Brief encounters

Thursday August 30, 2018

I've never been a confident solo traveller. Possibly because I got lost a few times when I was much younger and have never forgotten that feeling of panic and loneliness. Or maybe it's a metaphor for how I feel in life.

I do travel alone to London to visit my sister a few times a year and, even on that usually straightforward train journey, I've often felt uncomfortable with the feeling of limbo between departure and destination.

But circumstances lately have dictated that I travel regularly across the Pennines, and certain rail operators are not making that the easiest thing in the world to do.

So, I am becoming more used to and confident in changing at stations; dealing with cancelled trains; having to flag down and hop on a shuttle bus to another station to catch a train which will, hopefully, take me home. I know it's not quite the Inca trail (which I dream of attempting one day) but these are all small yet significant achievements for me.

What has helped with this, I hear you ask. Well, my Dad is ill and he needs me. That's my motivation. But what I have become less afraid to do is ask: anyone and everyone for help, advice, information or directions. On the most part that's cheerfully forthcoming. Yes, yes, I did miss a train the other week because I was given the wrong information and didn't trust my instinct, but I calmed down, found my bearings and was not too long later on my way again.

Perhaps this growing travel confidence now shows, or perhaps (as I like to think) I'm a person who appears to be friendly, helpful and approachable.

On my most recent trip I was waiting at the station and a lady to my left asked me if this was Platform 3 for the Manchester train. I confirmed that it was, or at least I hoped it was (old habits die hard!) and we had a pleasant chat about her family visit. She told me she was so pleased I was there and had reassured her. Me! Ever-indecisive, unsure-of-myself me!

Then wouldn't you know it, a lady on my right* asked if I was waiting for the 9.12 or the 9.30. "The 9.22!" I answered, and we both laughed. My fellow traveller asked how she'd know her train was arriving and I explained that an announcement would be made. And we chatted too. Only this lady had travelled on her own from the States to visit London and York; stopping off in Oxford to take a week's course on Elizabethan history. I told her how I admired her bravery in travelling so far alone.

"Oh, when you've done all you need to for other people, you can do this too," she told me. "Remember me".

"I will. My Dad's poorly and I'm going across to help him." I said as I boarded my train which had just pulled in. A little reluctantly because I wanted to chat and connect some more; draw what I could from this person I instantly aspired to be like.

And I will remember the calm, composed, independent lady from thousands of miles away who had asked my advice and imparted some of her own. And I will also remember the lady who was returning home to her unwell husband in Wales, after visiting her grandchildren. Away from her own familiarity, she'd sought and found reassurance from me.

Sometimes the most fleeting of encounters hold far more depth and value than we might ever imagine.

With love

* No, we weren't doing The Time warp!

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