At Brockenhurst, the lady with the crutches got off, and a fair few passengers joined the nearly empty train. A couple, in their early twenties, got on the train, and sat in the table opposite Keith. He was tall and thin and had a backpack on. She did too, and was wearing a woolly scarf, although it had not been a cold day. I had my headphones on and was listening to some Preisner, so could not hear what was being said, but Keith was holding his chest, the young man was looking alarmed, and the young lady was looking disgusted. The guard came along again and sat on the table opposite Keith and spoke to him. I paused my music, and heard him offer to get help at Southampton Central, the next stop. Keith said he felt quite unwell, but wanted to press on for London, and could always go to St Thomas’ Hospital where they knew him well, as he had had two heart attacks, and they had treated him there.
The young girl got up and tugged at the man, and they trundled off to a different carriage.
At Southampton Central, a busy station, a lot of people got on the train, so that every table or row of seats was now occupied. A rather rowdy looking group of young men, came on and sat in the table by Keith. They had beer, and I was fearful lest there was going to be a particularly noisy outburst on the way home. I hastily tuned into some rather lounder Beethoven to drown out any potential noises.
“Where are you boys off to?” asked Keith.
“We are going up to London for a party. But we are starting now” answered one. Keith gripped his chest,
“I am having some chest pains. I have had two heart attacks, you know.”
The boys looked alarmed.
“Shall I get the guard for you?”
“No, he knows. I am pressing on for London.”
“Perhaps a drink would help. I have some lemonade – it will be sweet, and that is good for you, and we have some ice. The cold on your chest might help”. They poured out some lemonade, and one of the lads offered him a packet of crisps, while another one produced a Mars bar. Keith sat happily nibbling and sipping away, and I marvelled at the kindness of these rowdy boys, whom I had regarded so balefully when they first boarded the train. They were chatting away very kindly, and Keith looked very happy.
The train was on diversion, so ran down through Fareham and Havant before heading up the line to Guidlford. We stopped at Haslemere for about ten minutes – on the platform, but not as a station call. Keith expressed concern that the delay could be dangerous if he was taken ill before we reached Waterloo, and accepted a small beer from the group of young men, reminding them that a little beer was good for the digestion and the heart. I was engrossed in my book, and it was dark, so I had nothing to look at outside the window. The journey seemed quite slow, and I read without paying much attention to proceedings, until we called at Surbiton.
I was rather irked to be calling at Surbiton. Why would an express train from Weymouth stop at such an insignificant commuter station? Surbiton is a busy station normally, but I did not consider it necessary for express trains to stop there. I was musing this when the carriage broke out in song! Keith and the lads were singing:
“One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock rock
Five, six, seven o’clock, eight o’clock rock….”
This all looked very merry, and the initial looks of concern and annoyance from all in the carriage, distracted as they were from their laptops, kindles, ‘phones and books, soon turned to the knowing shared smile that English folk have, which is used to declare
“I am a little bit annoyed at these proceedings, but I cannot help finding it mildly amusing in a patronising way, and am most anxious that it be not thought that I have a poor sense of humour”.
By the time we reached Clapham Junction, Keith was inviting us all to “twist again, like we did last summer” while the bemused lads, who clearly did not know that song, looked on and cheered. Keith was in very lively form, and seemed to have recovered quite well from his malaise of earlier. It was late as we approached Waterloo, and I was tired. Part of me wanted to see what happened as they all alighted – would Keith try to go with the lads? But I hastened to alight and make a swift journey to the tube, surmising I would be home in time to watch an episode of a serial I was following on DVD.
I suppose Keith may well have felt uncomfortable and out of breath at the start of his journey, but, given the guard’s familiarity with him, and his recovery after being offered most unsuitable drinks, I suspect he was more concerned to have company. I still feel a little mean in having spurned his efforts, especially given the better example of the young lads who had boarded at Southampton Central, but I suspect he had a much better time in their company than either he, or I, would have suffered in mine.