Brief encounter with service

Skippers organising crew-changes in Lymington should flag-up the quaint experience of arriving in the New Forest by SWT trains. The slam-door rolling stock on the branch line from Brockenhurst is from a vanishing world.

The luggage racks in First Class look as though their last burden were Ronnie Biggs’ mail sacks and the mauve and purple upholstery, gently smelling of mildew and spewing horse hair from Chav Stanley blades, has fainted between uplands of rusted springs.The corridors look like a stage set from the film version of a Le Carre novel.

And yet this branch line has real charm. On the platform at Brockenhurst a young and uniformed station master gave me accurate information on the next Waterloo-bound train :’ Get the four fifteen, it’s only another six minutes and it’s straight through. Otherwise you won’t get a seat when you change at Basingstoke.’ As his trains moved in and out of the station he waved a white table-tennis bat and blew his whistle with gusto on the instant his digital platform clock clicked round to the second of departure.

There was a heated waiting room, a delightful kiosk run by a blue-rinser serving tea made behind the counter, racks of sweets and the local newspaper.

The flashy and boastful corporatism of Richard Branson was nowhere in sight and I felt as though my journey was important to the train company. For a brief moment I felt like a passenger once more and not a customer.