TWENTY AND COUNTING
Every year, on or about the summer solstice, a small but persistent band of members swop their humdrum, monotonous lifestyles for a week of excitement and adventure. The annual sleeper trip, no less.
The destinations have varied considerably over the years, and have included those well-known Celtic outposts, Cornwall and Ireland. The basic format has not changed much from the following description of early trips, although the length has gradually increased as the standard of sleeper breakfast has decreased:
Meet at the Fisherman's Rest for kit inspection and issue of beer rations, before departure to Preston.
Entrain at 0048 on the sleeper from Euston. Convince steward that the date on our ticket relates to the day of boarding his train rather than that of starting its journey ('Are we not a day early. sir?'). Negotiate with the now-harrassed steward regarding availability of a cooked breakfast for the morning. This seems to vary with the tides, like so much else belonging to our many and varied rail franchisees.
Progress to lounge car (equipped with real, movable tables and chairs) for additional beer rations and the option of second dinner. Play guess-the-station as lights flash past in the darkness of north Lancashire and the Lakes. Retire to bed sometime after Oxenholme.
Reveille at approx. 0330, thanks to much shunting and banging at Edinburgh Waverley, as the train is cut in three to serve Aberdeen, Inverness and Fort William. Drift off to sleep again hoping that we are still going were we thought we were.
Secondary reveille at 0700-ish to better appreciate early morning over the Grampian, Cairngorm or West Highland mountains, depending on sleeper route selected. Take breakfast in the day coach amongst superb scenery, either real or imagined, depending on the weather.
Arrive at the sleeper's destination and switch to a Class 156 for onward travel, to such exotic places as Mallaig, Kyle of Lochalsh or Thurso. Fraternise with fellow travellers, mostly of Antipodean or North American extraction, whose common feature, apart from shorts and sandals, seems to be financing their trip by winning the Design-a-Giant-Rucsac competition.
Arrive at pre-selected bed and breakfast accommodation to deposit bags and seek advice on the availability of local cuisine (the nearest curry house).
More travel, either astride the breadth of Scotland from Inverness to Kyle of Lochalsh and back again, across the water from Oban to Mull or a return from Caithness to the deep south (Inverness). Sample more of the local cuisine (the nearest Chinese).
Morning at leisure stocking up on the duty-paid and similar valuable souvenirs. Afternoon train back to Glasgow to connect with the Euston-bound service. Haggle en-route over the ubiquitous mobile phone to persuade, encourage or require selected friends and loved ones to attend Preston station, to pick up assorted weary travellers. Back in Southport in time for debriefing at the weekly SMRS meeting.