Tuesday 31 August 2010

Euston, we have a problem

15st 9lb, 10.2 units. To London on the 15.35 train, after lunch in the best staff restaurant in Britain, now made even better. Panaché of turbot, lobster and scallops with a ginger sauce, cooked fresh to order by a chef with a Michelin starred track record, and all for £2.25. Who could complain about that? I suppose it might have been a bit of an insult to heap on a side order of chips and wash it down with Pepsi Max rather than a decent Chablis, but the restaurant is sadly unlicensed and one does not wish to appear snobbish about the very good French fries. No, let’s be honest here: I’m just a bit of a glutton. I am reminded of a line which my aunt tells me was a favourite of her clergyman father’s when anyone asked whether he was hungry: “No, but thank God I am greedy.”

I used to think that there were few things worse than going into one of the Bearded Git’s disabled lavatories on the train, and having the enormous, semi-circular door slowly trundle open to expose one sitting there enthroned, trousers around ankles. It has never actually happened to me, but over the years I have inflicted this exquisite misery on a number of people, mainly harmless little old ladies. The worst thing is that there is no way to stop the horror from unfolding once it has started: the machinery creaks inexorably into the “open” position as the victim groans or screeches in apparent sympathy. Sadly Lady Troubridge’s Book of Etiquette was composed long before these contraptions were invented, and cannot offer its usual invaluable advice on how to behave in these difficult circumstances. Using my own initiative, I have developed a technique of running away and hiding, hunched up in my seat with my head buried in my newspaper and my legs crossed, trying to ignore the insistent pressure from my bladder.

Up to now I have always thought that this sort of thing was basically the fault of the embarrassingly exposed user, for failing to press the “lock” button when they entered the lavatory. But now I am not so sure. Because my journey this afternoon revealed the possibility of an even worse fate than having the door open prematurely, namely the door refusing to open at all. After a few people had wandered to the guard’s hideaway at the end of my first class carriage to grumble that the lavatory at the other end of the coach seemed to have been engaged for an inordinately long time, the lady was moved to investigate and clearly detected sounds of mild distress from within. Because for the rest of the trip to London she and a male colleague spent most of their time banging on the door and trying to force it open, while shouting encouragement along the lines of “We’ll soon have you out of there” to whoever was trapped within. I was reminded, albeit faintly and distantly, of those unfortunate Chilean miners.

Surprisingly, they did not choose to interrupt our journey to summon the fire brigade to an intermediate station to sort things out, but as we departed Milton Keynes the guard did ring ahead to have someone standing by on our London arrival platform with heavy cutting equipment, a jemmy, or whatever is required to bring such incidents to a happy conclusion. This gave her the excuse to utter the line that all the Bearded Git’s staff must long to employ at every possible opportunity: “Euston, we have a problem.”

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