Once again I am on a train travelling south to London, and once again it is winter. I’ve made this journey many times since I last wrote about my fellow-travellers in January, but today it is quite cold outside and the people who have crowded on to this train are much more reminiscent of my January acquaintances than any I’ve encountered since.
Today, the people travelling in first class (it is very cheap on this service) are lively and cheerful. Most are talking to each other animatedly, so there is less scope for me to guess about their backgrounds or attribute murderous motives to them. Some are clearly business people, but many are going to London for a day out, to shop for Christmas. Several appear to be families engaged in both activities: the man (or woman) poring over spreadsheets or reports while other family members chat noisily over his or her head. One conspicuous difference at this time of year is that all the blocks of four seats around the large tables are taken. The ‘airliner’ seats for one, each with a smaller table, have mostly been shunned. I love the airliner seats, which are usually in heavy demand, but today I feel anti-social, sitting here in solitary splendour tapping away at my laptop.
The most extraordinary thing about these pre-Christmas travellers is that not one of them is glued to a mobile phone. There are no raised voices enunciating “I’m on the train”, intruding upon others’ thoughts with infuriating penetration; no ever-so-busy women spending the time from when they board the train at Doncaster to when they get off it at King’s Cross systematically calling everyone in their address book (it’s surprising how often my journeys have fallen victim to one of these); no raucous men calling their mates to reminisce about having had a few too many the night before.
The only thing that disappoints about this group – and the disappointment is a big one – is that not a single one of them seems to me to be likely murderer material. I realise that murderers come in all shapes and guises, but they have one thing in common: if they’re not being paid to kill, they exhibit some kind of negative excess. All are excessively desperate, or vengeful , or greedy, or deranged. It is hard to believe that any of these joyful, excited people now sharing the carriage with me harbours such qualities with sufficient intensity to be transformed to a killer.
So what shall I say about them? Guessing what they’d like for Christmas might be fun.
I’ll start with the easy ones. The two femmes d’un certain age sitting opposite me are both swathed in expensive scarves: one sports a bright red pashmina-style creation with tassels, the other a svelte black velvet cravat discreetly patterned in silver. If they buy presents for each other, I’m sure that it will be festive scarves again. Again? Well, the ones they’re wearing were probably last year’s reciprocated presents.
The man at the next table, still hunched over his report as his wife and two teenage daughters chatter and wave their arms, is making occasional notes with an ancient, chewed biro that looks as if it might have started life as a promotional gift from Kwik-Fit. If he really has to toil so hard for the whole journey (and is not just taking the soft option by ignoring his family), I feel that he deserves a decent pen. A Waterman, at least, if not a Mont Blanc. The two girls, both dressed in gauzy tops with lots of silver jewellery, huge eyes accentuated with expertly-applied make-up, are probably expecting to receive more of all of these things… and a lot more besides. The elder looks old enough to drive …. so Dad probably does need to keep on with the grafting. His wife, fingertips nail-barred to perfection, is sporadically reading on her Kindle between joining in the laughter and the chat. I doubt that Kindle vouchers will hack it for her, though. She, too, is wearing jewellery, much less than her daughters, but items of a different order from theirs: two sleek rings, one with a diamond embedded; a slender gold necklet; studs in her ears, which look suspiciously like diamonds. Her watch is probably gold, though mounted on a plain black leather strap. I’m sure she’d like an upgrade: a new gold watch for her, complete with a gold bracelet this time, please.
Time to hazard a guess at the tastes of the more inscrutable passengers now. The three companionable men sitting together: what would they like? They don’t look like football fans and, mercifully, aren’t discussing sport. One is reading the paper; one (I’m pleased to say, silently) listening to music; one sipping coffee and looking out of the window. No clues there. I could award them all new boxers and socks, but it wouldn’t be very enterprising of me. I think I’ll take a risk and give them all tickets for a murder mystery weekend. I know that Walton Hall, near Wakefield, has a couple coming up. I might even go to one of them myself. I may not be able to spot any latent murderers on this train, but there’s no harm in getting some of its occupants into the right frame of mind.