Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Tuesday 17/8/2004Edinburgh is ponderously puffing itself up like a bullfrog into full-on Festival mode. An unequalled choice of art, comedy, film, literature and theatrical events parades itself before me: time to get the hell out.

Tuesday 17/8/2004
Edinburgh is ponderously puffing itself up like a bullfrog into full-on Festival mode. An unequalled choice of art, comedy, film, literature and theatrical events parades itself before me: time to get the hell out.

Once again, technology promises so much yet is nearly self-defeating. More proof of my senility is at hand as I settle myself into my reserved seat on carriage G of the GNER Mallard service back to London. Moments later, a rather crumpled bloke appears, checks his ticket, looks at me and says "You're in my seat".

I look at my ticket too. "No, this is 59A." I say, waving my ticket as proof. He counters with his ticket, also saying 59A. But his thumb is covering the date. "Aha!" I say. "But my ticket says the 16th."

"That was yesterday" he said. "It's the 17th today."

An unarguable point. I blame the timeless aura of the distant North, but am forced to relinquish my seat to find an unreserved berth. The train is crammed. Not good. I eventually find the last free spot in the middle of the accursed Coach D -- also called the Silent. Tech is not welcome here -- there are signs with walkmans crossed out by a large red line, and constant announcements on the PA urge us to conduct any mobile phone conversations in the vestibule. Ahead of me, two women agree loudly and at length that it's a relief not to have to listen to other people's conversations.

I have some sympathy for the idea, but the practice is badly flawed by one small omission in the list of illegal noise generators: kids. And Coach D is stuffed full of the critters, from the smallest mewling babe in arms to clusters of the sullen and the bored. At least the latter are quiet: the rest, however, are not. In particular, there are two golden-haired, blue-eyed poster children nearby of the "Why is…" age. "Daddy, why is the train moving?" "Mummy, why is the ticket man wearing a cap?" "Daddy, why is that nasty man glaring at me?" and so on.

My bourgeois upbringing keeps me observant of the 'no gadgets' sign until Berwick, when the constant uproar from the questing four year olds, implacable milk vampires and people pushing past me to make phone calls in the vestibule forces me into public rebellion. I whip out the iPod, stick the in-ear phones into the ears (silent from outside, y'honour) and press Play. A wall of utterly unlovely electronic racket cascades through, being something particularly painful by a Japanese nutter with a degree in synthesiser torture off the latest The Wire subscriber CD.

Gorgeous.

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