At the weekend I get a train from King’s Cross to visit my daughter in Leeds. It’s over two hours, so lots of time to write. Comfy seats, an efficient service and I’m ready for my cup of tea so try to use the ‘at seat’ service to magically summon the buffet car attendant to bring it to me via the app. I imagine Jeeves sidling up with a cup of the amber nectar. There are stickers on the back of each seat suggesting it’s easy. Is it me or is there something slightly sinister about ‘Let’s eat at your seat’? Who else is coming to join me? Is there are party waiting to start…? Anyway I can’t get the app to work so set off towards the First Class because the buffet car is always between First and Second. Right? A lovely stroll on a moving train through Second Class (I mean ‘standard’) where you have to limit your hip sway to avoid to knocking into the seats. To First Class where even the air feels different and you can walk uninhibited, giving it the whole wide sashay. No sign of food. But steaming white mugs of indicate drinks can’t be far away. I digress, but it’s funny it’s still called First Class and ‘Second’ has been upgraded to ‘Standard’. I mean we all know it’s true – Standard equates to ordinary, regular, basic, nowt special, the poor, the great unwashed, the plebs. Yep, that’s us.
Aha! a man in uniform. Jeeves I presume. I make enquiries and am told the buffet car is in Coach H. But, of course it can’t be because my seat is in Coach H. So I retrace my steps, striding through the vast aisles of First Class, back to the constraints of Standard where foil-wrapped sandwiches, lie open on the tables. Ah the smell of cheese sarnies packed by the frugal standard class of person, the night before. I pass my own seat, marked by my standard kind of jacket and there I glimpse it. At the far end of H. The buffet car. A second Jeeves is preparing paper carrier bags of hot drinks in cardboard cups to be distributed to successful app users. (No white mugs for us!)
By now I’ve walked a long way so, against my better judgment, I order a coffee (makes me too jittery) and strike up a conversation. Didn’t the buffet car used to be between First and Second, I ask. Oh no, not on these new trains. (It’s one of the Azuma trains that go super-fast and smooth, much better than the old trains, but also crack and fall to pieces so have to be taken out of service, so they have to use the old trains again.) I tell him about my epic journey to find him and he smiles and calls me love. Take care, he says. So, suddenly, I don’t feel foolish; I feel I’ve made a connection. Perhaps a moment of brightness in our regular day.
Back in my seat, I notice Coach H is also the so-called quieter coach “for a more peaceful and relaxing journey”. I take my mask off, sit back and drink the coffee, crack open a KitKat. Out of the window there are views of pylons and flat uneventful, ordinary fields. It is peaceful. And I do feel relaxed. It’s working. Then it’s mask on again. And something I’d not thought of – coffee breath, my own, for the next hour until I get to Leeds. Hey ho. Just one of those days.