Hello, Michael Portillo here. I’m that affable chap off the telly with a dark political past. But never mind that, join me as I journey across these Great British Isles aboard the greatest mode of transport ever conceived.
Today I’m embarking on a rail journey across Britain, using my trusty Bradshaw’s guide to… guide… me.
Obviously, since the railways were decimated by Richard Beeching almost sixty years ago, my producer had to amend the journey slightly, alas we pressed on!
To prepare for the trip, I laundered my favourite pair of trousers – a crimson corduroy number with a thick, insulating layer to brace me against the unpredictable British weather. I had them on a delicate wash to not leech the colour, and just before setting off I threw them in the tumble dryer to fluff up the insulation.
There’s nothing like pulling on a pair of warm, toasty slacks on a cool autumn morning, is there? Makes one proud to be an Englishman.
Anyway, I digress.
My producer arrived via cab and we were off to the first station – Taunton. The first of three stations we’d visit in our three hundred mile trip to Sellafield where I’d be touring the world’s first civil nuclear power station.
The drab grey misery of the station was positively enriched by my presence. With my equable conversation and glorious outfit I charmed my fellow travellers, who all stood around in utter despair, as though the glories of British Rail were lost upon them!
But then, damnation! Disaster!
My producer (I forget her name) had booked us onto a packed commuter train! I had to share the first two-hour leg of the journey with the great (unwashed) British public.
Speaking of legs, mine were delightfully warm. Twenty four TOG! I really can’t emphasise enough how fantastic my breeches were. Yet another marvel of British ingenuity.
Anyway, we all clamoured aboard, my cameraman struggling with his equipment and my suitcases (I brought several changes of chaps), as is the wont of a famed documentarian and former politician. I rolled up my sleeves, and prepared to hobnob.
I found myself sandwiched between two gentlemen who had inexplicably worn the same style of cords as me, and the material immediately locked together like gears. I spent the proceeding two hours turning languidly like a rotisserie chicken.
Halfway through the journey the windows had begun to steam, and I despaired as my pantaloons began to shrink in the damp atmosphere, adjoining themselves to my thighs and restricting blood flow.
Huzzah! Just as I felt I would expire, the train lurched into Birmingham station and the doors opened with a blast of cool, fresh air. I strode out confidentially despite the worrying numbness I felt from the knees down.
Here, my producer informed me that we were stopping for a short excursion to a local Corby Trouser Press museum.
The only problem was that the museum was three miles away, and my producer’s mobile phone had died after she spent the last two hours playing Clash of Clans to pass the time. My pocket rotary telephone doesn’t come with the Uber app, so we soldiered on and set off on a brisk march towards the museum, the cameraman dutifully lugging our gear (and my luggage) along with him.
By the time we reached the steps of the museum, my rompers had reached an absolutely horrific temperature, the fluffy insulation bonding with my leg hair in a velcro-like fashion. There was no hope of removing the bloody things.
I gritted my teeth. On with the tour- it’s the trouser press museum after all, and I simply had to see the wonders contained within, and my, how time flies when you’re having fun!
We must have spent six hours inside, my producer nipping at my heels to make sure we didn’t miss our connecting train.
The pain in my legs had dulled to a slight ache, when we were met by yet another disaster – I was invited to try out a Corby Press model 8 from the early 1920’s, but I simply could not contain my excitement and climbed inside the contraption without removing my britches!
Searing heat and intense pressure was applied directly to my legs, leaving me in a combination of unbearable agony and admiration at such a fine example of British engineering.
I staggered out of the machine and my producer (who appeared to have charged her phone) told me we had a mere 9 minutes to catch the train to our next destination.
Well, I was the fastest boy in Gordonstoun back in my day, and I’d be damned if I was going to miss a connection – we made a dash for it!
We reached the station in record time, and elbow our way onto another packed commuter train.
The friction from the run had caused the material of my breeches to weld itself to my undercarriage, and I noticed the polyester had melted into a smooth rubber, as though I’d been laminated. There was no time to change, (and I’m not sure I could if I tried, anyway) as my producer informed me she had managed to book enough seats to clear away any onlookers for our next piece to camera.
My cameraman was tasked with clearing the surrounding seats of blasted commuters. There was some commotion as I bustled past the locals and made my way to our lovely four-seater booth with a table. As I took my seat a disgruntled woman poured her freshly-made Cappuccino directly on my lap, and the searing heat wracked my poor thighs, causing me to convulse. I bit down hard on my Bradshaw’s Guide. Good thing it’s a hard cover!
A quick piece to camera, and then I relaxed as we were whisked up the West coast towards our third station. My producer spent most of her time batting angry passengers away from our empty booked seats, eventually choosing to reserve them with one of my cases of reach-me-downs. I can’t think why they were so angry! They’re lucky their 130-quid tickets give them access to such grand surroundings, the beautiful British countryside, and the chance to meet me!
Anyway, as my producer was distracted she didn’t notice my varifocals, perched jauntily on the end of my nose, as they caught the sun’s rays and magnified them towards my ruined lap. I awoke to the smell of my own skin roasting like crackling on a pork shoulder joint (180 fan, 45 minutes, a remarkably similar smell).
Moments later, the train arrived at Carlisle Station. I dash off with my Paul Smith silk scarf tied about my face in an attempt to mask the delicious smell rising from my nethers.
For this stop we visited a local craft hot sauce distillery. The owner made a joke about it smelling like we’d brought our own pulled pork to sample his sauce.
Initially, I thought he was referring to me as being ‘gammon’, that horribly racist term I hear the youths bandying around, but then remembered the various incidents my beautiful strides had been subjected to. I managed a laugh, and clapped him on the back with just a little too much force. I had to remind him I was his superior, him being from the North.
Moving on, he invited me to observe the great vats of sauce from a conveniently located walkway above. I’m not sure if I was distracted by the riveting conversation (all of my conversations are riveting), or my producer signalling that we had to move on, but I found myself toppling over a railing and falling feet first into a waist-deep vat of red hot sauce (both temperature and spiciness).
Good lord, the excruciating agony I felt as the molten capsaicin marinated my tender meat!
The cameraman carried me (as well as his equipment and my luggage) back to the station, and we set off on our final leg, no pun intended. This time, aboard a pacer train. I thought I’d never be subjected to such a meagre mode of transport – a bus that had been converted to a train with a diesel engine, shipped up North of course. Intended as a temporary solution, they’d been in use for decades. Another Tory triumph!
The bloody fool made a fatal error, though – he put me down astride one of the ancient radiators that run the length of the carriage, the ghastly thing on full knacker! Had the nerves in my crippled legs not been dead, I would have noticed the incredible heat as soon as he put me down, but my delirious brain thought the supper cart had arrived! I signalled my producer for lunch.
She had procured a frankly disgusting ham and egg sandwich from a WHSmiths (are they really still going?) for eight pounds, which I ate glumly.
The realities of commuter travel were, frankly, shit. How the British public could subject themselves to such miseries each day were beyond me.
Curse you, Beeching! You fucked it all up!
Luckily, the end was was sight. As we pulled in to Sellafield Station, the feeling suddenly returned to my lower half, and all the agonies I had been subjected to hit me again in one great whallop!
I screamed myself hoarse as my producer fireman lifted me the short distance to the power station.
My trousers were, quite literally, glowing. I began to hallucinate.
Inside, I was asked to disrobe so I could be ‘suited up’ in protective gear before we could enter the reactor.
My trousers, however, had other plans. They had melded with my nervous system. There simply was no distinction between leg and slack – I was a chimera of sorts, a perfect union of man and rammies.
My producer insisted we press on. I opted for protection on my upper half only – the lower was beyond redemption.
The inner chamber was in the process of being decommissioned – so we were surprised when the tour guide’s Geiger counter began clicking. After a frantic search – the source of the radiation was discovered – it was my chinos!
“You’ve achieved nuclear fission,” he swiftly informed me.
“Jolly good!” I replied, “a great day for Great Britain, and another triumph of British invention!”
As he and my crew ran for the protection of the lead-lined observation room, leaving me to submerge myself in a pool of water to begin the process of capturing the excess atomic matter my jeans were steadily emitting, I had but one thought: Would we be where we are today if Richard Beeching had cut the railways so savagely all those years ago?
That, followed by many failed privatisation attempts, the steady decline of all other modes of transport save the car, the steadfast refusal to pedestrianize our cities, and the absolute obsession of the modern commuter lifestyle, have… you know, I’ve lost my train of thought. No pun intended.
Join me next time, where I’ll travel up the M25 in a steam-powered tractor that I’ve had grafted on to my lower half, causing traffic chaos for the lower classes. Tally-ho!