I am on the train from London Kings Cross to Edinburgh. The guard is apologising.
‘I want to apologise unreservedly for the lack of reservations, on this service. You’ll have noticed these are not the usual carriages. We had to borrow a train set because, well, we haven’t got enough.’
The annoyance of the passengers relaxes into smiles and shrugs. He is so frank and in 2017 they still call these train sets.
‘Also there is no WiFi.’ There is some sniggering.
’And I’m afraid the catering is on a restricted menu till York.’ Shaking of heads. But no one is frowning.
He’s directing us to the website to make formal complaints, acknowledging the inconvenience, so we can get some money back. He couldn’t do any more. And we know it works, that compensation is often paid.
The staff are kind, patiently explaining the obvious, directing traffic gently. They call me Madam now. I blame the specs.
The passengers help each other with bags, wait patiently to ‘just squeeze by’ and move seats to let families sit together, averting their eyes tolerantly and giving hard stares when needed.
There’s still something civilised about travelling by long haul train, with all the delays and overcrowding, an awareness among us all that we could fly and get there faster but where’s the sense in that, when there are sun-tipped wheat fields up and down the country waiting for us to slide past and murmurations of birds wheeling against sunsets the length of the carriage.
It’s not about the destination, or at least not all about it, when you’re on the train. It’s on the journey that you have the unexpected insights, meet the hilarious characters, see old problems from a new angle. And just see life, lots of it, going on around you and without you and sometimes through you. It’s all out there, doing it’s own thing. You can get involved or just sit and take it in and sometimes you don’t have much choice but mostly you do. And the amazing, stupendous, impossibly beautiful world whizzing by your ears.