Travel broadens the mind, but it can broaden other things, too.
‘Two pies, two haggises, two whisky and lemonades and two packets of crisps, please,’ is the dinner order from my neighbours at the next table in the restaurant car on the Caledonian Sleeper.
If an alien with even a faint grasp of cultural indicators were to beam down from Mars and hazard a guess at what was going on, it might conclude that I am on a Scottish train with Scottish people heading to Scotland for a Scottish break, and it would be entirely correct.
But it is not just any old Scottish train.
At Euston Station, the heart soars at the sight of the beautiful, gleaming 16-carriage train that awaits to whisk us through the night to Scotland. It is gorgeous! The front eight carriages are destined for Glasgow, while those in the rear are Edinburgh-bound; the two cities and their people travelling together but apart, on the train tracks as in life
With the help of a £60 million subsidy from Scotland’s government, the services giant Serco has spent £150 million relaunching the ageing sleeper service that has ploughed up and down between England and Scotland for the past 40 years. It is not before time.
For decades, regular passengers like me increasingly despaired at the decrepit carriages on the sleepers, the balding carpets and the prison-like sleeping berths where every expense was spared and comfort was as thin as the duvets.
Now the 75 ageing carriages have finally been replaced by a spanking new fleet which came into service this week on the Lowlander trains, which run between London and Glasgow or Edinburgh. Highlander trains to Aberdeen, Inverness and Fort William are due to get the new carriages next month.
On the sleeper train, there is still drenching romance to be had if you time it right. I have breakfast as the train speeds through the beautiful border country, past fields shimmering with the pink mist of dawn, through the hill farms dotted with sheep and two old Clydesdale horses, almost skipping in the spring sunshine
The trains boast the first commercial sleeper cabins to offer double beds, complete with mattresses from the Queen’s own supplier.
Prices start at £335 one-way for single occupation of a double cabin, which suggests that the Scottish government’s aim is to offer business passengers and tourists a plusher and more sophisticated return to a golden age of rail travel.
Certainly, the prices don’t make sense to ordinary travellers, who might find that it is cheaper — and quicker — to fly or drive.
What can I tell you? The high-profile launch was, alas, a complete disaster.
Booked in advance once meant that tickets were cheaper and there was the option of sharing a compartment with twin bunks. That is no longer the case, and the pricing system offers few bargains to travellers like me — unless you want to pay £45 to sit up all night
The first train from London rolled into Glasgow three hours late and blushing with shame.
The journalists, dignitaries, passengers and MPs on board endured lost bookings, delays, unmade beds, water leakages and even a shortage of butter, shriek.
A signal failure at Carstairs Junction, South Lanarkshire, was blamed for much of the woe. Did matters improve for my midweek journey from London to Glasgow a few days later?
At Euston Station, the heart soars at the sight of the beautiful, gleaming 16-carriage train that awaits to whisk us through the night to Scotland. It is gorgeous!
The front eight carriages are destined for Glasgow, while those in the rear are Edinburgh-bound; the two cities and their people travelling together but apart, on the train tracks as in life.
Just as before, the train splits into two (or joins up, on the reverse journey) at Carstairs Junction, a violent shunting process that traditionally and infuriatingly wakes everyone up in the wee small hours.
But not any more, as train bosses promise a smooth new transition in every way. Well, we shall see about that.
At least we leave on time, just before midnight, sliding quietly out of London on the long journey north.
I paid a rather gasping £270 for my First Class Solo Cabin ticket — one way! — which provides an ensuite toilet and shower, a sink, a little desk, space under the bed to stow your luggage and coat hooks.
There is a smart plaid carpet, pleasant lighting, power and recharging points, but best of all, the whole cabin seems to be hermetically sealed from your neighbours. What utter luxury.
Prices start at £335