The early bird catches the worm. And this early bird is going to catch the Christmas-train-home-worm.
Not for me, that frantic race against all the other last-minute ticket-buying folk for a seat in the only(!) unreserved carriage on the train. Oh, no. I’ve been left standing in the carriage corridor of that 1900 train from London to Penzance on Cristmas Eve too many times. And, by golly, it’s a four and a half hour endurance test I’ll be glad to give a miss this year.
I’m booking in advance, you see. All the best people are doing it now. Called forward planning or something terribly modern like that.
And what glee I’ll feel as I squeeze past those unfortunate late-comers and make my way over to that most glorious of all things, the reserved seat.
I love a good train ride. Give me a book, a selection of delicacies from M&S and (if my luck’s in) some neighbouring passengers full of hot gossip that I can listen in on and I’m set. What’s that you say? A four and a half hour journey? Pffff! Easy!
Back in the day, I think I’d have loved the journey home even more.
It’s a Brief Encounter-Virgin Trains Advert-Murder on the Orient Express Hybrid that I’m imagining and catching a ride on it would have been a real treat.
Just picture it – wood paneled compartments, brass door handles, tasseled lamp shades… Oh! Heaven!!
For such a journey, I’d abandon my wheeled suitcase for something altogether more classic . Who needs practicality when you can have style? A small leather case, beautifully embossed with my initials would be all I’d need.
My vintage travelling companions would offer just the right amount of intrigue to keep me entertained without being tiresome. I’m always a little sleepy and (dare I say it?) short of temper when I embark on these train rides home so screaming children, crude conversations and people with annoying personalities are are most unwelcome.
My travelling companions would be an altogether more refined bunch. Perhaps one is devastatingly good looking. A gentleman of consequence. A writer. The possibility of a torrid love affair is never something to be sniffed at on such a long journey and this man may well be the perfect candidate. After all, my book might turn out to be a no good at all…
It would be fun to have a retired Captain on board, too. One who’s post in India left him with a fondness for extolling the virtues of eating kedgeree for breakfast (we’d have a lively conversation about this). He’d be the sort that, although now portly and quite the wrong side of seventy, insists on wearing his old uniform – pith helmet and beige plus-fours – at all times. He might have a grizzly scar running down the side of his face or a missing eye from a fight with a tiger in the jungle. Something like that.
My final companion would be a femme fatale – a lady of extremely fine breeding and with excellent deportment but bearing that fragility of mind that so often goes hand in hand with well bred folk. She is immaculately coiffured and devastatingly beautiful yet harbours a dark secret that will lead to scandal and … wait for it… MURDER. I’d take note of the pointed nail file she’s using. I’d observe that there’s something heavy sitting in the right hand pocket of her trench coat (a gun?). Noting both potential murder weapons in a small notepad could help solve a future crime and what better way to start one’s holiday than as a hero?
It seems that the 40s and 50s were a bit of a golden age for hungry rail traveller. Sumptuous feasts were offered in dining carts – roast lamb, oven baked chicken and fresh desserts – all delivered by immaculate waiters onto tables bedecked with flowers and spotless white tablecloths. And I bet you there wasn’t a plastic cup in sight.
But it wouldn’t just be the ride (and the food) that I’d have loved. Scoot back to the 20s and 30s and we get to see the start of the most spectacular advertising campaigns for the English rail travel.
Who could resist the delights of the tumbling cliffs of Devon when it’s presented to you like that? What joy! I’ll tell you something, First Great Western, if you’re looking to get more passengers, you’d do well to delve into the Great Western Railway archives.
Because, quite frankly, the sort of thing you’re currently offering just doesn’t cut the mustard.