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.Reuse content