Well I have to say it’s a semi-thumbs up to the ex-British Rail – no train was more than ten minutes late, and that’s out of eight trains (excluding the Underground) that I’ve been on in the last five days. It wasn’t all good news though – on the way to my friends in Wales, having had an excellent one-night stop with Maggie and family (taking in a surprsingly good school craft/Christmas fair), I had to go from Reading to Cardiff on a train that I had been told there were no reservable tickets for. I assumed this meant that they simply weren’t going to have reserved seats on that train, which does happen. Wrong!! Just about every seat on the train was reserved, but not for me: for just about every Welsh Rugby fan on the English side of the Severn … and one lone Australian. Yes, Wales was playing Australia that day in Cardiff! I have to say they were all incredibly well behaved, especially since most of them had obviously been drinking since pulling out of London at around nine-thirty in the morning. Being train-savvy I found myself a seat – one that said it was reserved from London and had no one in it – but there were plenty of people who had to stand, and if I hadn’t had years of experience of train travel before I started driving just four or five years ago, I would probably have been one of them.
Anyway, I got there, and very pretty it was too:
And it was great to see my friends, who I’d not seen for about five or six years.
And then I came home again … eight hours it took me, door to door. If I do it again I shall certainly take Maggie up on the offer of staying a night with her both ways. By the time I got home I was about ready to cry. I thought I’d been rather clever in booking First Class, because the First Advance was only a few quid more than standard and I thought if I traveled home in the lap of luxury then I’d be less exhausted. Well … if I HAD traveled home in the lap of luxury I probably would have been less exhausted! The first part of the journey was great – no first class on the little valley line from my friend’s house to Cardiff, but that was OK – the train wasn’t busy, it was warm, and the guard was friendly. Then at Cardiff I found the First Class Lounge – a lovely lady in charge, providing free coffee, water etc. and a chat, and promissing to let me know when the train arrived on the platform, which she did. They also had a rather nice second-hand book stall in the lounge and I bought a book to keep me going for the next two hours or so until London. Then onto the train – a lovely, comfy seat with loads of leg room and a charming stewardess who must have come past at least six times offering complimentary coffee, orange juice, water, cake, biscuits and possibly even sandwiches – she certainly had sarnies, but I’m not sure if they were free or not. The guy opposite me couldn’t believe his luck. Every time he saw her coming he asked for a coffee and an orange juice and bicuits or cake, and then he squirelled the biscuits about his person for future use! Anyway, that was a lovely journey, marred only by being one of the two ten-minute late trains. Then across the Tube, which was thankfully uneventful and over to Liverpool Street to get the train to Norwich.
And that’s where it all started to go wrong. The reason I expounded on the First Class advantages so much just now is so that you, dear reader, can compare them to the next ‘First Class’ leg of my journey. This was National Express Trains. Name ’em and shame ’em, I say! Due to ‘a shortage of rolling stock’ there was no catering on the train. There were also no toilets, no ticket collectors and no working heaters in the ‘First Class’ carriage. To add insult to injury the first class carriage wasn’t actually a carriage but just a few seats tacked on to the end of an ordinary carriage, and when I say a few that’s what I mean. It was absolutely full. I was lucky to get a seat in it at all, because the other thing it had none of was reservations. Although I’d reserved my seat, they hadn’t put the reservations in so instead of getting an ‘airline’ seat, which actually has plenty of legroom, I had to sit in a ‘foursome’ which didn’t really have enough leg room for four!
So instead of arriving home relaxed after a nice sleep, which was my original hope, I arrived at Norwich station frozen to the core, not having slept a wink and stiff as a board from lack of leg room!
Still, moaning aside, and traveling aside, it was a really good trip. I’m glad to say that on the one sunny day that we had I had virtually no RA symptoms and could enjoy the lovely views across the mountains. (I won’t dwell on the state I was in the previous day, when it rained for 24 hours non-stop, but that’s Wales for you!)