The Little Engine That Couldn't

I WAS sitting around my kitchen table last night with a few friends (and a couple bottles of red wine) when the conversation turned to trains.

The last time I was on a train, five or six years ago, the journey was featured in the local evening paper under the headline which included the words "nightmare train journey".

I had been to London with my sister who had been invited to a royal garden party (what an eye-opener that was, what with a plethora of much-shorter-than-you’d-think royals, crustless sandwiches, nice cake and Jennie Bond wearing a gold ankle bracelet).

We had a lovely day in the Buckingham Palace back garden which is slightly larger than mine – by the size of a small county. There wasn’t a patio chair, rickety bird table, garden shed, stray leaf or weed in sight.

The much-shorter-than-you’d-think royals seem quite jolly. There was lots of laughter and the sun shone. My mother has a picture of my sister and me, standing outside Buck House in our best frocks and hats. I was wearing some hideous turquoise get-up with a beige hat. What was I thinking?

All in all, apart from my mis-placed sartorial style, it was a lovely day. ... until our train home reached Taunton.

It started to go slower and slower. The message came over the tannoy that there was some kind of problem but if we could only get to the top of the hill we could freewheel down the other side and hopefully reach Tiverton Parkway where we could pick up another train.

Sadly, despite everyone on the train holding their collective breath, the train didn’t quite make it. I was reminded of the children’s song I used to listen to on Saturday mornings on the Uncle Mac radio programme (anyone who can remember Uncle Mac is showing their age). I think it was called The Little Engine That Could and was sung by Burl Ives.

Unfortunately, this little engine couldn't.

We ground to a halt while, rather worryingly, a train guard ran down the line behind us swinging a lantern to warn any other trains that might be approaching. Another message came over the tannoy that, hopefully, when the engine had cooled down, it might start again. We waited an hour. The train cooled down. Our collective breath was now bated. Would it start again?

Would it buggery.

By now it was dark. We sat there another two hours while there was much activity outside. We could see torches swinging up and down the line and could here much banging and yelling.

Then, I suppose, someone must have had a cunning plan. If we could hang on a little while longer, the milk train from Taunton to Exeter could come along behind us, push us to the top of the hill and then we could cruise to Tiverton Parkway.

Now I’m no train expert but it did seem a rather Heath Robinson way of solving a problem. However, that’s what happened and we eventually drifted into the Tiverton station, disembarked and waited for the train to take us the 15 miles to Exeter St David’s.

We stood on that platform and waited another hour, eventually getting into Exeter at 1am (the train had been due in at 9pm).

Still, it wasn't as bad as it might have been. We did get a free round of sandwiches and a cup of coffee for our trouble.

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  1. what a hilarious story! and only in england. certainly not in the US. in the US there'd be a huge investigation, likely some sort of smashup because the computerized whatever would have failed to notify the oncoming trains, and perhaps everyone would have been transferred to a bus by then....

    i love picturing the shorter than youd' imagine royals, as well as the beige hat. isn't it required that women in england all wear hats to all occasions? we only wear them when it's cold out. and then we wait til we can't stand it, because we don't want the dreaded "hat hair."

    you don't post nearly often enough for my tastes! love your blog.

  2. So your royals are on the short side? Come to think of it, I have no idea how tall our royals are. I always think they are average, if not tall, but I have no proof of it whatsoever and maybe they are little people too.

    Sorry to hear about your train experience. No wonder you haven't been on a train since. I hope you weren't wearing the beige hat all that time. Isn't it funny how we conform to what is fit for the occasion? I look good in hats, but I don't know if I'd wear one for a garden party with the queen.

  3. I used to spend hours, days, weeks on trains when I was working and you have reminded me of how dreadful it is when it goes wrong. I was once on a train which stopped outside Rugby station because some fool had taken a potshot at the station with an airgun. Should have been home at 11pm, eventually fell through the door about 2.30am.
    Love the hats and the royals too - great post all round!

  4. We quite often go on train trips just for the fun of it but I would hate to have to commute to work every day by train. Your train trips sounds hellish!

  5. British Rail gave you free sandwiches !! Golly ! I hope they weren't curling at the edges .Mind you , by the sound of it , some of the passengers might have been .

  6. Hi, I have a Best Blog award for you on my blog. I hope you would like to accept it but quite understand if you prefer not to participate. Best wishes, Michelle

  7. Lazy old gossip returning from France - and glad I did. What a nightmare trip. Like elizabethm, I sypmathise based on bitter experience of trains (before escaping from the Metropolis). But oh, what a gloriously funny and sharp-eyed account! Thank you.
    PS Did you wear turquoise eye-shadow - you didn't, did you ...;-)?