If you’ve ever, even once in your life, been a passenger, you’ll know how boring long journeys can become. Even the most enthusiastic traveler must at some point thought to themselves, I could do with not sitting right now, and would like maybe to get up, stretch legs a bit - either mine, or someone else’s - maybe breathe in some fresh air, but most importantly, I would like to be the dictator of my own movement, and in charge of my own direction.
I think being a passenger potentially propels us straight back in to those feelings of helplessness we continually experienced as children. This would certainly explain the reason why, five hours into my journey to London and one hour after the train came to a complete stop in the middle of nowhere for no particular reason, that I was very close to throwing a proper tantrum.
The train company that runs between Edinburgh and London (who I am afraid to name for reasons that I know of having worked in law firms) are becoming legendary for their abilities to break down, crash, cancel without notice and otherwise be fairly incompetent when it comes to all things train related. Which is quite the achievement when you think that they are the only rail service provider along the east coast of Great Britain. I have taken many a journey with them from Edinburgh to London, a journey which in theory should take just over four and a half hours. On average, my journeys with them have taken anything between five and seven hours, and that is now what I expect, and how I plan my subsequent schedule. Even with this kind of generous lee-way, I couldn’t possibly have been expected to believe that the journey could take eleven hours.
Picture it. Ten minutes after boarding the train, and five minutes after leaving the station, the train stopped. Underneath a bridge. For 25 minutes. Apparently, the brakes in Coach D weren’t working. Well, I thought to myself, that’s the delay out of the way. You can find yourself still quite even-tempered (despite being on a train) at the beginning of a journey, and I was quite prepared to let that go, since I was all happy and on a journey and at the start of an adventure.
Five hours later, and I was in a whole new area of exasperation. We stopped about five minutes short of a station. I assumed it was for signalling, or somesuch, but was forced to quickly revise my assumptions when all the lights went off through the train, and the engine stopped running. The Customer Services Advisor started spouting off the usual non-information, and I phoned ahead to say that, once again, the train had stopped. We were advised we’d be delayed for about 10 minutes, and I can tell you now that I was well miffed at the thought - we were already at this stage running just over an hour behind schedule, and I was keen to get to London to start the dancing and the drinking.
Five minutes later, the emergency lighting appeared, and we relaxed to wait the other five minutes bravely through, all the time believing, like the innocent fools that we were, that we’d be on our way any moment now.
Two hours later, and I had already chain smoked all my cigarettes, listened to all my CDs, finished one of my books, and become thoroughly miserable at the lack of information, the lack of air conditioning, the lack of toilet facilities, the lack of coffee, but most of all the lack of forward movement.
Sitting right in my eye line was a notice that, at the beginning of my journey, I thought was a bit unnecessary and heavy handed. Headlined “DON’T DO IT!” in stern capital letters, it explained that The Train Company Who Shall Not Be Named valued their staff, and their staff’s safety, and that if anyone is nasty to their staff they will hunt them through the courts with gratuitous force, using spears if necessary. Two and half hours in to the second “delay”, while we were being dragged slowly backwards to the station we had left over three hours before, I would certainly have taken the risk of court proceedings, had I been able to find a single member of staff to punch. As it was, they all seemed to have disappeared, along with any chance of me reaching London before midnight.
It's quite galling to be apologised to regularly for anything up to five hours in a row, as no matter how heartfelt the apology, it doesn't make your appointments any less missed, or your interviews any less cancelled. I shall be writing a very strongly worded letter to Voldemort Railways, in what will probably be a vain attempt to receive some compensation for the horrible journey I had to endure. The hope at the end of it all is that I get enough money back to book another journey down in December to go see David Gray shake his head in concert. I can but dream.