Yarmouth, daytime, summer. Not now.
I am almost through with the editing and now that the contents are in place with just proofing and correspondence still going on I feel cheered and pleased. I think it's a good issue and does some of the things I hoped it would do. I take a lot of paperwork with me. Envelopes, letters, proofs. Sometimes it won't fit into a bag and I have to take a trolley.
The trolley goes up and down on the train with me. Up to London is always nicer than the return journey. The tubes and trains are packed on the return. You are lucky to find a seat and you certainly can't spread out sheets and do much proper work. You feel hot and dirty for the very good reason that you are hot and dirty. After Cambridge, where I change - or rather after Ely, the first stop after Cambridge - the carriage is less full and I can relax.
Tonight I was one of the first on the Cambridge-Norwich train, but some ten minutes later, still at the station, there was loud music. A huge black guy entered and swung past, his phone turned up to top volume in an act I took to be one of old fashioned audio-imperialism: This space is mine and I will fill it with my music. He slumped down across the aisle the next seat up. A boy followed him and sat opposite him, facing me. I signalled to the boy that his friend might put his earphones on. The boy smiled shyly and helplessly. The train started. Eventually the music went off and there were a few minutes of silence. At that point an old Glaswegian sitting across from me received a call on his mobile. His ring tone was the first whistled bar from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
The big black guy swung out of his seat so fast he was past me and landed next to the Glaswegian: Love your ring-tone man, can you send it to me? The old Glaswegian, who had just started a conversation about his visit to the doctor after some industrial mishap, managed to convey the fact that the didn't know how to send ringtones. So the big man swung back. It was the sheer size of him: tall as a basketball player and somewhat wider.
The conductor appeared and he engaged her in a series of questions about train times that suggested that he was either very drunk or possibly autistic, but more probably drunk. She was patient with him as anyone would be with a man as big and wild as he was. He asked about trains to Yarmouth in summer. Which month? Dunno. June. What day? Monday to Friday. Any particular time? Er, two o'clock.No, three. Somewhere about there. Can I get back to Yarmouth tonight. You'll have to be quick, the conductor answers. She explains there is only five minutes between this train arriving in Norwich and the Yarmouth one leaving. She advises him to move to the front carriage so he can quickly leap across to platform five. We are currently in the rear carriage. He says yes, but doesn't move. She leaves him and carries on down the carriage checking tickets.
He hasn't been at all offensive, just a little wild. He makes a phone call to someone, presumably a child, that he calls my little man. He keeps apologising for not having seen his little man. He then talks to the woman presumably alongside the little man. He apologises and swears undying love to her though I think it might be a little dangerous being his wife or girlfriend who is, it turns out, in Yarmouth with his son. He finishes the call and there is another period of silence before the music goes back on. The young lad gets off at Brandon. They were probably not old friends: the boy was probably someone the big man had just picked on to be his companion. Hence the embarrassed smile. I still haven't seen the big man's face.
After a little more music (the old Glaswegian is swearing into his phone, not at the music but because he swears as punctuation) the big man attempts a desultory conversation with the person across the aisle from him without much response. Everyone feels he is a threat but at least the music is off again.
Then for the first time he turns round to me and, with a helpless look on his face, asks if he is on the right train for Yarmouth. His face looks surprisingly old. He is not a twenty-something but a well-worn forty-something. His hair is patchy and thinning. He hadn't taken in anything the conductor said. He looks friendly but wild, or perhaps that should be wild but friendly. I tell him what the conductor said. He asks me if we are in Norwich yet. I tell him this is only Thetford. I tell him he has a tight connection at Norwich, which is the last stop, and that he'll have to dash across to platform five, and that he should really be in the front carriage. He experiences a moment of relative lucidity. He rises and lurches off towards the front carriage. An Asian boy in the seat behind me grins at me. The big man is gone.
I doubt he'll make it to Yarmouth though I might be wrong. By the time he gets to Yarmouth it will be after ten. His little man might be in bed then but won't stay asleep for long, and as for the woman he loves, because he has repeatedly told her so, I wouldn't bet on her having a quiet night either.
And the big question: would any of us have challenged him on the loud music? He was not a straightforward yob or bully, he was just wild and gentle and somewhat out of control. He needn't have been gentle. The music wasn't bad, it was just that he hadn't asked us if we wanted to listen. He was not quite in this world. Tonight he might be in Yarmouth.
And Norwich is UNESCO City of Literature! A little more on that tomorrow once I have understood what that means. I know it means that Chris Gribble and the gang at the Writers' Centre will have worked their socks off to maximum effect! Sincere and hearty congratulations to them, and whoever else was involved!