Sunday, November 29

Landlady: Commuter Love

- July 10, 2017

When I first began writing this column a mere 16 years ago, it was actually called The Commuting Landlady. This is because I commuted to London for the first seven years of living in Brighton. Far from the arduous slog – punctuated with strikes and slow-running trains – that it seems to be today, I’m afraid to say that I actually enjoyed it. 20 years ago, I was of course considerably younger than I am now and therefore well equipped for smoking at least 10 cigarettes and drinking my own bodyweight in Stella on the way home.

I still remember the feeling of panic when I’d finished my first can of beer before we got to East Croydon, meaning that my second would be done well before Haywards Heath.

It was a jolly affair, the old buffet car, and some nights was akin to travelling home in a perambulating public house. We continued to smoke – probably ill-advisably – long after the smoking ban was introduced, meaning occasional, very exciting police raids mid-commute, during which someone always got arrested and cautioned. A friend of mine who didn’t smoke was once cautioned for holding my lit cigarette while I went for a wee. Ah… the good old days…

“ Many a friendship was forged through the fug of the buffet car ”

Many a lasting friendship was forged through the impenetrable fug of the buffet car. Most of the closest friends I have today were first encountered in this iniquitous hell-hole.

I’m not a morning person, so it was appropriate that none of my commuting friends were either, possibly because of the return journey of the day before, and not even the worst offender would consider cracking open a can or speaking before 9am. There was however a very red-faced man who boarded at Haywards Heath and would cheerlessly consume a quarter bottle of Chianti with his Times. I sometimes wonder if he’s still doing it.

Nowadays, commuting seems to be a way more sedate affair, as the old guard has either retired, or works here in Brighton. The 6.15 from Victoria is morgue-like vessel full of plugged-in travellers. How lucky then, that twice a year, a selection of the old school have a reunion. It is organised by a gentleman nicknamed King Bee, who happens to be a member of a very swanky London club and around mid-summer and just before Christmas, a group of us meet, eat and swank about with glorious views of the Thames. We then descend on 6.15 from Victoria in a wobbling mass, much to the annoyance of the unfortunates who happen to be in our carriage.

It’s this Friday… just saying….

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