It is my Valentine's Day gift to my wife: a romantic long weekend at home for one. I am taking the children skiing so she can work and sleep and go to films with people who are not me. I forced her to make all the arrangements, right down to the taxi at the other end, but sitting on the Stansted Express with our bags crushing my feet, I still take some time to congratulate myself.
I have enough experience of the Stansted Express to know that it doesn't deserve the second part of its name. Even now it is crawling through north London, pausing for long periods, the drawn-out silences punctuated by incomprehensible apologies. It doesn't matter, I think, because we are so incredibly early. If this journey takes twice as long as it's meant to, we will still be at the airport before check-in opens. I look at my children, all staring into tiny screens, their faces alight with eerie concentration. There is, unusually, so little adrenaline in my system at that moment that I fall into a gentle sleep.
I am awoken by a sudden lack of forward momentum. As I open my eyes the lights go out and the air conditioning ceases to whir. Don't worry, I think. We are still so very, very early. After 10 minutes the PA system buzzes to life. "Sorry for the delay, ladies and gentlemen," says a voice. "Unfortunately, we have hit somebody, an individual who was intending to commit suicide." I look at the eldest, who is sitting across from me and staring into his lap while tinny music leaks from his ears. I look at the youngest, who is watching what the eldest has described as an amazingly inappropriate episode of Family Guy on his brother's iPod, and laughing quietly. I look at the middle one, who is looking at me.
"Did you hear that?" he says.
"Yes," I say. "Don't tell the other two." In the seat in front of us, a passenger is trying to explain the situation to a German couple, but they don't seem to get it. With the power off, the carriage turns chilly.
Eventually, in response to a quizzical look from the eldest, I write, "Someone jumped in front of the train" on a pad. He removes his earphones and watches policemen wander up and down the track. The other passengers conduct themselves with seemly reserve, talking in hushed tones into mobiles. There is no trouble when the snack trolley immediately runs out of everything.
After an hour it becomes apparent that we will not be moving for at least another hour. I ring my wife to ask, almost in a whisper, about the possibility of other flights, if necessary, to other airports.
"There's one at 6.30 to Munich," she says. "If München is Munich. It is, isn't it?"
"Well, I'd always thought so," I say, but it occurs to me that I once believed that Bayreuth was just an alternative spelling for Beirut. "Now I'm not sure."
The youngest one suddenly laughs. He still has headphones on, and he is still watching Family Guy. His brother prods him in the shin.
"Do you actually even know what's going on?" he says sternly. The youngest looks up.
"Yeah," he says. "A poltergeist comes and Stewie gets sucked into a portal."
The man in front of us tells the Germans that this sort of thing happens once or twice a year. In fact, I discover later, this is the fourth "fatality" on the Stansted line since December. The full sadness of it struck me only later in the evening, back home nine hours after setting off. Only then did I remember the conductor walking into our silent carriage to ask the trolley man for a coffee for the driver.