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Bill Mills

 A Blue Train from Rome

by  Bill Mills

My ship had docked in Civitavecchia, the port for Rome, and on the second last day of our stay, I received an invitation to have Dinner in Rome with the 2nd Secretary of the British Embassy, another Scotsman. I travelled by train and was met by the person in question.

         A table had been booked for us at a high rent restaurant; I think it was called The Library- frequented by Ambassadorial staff. I remember that there were glassed in shelves all round the walls filled with ancient and rare wine bottles. We had a truly sumptuous dinner. Every time some Embassy dignitary arrived or left, passing our table, my host rose and said “ Good evening Sir- or -Excellency”. I just stood beside him and gave a wee bow from my now expanding waistline.

         Eventually after being very well dined and wined and brandied- I was driven to the Rome rail terminal-an absolutely huge building – as you might expect- and put on board the La Spezia express. The idea being that I would alight when the train stopped at Civitavecchia and make my way back to my ship. However, things in life aren’t always that simple.

         I had been booked into a First Class compartment-part of my treat- and I was impressed by the comfort. At first there was just another couple seated in one corner, an elderly well dressed pair who greeted me pleasantly.

 A little while later the door slid open and a very well dressed and very good-looking young woman with a small baby in her arms came into the compartment. Pleasantries were exchanged and she settled into the corner opposite me. As she made the baby comfortable she asked a question to the elderly couple and myself. The other couple smiled and nodded their heads. I opened my arms wide and intimated that I didn’t understand. Reaching up, the gentleman in the other corner moved a switch over – and the bright white lights changed over to dim, dark blue, for travelling at night.

The train started to move smoothly away, and I snuggled into my seat thinking that it wouldn’t be too long before I reached my destination. Just then the baby started to squirm a bit and the lovely young mother picked the baby up into her arms and started to sing Neapolitan lullabies in a quiet, beautiful voice.  My undoing was complete. With the dim lighting, my recent rich meal starting to digest with a very pleasant warm feeling aided by the heady alcohol consumed, I drifted off into a mellow trance where the young mother was singing specially to me. Neither the baby, the other couple or myself had a chance ! We all fell fast asleep.

What a let down it was to be wakened by the Ticket Collector shaking my arm and asking to see my ticket. He looked at my ticket carefully, and then told me in quite good English that we had passed Civitavecchia about half an hour before. However, when I had managed to explain that my ship was due to sail by noon –and it could not sail without a Radio Officer - which was me! – he told me to wait -( what else could I do?) - and he would try and help. In five minutes the Ticket Collector was back with the good news that he had been in contact with Control and that they had permission to stop at the next station – I could get off- change platforms to the one servicing the opposite direction- wait about an hour and the next train had been alerted to make an unscheduled stop, pick me up and I could get off at Civitavecchia.

I couldn’t thank him enough but did try with a suitable monetary award.

I was sceptical that an express train would stop at an unscheduled station but it did. I climbed down onto a small, narrow platform and the train quickly moved away with the Ticket Collector and another uniformed man – (I don’t think it could have been the driver!) - waving to me. My estimation of the Italian Rail Network was very high.

After climbing down from that small platform and carefully making my way over the rails I clambered up onto the other very small platform, just as the dawn was beginning to lighten the sky. I walked the few steps that took me to a shelter and found that there was only one scratched and scarred window remaining. Trying to get some relief from the cool morning wind wasn’t very successful.

My friend the Ticket Collector had told me that the train that had been arranged to stop for me would be about an hour.

It was nearly two hours when I saw a train approaching. Against all the odds it did stop and the Ticket Collector on that train helped me up into the spartan inside of a local train. My new Ticket Collector friend assured me that the train would take me to and stop at Civitavecchia. And it did.

My regard for the Italian Railway system and its personnel remained high

Arriving at Civitavecchia I hired a taxi and on the ten-minute ride to the ship I closed my eyes and thought of the elderly couple in one corner, myself in another corner, the dim blue light and that very lucky baby with a mother who looked quite something and had the voice of a siren.

Bill Mills