She is dripping with gold, well-dressed, classy. The whole ensemble looks expensive: silk scarf, camel hair coat. She is attractive too; in her early forties I would guess. Her shoulder-length dark brown hair falls perfectly. The fingernails are such a dark red that at first sight they look black in the gloom of the cabin. I have the reading light on, but I’ve been dozing. I’m too tired to read; the bus journey to Aldergrove seemed to take forever. Her husband sits between us, looking at the paper. Her voice drags me out of my half-slumber: You didn’t get me what I wanted for my birthday. She has a middle-class southern English accent. I sit motionless, with my eyes open, realising that she is deliberately speaking louder than necessary. I can’t hear his reply. You’re skirting over the issue, she says. The bad grammar tickles me; she is letting herself down a bit here. He replies, but again I don’t catch it. Well? Are we going there? Are we? She is really going for him now. I glance round, only now noticing that her lips are thin and mean, pursed in a tight red line of dissatisfaction. He must have given the correct response, because the attack ends there. She opens a magazine.
At Temple Meads train station the cafe is warm and welcoming. It is nestled under one of Brunel’s arches, and I enter through an old-fashioned red-painted shop door. Inside, I hear gorgeous gentle West-Country accents. The woman behind the counter is going off-shift. She is balancing the till, taking different coins from battered old takeaway tea cups. She tells me she can never get the change right, but a couple of pennies don’t matter: couple of pounds is different. When she’s finished I order tea, and pie and chips from her colleague. The banter between the new server and her customers is familiar, homely, friendly. A taxi driver goes in behind the counter to leave down his plate and mug, and lifts his book before going back out into the night. After a short while my dinner arrives. I open the end of the pie with my fork. It looks disgusting. The soft pastry contains a glutinous grey slop with black lumps in it. But I am starving and must eat before I catch my train; there is a long weekend ahead. I slosh vinegar on my chips, eat a couple, and then take my first forkful of pie. I watch in dismay as the thick filling oozes slowly out onto the plate from inside the case. The food is so hot that it scalds my tongue, and I have to suck in air to try and cool it down. When I get over the stinging heat, I am astonished. The pie’s appearance was masterfully deceptive: it tastes delicious. Content, I take a swig of my tea.