Onboard the 0919 stopping service to Waterloo the passengers were syking themselves up for the first day back at work after the long Easter weekend. Outside the train the sun beat down from a sky almost entirely devoid of cloud as if the weather knew the Bank Holiday was over and the slog to the next break had begun. The lady next to me was using the thirty minute journey to redirect a parcel apparently left at the wrong address, and across the aisle somebody was rustling a newspaper noisily.
At the terminus commuters strode off purposefully, the single aim of reaching the office by 10am shared by thousands. Services west were delayed due to tresspass, the station announcer intoned, but there were none of the inpatient crowds one becomes accustomed to when travelling regularly on overcrowded lines.
With ten minutes to go a lady approached to check if I needed help. My train was yet to appear on the departure board but she would ensure I caught it. And whilst I waited the sun continued to shine, lighting the concourse like some giant mirror.
The railway tracks out of Waterloo are familiar to me, having lived in Richmond and travelled all about these parts over the past eight and a half years. In the past I used to catch the Weymouth service frequently to start or end a working week in Southampton. Now, on that same train, I remember the little knocks and jolts as we speed out through the suburbs, the sudden shuttering out of daylight as we pass through Wimbledon, and the flashes of other trains heading eastwards to the big city. Onboard little sound can be heard above the rush of air conditioning and the rhythmical squeaking of the bogies. Occasionally the crisp flick of a magazine page catches my attention, as do the hisses and grunts of the automated toilet cubicle. The air that surrounds me is bland to taste and smell though it's temperature is startlingly chilly. My ears feel cool and I clasp my hands together whilst typing to retain some warmth.
Our first stop outside London rolls into view outside my window and the train jerks to a halt. As the doors slide open a passing diesel train can be heard, drowning out an announcement itemizing the further stops we will make. Three days ago I changed here for Salisbury, Newport and Abergavenny as I headed for lunch with my sister. Today I remain in my seat as the doors slam shut and a lady settles herself next to me.
"he looks comfortable " she notes as Vance rolls onto his side, jamming the guide dog harness into my shins.
He's certainly no stranger to a bit of rail travel, having accompanied me on numerous trips throughout the land. I wonder if he will miss it when he eventually retires, becoming a normal domestic dog, banned from so many public buildings and modes of transport. He so loves to work that I struggle to imagine him doing anything else, and of course, to him, this is the only life he knows.
Lying at my feet as the train turns south for Southampton before continuing along the coast to our destination for the day, he knows little of what we're doing. He saw me pack my bag, paying particular attention to the folded long cane which has previously heralded him being left for a time, but which more frequently comes along to support me if the chance of a long lead walk arise. Vance is thankfully used to these somewhat impromptu visits, to wandering around unfamiliar destinations, walking one way before losing our bearings and doubling back, or pausing every twenty meters for me to photograph some object which has caught my attention but which will ultimately turn out to be a street lamp or rubbish bin when viewed at home. I love capturing the moment, whether visually or audibly, but this doesn't mean I can see what I'm doing when framing shots or selecting settings. There is a certain amount of art, but an awful lot of luck.
An hour after leaving London I'm halfway to the sea. The train is still half empty, though conversations are becoming louder, the conductor ever more cheery. The glue which bone binds the lips of Londoners when travelling by Tube or train is less evident here as we travel deeper into Hampshire, further away from our capital.
I know little of exactly what the day will have in store for us. The idea was crystallized whilst reading a Diamond Geezer article, but I have never been before and have undertaken precious little research. There will be a beach, I know, a cliff lift, two piers and some art deco architecture. I hope that there will not be the tourists who undoubtedly flocked there yesterday. I hope too that the clear skies and bright sunshine will create a warmth not present in London this morning. Aside from this my mind is open, I'm ready to walk and learn, to capture memories and to enjoy time with Vance on the final day of this early April break.