Transition

This time a week ago, we were tucked into a wonderful – really wonderful – room at the Malmaison in Edinburgh. DorkyDad was using the free WiFi to check his emails; I was chilling out on the massive bed. Our request for breakfast in the room was hanging outside the door.

Our ‘last supper’ that evening had been at Fishers in Leith. DorkySon tasted sticky toffee pudding for the first time in his life. We drank wine, and had a wee wander along the Shore before heading back to our room, which looked out onto the twinkling water. Someone, somewhere, was setting off fireworks.

Earlier that day, a big truck had pulled up outside our house. DorkySon was beside himself with excitement. He said hello and shook hands with Andy, Mickey and Norrie – three perfectly named removal men – before I took him to spend the day down in Portobello with his Granny. I didn’t think he needed to see his life being packed into boxes.

We didn’t need to see that either, really. I distracted myself by making the guys endless cups of tea, and hoovering the empty rooms. DorkyDad and I went to say cheerio to some of the shopkeepers in Marchmont who have become good friends. There was a lot of backslapping and ‘it’s not goodbye, it’s see you later’.

I can’t believe that was only a week ago. Tonight we are sitting in the living room in our new place. I haven’t committed our new address to memory yet, but when I emailed it out to friends I got several replies saying that even Eliza Doolittle would struggle to say it correctly. There are a lot of aitches.

It has been a busy week. Two hotels, two trains, too many taxis to count, DorkySon’s first sighting of a red London bus, several large glasses of wine, and a lot of Peppa Pig videos on the iPad.

Mickey came back tonight – and packed some of our stuff back into the truck. Our table wouldn’t fit through the door of the new flat. Nor would my wardrobe; and there is no room for most of our books. They are going into storage for six months, somewhere near Dartford, until we find our forever house.

This is not a forever house, but it is fine, for now. It is comfy, and cosy. DorkySon has already taken over the hallway with his trucks. We have music in the kitchen; fresh flowers in the window (thanks Mum), and some of our pictures are up on the walls.

A new place always takes time to get used to. I planned today’s activities around a trip to the library, and DorkySon was jumping up and down with excitement at the thought of finding some new truck books. When we got there we discovered that it is, inexplicably, closed on Wednesdays. But instead we went for a walk and found a duck pond, and then a grand wee playground with a pirate ship.

I have been bowled over by the generous welcome of other mums in the area. We only got our internet connected yesterday, and from the one email I sent introducing myself on the local NCT list, I’ve already had a dozen replies with offers of coffee and walks to the park. I got chatting to someone in the queue at WH Smith this morning, and came away with a nursery recommendation.

God knows there have been a couple of wobbly moments. I am trying hard to define this new place by what it is – and the kindness of strangers makes that so much easier, I can’t wait to hear some personal recommendations for places to go – but I have had one or two moments when I’ve only been able to define it by what it’s not. It’s not the house I’m used to. Michael is not my butcher any more, Eddie is not my fishmonger anymore, and after tonight, the removal men are not coming back. It’s not Edinburgh. Not Scotland. And my Mum doesn’t live down the road anymore.

As DorkySon would say, that smells like poo.

But I think if we get some more pictures on the walls, and I reply to all those lovely friendly emails, and we go to the library on Thursday next time instead of Wednesday, we might just be alright here. It’s a big old adventure, and I’m willing to give it a shot.

 

I was planning on having a load of photos to go with this post – I kept my camera away from the removal men, with the intention of documenting our journey – but then I left it switched on all night by accident and ran the battery down before we’d even left the hotel in Edinburgh. I discovered that on the train, just as we were passing Cockenzie and DorkySon jumped up, pointed out the window and said “Look, look, it’s Granny’s ocean!”

That was the first of the wobbly moments. I’m hoping there aren’t too many more to come.

No More Romance on the Railways

I was so sad to read articles in the Scotsman and Observer this weekend noting that the restaurant cars on East Coast trains have been sent to the great railway heaven in the sky.

I can’t claim to have been a regular of the silver service dining cars – it has been at least three years since I made the journey from Waverley to Kings Cross at all – but I have some wonderful memories of them from the early days of my and DorkyDad’s relationship.

Back in those pre DorkySon days, we sometimes used to trundle down to London for the weekend, and usually tried to time it so that we had lunch on the train. It wasn’t exactly Michelin standard, but there was something very romantic about sitting at a proper table with a white linen tablecloth and silver cutlery, while we sped past fields full of cows and horses.

I was always filled with huge admiration for the staff members, who, despite the shoogling and shaking, managed to delicately transfer bread rolls from basket to plate without dropping them, and pour generous glasses of wine without spilling them.  Oh how they must have laughed at this fine dining novice, the time she knocked a large tumbler of water into DorkyDad’s lap…

It is disappointing news for reasons far beyond my own personal nostalgia though. The traditional dining car was open to all passengers. Although space was limited, anyone with £35 to spare could sit down and enjoy the range of soups, roasts and puddings. Unlike the strict separation of airline passengers, who sit in different sections of the plane, hidden from each other’s view, the democracy of the dining car meant that a businessman from first class could well end up sitting with a student from standard class.

Under the new arrangements, those who travel first class will be served where they sit, and the meal (which will now be pre-prepared, rather than made by the chef on board) will be included in the increased cost of their ticket price. Those of us who can’t afford the luxuries of first class will be restricted to the soggy sandwiches and chocolate bars of the trolley and buffet bar.

Not only is it sad to see a change that reinforces those old divisions and puts an end to the mixing and socialising that often took place in the dining car, it is unfortunate that the move will further encourage unhealthy eating habits. Part of the appeal of rail travel was the ability to get up and move around, and to break up a journey with a proper sit-down meal. Without that option, people will now sit glued to their laptop screens while unthinkingly shovelling snacks into their mouth.

The move is undoubtedly financially motivated. In order to attract many of the businessmen and women who currently take advantage of cheap air travel between Edinburgh and London, the rail industry need to prove that the productivity benefits on board a train outweigh the cost implications. That means allowing them the chance to work for the full four hours down the East Coast, without even having to leave their table for lunch.

I understand this, but that’s not to say that it doesn’t depress me. I have always loved the romance of railways. The dining car service on the East Coast has been in place for 130 years, and I’m sure that over the years I’m not the only nervous newbie who spilled something in her partner’s lap. It is a shame, I think, to see such a fundamental part of railway history and identity sacrificed on purely financial grounds. I share Stephen McGinty’s hope that the next company to take on the franchise will reconsider.

(Actually that’s not quite accurate… what I really hope is that the railways are re-nationalised and the restaurant cars reintroduced… but that’s a whole other post!)