Sleeper.

Caledonian Sleeper train. Source: Wikipedia

So a guy got on an overnight train from Glasgow to London, went to bed, and woke up the next morning in Glasgow. It sounds like a joke or even like he just really overslept, which could also be a joke, and the Scottish city does, I think, have it’s own peculiar sense of humor. Craig Ferguson, doing a standup routine, once said, “Pardon me if I’m meringue, as we say in Glasgow…” He paused and there was dead silence so he added, “No one from Glasgow in the audience, then,” and went on.

It turns out train lines across Britain were shut down by extreme heat—something they’ve never had to deal with in history, which is a sobering reminder of the problems caused by climate change, and just how quickly it’s occurring. Thirty years ago when I rode the British rails regularly pretty much the only thing that could stop the trains was leaves on the tracks.

I never did ride a sleeper train, though, much as I wanted to. I did take a very long trip from Grantham, Lincolnshire, all the way to Swansea, in Wales. I asked the man at the ticket office if there was an overnight train. He just chuckled and said, “We don’t do that.” It was an odd response and I’ve always wondered if he misunderstood what I was asking. Or maybe that was just his way of telling me there weren’t enough people going from the upper northeast of Britain all the way to the lower southwest of Wales to make an overnight service necessary. An overnight train would have been nice since I arrived at my destination half an hour late, but that’s another story. In fact there are only two sleeper trains in Britain: the Caledonian Sleeper, that goes north to south from Inverness to London, and the Night Riveria, which goes west to east from London to Penzance, making it very popular with pirates.

Night Riviera route. Source: Wikipedia

Most of the time I didn’t sleep on trains. Pretty much any time I travel solo I don’t sleep much—I get too excited, but I’d been up late the night before and I also knew at least the first leg of the journey pretty well so I allowed myself to be lulled to sleep by the steady green monotony of the English countryside.

Then some time later I woke up in an unfamiliar train station—unfamiliar even though it was steely gray and had multiple lines and looked like pretty much every other major train station—and everyone was leaving. I asked the last person to go by, an older, white-haired woman, “Which station is this?” She didn’t answer me. Through the window I watched her walk to the exit then stop, turn, and go the other way. A second later she was by my seat. “Birmingham!” she said, smiling, and then she was gone before I could even thank her.

It was a small act of kindness but all these years later I still appreciate it. It occurred to me a few minutes later that, having studied the map, I knew my final destination, Swansea, was literally the end of the line. If I’d slept all the way there a conductor would have come around and told me to get out. Birmingham just happened to be a major city on the route so it wasn’t strange that it was almost everyone got off. And a few minutes later new people boarded and the train was on its way again.

Then, on my return journey, the train was stopped for a couple of hours by leaves on the tracks.

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4 Comments

  1. M.L. James

    On my bucket list to “mind the gap” one of these years! I probably won’t sleep through my ride, though. Mona

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I think the number of Underground stations where you “mind the gap” is sadly in decline. I think they should keep one or two just for old times’ sake. There was a story several years ago of a woman who went to a “Mind the gap” station because it was her late husband’s voice. Sad but also sweet.

      Reply
  2. ANN J KOPLOW

    I always enjoy going along for the ride with you, Chris.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Just as it’s not the destination but the journey it’s also the company that makes the journey worthwhile, and you’re always the best company.

      Reply

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