On the longest day this year, I attended a session on travel blogging at Britmums Live. I’m not sure why, because I ain’t ever gonna be a travel blogger. For starters, we don’t really go anywhere and, when we do, it usually ends up in a series of minor disasters involving losing things, getting lost, delays and travel sickness. Not exactly the aspirational stuff of the travel blogger.
Later that day, as I cried along with the bloggers’ keynotes at Britmums, I got a message from my friend, Nikki aka Stressy Mummy, to say that trains from Paddington were seriously delayed and some were even cancelled. Now, I could have dropped everything and took the first Hammersmith & City train out of there to get myself to the station earlier than planned. But I didn’t. The delays and cancellations would be sorted by the time my train went at 8.15. And, anyway, getting on the wrong train when you have a reserved seat on another is An Actual Hanging Offence (I know this because I had the misfortune to hear a rather awkward exchange between some 50-something ladies and a train manager on that very subject a few weeks previously).
So I stayed put and went to Paddington in my own good time.
I arrived to people staring up at boards which had words like ‘delayed’ and ‘cancelled’ on them.
But it was still an hour to my train. It would be fine.
Soon enough, the boards started to say my train was delayed. Damn! I checked back every few minutes, for fear it would suddenly become un-delayed and just set off without me. I checked at 8.06pm. Delayed.
I checked at 8.10pm (still five minutes before it was due to depart) and it had disappeared off the board entirely.
For some unknown and surprising reason, I had the good sense to actually speak to someone in uniform who might have a perfectly rational explanation as to why my train had disappeared off the board. He did.
It had been cancelled.
Cancelled?! But it couldn’t have been! I needed to get home! I had to be at the theatre at 8.30am the next day for our annual dance show.
‘But if you catch the 8.30 to Exeter, you could change at Swindon. Actually, it’s just boarding now.’
As he said that, half of Paddington station turned and ran towards the 8.30 to Exeter.
Remarkably, I was just ahead of the game in the mass exodus towards the 8.30 to Exeter, and managed to find myself a forward-facing seat with a table on an empty carriage (this is pretty much the holy grail of train travel to me). Within seconds, the carriage was no longer empty. It was full. Very full. The seats filled up and so did the aisles. I’m claustrophobic. Crowded trains are one of the things I hate most. Oh, and I really needed the toilet, but hadn’t dared go at Paddington for fear that my train would arrive and then leave while I was having a wee. It was fine, I would go when I got on the train. Not when there was 300 people between me and the toilet cubicle, I wouldn’t.
The train set off. There was no announcement and no train manager in sight. I began to wobble about the mythical ‘change at Swindon’ scenario. What if the guy on the station had been wrong?
So I did what any sensible blogger would do. I tweeted. I COULD have tried to check the train timetables online, but have you used 3G on a train?! I am very grateful to Rachel in Real Life who offered to search online for potential connections for me in Swindon and Bristol. Other twitter friends too were kind enough to offer emotional and practical support.
The news from Rachel wasn’t great. I wasn’t going to make it all the way to Cheltenham, the only available connection at Swindon would terminate at Gloucester, so I would need to get a rather expensive taxi.
The train arrived rather late into Reading and left even later. Apparently this was so the police could get onto the train to arrest some disruptive passengers. How lovely.
I rang my husband to tell him what had happened and he checked the situation online himself and concluded that Gloucester wasn’t even an option. That train would be dropping me off at Swindon and that would be the end of the line for me. I must admit a tear was shed. I was tired and claustrophobic and desperate for a wee. I just wanted to get home.
‘What am I going to do?’ I cried into my phone on the quiet carriage. This was an emergency situation. Quiet carriage rules went out of the window.
‘Well I suppose I’ll just have to come and get you from Swindon.’
It wasn’t until we were nearly in Swindon that an announcement finally came over the tannoy about passengers for Stroud, Stonehouse and Gloucester changing at Swindon. No mention of Cheltenham.
As we finally got off the train at Swindon, the announcement on board said the connection would leave at 22.41 – almost an hour away.
And as I descended onto the platform, with my husband just minutes away in the car, the station announcer said: ‘Passengers for Stroud, Stonehouse, Gloucester and Cheltenham, your train is boarding at platform 1.’
NO!!!! Seriously?! Why was there no communication? Why didn’t the trains and the stations speak to each other? Why did I have to go through so much stress and worry?
Swindon station had changed a fair bit since I was last there. The toilets were nicer for one. And as I left, I saw this rather quirky station clock, surrounded by blue lights. It looked beautiful against the fading sky. I couldn’t believe it was still so light, but I realised it was the longest day.
Seconds later, I got an alert on my phone to say this week’s Gallery theme was ‘the longest day’. It was perfect. Tara had been reading my mind again. I knew EXACTLY what I was going to write about.
I also knew that I would never make a travel blogger.
This post was written in response to a prompt on The Gallery at Sticky Fingers. Pop over to see how others have interpreted the theme ‘the longest day’.