‘Do you have a nail file?’

The Caledonian Sleeper.

I’d arrived early, unpacked what I needed for the night, climbed to the upper bunk and, as the clock ticked by, thought I’d got away with a two-berth cabin to myself, at standard-class price (first-class tickets guarantee the cabin to yourself). I’d taken a chance, knowing that I might be joined in the cabin by a stranger.

Then, five minutes before our scheduled departure, the door opened and a woman, breathing heavily, arrived (shared cabins are gender-segregated, unless you’re making the booking for two).

A Caledonian Sleeper cabin is a small space: cosy, with a friend, and just right by yourself. But with a stressed-out recent arrival, the space became claustrophobic; the walls closed in.

My new companion had had a late-arriving taxi. She was flustered, and kept repeating the details of how she’d nearly missed the train. I resigned myself to a less restful night than I had hoped.

After a few minutes, a sigh of frustration came from the lower bunk.

‘Do you have a nail file?’ she asked me. ‘I haven’t brought one, I really need to file my nails.’

After searching through my toilet bag, I unexpectedly found one, and gave it to her.

She settled to filing. And as she did so, she calmed, and told me about the purpose of her journey, and I related mine. She asked me good questions about my work, and I Iearned about hers.

After a while, we switched off the lights, and the train clanked down to Euston. In the morning, we spoke again, temporary friends, and then set off on our separate ways.

Flanders & Swann-song

This weekend, the Observer carried an article by Robin McKie on ‘How Beeching got it wrong about Britain’s railways’. McKie explains that rail passenger figures have almost doubled in 10 years, old lines are being reopened, and new ones planned for launch.

McKie argues that this ‘has more to do with the UK’s fading romance with the car than a refound love of the train’, although his evocation of a Cornish journey, full of dramatic views of surf and sea, serves to indicate that some train journeys have a magical nature that the car can never match, let alone surpass.

Dr Beeching, whose report led to the closure of so many branch lines and 5000 miles of track in the 1960s, has a popularity, says McKie, that lies between that of Richard III and Robert Maxwell. McKie’s link to the Flanders & Swann-song ‘The Slow Train’, with accompanying pictures of steam trains and bygone stations, shows us a little of what was lost.

Elsewhere in the media, the BBC has been running a TV series called ‘The Railway’. Last week’s episode featured Hayley, who displayed extraordinary cheerfulness while working in the Lost Property office, and poor dead Ronnie, a dog who ventured onto the tracks and was killed. Apart from sliced-off legs and being frozen solid, she was still in a presentable-enough state to be returned to her owners, which Ben – an economics graduate working on track recovery and clearance – duly did. Compelling.

The last episode in the series will focus on the West Coast Mainline, a route often travelled by Central Belt Shuffler. Don’t miss it.