Friday, 31 October 2008

How Are You, Mr Tobias?

"How are you, Mr Tobias?" the booking clerk enquired yesterday (well, he used my other name, but you get the idea). I was buying a ticket in the county town's main station. He's greeted me like this for years, and it used to impress the hell out of work colleagues as we set off for a meeting with the Department of the Environment or the National Coal Board or whoever (yes, the Garden of England had coal mines too).

The reason the polite clerk remembers my name is that a few years ago I was his nemesis. When he saw me approach his window he knew it wasn't for a straightforward single to London Bridge or day return to Barming, but return tickets for the family to Kyle of Lochalsh.

Those bookings weren't straightforward. For a start he had to get the right combination of sleepers. Sleeping compartments come in pairs with a concealed communicating door between them. Usually these are locked, but if you book the right pair the door can be opened to create a roomy, four berth space.

Then there was the dog. They normally travel in the goods van, but the SS won't countenance this. Once upon a time you slipped the guard half-a-crown and he let you bring one into the sleeper. Now you have to pay an £80 excess for 'deep cleaning'. I don't suppose for a moment any deep cleaning ever actually takes place, but it presumably satisfies the objections of non-doggy people. (Anyway, the habits of most dogs are a lot cleaner than those of some passengers; I've never felt quite the same about the basins in sleepers since Rather Grand Aunt admitted she peed in them if taken short in the night. I mean, I know there will always be some people who pee in basins, but Rather Grand Aunt? If she did it then absolutely anyone might).

The Caledonian Sleeper is still impossibly romantic, and arguably the finest way to travel. After a nightcap in the lounge you fall asleep between crisply laundered sheets, lulled by the motion of the train, and wake in the morning to the steward's knock with a tray of tea or coffee, followed by a cooked breakfast as the sun rises over snow-capped hills. So civilised.

When everything goes to plan, that is.


  1. I've been using the wrong trains then - I once took an overnight from Euston to Aviemore and it was horrendous. Cold, rattly - I hardly got a wink of sleep - and all we got for breakfast was a cup of tea and an orange. This was in 2003 as opposed to 1903.

    CD arrived safely today by the way - many, many thanks!

  2. I LOVE sleeper trains. I'm trying to find a way to get to Venice overnight from Paris at the moment, but Scotland is the best! Well ok, it's the second best after the one that goes to Switzerland because then you wake up and get handed a cup of tea and a CROISSANT and the guard speaks a different language from the one the night before. Are you going on it again soon?