Friday, 26 August 2011

Transport of delight

It’s wonderful the impact a little misfortune can have on people who are sharing it.

I’m on a train to Berwick upon Tweed, on my way to rejoin Danielle and our family up there, including our granddaughter Aya.

Gone are the days of my youth, when I would turn up three or four minutes before the departure time and belt along the platform, dragging a door open while the guard was already blowing his whistle. These days I’m much too neurotic for that. So I was at the station by a quarter past four, for a five o’clock train. Time to buy myself some food to eat on the way, time to hang around in what is currently about the most ghastly of the London terminals, King’s Cross: it’s having a face lift done but it’s taking for ever. Thank God for the Olympics – that might spur them to get it finished by next year.

So I was in my seat in plenty of time. I was with a charming couple who are due to be married in two weeks – they've been planning the catering as we travel along and it's obviously going to be quite a party. Before we left, we exchanged a few comments and settled down to what was going to be a pleasant journey up the east coast.

A happy couple who made for good travel companions
The first indication that things weren’t going to be quite right was the announcement as we were pulling out of the station, that there would be no trolley service on the train. ‘Due,’ we were told, ‘to a shortage of trolleys in the London area.’ A shortage of trolleys? Go down to any canal and you’ll see them sticking out of the water.

Then things started to unravel seriously just beyond Peterborough, not quite an hour out. Signalling failure. Why does that keep happening? What’s so fragile about signals that they can’t keep them in better nick? Do the bulbs blow or something?

And then just before Doncaster, another hour on, it was a broken-down freight train in front of us. And that’s when the ice really broke in the carriage. It was partly because of the charming lady who checked our tickets and made the announcements, in one of my favourite accents – Newcastle. I can’t hear it without smiling.

‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ she would say, ‘we apologise for the delay to your journey. This is due to a broken down freight train on the line ahead of us. We regret the obvious inconvenience.’

She didn’t just say it once, she must have said it half a dozen times, always explaining again about the freight train. It got us all chatting.

‘Does she think we’d forgotten about the freight train?'
‘What’s so special about obvious inconvenience? What about the hidden kind?’
‘What does she mean ‘your journey’? She’s on the train too isn’t she?’
‘Yes,’ the bridegroom-to-be pointed out, ‘and she may have a hot date at the other end. I hope the guy is keen enough to wait.’

Those bubbles we usually travel in have been well and truly dispensed with.

The girl opposite has been doing her make-up. ‘I thought I’d have the time to get ready for the party once I was there,’ she explained, ‘but I’m just going to have to get ready now.’

We’re an hour and a half late now. My neurosis about being on time for the train clearly isn’t shared by the train itself. Lots of phone calls have been made, lots of complaints. But none of it has really been bad-tempered. After all, we’re perfectly comfortable. It’s Friday night, we don’t have to be up early tomorrow. The couple at my table have been told the hotel will send a car for them even though they’re late. The old lady next to the party girl has complimented her on her make-up. The  girl herself has gone off to try on two dresses – sorry, frocks – to see which she likes better. The chap two seats away shares a grin with me every time a particularly inane statement comes across the public address system.

Above all, there’s nothing we can do about any of this anyway. Hey, we might as well enjoy it.

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