The main part of my treat was for me to go back to my childhood and spend the day playing on the wonderful railway. For those of you who don’t know, the RHDR is a steam railway with engines about a quarter the size of main line trains (see pictures) and it runs for fifteen miles or so along the south coast of England. Readers of my book The 7.52 to London Bridge will recall the story of much mischief taking place on that railway with my brother in the 1960’s including a thankfully unsuccessful attempt to derail the train!
Despite its Lilliputian size, one of the carriages has been converted to a buffet car and a much ‘squashed in’ attendant serves up to twelve people a range of drinks from his bar as they enjoy the ride. As I watched a couple cram themselves in to the bar I recalled having been in that same buffet car some six years ago on a previous visit to the railway.
With the smell of steam and smoke from the engine wafting back to the carriage, the sound of the occasional train whistle, and observing the countryside change as the train makes its way from the relative greenness of small towns to the barren and bleak wastes of Dungeness (all very David Copperfield), the buffet is a wonderful place to sit and unwind – or at least it should be. I remember sitting in that bar desperately wanting a gin and tonic which to me seemed the ideal drink to have to match the experience, but knowing at the same time that one wouldn’t be enough and that with the trip lasting over an hour I would want at least three or four, if not half a bottle. As I was driving that day I daren’t risk having that much to drink so I had a can of cider instead. I remember reluctantly having to make that cider last the whole hour and all the time wishing it had been a G and T or at least a bottle of wine instead. I remember the stress that caused, and I remember thinking how one day I would come back on a day I didn’t have to drive home, so I could get wrecked in that buffet and drink myself stupid on champagne, wine and as much gin as I wanted. And I also remember how disappointed and frustrated I felt that day because I hadn’t been able to drink, whereas I should have been enjoying the experience for what it was, not what it might have been if booze could have been involved. After all, the buffet car is just an add on; the railway, the scenery, the journey and the steam trains are what the RHDR is all about, not just somewhere else to get drunk.
So here I was this time, only a walk away from the station so no need to drive, and plenty of room in the buffet car had I wanted to go and fulfil that old drunken wish. But despite it being my 60th birthday the thought never once crossed my mind. And to be honest, despite the simplicity of the weekend, this really has been the nicest birthday I have ever had. Completely sober, completely content and completely happy.
P.S. Yes, I was made to wear a 'birthday boy' badge all day!