*That* train journey27th February 2020
As documented on Instagram, here is the previous week’s Sun Tel column about a fairly tiresome trip up north…
Drinking on trains, where do we stand? A glass of M&S wine on a Friday night as you slide out of London is delightful although those plastic wine glasses with peel-off lids are twee and embarrassing. But a 24-pack of Tennent’s and a rowdy group of lads on a stag? This is what I was faced with on the train from Edinburgh to Aviemore last week.
I spied them on the platform – shouty, each one clutching a carrier bag with tins bulging like haemorrhoids – and quickly walked towards another carriage where I bagged a window seat. Alas, this was too close to enemy lines and, as we pulled out, I heard them approaching down the aisle.
The leaders of this pack spread themselves over the table in front of me, covering it with lagers and bottles of whisky, the weedier ones picked the seats surrounding it. Another sat next to me.
‘No nice books?’ I thought optimistically as I put my earphones in. These enabled me to pretend I couldn’t hear anything while simultaneously observing their behaviour in the manner of Attenborough studying gorillas in the Ugandan rainforest.
‘It’s not just a Friday, it’s a stag-do Friday!’ shouted one, raising his tin in the air.
At Perth, there came another shout. ‘WHO CALLED THE STRIPPER?’ I pulled my head into my shoulders, momentarily assuming they were referring to me. Actually, a policeman had climbed onboard and announced that there’d been a complaint about their language. Appalled faces all round, as if none of them had ever uttered a rude word in their lives. Duly satisfied, the policeman got off again. Heaven help anyone who ever needs his assistance with a serious crime.
They started playing a drinking game, interspersing it with bouts of singing. Tudor hostelries were probably more civilised.
‘Why don’t you move?’ texted my sister. But I was right in the thick of it and too cowed, I didn’t want to flounce. A braver woman from the back of the carriage screamed: ‘GUYS, there are other people on this train. Can you keep the noise down?’ The volume dropped for a good thirty seconds before they forgot her.
One doesn’t want to be a misery guts. I’ve travelled to glamorous locations like Cheltenham and Bournemouth for hen dos; I suspect we were tiresome on the journey. And this sort of behaviour is customary on flights from Stansted. But at least on a plane, the staff can vaguely try and control it, refusing to serve those who’ve overdone it. Trains are more of a wild west. If you’re lucky you get someone trundling along with a trolley every now and then; if you’re unlucky you get an ineffectual constable who appears to have honed his policing skills by reading PG Wodehouse novels.
A ban on train boozing would be no fun, although I’ve subsequently discovered drinking is illegal on Scottish trains between the hours of 9pm and 10am ‘to curb antisocial behaviour.’ Still, come elevenses, crack open the Drambuie and get going.
Perhaps the solution is a designated ‘noisy’ carriage, much like the quiet carriage. The noisy carriage would be for stag and hen dos, anybody who doesn’t keep their phone on silent and those extraordinarily irritating parents who let their children watch iPads without headphones. Might this be a sensible suggestion as the government starts re-nationalising our railways?
After the Oscars last week, Joaquin Phoenix was photographed sitting on a step, eating a burger, his gong place down beside him. It reminded me of the annual anxiety I feel at pictures of awards-season after-parties: what if you win a little gold statue and are celebrating with a well-earned drink, but then you spy a waiter approaching with a tray of canapés? Both your hands are full. Help! And you’re probably very hungry, having not eaten for months. One film critic told me on Twitter that this is what your plus one is for, to post little snacks in your mouth. But the same problem often afflicts women at parties where we have to hold clutch bags, and is why I only ever carry a small bag with a strap so I can hang it over my shoulder. The thought of missing out on a goujon is unbearable.
My new hero is a chap called John Stevenson, the mountain rescuer who’s blasted four Glasgow students as ‘absolute idiots’ for trying to climb Ben Nevis in trainers during a blizzard. A team of 22 volunteers were scrambled to save them, cutting them out from the snow. I note from reading several stories on the rescue that John’s also subsequently referred to them as ‘a bunch of idiots,’ ‘plain stupid’, and ‘lucky to be alive’. In this snowflake age when people tiptoe around one another, terrified to cause any offence, this line of bracing honesty is refreshing. I’m thinking John might be one of those toughies who should go and work for Dominic Cummings.