My Train Journey to Birmingham

Readers brace yourselves because boy do I have a story for you. This post will restore your faith in humanity (for those of you who have lost it), leave you laughing so hard milk spurts out of your nose (even if you’re not drinking milk), possibly unite you with  a new best friend (in cat form), and make you swoon over Italian men.

I had thought that my Friday afternoon train journey from Reading to Birmingham would be quiet and I had hoped uneventful. I can now assure you that my future predicting skills are somewhat dodgy and hopes and wishes are futile – what if the most amazing thing in the world is something you can’t even imagine? How can you wish for that?

There is no way on earth I would ever have been able to imagine the events that occurred on this particular Cross Country train, which is saying something, given that I’m a writer. Right that’s enough preamble, let’s get on with it.

Meet June and Karen, mother and (grown up) daughter respectively. I got on the train at Reading station, platform 12b and June and Karen were sitting across the aisle from me. Our conversation started, as all good conversations do, with cats. I quickly learnt that June, her daughter, and her grand-daughter were big cat lovers and her grand-daughter even runs a rescue cat charity. (This is the part where you might find a new best friend by visiting Bay Cat Rescue) From what June told me on our train journey Bay Cat Rescue sounds like a wonderful charity that takes in strays and looks after them until they are ready to be re-homed.

It was around about now that my faith in humanity was restored a little bit more. We were deep in discussions about our cats when I felt a firm tap on my shoulder. I braced myself for the scolding I was sure to be coming my way for talking too loudly or some such matter and turned to face the lady sitting next to me. Instead, our little train party grew in size as my neighbour stated, somehow both timid and assured that  “My cat was like that” and joined our conversation. As if that wasn’t enough when we arrived at Oxford and my neighbour got up to leave, June and Karen invited me to sit at their table where I would have more room. June, the dear that she is, insisted that we wouldn’t have to talk, I could put in my headphones and ignore her if I so pleased. I am very glad I didn’t because my train journey only got better.

I continued to chat with June and told her that I was a writer. (I must remember to tell people this more often as it seems to lead to some fabulous stories.) June’s story was like none other…

“Oh you’re a writer are you? You know what I think they should write about: Viagra.”

I swallowed the water I had just sipped before I could decorate her shirt with it. June continued…

“You know how men, when they get to seventy, go to the doctors because they can’t get an erection.”

My eyebrows shot up. Even if I had wanted to say something at this point I wouldn’t have had a chance. June was on a mission.

“Well the doctors go and give them Viagra. And then you have all these men who are hard twenty four hours a day and all they want to do is go at it.”

I should mention that Karen had nipped to the toilet so was not there to witness her mother’s initial Viagra Awareness Campaign.

“All these men want to do is have sex all day long and Charlie, I think it’s dreadful because their poor wives don’t want to be romping around. Their vagina’s are all dry and shrivelled -”

I cough to cover my laugh,

“And the men are just ramming in there and I tell you Charlie, none of my friends like it. I’ve thought about writing to the papers you know because it’s just awful… What do you think Charlie?”

Well reader, I was thinking so many things at this point. I tilted my head, gave a measured nod and said,

“To be quite honest with you June, I can’t say I’m very experienced in the matter.”

June cracked up, patted my knee and said “No, of course not!”

If I did not already think that June was the greatest person I’ve ever met then I certainly did now. And she only got better.

We had a brief stint of musical chairs when some other women boarded the train, they were on their way to Manchester for a Hen Do. They departed to join the rest of their group once they found some empty seats and I was back with June and Karen.

Enter smoking hot Italian guy.

“Are you going to sit here?” asks June.

“If you don’t mind” (Oh he has an accent too!) replies the rather suave Italian.

“Ooo we get a man joining us!” June gushed. It would seem she only frowned upon men once they hit their seventies and Viagra came into play. Italian guy took the seat.

“Well you should be all right, we might talk about things you don’t want to hear but if that’s the case you can pop your headphones in. We’ve covered men so you should be safe”

This, I very much doubted.

“Where are you from?” asked Karen.


And it began…

“What’s your name?”


Honest to God, June gasped. I grinned. The next five minutes consisted of June pronouncing Giovanni’s name.

“Giovaaaani” “GiOvanni”

“It’s quite nice if you say it seductively, isn’t it? – Oh honey, Giovaaani. Karen, you try, say Giovanni.”

Karen shook her head, “No Mum.”

“Why not?”

“Because I don’t want to and I don’t have to.”

Giovanni and I tried not to laugh. But wait for it, here it comes,

“Giovanni, you know Viagra?”

Karen’s eyes go wide. I double over in silent hysterics. And yes, poor, beautiful Giovanni received the whole Viagra Awareness Campaign speech. To his credit he listened with utmost interest and a straight face. Karen and I, on the other hand could not stop laughing.

“Well now you know,” June rounded up her story, “So when you’re seventy you can remember this conversation.”

I wiped away my tears and looked up at Giovanni.

“I don’t think I will ever forget.” he said. Nor will I Giovanni, nor will I.

We then went on to discuss the usual things: menopause, oversized breasts and PMS.

“Would you like some fresh orange juice Charlie?” June asked me out of the blue as we pulled out of Leamington Spa. Unsure where this orange juice was going to come from I declined.

Giovanni was put on the spot:

“So Giovanni, I’ve talked enough, what would you like to know? You can ask us anything, what do you want to know about life?”

What do you mean you didn’t prepare a list of questions about life that you want to ask three generations of women on your train journey to the airport? Who doesn’t carry that list around?

And I fell a little bit in love with all three of my companions.

We arrived at Giovanni’s station and said farewell to our Italian friend. I turned to Karen, we gushed over sexy Italian men and I confided that I had spent the latter part of the journey debating whether or not I could give Giovanni my number.

“I think he liked you” piped up June, “you had all his attention, he was much more interested in you than me.”


To my utter disappointment we arrived at my station and parted ways. I’d been fully informed about June’s Viagra Awareness Campaign, two strangers (though I would no longer call them that) offered to buy me a coffee, twice no less. Part of my heart fell for an Italian student. And towards the end of my journey I discovered that June’s granddaughter (Karen’s daughter) is the famous Youtuber Emma Crompton. It’s not hard to see where her charisma comes from. Needless to say, my book sat untouched in my bag.



  1. This was one of the most bizarre train ride of my life, but that lovely lady made the ride unforgettable hahahah. Thank you very much for the lovely words, Charlie! I might just follow June’s advice and visit you without “taking advantage” hahahaha


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