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Guest Post:7 Reasons That Travelling By Sleeper Is Great

Posted on August 21, 2010 in Guest Posts | 0 comments

In the final instalment of 7 Reasons Transport Week, regular guest poster Simon Best, brings a touch of old school glamour to proceedings by travelling on a sleeper train.



1 Novelty. Part of the fun of travelling by sleeper is its novelty. There are only four sleeper services in the whole of the United Kingdom, but it wouldn’t be as much fun if you did it every day. Just imagine if your daily commute involved getting a sleeper to and from work (and no falling asleep on the train from Luton to St Pancras doesn’t count). If this was the case you would, essentially, be living on a train. Now I can think of worse places to live – France, for example or Slough – but that’s irrelevant, the main point is…

2. History. Boarding a sleeper is a bit like stepping back in time; even the name sounds like something from a 1930s Agatha Christie novel and it put me in mind of WH Auden’s poem ‘The Night Mail’, with its talk of cheques and postal orders (and that even rarer object the letter). I personally haven’t received or written a cheque all year and I think the last postal order was sent in about 1973. There is no longer a night mail train; now your Amazon orders or the clock you bought on Ebay are delivered by plane. The sleeper is still running. Travelling by sleeper is great because it is historic.

3. VIP Treatment. Normally catching a train is a stressful business. You have to wait on the concourse until the platform is announced – usually two minutes before you’re due to leave – and then it’s changed two minutes after you should have left causing you to either: a) miss the train b) knock an old lady over with your briefcase or c) strain a muscle hurling your suitcase into your carriage. This is not the case with the sleeper. It is always in the station an hour before it is due to leave. You’re greeted by your sleeping car attendant, welcomed by name when you show your ticket (you don’t get that on the 7:42 to Charing Cross do you?), you’re asked what you’d like for breakfast,  when you’d like it, and shown to your cabin. In short, you’re treated like Michael Winner being escorted to the first class cabin on Concorde. Travelling by sleeper is great because you’re given VIP treatment.

4. Your Cabin. Once on board you make your way to your cabin, stow your luggage (there is no other train in the world on which you ‘stow’ your luggage you just stick it in a luggage rack and hope someone doesn’t put a huge suitcase on the top). You then proceed to play with all the gadgets, play around with the bed, open the little shelf next to the bunk, climb up to the top bunk and sit there, lift the cover to the wash basin, press the taps, open the blind, and close it again. Twice. Turn the three different lights on and off several times and adjust the temperature slider seeing just how hot or cold you can make it and like the controls on a shower then spend ten minutes getting it just right, which is invariably the setting it was on to start with. Travelling by sleeper is great because your cabin has more gadgets than the TARDIS.

5. The Lounge Car. Once you’ve become bored fiddling with the temperature and switching the light on and off, you’ll doubtless leave your cabin and stroll down the train to the lounge car. Here you can relax on a sofa and order a gin and tonic from the bar (well that’s what I’m having, what would you like to drink?). The lounge car even stays open all night but you can only get booze until one am because, as the stewardess said, “this is a train, nae a nightclub” (who would want a nightclub on wheels anyway). On American sleeper trains lounge cars even have observation decks, with clear roofs so that you can look out at the scenery as you travel along. They also go one stage further and provide actual in-train entertainment, showing films. I was once stuck on a non-moving train in the middle of the desert in Texas. When we’d been staring at the desert for three hours I got quite excited at the announcement that they were showing a film. They showed My Dog Skip. I should have kept staring at the desert. However the actual film is irrelevant. Travelling by sleeper is great because there is a lounge car.

6. Breakfast. Having chosen your morning beverage, ordered your breakfast and arranged your wake-up call when you board the train, you’re gently roused by the sleeping car attendant at the appointed time, with your breakfast which you can then eat in bed while the train rolls sedately through the countryside. Just be careful not to flash your nightwear at a flock of sheep. I love having breakfast in bed, except for the crumbs that you have to clear up afterwards. Travelling by sleeper is great because you get breakfast in bed with a view, and you don’t have to clear up afterwards.

7. Efficiency. We all like things that save us time. Think of all the labour saving devices we have in our homes: washing machines, computers, vacuum cleaners, electric carving knives (actually forget that last one). The sleeper allows you to go to bed in London and wake up next to Ben Nevis (or if you’re feeling more adventurous go to bed in Berlin and wake up in Warsaw). This makes it one of the most efficient modes of transport, as it allows you to travel a long distance and sleep at the same time. Something that is not advised if you’re driving a car or riding a bike.

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