Saturday, February 21, 2009

Caledonian Sleeper to London

Entry for 20 Feb 2008:

On Wednesday night, we took the Caledonian Sleeper down to London. We got there about 23:00, found our tiny cabin with its two bunk beds. Shades of my childhood: Diane made me take the upper bunch, but the ladder was more flimsy and the head room more limited, and once the train started moving it was more difficult to manoeuvre up and down.

The Caledonian Sleeper looks old and a bit funky. The engines still say “EWS: English, Welsh and Scottish Railway” on the sides. It turns out this was the largest rail freight company in the UK, until it was bought out a few years ago by a German company. This piece of information explains a lot, because it means that the Caledonian Sleeper is essentially a freight train for people, hauling the string of tiny berths through the night, joining up the Glasgow and Edinburgh trains at Carstairs, taking 7 hours to cover a distant that current trains now travel in a bit more than four hours, rumbling sedately south through the darkness with its human cargo.

Our steward was a woman with a Slavic accent. She checked us off her list and asked us what we wanted to drink with our breakfast and left us. The train started off, so gently that it was a first difficult to tell that it was moving. I tried to work on my process notes form the client I’d seen earlier, but was too tired and gave up. Nevertheless, I had trouble sleeping and woke frequently, what with the strangeness of the setting, the noise (we were in the second berth from the end of our car, where it’s apparently noisier), the narrow bed (made up tightly so that it felt even narrow and shorter than it was), and the cares of the week. This was not great, because I’d had trouble sleeping the previous night, in my own bed at home.

At quarter to seven, too soon for us, there was a strange rhythmic tapping on the door, apparently the sound of metal keys or a pen on the metal door. The steward opened the door, thrust two sacks of food at us, and wished us good morning.

After that, we got up and I went off to teach all day at Metanoia, a private therapy training institute in Ealing (a western suburb of London), while Diane explored the British Museum. We met up at Victoria Station, grabbed a quick bite to eat and went across the street to the Victoria Apollo theatre to see Wicked.

After that, we took the tube back to Euston station and caught the Caledonian Sleeper back to Glasgow. This time we were prepared for the close quarters and a bit further from the end of the carriage, where it was significantly less noisy. Also, I untucked the duvet and discovered that there was in fact enough leg room. We slept much better this time, although 7am still seemed to come pretty early.

I felt pretty good when we got home again, good enough to go out for a 6 mile run. However, it all caught up with on Friday afternoon, and I struggled to keep alert for the research supervision meetings I had all afternoon. Three nights of short sleep and intense activity had finally caught up with me, and strong tea was required to get me through.

This trip to London left me feeling somehow enlarged, as though we’d expanded our capacity to function in the UK. I suspect that the sleeper is a bit of an acquired taste, but it’s good to know how to get a decent night’s sleep on it, and I will try it again in the future. It beats the hell out of getting up at 4am!

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