“The only way of catching a train I have ever discovered is to miss the train before.” G.K. Chesterton
The first anniversary of my retirement has just passed. Within the first hour of that retirement, I was on a train to Wales. A nice as Wales is, it was not my intended destination.
After saying farewells to colleagues, it was to Bristol Parkway station by taxi. On my arrival, I saw on the departure board a train to my intended destination of Bristol Temple Meads, leaving in 5 minutes.
I made my way to the indicated platform. As I descended the steps to what I believed was it, I noted one platform to the left and one to the right. At both of which stood a train. The departure board above the left-hand platform showed Bristol Temple Meads as the first train to depart. I joined that, not noticing the arrow pointing right for the Temple Meads train.
It was the Guard’s announcement as my train pulled out of the station that aroused my suspicions. His welcome to passengers from Bristol Parkway to the 15:04 to Swansea, next calling at Newport, threw me. I thought I must have misheard so asked the person in the adjoining seat whether we were on the train to Temple Meads.
He looked at me with a mixture of pity, humour, and disbelief. “Ummm no”, came the reply as he then confirmed my fears that my train had been on the other platform.
He offered helpfully that I would need to get off at Newport. He thought there was a train back to Temple Meads from there.
By this time, the young train guard had arrived at my seat for a ticket check. Offering a wan smile, I showed him my Temple Meads ticket and by way of poor explanation, the fact I had retired earlier that day. His immediate assumption was that I’d had a drop or two to drink. Sadly, being stone-cold sober, that was not an excuse I could use.
Now thinking he was dealing with someone who shouldn’t travel on their own, he explained in some detail what I should do when I got off at Newport. What platform I needed. How to reach that platform over a footbridge. And where on that platform it would be best to stand.
Leaving nothing to chance and in a spirit of helping the aged, the Guard returned to my side as we approached Newport. He saw me off the train. Then he accompanied me along the platform, to the footbridge I needed to cross to get to the required platform.
My train back to England duly arrived. I was pleased to see it continued past Temple Meads to Bath. That would make my change of trains for home, easier.
Off we went and I noted that one of the train’s stops was Abbey Wood station. Just over a long stone’s throw from my ex-office. As we pulled into that station, I thought to myself that after travelling for some two hours I had managed to travel only four hundred yards nearer home. Welcome to retirement, I thought with a chuckle.
Fortunately, I managed to negotiate the change of train in Bath Spa without ending up in Plymouth or London. I also made it home in time for the planned celebratory meal with my wife. I suspect that my recounting my mishap brought fears to her of my soon to be undertaken train journey through England, France, and Italy. Russia here he comes, I suspect she thought.
As it was, I did not put a foot wrong on that trip. Well, apart from becoming jammed in the turnstile of the Paris metro, getting on the wrong train in Gare de Lyon, becoming lost in the maze that is old Genoa and stretching my Italian to the limit while being checked in by a cleaner to my hotel in Rome.