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Mark & the girl on the train.

Have you ever met someone, just for a brief moment, who you still think about now?

It’s weird how some people impact us isn’t it? A chance encounter, a fleeting moment that, maybe, was meant to be. Meant to teach us a lesson, or give us some perspective perhaps?

I met a girl on a train once – it was about twenty years ago now, and I still think about her, even though we only spoke for half an hour or so.

It was December and I was travelling back home from a day’s shopping in London. I always like to head to our capital city in the run up to Christmas to soak up the festive vibe and to buy a few presents for family and friends.

Back in the day you could pay to upgrade your train ticket to first class, just one way, for the princely sum of £10. I didn’t do it all the time, but at that time of year, I looked at it as a well-deserved treat. The train was always busy in the run up to Christmas, and first class was always much quieter, a place for me to escape from the common people and the noisy little shits that would be accompanying their peasant parents in cattle class. I’m joking, obviously. Well, not really, but you know what I mean!

Anyway, I digress.

So, there I was, sat in what I thought was the relative safety of first class, when the ticket inspector entered the carriage. I grabbed my ticket and a £10 note to pay for the upgrade and went back to reading my book. I always like to get everything ready in these situations and to be prepared. In my own little world, I zoned out and ten minutes must have passed before I realised that I still hadn’t been approached by the inspector, despite him entering the carriage a while ago… Had I been so engrossed in my book that I had ignored him when he had asked to see my ticket (proper first-class passenger behaviour, that)? Surely not… As I tuned my ears back in to my surroundings I heard the sound of raised voices coming from behind me, at the back of the carriage. I looked around and saw the inspector engaged in an argument with a beautiful, if slightly inebriated young woman. She can’t have been  older than 18 or 19. I couldn’t make sense of what they were arguing about, having only started eavesdropping half-way through their heated exchange, but I gathered it was something to do with the woman’s ticket. I heard her say ‘I can pay for the ticket, I have hundreds of pounds on me’, at which point she proceeded to waive a bunch of £20 notes in the inspector’s face. The matter was resolved.  But she had seen me looking. Damn. Seconds after the inspector checked my ticket and relieved me of my £10 note, she was plonking herself opposite me…

‘Oh no!’ I thought; ‘Of course she has! Why does this always happen to me?!’. I think I’m one of those people that just attracts annoying, intimidating and loud people into their orbit. They see me quietly minding my own business and think ‘I know, let’s go and annoy that bloke for a bit!’.

So, there I was, trapped in a train carriage with a stranger who I really wasn’t interested in talking to, wondering what was about to unfold. Would she chastise me for listening in to her argument with the ticket inspector? Or perhaps she just didn’t like the look of me and thought it would be fun to sit opposite me and insult me. An easy way to pass the time...

As it turned out, neither of these scenarios played out. She was nice, loud sure, but nice. And she immediately disarmed me. I was trapped anyway, it would be another half an hour before my stop, and I just thought, for once, let’s just go with it. Don’t make any pre-judgements, just go with the flow. And so, I did.

She asked me what I’d been doing in London. I told her. I asked her what she’d been doing in London. She told me. I was shocked. Not necessarily with what she had been doing, but just with how open she was about it. She told me she was a sex worker and that she had been working in a brothel for the preceding three days. I was fascinated. I asked her lots of questions, and she told me everything I wanted to know. How much did she earn? £1,000 for three days work. Did she enjoy it? Mostly, no. But sometimes, if she found the client attractive. Did her family know? No, she told them she worked as a stripper.

I was fascinated. I had never met a sex worker before, not least one that was so open and forthcoming. She told me she was saving hard, hoping to stop in the near future and to go to college, but she said that she’d recently started taking cocaine and that that was now eating up quite a bit of the money she earnt. She talked of the madame that ran the brothel and how protective she was towards ‘her girls’. She said they all idolised her. And she talked of the hard work, the harsh reality of being a sex worker. She said she was on her back for hours and hours every day, having sex with more than ten men over the course of several hours, and that it was actually quite exhausting.

I listened intently and made a mental note not to judge her. It would have been easy for me to that – I wasn’t very worldly wise and I had been brought up to believe that prostitutes, as we called them then, were lesser people. But this woman proved me wrong, and I learnt a lesson that day.

The time flew by and before I knew it, it was time for me to disembark. I said goodbye and never saw her again. But the encounter had a lasting impact on me. I often think of ‘Train Girl’ and what became of her. Did she manage to get out before it was too late? Did she start that college course? Or did she get in out of her depth, and become trapped in an endless cycle of drugs and sex work? Unless she’s reading this and recognises herself, I guess I’ll never know.

Years later, when I heard about the murder of high-class sex-worker Christina Abbotts (Season 2, Episode 11), I was reminded of Train Girl. I hope the same fate didn’t befall her. It’s unlikely. But it’s possible. I hope she got out before it was too late and went on to live the life she deserved to live…


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Feb 15

I just opened your post, and if for only a second I read and thought of something and someone else. My little brother passed today on the same day my mother passed at 54 in 1998. My heart is shattered and in pain. For a brief moment my thoughts were of the girl from the train. Thank you for your podcast. You and Bethan to me feel like I know you. Thanks again. Sending blessings to you both and your families.

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