The child was as cute as a button, but desperate for her mum to listen to her – if only someone would give her the attention she needed
Rushing up and down the aisle on chubby legs, the little girl seemed determined that no passenger should read a magazine or enjoy a book.
This was supposed to be the train’s quiet zone, but the only quiet place in the whole compartment was where the child’s mother sat.
Every few minutes when she wasn’t careening down the carriage, the girl leaped back into her seat, tugging her parent’s sleeve in a vain attempt to make her take notice.
Eventually the child stood up on the seat, pointing out of the window.
“Mummy, look – baa lambs!”
Yet the mother only had eyes for her smartphone.
My travelling companion was my great-aunt. She’d been an evacuee during the war; our spring excursion had become an annual event. She loved going back to Shrewsbury where she’d been evacuated in 1939.
We watched the little girl trying once again to attract her mother’s attention before resuming her race down the train.
“I was no older than this nipper, the first time I made this trip – when ‘children should be seen not heard,’ Aunty observed. “But all this child craves is attention.”
I raised an eyebrow.
“But Aunty, she’s like a buzzing fly you can’t swat.”
“Just like you were as a toddler?” Aunty laughed. “Now perhaps you’ll help me wind some wool.”
She reached into her bag for a skein of yarn. I knew the drill, so I looped the hank of wool around my wrists so that she could wind.
Aunty’s motto is Idle hands are the devil’s playmate. She hummed as she wound, both of us looking out of the window as the train thundered through the countryside.
“Mummy! A yellow field,” the little girl exclaimed with excitement. “Is it buttercups?”
She didn’t receive an answer.
Aunty put down her ball of wool, observing the child who was now hopping on one foot.
“Definitely reminds me of you as a child,” she said with a laugh, “all that energy and curiosity.
“If I was sitting closer I’d say, ‘no, the yellow fields are rapeseed flowers, and the fluffy white blossom on the bushes by the rail track are May flowers’.”
“That’s what you always did with me, explain things –”
“Except when I was in my ‘children should be seen not heard’ mood.’”
“That wasn’t very often. Some of my fondest memories are of travelling with you. You always had colouring books and when I got bored we’d play I Spy –”
“With my little eye, something beginning with R!” Aunty said, mischief in her eyes. She had begun to wind the yarn again.
“Rabbits! I’ve seen loads of baby rabbits out of the window,” a little voice said.
The little girl was standing by our table, clearly fascinated by Aunty winding the wool.
“Can I have a go?” she asked with an enchanting toothy grin.
“Can I have a go…?” Aunty prompted. “What’s the magic word?”
Aunty stood up. “I’m feeling rather stiff – a walk down the carriage will do me good. Let’s ask Mummy if it’s all right for you to sit with us.”
The child’s face lit up as she galloped back, shouting, “Mummy, an old lady’s coming to see you!”
She waited impatiently for Aunty to join her, hanging on to every seat as she made her way down the rocking train.
The girl returned moments later, leaping onto the seat facing me.
“Mummy said I can sit with you and the old lady said you’d teach me knitting.”
“What’s the old lady doing?” I asked, peering down the aisle; all I could see was Aunty’s bobbing hat opposite where the mother sat.
“She gave Mummy a hanky.”
“Does your mum have a cold?“
“No – Mummy’s sad. Can we do knitting now, pleeth?”
“We could just look out of the window.”
“And see sheep?” The child beamed, clambering up to stand on the seat.
A woman across the aisle tutted, gathered up her belongings and moved.
A newspaper was left behind so I reached for it, laying it beside my seat.
“Look out of my window,” I said to the child, “but stand on the paper. Then you won’t dirty the seat.”
She disappeared under the table, popping up at my side.
The train drew to a halt, the driver announcing a delay.
“Look, baby birdies with their mummy and daddy!” the child exclaimed.
This part of the railway line hugs the River Trent, and a pair of swans was gliding gracefully through the water with several fluffy brown cygnets.
“Daddy takes me to feed the birdies in the park. He taught me to count them!”
“How many babies can you see?”
She pointed. “One, two, four, three, sixth…”
But then the train began to move and the driver announced we’d shortly be pulling into Rugeley Station.
I saw Aunty walking back up the carriage, with a little coat in her hand.
“Mum wants you to put this on,” she said to the child who was now sitting on my lap.
I helped her into it while Aunty sat in the seat vacated by the tutting woman. The girl climbed off my lap, running to her mother .
“Mummy, I saw baby birdies!”
The mother swept the child up into a hug, but the girl squirmed out of her arms.
“Are we almost home, Mummy?” she said impatiently.
“Yes. Give me your hand and say goodbye to the nice ladies.”
“Bye,” the child said without a second glance, pulling her mother towards the carriage door.
The mother bent to kiss my aunt on her cheek, then let the child have her way.
Aunty joined me at the table observing the mother and toddler on the platform.
The woman had a look of expectation on her face; the child waved, running towards a man. At that moment the train pulled from the platform.
“So what was that all about, Aunty?” I asked her as the train gathered speed.
“All’s well that ends well. A little marital tiff by text. In my day it was done by telegram!”
We’re sharing another lovely family themed story from our archives every Monday and Thursday during March. Look out for the next one!