I’m writing this sitting on a leather sofa, next to tables with little vase where people are playing cards. I’m drinking tea and eating shortbread, and a nice waiter comes over every so often to see if I want anything. There’s an easy camaraderie, with strangers chatting away as if they have much in common and all the time in the world to chew it over. But I’m not in a hotel or a bar; I’m in the lounge of the Caledonian Sleeper, the overnight train from London to Edinburgh, where I’m going for a conference tomorrow.
One of the things I have really enjoyed since going to Brussels is rediscovering my enjoyment of rail travel. When I had a car I went everywhere in it; the very fact of owning and insuring it meant that it was usually cheaper. But now I don’t have one, and though the fact I don’t live in the countryside any more makes this easy, I don’t miss it at all. Not one bit.
The sleeper is a new experience for me, though. It’s slow, lumpen and not exactly efficient-looking: the carriages are old and hauled along by one of those massive EWS locomotives that you usually see dragging trucks full of stone or coal. We’ve stopped twice and haven’t even passed Watford yet. And it creaks as it rattles along, swaying from side to side.
But it has style. I mean, I’m sitting on a sofa! On a train! There’s a waiter! Who was really nice when I realised I didn’t have the right money and let me pay short for my tea! And when I’m finished, I’ll toddle off down the corridor and go to sleep. I’ll apparently be woken with coffee and breakfast before we arrive. Compare this to the stress of one of the fuck-you ‘budget’ airlines. Because that is the other thing that’s reminded me of how good it is to travel by rail. The total cost, Brussels to Edinburgh? €60 for the Eurostar, £53 for the sleeper. I think I’ll be doing this again.