What do the parents of a 20 something get up to on those days when your loved one is staying at Grandma's? - or Nana's as it is round our neck of the woods. Well those days don't come around very often for us but last weekend Emily was having a weekend off - giving Nana the full Emily experience - so we decided to head for The Smoke!
Our excuse was that we wanted to show Mac, Laura's American fiancé, the bright lights, the hustle, bustle and general mayhem that is London, that way he may be even more grateful when he gets back to Yorkshire (just joking London friends before you all close the page!). Just for clarity, Mac is Laura's fiancé and he's American. By saying he's her American fiancé, I'm not for a moment suggesting she's got fiancé's of other nationalities - we don't live like that up here in then North you know! Glad we've cleared that up.
Where was I? Oh yes, Emily's having a weekend off so like any other sane family we were up at 5am and heading for the 6.29 Sheffield to St Pancras, first class if you don't mind! We'd tried to book a taxi to take us to the station but we'd have had more luck asking for a fleet of unicorn's to pull us in a chariot of gold. Instead, I was nominated to drive us in, drop the passenger cargo at the station and then go and park where I work - a good mile away. So by 5.50 I'd dropped them and was on my way to parking when I got a missed call. Laura was ringing to tell me the 6.29 was now the 6.09 due to a landslide and East Midlands trains do apologise for not letting me know! Oh, and it's an hours wait if we miss this train.
An early morning run in shoes and leather jacket through the city centre was not top of my list for Emily's weekend off, I must confess. And my family must have wondered if I was actually going to survive those last few metres before I staggered onto the station concourse, clutching at my chest and pointing like a madman for everyone to get to the platform. Not quite the first class start to our first class travel day but it had to get better from this point right? Hmmm....
I could tell you all about Westminster Abbey, the Whispering Gallery at St Paul's or the beautiful walk along the South Bank in glorious Spring sunshine but, quite frankly, nothing London had to offer compared with a First Class train journey on East Midlands Trains. Let me tell you why.....
I quickly nicknamed him Safety Steve
We'd not been going long when we were welcomed aboard by a confident man over the tannoy letting us know we'd be stopping at Chesterfield, Derby and London St Pancras. He also told us in no uncertain terms that this being a Saturday, First Class passengers would not be getting a trolley service and if we wanted our complementary drinks we'd jolly well have to go and get them ourselves. However, if we dared to go without our tickets, or if we ordered a drink before showing said ticket, we would be served a chargeable beverage and there'd be no going back. He proceeded to terrify us with so many health and safety instructions we were looking for tin hats, life jackets and inflatable dinghy's just in case. I quickly nicknamed him Safety Steve.
Laura and Mac were the first to venture to the buffet car. They returned carrying their coffee cups in brown paper bags, saying that the European gentleman (I later discovered his name was Ivan, as in Lendl) serving them, insisted it was carried this way. I suggested it would be a health and safety thing, you know what it's like. Sheron and I were next up. We got to the buffet car and were about 5th and 6th in the queue. Suddenly from behind us the slide door drew back and in rushes a fortysomething, portly train employee, along with ticket machine, shouting for us all to move to one side and make way as he has top get through. What could have happened? Surely he must be going for a defibrillator for a collapsed passenger?
No. He was going for Ivan (that's I-van, not Eye-vern - these things are important) serving beverages in bags. He drew Ivan out from behind the counter and proceeded to tell him, in front of us all, how he had seen a customer walking along the train without a brown bag. Poor, humiliated Ivan, began to protest but his colleague, Darren, said that if the drink was spilled he, as train manager, would get into trouble but Ivan would get the sack. At this point he rushed to the tannoy next to us and announced that no hot drinks could be served as there were no more brown paper bags for them to be carried in. This was a health and safety requirement. And THIS was Safety Steve! Real name Darren. Safety Steve suited him better I couldn't help thinking. He went on to say that paper bag reinforcements would arrive when the train pulled into Derby!
.....faster than the steam from a boiling kettle
Well, the queue evaporated faster than the steam from a boiling kettle. However, *light bulb moment* we knew such a bag existed and was back with Laura in First Class. I rushed back and grabbed the bag and held it close as I made my way back to the buffet car, it was strangely like I'd found a golden ticket in my Wonka Bar! I entered the queue-less buffet car, smugly showed my First Class ticket and ordered two coffees, whipping out the lucky bag like I'd pulled a rabbit from a hat!
"Where did you get that?", Ivan enquired, smiling broadly. We told him and he said there were only three such bags on the whole train. You'd think it was the Polar Express and had been travelling through time to get to Chesterfield. Only three bags! The train started at Sheffield. They probably thought that by sneakily setting off 20 minutes early we'd all miss the train and they wouldn't need to sell any health and safety drinks! I felt sorry for poor Ivan, being told off in public like that, so told him he was doing a good job, shook his hand and began the hazardous journey back to First Class, sweat beading on my forehead, with nothing but my own guile and a brown paper bag between me and potential disaster. At that point I considered getting everyone involved in a treasure hunt for the other two bags but ran out of time as the train began to slow.
Soon we were pulling into the Paper Bag Depot, aka Derby Station. I sensed a loud cheer from all aboard the train, but maybe that was my over fertile imagination. I looked at those poor souls waiting to board, not knowing how close they were to not getting a drink before St Pancras. Hang on, what's this? A lady getting on carrying a Costa cup, presumably containing a latte, without the aid of a paper bag. Does she know what she's doing? What if Safety Steve comes along now? Thankfully, his attention was diverted counting the bags on board, and she found a seat. Phew! That was close.
Here's another announcement. It's Safety Steve again helping all those who got on at Derby to understand how important health and safety is, that this was HIS train, and they'd better not forget it. Oh, he also told us bags were on board but anyone caught carrying a drink without one would probably be shot by the time they got to Luton. Well, perhaps not, but you get the gist.
Caught up in a frenzy of excitement we couldn't help but go for another coffee. A longer queue this time but just like Groundhog Day here comes Safety Steve again. Surely not. No. Please no. Well actually this time his finger wagging and general "mentoring" for Ivan was to say well done. A customer had dared to complain that Ivan insisted on a bag being used even though he didn't want one. Steve let us all know that he'd told the customer, "well, you won't want to pay my mortgage when I get the sack will you!"
You couldn't make it up. This was the best train journey ever. I was at this point disappointed we were soon pulling into St Pancras, I'd have happily kept going and back up to, I don't know....Inverness!
Oh we're not done yet. Costa lady was ahead of us in the queue. She wanted to dispose of her Costa cup but couldn't find a bin she could fit it in. Ivan pointed to our side of the buffet car but again she said it wouldn't fit. He asked her if she was in First Class, which she affirmed. Understanding he was talking to train royalty Ivan agreed to take the cup and place it in HIS large bin! Jaw-dropping stuff but you couldn't help like Ivan.
Eventually we reached Ivan and asked for two coffees. Ivan smiled and said how about tea? Ok no coffee left, two teas. Ivan's face dropped. He didn't have two teas. He searched and searched and found only one tea bag. However, we could see he know had plenty of brown paper bags - he just had no hot drinks left to put in them!
All aboard, all aboard the Laughter Train...... next stop Chuckle Town....................