IT’S a long way to Bristol by train from the North-East and, for nearly an hour of the journey, I had to listen to three old people talking about fish.

I was on my way to speak at a business conference when the aforementioned elderly trio boarded the train for the last leg of the journey and sat at my table. The two women and one man, maybe in their eighties, settled into their seats and said nothing for a few minutes as the train pulled out of the station and picked up speed.

Then the women sitting next to me, speaking with a West Country twang, broke the silence by asking the man and woman opposite: “Do you like kippers?”

“Ooh, yes, I likes a kipper,” replied the other woman, without any surprise at the question apparently coming completely out of the blue.

The old fella, who I took to be the other woman’s husband, didn’t take any encouragement to join in: “You can’t beat a good kipper,” he acknowledged. There was then a pause while they all looked out of the window for a while to give themselves thinking time. The man then added a whole new dimension to the conversation by adding: “They can be a bit fishy though, can’t they, kippers.”

“Yes, they can be a bit fishy,” agreed the woman, who’d kicked off the kipper train of thought. The other woman nodded, sagely, and muttered: “And they ’ave bones.”

I couldn’t help smiling to myself at the thought of how old people develop the knack of having very long conversations about seemingly very little, but my thoughts on the ageing process were cut short by the introduction of smoked salmon.

“I likes a bit of smoked salmon,” said the first woman, as the conductor checked her ticket.

“Mmm, I definitely likes a bit of smoked salmon… especially the smokiness… combined with the salmon,” confirmed the second woman.

“Aye, smoked salmon’s got a lot going for it,” declared the man.

By this time, I confess that I was clenching my knees under the table to prevent leakage and biting my lip to avoid laughing out loud. But my fortitude was tested to the limit when the first woman pressed on with the dramatic confession: “I don’t like tuna – and I don’t think tuna likes me, if I’m honest.”

I had a vision of a tuna scowling at the woman in an unfriendly manner. I had to excuse myself and go to the toilet. By the time I got back to my seat, they’d gone full circle and were unanimous that kippers were definitely the best.

Then, the strangest thing happened: I found myself joining in. “If ever you’re up in the North-East, you must go to Northumberland and try the kippers at a place called Craster,” I told them.

My sudden contribution didn’t stop there. “Honestly, I wasn’t that bothered about kippers until I went to Craster but they’re the best kippers in the world,” I added.

It was at that moment that I realised I’m getting old too.

The things they say

JOHN Davison, of Bishop Auckland, got in touch to tell me about the demands being placed on him by his little boy Thomas, five.

“Daddy, can we get a dog?”

“No, son, they take a lot of looking after and you’re not old enough yet,” replied John.

“What about a kangaroo?” came the reply.

THANKS to colleague Matt Westcott, who passed on details of a conversation with his sons Ethan and Harvey.

Ethan: “Hey, that looks like the house where Uncle Wes lives.”

Dad: “No, that house is standing on its own, not in a row.”

Harvey: “Yes, Uncle Wes lives in a terrorist house, doesn’t he, Dad?”

THANK you also to Lesley Richardson, formerly headteacher at Timothy Hackworth Primary School, in Shildon, who recalled a little boy called Dean who was breaking his heart because his shoelace had come undone.

Lesley tied his lace for him, dried his eyes, and encouraged him to learn how to do it himself over the weekend so he could show off when he came back to school on Monday.

The little lad looked up and blurted out: “I can’t be bothered!”