Thursday 30 August 2018

Back on tracks – fine wine on a train

There is no doubt that rail travel has let us all down. And among the weary complaints about delays, overcrowding and ticket prices, let us not forget the sad decline in comestibles. The three-course meal has given way to “snacks and hot drinks”; the dining car has given way to the trolley; and the proper bottle of wine has given way to the single-serving miniature.

The inestimable Nick Lezard wrote recently that in order to get through the journey from Edinburgh to London, “I have to stun myself with four of those tiny bottles of barely acceptable Shiraz/Cabernet that get sold on Virgin trains.”

It’s not good enough! Where are the white tablecloths, the silver service, the wine waiters? Where, indeed, the bottle of decent claret? Can nothing be done to restore the former splendour of travel by rail?

Well… fortunately for us all, Berry Bros & Rudd, Wine Merchants to Her Majesty the Queen, are trialling wine sales in London Bridge station. They are offering a range of wines, up to more than £40 a bottle – proper, serious wines of a calibre which might, at one time, have accompanied a meal in a dining car. Her Majesty may remember such things.

There will be those who point out that this London Bridge store also has gift bags available, suggesting that customers might be buying a last-minute bottle to take to a party. Others will observe that the same station outlet sells convenience ready-meals, to be heated up at home, which a bottle of wine might be taken back to accompany.

Quiet, I say. Nothing of the sort. It is clear to me that Berry Bros, drawing upon their splendid pre-Beeching heritage, are simply providing a decent bottle of wine which we can drink on a train, in order to recapture the splendour of rail travel past.

It could be difficult, mind you. The majority of the trains out of London Bridge these days are what I call putt-putt trains. They have electric doors, no tables, and their seats are hard, virtually unupholstered, and don’t even have antimacassars. Surely airline style seats are best suited to an airline style airline?

But really it is irrelevant what the seats are like, because a seat is something you are not likely to have. These are trains typically rammed to the gills. You will therefore be savouring your wine while standing.

Still, mind the doors, and let us depart. Those foolish enough not to carry a corkscrew will have to resort to buying a screwcapped bottle, losing several points in the battle for tradition which this exercise represents. Those foolish enough not to carry a wineglass are clearly not taking this opportunity seriously.

One of the very few advantages of standing up on a train journey is that it is easier to open a bottle of wine. The bottle is easily held between the legs while the cork is pulled. Removing it while seated requires significant elbow room, room which for some reason has not been accommodated by the designers at Bombardier.

The sound of the cork being removed will be likely to turn heads. That is not curiosity you see. It is envy.

The opened bottle will have to reside in the side pocket of a blazer or coat, but it will become progressively less of a burden. One hand is free to hold on to the glass, and one to hold on for dear life. From personal experience, I suggest you pour while the train is stationary.

Beware of the jerks, which can cause a glass of wine to slop. No, not the jerks of the train, but the ones who insist on pushing past, despite the fact that you are clearly trying to savour a serious claret, lured as they are by the tantalising possibility of a working toilet,

Remove your consciousness as far as possible from the surrounding experience. Try to shut out the frequent reminders that you are on a modern train, arising mainly from the many mobile phone calls which begin, “I’m on a train…”.

Ignore the fascinating arguments between travellers and ticket inspectors about the validity or otherwise of someone’s super off-peak special discount Roustabout return And don’t become intrigued by your fellow travellers – sorry, customers – or start wondering just what it is that that mother is planning to give her child which will be something to moan about.

No, bring to mind a bygone age of train travel in comfort and luxury. Sip your fine wine. Try and channel the Orient Express, but without the murder. Or the Channel.

And you should find that you arrive at your destination in a significantly better frame of mind than usual. You will not get cross when it is announced that yours is the next “station stop”, wondering how that might differ from either a “station” or a “stop”. You will not fulminate at the exhortation to “make sure you take all of your belongings with you”, despite the fact that most of your belongings remained at home throughout.

For you will have enjoyed a glimmer of rail travel past, provided by Berry Bros & Rudd.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.



  1. Re "station stop", I've decided they are covering their arses in the event that the train goes through a station but doesn't stop, or stops somewhere that isn't a station. AP.

    1. I like this theory. But they make the announcement so close to the next 'station stop' that the train is not going to pass through any other stations, and is unlikely to make any other stops, before it arrives. So in fact, the next stop is nearly always…the station.


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