On Journey

The young woman was crunched up in the corner seat, head leaning towards the grimy window. Her dark, curly hair covered half of her face. A young boy asleep on her lap, his head cradled on her left arm, legs dangling over hers. She was dozing when she suddenly felt something moving up the inside of her thigh. Her free hand flew down to the object, her head turned and her eyes flew open. The man sitting next to her was grinning. She swatted his hand away from her and glared at him angrily. Shifting the young boy around so that he created some sort of barrier between her and the man. He was completely unabashed and went to put his hand on her knee once again. She slapped it again and told him to stop it through gritted teeth. She daren’t shout as everyone else in the dimly lit carriage was asleep. She threw a glance across at her partner who sat opposite, slumped, eyes shut and completely oblivious of what she was going through. Her young daughter was fast asleep snuggled in to the soft and comfy marshmallow lap of an elderly nun who was extremely overweight.

The woman sighed. This whole trip was turning into a nightmare. The journey from Tunis to Casablanca was much more complicated than they had first thought. On seeing a railway route through the three countries it had seemed like a good idea. Now though, crammed into an eight seat carriage with 9 adults (including three very overweight nuns) and two children, with a man sitting next to her who couldn’t keep his hands to himself she was desperately tired. But every time her eyes closed he would try to grope her. What was it with these Arabic men that gave them the right to touch foreign women in this way? It had been the same in Pakistan some years ago and it made her feel very angry. They didn’t treat their own women in this way, but western females were fair game it appeared. Even women who were obviously in a relationship and mothers!

Whilst she was regretting not carrying a penknife and imaging what she would like to do with it, one of the nuns suddenly began to fit. Her whole body started shaking and her arms flailed out hitting those next to her. Her body slid down onto the floor of the carriage. The Algerian man leapt up and pulled the communication cord. The train braked so quickly that everyone was thrown forward by the motion. The screeching of the brakes whilst the train came to a halt was replaced by clanking noises as everything cooled down. Then silence. The people in the carriage looked at each other. The woman on the floor continued to twitch. There was no room to get to her and see how she was. Minutes went by. The western man in the corner opened one eye and looked around, he groaned in pain, closed his eye and went back to sleep. The little girl woken by the noise began to cry and was soothed back to sleep by her mother. Suddenly there was a tapping on the window. The young woman was startled to see a face pressed against it from outside.  The Algerian moved to open the top part of the window and had a short and furious conversation with the man outside who turned out to be the guard. Because the train was so full it was impossible for him to walk down the corridor to the carriage. It also appeared that they were in the middle of nowhere and would not be able to remove the nun until they reached a bigger town some miles away. The woman looked out into the opaque blackness from where no help was coming.

Throughout the night the train stopped at unlit stations and people got off the train. Fortunately not many got on and gradually the corridors emptied sufficiently for the nun to be taken off at one of the larger towns. Dead or alive it was difficult to tell. She had received no medical attention and had eventually become still. The young woman held hands firmly with the Algerian man for the rest of the night.

Eventually, somewhere around dawn, the train pulled into the station in Oran where it terminated.  The family had to change here for a train to the Moroccan border at Maghnia / Oujda. The woman picked up her rucksack, gathered her children and asked about her partner’s health. The Algerian man shook their hands, still grinning and totally unconcerned by his behaviour on the train and then waved them goodbye.

The family of four found seats in an open carriage around a table. Alone. The exhausted young woman was finally able to close her eyes. For now.

~wander.essence~ | On Journey



Travelling on your own I think gives you more opportunities to interact with the locals. Often as a couple you tend to be less aware of what is happening around you. When I used to accompany the OH to conferences I was on my own for a lot of the time and left to my own devices as he was busy with the actual conference. Public transport was one thing I always looked up wherever we went so that I could get around, especially in the big cities where these type of conferences are usually held, and more often than not in hotels outside of the central walking district.

Sometimes I can’t help eavesdropping whilst travelling.

San Diego: No 30 bus from Old Town Transit Center to La Jolla

Young girl, jeans, hippy top, typical scarf wrapped around her neck, several strands of necklaces, long blonde hair and carrying a backpack gets on the bus to Oceanside. She politely asks an older American guy where she gets off for the ¹Banana Bungalow. He suggests she is better off staying in the hostel in downtown SD.

“I just came from there, my friend is staying in the banana bungalow and I’ve heard some good things about it”

“Well, I hope you’ll be safe then”

“Safe? You hope I’ll be safe? What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Well, you know, it’s in a dodgy area. There’s drug taking and dope smoking, marijuana, you know, but if that’s what you want…”

“No! I’m English!” she cries indignantly in a very plummy voice.

He kindly offers to show her the way when they alight the bus on the corner of Mission Boulevard. I am left smiling.

¹A Pacific Beach hostel

Same bus, return journey.

A youngish chap gets on and sits facing me on the side seats. He is trendily dressed in black jeans, a black shirt, dark grey jacket, narrow indigo blue tie and is wearing black nail varnish, silver earring in one ear. He is busily marking some exercise books on his lap.  Next stop a scruffy younger guy gets on and sits next to him. He has long curly, unruly hair, a cap, messy beard and smells strongly of cigarettes.

“Hey dude, you a paralegal or something?”

“No, I am a lecturer”

“Oh, that must be so cool. To be responsible for opening minds and see students discovering stuff and learning stuff”

A wry smile. “Well yeah, that sometimes happens”

“All that finding out stuff”

“Actually I find out new things from them all the time too”

“Great, man. You’re learning, they’re learning, that’s so cool man”

Once again I am smiling.

~wander.essence~ | prose

CGN: Savoie

The Savoie (1914) is famous for its elegance and rightly considered to be one of the jewels in the Belle Epoque fleet which have been plying the lake’s deep-blue waters for 100 years. It was entirely renovated in 2006, retaining its original steam engine, but fitted with a new, particularly cost-efficient  boiler. I was fortunate to get a ride on this beautiful boat back to Geneva after my visit to Yvoire, a medieval town on the French side of the lake.

A beautiful old boat full of curves: its wooden ceilings painted white, smooth worn wooden decks, the colour of steel where the varnish has been worn away by the constant passage of thousands of feet. 1st class tickets only are allowed on the upper deck where royal blue deckchairs face the mountain views. Benches here have plump foam cushions to make them more comfortable.

Tables in the restaurant are set with white cloths and linen, silver cutlery and sparkling glasses, anthuriums (flamingo flower) with red spathes is the flower of choice. I presume this is for the evening dinner cruise ‘The Chef’s Table’ and I am almost tempted to stay.

Tall ferns stand guard by the curved banister of the stairway sweeping up to the upper deck

where its glitzy bar is just waiting for the cocktail hour to begin.

What a beauty! A truly wonderful and nostalgic way to end to my day.

~wander.essence~ | Photography

Postcard from Montreux

September 2009 – “Lakeside Promenade Fleuri”

I am sitting here on a bench overlooking Lake Geneva in the lakeside town of Montreux. Whenever I hear that name it makes me smile and remember a band from my youth, Deep Purple, and their song “Smoke on the Water”.

We all came out to Montreux
On the Lake Geneva shoreline
To make records with a mobile
We didn’t have much time…

The lead singer Ian Gillan was one of only two posters on my bedroom wall when I was a teenager. The other was Robert Plant. It was a very small bedroom.

It is mid-afternoon and the sun is shining on me, though the other side of the lake is shrouded in mist and I can only see vague outlines of the stunning mountains that I know are there. I am on my own at the moment as my husband is still at a conference in Geneva where we have been for the past week. I had decided that after the conference in Geneva we should extend our stay in Switzerland to celebrate my birthday and wedding anniversary in Montreux in a romantic old hotel on the lakeside.

The Hotel Eden Palace au Lac – an old lady right on the lakeside. Cheaper than some of the more modern hotels and a little faded gem. There are no buildings in front of us so our room overlooks the lake. The views will be impressive if the fog lifts. I hope it does before we leave on Tuesday.  It is a tiny bedroom with a disproportionately large chandelier, but it does have a petite balcony with a table and two chairs so we can sit outside and the bathroom has definitely seen better days and is quite a squeeze, but the room is clean which is my main concern. (Our room is behind the letter L in Palace)

After checking in this afternoon I came down to the promenade that runs for 10km along the shore of Lake Geneva, from Vevey to the Château de Chillon. This path is lined with palm trees and exotic flowers, while the magnificent views extend across the lake to the Alps and into Savoy. Have I mentioned the fog? I can’t really see much of the mountains, but I can sense their presence all around me. Continue reading Postcard from Montreux

Plainpalais Flea Market

Old shoes, scuffed and oddly shaped by old feet,
Heels run down, soles flapping.
Miles of dusty pavements
Ingrained in the cracked leather.
For sale?
Surely not.
Electrical items from a bygone era
Pose safety implications for sure.
A VHS larger than any I have seen before.
So much tat.
Chipped and ugly painted vases
Lie amongst broken crockery
And balding teddy bears,
Once loved
Now forgotten.
LPs without covers
More than likely scratched
Causing that irritating repetition
When the needle jumps
And stutters
And again.
And again.
Curiously there is an entire car engine
Rusty and tired
Like the car it once belonged in.
And a motherboard!
I recognise the jumpers,
The switches,
The spaces for the RAM,
And Video cards.
Almost an antique.
Almost definitely useless.
Close by is combat gear
And camouflage clothing,
Rusty saws and axes,
Swords and other miscellaneous evil-looking instruments
Of torture.
Or maybe not.
My imagination is getting the better of me,
they are probably gardening tools.
An elephant’s foot table.
Now that must be illegal to sell.
Or buy.
I grimace.
Indian puppet dolls
Are much more cheerful,
But I don’t stop.
Tables full of coins and clothing, glassware and china.
Bundles of straw which leave me wondering
What one would do with them
In a city.
Like this.
Time for me
to move on.

~wander.essemce~ | poetry