Friday, 15 August 2008
Tube trains and cab drivers
I photographed this Isle of Wight train for my dad. He has a personal connection with it. This was part of the stock he kept running in his work as a fitter for London Transport.
We took the Fastcat to Ryde. Then the little tube train hurtled us along the track to Sandown. I remember taking a steam train there, when I was very small - at least, I think I remember. It was probably part of a Sunday School outing. But in 1967 the Isle of Wight railway was electrified and the tube trains arrived, freed from underground tunnels to trundle through fields and past houses.
I've posted a few comments on swimming in the sea elsewhere so I shan't write about that particular pleasure here. I liked the Isle of Wight and wondered if it would be a good place for holidays in another year. I'd like to trace the literary connections.
One of the attractions of the Isle of Wight is good public transport. There seems to be a good bus service as well as the trains, and there might be an opportunity to hire bicycles. And if my heel recovers, I could do plenty of walking too.
I was planning to use buses in Southsea and Portsmouth until Bryn, the guest teenager, pointed out that, with four of us, minicabs would probably be cheaper. So we took to using Aqua Cars and saved time as well as cash. They were splendidly prompt and efficient, except on the last day when a sudden downpour raised demand.
We never had the same cab driver twice. But mostly they were friendly and all were helpful. Occasionally music on the radio wasn't to our taste but we all enjoyed listening to The Now Show while heading to Portsmouth Harbour Station on our way home. There's something very cheering in finding that a cab driver laughs at the same jokes.
Cab drivers gave us advice about local shops and pedestrian walks. They helped us load and unload shopping. And, to my delight, one turned out to have a wide knowledge of English literature.
I discovered this when I asked about the book he was reading. He wasn't reading while driving but the book lay face down beside him with his place marked - he was evidently reading it between fares. It was The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon and the driver outlined its themes with enthusiasm. The subsequent conversation led our driver into brief discourses on a range of topics including the rise of the graphic novel, American fiction, the pleasures of postmodernism (introduced almost apologetically with a clear one-line explanation), the contrast between the playful experimentation of Sterne's Tristram Shandy and what the driver insisted was the materialism of Richardson's Clarissa. I fear the driver was disappointed in my preference for Richardson and my acknowledgement that I have read Clarissa three times.
I didn't want that journey to end. I wanted to know more about the cab driver's tastes and get further book recommendations. But I expect he wanted to get back to his book.
I've now bought Kavalier and Clay and am planning another attempt on Tristram Shandy - perhaps it's time to stop dipping and read it from cover to cover.
Now I'm back to buses and trains. Unfortunately bus and train drivers have fewer opportunities to share their literary tastes with passengers.