Remember the old slam door stock? Eight years gone but still fresh in the memory...

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According to the latest figures, over the last five years the over-crowding on our trains has eased.

Good news, no doubt, for the commuter who craves nothing more other than a seat come the morning and evening journey to and from work.

Granted, you cannot help but wonder if that is due to the fact that a season ticket has risen in price so much in recent years, more and more are opting to work locally, that there is simply a dip in numbers.

But let us not get bogged down so soon by being cynical. And Heaven knows, when it comes to commuting, cynicism is not just a characteristic by-product but very much becomes a way of life.

Certainly with the old slam-door stock now consigned to the past, the whole commuting process is a step-up from, say, just 10 years ago when you could really entertain friends and family with tales of journeys from hell (the only trick being when you stopped entertaining and started boring for Britain on the topic…and that was often a fine dividing line).

For those too young to have enjoyed the slam-door fun, these were the sort of trains you now see being pulled by a steam engine in the Harry Potter movies. Just that the only magic they worked was turning everyone’s normal calm and placid manner into hateful and aggressive characteristics who emerged blinking into the sunlight of a mainline London terminal with bloody murder on their mind.

Opening the door was the first challenge. There was no Star Trek-style swooshes and beeper noises of the current rolling stock. Oh no. If inside, you had to frequently bash the window to free the mechanism which then slid down allowing you to risk losing your arm or elbowing someone not stood behind the yellow line (or maybe a cunning combination of the two) and then open the door yourself by performing a nice bit of contortion.

Not the biggest deal, granted, but when someone had over-enthusiastically bashed the window and it wouldn’t seal again at the top, there was an issue. An issue in the cold because it would mean that because these doors lined the carriageway, one window that did not shut meant icy blasts for the 50 or so poor souls who had settled down in it.

Hopes of a snooze replaced by dreams of simple survival.

It was a chill only beaten by the shiver down your spine when you discovered you’d sat in such a compartment and there was nowhere else to go.

Or then there was the excruciating dance to be performed on the seats designed to squeeze in three regular buttocks but would be hotly disputed by anyone who felt they should have the seat for two.

But perhaps the finest – which still dogs all London-bound travellers today – is the short-formed service. The only difference back then was if the only space you could find was the carriage where once, I assume, they carried sacks of mail. In here you would be squeezed in as if you were being rounded up by some oppressive regime.

There were no seats, just a narrow corridor skirting around a caged ‘room’. They were the opposite end of the spectrum to the first class compartments nearby. The first class compartments which if you thought ‘tell you what, I’ll sit in here’ you’d be reminded by a voice over the intercom that anyone found in such a carriage without a first class ticket could expect to be hurled off the train. Probably while it was still moving.

To make matters worse – and this is in the days after the smoking carriage had long become a thing of the past – you could be almost guaranteed someone in the cage carriage would think it OK to spark up, thus ensuring not only did you emerge feeling tired, and with your suit covered in dirt, but also you’d smell as though you’d just spent the journey smoking 20 B&H.

On a hot day, the stretch between London and the Kent countryside could feel like days rather than an hour.

Air-conditioning was as far as the window went down, heating an intermittent treat on those days when Jack Frost had paid a visit outside, and all too often appeared to be sat in the three seater behind you. And no doubt stopping anyone else sitting next to him too.


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