Jeremy Clarke discovers that John Prescott has not made the trains run on timeby Jeremy Clarke / March 20, 1998 / Leave a comment
The national rail inquiry service told me that a suitable train left Totnes for London at 6:37pm. Thank you very much, I said. Later, when I arrived at the station full of hope and expectation, this information turned out to be false. The train was actually scheduled to leave at 6:57pm. But that’s OK. Anyone can make a mistake. I make them all the time.
At 6:57pm, however, the 6:57 service failed to appear. At 7:02pm the one-man band in charge of the station announced over the tannoy that the train was going to be 25 minutes late owing to a driver failing to report for work at Plymouth.
Normally this would hardly have mattered-but I had a connection to make at Euston in London. I was booked on the Midnight Express, a weekly coach excursion to Amsterdam for cannabis smokers, which leaves from the Royal Castle pub beside Euston station every Friday at 10:30pm. I was looking forward to a relaxing weekend in the infamous coffee houses; maybe tottering around to the Van Gogh Museum, if it was open. If the train remained 25 minutes late all the way to London, three hours away, it would be cutting things a bit fine, but I might just make it. But when the train finally came teetering around the bend, it was 40 minutes late, and I had good reason to be worried.
The man who sold me my ticket (and made the tannoy announcement) crossed the footbridge with a rolled up green flag under his arm, ready to wave us on our way. Did he think the train would make up some of the time? “Oh yes,” he said, and fixed his features into an expression suggesting wisdom, confidentiality and sympathy. It was so palpably insincere that I wanted to laugh. He slammed the door behind me and waved his flag. Later I put the same question to the conductor when he came sauntering down the carriage asking for tickets. “No,” he said, flatly.
I tried to read the autobiography I had with me-Mr Nice by Howard Marks. For a man who has spent the past 30 years continuously smoking hashish (apart from spells in various American penitentiaries), and who presumably wrote the entire book enveloped in a fug of resinous smoke, his precise recall of events and conversations is truly amazing. Anxiety about my coach connection made me…