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Great Railway Journeys Number 3

Penistone to Huddersfield
or More Stuff about Trains that Stink
By Mr Matchstick


The town of Penistone is a small gem of the midlands, despite hilariously having the word "penis" in its name. On the day of the journey in question, I actually boarded the train at Sheffield but it was at Penistone that the journey really came alive.

Until that point, it had been an unremarkable trip sat in a grim carriage that stank of piss, whose seats were more in keeping with a bus than a train. At Penistone, though, we were joined by a remarkable figure. An old man who had previously been seated in the corner of the carriage that was furthest from me teetered along and sat down again only a few rows away from me. I was initially baffled by this until I realised he had actually moved so that he could peer at the legs of a miniskirted girl that had boarded the train there.

He was bulky with the sagging of age although he did not look as if he was actually overweight beneath his worn beige padded coat. His walking stick seemed more an affectation than a necessity.

The man had been largely been silent while he was sat in the corner, except for an occassional moist rasping sound that seemed to be associated with clearing his throat, sinuses and bronchial passage in one go. However he now began to occassionally let out a little outburst of 'Heh heh heh' every so often, half spoken, half laughed, as if he could not fully decide what the actions meaning was or how committed he was to it.

Fortunately the object of his lecherous admiration was able to disembark at the next stop. I'm not sure if she did actually leave the train orjust hopped out and then into a different carriage. In her place now sat a group of boys, aged about 12, all with large backpacks.

"Are you off camping then?" asked the man, his voice thick with a local accent rendered indistinct by excess saliva and loose false teeth. The group mumbled a vaguely affirmative reply, nervous yet fascinated by the elder's attentions. "You've got no girls with you though," observed the man, "It's much more fun with girls."

At this point I turned my attention to a magazine I had with me, and in all honesty cannot remember how or if this exchange continued. My attention was drawn back to the man within a minute though, as he began to imitate a tune. He used a delivery method that fell somewhere between speech and humming, which exploited the unique fluidic properties found in his respiratory system. Occasionally a few words would join the stream of sound, more or less fully formed, and from these it was possible to discern that his song was the hymn, Onward Christian Soldiers. Apparently some form of self-prescriptive internal confession had taken place for his earlier lechery, and this was his penance for those acts.

I can't remember exactly what else he did for the remainder of the part of that journey that we shared. I'm sure there was at least one more hymn, and an old song I did not recognise. I'm certain more of the other passengers fended off his efforts to start conversations, too. I also recall that comments were made concerning the smell after he got off. I had not realised he had been its source but other passengers assured me that this was the case, and sure enough it began to disappate then after he had disembarked.

And there you have it. Make of it what you will.

Next week: "The train I'm on while writing about Penistone to Huddersfield stinks of sewage too. And it's definitely the woman sat in front of me. Why do I always end up on trains that smell of human waste?"

Copyright 2001-2011 Tom Waters -

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