I bought it at York Railway Museum in 1995 – really I did. I did not prise it from a British Rail carriage with a pen knife. Not because of my well-known sense of honesty and scruples – because all the signs were already removed long before I boarded the trains. I had to content myself with cutting out squares of the upholstery.
Rail travel is generally wonderful if you are allowed to sit in a First Class seat – you may have noticed this as well with airplane flights. If you turn left upon entering the cabin door most of your worries and discomforts can be made to disappear – though it must be said that they do not go away cheaply. They take a good deal of your cash with them.
But back to the rails. The British are a classified society and make no bones about it. They’ll analyse you in a second by your clothing and in a nanosecond by your accent and shunt you instantly into a niche in their behavioural structure. You should not be upset by this – it is not discriminatory – they do it to everyone and to themselves. And for the foreigner ( even a Commonwealth foreigner ) there can be some advantages to this. We are given a leeway in appearance and behaviour that they do not allow themselves. We are not expected to come up to their standards ( or down to them, as the case may be ) and we can be left alone to do our own colonial thing most of the time. Thus an Australian in a British Rail first class seat will be tolerated by the other passengers to an extent that a similarly dressed local could not hope for.
If we slum it down to the second-class seats it just feels like the Armadale line on a Saturday night, so there is nothing too strange about that. Actually the clothing on the passengers is pretty similar…they might be the same people.
The nice thing about the First Class seats – compartment or aisle – is that a little man or woman wheels a refreshments trolley through at intervals and you can purchase things. There is no ice for the drinks, but the tea and coffee are cold enough as it is. It’s not exactly a Bunnings sausage sizzle either, as far as food goes, but there is a certain mdf-boardiness about British Rail sandwiches anyway. I think the best analogy is the Bunbury Shell cafe after they have turned off the cabinet heaters…
Do you get there faster in First Class? No, of course not – the train arrives all together. Do you get extra comfort? Marginally. Do you get to feel like a member of the upper classes? Only if you exercise a great deal of imagination.
But it is all worth it.