Back from the shops: Jinxed journey and verglas

When I was a kid we used to have to write essays in school on less than thrilling subjects such as ‘My Summer Holidays’, ‘An afternoon in the Park’ or ‘My Favourite Pet’.   So boring did I find this that in my GCE ‘O’ level English Exam (at the age of 15) I chose as the essay part of the paper to write on ‘A Visit to The Hairdesser’ and submitted a piece, conceived in a fit of spur-of-the-moment rebellion, as a horror story, the barber’s chair dropping hapless victims into the cellar to meet a grisly death. Only later did I hear about the legendary homicidal barber and the 1936 film ‘Sweeny Tod: the Demon Barber of Fleet Street1.  Prescience or subliminal plagiarism?   I just seem to have that kind of left–field brain.

But some things you just can’t make up.  Latest composition: ‘Home from the Shops

It was exactly a week ago that I had fallen asleep on the train from Cardiff and woken up in Hereford.  A glutton for punishment I had returned for yet more Christmas shopping, met up with another friend for a curry and a pint …..  and was about to catch the same train home.  I was determined to make sure that that this time I would stay awake, to match-stick my eyes if necessary.

No worries on that score, the journey was bizarrely entertaining from beginning to end.  For a start there were mixed messages and confusion about which platform the train was leaving from with the result that I had to dash as quickly as my wonky knee would allow down the steps, along the tunnel, up the steps 3 platforms over …… and then back again to the same point just in time to get on board as the doors were closing.  A near miss.  Naturally it was the talk of the other passengers who had been through the same performance.  Nothing like shared drama to get people talking.

I chatted to the guy in the parallel row of seats and we noticed one of the other passengers, a woman, blonde, mid-30’s, spray-on tan, surrounded by branded bags of goodies slumped and nodding off to sleep.  We thought we should check whether she wanted to get off at the next station but the ticket inspector came along as we approached the platform to save us the trouble.  She couldn’t find her ticket, delving into bags and coat pockets to no avail.  The ticket guy had to leave her in order to open the doors to allow the other passengers to alight and she continued to search increasingly frantically and fruitlessly.  Until she realised that the doors were closing and it was her stop so she rapidly grabbed her bags, ran to the door and pushed an arm through.  She then had her arm horizontally at shoulder height with 4 bags dangling from her hand outside the train, the rest of her inside and the doors pinning her by the elbow.  Eventually the doors opened again and she staggered out onto the platform.

At the next station all was quiet and peaceful, nobody getting off from our carriage.  Until, just as the beeping started to indicate that all doors were closing, a woman, blonde, mid-30’s, spray-on tan, clutching branded bags of goodies burst wildly through the connecting door from the next carriage along and started pounding on the ‘OPEN’ button on the exit doors, first on one side of the train and then on the other.  The guy in the parallel seat and I assumed that she too had nodded off to sleep.  She made it very clear in very blue language that she wasn’t happy about going to the next station.

The next station was my stop.  Wanting to make sure that nothing went wrong I stood up in plenty of time, was at the door first with about 4 others behind me, and as is my wont, hit the ‘OPEN’ button a micro-second after the light came on to indicate that it was active.  The door opened almost instantly much of the relief to everyone.  Until I realised that I was just about to step into an abyss rather than onto a platform.  There was a vertical drop about 4 feet to the track below in total darkness.  The train was double the usual length and our bit of it had stopped two carriages short of the platform.  I held the door open until the ticket guy came and did the job to allow us to walk up the train and off onto the platform.

What a relief!  But it was short-lived.  The exit from the platform is via a tunnel which emerges onto the sloping station approach.  It was raining so I put my woolly hat on and stepped out of the tunnel …. onto verglas.  I thought ‘verglas’ was a term in common parlance but found from the internet that it is a mountaineering expression, which is where I knew it from (it’s also French for ‘black ice’).  Also known as ‘glaze ice’ apparently, it occurs when it rains onto very cold surfaces and instantly forms a layer of clear ice2.  Walking on it is like walking on, well, ice.  Very slippery indeed especially on sloping surfaces such the station approach.

But I negotiated the mile back to the house with no mishap.  Really pleased to be home I decided not to go down the steeply sloping drive but to cross the hard-stand at the top and go down the steps.  As soon as I set foot on the hard-stand my feet went from under me and I landed forcibly on my pride.  Once again, as I’ve said so many times in my Ramblings, it’s when the difficult bit is over that accidents happen because you lose focus.  I never learn.

I thought I would brighten up this tale with some photographs of verglas on the mountain behind the house on New Years Day 2010.

Horizontal rain in strong wind freezing onto a fence

Horizontal rain in strong wind freezing onto a fence

Ice formed on individual stems of grass

Ice formed on individual stems of grass

At the top of the mountain

At the top of the mountain

Rain frozen onto bracken stems

Rain frozen onto bracken stems

Close up

Close up

Some shapes are sculpted by the wind: note that in one case the ice has separated from the stem onto which it originally froze

Some shapes are sculpted by the wind: note that in one case the ice has separated from the stem onto which it originally froze


This entry was posted in Monmouthshire, Mountains, Wales, Winter and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Back from the shops: Jinxed journey and verglas

  1. sarahsquall says:

    Ok Barry, that’s quite enough, no more outings on the train this year, my nerves won’t stand it! You can’t afford the risk if you’re going skiing in Jan. If you’ve anymore shopping to do, do it on line! Sarahx

  2. Grasshopper says:

    Nice one Barry! Thought of you earlier. I’d been dipping into Michael Carroll’s From a Persian Tea-House as part of a current project, and looked for any other works of his. For his writing is sublime. So I’ve added An Island in Greece to my list. As yet it’s neither purchased nor read, but have a look.

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