I was planning for this blog to be about our recent adventures at the Tom Thumb. Specifically the events we curated for Margate Horror Feast in collaboration with the Dreamland Trust: “Ghoulish Ghost Stories” (a wonderful afternoon, completely full, featuring a dressing up competition – with around 30 children dressed as pumpkins, witches and vampires parading across the stage to “Monster Mash” – and terrifying tales from .dash, Frankie Jordan and Emrys Plant) and “Club Hydropathe: Halloween Special” (where we screened the chilling “Eyes Without A Face” – chosen by a very knowledgeable local horror film-buff – and listened to a lot of Nick Cave). However the fantastic woman I met on the train last week was just too brilliant not to write about.
I was on the train from Margate to Eastbourne (Eoin is teching a tour that included three dates in the beautiful Devonshire Park Theatre, so stopped off to see the show on my way to Brighton for the weekend). The last leg of the journey is the hourly train from Ashford International to Eastbourne. It only has four carriages, is always ridiculously packed, passes through incredibly named stations (“Appledore”, “Hamstreet”) and is invariably coloured by interesting characters. Friday was no exception.
I was sitting a table, laptop out, headphones on; shorthand, I thought, for “not-in-the-mood-for-a-chat”. An older lady, probably in her mid-80s got on. Bright red coat, 50s glasses, tight white perm. There was a seat opposite me on the train, but she did not sit down so I asked her if she would like mine. She replied that she was worried about people accidently kicking her legs under the table as she had ulcers, so I suggested that she sit down in the chair opposite and I would sit sideways in my chair so as not to risk her legs getting hurt. She sat down and I put my headphones back on and began tapping away at my laptop; but my headphones short-hand was obviously not something she adhered to. “Eeee” she exclaimed, pointing at the feet of the (headphoned) chap standing in the gangway “I like his shoes”. Then to me: “do you like his shoes?”. I removed my headphones. “Umm, yes” I replied “they are nice shoes”. She then waved at said chap in gangway and said “we like your shoes! They are lovely shoes”. He sheepishly removed his headphones and nodded a thank-you.
There was something in the “eeee” that reminded me of my grandma, a warm-hearted, hilarious, wonderfully bonkers woman from the North East who died about 10 years ago. I asked her if she was from the North East and she grinned and replied that she was (adding, for the full North East effect, a pointed “pet”). I closed down my computer and asked her how her day had been. I am so glad that I did.
She immediately launched into the most incredible monologue, which took us all the way to Eastbourne. She'd been out "visiting". Her only daughter is a missionary abroad and the rest of her family had passed away so she takes the train to help people less able: washing up, making beds, feeding people (remember, she was well into her 80s and had to be helped on and off the train herself). "That's what you have to do when all your family is gone, go and look after people that can't look after themselves". Happily, I couldn't get a word in edgeways, so sat, nodded, smiled and listened.
We covered the Romans ("eee, they built lovely things, they had an eye!"). Then WW11 ("we used to queue two hours for a sausage! One sausage! One time I queued two hours for a banana and I got to the front of the queue and they'd run out. So the man behind the counter gave me half his banana and I ran home with it, so delighted"). Then wars generally ("there's just no need for them anymore! People should just get round a table and talk!"). She sat clutching her diary ("with all my secrets in"), that was clipped to her bag with a studded belt that she’d bought but “wouldn’t fit round”. Alan Bennett eat your heart out.She then moved onto homeless people. “Oh pet” she said “if I had money, or if I could just talk to someone with money. Prince William perhaps, he’d help, oooo, his mother taught him well! If I could, I'd tell them to buy all the homeless people all tents, the zip up ones, they could wear them on their backs like crabs! Then they'd have homes. They don't want to be in shelters - they don't - because they don't want to be around people. They've had rotten childhoods, so they can't deal with four walls; they just want to be alone”. Obviously, I was a little confused by her suggestion, and the sweeping generalisations, but her reasoning behind it was so kind I couldn’t help but warm to her: “I knew someone that was homeless then he fell in love and now he's fine. That's the problem, empty hearts. A rotten life drains your heart and leaves it empty; once it's filled again you are stable".
We parted ways at the train station. I wish I'd asked for her address, she'd have been a brilliant pen-pal. I’m pretty sure, however, that a few choice cuts from our conversation will work their way into a show.