There was an item on the radio this morning about train journeys and the interesting, odd and sometimes exciting things which happen. When I first lived away from home, travelling by train was the only way to see anyone or get anywhere, but over the years, even though we now travel mostly by car, we still love train journeys.
I was on the train coming back from a holiday abroad; I must have flown into Gatwick or Heathrow, probably the latter and I was heading west, back to my family. It was a time when there were compartments on the train and I was in one with a few other passengers. I was sitting opposite a man I guess in his thirties, He had very black hair, a rosy complexion, a smiley face and wire rimmed glasses. He was with a young teenager who I think was his brother – it’s a long time ago and I can’t quite remember, certainly he was a young relative, a typical schoolboy.
After exchanging a few remarks, as people used to in those days with only newspapers, magazines or books to pass the time, we began a conversation. The man was very friendly – I must have been about twenty at the time, but he was a little stuttery as if he was shy. I can’t remember all we talked about, only that it became a very interesting conversation. I told him I was studying history which was something he knew a lot about and the Etruscans came up in conversation – as they do!!! Actually I have never ever had another conversation with a stranger about them, in fact can’t remember talking very much about them to anyone – ever!
The man was extraordinarily well-informed and at the time I learned a great deal from him in a lively conversation, I’d thought the Etruscans were a mysterious civilisation about which little was known – but no, he said, a great deal was known, and he proceeded to give me a friendly seminar on them. The boy chipped in from time to time and it was a very pleasant, interesting and yes, intellectually exciting way to pass part of the journey.
Unfortunately it was only part of the journey because they left the train an hour or so before I did. I was so sorry to say goodbye as he was such an interesting and knowledgeable and engaging man. I’ve never forgotten him and that journey and often wonder who he was – was he a lecturer at a university, a teacher, was he just an interested amateur historian… who will ever know. The distinguishing feature about his appearance was a huge red birthmark across his cheek and nose; within a few minutes of beginning the conversation, I no longer saw it, it became invisible, and it’s only now thinking back that I remember.
I wonder where he is now?
The Etruscan civilisation is the modern name given to a powerful and wealthy civilisation of ancient Italy in the area corresponding roughly to Tuscany, south of the Arno river, western Umbria and northern and central Lazio. As distinguished by its unique language, this civilisation endured from before the time of the earliest Etruscan inscriptions (c.700 BC) until its assimilation into the Roman Republic, beginning in the late 4th century BC with the Roman–Etruscan Wars. Culture that is identifiably Etruscan developed in Italy after about 900 BC, approximately with the Iron Age Villanovan culture, regarded as the oldest phase of Etruscan civilisation.