My Socks That Magically Changed Colour
This story, one of the earliest from my childhood days, is about my socks changing colour. Yes, they really did change colour! I am sure you are thinking, ‘Did it really happen or was it just the result of a child’s overactive imagination?’ Read on, my friend, and you can decide for yourself…
I was only six years of age when we set off on our first summer holiday, to Ireland. Although my mother hailed from there, in my young, innocent mind Ireland was a far-off, exotic country. I thought it something akin to Africa, India or even Borneo, where it was claimed head-hunters roamed.
We lived in a quiet part of southern England, a place called Sunbury-on-Thames, where nothing exciting ever happened. Setting off, on holiday, to another country was as exciting as it could possibly get.
My sister, Maria, two years my elder, and my brother Tony, two years younger than I, were almost as excited as I was. Moreover, when we boarded the electric train that was our transport to London, we could hardly contain our excitement.
When I say electric train, it probably stirs up visions of sleek, shiny carriages whistling along even shinier tracks in a most efficient manner. That vision, however, could hardly be further from the truth. The green painted electric trains travelling from Sunbury to Waterloo Station, in London, were old. Even to my young, idealistic eyes, that saw the positive side of most things, they were old, run-down and dilapidated.
As our train rattled, creaked and shook its way slowly along the tracks, transporting us on the first leg of our journey, the lights in our carriage flickered on and off all the way there. Despite the flickering lights, we were determined to enjoy our ride in the train, Tony, Maria and I gazed through the windows. It was a magical, mesmerising world outside, alongside the tracks. There were parks, factories, houses and shops. We even spotted a racecourse. I was so jealous of the people whose gardens backed onto the railway line. I imagined their lives were so exciting, with trains whizzing past their properties night and day. I so wished that I was living in one of those houses.
If the gardens backing onto the railway line were exciting, the land running alongside the tracks was HEAVEN itself. In that wonderland of sidings, buffers, sheds, water towers, turntables, goods trains and, most importantly of all, steam locomotives, my heart yearned to reside. In those heady days of steam locomotion it was every boy’s dream to be an engine driver, just the thought of being a part of that magical world of fire, smoke and steam sent our hearts racing.
As we passed station after station, stopping at each and every one of them, the excitement burning in our bellies grew exponentially. The closer our train approached London, clanking its way noisily across points, where so many tracks converged on the nation’s capital, the slower it became. Offsetting the frustration we felt due to our slow moving train, the increased number of steam locomotives present, the closer we got to London, perked us up no end. In Sunbury, where we lived, with the station only one stop away from the end of the line, the presence of a steam locomotive, there, would have been a major occasion. The only thing railway related that was remotely exciting was an old Pullman carriage parked on a siding at Shepperton station, at the end of the line three miles away. With my face glued to the windowpane, I stared out in wonder, at the metal beasts thundering past us, pulling enormously long trains, heading to far-flung destinations such as Edinburgh, Liverpool, Swansea and Bristol. I was in heaven.
When our train reached Waterloo station, the end of the line, it pulled into platform one. As it inched its way slowly towards the buffers, my heart skipped a beat, knowing the next leg of our journey was about to begin. Before the train had stopped completely, we heard people opening the doors. Slamming hard again the green painted carriages, they offered free exit to the impatient people within.
Whenever she saw this, mum, my Irish born mum, said “Why is it that everyone in England is always in a hurry?”
Looking back, all these years later, I believe she was right questioning this. We rush about all of our lives, getting nowhere most of the time. It’s a pointless occupation.
We didn’t rush off the train; we had far too many bags and cases to organise, first. But let me tell you, right here and now, dad was about to show us what, being English and rushing, was about.
“Porter, sir?” a kindly looking individual enquired.
“No!” dad sternly replied. “We are perfectly capable of carrying our own bags, thank you very much.”
“But we do need a porter!” mum protested. Her words, though, failed to reach dad’s non receptive ears. Carrying his suitcase, dad marched along the platform as if his life depended on it.
“Mum!” Maria, Tony and I grizzled as we struggled, trying to carry our own bags.
We caught up with dad at the ticket barrier. Mum had the tickets; she was minding them in her handbag. “Show the man our tickets,” he told her. Mum opened the bag, searching for the tickets. “They are in a brown envelope,” dad said to her.
“Ah, here they are,” mum said triumphantly.
“Give him the tickets,” dad told mum.
She dutifully handed our tickets – all of them – to the ticket collector.
“No, no, no!” dad complained. “Only give him our tickets to Waterloo.”
“Oh, sorry,” mum answered. She put the rest of our tickets back into the envelope and then into her bag.
Although mum was a little bit doddery, at times, dad chose to let her mind such things as tickets. Having an irrational fear of losing tickets, he thought it the better of two evils, her minding them. Inspecting our luggage, particularly so how we were struggling under its weight, dad said, “This is not working.” Grabbing hold of the first suitcase, dad balanced it on his right shoulder. Then he tucked a smaller one under the same arm. Grabbing hold of two bags, he gripped them firmly in his left hand before picking up the second suitcase with the very same hand. Having done that, he said, “That’s better, so it is,” then he marched away from us. Looking back over his shoulder, he said, “Keep up with me this time!” We obediently followed dad as he scorched his way across an open area, to a place or places unknown…
However, despite trying to keep up with our fast moving dad, he got further and further away from us.
“Mum!” Maria, Tony and I whined, panicky and frightened, when dad disappeared behind a Royal Mail delivery van, on a cobblestone plaza.
“Faster,” mum ordered, “so we can catch up with him!”
Trying to avoid being hit by Royal Mail delivery vans, fast moving scooters, and dive-bombing pigeons, we quickened our pace, following dad across the cobblestone plaza.
Catching up with dad on the far side of the plaza, we found him busy, trying to thumb down a taxi.
“Why didn’t you get one inside the station?” mum asked him, after the third taxi sped past us without stopping.
Shaking his head from side to side, he answered, “No, no, I couldn’t do that! There’re far too expensive, back there.” With his hand high in the air, trying to hail the next taxi he spotted, dad watched hopefully, but it also sped past us.
“Don’t they charge the same rate, wherever they are?” mum asked dad.
“No, not all!” he insisted. “They charge different rates, from difference places – everyone knows that!” He said, convinced by the soundness of his case. “They might tell you they charge the same price, but they don’t fool me, by jingo!” Just then, he spotted another taxi. It had stopped a distance away from us. Determined to secure it, he hightailed it across the busy plaza, luggage and all. When he reached the taxi, he opened the door, flung in the luggage and then parked himself inside it. We watched from where we were still standing, thinking dad would tell the cab driver to drive across to us. Nothing happened, though, apart from dad and the cab driver talking animatedly to each other.
A few minutes later, the cab began to move – and it was heading our way. Seeing this we breathed a sigh of relief. When the cab drew to a halt alongside us, dad stepped out from it, and said, “There you are; I told you I would get us a cab.” Grabbing hold of our suitcases and bags, dad packed them into the cab’s boot. When we were seated inside the cab, the driver set off for Euston station. Soon we found ourselves passing the large, stone lions guarding its entrance.
“Hurray for Euston!” we cheered as the driver steered his cab into the station.
The interior of Euston station bore an uncanny resemblance to Waterloo station. There were postal delivery vans and scooters speeding in every direction, and dive-bombing pigeons all over the place. The cab driver, who had up until then remained remarkably silent, suddenly spoke. He said, “Euston Station; two pounds please.”
Dad almost choked on his cigarette when he heard the price he was being charged. “Two pounds?” he hollered. “We agreed on one pound.”
The cab driver smiled condescendingly, and said, “That’s true, sir, we did agree on that price. But I did tell you there would be some miscellaneous expenses on top of it. Your bags are those expenses, and they are one pound exactly.”
Dad was beaten; there was no way of getting away from that fact. Instead of getting a bargain price fare, he had been ripped off. Grumbling, he begrudgingly paid the man his money.
From the comfort of his seat, the cab driver said, “Don’t forget about your luggage in the boot.” Grumbling and grizzling away to himself, dad removed our luggage from the boot. He was so annoyed with the cab driver, he forgot about closing the boot lid.
“Excuse me, sir!” the driver said condescendingly, “You failed to close my boot lid.”
“Don’t worry, dad,” I said to him, “Tony, Maria and I will shut it.”
I smiled, Tony smiled. Maria smiled. Then we closed the boot lid and walked away from the cab.
“Why are you all looking so happy?” mum asked, as we watched the taxi pulled away from the kerb and join the thickly packed traffic.
“There is no reason,” we lied.
Then she heard him, mum heard the taxi driver cursing and swearing from deep within the thickly packed traffic. He was shouting, “NO, NOT A STINK-BOMB! NO!”
Hearing this mum laughed. We also laughed. Dad never laughed, though. He was far too busy searching for the platform our train was departing from.
“Tickets please,” a jovial, dark-skinned man said to us, when we approached the platform barrier. Dad pointed to mum. She searched through her bag, looking for them.
Gazing innocently at the ticket collector, Tony said, “Hello, black man.”
“And hello to you too, little white man,” he jovially replied.
“Tony, what are you thinking of?” mum chastised. “I am so sorry, ticket collector, she apologised, “he doesn’t usually say such rude things.”
“It’s okay, Mrs,” he answered. “No offence has been taken. I have been called a lot worse than that, in my time.”
Mum shepherded us through the gate. “Now where had your father gone?” she asked.
I never heard mum’s question, because, having entered the platform, one of ever so many in Waterloo station, the mecca for all things STEAM, I was in a world of my own; a world populated by steam locomotives. Euston station, although soot laden and grimy, was a wondrous place in my steam loving eyes. I marvelled at everything I saw – and then some.
As I walked along the platform, oblivious to everything going on around me, I marvelled at the steam engines some more. Turning my attention to the carriages, I marvelled at them also. Although they were old, almost as old as the rickety, electric train carriages we had travelled in, on our way up to London, they were so different; worlds apart. These carriages, in a magnificent shade of deep purple, had a set of narrow lines, white, yellow and black, painted half way up them. Moreover, these lines spanned the entire length of the train. Complimenting the wonderful colour scheme of the carriages were lions. Splendid British Railways Lion logos, standing majestically and regal, were featured at the centre of each and every carriage. It was sheer perfection.
We caught up with dad at the far end of the train. Smoking a cigarette, he said, “This is the carriage, number twenty-three. See?” He pointed to a piece of paper glued to the inside of the carriage window. “Mum (dad had a habit of calling mum that), have you got the seat tickets?”
Mum looked in her bag, searching for them. Retrieving the brown envelope, she said, “Here they are, I knew they were in here somewhere.”
“Let, me see,” dad said to her. Taking the envelope, he opened it, and then delved a hand into it. “Here they are,” he said triumphantly, a few moments later. Waving five pieces of paper high above him, he said, “These are our train tickets and seat reservations, so they are!” Having said that, he stepped into the train, turned a corner then vanished from sight.
Following dad, we climbed aboard the splendid steam powered train. It was a corridor train (most of the trains on the main lines were in those days). The corridor was over to one side, and opposite it were a series of compartments running the entire length of each carriage. It was an excellent setup, offering a great travelling experience. Within each compartment, which had its own sliding door, there were six seats, roller blinds on the patrician widows, and a small table under the carriage window. It was, like I have already told you, a great travelling experience. Moreover, for the life of me, I cannot understand why these types of carriages are not still in use.
We still had to find our compartment. Dad set off once again at a blistering pace. We struggled to keep up with him. It still puzzles me as to how he managed to negotiate such a narrow corridor – and so quickly – with so much luggage in tow.
When we caught up with him, dad was standing outside one of the compartments as if he owned it. “Here you are,” he said to us, “your home from home.”
We entered; we entered our compartment. Tony and I bagged the window seats. Sliding the door closed, dad said, “There will be no interruptions for us until we reach Holyhead.”
Gazing at the empty seat opposite dad, I wondered if anyone had reserved it. I tried to ask him about it, but he would hear none of it. “That is a spare seat,” he insisted. “Nobody travels alone. Pull down the blinds,” he ordered. “No one will be any the wiser, with them down.”
Forgetting about the empty seat (at least for the moment), my eyes wandered around our compartment. The seats, of a striped design fabric, were extremely comfortable. Above each seat were framed pictures, promoting various holiday destinations, such as The Isle of Weight, Bognor Regis, Blackpool and Holyhead. I wished I was a train driver, setting off to splendid destinations each day.
“What time does the train leave?” mum asked dad as he slid open the compartment door.
Lighting a cigarette, dad looked at his watch, and then he replied, “At seven thirty,”
“Good,” mum said to him, “we have plenty of time left until we set off.”
It was true; we had an hour and a half left to kill before the train began moving. This was how they did it, my parents, when going on holiday; they arrived at the station long before our train left it. “Just to be sure we don’t miss it,” is what they usually said to me, “just to be sure.”
When dad finished smoking his cigarette, he became restless. “I’m just popping out for a moment,” he said to mum.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
“Just out,” he answered vaguely.
We smiled, Tony, Maria and I knew exactly where dad was going. He was going to the station cafeteria, because of the second love of his life – tea. Tea was dad’s pastime. HE LOVED IT.
When dad was gone for almost half an hour, mum began to worry about him. “Where could he have gotten himself to?” she said to herself. We knew, though.
Five minutes later, mum was beside herself, with worry. “He’ll miss the train, so he will,” she said to us. She gazed through the window, looking for him. “I can’t see your dad,” she worriedly told us.
Several minutes later, dad was still missing. “Maria, go see if you can find your father,” mum ordered. “He must be somewhere out there.”
Waving a hand excitedly in front of mum’s face, Tony said, “Can I go too?”
“No, you’re far too young to be going out there on your own.”
“But I won’t be on my own!” he protested. “I will be with Maria! She needs help to find dad!”
“Return to your seat,” she ordered. A few moments later, however, after considering the situation some more, mum said, “Perhaps Maria could do with some help… Gerrard; go with your sister and find your dad.”
I was thrilled. Jumping up from my seat, I raced to the door and opened it so quickly it almost bounced off its runners.
“Take it easy,” mum ordered, “we have enough to contend with, without you destroying the train carriage.”
Stepping down from the train, Maria said, “Mum said you must stay close to me” Stepping down from the train, I sauntered away from her as if I hadn’t a care in the world. “Didn’t you hear what I just said to you?” she asked me.
“We are either in this together or not at all,” she barked. “Do you want to go back to your seat?”
“Okay,” I lied, “we are in this together.
“I wonder where the cafeteria is,” Maria said, thinking out loud.
She should have asked me, because every train enthusiast knew where the cafeteria was located.
“Ah, there it is,” she said, pointing ahead of us. “It’s at the beginning of the platform. Come on, Gerrard, we’ve no time to waste.”
I had absolutely no idea why she said that, because we had plenty of time left before out train pulled out from the station. Exiting the platform Maria set off at a brisk pace, heading for the cafeteria. With so many steam engines I wanted to see, inspect, I seized the opportunity to give her the slip. I set off in the opposite direction.
Stopping at the next platform, I spotted a dirty nondescript locomotive attached to an equally dull train. Deciding to give it a miss I set off for the next platform. Gazing through the platform gate, I spotted a steam engine. It was clean and shiny, and hissing great clouds of steam as it pulled to a halt in the station. “I wonder where it has come from.” I whispered to myself. As I stood there, admiring this shiny beast, its passengers began to disembark. I stood away from the gate, allowing the passengers free access onto the station concourse. I just had to know the exotic location it had come from. Spotting three children exiting the gate, I said, “Excuse me, please, where has this train come from?”
Looking at me as if I had two heads, the eldest child (it was a boy) replied, “Oxford of course.”
I was so disappointed. Oxford was too close. It could never, by any stretch of the imagination, be considered exotic. Although it was a magnificent steam engine, it had lost its appeal. I wandered across to the next platform gate.
As I gazed hopefully through the next platform gate, I hardly believed my eyes, when I spotted the steam engine therein. Resting, resplendent amidst huge clouds of steam, was the Mallard; the fastest steam engine in the world. “Wow! Wow! Wow!” I said over again. “This cannot be happening! Wow!” My eyes were glued to it.
When I finally calmed down, I wondered why no one was guarding it. I stepped closer to the barrier, hoping to slip through it. “Where are you going?” the ticket collector at the gate suddenly asked me.
“Onto the platform,” I coyly admitted.
“Oh no you’re not,” he told me.
“No. You’re going nowhere without a platform ticket, young man,” he informed me.
Rummaging through my pockets I found a thrupenny bit, “Here you are,” I said, holding up the money for his inspection.
“I’m the ticket collector, not the seller,” he told me. “Go over to that machine, yonder, where you can buy one.”
I looked at where he was pointing. It seemed so far away from the Mallard.
“You won’t get a platform ticket, standing there,” he told me. I tore across to the said machine.
“You were quick!” the ticket collector said when I returned with my ticket. “We could do with the likes of you working on British Railways.”
I was chuffed, incredibly chuffed that he had said such a thing.
“Hand me your ticket, and I will clip it,” he instructed me. “Then you can enter the platform and see the train.” I handed him the ticket, which he duly clipped. Waving my through the gate, he welcomed me onto the platform. As I approached the Mallard, my legs trembled with excitement. At the gate, the ticket collector said quietly, “Kids and steam; what a strange mix.”
I could hardly believe it, that I was standing so close to the Mallard; the fastest steam engine in the world. “No one at school will believe me when I tell them about this,” I said to myself. “I wish I had a camera.”
Running my fingers along its streamlined body, I marvelled at it. “I will get my bedroom painted the same shade of blue,” I promised.
Although there was no one anyway near the Mallard, it was brimming with energy; fired and ready to go. Approaching the driver’s cab, I said, “Is there anyone there?” There was no one inside. Taking hold of the handrail, I climbed the steps and pulled myself up into the cab.
Inside the cab was a world dials, levers, cogs, soot and, above all, steam. It was heaven, sheer heaven. Although it was small, the driver’s cab was crammed full of instruments, dials, gauges and other pieces of equipment, all of them so important for driving a train. It reminded me of Doctor Who’s Tardis; bigger on the inside than on the outside.
Then I spied the engine driver’s seat. Although it was a rather primitive affair, it was a hallowed article in my idealistic, young eyes. It was high, though. I scratched my head thoughtfully, wondering how I might get up to it. Just then, something to the rear of the cab caught my attention. “That is just what I need,” I said gleefully. To be truthful, the item was actually located in the coal tender. Moreover, it was on top of the huge pile of coal secreted therein. Entering the tender, I was in the world of the fireman. There was coal, shiny black coal, everywhere. “I am coming up to get you,” I said to the item above me. Clambering up the mountain of coal, I stretched out my arm and grabbed hold of it. “Got you,” I said to it.
“You got what?” someone suddenly said to me. I had been found out. With face, hands and clothes covered in coal dust, I returned to the driver’s cab. “What have we got here, one of the black and white minstrels?” an old, round-faced man, dressed in timeworn dungarees, asked.
“I, I was just getting this,” I explained, showing him the item. “It’s a stool,” I told him,
“What do you want that for?” he enquired.
“You wanted to climb it, didn’t you?” he said to me. I nodded. “You wanted to climb it, to the engine driver’s seat, my seat?” I nodded again.
“Are you the engine driver?” I dared asked.
“I am,” he told me. “But not for long, though…”
Intrigued and saddened by his statement, I had to hear more. “Why not?”
Withdrawing a battered old pipe and an equally battered old tin from one of his pockets, he set about filling the pipe with tobacco. “You don’t mind if I smoke, do you?” he asked, more out of politeness that concern for the health of my lungs (that’s that way things were in those days, you know).
“It’s fine with me,” I answered.
Striking a match on the fire door, he sucked on his pipe, filling his lungs with smoke. Watching him, smoking his battered old pipe in front of me, I decided, right there and then, that I was going to smoke a pipe when I grew up.
“You see,” the engine driver said slowly, thoughtfully to me. “You see,” he said again, as if for added emphasis, “I am retiring today…”
I was shocked; I was totally shocked that anyone might want to retire from the best job in the world (in my innocence, I had no idea a person has to retire when they reach a certain age), so I said, “Don’t you want to keep working?”
“Of course I want to keep working,” he answered. “However, they say I am too long in the tooth, to do it safely.” He sucked some more smoke into his lungs, and then he exhaled, filling the cab with same smoke.
“That’s terrible,” I said to him.
“No – them making you retire,” I explained.
Changing the subject, the engine driver asked, “Where are your family?”
“Mum is in the train, the one that’s going to Holyhead. So is my brother. Maria, my sister, is looking for dad. He’s mad about tea,” I told him.
“I like it myself. How about you?” he enquired.
“I like it,” I lied. I hated tea, but could never admit such a ‘failing’ to an engine driver.
“Do you fancy a cuppa?” he asked me.
“I would love one,” I answered, lying again.
Grabbing hold of a duffle bag that was hanging from a hook in the cab, he searched for some tea. “Your train doesn’t leave for almost an hour, you know…”
“I know,” I glumly replied. “We always arrive early at the station, when going on holiday.”
“That’s not bad.”
“No, not at all,” he answered. “Arriving early gives you plenty of time to explore the station. “By the way, the name is Joe; Joe Bloggs.”
I laughed. I tried not to, but in vain. “I’m sorry,” I apologised. “I thought that was only a made up name, for funny stories and the like.”
“Think nothing of it,” Joe answered. “It takes a lot more than that to rile me.”
Using the hot water from the engine, the Mallard herself, Joe made two mugs of piping hot tea. Then he asked me if I would like to sit in his seat.
With eyes beaming bright with excitement, I answered, “YES, YES PLEASE.” Placing the stool under his seat, Joe told me to climb up to his seat. I climbed the stool, and then sat on his seat, the best seat in the world.
“Here is you tea,” he said, handing me a mug of piping hot tea.
Accepting the mug, I drank heartily from it. Gazing in front of me, at the dials, gauges and levers, I felt as if I was a real engine driver. It was GREAT.
When we had finished our tea, Joe showed me around the engine. He showed me every part of it, from top to bottom. He explained what everything was for, how it worked and why it worked so much better on the Mallard. Before stepping aboard the Mallard, I considered myself an expert on steam locomotives. By the time Joe finished, telling me about the Mallard, I realised how little I had up until then known.
“I think it’s about time you returned to your family,” Joe said to me, when we finished inspecting the outside of the steam engine.
“Do I really have to go?” I grumbled.
“If you want to get on your train, you do,” he answered.
Thanking him for the wonderful tour, I waved Joe a sad goodbye. As I walked slowly away from the Mallard, a huge blast of steam escaped from the engine. I was engulfed within it.
A few moments later, when the steam had dissipated, I glanced back over my shoulder, to see if Joe was still waving goodbye. Joe, however, was nowhere to be seen. As I made my way along the platform, I felt dampness in my shoes. Gazing down at them, I was surprised – shocked by what I saw. My socks were wet – and they had changed colour, from blue to yellow!
“Wow! That’s magic!” I whooped. Then I noticed my hands; they were perfectly clean. My clothes were also clean. “Wow!” I whooped again. Turning round, I raced along the platform, to tell Joe what had just happened. “Joe, Joe!” I called into the cab. “Are you there?” The driver’s cab, however, was silent and empty. “Where is he?” I grizzled, confused by his sudden disappearance. “Perhaps he is inside the train, having a rest,” I said hopefully. I boarded the train and searched it from one end to the other, but never found Joe.
“Did you have a good time?” the ticket collector enquired, as I exited the platform.
“I did. I had a very good time, thank you,” I told him. “Do you know where Joe is?” I asked him.
“Joe? Joe who?”
“Joe Bloggs, of course,” I told him. “He is the engine driver. He drives the Mallard.”
“Joe Bloggs, you say?”
“Yes, he made me some tea then let me sit on his seat…”
“That’s mighty peculiar,” the ticket collector said, as he gazed peculiarly along the platform, toward the Mallard.
“Why is it strange?” I asked him.
“You see,” he said slowly, thoughtfully, “Joe Bloggs is dead.”
“He can’t be dead!” I answered. “I was just talking to him!”
“I’m afraid that he is,” he instituted. “He died a year ago, to this very day. I don’t know if I should be telling you this, you being a young kid, and all…”
“Tell me, tell me!” I implored.
“He – Joe – died right there, where he worked, seated in the cab of his beloved Mallard…”
As I made my way back to our train I was in a daze. I was confused and bewildered by what I had seen. My friend, my new friend Joe Bloggs had died a year before I met him. Suddenly remembering my socks, and how they had changed colour, I said, “Magic; it was magic that helped me to meet Joe, and my socks changing colour are proof that it really did happen.”
I caught up with Maria, where she was standing outside the cafeteria. “You were supposed to stay with me!” she growled. “Where have you been?”
“I was talking to Joe,” I told her.
She ignored what I had just said; she was far more interested in telling me about dad. “Do you know where dad is?” she asked me, her annoyance with him only too evident in her voice. “I will tell you where he is,” she continued. “He is inside that, that cafeteria – drinking his fourth cup of tea, no less!” Fuming, she said, “Look at the time! We’ve only got five minute until our train leaves!”
She was right; there were only five minutes before the train pulled out from the station.
“Go into the cafeteria and get him out of there!” she ordered me. “I’ve tried it four times already without any success.”
Entering the cafeteria, I approached dad. He was standing at the counter, where he was drinking his beloved tea. “Dad, dad!” I said to him.
“What is it?” he answered.
“Dad, the train leaves in less than five minutes! You have got to come with Maria and me – now!”
“I will leave when I am ready,” he told me. “Why aren’t you on it?” he enquired.
“Go, go get on the train!” he told me. “Your mother will be sick with worry, wondering where you have got to.”
“Go – now!” he barked. “Hurry!”
We ran; Maria and I ran as fast as our legs would carry us, to our train.
“Where on earth have you been all this time?” mum asked, as we slid open the door and entered our compartment
We stared; we stared at a Chinese man sitting in the sixth seat. He smiled at us.
“Stop staring at the man,” mum told us.
“Dad’s still in the cafeteria!” I told mum. “He said he was going to get you some tea.”
“He would,” mum answered. “It’s not for my benefit, though, but his…” The carriage moved; it shuddered and jolted back and forwards for a few seconds. “They’re getting ready to go!” mum cried out in alarm. “Where is dad?”
The train shuddered again, and then it began moving.
“Dad, dad!” mum cried out, worried for him. She opened the window and poked her head through it. “Where are you, dad?” she asked.
Then we saw him, we saw dad running alongside the train, carrying two beakers of tea.
“Open the door, before he runs out of platform!” mum roared.
On hearing this, the Chinese man leapt up from his seat and ran out of the compartment. Opening the carriage door, he invited dad in.
“Thanks,” dad said gratefully as he clambered aboard. “It’s leaving a bit early, isn’t it?” The Chinese man smiled in reply. Coughing nervously, dad entered our compartment. “There you are, my dear,” he said, handing mum one of teas, “a nice beaker of tea for you.”
Sliding the compartment door closed, dad returned to his seat, where he began drinking his tea. Finishing his tea, dad rested his feet on the empty seat opposite him. “I need some shuteye, he said to us. “Running along the platform has played havoc with my feet, so it has.” The compartment door suddenly slid open, revealing the Chinese man who had helped dad onto the train.
“I am sorry, but this compartment is taken,” dad advised him.
“Yes,” the Chinese answered. “I am in it.”
“No, no, you don’t understand!” dad told him. “There is only one empty seat!”
“Smiling at dad, the Chinese man said, “I am only the one person.”
“But no one travels alone!” dad insisted.
“I do,” he admitted, smiling again.
“But, but…” dad spluttered, “where is your wife?”
“In china,” he answered. “You like to see picture?”
“No thank you.”
“Can I come in now?”
“Yes, I suppose so,” dad answered, accepting defeat.
after taking his bag down from the overhead luggage rack, the Chinese man sat on his seat with it.
“How did that get up there?” dad asked.
“It’s mine,” the Chinese man told him. Opening the bag, he produced some bowls and plates from within it. “You like some curry?” he asked dad.
Eyeballing the curry with a growing disdain, dad answered, “Curry is from ‘out foreign’, is it not?”
“It’s from Luton, where I live,” he told dad.
“But, but you are Chinese,” dad insisted. “So your curry must be Chinese, also!”
Smiling yet again, the Chinese man produced a boiled egg from one of his containers. “You like a boiled egg, instead?” he enquired.
Accepting the egg, dad answered. “That’s more like it! You wouldn’t happen to have any tea in that bag of yours, would you?”
That was how my first holiday to Ireland began. Regarding my socks, well, no one believed they actually changed colour. They paid no attention to me, either, when I told them about my hands and clothes miraculously getting cleaned. Despite what they thought, these things really did happen. Moreover, Joe Bloggs, the man who had the best job in the world, had been a part of this magic, despite being dead.