Traveller's Tales

"I like to travel - it makes me feel I'm getting somewhere"

On and off the rails
One of the classics - widely reported in the press at the time - was the overseas gentleman who turned up at Paddington rail station saying he wished to go to Turkey. Now that Paddington has a direct rail link to Heathrow, the staff might think a little more widely, but what they did then, was put him on the next train to Torquay. As you may imagine, he was surprised to find himself at journey's end, rolling into a pleasant English seaside resort, albeit one with occasional indications of tropical warmth.
Stranger things have happened. It pays, when travelling abroad, to be aware that English names for towns and cities may differ from the local ones in greater or lesser degree. One friend discovered the complexities of even simple terms when asking a taxi to take him to the "porto" - and found himself not watching fishing boats bobbing about on sparkling waters, but, after a longish journey, at the airport. He then realised he had now forgotten the name of the hotel where the rest of the party were staying, and had to take an extended tour of the local hotels before he recognised the right one.
We can all make mistakes! It's not that difficult. Taking a taxi in Washington DC, I made a passing reference to the person taking the taxi in front. It took a while for the horrible truth to sink in, after a wild ride around America's capital - he thought I had said "follow that cab" - a great chance to show off his prowess. In retrospect, being followed for so long may even have provoked the cab driver in front to try to lose us - it felt like we went round Washington about 2½ times in all.

It has to be said that problems of this sort are unlikely to be experienced in London. Cabbies are required to have an intimate knowledge of every street; the visitor can expect to be taken quickly and directly to any chosen destination. Transportation in London generally is a wonderful thing.

Up in the Air

Some years ago, a highly publicised case in the USA was that of a North West Airlines captain who had been drinking on duty, something which, by the way, French railway engine drivers used to be permitted to do - I believe there was a special little cupboard in their cabs to hold a bottle of vin ordinaire. Anyway, following this case, passengers when asked by the charming hostesses what they wanted to drink, took to replying, "I'll have what he's having", accompanied with a gesture towards the flight deck. Naturally, umpteen repetitions grated somewhat, and hostesses refused to serve anyone who made this quip.

Not too long ago, a North West hostess made a quip about my choice of drink, which was whisky and dry ginger. She thought this was a contradiction in terms, and said so. Emboldened by this display of humour, I lightly asked her if passengers were still recommending the captain's choice of drink for themselves, That was a mistake. She was evidently a rather new recruit, and initially did not comprehend the background to my question, but equally evidently, put my question (perhaps by now somewhat distorted) to more experienced crew members.

That could explain why, when I stood up from my seat to improve blood circulation, I was ordered to sit down again. The reason? - I was "blocking other passengers from watching the movie". There were no passengers behind me watching the movie. The moral? -be careful with jokes all the way through the airline system, after all, one chap joking about the shape of his banjo case ended up with live weapons rapidly pointed at him and then  being whisked away into custody.


A former colleague arrived in Japan, hired a car, and drove onto a major road system. He thought he must be passing a major city, because he saw the same word cropping up at every junction. It was some time before he realised it was Japanese for " turnoff".

A similar confusion is supposed to have occurred when Russian engineers visited Britain to see our new railways, back in the 19th Century. Vauxhall station was then very've guessed, they are said to have assumed that the word "Vauxhall" literally meant "Station". You may perceive a word very like "Vauxhall", in Cyrillic script, all over the Russian railway system.

A Tall Tale ?

Tall, but supposedly a true railway story - in the days of loose-coupled freights, a driver was descending a bank at a bit of lick, and noticed sparks coming from the end of the train, so he pulled up, walked back, came to the guard's van, pow-wowed with the guard, concluded nothing was amiss - and then noticed they were two waggons short. But the guard's van was still there. Hmmm.

Well, they trudged back up the line, and found the two waggons, or what was left of them, off the rails. mmmm.

This caused a bit of head-scratching.  A supernatural event?

It transpired that what had happened was that the oscillation caused by the canter down the bank broke the couplings as the waggons came off. The guard's van may even have drifted further back from the train, until...the locomotive brakes came on, causing the van to catch up and rejoin what was left of the train. Easy-peasy.

And Finally...

Over the PA system - "Ladies and gentlemen, the bad news is that two of our engines have just failed. The good news is that this is a train, not a plane".

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