Dear Mary

Dear Mary: How can I flirt on the train when a man who knows my old habits is watching?

Plus: More tips for surviving the Caledonian Sleeper; and how to save your ceramic umbrella stand

25 July 2015

9:00 AM

25 July 2015

9:00 AM

Q. Travelling on a train recently I happened to notice two former acquaintances, sitting together and very nearly opposite me, neither of whom have I spoken to for several years. The two are unknown to one another. This unfortunate coincidence left me in a difficult situation, as one is a most agreeable and attractive young lady whom ordinarily I would gladly have engaged in conversation in the hope of renewing our acquaintance, while the other is a former barman who could easily have launched into an anecdote about my rumbustious behaviour in my student days. Fearing that such an intervention might result if I spoke, I remained silent throughout the journey. My decision was made all the more painful by the fact that the young lady was obviously bored by the novel she was reading and would probably have relished some conversation. What could I have done?
—J.F.,Woodford Green, Essex

A. A trip to the buffet car would have resolved your problem. There is no doubt that the attendant would have appreciated the novelty of being asked to intervene in an onboard human interest drama. It would have made a welcome change from slapping down snacks on the counter and moving on to the next impatient customer. A carefully worded announcement would have brought the woman to the buffet car where you could have enjoyed your reunion without fear of sabotage by a rival spectre from your past.

Q. I enjoyed your response to the reader who was wary of passes being made at her on the Caledonian Sleeper. As a recent traveller from Euston to Glasgow I can confirm that access to the top bunk is indeed difficult — to its intended occupant, let alone to an interloper. I would also like to pass on two tips to readers. There are no charging points for mobile telephones or laptops in the second-class cabins but you can plug a two-pronged euro adapter into the shaving socket and successfully charge that way. Also, the food in the dining car is much improved: haggis, neeps and the like, wine list not at all bad and all surprisingly affordable.
—N.L.C., London W11

A. How kind of you to share this tip. I would add that you need to establish your presence in the dining car at your earliest opportunity, since the demand for this improved facility far exceeds the seating capacity.

Q. How should I avoid damaging a ceramic umbrella stand by the renowned potter William Plumptre when I drop my umbrella in?
—R.I., Penrith

A. Cut some old carpet into a circle to fit the bottom of this ceramic stand. This will absorb the shock of the umbrella’s arrival.

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  • John P Hughes

    Thank you for using a photograph of the wooden awnings of Kettering station in Northants as the picture for this set of ‘Dear Mary’ questions and answers. These are of course listed and the town’s station is probably the most interesting historic building in Kettering….. there is nothing quite as good of its type anywhere else in Britain. The electrificationiof the Midland Main Line having been put back, more attention can be given to how to put up the overhead wire while not harming the listed structure.

  • DennisMcScumbag

    I used to take 12 hour MegaBus journeys and have become an expert in how to survive these. Drugs and Alcohol. Here are my recommendations:
    Alcohol –
    Probably the best as it keeps you entertained and can put you to sleep. Remember to hide it within another container to avoid detection. My style was to drink half a large bottle (1lt at least) of OJ and then fill the rest with either Gin or Vodka.
    Ecstasy –
    Keeps you entertained with the Ipod on but definitely does not put you to sleep. Remember that this will make you fidgety and want to get up and walk around, don’t. Also, keep your enlightened thoughts to yourself.
    Cocaine –
    Entertaining, yes. Hard to consume whilst in the company of other passengers, definitely. Remember that this will make you talkative and, if your like me, aggressive. This is by far the worst drug for the MegaBus.
    Mushrooms/LSD –
    Both are very entertaining and if taken in moderation can be one of the best for surviving a long uncomfortable trip. You can play some Pink Floyd and enjoy the scenery, waking up from a dream at your final location. Remember that these can go both ways, a dream or a nightmare. Even if it takes you to a good place remember that it can make you very tactile. I was travelling with a friend on Shrooms and he began to slowly caress the Afro of a gentlemen sitting in front of us because he liked the texture.
    Marijuana –
    Entertaining, yes. Similar to the drug above but not as potent, you can zonk out and enjoy the scenery and music. However this Drug is very hard to take. You must convert it to its edible form to consume it on a MegaBus, it is usually hard to get of and smoke a fag let alone bun a cheeky hoon whilst people are getting on and of.
    This list was not exhaustive but will put most in the right direction. Please contact Dennis McScumbag at for more information.