I have been watching those horrible scenes on the TV News night after night and, like millions of other fathers of young children, I also reached for the remote control before my five year old caught a glimpse of… those pictures… of John Prescott on the Norfolk Broads, and Tony and Cherie grinning …surrounded by men dressed as Vikings at York yesterday,… “the country is OPEN… y’know… really it is…wide open.”
But the Rosengard family had got there first.
You see, last Friday I decided I would show my solidarity with the devastated UK tourist industry. I would be the first post foot and mouth tourist. I would show those stay – at – home Americans who thought they could catch Foot and Mouth, confusing it with Mad Cow Disease, that the Highlands were open for business, y’know.
I immediately cancelled my holiday in Martinique (and not just because Club Med didn’t have any flights available to Martinique, Dominica, Antigua or St Lucia until June…really…honestly.)
The thought of all those starving Highland bed and breakfast owners was too much to bear.
I rang ScotRail and bought a couple of tickets for that night’s sleeper from Euston Station.
Never one to rough it in an epidemic, I consulted my copy of The Leading Hotels In the World book. Invernockie Castle here we come!
I rang to book a room. “We have a special Foot and Mouth offer, Sir…£150…for one night for the room for you…and £75 for your daughter, sharing. BUT NO BREAKFAST INCLUDED FOR HER,” the receptionist said.
“But she is only a five year old child. Surely you can throw one boiled egg in?” I asked. “We might well be the last tourists you see this year!…and you won’t give my daughter breakfast!?”
” I will get Mr. Lennard, the manager, to call you back,” she said. He never did.
I cancelled my reservation. We booked into Ashburn House, a Five star B and B in Fort William.
I picked up Lily in Notting Hill and got to the station for the 11.15pm train.
We were an hour early. (I have a history of getting to the gates of airports all over the world, only to be told ” Sorry we closed the gate 1 minute ago…the next plane is tomorrow night.”)
“Where is your children’s entertainment centre?” I asked a man in uniform who was concentrating on picking up a beer can with a stick with claws on the end of it.
“What?” he said.
“Your children’s games…entertainment centre?” I said.
“Over there.” He pointed to a Burger Bar…and wandered off.
By the time we got on the platform, Lily was almost asleep on my shoulders.
“Wake up! Lily, you can sleep in the top bunk…you climb up a ladder to it…we go to bed in London and wake up surrounded by the mountains with Lochs and.big lakes everywhere.” I said, as I searched for our sleeper coach J
Coach A… CoachB….C D E then suddenly P V G! ! I knew the safety overhaul of the railways was in full swing. But forget the miles of cracked rails, I was about to get undressed and go to sleep on a train where they couldn’t even get the alphabet right!
Finally we found coach J… naturally it was next to coach W…a minute before the train set off.
I opened the door to the 1st class cabin.
“Daddy where’s my top bunk?” Lily asked.
I squeezed in, I looked round the cabin…all six feet by four feet of it. There was only one bed.
I pushed the buzzer for the cabin attendant.
“Don’t worry Darling, there’s been a little mistake. Daddy will sort it out.”
There was a knock at the door and a man wearing a crumpled white jacket squeezed in.
” I’m John, your cabin attendant.” he said “Is everything all right Sir?”
“We seem to be missing a top bunk.” I said.
He looked round the cabin.
“Ah! There is only one bed in First Class… it’s the Second Class have the top bunks” he said, in a strong Scottish accent.
“What did he say, Daddy?” Lily asked.
“He said he will take us to the right cabin Darling, didn’t you John?” I said.
The train is full, Sir…Second Class is totally full.”
“John, can I have a quick word with you outside?” I asked.
We went out into the swaying corridor.
“Can you get us a downgrade John?” I said, as I handed him a tenner.
“I will see what I can do Sir…maybe I can persuade young Mr. Cameron to swap”
He set off down the train.
He reappeared five minutes later followed by a small tousle-haired young man in a pair of blue polka dot pyjamas clutching an overnight bag.
Lily picked up her Bunny and climbed up the ladder in our new Second Class cabin, which was identical to the First Class one, only with two bunk beds.
I got in underneath and started reading ‘Rupert and the Rust Mites’.
Lily’s head appeared in mid air. “Go to sleep Daddy!”
She switched off the light.
I imagined the scene on BA in Club. “Stewardess… I am sorry but there is just too much legroom …do you think you can find me a seat in Economy…preferably between two very fat people?…I don’t want to see my arms for eight hours.”
I woke up every thirty minutes during the night to search the floor for Lily. I kept dreaming she had fallen out of the bunk.
I finally fell asleep. When I woke up, the train had stopped… and I could hear the other passengers getting off.
My watch said 7am. I jumped out of bed and walked the six inches over to the window.
“Wake up Lily…look at these mountains!!”
The blind popped up and we looked out…at Glasgow Central Station.
It was raining heavily.
“Daddy is this the Highlands? I can’t see any mountains with locks on them.” Lily said.
I rang for the attendant.
“Didn’t they tell you? They stopped the Sleeper from Euston to Inverness months ago …after Hatfield?” .he said.
“It will start again in a few weeks. It only goes as far as Glasgow.”
“But I booked for the Highlands” I said in disbelief.
“Glasgow’s very nice these days you know,” she said “It was the European City of Culture in 1990.”
The Saturday Column April 7th 2001 Copyright Peter Rosengard 2001 Weekly on www.rosengard.com If you wish your friends to receive the Column please send their e mail addresses to email@example.com If you do not wish to receive the column please reply with ‘unsubscribe in the subject box.
All back columns including those that first appeared in The Independent 1993/1995, are now up on the site. Please see The Saturday Column Archive.