COLLEEN SMITH: Wi-fi technology right on track
I'M on a train. On my laptop. On the way to the Lake District. I thought that it might be an idea to write this week's column during this enforced six-and-a-half hours of sitting doing nothing, on a train.
Sadly, things have not worked out quite as I'd planned and I'm only at Exeter St David's. Still it's already been... well, interesting.
Firstly, there is a space issue. I had booked a window seat but should have made sure I had a table too.
When I first got on the Newton Abbot to Birmingham New Street leg of my journey I felt terribly grown up and sophisticated as I plugged my computer in to the electric socket.
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That probably sounds silly, as I'm in my 50s — which is not just grown up, but definitely pretty much on my way over the hill and down the other side of life.
Interestingly, even before I had got to Newton Abbot I had met a lovely couple from Brixham.
We'd got talking because the woman recognised me from my photograph on this page in the Herald Express each week.
We had a nice chat, in the way you sometimes do with near-strangers on trains.
She really made me think when she told me that, very sadly, she was on her way to the funeral of her older sister.
I have to paraphrase a bit here because I wasn't taking shorthand notes or anything but she said something really sweet about how — even though she was in her 70s — she'd always looked up to her big sister, even though they were very close in age.
And that she'd got her sense of bravery about life from her, and that's what she would miss, and that maybe it was time for her to be brave on her own now.
So that's two of us, women of older years, both feeling curiously grown up.
Younger readers won't appreciate how modern it feels to my generation to be working on a computer, on a train. It's not something I've ever done before.
But now that I've tried it, I won't be doing it again. Trust me.
Unless you can afford a first class seat, it's well nigh impossible.
I'm used to writing in uncomfortable positions, in bed and on the sofa. But this is the worst yet.
I can only type with my right shoulder and arm crooked up and elevated because of the arm rest. The opposite knee is raised up slightly to hold the laptop in place. It's not exactly comfortable.
When the refreshment trolley comes around I have to pack away my laptop because there's no room to type and drink. It's impossible.
There is a funny moment when the woman who is serving drinks from the trolley compliments me on my dress. Which is nice. She wants to know where it's from. M&S, I tell her, but she's disappointed to learn that I've had it for a couple of years and so she probably won't be able to find one there now.
Despite this, she wants to know (as I'm sitting down and she can't see) whether it's long enough to wear with tights, or leggings. Woolly tights and boots, I tell her, and off she goes to serve the next teas and coffees.
But the whole exchange makes me smile and I say to the 20-year-old archaeology student next to me, who is also trying not to laugh: "Women are funny aren't they? Can you imagine two men on a train asking each other about where they bought their trousers, or what socks they had with them?"
The train is full already (I'm at Taunton now). The train manager has helpfully been calling up and down the carriage asking whose bag is whose so that he can re-arrange them to make a bit more space.
And just before we got into Temple Meads he made an announcement apologising for the overcrowding and thanking everybody for being so helpful with the luggage moving.
It was all terribly polite and kind and British, somehow.
The same train manager also helped out the lady sitting right behind me who wanted to know where she could store her picnic basket.
I don't know what she'd got in there but my sensitive vegetarian nose picked up a slightly humming, meaty smell.
We have just pulled out of the long, curving platform at Bristol Temple Meads and seem to have left the glorious sunshine of Devon and Somerset behind.
Ominous, curiously low-lying banks of grey cloud seem to be moving quickly along with us as the train travels north.
Although the grey skies don't bode well for my trip to the Lake District, it has been helpful. Up until now the sun coming through the window has made the screen on my laptop impossible to read, and for the first time now I am actually able to see what I'm writing clearly.
Now we get to the really tricky bit of the exercise. I have to find out how to connect to the wi-fi and send this column down the line, via the internet, and the cloud or the bluetooth wi-fi what-not. These are words that I use but do not pretend to fully understand.
Luckily, I am sitting next to a young person. And he impresses me by knowing how to find his way around my computer to get to the login page for Cross Country wi-fi.
It's so much more simple than I expect. I pay just by typing in my mobile number. They text me a code and I get an hour's internet for £2.
I'm sorry to sound so childish, but to me this is pure magic.
I'm on a train, on a computer, on the internet, on my phone. And next to me is a canal boat and the English countryside rushing by, looking just as it has done since Shakespearian times.