On the Train to Belfast

A packet of Jelly BabiesOne of the best things about traveling abroad is encountering local residents doing normal, everyday things. This is the story of my favorite such meeting.

When we boarded the train to Belfast, the car we choose was about two-thirds full. We stowed our luggage, and my sister and father chose the two remaining seats (out of a group of four) on the left side of the train, so I sat across the aisle from them. While we waited for train to go, a group of four older ladies come on board, and started trying to find seats together. One of the ladies was asking “which way is the train going? I must be facing the same way as the driver.”

With a bemused look, several of us indicated the direction the train was travelling, and she slid into the seat diagonally across from me. One of the others sat next to me, and the other two took the seats facing her, just behind my dad and sister. The lady-who-can’t-sit-facing-the-wrong-direction kept a commentary of things as she and the other ladies got settled.

Getting settled included pulling out a packet of snacks, which she promptly opened and offered around to everyone. She made sure to show the label so we could see what she was offering. They were Jelly Babies.

For those less nerdly-inclined than me, Jelly Babies are a sweet I had never eaten, but, had known from watching Doctor Who. The fourth Doctor regularly offered this sweet to strangers, diffusing tensions and putting people at ease. I wondered if this lady might be herself be a fan of the show, or maybe she just liked Jelly Babies.

I grinned, but declined, and the packet then moved across the aisle to her travelling companions. As the candies made the return trip, she-who-sits-the-same-direction-as-the-driver commented upon the cheek of Mary Katherine who helped herself to *two* Jelly Babies.

As the trip progressed, I learned the ladies were sisters, and one of them had come in from Wales to meet the others, and they made regular trips together. They chatted nearly non-stop, talking about their favorite ways to preserve cut flowers, (the lady with the Jelly Babies likes to use a tablet in the water. Tablets were her “go-to” solution for everything.) they discussed tabloid news, and the foibles of absent family members.

One of the sisters was moving slowly, and that brought out the story that she’d gotten hit by a car as she stepped off a curb in her village. “Eighty years old, hit by a car in her own village! Can you believe the nerve of them to hit an old lady minding her own business crossing the street! Disgraceful!”

Eighty years old. My traveling companions were four octogenarian ladies who looked younger than my dad, and who went on weekly adventures with each other. I hoped that when I was eighty, that I’d be making trips regular trips with my sisters, chattering like excited twenty-somethings and giving each other mock grief about taking an extra sweet out of the packet.

She was certain the gentleman across the aisle (my dad) was going to need a tablet after having all their chatter behind his head for so long. She asked if he was traveling with me, and I told her yes, he was my dad. She told us that they were sisters, and that was how they were. I smiled and told her it looked pretty familiar to me, when I got together with my sisters.

She was certain he would be glad to see the back of them, and probably I would too. As they were getting off, she made the same assertion to my sister, who promptly told her “No, she loved every minute of it, she’ll miss you.”

My sister knows me all too well.

When we arrived in Belfast, I was determined to buy some Jelly Babies and share them with my traveling companions. That’s what a local would do. Or a Time Lord.


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