In July 2014 a lightening strike put out the signalling in and around Reading, a key railway junction allowing trains from the north and south west of England access to London. The lightening strike occurred during a period of exceptionally hot weather in the country, which at 4.30 pm, some half an hour after the strike took place, was still being suffered by commuters crammed on to the delayed First Great Western train service at Bristol Temple Meads, direction London Paddington. On the train, all the seats had been taken, and a string of sweaty bodies filled the interstitial canal. Train tickets became fans, shirts were unbuttoned, others had resigned themselves to a sweaty sleep. The train announcer sighed each time he announced that he didn’t know when the problem would be resolved. Eventually the train reluctantly pulled out of the station. By the time it had reached Swindon it flew headlong into the storm clouds that had put Reading’s signalling out of action. Looking out of the window as it was pulling into the station, one could see a ticker tape of anguished faces, belonging to the unwilling participants of Swindon’s biggest ever wet t-shirt competition. Shorts and t-shirts were drenched, stuck to bodies, dipping. One drip landed on my knee as the commuters got on to the train and brushed past the seated fraternity. The drip trickled downwards, finally ensnaring itself on one of the many hairs foresting my lower limb. The train moved on and by the time it had reached Didcott Parkway, it was announced that only three trains were being let through to London Paddington every hour. The train was packed, all the seats were taken, all the isles and vestibules were full to bursting with warm, sweaty, perspiring bodies. A young man appeared from the vestibule at the back, intent on achieving the impossible task of making his way through our carriage. This involved him shuffling past sweaty and soaked commuters, who were not so much standing as locked into position by the weight of people in the aisle. So tightly packed were the commuters, that each one had to rotate his body, as a cog in a wheel, to allow the man to pass. The incredulity which spread throughout the carriage, was surpassed only by the nonchalance of the man, who made a request for space from each commuter, as if the commuter was the only person in the aisle. After all, and as demonstrated by his right hand, which was raising a prized cargo to head height, he had, in visiting the buffet car, just become the proud owner of a can of beer, and needed to reach his seat to enjoy it.
A cool beer on the 4.30 from Bristol Temple Meads