Ian McMillan: An 07.47 to York that took me back to 1747 – in Bolton

I was zooming up to York on the 07.47 the other day, reflecting on the fact that half my life seems to be spent on trains and the other half seems to spent either running for trains or waiting for trains or grimacing because I’ve just missed one or grinning because I’ve just caught one.

I gazed out of the window and my reflection gazed back. I noticed that my eyebrows were sprouting more than usual and that in the harsh morning light it looked like several crane flies had taken residence on my forehead and were waving their long thin legs in a Tiller Girl-style dance. I began to daydream about indulging in a bit of eyebrow-topiary and shaping them into a historical diorama like the signing of the Magna Carta or The Raising of the Flag at Iwo Jima when there was a sudden rush of air and the sky briefly turned black; a crash echoed down the aisle and people gasped like extras in cheap 1930s horror film.

A bloke’s enormous bag had tumbled from the luggage rack and missed my grey-haired bonce by a matter of millimetres, causing my eyebrows to wave in its passing breeze. Several people near me thought the bag had hit me and so, for a joke, I pretended that it had.

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I groaned theatrically. I let my groan almost shuffle into a moan, but not quite. People looked concerned, apart from the bloke whose bag it was; he just carried on rabbiting on his mobile about a meeting with Simon and Dave and Howard. I wanted to shock him. I wanted to teach him a lesson about not putting items the size of a transit van into a space big enough for a pencil-thin valise. And so I did a daft thing: I pretended to have lost my memory.

“I’ve lost my memory!”, I said, rather too loudly, “I don’t know who I am!” I was travelling with my mate Luke and his girlfriend Simone and I looked at them blankly. “Are you all right?” Luke asked. “Thanks for your concern, stranger,” I replied. Then I knitted my brow and said “Do I know you from somewhere? You seem vaguely familiar…” He laughed, as did a few other people. I decided to take the fantasy a little further.

“Where am I?” I asked, my voice breaking with emotion. “Who am I? What am I doing here?” I looked out of the train window and recoiled in panic. “I appear to be travelling on some kind of rapidly moving device!” I shouted. “What kind of stagecoach is this?” I wanted the man whose case it was to think that I’d somehow regressed into a previous life because of the blow to the skull. He couldn’t care less: He was trying to arrange a window with Howard and a face-to-face with Simon.

I decided to talk like a Lancashireman. A Lancashireman from the past. “Well, I’ll go to’t foot of our stairs” I piped in my best Bolton Burr, “th’scenery outside’s moving, is it not?” The whole carriage was laughing now. I gazed at my mobile phone “This flintlock pistol’s a funny shape, is it not” I muttered.

The bloke finished his conversation and looked for his bag. “It’s here mate, just a whisker from my head, is it not?”