A Brief Tangent, or Excerpt (Whichever You Prefer)

In the morning, I left Glasgow Central Station on a train bound for London. I purchased two cans of Tennents Lager, a tin of Pringles and boarded the “quiet car” on the Virgin line. The “quiet car” is supposed to be a train whereas mobile phone use is forbidden, but that never really happens. (If it was America, I would be doing much the same.) Regardless, I was more interested in a mother-son combination that sat near the exit of the particular car I was on than anyone breaking the rules of the “quiet car.”

The son was a smoker, and a troublemaker. They call his brand of troublemaker a “Ned” in Glasgow, and he dressed the part to a tee: trainer outfit, gold chains, bad skin, tough guy scowl. He was also a chain smoker, on a 5-hour train ride in which no smoking was allowed. Every ten minutes or so, he would exit the car, walk to the bathroom, light a cigarette and take a few puffs before the smoke alarm went off. Upon exiting the bathroom, a huge cloud of cigarette odor would follow him directly back to the booth in which his mother vainly tried to remain anonymous. This happened for the first hour. After conductors realized who the culprit was, they followed him back to his seat, and issued a warning. If it were to happen again, both him and his mother would be kicked off at the next stop along the route.

The warning worked for maybe half an hour, then the Ned headed back to the bathroom against his mother’s pleadings. We were now about halfway into the trip, somewhere in the middle of England. The conductors again followed the Ned back to his seat after the latest cigarette, instructed him to stay put for the time being, and that they would return at the next stop to escort him off the train. At this point, the Ned got up, slyly lurked away from his mother and attempted to hide in the train, or at least run from the rule-enforcing conductors.

As the train slowed to a stop, the conductors approached the mother.

“Where is your son?” they asked.

“I dunno, ran off that way,” she answered, pointing to the front of the train.

The conductors gave pursuit. They exited our car, walked forward, and from what I could gather, I figured we were near the end of the on-train excitement. Wrong. Two minutes later, the Ned appeared again, running back the opposite way through our train car, with three conductors and a policeman in pursuit. The chase was in and out of our car in a few seconds, headed towards the rear of the train. At this point, the mother, on the verge of tears, began to walk forward in the car.

A few minutes later, on the train platform, I caught the end of the scuffle. The Ned was underneath two policemen, whom were trying to restrain him. The conductors circled the commotion, and pretty soon, the entire side of the train was all staring out from their glazed windows at the wrestling match on the train platform. A few more minutes, the Ned was handcuffed and escorted off the train platform. But this wasn’t the end of the story.

The mother had now disappeared. And after a half hour of searching the car, the conductors located the mother. She was also trying to hide from the conductors, in the hope that she could leave her arrested son behind and continue on with the journey. But the Virgin conductors said “No way!” and escorted her off the train so that she would have to contend with her genetic burdens somewhere in an anonymous English police station.

After an hour or so of not moving at all, we were eventually in motion once again.

“I’m sorry for the disturbance ladies and gentlemen. We grievously apologize,” said a voice over the intercom system. One Ned, five cigarettes and one shameful mother later, we were on the verge of being over an hour later to London. But again, the story doesn’t end there.

It was the day before Halloween. I was to spend the night in Brixton before jumping on the Gatwick Express in the morning and flying out of England. My friend Paul was to meet me at the station. In the hours before, he had bought pumpkins and was attempting to carve them on the front porch of his house. He positioned the pumpkins, set his mobile phone down and readied his carving knife. Then the phone inside his house rang, and he went to answer it. In the meantime, he had forgot to pick up his mobile phone from the porch.

It’s London, and the phone is quickly stolen.

I reach my destination very late. I’m given a free travel voucher from Virgin for my troubles and sent on my way. When I first find a phone, I call Paul’s mobile. There is no ringing, no voicemail and no nothing at the other end. I try again and again, before realizing that, “Oh shit, I might be screwed.”

I then call back to Glasgow, ask around for Paul’s landline, and eventually do get in touch with him. A short train ride later, and a quaint walk down a quiet Brixton street, we are at his house. The Jack O’ Lanterns are freshly carved, the candles burn brightly inside of them, and all seems well for now.

Like every journey in life, nothing goes easy, but there seems to be something bright waiting at the end, and that’s what I’m putting my faith in.

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