Every summer I take the train to Plymouth to re-enact my regular trips there to meet one of my oldest friends, Mike Flay. He died in May 2016, so this was the third time I’d made this special journey, having started the pilgrimages that summer of 2016.
Great Western Railways now operates smart new Hitachi trains, which are a big improvement on the old ‘HS 125’ bone shakers that had been in service since about 1902. They have electrically operated doors, so you no longer have to slide down the door’s window and lean out to open with the handle on the outside of the door.
As usual I headed for the Hoe, where Sir Francis Drake allegedly played bowls while the Spanish Armada sailed towards its intended attack on England. A slightly camp statue of him stands on a column on the highest point of the Hoe, and he looks out over the Sound, as if searching for more Spanish battle ships.
Mike and I usually had lunch at a pub restaurant down on the waterfront. He invariably had a burger and a posh Italian lager. I favour English real ale. They no longer seem to do Jail Ale, so this year it was Proper Job – named after that quaint Cornish/Devonian expression of general approbation.
In previous visits there’s usually been a ship of some kind passing out of the docks into the Sound. This year a huge vessel was being towed out by two tugs, that looked too tiny to shift it – like ants lugging a dead mouse.
After another pint at our customary final pit stop, the colonial Copthorne hotel, the bar of which is now pretentiously named a brasserie, but still has a corporate air, I headed back to the station.