The Dog In Seat 61: How to hot-paw it around Britain
Jane doesn’t drive, despite having had her first lesson, 23 years ago, when she was 17 and spending thousands of pounds on driving instruction since. She took one test, when she was 26, and it was stopped after five minutes because the examiner said she was a danger to pedestrians.
This means that, whenever we go on holiday, we have to take public transport. Well, Jane’s ex-boyfriend Tim used to ferry us around in his vintage green Range Rover, which was once a member of the royal family’s fleet of vehicles. I felt very special and important, sitting in the back seat, looking down on all the little people in their little cars. Me, a socialist too!
I meet a fellow man of letters: Sir John Betjeman at St Pancras Station
My favourite train station in Britain because I’m allowed in the champagne bar on the concourse. Cheers!
On the Buses
But now it’s back to the bus. Living in Camberwell, as we do, we are very reliant on buses as there’s no tube station here. Jane’s favourite bus is the No. 12, a bendy bus. She takes it into the office she works in three days a week and it goes past the Houses of Parliament and David Cameron’s house – my old house too, I suppose, when I was Prime Minister – and then in a loop around Trafalgar Square, where there’s a ship in a bottle on a plinth. (I’m flagging that up because this page is about transport and a ship in a bottle is transport.)
The point is, I rarely go on the No.12, even though I’d like to, because it doesn’t end up at a major train station that takes us out of London. I always have to go on the No.45, which I hate, to King’s Cross, or the number 68, to Euston.
As a dog, I have had bad experiences on London buses. Some people don’t approve of dogs on buses. Once a man kicked me. Another time, Jane and I sat down next to a woman, me, being quiet and well-behaved at Jane’s feet, and the woman started shouting at Jane, saying that dogs shouldn’t be allowed on buses, because some people are allergic to us. Jane told the woman that dogs are allowed on buses and she’d just have to accept it. It developed into quite a row, Jane defending my right to travel on public transport and the woman saying dogs shouldn’t even be allowed to live in people’s homes – they should be kept outside, in kennels. She was a horrible woman and, over a period of a few minutes, I gathered up a good deal of snot and spittle in my nose and then sneezed all over the silly cow. It served her right.
Now, when I climb on to a bus, I hold my head up high. I might be a dog but I have every right to be on this bus, I tell myself.
Trains Underground and Overground
Trains, however, are a totally different story to buses. I love travelling on trains – I’m treated like a Lord. It seems to be the law that every conductor, on every train in the land, has to like dogs and has to make a huge fuss of any canine that’s on board. The people who push the trolleys serving coffee and sandwiches like me too. Even though I tend to make myself at home on trains by sprawling across the aisle and blocking their path, they always ask me very politely if I’ll move, just until they’ve passed, and I can sprawl again.
Occasionally – very occasionally – Jane finds a cheap deal on a website, normally www.trainline.co.uk, and we travel first class. The few times we’ve done this we’ve been going up to Scotland to visit her parents. Once, in December, it was snowing heavily and the train was stuck just outside Motherwell Station for two hours. I was desperate for a pee but, fortunately, I’m a young dog with excellent bladder control and I could cope. All the other passengers in first class felt so sorry for me, though – me, Attlee Common – being stuck on a train. The injustice! They weren’t sorry for themselves and the fact that they were going to miss onward connections and nights out and television programmes – they were just sorry for me.
‘Isn’t he patient?’ one man said to Jane. ‘He’s such a well trained dog,’ another told her.
As she usually does when I’m praised, Jane smiled and said thank you, as if it’s she who is being praised. She’s never trained me to be patient on trains – it’s just something I know how to do.
Whatever, I was proud of myself. Best of all, though, the lady who serves all the passengers coffee and biscuits and pretzels – they’re free, in first class – was so worried about me and the inconvenience the delay was causing to my busy timetable of squirrel chasing and bottom sniffing – she gave me two bits of shortbread and three bags of pretzels. It was amazing!
(If you want to be stuck on a train in the snow outside Motherwell for three hours eating shortbread and pretzels, make your owner log on to www.virgintrains.co.uk.)
By the time we disembarked at Glasgow Central, after seven hours on that train, I had the longest pee ever. (Outside, obv – I know not to pee inside train stations.)
While we’re talking about trains, there is a very good website written for people who want to make train journeys – in Britain and Europe and all across the world – called the man in seat 61, www.seat61.com. That’s why Jane has called this section of my travelwebsite, the dog in seat 61, in honour of his website. She says she doesn’t think he’ll mind, unless we both – him and me – end up in seat 61 on the same train at the same time and he doesn’t like dogs that eat a lot of shortbread. Jane loves the man in seat 61 and is going to email him and ask him what he thinks about dogs on trains.
*Dogs travel for free on all trains in the UK, except the Scotrail Sleeper, which is free for assistance dogs, but, for dogs like me who aren’t of any assistance whatsoever, charges a cleaning fee. Log on to www.scotrail.co.uk/caledonian sleeper for more details.
Getting my sea paws
Now, Jane’s parents, Mick and Branwen, live on an island in Scotland called Bute. The Isle of Bute. I have given the Isle of Bute its own section on this website as I spend a lot of time there, with Mick and Branwen, when Jane goes on holidays to places I can’t go, like Thailand. But the island features in the transport page because, to reach the Isle of Bute, I have to catch a ferry – and I am flagging this up to show just how well travelled a dog I am. From Battersea to Bute. By boat!
The ferry is run by a company called Caledonian MacBrayne and has a special section where dogs have to sit. This is called the Coin section, because the Gaelic word for pet is Coin. Or maybe the Gaelic word for dog is coin, because I’ve never seen another sort of animal sitting in the coin section. Dodger certainly doesn’t travel on ferries!
I don’t mind sitting in it, apart from when Jane leaves me there, tied to a seat, and goes to the shop on the ferry to buy a piece of Cal Mac merchandise for her friend Lindsay, who was brought up on Bute. Jane and Lindsay have this great joke where, every time one of them goes to the island, they have to bring back a Cal Mac branded pen or calendar or bag for the other. They think it’s hilarious – the things humans do to amuse themselves!
*Dogs travel for free on all Call Mac ferries. (www.calmac.co.uk)
Me On The CalMac, looking out at the Firth of Clyde
It’s not a very good photo, because Jane took it on her Blackberry.
House Party on a House Boat
Jane’s friend Samm lives on a house boat. To be fair, I’ve never actually travelled anywhere on this house boat, although I did have the offer of a trip to Slough on it once. But I have sat on it, quite often, while a lot of people drink beer and wine around me, talking about nothing. Here is a photo of me and Jane and Lindsay on Samm’s boat. (You may notice the Morroccan themed interior that Samm designed – woof!)