YOUR HOLIDAY DISASTER
EJ Woodward and husband took a night train to Barcelona after the war. Well, that was the plan...
Sunday 01 February 1998
At the frontier we caught the night express to Barcelona, where we were due to entrain for Madrid. We were taken aback, but entranced, by its air of faded Edwardian luxury, its rich plushy seats and even lace window shades. It was full (I now realise) of Spanish families returning from the holidays, all very cheerful and passing round the chorizo and the garlic sausage.
As we climbed up the mountains, we ran into a thunderstorm. Long years of the Blitz had made us blase, though and we smugly went on reading. Until, suddenly, with a tremendous judder of brakes, the lights flickered and the train stopped dead. Pandemonium. It eventually became clear that the storm had washed away the line ahead. All passengers had to dismount with their bags and baggage, and make their way on foot to where a relief train awaited us at the further side of the gap. The lights went out, and there was a mad rush for the doors, and we were all out in the dark.
It was really pitch black, the rain was still teeming down, and we were ankle-deep in mud. An occasional Wise Virgin had a hand torch; but their unsteady lights seemed to make the blackness blacker. Of course my husband and I soon lost contact. He, poor soul, had the heavy case (he says it stuck in the mud whenever he put it down to draw breath) while I had the lighter stuff. I struggled on through the morass. Around me desperate families searched for missing members; it was chaos.
All at once a distraught father, with two huge bags, lurched into me and thrust into my startled arms a tiny shrieking toddler - a little girl, judging from her muddy frills, who was howling her head off for her MAMA! Having dumped the baby onto the nearest available female, the man then vanished into the night. My attempts to reassure her in English brought forth ever more piercing yells; I tried French - worse. I burst into song, the first tune that came into my head: "Three Blind Mice". The child was struck dumb, either by the bloodthirsty words or my singing, but at least she was silent, poor wee thing. It was only too clear by now that she needed her MAMA's attentions soonest, so it was with immense relief that I climbed aboard the little waiting train and handed her over.
The plank-like seats were overflowing, there was thick mud everywhere, we were all soaked to the skin, but as the Hornby-lookalike engine began to chug its way downhill to Barcelona, not one of us here would have swopped it for a chariot of fire.
The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations
- 1 Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin file for divorce after 10 years of marriage
- 2 Rarest Beanie Baby bought for just £10 at car boot sale could be sold for £62,500 on eBay
- 4 Bookies now say Ed Miliband is more likely to be prime minister than David Cameron
It's Italian, but it's definitely not Italy: Stephen Wood visits Lampedusa, an island beyond the map's edge, where North Africa meets Rome and even the sharks are poets
Plane forced to make emergency landing in Israel after 'part of wheel falls off'
Cycling in America: A revolution on two wheels
Astypalea, Greece: An isolated spot a world away from Athens
The 10 Best lightweight luggage
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
Food banks: One million Britons will soon be using them, according to Trussell Trust
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
Katie Hopkins on LBC: Listen to caller taking The Sun columnist to task over migrant comments
£21K: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Front of House Receptionist to provide th...
£24000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With offices in Manchester, Lon...
Competitive (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a number of Marketi...
£20000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This well established business ...