Mallard Comes to the Rescue on The Far North Line
As the Edinburgh train rolled down the brae into Inverness last Thursday night, a helpful voice came over the intercom. "The 21.09 train to Tain will leave from platform number seven".
I glanced at my watch; 21.05! - my hat, I would need my time. Hastily I got up, put on my coat and took my bag down from the rack. As soon as the train halted, I pushed the lit-up button and shot out onto the platform. "Bye, Rob" (Gibson) "Have a good weekend."
Platform 5, platform 6 - platform 7 must be further to the left still - but I couldn't see a train. Maybe I had got it wrong: confused, I hurried back the way I came.
"No, Jamie - it is that way. Keep going. Beyond the car park." Rob pointed me in my original direction. I started to run.
"Made it!" I jumped in through the rearmost door and, puffing and blowing, headed for a seat.
"Well look who it is - Jamie!" What what? Two cheerful faces beamed at me. Oh goodness me - Laura Ross from Hilton and Lynda Durrand from Fearn. I sat down opposite them. They told me that they had just had a really good night out in town.
"Oh we hope there's a trolley on the train." After a long day in Holyrood, I was bound to agree. A wee wine would be lovely...
But our hopes were dashed when the conductor checked our tickets. No trolley on the last train to Tain. I said to the girls that it was a pity we didn't have a longer stop in Dingwall; that way a swift one in the Mallard (right beside the platform) would have been possible.
"That's it!" said Lydia. She picked up her mobile and dialled. Ten minutes later, as we drew into Dingwall, there - like Jack Vettriano's singing butler - stood the man; one bottle of red wine and three plastic glasses. This was real service: on a wintry night, drinks right to your railway carriage door. "What if it isn't a screwtop!?" But it was.
It could only happen in the Highlands. And a happy chance encounter like that warms the heart in more ways than one. Could you imagine a member of parliament and two constituents in Sussex or Hampshire doing this? No. It is this cheerful side to Highland life that I love so much. It is precisely the reason why I couldn't live anywhere else. Laura and Lynda - thank you for my glass of wine.
The next day, telling this to a friend in Tain, he told me another semi-deserted late train story. It happened a good number of years ago somewhere in the Central Belt.
He and his mates had been enjoying refreshments on the train when the urge came to light up. (I know, I know - I don't approve; and I gave up myself six years ago.) They asked the conductor when the train would stop long enough for them to nip out onto the platform.
No need for that, he had replied - and then, with a wink, he told them that if they used the carriage toilet, reached up and covered the smoke alarm with a plastic cup, then they could have a puff without setting the thing off. He told them to flush the butt down the pan and wave the other arm about to dispel the smoke, all the time whilst still holding the plastic cup up against the roof.
Apparently it worked a treat, and one by one they went up the carriage with the plastic cup. But before they got to their destination, the conductor returned. He was roaring with laughter. He was asked what it was that so tickled him.
"That smoke alarm's been broken for weeks. I just really dug the thought of you guys standing in there with your arm up holding the cup over it!"
Today however smoking in trains (anywhere whatsoever; cup or no cup) is absolutely not on. Happily a glass of wine is entirely within the rules.