For the second week running, I find myself getting up at a hideous hour on a Saturday morning. How dreadful coffee tastes when you are actually half asleep, and at an hour when you are normally in bed! The coffee one enjoys always follows later in the morning. Once again, I leave a silent house in the dark, and walk down a silent street in Finchley. Night buses rush by – coming out of the city, nearly empty at this hour, with just the odd passenger dozing at the back. The last night buses are going towards the city too, a little fuller this time, with builders and decorators, bemused backpackers with rucksacks and European languages, and people like me, struggling with large suitcases.
I wheel my suitcase along Ballards Lane, the main Finchley thoroughfare, horrified by the noise the wheels make as they glide and trip on the uneven paving. It is after five, so the first day buses are going by. I am preoccupied with my destination; I have tubes and trains to catch. I worry that I have missed something I ought to have packed. I remember that I was going to get a pomelo and some other exotic fruit to take with me, but I have forgotten. As ever, I am leaving a bit too early, as I always worry that I will get delayed, but know this means I will not be stressed. If one has to get the tube at 5.50, one might as well get the first tube at 5.30.
At the station, people gather for the first tube of the day. This is at 5.30, and I always feel this is a bit late. A 5.30 tube reaches the City at 6am, which does not seem so very early to me. I have been in a job where I started at six – the first tube would be too late for that. As a good Londoner always does, I position myself at the right spot of the platform – towards the front – so I will be able to alight the train at the right place to make my connection.
A couple of changes and escalators later, I find myself standing on a nearly empty concourse at Paddington station. I love big railway stations, and I like the curious atmosphere of a station waking up for the start of the day, or getting ready to sleep through the night. It is a time when one can observe and analyse the people of the station. A friendly guard, Mark, stands by the suitcase barrier, chatting with two young guys who rushed to get the 6.30 to Bristol Temple Meads but just missed it. A tired looking woman, Lorraine, with three enormous suitcases sits anxiously, no doubt dreading the time she must board with her big burden. I think she is making an unwanted journey – perhaps leaving someone she loves, or going home to deal with a bereavement, or domestic emergency. Clive, a tall thing man with a Roman nose and a tiny suitcase on wheels paces stands like a cat ready to pounce on a bird, his eyes always on the departure board, determined to be the first to board his train when the platform is revealed.
At last, Elizabeth, the robotic announcer for Great Western Trains, announces that “The train on Platform Eight is the 6.57 for Penzance, calling at Reading, Westbury, Castle Cary, Yeovil Junction, Exeter St Davids, Totnes, Newton Abbott, Plymouth, Liskeard, Bodmin Parkway, Par, St Austell, Truro, Redruth, Camborne, St Erth and Penzance. There is a buffet car on this train, and First Class accommodation can be found at the rear of the train. If you intend to travel, please make your way to the platform now, as the train is ready to depart.”
I found her last warning a little precipitous as there were still eight minutes to go, but then the train was quite a long way up the platform, and those in Standard Class Accommodation would have quite a trek. I had less of a trek, as, for only £10, I was able to purchase an upgrade to First Class – leather reclining seats, a quiet carriage, and complimentary tea and coffee; when you are to be on a train for nearly seven hours, it is worth it.
My early start, my boarding of a train to England’s most distant station from London, and my launch of frequent blogging updates can only mean one thing: Lambing Season is here.