Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Friday 29 June 2012

...everything but pestilence

Spare a thought for the passengers stranded on their rail journey to Glasgow yesterday when a landslide at Tebay closed the West Coast main line. As one of them told the Today programme:

"It's unbelievable! Fifteen and a quarter hours on the train to come up from London; fire... rain... landslides - everything but pestilence."

I hope he wasn't speaking too soon; the lavatory provision on Virgin trains is miserly to say the least - sometimes a princely total of three toilets per train for the long-haul South Coast to Highlands run means everything is overflowing by Crewe - and that's without the gastric hazard of the contents of the buffet car marinating gently at ambient temperature for hours.

There is something supremely ironic in this for Clan Macheath; one of our revered Elders has become known for her uncanny ability to bring Britain's rail network to a grinding halt. Although she has made no more than a handful of trips a year, she has somehow contrived to time each one to coincide with a major rail incident.

Thus she has, on various occasions, been party to electrical and mechanical faults, an armed siege near Warrington, police interception of a fugitive at Crewe, several landslides and floods and so many buffet car fires that she always insists on travelling with a thermos and a full packed lunch just in case.

Leaves on the line have not been a problem - they only seem to affect commuter routes - but the 'wrong kind of snow' has led to her spending several nights in hotels in Berwick or Carlisle, unable to travel further until it was cleared; every single snow-related main-line closure for the past 20 years has coincided with one of her journeys.

All in all, out of a total of about 30 trips, only 6 or 7 have been without serious incident - surely something of a statistical anomaly. TheUrchin has gone so far as to suggest that Network Rail should be prepared to pay her a handsome sum not to travel by train.

This venerable lady was, however, not involved at all yesterday; this week she left Scotland for good and moved South to join the rest of the family in England.

The met office may talk of 'Spanish plumes' and warm air masses, but for us, it's tempting to believe that, as she sped down the southbound motorway and out of their influence for ever, the mighty gods of rail disruption threw everything they had at the network in a final gesture of rage and frustration.

Alternatively - and here's the bizarre coincidence - our Wise Woman's grandson chose yesterday to return by train from his Northern university.

Perhaps the curse has simply been passed on...

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