This weekend I am escaping.
I love my family dearly. But like all jobs one occasionally needs a holiday. I think it may be getting on for two years since I last went away without any of them. It’s due.
And so I am travelling up to Sheffield, the city of my university, to spend a weekend without kids and husband. And chores. And football. And the Cub Scout bridge walk. At which it always rains.
Normally I can’t get away on these weekends (which I would like to say have been a regular fixture but really can’t as the last one was 2 years ago) until I have finished pitch side duties around Saturday lunch time. This time the football gods had given me a reprieve and Youngest had no fixture on the weekend. (She is planning to make up for it exercise wise by running the bridge walk in an attempt to cross off all 80 slots on her sponsorship form. I am somewhat regretting my 50p a bridge pledge).
As such I am leaving on Friday. Today in fact.
Last time I got away on Friday (probably about 5 years ago) I sat on the M1 for a good 4 hours. With my left leg screaming from over use of the clutch. Yes my American friends I drive a manual (or stick shift as you call it) along with the vast majority of people here in the UK under the age of 65. Except my husband, he drives an auto. It’s not beige though. Yet.
‘So’ I thought to myself ‘I will get the train’. Where I live is on the direct line to Sheffield. Couple of downloaded episodes of Being Human and a large cup of tea and the job is a good one.
Of course life is never that simple. First off for some inexplicable reason there are only 2 direct trains all evening. One at 17.41 (much too early to be sure of a home husband and fed, piano lessoned children) or 20.09 (bit late but my friends are night owls so should still be up when I arrive c 22.30) so I plumped for that.
My first inkling that something might go amiss was when my husband sat for two hours at Luton this morning trying to get to work on the same line but in the other direction due to ‘signalling problems’.
Now I am sure there are lovely bits of Luton, although I am yet to see one, but really he didn’t need to spend 2 hours there. Stuck on an overcrowded train.
He finally got to work over 3 hours after leaving. I spent all day following the disruption updates which stated when ‘normal’ service would be resumed. First by 12 noon. Then by 2 and then by 4 as trains and drivers and staff got themselves back where they should be.
All good. Husband’s return journey went without incident. Everyone ate. We said our teary goodbyes. Well Youngest was teary the other 2 put their i phones down for long enough to be given a brief hug and husband dropped me at the station. Too early. At my request. I needed to collect my tickets and buy that large cup of tea.
Of course the train was running late. Predictably. So I sat in the platform waiting room sharing despairing looks with fellow travelers and resisting the urge to start one of those episodes of Being Human, 2 of which were no longer going to be enough to fill the time.
The train was delayed due to a ‘train fault’. What sort of fault was not specified. The lady with the whistle and the flag (which is no longer a flag but a sort of over sized table tennis bat) who was there to wave (bat) the train off also turned up too early. As she exclaimed to a colleague (this presumably being a 2 person job) she had been unaware of the delay. That didn’t fill me with much confidence. To be honest.
Anyway the bat lady, her eastern European colleague, my fellow passengers and I then played delayed train roulette.
In my experience of delayed trains (which after 2 years of commuting to London is quite considerable) the word ‘delayed’ after the train time means either ‘we have absolutely no idea when the train will arrive’ or ‘the train is so late it hasn’t yet left it’s starting point and we don’t want to tell you because people will get annoyed and we can’t face that’ or ‘if we don’t tell you how delayed the train is when we give you an actual eta you will feel nothing but relief at having some certainty’. All these options add up to one thing. Fuck.
As I was sat there a time popped up. 20.16. Seven minutes late. Now in the scheme of things (specifically the UK rail network scheme of things) this hardly constitutes a delay. 7 minutes. I laughed inwardly. Knowing as sure as night follows day that this would not be the whole story. No siree!
Sure enough over the next 20 minutes the estimated time of the train oscillated between a best case scenario of that 20.16 and a worst case of 20.31. I leave you to guess at which time it actually turned up.
Anyway I then performed my ‘the sign said first class was at the front and so I needed to be at the very back of the train to find my reserved seat, which only a fool would travel without on a Friday night going north, but actually first class was at the rear requiring me to sprint almost the full length of the platform’ run. I was somewhat thankful for the delay at this point as I had already consumed all of my large tea which would have been a severe handicap during this manoeuvre.
I needn’t have bothered. Reservations had been dispensed with. Presumably because of the delay. Or maybe because the train was made up of old rolling stock (which may have explained the earlier fault) the sort which require paper tickets to be shoved in slots on the backs of seats. I guess the people who used to slot reservation tickets into slots have been reassigned since new rolling stock which have computerised displays that can presumably be programed from a cental point came on line. Maybe they are all batting off late trains?
Luckily for me there was a seat opposite a luggage rack. The table already had 2 men seated at it but I am not the sort of lady who worries about such things. In any event the younger of the 2 seemed to be doing some coding on a lap top and the elder was reading Scuba Diving International. Which I expect to appear on Have I Got News For You any episode now. He was perusing an article dedicated to doing up a dry suit properly. Preliminary risk assessment satisfied I dumped case in rack and plopped down. Requiring dry suit man to move his legs.
Off we went. About 500 meters outside the station we came to a halt. The tannoy man came on to explain that we were stopped at an unexpected red signal and he would update us all when he knew what the actual fuck was happening. Dry suit man sighed and got up returning with a can of Carlsberg. It looked tempting. And I am teetotal. And hate lager.
About half way down the can we started to crawl along at about 5 miles an hour. Tannoy man came back on to say we had to go slowly as we had passed the red signal. On the one hand moving was good. On the other crawling slower than the M1 felt like a lose to be honest. I risked eye contact with dry suit man. We exchanged frustrations about the state of the nation’s railways and used words like third world and bloody ridiculous and then we lapsed into that ‘fellow sufferers’ silence. Coding man (well boy really) risked a tut.
Anyway I am still here at my due into Sheffield time somewhere on the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire border. Dry suit man and coding boy have long since left. I miss them. I only have some Japanese tourists left. God alone knows what they must think.
If I ever get there it will have felt like the Great Escape. Or that scene in the Shawshank Redemption when you realise he has tunnelled out with a spoon.
Hope my mates have the kettle on. It’s a long time since my last brew.