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  • Dougie

The Journey Home ... delayed by a deer on the tracks

Updated: Jun 8, 2022

The promenade at Weymouth is a peaceful place at seven o'clock on a Sunday morning. The only sounds are those of the natural world.

The gentle "kruuuusssshh" of waves of the English Channel breaking against the pebble beach on which no person sits or walks. The whisper of a light breeze finding its way through the gaps between empty bathers' huts arranged like sentry boxes where the pebbles and the promenade oppose one another. And the insistent call of gulls, of course.

The birds are wholly indifferent to the slowly passing Scottish guy, making his way to the station to catch the 7:48 a.m. to London Waterloo. It is the first of three trains we will take today (not counting two Tube trains) as we make our way to Glasgow. Twelve hours from now.

Human beings are few and far between at this time on a sunny Sunday morning. I imagine those who are here are regulars following well established routines. Contented, silent folk, familiar to one another. Polite and preoccupied, going about their early morning business as they always do.

There are joggers -- non-Olympic runners -- panting as they nod hello and pass without a word on their way to the end of the Prom and back; three kilometres at least.

Dog walkers.

One swimmer, sitting on a bench as he dons his wet suit top. We exchange good mornings.

I say, "enjoy the water."

He says, "Looking forward to it."

And I think, "odd folk ... these early morning bathers in the cold English Channel."

But I say nothing. Who am I to comment on the strange rituals of northern hemisphere bathers in cold water? I have been there, done that (not entirely successfully) and did not buy the T-shirt.

I pause to take a photograph. I see the time on my phone and realise I am running late. We have that train to catch and Spike is already waiting at the station with the bags.

I speed on (after a fashion). Although, if I'm honest, it's a long time since I sped anywhere.

From this point onwards the day is focused on the journey rather than the places we are passing through. In three hours -- give or take -- we reach London's Waterloo with time to spare. We take the Tube to King's Cross. That's straightforward enough, although at times the lifts (mostly new and long overdue) can be hard to find. At times they require complex routes and several level changes.

I'd booked the 2:00 p.m. train to Glasgow to give us plenty of room for delays (last time we made the trip from Weymouth -- in 2016 -- a massive storm disrupted the whole network in south east England). But we were doing fine. There was time enough for lunch in the consumer-driven concourse that did not exist in the daggy days of King's Cross station when I worked in the area.

Not long after lunch -- on an almost empty platform -- we boarded the train to Scotland. Airline rules apply for assisted boarding -- first on and last off. Always.

We parked me in the designated wheelchair space. Spike stowed away our two cases. We plugged our too many electric devices into the charger points and sockets on the train. We settled in, we relaxed ... then 12 squillion other passengers with 4,000 million suitcases descended on the train in search of unreserved seats like a plague of locusts.

Ah ... the romance of travel.

Crowded as the train was, we made good progress; speeding up the east coast mainline -- York, Darlington, Durham, Newcastle. It's a familiar journey I used to make a lot for work

Sometimes, however, some journeys proceed that little bit too well to be true. This was one of ours. With my mind starting to think about the train transfer at Edinburgh Waverley and the last leg to Glasgow -- city of my birth -- we hit a snag.

Actually, it wasn't a snag we hit. It was a deer.

Outside Morpeth.

There was a 'clunk' sound beneath the carriage -- where no such sound should come from. All the passengers looked around at one another as if to say, "that didn't sound good." Which it wasn't. Then the train began to slow down, steadily but surely.

It wasn't like the screeching of rubber at traffic lights when you realise the L-Plate driver in front of you has changed his mind about running an amber light. It was more sedate than that. But just as purposeful. We slowed and then we stopped.

Outside Morpeth is not the most exciting place to sit for ninety minutes while the driver checks the undercarriage to work out if the train is safe to carry on to Edinburgh and all points north to Aberdeen. But what can one do except wait ... worry about the connection you are going to miss or call your daughter to tell her not to drive to town to pick you up as planned or think about the poor wee deer struck by a two hundred metres long train travelling at more than 100 miles an hour.

Poor wee deer. Toast.

Eventually, however, the train manager -- they used to be called guards, I think -- told us the driver had consulted with base. It had been agreed the train was safe enough to proceed with the journey. We would be underway shortly.

Almost immediately we moved away from Morpeth. And before we knew it we were rolling along as if nothing had happened.

The bad kharma of the deer, however, had not finished with us. There was more to come.

As we approached Edinburgh the train manager announced that, after all, the train would not continue to Aberdeen. Another train was being readied for our arrival. It was hoped that the two trains would be located at adjacent platforms so that all that passengers would need to do would be to cross the platform then take up their corresponding seat on the new train.

There was a distinct -- but low level -- mutter from the troupe of Aberdeen bound passengers. You could feel the collective measure of frustration hanging in the air mixed with a very British sense of relief.

"Mustn't grumble," the Brits are known to say in an expression of national self-deception. "Things could have been worse."

That's 100% correct. And worse they did become.

As the train approached Platform 8 at Waverley the train manager gave us all an update.

First things first -- the Aberdeen announcement. Unfortunately the new train could not be positioned at Platform 9 (immediately adjacent). The train would now be found on Platform 19. LNER staff would be on the platform to assist.

If you are familiar in any way with Waverley station you will recognise immediately the crucial details omitted from the announcement to the 200 to 300 people travelling north.

  1. Rather than adjacent, Platform 19 is about as far from Platform 8 as it's possible to get without actually exiting the station.

  2. To reach Platform 19 from Platform 8 one must go up to the transfer bridge above the platforms.

  3. There is one lift on Platform 8 and one lift on Platform 19.

  4. There is one staircase only on both platforms.

  5. There are 200 of you and all your luggage.

He might as well have announced, "On your marks. Get Set. GO!" And fired a starters gun.

Last off -- as we always are -- by the time we reached the platform a very British, middle class riot was developing. It had not yet come to blows. But I definitely overheard one weekend shopper at Harrods express in exasperated terms, 'this is intolerable," as if she had been speaking to the family butler.

Phew, I thought. Thank goodness we're not going to Aberdeen.

Do you see what happened there?

I had forgotten the bad kharma of the dead deer already. But we were not to be spared.

The mobility assistance guy who met us on Platform 8 told us 'it was chaos in the station'. That's quite concerning when you hear it from a station employee. It makes one think of cowardly businessmen putting on shawls to flout the rule of "women and children first" on SS Titanic. But surely an entire railway station couldn't sink that quickly?

It turned out that as a result of driver shortages caused by COVID-19 and industrial action across the Scottish network almost all trains after 7:00 p.m. had been / were being cancelled. The good news for us, we were told, was that a place had been kept for us on the nine o'clock to Glasgow.

Good news? That meant a two hour unscheduled wait in a station that was closing down.

We were escorted to the LNER assistance office -- cold and bustling with angry people when we entered. For reasons I cannot explain, I was not one of them. Compared to the deer, I thought, my day was going not too badly.

An hour into our wait, Waverley was shutting down. Spike found the last toasted focaccia in Edinburgh. And the largest baclava this side of Istanbul.

We will survive. But I'll be back 'home' five hours later than planned.

We are very tired.

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