If you see a famous person on a train, you should approach them only in the buffet queueby Jeremy Clarke / January 20, 1999 / Leave a comment
Published in January 1999 issue of Prospect Magazine
About a year ago, I was sitting on a Penzance to London train reading a newspaper article about Ted Hughes. It said he had rewritten the words to some popular hymn-I forget which-and the article was illustrated with his photograph. In this photograph, Hughes appeared to be gazing meditatively out of an unseen window, allowing us to look freely at his handsomest profile. His head was tilted slightly upwards towards the light. He looked both saintly and resentful.
After scrutinising the photograph, I looked up from the page for a moment to ponder him. And there, sitting alone at the next table, looking out of the window, was Ted Hughes.
The Ted Hughes sitting across the aisle from me was older and bulkier than the one in the photograph, but it was definitely him. He was even showing me the same lantern-jawed profile. My immediate reaction was to wonder why the Poet Laureate should feel the need to appear as an apparition to any member of the public who happened to be thinking or reading about him. Then I came to my senses and told myself that it wasn’t such a very great coincidence. After all, Ted Hughes did live in the West Country. There was no mud on his shoes, but he had a farm on Dartmoor, I believe. Until they built an airport there, he would have to get about the country by terrestrial forms of transport like everybody else. And given the extortionate price of rail tickets, perhaps even Poets Laureate were obliged to travel second class nowadays.
I watched him furtively from behind my paper. If I hadn’t recognised him as the famous poet, he would not have seemed anything other than your average Great Western Railways’ passenger: elderly, taciturn, clean, florid, conservatively dressed. He didn’t have anything to read, he just stared out of the window at the passing countryside. I watched him observe a solitary crow settle in the middle of a vast stubble field.
Should I just pop over and plant myself in the vacan…