There are some curious people in this world. I know this not only because I myself am one of them, but because at 4:30pm on the 20th December 2023, it felt like most of the curious people on this earth (including me) were travelling, by train, back from Warrington to our curious homes in Northern England. My journey was one of gossip and theatricalities practically waiting to be mined, by me, into a column. I can’t believe it’s not fiction! I can’t believe it was a bog-standard train journey, not an immersive experience inside a Victoria Wood sketch! 

Well, it happened. So move over Victoria, I’ve got my own material now. 

The journey began well. I was dispatched onto the amusingly-named Cheshire Cat bus by my boyfriend’s loving family and given a 16-18 ticket with NO QUESTIONS ASKED! A thrilling beginning, brightened by the bargain and the compliment to my youthfulness. Or is it my childishness… 

After my bus journey, I purchased the ladies’ choice of sandwich – egg and bacon – in preparation for my train journey of peace, calm and reflection. Refined sandwich in hand, I ran to the station, only to find that the train was cancelled. The platform was crammed with furious people, not talking to each other, soon to be joined by me and Ms Egg and Bacon. The next train had only four carriages, and it was PACKED. We were crammed like pickles in a jar: smell worsening, juices mixing.

So I loitered unseated in the train aisle, eating Ms Sandwich. The carriage door struggled to open against a dense crowd of people, revealing a very young woman in pink leggings, rocking a pram. The presence of her assumed baby thus meant that any frustration that there was another pickle-person in the train-jar was inexcusable.

The Wednesday evening travellers of Warrington were already at their limits. That is, until my full frontal view of the pram revealed that it housed not a baby – but a bulldog. My grandparents would be so annoyed by that, I thought gleefully, thrilled that I could use their prospective irritation to mask my own. 

The train set off and we continued on our journey. Three Men in a Boat (and a dog) now seemed a feeble party to our 78 smelly northerners, a train and a dog. And, lest we forget, two humble (and rapidly depleting) triangles of an egg and bacon sandwich. 

I spent the journey attempting to read The Book of Margery Kempe with little success, totally boring compared to the happenings of my carriage. On reflection, Margery would have fitted well into this specific carriage’s theatricalities. But perhaps she would be peeved that her ‘wepying’ (weeping) was not the main event, but sidelined to the many pools of drama circling around me. On that journey I did not experience that Pinterest feeling when you’re aware of the many beautiful and full lives around you. I was too busy experiencing jostling. 

By this time I had found a seat, opposite a lady called Claire. I know her to be named Claire because she is opening and replying to voice notes without earphones. She was extremely mardy, a mood possibly explained by the contents of the voice notes. Readers, the gossip I learned on this journey was that Claire CANNOT be rational with a person who is irrational themselves. The irrational person will ONLY let Claire have custody of the dogs for two weeks at a time, and only then if she moves her whole house closer. Claire is OUTRAGED. She keeps whispering ‘twat’ and pushing her hair behind her ears, a pointless fidget given that it is tightly secured behind her headband. Her bright yellow mac does not brighten the mood. 

Margery Kempe has been abandoned, because Claire, or as I am soon to learn, Ms Divorce, is drafting a custody agreement in her notes app. Across the train table, strewn with lucozade and mango chips, Claire’s notes app reads: ‘Look Rachel, let me get this CRYSTAL clear for you because you’re not going to get it otherwise’, followed by a series of bullet points with carefully organised subsections. 

It is then that the major event occurs. The girl with the dog-in-pram enters the stage, releasing the dog from its infantile throne. The girl, who we will call Katie, is faffing about with the dog, attaching its lead to the chair, and addressing it as ‘Bear’. 

Claire sprang into life, out of her divorce-WhatsApp cavern. 

MY DOG’S CALLED BEAR!” she cried, a touching moment of connection in the carriage. Bridging the divide of one struggling person with another. Harmony within dissonance. How heartwarming! But I was not touched. Ms Divorce was talking to Bear (dog) like a baby, which was fitting, given the pram. 

“Can I get a picture of your Bear for my Bear???!!”

The girl is obliging, excited even: “Yeah sound. That’s sick.”

“He’s sooooo cute!” says Ms Divorce.

And then.

“Why’s he only got three legs?” 

I rapidly shoved some sandwich in my mouth to abate guffawing. But the man opposite me has asked an astute question. Why has Bear T Dog only got three legs? 

To do the girl’s response justice, I will insert the dialogue in all its colloquial glory: 

Katie: Right, so Bear was getting off the sofa wont he and he jumped off it yeah and we have lino right so his leg just went under him so we took him to the doctors and he didn’t even look at it or give him anaesthetic or nothing he just LOBBED it OFF, so now he’s got three legs. 

Man Opposite: I bet you have carpets now eh

Katie: It’s still lino but we have to look when he’s getting off sofa so we can put a cushion under it when he’s getting off in case he loses another [leg].

I was losing my mind. I was trying to read Margery Kempe. I was under the impression that Margery is on pilgrimage, and is presently staying with “monkys”. One “monke which had so dyspysed hir beyng present” decides that it won’t eat in her company, which I felt was a surprising indication of standards for monkeys. I thought she was talking about her ape rejection, but the footnotes told me that it was about MONKS. BORING. 

The Man Opposite had observed that I am trying to read Margery Kempe, prompting him to remark, “you haven’t got through much of that have you love”. I hadn’t. I explained that it is Margery Kempe, and therefore borderline incomprehensible, being Middle English, and that the train was much more entertaining. 

He said he was an English teacher! And knows Margery Kempe is a mystic! We chatted for a while as comrades, before he asked where I go to university. Oxford, I say. Oxford? He asks, incredulous. And you live in Rotherham? 

Another Man came over to speak to the Man Opposite’s 13-year-old son. He said that Dog Girl Katie has a crush on him, and can she have his Snapchat. The Man informs the boy that Dog Girl Katie has LIT UP since talking to him and she’s not that confident, so can he do the right thing and ask for her Snapchat. 

Obviously, this request was ridiculous, and basically just weird. I don’t know why the 60-year-old man thought himself Emma Woodhouse, matching random teenagers on trains. It’s all very awkward: the boy is silent, the man eventually moves away. Nearing our stop, our little table began to jest. Man Opposite, my comrade-in-Kempe, jokes that he should get the train more often. Ms Divorce says that her whole day has been like this (ridiculous). I remark, you don’t need telly!
Margery Kempe is completely abandoned. I ran for my next train and missed it, and spent the time waiting for the next one by mourning my egg and bacon sandwich. My mum picked me up from the station. I wondered what everyone else told their families when they got home. I wondered if they’ll say, I saw this girl on the train today who was reading actual nonsense, and she only read one page over the two hours. She kept eating an egg sandwich, gross, and reading this lady’s WhatsApps! I’ll wait for their columns to read their accounts. I wonder who I’ll be? Beautiful Clever Talented Girl Opposite With The Gorgeous Hair? Dream on.