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  • Lauren Booker

The Girl On The Train

A funny thing happened to me on the train yesterday


I was having my usual commuter doze on the 19.03 from Euston to Birmingham when a woman got on at Coventry and sat next to me. She pulled down the table from the back of the seat in front, took a plastic beaker and a full bottle of wine from her handbag, filled the beaker, replaced the bottle in her bag and started to drink. Within five minutes it was empty and she took out the bottle again and refilled the beaker. Meanwhile she was texting on her phone and reading the Metro. A third beaker was rapidly consumed, followed by a fourth. The bottle was empty before the train reached New Street, a journey of about half an hour.


This young woman (early thirties, at a guess) was smartly dressed and unobtrusive. In less then half an hour she downed around 10 units of alcohol - more than three times the recommended daily limit. She didn’t appear to be drunk, she didn’t appear to be upset. She didn’t look like a classic ‘alcoholic’ – no smeared make up, no hysterical laughter or slurred speech, no grey (or jaundiced) pallor. Just quiet, steady consumption of risky amounts of alcohol.


I’m used to people talking to me about their alcohol use. People regularly hover around me during training breaks, wondering how to bring up their partner’s drinking or get reassurance or validation for their own drinking. I’m fine with that: It’s kind of my job. But this was out of my comfort zone. Not the sitting next to someone who is drinking, but I felt as though I was the one hovering, trying to think of a reason to engage my fellow commuter in conversation.


I had so many questions – did she know about units? Was she OK? Was this a you-wouldn’t-believe-the-day-I’ve-had-I-need-to-drown-my-sorrows one-off episode or does she do this on the train home every evening? I’m not usually stuck for words but I couldn’t think of a single conversation opener: “Getting off at Birmingham? Me too! Concerned about your drinking? Here, let me help!” I’m not the alcohol police (god forbid) and it’s none of my business, of course, so ultimately, I said nothing. But it was a timely reminder that alcohol doesn’t discriminate.


A bottle of wine in thirty minutes is a lot by anybody’s standards; it takes practice. I watched her get out of her seat and followed her onto the platform – not a wobble, even in heels. I bet she has a good job (the attire) and a great social life (the texting) and she wasn’t drink-driving or ill or unhappy, so is a bottle of wine in half an hour a big deal? Maybe, maybe not. You’d need to ask her friends, her colleagues, her family. They’re likely to see a problem long before she does.


Alcohol is a funny thing. Some people can drink much more than others with no ill-effects, the trouble is, you never know how much it will take before you’re the one that the office is gossiping about or you develop an alcohol-related illness or find that you can’t go a couple of days without craving a drink.


My fellow commuter may have a perfectly healthy relationship with alcohol most of the time and lady, if should happen to read this, I wish you well. I hope you had a great evening, got a good night’s sleep and have a thoroughly nice life. Oh, and by the way, if you do want to change your drinking, there are lots of people out there who can help.

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