I arrived at the station just as the train pulled in. It was a sad sight. The GNER colours had been covered over with the horrible new National Express stickers which were also stuck on the roof so they could still be read when the train was lying on it's side like one of their buses and on the side of the locomotive the Highland Chieftain name plate had been replaced with The Alex Salmond Express. I took my seat and as the train rolled away from the platform and into the unknown I began to write. ‘Excuse me’, said another passenger, pointing to a sign on the window, ‘this is the quiet coach, no electronic equipment allowed’. ‘Don’t worry’, I reassured him, gesturing towards my typewriter, ‘even valves weren’t invented when they made this thing!’ and began to tap away as the coach slowly and rather mysteriously grew ever more empty of passengers the further north we travelled.
I knew we had really reached the North when we passed a group of workman erecting the new Welcome to Wife in The North Country sign by the tracks. The train rumbled on and I wondered what other influence my inspiration could have had on Northumberland. Suddenly the intercom burst into life. ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’, began the announcement, ‘as the North Sea lies as cold, still , grey and unforgiving as the steel of a reiver’s sword and the river flows muddy brown past the silent stone walls guarding the mysterious secrets of the mist shrouded history of the ancient border we shall shortly be arriving in Berwick on Tweed’. I closed my eyes to steal myself for the arrival and breathed deeply as page after page of lilting possibilities scrolled past my eyes. ‘Please mind the gap’, concluded the announcement. I opened my eyes again and as the train coasted across the Royal Borders Bridge high above the dark Waterstones of the River Tweed I knew what I must do. I alighted from the carriage as soon as the train pulled in and called to the guard. ‘I say, what time is the next train?' I asked. ‘Where are you going to pet?’ he queried. ‘To my destiny', I answered confidently, 'as author of the great northern downshifting novel’. ‘That’ll be the 15.40 from Platform 2 pet’, he said. ‘Don’t be late though’, he added. ‘It’ll be standing room only on that service’.