In the last week I have made another couple of trips to Cardiff in increasingly stressed and depressed pursuit of Christmas presents for the family. Each time I arranged to meet up with friends in the evening, something to look forward to, a deadline to draw a line under the meandering, a light on the conceptual horizon.
The light in the western sky as I approached from the east, an urban horizon across rooftops and chimneys, was very dramatic as the sun sank behind towering banks of cumulus which had so recently been pouring torrential rain on the city. Not so much red sky at night as a rich golden colour with massive crepuscular searchlights lighting up the late afternoon winter gloom as the solstice draws close.
In the city centre the municipal lumens were cheerful and colourful but couldn’t really expect to compete with the intensity or scale of the meteorological display.
However, these weren’t the only lights in the pre-Christmas winter gloom.
On the second of the two trips I caught the usual train back home but completely underestimated how tired I was. I find tramping urban streets, especially when combined with wandering around shops, far more tiring than trekking in the mountains and I had had a good meal and couple of pints. Moreover, before the shopping expedition I had left the house at 11.45 to catch the bus to Abergavenny to meet up with friends for a pub lunch, foregoing the pint in view of the arduous day I anticipated to lie ahead, then caught the bus to Cardiff …… and it was now 22.00.
I bought my ticket on the train just as it pulled out of Cardiff and settled back for the 30 minute journey, looking forward to getting home, a coffee and an early night. Hibernation crossed my mind. That was the last I knew of the journey until I jerked awake as we pulled into Hereford station, an hour and 10 minutes and 5 stations later. I grabbed my coat and rucksack full of presents and staggered onto the platform as the doors frenetically beeped shut behind me, alone in the deserted station.
A taxi driver saw me on the platform looking lost and abandoned and offered to run me home for £80 (€100, $130). I declined his offer. I thought about a hotel for the night but it was by now nearly 23.30 and any hotels close to the station, if there were any, would have locked the doors.
The next train south was at 00.10. So only 40 minutes to wait but inspection of the information monitor made it clear that it didn’t stop at my station. Nevertheless even in my sleep befuddled and traumatized state I calculated that my best option was to catch that train to the closest station at which it did stop, 5 miles south of home.
In a biting cold wind and driving rain I paced the platform for the 40 minutes while I waited, knowing that if I sat down and huddled up to get comfortable I would drop off to sleep again. Attractive as hibernation seemed at that point, I preferred to do it in my own house.
As far as I could tell I was the only person on the train. After the cold wind Morpheus beckoned in the fuggy warmth so I stood up in the centre aisle, shuttling all the way back to Cardiff didn’t appeal one bit. Neither did the hour-long walk home appeal; I decided I would take a taxi.
The ticket inspector accepted my explanation and didn’t require me to buy a new ticket which was good of him. He disappeared back to his cab at the front of the train only to return 5 minutes later. He had spoken to the driver and arranged for the train to make an unscheduled stop at my station. Above and beyond. Extraordinary generosity and kindness. Given the strict procedures by which trains are operated this was indeed a bright beam of light in a gloomy winter midnight world.