The Rail & Sail from Harwich

On Halloween I took a spooky trip on the rail and sail to Berlin. Well, to hook of holland. Then to Amsterdam. Then Berlin. It’s a long journey, but if you’ve got the time, and object to short haul flying for various understandable reasons, it’s well worth it.

We set off from Liverpool Street station, which was filled with young, merry people on their way to Halloween parties. We saw sexy spooky cats, sexy spooky nurses, and sexy spooky members of Islamic State.

Pausing for a pre-train cuppa, we fell into conversation with some middle aged women from the midlands, who were down to stare at the (Ukip style?) Brits-only poppy sculpture instillation down at the Tower of London. They wanted to know what the white poppy on my jacket was for. I explained. They didn’t seem too impressed, but hey. It’s a free country.

We get on the fairly deserted train, on the very front carriage – nearer the ferry, is my (it turns out, erroneous) logic. The driver came out of his cabin to catch me munching chicken curry. He eyes it greedily.

‘Wasabi, eh? I wanted that!’
‘I feel guilty now.’
‘So you should be. And what’s worse, when the train gets underway, the smell will waft into my cab.’

And we’re underway! This time, err, tomorrow, we’ll be in Berlin!

Among assorted Essex bound commuters, a man gets on at Stratford. Thick set. Can of Stella. He sits in the seat in front of us, and starts scrolling through Facebook. He fades from my mind.

Meanwhile, we talk of 1970s package holidays killing the English seaside, being scared of flying. Visiting Canada as a teenager. Calgary. It’s a bit boring, I confess, faux-conspiratorial.

He turned his head and peered at us through the seats. He’d been listening for a while. “You should have gone to Edmonton. Much more going on there.”

“I did!” I reply. “But I was only sixteen, I couldn’t go to any bars or clubs..” I smiled at the thought of those happening Edmontonian night spots. I’ll never know the like.

“When I was in Santa Monica I got arrested for getting too close in a copper’s face. They do things differently over there…”

I sat up and tried to follow this dramatic topic change. He quickly painted a vivid picture of what it’s like sharing an overnight ‘cooling off’ cell in LA. He tells us he was worried they’d do a search and find his criminal record and kick him out of the country.

He explained why.

“‘Decked a CSO. He was up in my face. Did four months in wormwood scrubs for that.” And in America, they’ll kick you out for anything. They’ll stitch you up.

“But I record everything now. See this watch? See the number six?”

I looked at his impressive, James Bond style watch.

“I press that button and it records everything said and uploads it to YouTube. Up to fifty minutes.”

He moved seamlessly on to talk about the British police.

“The copper at Liverpool street, he’s a good bloke. You ask him his oath, and he’ll tell you.”

“Seriously, ask any, it’s a good test. Good ones will tell you. Bad ones will know you’re taking the piss.”

By this point, everyone has got off at Colchester. We’re the only people left in the carriage. I’m laughing and nodding at all the right moments, and asking lots of questions, because he has plenty to say. But I’m hoping he’s not getting the ferry.

“Noone knows their rights. So data protection? Bollocks. Preventing you from taking pictures under the terrorism act? Bollocks.” True enough.

He whips out a bit of paper. It has advice from the police chief to forces, telling them to acknowledge the new reality of citizen journalism and possibly being on camera at all times. I ask a question.

“Do you think this level of video and internet has helped police or the general public more?”

“Depends. Bunch of my mates, Chelsea firm boys, handed over some footage to the police because one officer was acting up. But a bunch were identified from the same clip and done for football hooliganism.”

From here he talked about bailiffs, and the limited legality of their powers, which was interesting. Unfortunately, from here he got into conspiracy theory.

“Know Jonathan King? The paedo?”

“The novelty pop song impresario turned convicted sex offender?”

“He’s back at the BBC. Gave him his old job back. And remember Jill Dando? Think she was just murdered, out of nowhere? How likely do you think that is?”

‘She was friends with Cliff Richard, wasn’t she?’ I thought I’d better play along.

“Two convictions for indecent exposure. But under his real name. Not like George Michael, who did it for exposure. To come out.”

“Not that I’ve got anything against the gays you understand, as long as they stay away from me.”

“Anyway I can’t say a word against George Michael, my sister would kill me.”

He got off at the next stop. ‘Rail and sail, is it. You’ll still be going this time next week!’

And then he was off, urging us to check our rights.

The rest of the journey was uneventful after that. We checked in for the ferry with around 20 other foot passengers at Harwich, and sailed off at around 11:15pm, watching the lights of the port shrink away from us from our deck-bound vantage point. I was glad to be leaving. I needed a break from the English.

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Published by jamesofwalsh

My past blogs haunt the internet like ghost ships on a digital sea.

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