I love going back to Wales, no matter how I get there. I may have lived elsewhere for many more years than I ever did in Wales, but that seems irrelevant. If I drive, I still get thrilled when we pass the ‘Welcome to Wales’ sign on the Ross Spur and turn on the radio to BBC Wales, even though I cannot understand a word. My voice flexes and limbers up to become like the valleys and mountains of my home town- soaring and dipping, wild and green, deep and dark. Within minutes of speaking to anyone, all traces of the North has disappeared and I am back with the clan. On the train, I listen for the first Welsh voices and tune in to the patterns and music.
Nevertheless, I cannot say that I relish the journey by train. Sadly, the line wearies its way to Cardiff, stopping at every minor halt along the way , and usually I strap on the headphones , and resign myself to three hours of cramped chugging along. This time, however, the experience was very different, entirely due to the humour of the guards and ticket collector. On the way down , the guard began by announcing ‘Hi everyone! I’ve got some good news for you happy travellers. The driver has found Derby station.’ In Birmingham he reminded passengers to take all their belongings with them, especially children, as , due to cut-backs, the company would no longer feed them if left behind. He followed up by congratulating the driver on making up lost time but felt it was due in no small part to him being ‘starved and longing for his dinner’.
I assumed this was a one off, but on the way back today, I was serenaded by one ticket collector with ‘It’s a Lovely Day Today’, and on the final leg, the next collector rapped spontaneously from the text of the ticket, in rhyming couplets! ‘ Your ticket is a single, It makes my heart leap and tingle’ . Please, Cross Country trains, reward your wonderful people. Your velour seats may be hard and shabby, but the conductor made me feel a lot less crabby. ( Sorry- I’m very, very tired…)