Monday, 7 February 2011

Review: Last Call for the Dining Car: The Telegraph Book of Great Railway Journeys

Last Call for the Dining Car: The Telegraph Book of Great Railway Journeys. Edited by Michael Kerr (2009)

Though the average London commuter sees rail travel as a necessary evil, railways still have the power to instill powerful feelings of romance in us.  Perhaps its because it was the railways that first shrank the world so dramatically that journeys that once took weeks could now be completed in a matter of hours.  Perhaps it was the way that rail travel broadened people's horizon's beyond that of their native villages.  For whatever reason, even today rail travel revives images of gentility, comfort, adventure, and romance.  It makes us think of dining cars and sleepers. Of compartments paneled in wood and backs to the engine.  Of steam and porters and attentive stewards.  It's the mode of travel of Hercule Poirot and James Bond.  Of aristocrats in evening dress and tweedy gentlemen on their way to trout fishing in Scotland.  It's traveling not just across geography, but across time to what we like to imagine was a more elegant era.

Last Call for the Dining Car: The Telegraph Book of Great Railway Journeys both feeds and tempers this nostalgia with a collection of articles from the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph revolving around rail travel over the past 150 plus years.  Far from being a dry compendium of newspaper clippings, editor Michael Kerr makes his selection with an eye toward lively writing and entertaining subjects.  Separated into general topic sections, the reader can expect to find such gems as John Simpson on Kim Jong Il's armoured train, Lee Langley on the Orient Express in the 1970s, a trip from New Orleans to LA post Katrina,  the American rediscovery of Amtrak right after 9/11, the adventure of the world's longest continuous rail journey from London to Hong Kong, train spotter par excellence Michael Palin's musings on meeting InterCity, and the  rise and fall (or is it just fall?) of British railway food.

This is not a book to read cover to cover.  It's a book to keep on your nightstand and dip into at random before going to sleep.  Whether it's the decline of the Orient Express in the 1970s, the beauty of the Trans-Canadian railway, what it's really like aboard the Queen's private train, Queen Victoria's dining habits while travelling, or merely an anecdote about an epic journey made on a platform ticket, Last Call for the Dining Car is sure to entertain.  It evokes a nostalgia for a time not so long ago when all transportation systems didn't aspire to the dismal, antiseptic level of service dispensed by airlines and maybe it shows that travel can be something to be enjoyed rather than endured.

1 comment:

  1. All is not yet lost! Fine dining, chef-prepared and steward-served, is still possible and not only on luxury trains.
    Pullman catering is still provided on first class charter trains and in private rail cars.
    Enjoying a magnificent 4-course luncheon with a vintage wine in pleasant company with an ever-changing view through the panoramic window will prove that "travel can be something to be enjoyed rather than endured".