I wasn’t going to write but now it appears, writing I am. (Knowing full well the extent to which this is probably going to sound like a sad, poor man’s Michael Portillo’s Great Train Journeys!)
I’m a mix of feelings: Worry that I’m going to get no sleep, trepidation ahead of meeting colleagues and work tomorrow and of course, deep down, pure geeky excitement that I’m on one of the country’s only two Sleeper Services.
It sounds dreamy: “The Night Riviera”. Go to bed at London Paddington, wake up in Penzance Cornwall. How dreamy the reality is, I shall have to let you know – It better be good – I’m coming back to London in the same manner tomorrow night!
At Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s great and imposing Paddington, the train is waiting for me at Platform 1. I take a stroll past Paddington Bear, and wait for a while in the First Class Lounge. I was lucky enough to manage to sneak into IKB’s original feature waiting room. Complete with a monogram for George the 6th.
I charge my phone a little, help myself to the wares on offer. (Cup of Tea and a fair few packets of glorious Boarders Biscuits.) I sat and people watched before making acquaintance with the couple next to me. We were reminded (regularly) that the train was ready for us to board, and eventually I caved in and headed for the train.
The isle was narrow. Very narrow. I had a backpack on my back and couldn’t turn around in the isle. I found the attendant and was checked in. The room (or berth) is small but functional – a bed, a sink, a hanger and a small box with soap, a flannel and some lip balm. You also get a tiny towel!
I’m in Coach G. The back of the train. Sadly, berth 1 – backing on to the toilet. Thankfully I packed my earplugs and should hope to get a good night’s kip. Breakfast has been booked with my friendly attendant – Coffee and a croissant.
I heard the automated voice heard at every other national rail station announce “The 23.50, First Great Western Service to Penzance” and headed to the back of the train. I hung my head out the window for a moment. I could see the grand station clock and Paddington Bear. The doors clunked. Locked. We were ready. Mere seconds later, the whistle blew, a green flag waved and we were off!
The back of the train has no engine car, so I could see “Where I’d been”. Watching the Great Paddington station get left behind, a tube train try to race us along the track but most importantly, London being left behind.
I left the back of train and made my way up the endless feeling corridors to the Lounge Car. Got myself a tea and a whiskey and sat down (As it happens with the couple from earlier) to take in my surroundings.
There is something special about this. Something I can’t explain. Something just feels right. It feels somewhat poignant, almost like this sort of travel was what was envisaged when IKB build the fairly imposing arches of Paddington Station. The trains are tatty and worn. (They’re undergoing a refurb) They don’t have plug socket! (“Shavers only!”) The Moquette on the walls has gone a bit dull and the buffet car dated. Yet still it feels oddly classy. Classic perhaps and somewhat romantic.
I’ve finished my tea and whiskey and the train has just left Reading… I think it’s time to trundle back through the coaches and test the bed! Night!