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.


ian said...

The public transport services on the Isle of Wight are very good and you can indeed hire bicycles there. We have details on out web site. There are so many attractions , things to do and places to go on the Isle of Wight and most of them would be easily accessible by bike.

KateJ said...

I really like the idea of the tube trains enjoying their new life in retirement, out in the open air and holiday atmosphere of the Isle of Wight. A bit like the pit ponies when they came up out of the mines!
For many years I lived at the top of the highest hill in Brighton, and people always said "on a clear day you can see the Isle of Wight. I was never sure if it was true or not, I mean you could see something shimmering on the horizon, but I wasn't it actually was the Isle of Wight... But in all those years of living on the South Coast I never once went to "The Island" as an IoW-dwelling friend always called it, although I did go to Portsmouth once or twice. Hope it was a good day.

Kathz said...

Thanks, Ian, for the advice and link and thanks, Kate, for your comment. The more I think of it, the more I like the idea of an Isle of Wight holiday, if I can fit it in next summer. Watch this blog ...

quakerdave said...

Not to get all Thomas-the-Tank-Engine on you, but you folks have the coolest trains on the planet. I've had a fascination with trains all my life, which I inherited from my father, a model railroad enthusiast.

I can't wait to visit the UK to ride the rails.