Sunday, November 22, 2009

Being carried sideways through the night: The Caledonian Sleeper

I don't like this, being carried sideways
Through the night. I feel wrong and helpless - like
A timber broadside in a fast stream.
I remember David Steel choosing the Norman MacCaig poem "Sleeping Compartment" when he took part in Radio 4's With Great Pleasure some years ago. And it conveys well the oddness of travelling by sleeper train.

There is the magic of going to bed in London and waking up somewhere near Edinburgh. There is the personal service of being asked if you would like tea or coffee the next morning. And there is the old-fashioned strictness of being woken so that you are up and dressed and off the train as soon as it arrives.

But it is a very odd experience too. Being carried sideways through the night means that you feel every ounce of braking and acceleration in a way that you never do when seated normally. (One of these days I will lie full length on the table while commuting between Market Harborough and Leicester to see if I can produce the same effect.)

Sometimes with the rocking and lurching you feel that you are on board a ship rather than a train. Sometimes, as you feel every bolt in the train straining, it is like being on board a jet as it comes in to land. All this is compounded by the anonymity of election traction: you never hear the locomotive straining as you would with a diesel.

The consensus among the Scottish politicos is that you don't get a full night's sleep travelling this way, so you don't want to do it too often. But I am glad I have had the experience and it certainly beat trying to fight my way through Friday's rush hour to get to Luton Airport and EasyJet.


Lang Rabbie said...

The only occasion that I carry a hipflask is when travelling on the Caledonian sleeper.

A dram or two is needed to ensure that the first half of the journey provides some undisturbed sleep.

Curiously enough, when travelling by sleeper in India, the rhythmic clack of the train on the older-style tracks was enough to send me to sleep.

dreamingspire said...

Only once have I done that journey, and then on further in the morning, to Aberdeen and round the corner and immediately to the funeral of my mother's cousin where I had to give the funeral oration - lots of firsts. Slept rather well on the train.