Going Under: part 1
I stepped off the train at Burnham only because my ticket had told me that if I had wanted to get to Weymouth from Brighton that I should travel ' via Burnham'. I thought this was a change point, where I could pick up a direct train. The platform was deserted and the automated, message, announcer, woman was announcing the departure of a train to Bognor Regis.
"No mate, there's no train to Weymouth from here you should have stayed on that train to Southampton." I had clearly amused the proprietor of a smallest eat-in platform cafe I had ever seen. " You'll have to get the next one at 12:57 now". He smiled, not unkindly, and showed a string of yellow teeth. He was in his late 40's with a sailor style crewcut with a grey T shirt pulled tightly over a portly frame, which made it look as though he was wearing a buoyancy aid underneath.
I thanked him for his information and was about to order some food when a tanoy speaker crackled into life over his left shoulder. It was too loud to talk over the monotone announcer so I wait eyed patiently for it to end.
"The train arriving on platform 2 is the 12:30, Southern service to Bognor Regis. Calling at Bognor Regis. This train is made up of 3 coaches and is calling at Bognor Regis only!"
We maintained eye contact throughout the announcement and now it had finally ended I ordered a chilli pot noodle, an anaemic sausage and brown sauce sandwich and a cup of dark brown hot liquid, which may, or may not, have been coffee.
With 45 minutes to kill I sat in the small space dedicated to seating and took in the room. As well as the usual confectionary there was a book table displaying train and railway books from bygone eras, some of these looked very old. The walls were adorned with photos and paintings of attractive steam engines. Under foot was a cracked, but beautifully ornate tiled floor, this little cafe had bags of character.
"Is this floor original?" I asked.
"It's all original," said the man. I wondered if he was including the sausage sandwich when he said that. "This floor is from 1910, as is the windows, doors, pretty much everything!" My molars crunched into something hard in my sausage sandwich.
"We don't want to change like all those new stations with all their pumpkins and lemon trees.." The geriatric speaker behind him crackled into life again but the man, seeming unaware of this fact continued to talk, his lips moved, but I could only hear...
"The train arriving on platform 2 is the 12:36 Southern service to Bognor Regis. Calling at Bognor Regis. This train is made up of 3 coaches and is calling at Bognor Regis only."
"....which is why we sell jellied sweets in pots" he finished.
"Doesn't that speaker disturb you?"
"What speaker?" He asked. I pointed out the obvious black trumpet shape next to him screwed to the wall. "Oh that, no I don't notice that anymore".
"There are a lot of trains going to Bognor Regis from here?" I observed.
"Every 6 minutes on platform 2, regular like." he said proudly.
"Every 6 minutes! Don't you ever get tired of hearing the words Bognor Regis? I have only been here 20 minutes and it's driving me crazy"
His brow furrowed. "I never thought of it like that," he said.
I thanked him for the food and waited for my train outside on the platform. The next time a train was announced to Bognor Regis I peeked through the window of the cafe to see the man staring hard at the speaker on his wall.
Five more times the trains to Bognor Regis were announced and he still had his eyes fixed to that speaker.
When my train finally pulled away, I could just make out the poor cafe owner desperately stuffing serviettes into the bell of the speaker.