Thursday, March 19, 2020

Train tales #3

I generally don't like striking up conversations with strangers on a train but I like eavesdropping on others doing it. The two Americans and an English woman were all strangers sitting close to each other. The well-groomed American woman had a dog, always a conversation point. Coronavirus is the other obvious topic of talk but the opener was another classic: train confusion – in this case, conflicting opinions about which part of the ten-coach train was being split up; which part was stopping at Plymouth and which part part was going on to Penzance. There were conflicting, but not very interesting, opinions about it. In the end, we all could stay where we were, instead of having to move to a rear carriage.

Trains – dogs – coronavirus – the conversation didn't get interesting until the subject of travel came up. The Cornish woman – who repeatedly insisted her cough was a smoker's cough – was 36 and had never left the UK for a holiday until 2011, when she went to Thailand with her boyfriend. Unfortunately it was the same year as the Japanese tsunami and Thailand suffered knock-on effects from it. She said her whole resort was flooded, and she spent most of her time there waist-deep in black, dirty water. She has still, to this day, never been to London.

The middle-aged American woman had gone on her own to the former Yugoslavia as a child to visit some relatives in the 1970s. She spent a week with an uncle she'd never met; their only mutual language was a smattering of German. He didn't have children, and wasn't used to them. They went to a market, and the uncle got his American niece to buy an assortment of food, which she kept on a table in her bedroom. This was apparently what she was to have for her dinners. For breakfast, every morning, the uncle got the same large piece of meat out of a drawer to give to the girl. She ate it for days, not sure what it was. She had a feeling it was dog food but ate it nonetheless. The uncle's girlfriend turned up about three days into the girl's stay. The girlfriend looked at the girl, green around the gills, and shouted at the uncle, what the hell have you been feeding her?

The jovial American man, quiet but chuckling along at various intervals, chimes in with his growing up in Mississippi in the 1970s – and then spending six weeks as a student in the Soviet Union; quite the culture shock. He'd also been to Serbia in 1994. The American woman, intrigued, asks the man what he does for a living. He's a history teacher in Maryland, and he's worked in Afghanistan, Kuwait and Bhutan (I didn't hear how or why). I didn't hear either exactly what the American woman did, but she worked in offices in New York and London, with yogurt and fruit for breakfast provided by the office, so must be somewhere posh. The Cornish woman worked as a cashier in Sainsbury's. The man got off at Bodmin Parkway, and the conversation went dead.

Previously on Barnflakes
Train tales #2: taking the piss
Train tales #1: the nipple-tassled French woman

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