We’ve had a fabulous Christmas with my parents in York and now it’s time to go home. Coming up on the train on Christmas Eve was a pleasure: an almost empty concourse at Kings Cross, a quiet carriage sparsely populated with cosy little family groups all smiling benignly, but now it occurs to me that the journey back might not be so relaxing, especially when I read in the paper that Tuesday will be the busiest day by far – and we’re travelling on Tuesday.
I thought I was so clever having Amazon deliver the presents up north but of course there’s no delivery service to get them back… only us. I spend a couple of fraught hours packing, shouting up and down the stairs to boys and Husband as I remove gifts from packaging before crushing and bending them into the enormous suitcase - and still there's Middle One’s telescope to contend with, its huge cardboard box looming in the hallway, taller and wider than Youngest, and Eldest’s full size acoustic guitar in its new hard case…
Approaching York station we get the first whiff of trouble: traffic backed up so far we can’t turn off the road. We consider jumping out in the middle but judge it too dangerous, what with luggage to wrestle out of the boot and three children. So we spend precious, sweaty minutes watching the hands on the elegant Victorian clock face make their slow but inevitable progress until finally mother squeezes the car through a gap and we jump out. The train leaves in four minutes.
We throw everything on the pavement: bulging suitcase, enormous telescope box, guitar, family rucksack full of packed lunch, three more rucksacks, one for each child, Penguin suitcase Youngest takes everywhere with us, my handbag, and the children of course. Youngest removed his shoes in the back of the car so more valuable minutes are wasted as he fumbles to get them back on.
We run for the train, trailing children and grandparents behind us and this is when the horror hits: it’s already there by the platform, like a black and bloated corpse, its entrails hoards of people spewing from every orifice. Great. As we run husband spots a luggage carriage with doors open and flings the gargantuan suitcase and telescope box into it. “They’re not labeled!” I shout and now we’re committed: we have to get this train. The whistle blows. My heart pounds. Middle One and Youngest search our faces for reassurance - and find none.
Desperately and inelegantly we push our way on, Eldest holding the guitar case above his head, me wedging Youngest with Penguin suitcase and bag out in front like barricades. We have reservations but when we finally inch our way to them (ten minutes out of the station) other travellers are sitting there (of course). Thankfully when politely challenged they move without a fight and we flop down, hot, trembling and exhausted. Less fortunate passengers, clutching small animals and bags and cases and rucksacks, tower above and around us like brooding sentinels.
After a few minutes I pull out the packed lunch and that’s when I remember the beer - I grabbed a bottle from my parent’s fridge at the last minute. “Do you have that bottle opener you got in your Christmas cracker by any chance?” I ask Eldest. He pulls it from his rucksack with a flourish. Thank God.