‘Brief Encounter’ – the 1945 British film directed by David Lean is often cited as one of the most romantic films of all time. Based on the play ‘Still Life’ by Noel Coward, it tells the tale of an extra-marital affair between two middle-aged people, whose relationship is played out in stolen moments at a train station.
My brief encounter at Limerick Junction is less achingly romantic.
Before I proceed, I need to set the scene. Limerick Junction is a singularly unlovely train station in a field in county Tipperary. Sometimes referred to as ‘the armpit of Ireland’ (by myself) it is is a stop on the Dublin to Cork route. Its main purpose is to act as a connecting station for people who want to make their way to Limerick. It is not connected to a village or any sign of two legged life. It enjoys a strange micro-climate all of its own. For some reason it seems to rain 365 days a year in Limerick Junction, and the grey bleakness of the surroundings match the bitingly cold wind that envelops the place.
Last Friday I traveled to Limerick to see Ardal O’Hanlon perform in the university concert hall (he was excellent and ably supported by the hilarious Julie Jay). At the Thurles stop an acne of teenage boys boarded the train (an ‘acne’ is the collective name for a group of teenagers I have decided). I would guess that they were all in their late teens or early twenties at the very most. College students by the smell of the them.
They were in rambunctious form, and had clearly participated in a bag of cans very recently. They weren’t scary or threatening. They seemed pleasant natured, country lads in a boisterous mood after some alcoholic refreshment. They sat behind me on the train. With the exception of one, who took the empty seat behind mine. He swiveled to participate in conversation with his pals, saying ‘Sorry boss’ to me, every time he poked me with his elbow.
At least the journey to Limerick was only another forty five minutes I thought with resignation to myself.
As we pulled in to Limerick Junction station (or Gabhal Luimnigh as it is called in Irish) all the lads rose as one and disembarked the train. Clearly there was a party somewhere in the vicinity. What other reason could there be to visit the Junction?
I gave an inner sigh of relief and glanced to my left as the train departed. Lying on the seat was a black Iphone, that did not belong to me. It was too late to alert the owner so I picked it up. The screen was cracked in several places (as is typical of a teenager’s phone – at least according to Ardal O’Hanlon who informed me thus at his gig later that evening). The battery was dead. I decided to leave it in to ‘Lost and found’ when I got into Limerick.
By the time I greeted by my relatives at the station, I had forgotten about the phone. Until the next morning when I charged it for half an hour. It was revived. And locked. Various notifications were visible on the screen, but none accessible without a PIN code.
Among the many missed called was a notification of a text message from a visible number.
The text had been sent at 7.30am. It sounded quite concerned. It read ‘It would be good to know that you are OK. Please text me back’.
Jotting down the number I sent a message from my own phone which said ‘I found a black Iphone on the train. I see you sent a text message to that phone. I’d like to return it to the person who owns it’.
Within seconds my phone rang.
‘Hello’ said the female voice on the other end of the line.
‘Hello’ I replied putting on my sultry, telephone voice.
‘I think you picked my son’s phone yesterday.’
‘I did’, said I.
They were living in Tipperary town – about fifty kilometres from Limerick. There was no way I was traveling that distance to restore the phone to its owner. However a brainwave hit me. I was changing trains the next day at Limerick Junction on my return to Dublin.
We would have a sixty second window during which the telephone exchange could be made. I gave her my train details. She said she’d be waiting at the Junction for me at 4.15pm.
The phone sat idle for the rest of the day. I didn’t bother answering any of the calls. The Tinder notification has a specific sound however. I have no knowledge or interest in his personal life but I suppose it’s good to know that he is embracing technology in his quest for love.
The next day as I sat on the train to the Junction, my phone rang again.
‘Hello, it’s Kate’ said the voice on the other end of the line (not her real name).
‘Hello Kate’ I replied hoarsely.
‘Are you on the train?’ said she.
‘I am’ I responded.
‘I am at the Junction. I have asked the guard to let me through the ticket barrier as I explained the situation to him’.
‘I am sitting on the back carriage of the train. I will emerge from the back door. i am wearing a green jacket and a yellow and navy striped jumper.’ (My train companions looked up, clearly identifying me as a man on a blind date.)
‘I am wearing a yellow anorak’
As the train pulled into the Junction, I could see her standing on the platform. Our eyes met through the window. I had the phone in my hand. I raised my other hand in greeting. She smiled.
The train for Dublin stood waiting on the next platform, ready to immediately depart.
I alit from the train and she was stood right by the door.
‘Hello’ I said, ‘here is the phone’ as I handed it to her.
‘Thank you so much’ she uttered, ‘Here’s a thank you for you, to buy yourself a pint with’.
She pressed a tenner into my hands.
I boarded the train to Dublin. Our brief encounter had lasted approximately three seconds.
As I eat my ‘Balanced for you’ Thai Red Curry from Marks and Spencer, I raise a fork in thanks.