I woke up this morning feeling like I'd died and been buried in the night. It was fabulous to be in Fiona's cozy flat, but I was sitting on Hove beach until 1.30am recording my audio blog and it was bracing to say the least.
I hauled myself up to the train station to eat my customary breakfast plate of beans on toast at my favourite cafe. Sadly, they forgot about my order, and I sat patiently, like a pathetic little dog for half an hour, my stomach in knots, desperate for food.
I missed the train to West Worthing by seconds, chiefly because I now have so many used train tickets, receipts and seat reservations in my wallet that I couldn't pass through the barriers in time. I instantly discovered that the next train was running 20 minutes late. There was some confusion about which stations it was scheduled to stop at, and as we trundled along the coastal track, I became convinced that I was sitting on one of the curious trains which, for seemingly no reason, bypass West Worthing and the next five stations before trundling off to Portsmouth again.
I'd learned about these silly trains the hard way when, some months ago, I ended up in a random place called Angmering, feeling desperately angry and sorry for myself.
The train pulled in at Worthing, and I jumped off and rushed up to the man wearing an Olympic-branded "here-to-help" day-glow tabard, who was standing proudly like a munchkin on the platform. "Am I right in thinking this train doesn't stop at West Worthing?" I asked. "You're wrong," he said, "it does! Quickly get back on before it leaves." I did as he said, feeling relieved and grateful that he'd been in the right place at the right time, despite having dodgy hair and looking like he'd melted in the rainstorm we'd just had.
The train picked up speed as we shot through West Worthing, and the next stop, and two more after that. And suddenly there I was all over again. Angme-bloody-ring!
I phoned Nathan for a whinge. "Take a deep breath and start the day again," he said. And as the train pulled into the station, I remembered the lovely hole-in-the-wall-style cafe on the platform which had made my previous trip round the Wrekin worthwhile. The place was like something from the 70s, covered in bunting, selling everything from home made cakes and lollies to books, bacon butties and buckets and spades.
I told the woman behind the counter that her charming cafe was the one positive thing about ending up on the fast train to Angmering. She said that I'd made her day and we got chatting. She told me all about the mobile homes in Angmering and then gave me her potted life story, which has got to rank amongst the most action-packed/lucky/unlucky lives in history. "I'm a cat with 89 lives," she said, before launching into a five-minute soliloquy, which started, "well, like many young children, I was sexually abused by family members..."
And then it all poured out... She'd survived a house fire, been swept out to sea and rescued by coast guards. She'd been stabbed and strangled. She'd had 7 motor bike crashes and been run over twice, once deliberately. A broad smile burst onto her face like the sun coming out from behind a cloud as the tales of woe continued. "I'm not a victim anymore," she said, "I always look on the bright side of life..."
The cause of most of the mayhem, I learned, was her first husband, who regularly beat her up and then repeatedly tried to kill her after she'd finally told him enough was enough.
"When I'd finally dealt with all that, I decided to start facing my fears," she said. "I work with knives every day in the kitchen, I regularly visit the places where the bad things happened, and," she said gleefully, "my ex-husband went to Thailand on an holiday the week the tsunami happened... And no one's heard from him since!" Ah! The wheels of karma.
She was adorably upbeat and continued to talk to me right until the train doors closed to take me back to West Worthing. "Come and visit me again!" she shouted, like I was a long-lost brother. I blew her a kiss as the train pulled away. She caught it and mimed putting it in her pocket. I will visit her again. Genuinely.
350 years ago, Pepys woke up in Rochester, obviously in a very good mood, because he used the adjective "fine" five times in the space of the first paragraph of his diary entry. The weather was fine, a walk around the docks was fine, as was his breakfast of sweet meats, the furnishings and finally the garden of his host.
He went to church -twice - to ogle at the pretty Kentish ladies, and spent the afternoon examining various Navy yards and dry docks, before walking leisurely through sun-drenched fields until dusk. Ah! To peek just once into that 17th century world.