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19.5.16

To the Fox and Hounds





I recover consciousness and ask Tam to explain why everything is rattling from side to side, shaking, and covered in soot. He says that we are on the Newcastle-Leeds Express, L.N.E.R., headed by Class “C7” 4-4-2 locomotive number 733, entering the Bramhope Tunnel. I tell Tam that for someone to know that much detail about a train isn’t healthy, but knowing we are travelling on British public transport does explain the filth and noise and the reason we are skleuteringly behind schedule.


Seeing Juan slumped in a mound of soot-coated trash and vomit on the floor I kick him awake, looking around at the stinking filth and gagging on the toxic smoke that fills the carriage, Juan asks why we are on the Newcastle-Leeds Express. The train rocks so violently we have to crawl to the buffet carriage to buy some Scotch. Steam pours in through the dirty broken windows and the gaping cracks in the roof and floor, mixing with the ancient dirt and new soot to form a black sticky sludge that covers everything. Stinging, blinding acrid smoke follows the steam, I tell Juan to put his cigar out and we feel our way along the corridors, smash open stuck doors, clamber over heaps of bags and scared people, psychotic officials in uniform shout at us, two poodles attack us and two little old ladies stick knitting needles in us, to stop us strangling the stupid creatures.


A group of football supporters, realising that we know the way to the bar, start following us, another group of football supporters do the same thing, but, because of the rules of the game, which only the British understand, the second group can’t follow the first group, they have to be first to the bar. Juan says that, while he sympathises with both groups, the bar might have limited supplies so we mustn’t let either group get to the bar first, or second, then, shouting at me to start laying land-mines, he whips out a machine gun, I kick the gun out of his hands and yell at him that we are not in America now, he can’t just shoot anyone he wants without a licence. The train starts juddering up down and shaking, the cracks get bigger, the engine roars and belches great tongues of flame which rip through the carriages and the football supporters, which solves the problem.


The brakes shriek, so do the passengers as we crash to a sudden halt in a pandemonium of crunching metal and terrified people, Fatty shouts that somebody must have pulled the emergency cord but Tam yells back saying that nobody pulled the cord, like everything made in Britain, it doesn’t work, British trains always stop like this, we are just stopping at Bramhope to let some passengers off and we will be on our way shortly. Reassured, we fight through the maddened and confused passengers to the buffet bar where we convince the stupid, hostile, barman to sell us some whisky.


It is an article of faith that, ultimately, there is no such thing as a bad whisky, however, our faith is nearly shattered by the disgusting drink the slovenly barman reluctantly serves us; before we beat up the barman, Tam says that we can’t complain, this is British Rail whisky, which is to real whisky as the British rail service is to a real train service, there is no comparison. The train suddenly jolts forwards and we all fall over, then it stops and reverses, we roll around the floor listening to people shouting and the broken doors falling off their hinges as frantic passengers, urged on by a meglomaniac officials yelling incomprehensible gibberish into megaphones, struggle to get on or off, or to retrieve their children from under the train. Fatty, reaching desperately for a falling sandwich, rolls out of the train door, we all leap out to help him but, before we can push him back into the carriage, the train suddenly accelerates away; belching poisonous smoke and toxic steam; blasting its horn and swaying and creaking, with bits falling off it, the filthy thing disappears into the distance leaving a trail of choking acid smog drifting across the landscape.


When we have partly recovered from the various skin and respiratory ailments that afflict us, Tam says that, now, we will have to wait for another train and it might be a long wait. In Britain, travelling by train is miserable and waiting for a train is genuinely depressing, to cheer ourselves up, we tell Tam that we are going to wait in a pub and that he should come and tell us when a train comes. We expect Tam to tell us to get lost and that he is coming to the pub with us and is not going to stay and wait for a stupid train, but, strangely, he says that he doesn’t mind because he likes trains, he likes the romance of the railway, in fact, he adds, he likes railways so much that he has a note-book and he used to write down the times and details of trains, nowadays he is a bit short sighted so he can’t see the numbers on the trains so he takes notes about the railway tracks instead, the advantage to this, Tam enthusiastically explains, is that you have to wait for a train, sometimes for a long time, but you don’t have to wait for the tracks, they are already there, or should be.  I tell Juan that we need to talk about Tam.


Fatty says that the Fox and Hounds is close by and has a fabulous selection of cask ales and serves wonderful meals. This is very good news as Fatty’s word on the subject of pubs, beer, and food is unquestionable and, suddenly dehydrated by our train journey, desperate for good food and cask ale, yelling and cheering with excitement, we head for the Fox and Hounds, as fast as we possibly can.


Professor Humperdink’s Diary