Garth Station, this place is made of nostalgia. Sitting in the small shelter on the platform, one can look across, past the rusty-cream pillars which support the roof and over the single track — an absurdity in its self — and see the abandoned and overgrown second platform which used to serve the second set of tracks which once run through.
A new feature which I noticed on my arrival was a dot-matrix departure board, though providing no departure information at all, providing only the National Rail Enquiries telephone number. The same is the case with the box on the wall which is supposed to announce the details of the next train, but in reality states that there is no train due in the next 60 minutes, and that for further information, the passenger should dial the number which is displayed on the departure board.
* * *
The Ariva Trains Wales employee sitting in front of me is the definition of forlorn, in direct opposition to the usual manic state of trolley-officials on this train. Maybe he’s been laid-off? or bereaved? poor man. He seems, nevertheless, to be finding interest and maybe sympathy in the pages of a novel.
Three weeks ago, when I was making this journey in reverse, I found myself not to be in possession of my debit card as the guard approached to sell me a ticket. He told me that he would leave me to find it, then come back and allow me to pay. But he didn’t, which was advantageous in that my card was in the chip and pin machine in the local newsagent’s, and I travelled from Cannock to Birmingham New Street for free. I don’t know what a fare-dodger looks like in the opinion of London Midland Trains, but if I fit the official criteria, I have to thank him for not letting me fit his.
Coffee — Ariva Trains Wales’ variety is really not bad at all. I wanted coffee; I wasn’t expecting all that much from the trolley, but I guess that that is how it will remain until I, or people in general, try the stuff. The forlorn trolley-officer was pleased to oblige my request. The drink does not taste like Weetabix; a good sign; and it has flavours which are often omitted. I would have liked it to have been stronger; but in a sense, that’s a truism.
This is my favourite part of the journey. On the Heart of Wales Train Line, a few minutes after the train leaves Craven Arms (‘the gateway to the heart of Wales’, or in my case, ‘out of’), the track foundation appears to rise, making it feel like the carriage is travelling atop a Roman road; one can survey what there is to see, while feeling like a pioneer making a mountain crossing. On passes all manner of sites, settlements and hermit-cottages; a grave-yard constructed on a 45° slope. Church Stretton — I can’t say that I’ve ever been. The trolley-officer has now swapped his novel for a lad’s mag.
* * *
Train stations, id est real train stations, enthral me. They still host most of the the possible classes, tweed through to track-suits in union due to our need to leave a certain location. Stations hold he possibility of places to go, activity, and the brawny diesel mastodons which idle at the platforms or chug away.
* * *
The presence of electric rails heralds our approach to the West Midlands Conurbation. Wolverhampton, from the train, looks like a spent, post-industrial hulk; but I’m sure that that’s not the truth.
* * *
The Heart of Wales Train Line, my job, the best job if I were a train-spotter; a train-spotter I’m not and the job is without thrills. On this particular route I work the trolley, which translates as: ‘I sit and read with the trolley in the door, and then move the trolley to the door on the other side of the train according to the side of the train which is next to the platform. I also sell food and drink to any one who is desperate to sample some of my passenger-fodder.’
My Novel, ‘Lincoln Lawyer’ was performing its normal role of absorbing my thoughts while I sat, acting as a light anaesthetic. A young man who was sitting opposite me, wearing a noticable felt hat and a grey tweed jacket looked up at me.
“Excuse me,”he spoke, with a kind of intentional timidity; I looked back, putting on my customer-facing face.
“Do you have any coffee on your trolley?”
“Yes.” I said, and got up to fetch it for him. “Sugar?”
“No, thank you, and with milk, please.” he said, standing and fiddling with some coins. “How much is it?”
“It’s one seventy.”
I swapped the coffee for his money and he sat down and attempted to write on a note pad at the same time as he drank. I returned to my light anaesthesia, but it started to fail and I began to recall the extent of my hate for things as they are, so I switched to the A-material — a poorly sewn together combination of words and porn which is known as a lad’s mag. Amongst the tits and drivel, my hate was stifled.