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  • Philip Bryer

Over the Points

I’ve always liked a train. Not in a writing down the numbers sort of a way, it’s more about looking out of the window in a trance or an altered state as the scenery flashes past. There’s certainly nothing wrong with a form of transport where you can go for a walk, get yourself a beer, and read the paper. Can’t do that on the M6. I like a railway station too, I think it’s to do with the sense of purpose that’s in the air.

I got talking to a tramp late one night on a train home. A proper old-fashioned tramp with a long grey beard and an overcoat belt made of string. The type of tramp you don’t see anymore. I was carrying an old book about The Beatles which I’d just finished.

He clocked the book and asked, “You like music?”

I nodded, and he pulled a harmonica from the frayed and bulging pocket of his old grey herringbone overcoat, and he blew us into the next stop, utilising the clickety-clack of the wheels as his backing track. I bunged him a couple of quid as I got off, and said, “You like The Beatles?” He nodded. Not really fair exchange, I thought as I walked away. He’s got the book, but I’ve got the memory.

I used to commute between Manchester and London a couple of times a week, and one Friday afternoon found myself in the buffet car alongside someone who had, like me, started the weekend early. We shared stories over a few drinks and it began to dawn on me that I’d seen this chap before, this shorter-than-you-might-think, handy-looking geezer. This world champion boxer. “Alan Minter?” I ventured. He looked faintly embarrassed, but confirmed his identity. I’m not much of a boxing fan, but there was one night which unfortunately came to mind.

“Marvin Hagler,” I said, stupidly, “You fought him, didn’t you?”

He gave silent confirmation and then I remembered. Minter’s face covered in blood as he was pounded into swift defeat by the brooding American, but I couldn’t stop myself, “He really gave you a pasting, didn’t he?” My new mate, Alan regarded me coolly, “Beat you up good and proper, eh?”

Alan Minter, Marvin Hagler

I looked at Alan and shut my idiot mouth up, as it dawned on me that it may not be the brightest idea to remind a man whose living involved dishing out violence to his fellow man that he was remembered, in this fight at least and by the fool addressing him, for being second best by some stretch. I swallowed hard and watched as Alan took a pull at his beer.

“Yeah,” he said with a rueful smile, “He was too good for me.”

“Drink?” I enquired, in a quavering voice, and we stayed to close the place. Or at least until Euston.

I also spent an uncomfortable 10 minutes standing up on a Northern Line train one morning being stared at by the person standing opposite with an assistant. A sometime pop singer, TV presenter, and self-styled arbiter of public taste. (Hint: she has a much more famous sister.)

In hindsight, I realise that she had spotted me looking up from my paper trying to figure out who she was and was now somehow inviting me to approach her and say, “Excuse me, but aren’t you…?” Some hope. It was much more fun ignoring her. Quite plainly none of this occurred because of any physical attraction on her part, but it can be explained by fame’s cruel transience, the pop pixie’s uncertain place on the ladder of renown at the time, and her need for reassurance of her very existence.

“Who am I?” asked the famous man, of himself. “Am I still famous when I’m off duty. Does anybody still care? Then I must remind them at once.”

This explains why, when I saw a very well-known rock star in Barbados in 100F heat, he was in his recognisable uniform of jeans, boots, t-shirt, and, FFS, a denim jacket.

Then again, I shared an all too brief ride in a lift with Jenny Agutter once, and she was completely natural and absolutely charming.

Jenny Agutter

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