Friday, 30 December 2011


The end of the first day back in the office after Christmas.

Before the lift, a beep.

A text from Denis.

An instant callback. The tragic details confirmed. Poor Liam.

On the way to the station a phone call to Mum who remembers Liam in the buggy. The rain is torrential and before long I'm soaked through.

On the tube home, lost in thought, I notice the hand of a middle aged black woman gripping the handrail. Her face is concealed by the small post-Christmas commuter crowd. The middle finger is missing from her grip. I see her in a Rwandan village. Being held down by men. Taking much more than her finger.

My dark thoughts continue and always return to Liam. RIP.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

The first Sunday of Christmas

I am carrying a can of Diet Coke, a bottle of water, a packet of Maltesers and a flyer for a BBC Three TV show looking for people who are unhappy with how they look.

I walk onto the station platform. L is there, waiting for me to return with provisions. The skies are blue, the sun is shining and there’s a Christmas tree standing against the railing. As surreal as that sounds this is not a dream, we’ve just bought our Christmas tree and for the second year in a row are carrying it home on the train, which is due in 25 minutes.

A woman is pacing around on the opposite platform. Our eyes briefly meet. I’ve got her attention. Look away, look away. Too late.

"You live here?"

Yes, I say, in my best I’m-not-in-the-mood-to-chat-to-strangers tone.

The woman looks to be in her early fifties, is wearing a large overcoat and is carrying a plastic bag, if I had to guess I would say she was second generation Caribbean. I wouldn’t go as far as to call her brow beaten but she’s certainly weathered.Her accent reminds me of our mortgage advisor, whose name escapes me.

“I hate the place” she continues. “Too quiet, around here” she’s looking down the stairs now. “Nobody would find me if I was murdered.“
I nod and mutter something. I doubt if anyone has ever been murdered in Crews Hill. It’s basically a road of garden centres and pet shops.
She stares at the platform sign and takes a mobile phone from her pocket.
“They put me on the wrong train. And I end up in Bedford.”

Silence. L picks up and pretends to be engrossed in the BBC Three flyer.

“My friend went to Bedford too. And her mother died.“

We don’t respond.

There’s more silence. It’s a lovely, fresh afternoon, perfect for relaxing on a train platform not talking to crazy women.

“And I have a twin sister. They thought I was her.”

“Where are you trying to get to?” L asks.

“The West Indies she says. I’m going to miss my flight”

Although I have only just met her I feel very confident that this woman is not booked on any flight to the West Indies today.

She takes the phone out of her pocket, again doesn’t use it for anything and wanders towards the other end of the platform. I ready myself for lifting the 6-7 foot, £60 Christmas tree onto the train.

At 14.52.36, 1 minute and 24 seconds before the train she has been awaiting for a half an hour arrives, the woman disappears down the stairs.

I want to call out that the train is coming but don’t.

Our train, which is going the other direction arrives, I manage to get the tree on, prompting smiles from fellow passengers.

As we depart, and head home to a day of tree decoration, Christmas dinner and Brian Blessed’s Christmas top 40, I look out on the empty platform, and wonder what this woman, walking around Crews Hill in an old overcoat, and carrying a plastic bag and a mobile phone that probably hasn’t worked for years, is going to do with the rest of her afternoon.

Illustration by Gemma Luker

Friday, 11 November 2011

Early Sunday afternoon

Hungover and feeling sorry for myself I have just boarded a train for the final leg of a long journey. I am sitting across from an older man who has dressed for Sunday. When I’m his age I’ll dress for Sunday I think to myself.

As I open my paper I look up. A woman has appeared by my seat. The train is less than half full and very silent.

“Excuse me” she says to the middle aged woman who is seating adjacent to me.
“Where is the toilet on this train?” she asks.

“I don’t know. I’m ever so sorry” the middle aged woman replies.

The toilet seeking lady looks at me.

I look up. She has thin hair and hasn’t put her make up on very well.

“I don’t think there are any toilets” I say. I want to add an ‘ever-so-sorry’ but on
account of my Irishness and hangover I don’t think I’ll pull it off, so I don’t.
The woman stares back at me. My eyes creep back to my paper.


She remains standing, over my shoulder. I can hear her bladder filling but admit it’s probably the hangover.

Finally, a fat man, bless him, pipes up and confirms she’ll have to hold.
“Gosh something or other” she says.

She’s speaking to us like we’re all in it together, strangers on a train bound by shared experience. We’re not though.

She sits back down.

How rude I think. This woman has totally ruined my trip. How am I supposed to enjoy my hangover and newspaper knowing this lady’s is bursting for the toilet? I mean how bad is it? Should I put some paper down?

I try to forget about it but can’t. Her shifting is right in my eye-line. Reading the Sundays with a hangover is hard enough without all of this I think.

The train stops. We’re not at a station. This could be a disaster.

The driver makes an announcement apologising for the delay. He’ll keep us informed he says.

We all look at the woman. She gives a squirmy smile.

I sigh and wish I didn’t know she was dying for a piss.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Monday, a few minutes before rush hour

The life of a commuter is full of many things; stress, Angry Birds, influenza. The diet of a commuter is not, stir fry, pasta, chicken Kiev, the list of week night dinners is not a long one.

Casseroles, curries or any other dish that requires any real cooking time rarely makes it to the school night dinner table of the London commuter. Not today though. Today I have finished work on time and have all the ingredients needed for a chicken casserole with tomato and cider recipe I was given.

The train is mostly full but my usual seat is free and I slide into the window seat. Across from me sit an elderly couple. They must be in their 70s. He looks like a cross between Martin Sheen and Murray Walker and is wearing a flat cap, a green jacket and dark green cord trousers. She has a slightly camel looking face, in a charming way, and wears a cream overcoat, leather gloves and wine coloured trousers. She carries an umbrella and a large handbag. They both wear poppies.

As I sit down I quickly take out my headphones to make sure the noise doesn’t bother them. They have been talking about the crowds on the train.

“It’s going home time, almost” she says, looking at her watch.

“Yes” he replies, giving her a smile.

He pauses and then leans into her.

“We’re going home with the workers”

They both smile and he leans back into his seat still smiling. It’s all very sweet. I go back to my book and they continue to chit chat to one another.

“Downton” I hear the lady say.

“It’s funny what they did”

I fumble for my headphones.

“Not really funny but…” she continues.

I have been avoiding Twitter and conversation with colleagues all day so as not to find out who snuffs it in the last Downton Abbey of the series and now…

I quickly press PLAY. Ghostpoet fills my ears. I lay back still ignorant and my evening’s entertainment unspoiled and think about the direction my life, full of casserole and period drama, has taken.

Thursday, 6 October 2011


Not Rihanna. Curses.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Early Tuesday evening

It’s dusk and I am yet to find a bed for the night. This isn’t ideal as I’m in a strange city, so strange in fact, I can’t remember what it’s called. I’m here on a scaffolding job. And there’s a war on. I’m in a roadside bar watching football. Aidan Corrigan is there too. He’s a teacher, not a scaffolder or a soldier, so it’s weird him being here. We order soup.

I feel something on my foot. Like a tremor. I ignore it and comment how warm it is, the weather not the soup. My foot shakes again. I stir.

I wake up. Things are blurry but I recognise the station. It is my station. I panic, unsure if this is the last stop are not. Morrissey is still screaming in my ears. I quickly pull out my headphones and grab my bag and coat.

An old woman is standing by the door. She’s who woke me, how sweet I think. As I’m on way out the door I thank her, she replies but in my bleary rush, I miss it.

Outside, on the platform, I have regained my composure. The old lady is waiting. She is using a walking stick which is what she must have been hitting my foot with. I regain my composure and thank her properly, trying to muster as much Irish charm as I can.

She is shaking her head.

“You shouldn’t have your feet on the seats”

What, I think. Did I? That doesn’t sound like me.

“Pardon” I say

“You’re a naughty boy” she shouts

I don’t know what to say or where to look.

She turns around and walks toward the exit, as she turns for the steps, she looks over at me. She shoots a look of disapproval and disappears beneath the stairwell.

I shake my head and try to remember what I was dreaming about.

Illustration by Gemma Luker

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

A song about trains...

from the hugely talented The Bumblebee Bats!