffing and clinking and rattling sounds.

When we went on journeys there were diesel trains I guess, but I only remember the steam engines which powered along like mighty beasts. There was that evocative smell and always the exciting change a smut might fly in the window – exciting to a child, but not to the mother who had to wash the clothes! For my next novel I’m planning to write something set in the 1950’s – there would have been lots of steam engines then, so I will have to dredge up my memories – and maybe even go on another train journey!!

As we were passing through the beautiful Somerset countryside, to Crowcombe Heath, to Stogumber, Williton, Watchet, Washford, Blue Anchor, Dunster and finally Minehead, I remarked to my husband that the sound of the railway and travelling on a train like this was so embedded in my mind and my memory that I didn’t really ‘hear’ it, and had to especially make an effort to listen to the song of the track!

If you want to share this experience, here is a link:



Train journeys (iii)

I’ve been writing about my small adventures on trains, mostly involving meeting interesting strangers. This journey is from last year, and we met two very happy and excited fellow-travellers:

Girls on a train

We were away for the weekend and travelled by train – our preferred way of getting somewhere. OK so it’s not so convenient when you then have to walk a way to your accommodation but just that whistling through the countryside, just relaxed and chatting, or not, reading or not, doing a crossword or not, waiting for the refreshment trolley to arrive…

Our journey set off well with a friendly couple opposite who nodded and smiled and were generally cheery. We made our connection and it was a bit of a muddle and ended up sitting not with each other but across the aisle, which was fine as we both had the aforementioned books and crosswords. Various people came and went as the train stopped at different stations. We stopped at Warminster and two young women plumped themselves down opposite me. They looked very excited, and I thought it was because they were going somewhere on a day out, but then I noticed they were wearing sports gear, so wondered if they’d been out running or cycling and were catching the train home.

Well, it was far more exciting than that! These two young women had just done a sky-dive! They were absolutely buzzing with it and I was an interested listener and they told me all about it. They were absolutely bubbling over with the thrill of the experience and they described it all from their disappointment when the previous booking had been cancelled because of the weather, and how they had wondered whether doing something so adventurous on Friday 13th was a good idea, and how it had been a birthday present…

As we got into conversation we began to talk about travelling and different adventures – they had been to so many exciting places, and done so many interesting things, and had had so many weird and funny things happen… The journey passed in a flash, and when they got off after saying goodbyes in such a friendly fashion, they waved to us as we chugged on along the rest of our journey.

Thank you Molly and Lillie for being such great travelling companions, even though it was only over a short distance. We really enjoyed your company, and good luck on your next adventure!

Picture credit: http://Image by <a href=”;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=1238275″>Robert-Owen-Wahl</a> from <a href=”;utm_medium=referral&amp;utm_campaign=image&amp;utm_content=1238275″>Pixabay</a>

Train journeys (ii)

I was once travelling back to Somerset from Manchester by train. Sitting opposite me was a smiley elderly lady, plump in a comfortable grandmotherly way; I don’t remember what she was wearing except, she had glasses and a pale blue feathery hat. Sitting beside me was a guy about the same age as me, in his twenties, slightly chubby, dark hair, tanned complexion and a pleasant, good-looking face.

We had nodded and smiled politely as we took our seats in Manchester, and had made the occasional comment about the weather as we raced through the evening countryside. All was going well until the train slowed and stopped and announcement came over the intercom to say we had experienced a technical problem.

After a little while we began to converse and before long we were chatting away, enjoying each other’s company. It was one of those odd moments when we all really hit it off, elderly lady, and two young people. I was a teacher, he was an opera singer (yes really) with the Welsh National Opera. We talked about all sorts of things, ourselves, our journeys, life, the universe… you know the sort of conversation! There was an empathy between us, a connection, a shared sense of humour and slightly off-beat view on life, and a sort of platonic attraction between the young man and me.

We were stuck on the train for a couple of hours which just flew by and then we were on our way. I think the elderly lady got off in Birmingham and he got off to make a connection for a train to Wales… it was before the days of cell phones and the internet, there was no face book or emailing, so I never met either of them again. I did once see his name on a listing for the Welsh National Opera. I don’t remember his name now, maybe he was Anthony, maybe he wasn’t. In another life or world we could have become the best and closest of friends – the three of us, I’m sure.

I thought afterwards we would have made a great trio of amateur detectives in a TV drama…


Train journeys… (i)

There was an item on the radio this morning about train journeys and the interesting, odd and sometimes exciting things which happen. When I first lived away from home, travelling by train was the only way to see anyone or get anywhere, but over the years, even though we now travel mostly by car, we still love train journeys.

I was on the train coming back from a holiday abroad; I must have flown into Gatwick or Heathrow, probably the latter and I was heading west, back to my family. It was a time when there were compartments on the train and I was in one with a few other passengers. I was sitting opposite a man I guess in his thirties, He had very black hair, a rosy complexion, a smiley face and wire rimmed glasses. He was with a young teenager who I think was his brother – it’s a long time ago and I can’t quite remember, certainly he was a young relative, a typical schoolboy.

After exchanging a few remarks, as people used to in those days with only newspapers, magazines or books to pass the time, we began a conversation. The man was very friendly – I must have been about twenty at the time, but he was a little stuttery as if he was shy. I can’t remember all we talked about, only that it became a very interesting conversation. I told him I was studying history which was something he knew a lot about and the Etruscans came up in conversation – as they do!!! Actually I have never ever had another conversation with a stranger about them, in fact can’t remember talking very much about them to anyone – ever!

The man was extraordinarily well-informed and at the time I learned a  great deal from him in a lively conversation, I’d thought the Etruscans were a mysterious civilisation about which little was known – but no, he said, a great deal was known, and he proceeded to give me a friendly seminar on them. The boy chipped in from time to time and it was a very pleasant, interesting and yes, intellectually exciting way to pass part of the journey.

Unfortunately it was only part of the journey because they left the train an hour or so before I did. I was so sorry to say goodbye as he was such an interesting and knowledgeable and engaging man. I’ve never forgotten him and that journey and often wonder who he was – was he a lecturer at a university, a teacher, was he just an interested amateur historian… who will ever know. The distinguishing feature about his appearance was a huge red birthmark across his cheek and nose; within a few minutes of beginning the conversation, I no longer saw it, it became invisible, and it’s only now thinking back that I remember.

I wonder where he is now?

The Etruscan civilisation is the modern name given to a powerful and wealthy civilisation of ancient Italy in the area corresponding roughly to Tuscany, south of the Arno river, western Umbria and northern and central Lazio. As distinguished by its unique language, this civilisation endured from before the time of the earliest Etruscan inscriptions (c.700 BC) until its assimilation into the Roman Republic, beginning in the late 4th century BC with the Roman–Etruscan Wars. Culture that is identifiably Etruscan developed in Italy after about 900 BC, approximately with the Iron Age Villanovan culture, regarded as the oldest phase of Etruscan civilisation.

A slow morning in the office

We are thrilled to be able to share a blog from the eminent blogger, writer and historian, Andrew Simpson. Andrew writes about many things, but mainly about the small town of Chorlton-cum-Hardy which has been swallowed up now by its neighbour Manchester. Andrew also writes about the city itself, Salford the city across the River Irwell, Derby, and areas of the London conurbation where he grew up.

We were intrigued by and very much enjoyed a blog he wrote… about writing! Andrew has very kindly agreed to us sharing his post which I hope will lead you to many other interesting places on his site.

A slow morning in the office

Now it has been a bit of a slow morning in the office, which has left me reflecting on why any of us write, and how a random thought or image becomes a story.

I came late to writing, and even now don’t take myself seriously, added to which my grasp of grammar and spelling verges on the non-existent, and so I write as I talk, which pretty much breaks every rule in the book…  And unlike friends I don’t write to a plan, which means that often all I have is a vague idea, or at best a sentence which morphs into something.

So recently, when a friend posted a picture of a Dalek on the pier at Weston-super-Mare, my accompanying story evolved into one which linked them to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Nor is this random journeying confined to photographs, and so when writing about someone or some event in the past, the story can go off in any one of several directions.

All of which is part of the fun is, and makes up the challenge, but it begs the question of how different the story might be if it was written today rather than yesterday… And brings me to these four images.

The first dates to 1983, and was taken on a march through Birmingham, protesting at the rise in unemployment…

Birmingham, 1983, ©Andrew Simpson

…the second is the view across the Square on a warm sunny day in Manchester…

Manchester, 2017, ©Andrew Simpson

…the third  of a Swiss lake and a solitary man…

Switzerland, 2012, ©Andrew Simpson

…and the last also dates from the 1980’s…

Manchester, 1983, ©Andrew Simpson

Each has a story, but the way we tell it and above all what is revealed can vary.

Sometimes there is no background information, other than that I was there and thought the man by the lake would make an interesting picture and what followed was less about him and more about the town by the water.

Others, like the white suited figures, was one of a series taken at a demonstration in October 1983, when the growing tensions between the super powers brought people out onto the streets to protest and the subsequent story was one which reflected on the history of demonstrations and the motivation of those who took part and the degree to which such events have an impact.

In some cases, it is just the juxtaposition of two different subjects, which in the case of the Birmingham march left me reflecting on the line of protesters who were observed by the children looking out from the window.

Lastly, some like the view across the square are full of possibilities and might draw on the history of the place, or its transformation over time.

But always I am guided by the broadcaster Alistair Cooke, who’s Letter from America would always end where it started, neatly roaming over a series of related subjects in between.

And that is where I shall close, having filled the slow morning and mindful that I soon have an appointment in Manchester Central with a beer festival and pile of my books.

For the curious I shall just add that what is now Manchester Central was GMex, which for 80 years had been Central Railway Station, and the beer festival will be an appropriate venue to publicise the two books on Manchester Pubs I wrote with Peter Topping.

Here is a link to the original blog, and from there you can discover much more!

… and the story of the Dalek in Weston-super-Mare:

…and here is a link to Andrew’s books which I really recommend – even if you don’t know Manchester, they offer a fascinating insight into a great city:

our featured image is of our dragon Lois aka Brimdraca, and Andrew Simpson – they will soon be sharing a very important, golden friendiversary!


Travel writing

Everyone has travelled somewhere, even it is only in their imagination, and reading others stories of travel is fascinating, educational, gripping, tempting… or so the writer hopes. However too often travel writing dies on the page instead of leaps off the page. It’s like when someone tells you about their holidays; with some friends it’s all you can  do to keep your eyes open and conceal your yawns, with others you want to hear more and more about their adventures – even if the places they have been to seem relatively dull.

With all our present technology it’s so easy to keep track of where you have been, and by looking at your photos, what you did while you were there. Sometimes, however, there are bits missing – you went to a beautiful church, it was wonderful wandering around inside it and looking at all the things on the walls… but when you got home you realised you hadn’t found anything about the history of it – or you saw a curious memorial to someone and you wondered who they were… with the internet now you can research the places you saw. If you can’t quite remember what was on the menu at a brilliant little café, chances are there will be the menu on-line and you can find out exactly what you ate, and what it was called!

Even if you are just writing for yourself, and don’t intend to share it with anyone, you want it to read well when you yourself look back on it in a few years. There are plenty of tips to help travel writers, here is just a selection:

  • it’s interesting to read an account which is a mixture of memories, actual facts, descriptions and personal observations – those of yourself and maybe those of other people you were travelling with to give contrasting opinions
  • include stories and little adventures, mishaps, accidents, fortuitous misdirection which took you somewhere unexpectedly splendid
  • sometimes it adds to the  account by explaining how you chose the destination you have come to – a personal mission to find family history, to see somewhere you have read about/seen a film of/watched a TV programme about which intrigued you, a place you visited as a child and have long wanted to revisit, an off-beat off the beaten-track sort of a place, somewhere to relax, excite, invigorate, delight, mystify/demystify, a pilgrimage religious or otherwise…
  • like most pieces of writing it is more satisfactory to read if it feels complete – if it has an introduction and beginning (a funny story, a description, a reason for being there, some dialogue…) and then the filling in the middle, and then a conclusion… not just a tailing off; you might not necessarily want to end with  a ‘BANG!’ but you definitely don’t want a….whimper…
  •  it can bring writing to life to have characters – they don’t have to be weird or extraordinary, but if they are either your fellow travellers or people native to the place you’re visiting it can add depth and interest and an extra dimension to the writing you’re doing
  • avoid clichés… that’s it, avoid clichés… and try and write in your normal way of writing – don’t try and write in a famous travel-writer’s way, you are not that famous travel-writer, use you own voice!
  • if you can’t remember something about a place or a site – Google it!

As usual, we would love to share you travel stories here on our blog! if you have any travel writing and you’d like to be seen by more people, send it to us! We will copy write it to you, give you all credit, link it to your own blog or website, have your name at the top and bottom of it!