Rain continued throughout the day as it done all night. Jackie drove me to Southampton for the London train. The forest was even more waterlogged. The lanes leading to the M27 were, in places, completely covered with rainwater running off the fields and overflowing from swollen ditches. Yesterday’s bedraggled pony was dry and comfortable compared with the poor creatures we saw today. Visibility on the motorway itself was much reduced. Windscreen wipers were going like the clappers, fending off the driving rain. Even when the glass was fleetingly clear, the road ahead was a swirling mist of spray thrown up by other vehicles’ wheels. During the last two or three miles, some of which was in nose to tail traffic, the red petrol warning light was flashing. Jackie calculated that the nearer we got to the station before she ran out of fuel the less I would have to walk. I speculated about how far I would have to push the car.
We arrived in good time for the train, which had been cancelled. The next one to Waterloo would not arrive for over an hour. I was advised to take the cross-country train to Newcastle and change at Basingstoke. This was delayed. Fortunately by only five minutes. Just like my last trip to London, the train only had four carriages and the London travellers had to join an already crowded group. I secured a seat by asking a woman to remove her bag from it. Whilst I was sitting down Jackie texted me to say she had made it to a garage.
The train from Basingstoke was of three coaches. Because of the crush of people boarding, the replacement guard could not get on. Those passengers who had managed to do so would stand in the aisles divesting themselves of their coats and feeding their luggage to the racks, while the rest of us waited for them to settle. As I arrived in the carriage I announced: ‘The guard cannot get on the train until the passengers do. That means we won’t be going anywhere until he does. Coats can be dealt with later’. This was delivered and received with humour. One man, proving his point, stood up and took off his coat, saying ‘that’s difficult to do without hitting someone in the face’. This was greeted by general laughter.
The only seat I could reach was being obscured by a gentleman’s backpack. He was leant over it, looking for all the world as if he had something to hide. When I asked him to move he said he hoped the seat would be taken by a Swedish blonde. ‘Bad luck’, I said, ‘you’ve got me. You have to take what you can get today’. In fairness, he did then offer his seat to a young woman who declined it. Maybe he didn’t fancy me.
From Waterloo I took a Bakerloo Line tube to Picadilly Circus where I did some more Christmas shopping. On Vigo Street I lost my temper. One of my betes noir is people who poke you with their umbrellas. In one short stretch of this street linking Regent and Bond Streets I followed a young man marching along with complete disregard for the crowds on the narrow pavement. His action was so savage that I could hardly believe what I was watching. His umbrella was like a scythe cutting a swathe through corn. He travelled very speedily, never relaxing his grip or slackening his pace. He struck one man and two women in the side of the face. He also collided with another umbrella, almost wrenching it out of a woman’s grasp. After the third viticm whinced in pain, I went after him. I had to quicken my pace. As I neared him I called out, three times: ‘Hey, you with the umbrella!’. He ignored me. I was almost upon him when he turned to climb the steps to a building. I cornered him and told him what he had done. ‘No, I haven’t,’ he retorted. ‘Yes you have’, I bellowed. ‘And the last woman was in considerable pain’. He walked into the building.
Lunch was lamb shank followed by bread and butter pudding accompanied by an excellent Spanish Tempranillo. Then I was off to Carol’s by tube.
On the Jubilee Line train, diagonally opposite me, sat a trim middle aged man wearing a woolly hat, a bomber jacket, jeans, and trainers. His copy of the Metro served as a tube wrapped around a can of drink, which he did not touch on the journey. He entered the carriage talking to himself, which he continued to do for a while. Soon, he must have tired of his own company, for he sought another conversationalist. Even though all the seats were occupied, when he said ‘ere, nu”y professor’ I instinctively knew I was the target. I decided to humour him. Eventually this meant abandoning my book. He ruined my concentration. He did, however, approve of reading as being ‘more human than all these robots’. The expansive gesture that accompanied this comment made me aware that the majority of our companions were attached to mobile electronic devices. Apparently I look very like his psychiatrist, so I must be one. Unless, that is, I worked for Old Bill. He felt sure he recognised me. Before I left the carriage he gave up his seat to a young woman who, in stark contrast to the rejection I had witnessed this morning, gratefully accepted. He continued to talk to me until I got out at Green Park.
When I departed Carol’s I took a bus to Waterloo where I eventually caught a train back to Southampton. At Waterloo the departure board received the undivided attention of numerous passengers awaiting information about delayed trains. Suddenly a mass movement akin to a shoal of sardines swooping to escape the net signalled that a train had been announced. My journey was cramped, but I was one of those fortunate enough to obtain a seat.
Jackie drove me home, where the deer awaited us on the lawn.