Nobody ever talks about the perils of being a bookworm. Well today I’m gonna share a little story with you. A story of a woman and her book on their commute.
In my previous job I was sent away to our head office in Reading for management training courses every few years. I always dreaded going, as much as I love sitting quietly and losing myself in a book on a long train journey, I hate trying to navigate cities during rush hour. I always worry my ticket will get stuck in the barrier or I’ll trip over someones suitcase, maybe get a shoelace stuck in the escalators. Every eventuality runs through my mind.. well, not every eventuality as it turns out!
On this particular trip it’s a freezing cold winter day. Not cold enough to snow, just bitter winds and dark mornings, it definitely wasn’t a very festive atmosphere so I’m gonna guess it was probably around early February.
So I’ve dragged my butt out of bed, I have my usual morning can of Rockstar energy drink (I was deep in the throes of caffeine addiction at the time) and I’m wearing my only-just-work-appropriate little black dress I reserve for those important meetings. I’m a town mouse so our trains toward London come once every two hours and only a handful of people get on my stop.
It’s 6.30am and I’m already feeling anxious so I cast my eyes to the ground and dodge quickly past a few stuffy looking businessmen to grab a seat in the quietest spot I can find. I hover uncomfortably until the train officer checks my ticket then instantly crack open the can and settle myself in with my kindle and my newest read; Bridget Jones Diary: Mad About The Boy, (I’ve just checked and discerned from this that it was actually early October, I’d bought it on release day so it was a Thursday). I pull down the seat tray to balance my energy drink and lose myself in the pages, barely remembering not to laugh out loud at the shenanigans Bridget finds herself in.
30 minutes pass in this manner, I’ve positioned myself near a heater that’s faintly blowing warm air around my ankles and I’ve paid zero attention to the bodies slowly filling up the carriage. Suddenly I’m roused from my book to make room for a gentleman sitting beside me, I nod good morning without speaking and glance around to notice that although there are plenty of empty seats this man has chosen to sit beside me. I take a hopefully sly look at him and he’s actually pretty damn attractive! I tweet this. My (then) sister-in-law sees it and jokes with me about the short black dress I’d chosen to wear. I’m feeling a little self aware but it doesn’t take long for Bridget Jones to take back my full attention.
Another 30 or so minutes pass when the attractive gentleman politely taps me on the shoulder. My brain explodes into instant panic in the second it takes me to look up from my book, wondering what he’s going to say to me. There’s another rather uncomfortable man standing in the aisle, I can tell instantly that they’ve both been trying to speak to me and I hadn’t noticed. Oh NO. NO NO NO!
I’m in his seat! I’ve sat down in First Class by mistake! No wonder I was so comfortable!
Both men are staring at me in confusion, I grab and spill my energy drink then fumble my kindle back into my bag, cheeks burning with shame as the revelations just keep washing over me..
The attractive man was just sitting in his allocated seat! He didn’t choose to sit next to me! How silly was I? God it must look like I was purposely ignoring them when they tried to speak to me! As if I could keep the cosy seat by pretending I couldn’t hear them! Damn why didn’t the ticket officer mention it this morning when I sat down? Curse him!
Now I’m up and trailing through a jam-packed train, in the standard carriages where I belong. I’ve been yanked from the London bar I was drinking in with Bridget and instead I’m stumbling over luggage and pet dogs, desperately looking for a seat or a rail to grasp on this moving train. Of course I end up perched on a folding seat besides an overflowing bin and the door to a misused toilet. This is the worst. There’s only two more stops to go, I don’t have the time or space to get back to my kindle so I gaze out the window and try to avoid all eye contact.
Here comes my next problem, I’m facing the wrong way! I get truly terrible travel sickness, I can’t sit in the back of a car for even the shortest of journeys, reading on a bus or a coach makes me instantly sick, and facing the opposite direction on a moving train is a BIG no no. I try to breath through my mouth and ignore the palpitations whilst I simultaneously shiver from the cold and sweat with anxiety. There have been two delays whilst I was absorbed in my book, I’m going to be late to the training session. Everyone knows head office report your performance back to the area manager, now I’m off to a bad start before I even arrive!
The train pulls in and people pour out in all directions. I get my ticket out ready for the barriers, remind myself for the hundredth time which direction I need to walk in to reach the meeting and do my best to dodge the running commuters, banging their briefcases against my legs. It’s a ten minute walk. I bust out through the train station doors and pace as fast as my heels will allow in the direction of the office. Just as I make it to the corner of the main high street all my anxiety and embarrassment comes tumbling out of my mouth in a vile stream of fizzing caffeinated vomit!
Wonderful. I’m outside my company’s head office in a busy city at 8.45am on a Thursday morning, PUKING IN PUBLIC. Thankfully nobody seems to be looking at me, maybe this is normal city behaviour? I wipe my mouth with a tissue, swig some water and shake myself off as I walk to the intercom. It isn’t until the receptionist has seated me in a hushed waiting area full of senior managers that I realise there is sick on my shoe. OH, GOD. I start to feel dizzy, it’s hot in here, I wonder if people can smell the vomit. I can’t, but what if there’s an aroma buzzing around me that I haven’t noticed. I take a moment to wonder how much trouble I’ll be in if I don’t go through with this course, my store paid out £184 for the return train ticket alone. Before I can decide I’m being graciously escorted to one of the many training rooms. Yes I am a little late, no I’m not feeling too great today, is it really obvious?
My colleague seems genuinely concerned at my pallor- or maybe they noticed the stain on my shoe- it’s clear I need to go home. First though, I have to sign the register for safety records, to prove I had arrived and to square off my travel expenses. I walk sheepishly into the training room where the other fourteen attendees are seated around a conference table and make my way over to the course leader to explain my situation. She’s sitting at the mid way point of the enormous table beside a projector she’d been waiting patiently to set up. No, I didn’t see the cable running across the table and plugged into a mains socket, cleverly concealed under carpeting in the floor.
My once-cute black suede heels caught in the half open coverlet on the stupid floor plug and I stumbled over it in front of a room full of eyes. I grabbed the shoulder of the instructor and stammered an apology that I’m not even sure made sense. The expression on her face was enough- nobody was going to disagree with me going home at this point. I almost wished they’d giggle instead of staring at me in wide-eyed shock.
Back at the station not thirty minutes after stepping off the train. My boss finds the whole ordeal hilarious, she isn’t angry, there was even a tinge of sympathy. Especially when we discovered I was stuck sitting on an open train platform in freezing rain for 90 minutes til the next train home. (I’d already gone through the barriers). I pulled my coat tight and went back to Bridget.
Finally, when my fingers were ice and anxiety had subsided into disappointment, my train dragged along the platform. I picked my way through and found one seat remaining. The gentleman- HA!– sitting there had left his bag on the seat and raised a newspaper in front of his face. After repeatedly asking him with increasing volume to let me use the empty seat he shook his paper angrily and harrumphed in my face. The old man got up and gestured I take the inside seat, leaving me trapped between the window and this particularly grouchy old man with one eye and a heavy stench of marmite and peanuts surrounding him. Guess I shouldn’t complain, he probably smelled better than I did! For the next hour he intermittently huffed and rattled his paper at me. Once again I returned to Bridget Jones Diary- Mad About The Boy.
It didn’t strike me until later that I’d had my very own BJD experience on that train, I was just glad to be distracted by fictional palava. I look back on the whole thing now and let me tell you it is HILARIOUS! I always wonder though, reading may have let me escape from this ordeal, but was it reading that got me into it?