There’s nothing like a nice delayed train to take the edge off that post-holiday relaxed feeling. In our case yesterday’s GNER service from Berwick to London which managed to be 68 minutes late (sounds so much less delayed than 1 hour 8 minutes) without once mentioning the ‘S’ word. Yes, for as blizzards* repeatedly swept the east coast of Britain, GNER was falling back on old fashioned ‘train with technical problems’ and the old chestnut ‘awaiting a member of the train crew’ to account for its lateness.
But that wasn’t the real problem, nor was it the fact that wthey wanted to charge us 80 quid each to change our ticket to an earlier train so we ended up spending almost two hours in the Berwick station waiting room with only a poster apologising for a ‘phantom train’ that has been haunting the GNER Website to amuse us. Nor was it the blocked toilet (now statutory on long distance services) nor even the lack of catering services until Newcastle which – as the train ground to a halt in the thickening snow outside Morpeth – left me wondering if we were going to spend the rest of the holiday season waiting for rescue having to eke out a meagre existence on the pieces of chocolate Orange left over from our Christmas stockings.
No, the really bad part about this particular train journey, the thing that cut right to the heart of my timid British soul, was the fact that they hadn’t put out the little reservation slips on the seats. And this meant that when we climbed on at Berwick and attempted to claim our rightful places we found a mouthy northerner and his two daughters sitting in them. And we didn’t even have righteous indignation to come to our aid and stiffen our backbone, because he claimed that someone was sitting in their seats so that because he was too spineless to tell them to move, and we were too spineless to tell him to move, we ended up sitting in someone else’s seats as well. The end result was an entire train full of suppressed indignation and an anxious frisson at the approach of every station as everybody waited with bated breath to see if this was the stop where the one person who would actually insist on having their reserved seat would get on, resulting in one enormous game of musical chairs. Fortunately everybody was either too nice or too scared to insist and eventually the train crew announced that there were no reserved seats on this train and we could all relax.
Anyway GNER definitely gets my nomination for the least apologetic apology of 2005 as they announced – three minutes before the train was due to arrive at Berwick, having previously been shown as ‘on time’ – that the train had not yet left Edinburgh and ‘obviously, GNER apologises for this delay’. Not obvious from where I’m sitting, mate.
* Note to US readers: a UK blizzard is any snow shower in which the snow actually manages to settle. Note to UK readers: anywhere else in the world, a blizzard is an extreme snow storm with visibility reduced to about zero, with howling winds and where afterwards you have to find and then dig out your car, pets, and even your house from the resulting ten foot drifts.