Twenty years is a long time to work in the same place. Two decades of showing up to work on time each and every day, diligently working hard with my esteemed colleagues to add value to the business. Since the day I was on-boarded, I have relentlessly pursued corporate synergies and leveraged the opportunities and challenges that have arisen in my workflows.
(Did the above sound good? Please take my word for it, and definitely don’t go through my Twitter archive)
My lack of ambition was finally rewarded on my 20 year anniversary, when my employer offered to purchase a gift to celebrate my inability to get sacked. The only rule was that it had to be a single, tangible gift (no asking for a cash alternative).
I briefly toyed with the idea of buying Hornby’s new model of the Advanced Passenger Train, together with the additional coaches to make it up to a full length prototypical train, but I quickly realised that I would never be able to actually run it anywhere, due to lack of space.
Thoughts then turned to the possibility of a holiday and — because I have a brand to maintain — I started looking at train trips.
Back in 2020, at the height of the COVID crisis, work paid for everyone to have a subscription to Calm, the relaxation app. I was sceptical at first, but I actually found some of the “Sleep Stories” quite relaxing. I could listen to Harry Styles inviting me to dream with him or LeVar Burton whispering about a trip to the stars. The one that stood out for me, though, was Erik Braa’s tale of the Nordland Night Train.
Braa’s soothing tones described a trip on this overnight train, heading north from Trondheim into the Arctic Circle. He described a dining car selling a range of Norwegian delicacies, and told of small but comfortable sleeping cars with neatly-made beds, and beautiful scenery slipping by the window as the train progressed northwards.
The problem was, it didn’t soothe me to sleep at all, because I was wide awake and tapping away on my iPad, looking up train times and fares to see how easy it was to actually make this journey. At the time, the COVID pandemic made any international travel nearly impossible, so I stored away the idea for future reference.
In 2022, with the COVID threat receding, it was time to revisit this plan. With a substantial gift from work on offer, I found Railbookers, a rail holiday specialist, offering a Northern Lights tour. Two days in Oslo, a train to Trondheim, then a sleeper train to Bodø where I could see the Northern Lights, and return back to Oslo? A perfect way to commemorate two decades of “loyal” “service”, and also a good way to celebrate my 40th birthday. Sold!
And so, on the morning of 14th September, I dragged my suitcase to my local station to get the first of a series of trains to Manchester Airport, where I would catch my flight to Oslo.
Things didn’t start particularly well. The train I needed to catch to Liverpool South Parkway was running a few minutes late, and Merseyrail pulled their usual trick of cancelling all the intermediate stops to make up time. I stood on the platform with my wheelie case and looked on helplessly, as the train I wanted to catch thundered through the station without stopping. This meant I missed my connection to Manchester at South Parkway, and had a wait of half an hour for the next one.
As you can imagine, I wasn’t too happy about this. My mind was full of stories about the summer of security queue chaos at Manchester Airport, and I had included extra time in my itinerary to allow for this. This had now been entirely swallowed up by the train delays.
There wasn’t much I could do about it though, so I settled in the station’s Costa and watched the resident cat sleeping peacefully.
I sipped my coffee and thought that, if this was the worst thing that happened with my train journeys on this trip, I would be just fine.
Nothing else could go wrong… could it?