I arrived into London’s Kings Cross three hours late, running through the connecting underground passageways of the Tube network towards the Victoria line in a pool of sweat. ‘Horses sweat, men perspire, ladies merely glow,’ my father once taught me. Would that it were true. It was 34 degrees and I was sweating. “Sorry! So sorry, oops, sorry,” was my refrain each time the wheels of my trolley bag took out another set of toes. My plan had been to get there early, use the ladies’ power room, from whence I would emerge, like the proverbial phoenix from the ashes: fresh, renewed, serene and attired according to the dress code – ‘cocktail wear’ – for the train that would transport us to the wedding venue. But Robbie Burns was right, the best laid plans of mice and men (as well as would-be cocktail dress wearers) ‘gang aft agley’*.
Yes, everything went thoroughly ‘agley’ for me upon reaching Newcastle last Friday around lunchtime when the driver announced that lightning strikes to the railway line had resulted in all southbound trains grinding to a halt. After a little prevarication on my part, and lots of encouragement down the phone from M. to press on (at one point I actually boarded a train back to Edinburgh), I stuck with it. The message from the train company was clear: southbound trains would possibly, probably, perhaps, maybe, feasibly, conceivably, at some point, in all likelihood make it to London before midnight. Good enough for me. Having disembarked my initial train, I had to find another. Packed to the gunnels there was one free seat at a table with three gregarious men from Arbroath. Bound for York races, they were well stocked up. Unfortunately, all of their supplies were of the liquid variety, and all I had to bring to the party was a Muller fruit corner yoghurt: notoriously difficult to split four ways. They didn’t seem terribly interested in it anyway. Being well versed in culturally appropriate behaviour, I knew that to refuse Arbrothian hospitality was deemed a great slight and so, before long, I was sipping on strawberry tequila. “It just tastes like milkshake,” my new friend Kenzie assured me as he poured it into a paper cup. It didn’t. They were playing cards – something nameless with rules that changed with greater regularity than the view out of the carriage window. Having got to the outskirts of York, we hadn’t moved for half an hour. I was the designated adjudicator in a card game I didn’t understand. Demand for my services was increasing in direct proportion to the amount of alcohol they consumed. The air conditioning wasn’t working (of course) but as long as the train had been moving a modicum of air blew through the carriage. However, now that we had stopped, there was no air at all. My new friends were becoming over-excited, the idea of it being a quiet carriage had long since been abandoned. Gregor knocked over a full bottle of cider, mostly on himself, and Callum gave me coordinates of the train they were taking back on Sunday, in case I wanted to dovetail my return travel arrangements with theirs. The timings weren’t going to work. Pity. Not a moment too soon, (over-tired two years olds and middle aged men on the wrong side of drunk are my worst nightmares) the train began to move and deposited them in York where they rolled and swayed their way off the train. In a similar fashion, the train lurched slowly on, only reaching full speed sometime after Doncaster. But arrive in London it did, and, although two and a half hours late, I do think the conductor over-egged it somewhat when he apologised for the ‘catastrophic’ service. Having one’s home burnt down in wildfires – that’s a catastrophe; a seven hour train ride from Edinburgh to London, some of it with cheerful drunks – that’s just a lesson in patience. It could well be my retroactive lesson in patience is because I made it to Platform 2 of Victoria Station with ten minutes to spare. I even managed to change my dress, dab my forehead and apply a smudge of lipstick. And the reason for it all? The British Pullman train, ten beautifully refurbished carriages from the 1920s to 1950s, was taking 200 of us to rural Oxfordshire to attend T. and T.’s wedding the following evening.
The next morning the weather had broken, the humidity was gone and the rain had moved in. After the frenetic rush of the day before it was wonderful to relax, hang out with family, make new friends, drink tea, paint nails and breathe. Rain could not dampen the wedding, which was a spectacle from beginning to end. I’m quite sure the newlyweds are destined for a lifetime of happiness together, after all, they do say that ‘a wet knot never slips’.
*gang aft agley = Scots for Go oft awryor often go wrong