I've written before about the irritation of being near expansive businessmen on trains, the sort who spread their newspaper and their knees wide for maximum convenience and sod the rest of the carriage. However this morning I actually went and sat opposite one to get away from who I'd ended up with.
I had a rare luxury at first, a six-seat compartment all to myself, but it didn't last. At the first stop Phil Harding got on. Actually, it wasn't him – I wish it had been – but the person who got on was a perfect look-alike. The same mad hat, the same wild hair, the same weather-ravaged face, the same booming voice, the same ability to fill an enclosed space single-handedly… except it was a woman.
I was still boggling at the thought of a female Phil Harding when her companion entered the compartment. This one looked like a minor character in a BBC adaptation of a Miss Marple mystery – a stout no-nonsense Englishwoman of a certain kind. She had several bags festooned about her, including a green canvas one which contained metal tent poles. I know they were metal tent poles because the noise they made was quite distinctive when she swung the bag round and the ends drove sharply again my kneecap. It's possible she didn't say anything because she didn't notice it had happened, but the sharp intake of breath and the jangle and rattle of metal were not exactly silent so I suspect she just considered it to be of no importance. It certainly didn't make her even pause as she talked loudly to not-Phil and descended regally into her seat and plonked her handbag down in the empty seat between us.
Poking out from the handbag was an umbrella – and such an umbrella as I have never before seen (except perhaps in the hands of Robbie Coltrane). It was pink. It was sharp. And despite the distance between us it was hovering inches from my newspaper. Even the umbrellas issued to the Bulgarian Secret Service are less terrifying than that monstrosity this morning.
There may have been only three of us in a six-person compartment, but there clearly wasn't enough room for me… I waited until the next station, so as not to attract suspicion, and then fled down the train in search of a nice, safe expansive businessman to sit opposite for the rest of the journey.