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9:31pm on Thursday, 24th May, 2018:



So here I am at the Falmouth University campus at Penryn, having decided to come stupidly early because I know that taxis are hard to book for people who want to arrive fashionable on time.

My train journey yesterday was, hmm, unusual. I managed to get two questions marked, so that was good, but...

OK, so when I found my seat on the train from London to Truro I was quite pleased. It was at a table, so I had room to work. The person opposite wasn't due to board until Exeter and the person next to me would be getting on at Reading. Only the seat diagonally opposite me was booked for the whole journey. Who would be sitting in it? Hopefully it wouldn't be someone who wanted to talk.

Well, it was this woman perhaps in her 60s who had something very badly wrong with her tongue. I think it was paralysed or something, as she didn't seem to be able to move it. It was swollen and protruded about 2cm from her mouth. When she talked, it was almost incomprehensible, like in those films where someone's tongue is cut out under accusations of being a witch. When I first heard her, I thought she may have had mental problems, but she didn't; it was just her tongue.

She drooled constantly. At times, streams of drool came off her tongue, onto her chin and then dripped onto her blouse. She occasionally mopped it up with tissues, which left bits of wet tissue stuck to her face. As for what happened when she ate, well I didn't watch, I just saw the aftermath. It wasn't pretty.

Now the thing is, she couldn't help any of that. It may have been rather alarming, indeed disgusting, to witness, but she has to live with the condition. She has just as much right to travel by train as anyone else, so although I'd rather it was someone else was sitting where she was sitting, she wasn't doing anything wrong. She couldn't do much about it.

However, there were some things she could have done something about but didn't.

I mentioned the tissues. When she'd used them, she just put them on the table. She used a LOT of them. Add to that the mini-bottles of vodka she was knocking back and the food wrapping, and she must have used 75% of the table herself. At one point, she opened a packet of thinly-sliced salmon and started eating it. That was not pleasant smell.

She also left her bag in the aisle and made some kind of disapproving noise every time someone tripped over it.

A rather snobbish woman got on at Exeter and took her seat to my right, opposite the woman with the dead tongue. She was unable to put her bag anywhere (the space under the table was also occuped by the tongue woman's bags). This new woman gave me the kind of look that said she was not pleased with the situation; she actually said so at one point when the tongue woman went off to get some more mini-bottles of vodka.

A few minutes later, a nearby man made a call on his mobile phone. He had a loud voice. "How long is this journey?", asked the prisy woman sitting next to me, rhetorically because she knew full well how long she was trapped there. Maybe two minutes after his phone call ended, the phone of the womn with the bad tongue rang. Her voice was even louder, even though all she was producing was vowels. The woman next to me, who hadn't heard the woman opposite her speak yet, put on her best Ye gods, what fresh hell is this?!" look and clasped her bag closer to her chest. At the next stop, someone got off and she moved with relief into the newly-vacated space. She mouthed "good luck" to me, then got out a book to read.

The woman sitting next to the tongue woman was much younger and not bothered at all. She made a phone call at one point and it transpired that she was a nurse. That would explain why she didn't really seem to thing there was anything out of the ordinary going on.

Eventually, there was just me and tongue woman left. I noticed something on the floor; it looked to be an unactivated credit card. I picked it up: I was right. "Is this yours?" I asked the woman with the bad tongue. It was indeed. She was very pleased, as she wasn't even aware she'd dropped it. This act of valour on my part put me in her good books, and when I finally got off the train at Truro she waved goodbye (she was on the phone again at the time or she might have said something, not that I would necessarily have known what).

I don't have a seat booked for my train home this afternoon, so will have to take my chances in coach F. I could well find myself standing for several hours. That will make marking tricky.

Urghh, the drool, the drool...

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Copyright © 2018 Richard Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk).