I took my girls on the train to Blackpool to spend time with their grandparents, who were holidaying nearby.

Our journey started pleasantly as we enjoyed time together in a new and clean, covid-secure carriage. The younger two were playing games and listening to music on their phones – the 16 year old was chatting to me whilst answering her numerous social media conversations.This continued until the train stopped at Bolton, where someone got on who sadly, changed the tone and temperament of our onward journey.

I could hear a man making a nuisance of himself in nearby seats. He took a table with a man in a Man United top and went on to have loud and inappropriate conversation with him. I guessed that the man had learning disabilities although I couldn’t see from my position, that he was also drinking copious amounts of alcohol.

Once the conversation had run dry with the Man United fan (‘tonk‘ from the lettering on the back) he turned around in his seat and started to engage me in conversation. Still unaware that he was getting more drunk by the second, I chose to show the man some compassion-especially since he wasn’t adhering to covid etiquette by wearing a mask. I pointed this out to him and he produced a mask which he put on. He then thanked me for my concern by offering to give me a fist bump. I declined, mentioning that it was against guidelines. At this point, a conversation turned sour – his tone changed and he went on from talking about football and other bollocks to his new-found hatred of me.

I couldn’t predict what he was going to do as he continued to randomly turn around and gabble rubbish. His conversation took a more menacing path as he started to issue me whispered death threats. “I was in the SAS you know and I wouldn’t think twice about killing someone“. This had suddenly become quite serious. Perhaps I could deal with this better on my own but suddenly, it felt like I had my own life to protect whilst also protecting the girls.

We were in a public place (albeit sparsely populated due to Covid regulations) so cognitively, and guessed that should things turn really nasty then we would be okay. Strength in numbers and all that.

Very cleverly, my concerned oldest daughter googled what to do if you feel threatened on a train journey and followed up the instructions. She texted a covert Mayday message whilst starting to ‘link’ me – as she was obviously unsure of my next move. She said afterwards, that when ‘Craig‘ became particularly obscene then my body tensed up, I presume in a fight or flight response. I also noticed that I was grinding my teeth behind my face covering.

The drunk and disturbed man told us that his brother had died that day and he was going to see his father near Blackpool. He also injected the conversation with more poison as he mentioned that he was sexually abused as a child. After imparting this news he went on to cry and drool all over me.

Then, after he decided that I was now his friend, he offered me money getting tens and 20s out of his pocket. I quickly surmised that taking £10 would be okay and was get him off my back. We now had a genuine conversation piece as I said that we would raise a glass to Craig when we got to our destination. I thanked him profusely, calling him a generous friend. This was whilst my brain was running on overdrive, trying to devise an escape strategy.

As the stops slowly passed on my Trainline app, Craigs unpredictability meant that I had to be on my guard for the next 45 minutes. When he started to address my girls, my adrenaline levels went through the roof, particularly as my 11-year-old was privy.

Proudly, my three handled the situation impeccably. I sent my eldest to the ‘toilet‘ with a brief to look for a train guard to quieten the situation down. But no one was about. Tonk remained quiet, I guess his quickly-drawn-up battle plan was to leave the fire of Craig to burn to embers. I guess he didn’t hear that I was sitting with Multiple Sclerosis and repeated threats of being knocked out in front of my kids.

Finally and very happily, the train pulled into Blackpool North and I stood up. It turned out that Craig was a couple of inches shorter than me as the toothless and tattooed assailant continued to hound us like an angry wasp. I introduced him to my dad on the platform. Sensing danger, dad hotfooted to the end of the platform to request assistance. Assistance did come in the form of an elderly lady who rather than addressing the now departing Craig, sought to offer me some solace. I quickly rejected her gestures and once Craig had disappeared out of sight, ushered my girls through to the ticket barriers.

My body, now fizzing with chemicals from the traumatic journey, now just wanted to rest. However I had to negotiate and jobsworth on the ticket barriers and an untimely phone call from the citizens advice.

After a pleasant stay with my folks, I met a friend for tea. I told her about the experience and mentioned that I felt closer to a breakdown than I ever had. I think I will be alright, I hope and pray my girls will be too.

Tom Llewellyn

Hello! My name is Tom Llewellyn and I’m a former long distance runner. In December 2010, I was diagnosed with relapsing remitting Multiple Sclerosis. Several years later in November 2017, I was re-diagnosed with a progressive form of the condition. I now use a walking stick to get around. I write about my journey with the condition of MS – and also of life – documented over the course of several years. Much of the subject matter is about my scars and my healing. Not forgetting Public Enemy and DJing!