It’s coming. That birthday. The one that means I actually have to be a grownup.
The best possible way to celebrate such a birthday would be to run away with the circus. As a close second, I’m dusting off a writer’s romantic dream: my notebook and I will be catching the night train to Venice.
So many of my favourite British literary adventures depend on trains, especially mysteries: Holmes and Marple often ride the rails to remote villages to peel back the layers of secretive rural lives. The gentle world of Wodehouse too is full of trains, forever carrying harried Londoners to bucolic country houses for extended stays with overbearing aunts. Children’s books, also–the Railway Children being the obvious example, but also the Chronicles of Narnia and dearest of all, Paddington Bear. (Just try to drag me through Paddington Station without a stop to pet the Paddington Bear statue on the head. Go on, try it.)
Above all there is the peripatetic Poirot, making his way in impeccable evening dress across the Continent to exotic destinations by steam train. Steam trains with sleeping cabins and dining cars and a club car with an elegant bar where you might meet anyone and everyone–anyone and everyone travelling first-class, that is.
The overnight train from Paris to Venice is one of the routes historically associated with the Orient Express, the train journey that most conjures up an image of exoticism, mystery and luxury. Indeed, the Orient Express company tries to recreate this atmosphere of a former era of travel glamour along the Paris-Venice route with rolling stock originally from the 1920s and 30s. Unfortunately I’ll have to save up until, oh, approximately the next century to be able to afford one of their tours. (I did consider selling a kidney but realised I would have to cut my champagne intake, which seems like a waste on a journey like that.)
So instead, I’m taking the Thello sleeper, which is considerably more affordable and should still provide some excellent views as we speed across the continent to Venice. Plus they run every day instead of at specially commissioned times, so I can be a little more pragmatic about when I want my journey.
I’m picturing me and my notebook in the dining car, sipping something refreshing and reflecting up on the subtleties of Life, when a Peter O’Toole lookalike (specifically, Peter O’Toole from the charming Audrey Hepburn film How to Steal a Million) arrives to sit across from me and spin witty one-liners through the hours as our train races on towards the Queen of the Adriatic.
Yes, I’ve seen the photos of the Thello stock: I know in reality I’ll be sitting in what looks rather like a cramped airport lounge, probably across from a middle-aged Italian with thinning hair and dishonourable intentions. But I can still dream. After all, I’m never going to be THAT much of a grown-up.