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Or…where I’ve been all summer (instead of writing).

My daughter has been in and out of hospital for the past few months, which was tough for her but lucky for me because it meant I could spend time with Grandchild#1 in London. It also meant I got to fully experience the Virgin er…experience. Trains, that is…

Take last week, for example, and my latest trip from Glasgow to London. As we were leaving Glasgow, the train was delayed about an hour because of a “passenger issue”. According to the conductor, the passenger’s concept of issue-resolution involved punching the engineer. The train then had to wait for police to remove the issue-puncher, and replace the understandably nonplussed engineer. I don’t actually know how much of this really happened, and how much was enhanced by the gossip as it finally reached our car, but the reaction was a universal shrug accompanied by remarks such as, “That’ll be Glasgow for you.”

While we waited, I visited the train loo. Of course, this being a Virgin train, it’s a considerably more interactive process than you might expect.

First there are the reminder signs:

Then the toilet starts a conversation with you. This is the weirdest thing of all, because let’s face it—in a list of topics a British person is least likely to discuss with an American stranger, your bathroom behavior ranks near top, perhaps only just behind “You know, if it wasn’t for America, you’d probably be speaking German right now…” and “I’ll just microwave us a cup of tea.”

The train was still stopped when I got back to my seat. I had scored one of the four coveted seats around a table, with the other three seats occupied by a young couple playing a silent card game and a man punching buttons on his phone as if it owed him money and perhaps an apology. A conductor arrived to inform Mr. Angry-Phone that his seat was needed by a lady who had requested assistance, and so he was asked to move from his “Priority” seat.

Minutes later, we met “Loquatia”. She opened her mouth…and didn’t stop talking until London. First she informed all of us that she didn’t really need assistance, it was just her grandsons’ idea after her recent hip surgery. “But I have to say, if I’d known how much fun it was going to be, I’d have done this years ago!” She went on to describe riding on the little cart that brought her to the train through the bowels of the station, how she had “three lovely young men” helping her onto the train, and how she only used her walking sticks when her children were watching.

I have never met anyone in England equal to Loquatia. She herself had obviously never met a stranger. In the purest of London accents, she informed us that she was actually from France, but had moved to England when she was a child because her mother “who kept making the same mistake” married a Londoner this time. Without drawing breath, she asked the startled young couple where they were going. When they admitted they were going to Paris, Loquatia was delighted. In less time than it takes me to write it, she found out where they met (both worked in a call center), what they were going to do in Paris (he’d been before but it was the young woman’s first trip out of England), where they were staying (Loquatia had a cousin who would be delighted to find them a better place if they didn’t like that one), if they planned to get married (no, this was their first outing), how often the young woman had to dye her hair to keep that lovely shade of pink (every three-four weeks), and could we all believe it that Loquatia had never dyed her own short brown curls which didn’t have a single gray hair (we couldn’t).

Loquatia was just getting warmed up. She then engaged the couple across the aisle in conversation, revealing they now live in Australia, and were back in Scotland to visit their grandchildren. By the time the train started again, Loquatia somehow had loud, laughter-filled conversations flowing between the group of about ten total strangers—BRITISH strangers who normally wouldn’t talk to each other unless they were in a pub, preferably with a dog—including the middle-aged teachers heading to London for an end of term break, a retired naval architect and his wife, and the man in the suit who (mercifully) had stopped abusing his phone.

When Loquatia‘s conversational juggernaut reached me, I told her I was anxious to get to London as my daughter was back in hospital again, with Grandchild#2 about to make a debut appearance a month early. I confessed to being upset about the train delay, and hoped I wouldn’t miss the birth. With Loquatia curating the discussions, everyone shared their pregnancy stories.

(My favorite was actually from angry phone guy, who said his partner was doing a 24-hour urine collection test and accidentally left the case containing the almost-full container in the bathroom on their train. An announcement came over the intercom that a mysterious “package” had been found in the bathroom, and they were going to evacuate the train while emergency crews investigated the object and possibly blew it up. His wife made him take the blame because she said “the whole pregnancy was my fault anyway.”)

We were all still laughing when my phone pinged with two incoming pictures. In the first, my daughter and her husband were beaming at a tiny head peeking from her arms. In the second, a surprised looking infant regarded the world. Everyone wanted to see the pictures, and my phone was duly handed around. I looked at my new friends and made a dash for the snack bar. Returning with several mini-bottles of Prosecco, we all toasted the arrival of GC#2. (Nobody mentioned that it had barely cleared noon.)

The train pulled into London’s Euston Station, and we all said goodbye, with many good wishes for GC#2 and family. The last I saw of Loquatia, she was asking one of the train crew who had come to help her if he spoke French and if he was married, because she had a lovely great-niece who would be visiting and taking the train up to Scotland.

And people wonder why I prefer train travel.

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