There's an art to reading on the train without nodding off... - Ian McMillan

My journey is necessary so I’m on a train; it’s late afternoon and I was on a different train very early this morning and so I’m a little bit sleepy.

Sometimes not even a good book can prevent you falling asleep during a train journey.

In pre-pandemic days I’d have been crushed up against a door, my face like a distorted Picasso against the glass, or I’d have been standing in such an awkward position that the pain in my lower back would have prevented any slumber.

These days, though, the trains are (thankfully) more or less empty and taking up a double seat is encouraged rather than frowned on. This means that I can stretch out and yawn like I’m opening wide for a dentist.

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I can’t go to sleep, though. That’s one thing I can’t do. I’m on a train from Huddersfield to Barnsley and I can’t fall asleep because I don’t want to end up in Meadowhall or Sheffield.

I’ve got a book to read and the thing is, it’s by me; it’s the paperback of my memoir Neither Nowt Nor Summat (available in all good charity shops) and I need to select a passage to record and send to someone. I flick through the book, and I have to admit it’s a bit odd reading your own work a few years after it came out; it feels like it was written by somebody else, and I keep coming across passages I’d like to rewrite.

Perhaps it’s because I’m familiar with the writing on these pages but I suddenly find that my head is starting to swim and it feels like someone is trickling fine sand onto my face and the rhythm of the train is very soothing and the carriage is lovely and warm and my mask is comfortable and I feel my eyes beginning to droop…

I sit up with a start. I can’t go to sleep. I mustn’t go to sleep. The train passes Brockholes and someone gets off and nobody gets on. I get up and walk about but, although there are hardly any other people on the train, I still feel a bit awkward almost brushing past them, so I go back to my seat. I try to sit up straight. I force myself to read my book.

It’s embarrassing enough falling asleep reading somebody else’s book but it would be terrible to nod off as I read my own sparkling prose.

We’re approaching Denby Dale and I’m more than three-quarters asleep now and leaning right over into the aisle of the train; every so often I fall fully asleep but then manage to rouse myself. We’re at Silkstone Common. If I can just hang on a little bit longer then all I’ll have to worry about is falling asleep on the bus.

Then I can’t stop the slide any longer. I am coshed into the land of nod by the combination of rhythm and heat and early mornings.

My fingers loosen their grip and my book falls to the floor. The crash wakes me up. A woman hands me my fallen book.

“Must be a good ’un,” she says. “It’s made you fall asleep!” I smile sheepishly and clamber off the train.

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