British Rail is quite reliable – it can almost always be relied upon to break down at critical periods, for example, when there is:
1. Peak hour;
5. Leaves or
… or any combination of those, anywhere near the line.
Today, I had a vital meeting in another city at 10:30 a.m., connected to funding for my new enterprise. The problem was that this was my second attempt, the first being thwarted when the company’s offices burnt down a few days before my last appointment in December.
Fine, so here I was today:
08:30 Standing on the platform, chatting to the stationmaster about the day’s doings to come.
0840 Train arrives and takes me to the junction station.
0910 Get off at junction station with bicycle, only to see hundreds of people on other platforms, out of the ticket office, by the bus stop, up the flyover walkway. Meanwhile, men with pneumatic drills are digging up the station platform.
An announcement comes through that the intercity is cancelled due to an electrical fault at the other end – a replacement bus service has been organized, with the first bus due ten minutes before this announcement.
I go over to the hub of the action, see about 200 people waiting for one bus and I remember the last time this happened, in the pouring rain, with one bus arriving each hour and the numbers swelling by about 50, with each incoming train.
I phone the firm and the mobile decides to work on the third attempt today. I explain that the train service has been cancelled and that if I was at my home station, I could easily catch a bus but as I’m not, as I’m at a junction station out in the middle of the English countryside, I still need to get back home, then catch a bus, then ride from there to the office. The little question of how to get a bike on a bus hasn’t occurred to me at this stage.
She asks how long that will take and I answer, “It’s in the hands of British Rail.” She’s not impressed and warns me that the advisor is only going to wait 30 minutes and has been instructed not to accept clients after that time.
Sounds very suss to me.
A quick calculation from the station platform electronic noticeboard shows there’s a return train in 47 minutes, a bus journey of about the same time after that and then a bike ride. I’m not going to be there within the requisite time so I ask for another appointment but now I’m put onto a waiting list.
Anyway, the little matter of getting back home now arises. This is where the story becomes lots of fun.
0920 I leave my bike outside and go into the perspex waiting room. A lady with a bike leaves her bike not far from mine, supposedly for company, comes in and we both look to the sky. She’s a nurse coming off duty and will now have to take a £20 taxi home from my home station.
0923 The station platform electronic noticeboard now shows 28 minutes for our train. Huge numbers of people are running up the stairs in the distance and onto Platform 1 for Manchester. I count them, as I’ve nothing better to do and there are 104 of them.
0925 There is a station announcement that, in fact, that was an error and it is Platform 3 they need – our platform. They all rush up the stairs and emerge onto our platform. I notice one chap whom I spoke to at the bus queue earlier, so obviously he’s given up.
0927 There is a station announcement that, in fact, that was an error and it is Platform 1 they need after all. I tell Belinda that I have a website and that I’m going to post on this later.
0932 I ask her if she’d like a coffee from the shop.
0939 At least the return train to my home station is ticking down OK – showing 12 minutes.
0942 The station platform electronic noticeboard now shows 21 minutes until our train. She departs and goes to one end of the platform and I go to the other.
0951 Another train comes in over there and about 50 people get off and come to our platform. The station platform electronic noticeboard says 12 minutes. As if in horror, we’re drawn closer to the milling and extremely disgruntled crowd. The station platform electronic noticeboard ticks over and becomes 14 minutes, then 17. People groan and I suggest we all have a singalong.
Two women glare at me. I’m beginning to enjoy this.
0953 Hallelujah – a train chugs into the station and hordes get off. The man in the safety green jacket says it’s ours so we get on but suddenly – this is the literal truth – a different horde start cramming on, as the result of a station platform announcement we couldn’t hear on the train. People ask if it’s for Liverpool and I tell them no – it’s for my home station.
Well, I wanted it to be so, didn’t I?
They all begin to get off and then get shooed back on again by men in safety green vests. I look around for a Dachau platform sign. A train announcement apologizes to us – this is not our train. I grab my bike and try to get off the now-Liverpool train but there are too many being packed on. Finally I do. The train gives a ding-ding, ding-ding, the doors whoosh closed and off it goes, leaving the two of us on our platform.
The man in the safety green vest comes up and apologizes profusely. Our train is up the tracks and really is on its way. Truly.
1012 A train arrives and guess what – it has the name of our station on it! Yo! We shake hands, say goodbye and jump onto different carriages. We are informed that, in fact, this is not our train – it is a non-train, despite having all the appearance of a train – and that our train is coming.
A bit like Waiting for Trainot.
1015 The little man in the safety green vest comes up and I remind him about the last time when it was raining and services were cancelled. He doesn’t want to remember that – he is here to placate us and because Belinda is pretty and seems non-hostile, unlike some others, even though she is actually quite hostile at the situation inside, behind that smile.
The little man tells us many things and they’re very interesting.
For example, it is not the fault of his rail service at all, it is all the fault of Network Rail. Apparently, Network Rail was meant to have come through in the wee hours and de-iced the rails.
Apparently, if there is absolutely anything on the line, in any one place, not even over the whole line, things such as, oh, say, frost, rain, leaves or snow, then that shorts the connection and the train stops.
Apparently, this Network Rail buggy thingy did not come through because it broke down, due to there being moisture on the line. Hence all the disruption today. Belinda tells him to pull the other one. No, that’s a lie – she never said anything of the sort and yet the man in the safety green vest goes off and she tells me she did actually swear earlier, at her end of the platform.
1021 She says she could have cycled, the rate this was going. We get to talking about things and it seems she works at the same place I visit later in the week and we might have that coffee after all. This seems a good idea to me and we exchange emails.
1025 It begins to rain. I point out to her that, if she looks up at the sky, there is blue sky on one side and blue on the other but immediately above us is a raincloud dumping on us. It passes by and it’s sunny again.
1037 Our train finally arrives, we shake hands and smile over the day’s doings. We get into separate carriages because I’m a moral person and can’t even begin to think of warming her hands which are now frozen blue.
1114 I buy a Big Breakfast and juice at our corner shop and come home to ring the firm but then remember my phone’s out of order. I begin writing this, to be scheduled for 15:00 today.