Trains and numbers

There is something seductively luxurious about a train (and should be, given the absurd prices that the railway charges – how fuel use will be reduced when two people in a car can travel most distances for a quarter of two pre-booked train tickets, I don’t know). This week, I succumbed, gave my driving-brain a rest, and headed off to the Midlands and back.

Imagine my delight when the trains were so well-timed that I actually caught a connection two hours before I had intended. It was admittedly short-lived, because the whole contingent of passengers was almost immediately turfed off, because of a broken-down goods train further ahead, and told to wait the thick end of two hours. But it’s the thought that counts, I guess. Besides which, such little setbacks bring out the camaraderie of the stranded. That profoundly masochistic streak in the British psyche comes into its own, and a great deal of phlegmatic but matey conversations ensue: everyone joined together in the face of the great Satan, Virgin.

After a while of mixing and matching life-stories, we all retreated to our particular ways of spending three hours – mindless phone-calls, sleep, staring at the distance, or in my case, my new craze, late to the ball as ever, elementary Sudoku: pronounced SOO-duh-KOO, according to one of the online speaking dictionaries, but not often referred to as such. I have always held Sudoku at arm’s length, looked as askance at it and the other Japanese number games which have popped up in its wake. But I did the quick crossword too quickly a couple of weeks ago, and succumbed to the mindless task of attempting to get the numbers 1 to 9 into boxes, horozontal lines and vertical lines.

Maybe logic isn’t my strong suit. The elementary puzzle I was attempting to out-stare gave me some grief. What is infuriating about Sudoku is that, when you eventually come across a blunder, there is no sane way to go back and fix it without turning the boxes into seas of scribble and ink. Meanwhile, opposite me, a man aged about 23 sank a variety of canned beers, and carelessly filled in about fifteen Sudoku puzzles as if his fingers were born to do it. After a bit, with a ridiculous number of 3s in one line, I quietly folded up my paper, and pulled out a crptic crossword instead.

The trouble with a cryptic crossword after a quick one, and a side salad of Sudoku, is that the brain won’t take it. It’s been thinking along different lines for too long to make the transition. So when, after an admittedly slow lurch from Cheltenham to Bristol Parkway, I had achieved one correct clue, I could feel the puzzlers in the carriage peeking at me out of the corners of their eyes, and thinking, Loser. And, What A Pity, He Looked So Bright.

At least, I assume that’s what they were thinking, as they ploughed endlessly onwards through their games. I was reduced eventually to reading some very, very hard poetry. I find that staves off conversation. Or at any rate, the kind of conversation which begins, ‘Could you not do your crossword, then?’

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