Listening to: Sgt Pepper
Not listening to: The Levellers (left CD in the hire car)
Weather: lots of it, how long have you got?
Eating: scrambled eggs
. . . and then the train broke down.
Yes, I finally got my train ride through the Highlands and up the north-east coast of Scotland. Lovely it was too.
The journey back from England proved to be a bit of a trial. I decided to do the run overnight, getting to Inverness in time to drop off the hire car and catch the mid-morning train to Thurso. Heavy traffic on the last Friday before Christmas, freezing fog, black ice and temperatures as low as minus 11, tested concentration, driving ability and bladder control to the limit.
By the time I got to Inverness early on Saturday morning I was, bearing in mind I had been up since 6.45 the previous morning, away with the pixies.
Somehow I managed to sign all the forms at the car hire place, buy a train ticket and get to the tourist office to book overnight stay in Thurso, pausing briefly for a couple of espressos to keep me in full 'mad-as-a-hatter' mode.
The train arrived on time, departed on time and it was fabulous.
Sheets of ice were floating on the Moray Firth as the line followed the water's edge, heading inland towards Dingwall before cutting further into the Highlands where the heavy overnight frost had left the trees and fields icing-sugar white. Think of Narnia without the talking animals (mind you, the way my brain was whirring, nothing would have been a surprise).
All was well as the train found its way back to the coast and trundled through Golspie and Brora before stopping at Helmsdale. That was where I got the first whiff of a problem.
Things went strangely quiet. No sound from the engine, the lights dimmed and the heating went off. Blokes in luminous jackets appeared and started peering under the carriage. Shaking of heads, sucking of teeth and sharp intakes of breath ensued.
They seemed happy enough to allow us to set off north again. The sun was out by now, picking out the colours of the hills, red, brown, green, black, grey.
However, the train was clearly struggling and I couldn't help thinking of the Rev W Awdry railway tales of my childhood where the engines always seemed to break down on "the loneliest part of the line".
Sure enough, after half-an-hour or so, the guard came round to announce the oil leak had failed to mend itself and we would have to get off at Forsinard where we would get another train.
At least it wasn't going to be a mini-bus.
I got off and walked past a file of anxious southbound passengers who were being forced off their train onto the one we had abandoned, the logic being that if they were heading for Inverness it would be quicker and easier to send out a rescue (hmmmm!).
Anyway, we set off as they were fixing a large sail to the other train, but the last leg of the journey to Thurso was a bit of a disappointment. I've never been a big one for fir trees unless, of course, they're covered in tinsel with a large box underneath labelled "to Malc, here's that Scalextric you always wanted but NEVER GOT, love Santa".
Having been up for more than 30 hours sleep was obviously out of the question so the rest of the evening was a blur of beer, Wolves v Leicester, blokes in kilts, playing pool for money and Chinese food.
And, yes, I made it home yesterday and it's so good to be back.