To Europe. Family there, in Spain. Horrors await.
Andorra first, because it’s there. Gatwick to Barcelona to Andorra. Piece of piss.
Curious place. Every other shop calls itself a ‘bazaar’, selling everything from watches to pet food to knives I stare at sorrowfully knowing I could never get them past airport security, even at somewhere remote and terrifying, like Luton. Its capital, smaller than your average provincial town with police vans lined up on its main thoroughfare every weeknight, is loomed over by a huge and unexplained white line on one of the enormous mountains surrounding it. Looks like a zip. Unzip to be fucked by the freshly released hatreds of France and Spain pent up over the centuries, in the form of a colossal toreador wielding a sharpened baguette, wearing a Messi shirt and refusing to work more than 35 hours a week.
Back to Barcelona. Europe’s Sydney; look at meeeee, I am so colourful and fun and if you don’t love me there’s something unforgivably black in your heart. I prefer Madrid, austere and unloving as a spinster aunt. Please, do not be the 50th person to say the name Gaudi at me.
Barcelona is, pickpocketers notwithstanding, successfully tolerated. Escaping south to one of the Costas that English people retire to in their fevered search for skin cancer, which becomes a greater farce by the month as global temperatures soar and Pacific nations clamour to become the new Atlantis. To ‘Sants’, Barcelona’s very own Euston, moulding and haphazard. A train? No train. Bugger.
Thankfully there’s an excellent Frenchman with me who can get by in the all-tongues tongue of eastern Iberia. No train? No train: strike.
It’s been a few weeks since I needed to patiently explain to some simpleton why London’s tube drivers are quite right to embark on industrial action, in the face of demands for them to sever all ties with their families so they can ferry the shitfaced likes of me home in the small hours and clean up the sick of those unable to remain in their cups. But put me in Europe, that incomprehensible land of brown Caucasians and riot police firing water at families fleeing war, and striking train drivers become the embodiment of my so-far-in-check id which thinks wind turbines ruin a good view, inheritance tax is a crime and the best way to stop this ‘swarm’ of refugees is to dress up in red and black and hunt them on horseback with many, many beagles.
Relax – replacement train an hour later; ticket still valid. Different route. Think I heard Zaragoza, Gibraltar, Toulouse, Lime Street?
Need another train from Valencia – what of the strike there? Shrugs of the type only Europeans can get away with. Bonus info: strike temporarily suspended for three specific hours of the afternoon, because it’s siesta time, and why strike when no-one wants a train anyway? Get through Valencia before 6pm or doom yourself to wander round and round that city’s monstrous orbital road in search of the bus station where all the crack fiends go.
Now alone, silently begging a heroic, picket-breaking train driver to shovel that coal a little faster. Surrounded by people sickened that I type in English, not Catalenian, Catalunian, Catalanian, whatever the fuck it is they cling to here in the face of all progress, like the Welsh. The vaguely useful map on a nearby screen has been replaced by some diabolical Spanish soap opera with no sound. Start to make up plausible dialogue to go with it. “Don’t blame yourself. It was only a guinea pig. I’ll clean the defibrillator.”
The brief appearance of an information screen telling me it is 14:16, this train is travelling at 166km/h and the next stop is Benicassim. Think that’s Morocco. If I one day make it to Valencia I have an unappealing combination of local buses ahead of me, assuming at the train station I’m met by a ruddy-faced shop-steward solemnly shaking his head. I imagine being ushered gently out into the street to be slammed into by a demonic taxi driver, my corpse ferried to its final destination in return for all the Monopoly money in my wallet and the three quid left on my Oyster card.
Hope the strike is for something worthwhile. Can’t check, because of the Englishman’s fear of ‘roaming charges’. It’s the word, ‘roaming’. Thought that was something *they* did, not us; we crusade and enslave, leaving the roaming to lunatics with names ending with ‘the Great’ and ‘the Hun’.
The countryside offers no clues as to where I am or am going. Desiccated trees, parched fields and an occasional startled farmhand. Can see the sea, but it doesn’t even have the decency to be the Atlantic, let alone the Channel. The Mediterranean, the 21st century Styx. If that’s not a dolphin or a seal, it can only be…
A woman over the tannoy. Hear the word ‘coffee’ but I’m already desperate for a piss and too afraid to go lest my stop flies by as I micturate. Must rely on my eyes alone; the only word I can speak or understand in this silly language invariably ends with a nasty liquid, golden and fizzy, in a glass far too small.
Tired, lost and distressingly sober. Europe is not a place for a lone Englishman. I would hate me if I were them. Perhaps the strike is aimed at the likes of me, coming over here, taking their train tickets.
Didn’t imagine my end lost and alone in a foreign land, unless south London counts, and it does. If I make it I vow to found a pan-European train union, swallow every smaller union and collapse the entire syndicate in a maelstrom of industrial-scale corruption, protection rackets, prostitution rings and out of date Rich Tea.
We are sorry to announce that the…11…hundred…hours…train to…Murcia…has been cancelled. Passengers are advised to use…local bus services…where possible. Tickets will be valid on all…participating…local bus routes. We are sorry for any inconvenience caused and wish you a buen fucking dia.