Archive for the ‘Manchester London Road station’ Tag

Sleeping Trains: do they have anything to do with my murder mystery?

Yes, they do, very much so. You’ll have to read my book, when it’s published, to find out how. And no, it’s not a Christie copy!

I’ve made three overnight journeys by train in my time, each in different countries. They all set out to be exciting, but each one had its own set of problems.

My last sleeper-trip started here, from Hua Hin, Thailand, to Georgetown, Malaysia. Its problem; the train splits at Hat Yia junction, the first-class portion taking the easterly route into Malaysia, the second-class portion taking the westerly route to Georgetown. We had first-class tickets for the ineptly named Rapid service. But you can only book the second-class seats an hour before you travel. It’s just one of those Thai-logic things, (read My Thai Eye to learn more) which could easily have left us stranded at Hat Yai!

The Gare d’Austerlitz, Paris opened in 1840

Paris to Toulouse was my second overnight-train experience. After a rushed dinner at the Gare de Austerlitz’s buffet, I with a new colleague from work, and our French agent Alain, boarded the train. Our couchette came complete with three strangers. We discovered later the next day, the following train left the track!

This trip’s problem: we arrived at Toulouse at some god-awful hour, tired and hungry, before any cafes were open. I was in the dog-house over that little excursion: I’d persuaded the agent, and a certain Mr Crosier, that it would be more interesting than flying!

D I Mike Crosier has to – or rather, like I did, chose to – travel from New Mills Central (a delightful station, opened in 1868) to London on a Sunday night sleeper-service. Crosier made this trip in 1962, thirteen years before mine. His story is based on my first sleeping-car experience. The sleeper-train doesn’t run from New Mills, so I had to pick up a connection which took me to Manchester. It was supposed to depart at 9:45 in the evening, but when it hadn’t arrived by 10:00 I, like DI Crosier, began to get a bit anxious. He had a lot more on his mind than I that night; no doubt a major bollocking from his Big Boss Bollard tomorrow; an unsolved murder; his wife still refusing to move to Crewe, so I’ll let him tell the tale as I first penned it in 2010 …

Crosier decided, on this occasion, he’d take the sleeper from Manchester to London, thereby allowing him the pleasure of spending more time with friends. The alternative, spending most of Sunday being shunted around half of England as work on electrifying the line to Euston progressed, did not appeal. He thought, he’d arrive in The Smoke refreshed, and have a leisurely breakfast before the monthly Transport Police review meeting. But arrive afresh in London he would not.

With a large dinner and plenty of red wine tucked inside, he left his friends, and hoped he’d be in soporific mood for the journey south. He hated being late and arrived at New Mills Central with over half-an-hour to spare. He sat on a form, and listened to the quiet evening; rustling in the bushes, a bit early for hedgehogs, mice perhaps? But it was the distant off-tune whistling of the station master in his office, trying to keep up with Debussy’s La mer, playing on the radio, that took Crosier back to summer, 1952.

Eastbourne … curtains billowing gently in the sea-breeze, occasionally afforded him a glimpse of the sea as they made love on top of their wedding-bed. ‘‘I want to see too’’, Alice had said, sensing what had distracted him. She’d rolled over onto all-fours – to present him with a thus-far unseen view of her – and then … their passion in such harmony with the gentle waves: La mer; strange that Debussy had completed this orchestral masterpiece in Eastbourne. Was he too inspired by the same view, as he made love to Bardac’s wife; maybe in that very room, maybe … in the same way?

The burning question now, however, was Crosier’s marriage going to survive his move from York to Crewe, three years earlier? Alice still refused to make the move.

Debussy had stopped playing.

“This is the BBC Home Service. Here is the News, and this is Alvar Lidell reading it”.

‘Ten o’clock! Big Ben’s chimes. Where’s the sodding-train?’

If it came now there was still time for an easy connection. He listened intently, straining his ears for the sound of a steam engine or, god-forbid, a diesel. More rustling in the undergrowth, the sound of a car crawling up the steep hill the other side of town: little else.

Ten-five: no train.

Time for some action.

He marched along the platform and hammered on the ticket office window. An owl hooted. The station master’s heart missed a beat. The sound of shuffling was followed by the scrapping back of the wooden door behind the booking office window which was soon filled with a ruddy face. Behind it, the BBC was telling the country that the radio telescope at Jodrell Bank had made contact with a satellite over four hundred thousand miles away.

‘What are you doing here?’

‘I’ve come for the 9:45 train,’ said Crosier.

‘Nobody ever comes for that train!

‘Well I’m here and I need to know when it will be here?’

It turned out the 9:45 was delayed leaving Nottingham, but should be here in fifteen minutes: still just time to make his connection; be a bit tight though. And tight it was. Crosier just managing to leap aboard the sleeper as the guard blew his whistle for its departure.

Manchester London Road, renamed Piccadilly in Sept 1960

He was shown to a compartment by a portly conductor, dressed in a dark uniform, who’d been stewing pots of strong tea at a stove in the carriage vestibule. Cups started to rattle in their saucers as the train moved off. The lower berth was occupied by a fat man, sound asleep. Wide awake after the dash to make his connection, Crosier turned off the light and hauled himself onto the top bunk as quietly as possible, not easy in the near darkness, broken occasionally by fingers of orange light moving across the ceiling, as the train gathered speed.

Five minutes later, he decided that he should remove some clothes; it was so hot in here. He took off his trousers, by means of various gyrations, in the confined space, and managed to bang his head on the ceiling only twice when he sat up. His trousers were free of him at last, as the train came into Stockport, and ended up crumpled at the toe-end of the bunk on top of his tie.

The train resumed its jolting way south, having picked up a few more unfortunate passengers. The fat man below began snoring more heavily. Crosier was wide awake. The conductor passed by again, off to present his samples of well-stewed tea, on a trolley full of rattling cups and saucers, to tempt the latest boarders.

Crosier eventually nodded off, slept fitfully and was jerked awake by the sudden braking of the train. Doesn’t the driver know this is a sleeper? Thinking that he must be almost in London, he took a look through the grimy window next to his birth. Stone: at one thirty on a Monday morning! Not even a quarter of the way! It certainly was going to be a long night.

‘Euston … Euston station … Euston … all change.’ The conductors voice moved passed Crosier’s compartment, then in the distance again, ‘Euston, Euston station, all change.’ Crosier woke with a start. Euston at last, but dear-god, it’s only six-fifteen in the morning!

Noises below: the fat man, already up, and dressed in a pinstripe-suit – which didn’t look a bit creased – and was checking his brief case. He glanced up at Crosier, smiled, waved and left without saying a word.

The conductor was back. ‘Brought you some tea, sir. You’ll have to get a wiggle-on, mind, the train gets moved into the sidings at six thirty.’

So here he was, at six thirty on a chilly Monday morning, standing on platform-one at Euston, and watching his sleeping-train clank off to the sidings; the sleeper with his warm bed, where at last he’d managed to get some sleep, and his tie!

As you can see, sleeper journeys have their quirky problems. My problem is we have to do that Malaysian run again, later this year! Maybe I’ll see Crosier on the train, if he’s enjoying his retirement and touring Thailand.

Of course, my experiences of sleeper-travel pail into insignificance compared with those aboard the Perth-Euston train when, 60 years ago, it claimed 112 lives. My fictional main-character wasn’t caught in the disaster, but 10 years later, he is well and truly involved in sorting out some of its deadly mysteries.