The 12:27 to Penzance
My only reason for wanting to go from London to Penzance was for the straight five-hour train ride without changing trains. Just kick back in a first-class carriage, maybe a bottle of wine along the way, and hours of pleasant English countryside on into Cornwall. But add two squally kids and an overbearing, helicoptering mum, and it is a true…
The children on their own weren't too bad, save for little Gareth (not his real name) who perhaps suffered from some mild behavioral problems that his mother frequently attempted to assuage with an overdose of medication, as if from a Pez dispenser. His brother Ian (not his real name) would have been a model of childhood composure and decorum, if his mother had just let him be.
She hovered over both of them, and her hovering did not blend rhythmically with the whomp-womp-womp of a well-maintained helicopter, but rather the womp-thwack-womp dissonance of one spiraling to the ground. It was her constant "Ian,Ian,Ian" and "Gareth, Gareth, Gareth" that was the most disturbing to the peace and serenity of the carriage.
I noted from the reservation windows above their seats that they were booked through the first four hours of of our five-hour ride to Penzance. Did I mention they were booked in the same four-seat configuration as us? I expected getting kicked occasionally by Master Gareth, whose legs operated independently of his brain. But to have my ankles and shins brushed by the leggy but otherwise featureless granite figure of the mother did nothing to endear me to the courage of her traveling alone with two small children. The woman never smiled, treating her children like ill-disciplined sheep, while she herded the two of them like a frayed and harried sheepdog. A trip to the bathroom, of which there were several, and at intervals timed almost perfectly to match my almost dozing off, were frantic affairs that involved all three jostling about, no matter who needed to go. Apparently, the mother thought they were aboard a train filled with kidnappers.
And germ-filled kidnappers, too. When Master Gareth returned to his shin-kicking seat across from me, Lady Macbeth (her real name) continued to assiduously and obsessively wash his hands that she evidently saw as permanently bloodstained with guilt.
She may have been a Temperance nut, along with all the other faults I was unfairly (yet satisfyingly) dumping on her. About an hour from her stop, I decided to get a bottle of wine for Carol and I. I can't say for sure, but when the sight of those wine bottles hit our tray tables, Lady Macbeth suddenly herded her kids and belongings to another section of the carriage that had been vacant all along.
In retrospect, I should have started drinking as soon as I saw those little urchins aboard. When they finally detrained, it was as if a storm had lifted. All thoughts of never seeing the likes of them again turned out to be premature, however.