Wednesday, March 02, 2005


From the ages of 5 to 16 years old I wanted to be an archaeologist, nattily attired in khaki, under the baking sun, slowing brushing away red dirt to reveal priceless treasures.

When I gave up that dream, I replaced it with another one, that of marrying an archaeologist. This occurred to me when, collating some of my favourite quotes to facilitate the delivery of a pithy yet educated aside in polite conversation, I came across Agatha Christie’s assessment of life with an archaeologist;

An archaeologist is the best husband a woman could have. The older she gets, the more interested he is in her.

Dame Christie was my top author for many years and I still experience the thrill of meeting up with an old friend when Poirot and Captain Hastings converse in their sitting room at the start of each story, much like those other most famous of sleuths, Holmes and Dr Watson. Such was my admiration that, believing imitation was indeed the sincerest form of flattery, I once tried to create my own Murder on the Orient Express scenario, complete with train, detective and an English peer named Debenham. This story springs to mind each time I pass a Debenhams store and probably accounts for my unnatural fondness for the chain.

Murder on the Orient Express 2, written by your correspondent, was no earth-shattering creation, as at the age of 11 I was beginning to realise that my first book was a long way off. My continued attempts at an opus were scuttled by my short attention span, my love of starting stories with excellent bildungsroman and no dénouement, and my discovery of Alan Coren’s short stories which prompted a spate of humorous little vignettes which are still some of my favourite pieces of writing. Thankfully the world was spared my space opera set a thousand years in the future in a carefully planned space station, my spaghetti western starring a spirited Pinto stallion and my tale of the wife of a Greek blacksmith who discovered a planet and called it … Contecilla. I can’t believe I still remember the name.

All this reminiscing is actually in aid of something though. Today, while sitting on a train at Clapham Junction with Jac, I saw the Orient Express pass through the other platform. The gleaming steam engine, the delicious Pullman cars, the curtain hung windows and the lamp bedecked tables, it was everything I had imagined it would be. And despite its crippling price, riding the Orient Express is back up at the top of my list of things to do before I die, right behind touring Siberia in a refitted rocket launcher.