“Do you know train drivers in Peru work 15 hour shifts without a break?” I say to the train driver, and luckily he laughs. But hang on a minute; I think I need to rewind a bit…
The half-term plan was that all three boys would go to their grandparents without us for two nights - hooray! I would deliver them to the station, Eldest would be in charge on the train, mother would meet them at the other end, but holiday GCSE sessions at school have got in the way. We knew about Geography on Monday and the Chemistry re-sit on Wednesday, we’d worked around that, it was the last minute three-line whip from the eccentric Biology teacher for a Friday afternoon revision bonanza that completely scuppered our respite plan. So we gave it up. I bought a ticket for myself to York instead along with two for the younger boys. We would just have to leave Husband behind in charge of Eldest. So much for romance, and we still had the builders in anyway...
So here I am, Wednesday morning, trying to pack, falling over said builders on the landing because I'm also trying to get to the office to write a tribute to a friend who has just died, so feeling very emotional, with chief builder wanting to talk about ceiling lights as Middle One shouts that he can’t find his grey jeans and it's all my fault, “they've been missing for months!” and to be honest it’s all a bit much. I think, if I can just get on that train north I'll be able to relax, chill out; forget about the sadness and the builders…
Three of us sit on the tube. I'm catatonic, staring at some haggard old woman opposite before realising it’s my own reflection in the glass, and we finally get to King’s Cross and stagger up to the concourse with luggage and coats and then, horror of horrors... there are no trains, nothing coming in or out, signal failure or a broken down train or a body on the line or something. Some idiot with a clipboard, shouting over the top of a sea of irate people, tells us to get a train to Manchester and change there. Manchester! I ring mother who suggests Sheffield from St Pancras, if they will honour our tickets, we can change for York there. I’m not keen. Middle One even less so. Both my charmless travelling companions are for ditching the trip and going home, and if there wasn’t building mayhem waiting for us there I might be tempted myself… but no, let’s give St Pancras a whirl.
So we drag ourselves out of one station into another much nicer one, and walk the entire length of it to the information desk. Me out in front, one child crying behind that he wants his Daddy as the other swears constantly under his breath, until eventually we’re told we can get the next train to Sheffield: it leaves in half an hour. We go to get coffee... big mistake. I’m usually of a mind that getting coffee will make everything better but I wasn’t thinking straight, it takes hours to arrive and by then we need to get up to the platform so we have to put it, and two hot chocolates, into paper cups and carry them, along with all the luggage and the coats peeled off because it’s very warm for February, but probably wouldn’t be in York, and the rest of the St Pancras debacle is a dreadful blur of pushing on to a very crowded train, eventually finding seats, starting to unload, and then realising they are all booked and taking the view that we really don’t want to stand the whole way to a city we don’t want to go to in the first place. And getting off.
Good call. Probably the best we've made all morning, and somehow I persuade Youngest and Middle One to go back to King's Cross to see if anything is moving and there we discover that, yes, a train has actually just left. This means they've cleared the line and ours might, at some point, run as well. So when I see a train driver sporting the correct livery, climbing down from the cab of a train that has clearly just come in, I nab him. “Is this the train from Sunderland? He smiles at me, a very nice smile, so maybe I can still cut it with the flirting-mum-routine? I give it a whirl and smile back, although remembering my reflection on the Tube I’m not at all sure that I can. “Yes,” he says, still smiling. “And will it be going to York anytime soon?” I say, looking at my watch. It’s 12.30 now, this is probably our delayed 11.25... “Yes,” he says again, “after I’ve had my forty-five minute lunch break.”
Forty-five minute lunch break! There are a million people, sporting babies and buggies and large musical instruments and ageing relatives on crutches, standing only a few metres away, all desperately studying the departure board waiting for a train north, and he wants a forty-five minute lunch break. So that’s when I tell him about Peruvian train drivers who work 15 hour shifts with no break. I watched a programme about them only the night before. Luckily he thinks this is hilarious and shows us to our carriage, pointing out our reserved seats which are somehow miraculously there waiting for us, and that’s how we end up sitting on an empty, peaceful train, ready to set off to York, as soon as the train driver has had his lunch, while all the other poor saps wait for an announcement on the concourse. So I can’t really complain. But I definitely think we should consider moving to Peru.