This week the Caledonian Sleeper rail service unveiled its new fleet of carriages, complete with double beds and en-suite bathrooms.
Brief encounters and railways go hand in hand of course. And they needn’t be passionate affairs of the sort seen in the cinema.
Back in 2001, when the Caledonian Sleeper still delighted in its outdated 1980s shabby chic, I jumped aboard at Euston, excited by the prospect of my first overnight train ride and of the week’s walking in northwest Scotland that was to follow.
Since I was travelling on my own, I knew I would be sharing a cabin with a stranger. Thankfully, I got there first and bagged the top bunk, figuring that it was probably a teeny bit safer if the guy I was to meet immediately before going to sleep turned out to be an axe murderer.
With the train sitting idly in the platform, I shuffled my stuff about a bit and wondered about getting a drink from the restaurant car. My boots were new and I worried that I should have worn them in bit more before heading to the Highlands. The slightly arched inner soles were comfortable but were taking a bit of getting used to…
And then he arrived.
He was not a giant by any means, but when a bearded man wearing full combat fatigues blocks the doorway of a tiny railway cabin, his height is relatively by the by. On his back he carried a green, army-style rucksack; he also had a large, padlocked case. Arms and ammo?
We introduced ourselves. I knew straight away that he was not going to be Trevor Howard to my Celia Johnson – or the other way around – but he seemed alright; his manner less aggressive than his outfit.
“Do you mind bugs?” he asked.
I admit it was not a question I expected to be asked by a man pretending to be a soldier on the 21.15 to Inverness. I told him I did not, at which he nodded at the locked trunk.
“It’s got insects in it; all sorts,” he continued cheerfully. “I take ‘em into schools and show ‘em to the kids.
“Don’t worry,” he added, “the locks are solid. I’ll tuck it under my bunk.”
With the sleeper having left London and by now passing through Watford Junction it was much too late for second thoughts. And I wasn’t afraid of a MASSIVE CASE OF SPIDERS anyway.
My cabin mate announced he was heading to the bar. I said I was going to turn in, so off he swayed in his camouflage gear along the blue-patterned corridor, like some sort of failed chameleon.
Peering down from the edge of my bunk to the sealed box below I thought I detected a distant scratching noise coming from inside. I pulled the sheets over my chin and hoped for the best.
I look forward to trying the Caledonian Sleeper’s new, luxurious double room – provided that Bug-man doesn’t turn up to share the bed.