We set off at midday to catch a 1.15 train north after lunch at Central Station. We’d arranged for a daughter to feed the cat. The destination was Maitland in the Hunter Valley where I was to be on a panel with crime writers Barry Maitland and Jaye Ford at the city library.
I’d agreed to this months earlier. After doing a number of gigs recently, I was less than enthusiastic although I like Barry Maitland and we’ve clicked well together in the past.
Things went a bit awry from the start. At the information booth we were told the train departed from platform 9. We waited with no sign of it. More or less out of the comer of her eye Jean saw that the Newcastle train on platform 8 was ready to depart. She inquired of the guard, who said it was the 1.15.
‘We were told platform nine,’ she said.
The guard shrugged. ‘Eight or nine, no difference.’
We boarded in a hurry and the train began to move before we were settled. It was crowded and our seats weren’t the most desirable but at least we hadn’t missed it. With my eyesight I certainly would have, had Jean not been with me.
Jean worked on her crosswords and I unshipped my Kindle. After about an hour the train stopped. Shortly after, an announcement said that a freight train had been derailed and there would be a delay of uncertain length. Perhaps 20 minutes later we were moving (slowly), only to be stopped again because of signal failure. Another wait, progress again and then a delay due to an electrical fault.
With the clock running it seemed unlikely that we’d make Hamilton in time for the connection to Maitland. The event was due to get started at 5.30 and the panel discussion at 6.30. It looked like being a near thing, especially when it was announced that due to the line problems the train could only proceed slowly to Berowra. That’s what it did and we considered getting off and calling Maitland to say that we’d be too late for the event.
But the train didn’t stop at Berowra and the next announcement told us that it would terminate at Fassifern, well short of Hamilton, because it was needed to provide a return service to Sydney or the whole network would be thrown out of whack.
Everyone got out at Fassifern on a hot afternoon with smoke from the Central Coast fires in the air.
‘A two-carriage diesel train will take passengers to Newcastle stopping all stations,’ a voice announced.
There was no way this mob would fit into two carriages. After a wait, a full-length electric train arrived. By this time Jean had rung the library and arranged for us to be met at Hamilton and driven to Maitland. There was some concern about what effect the fires might have on this plan.
At Hamilton we were met by a very pleasant and efficient female library staff member in a powerful vehicle which made the trip to Maitland without incident. We arrived just in time for me to get a glass of wine before having to perform. The wine and canapés were packed away but the woman who’d got us there saw us right for a drink or two.
The attendance was thin because of the fires but the event went well. Despite his protests I got Barry Maitland to do his excellent Inspector Morse impersonation – ‘Not now, Lewis!’ which always brings the house down.