Saturday, June 18, 2005

Planes Trains and Automobiles (and boats)

I guess everyone must have seen the movie "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" with Steve Martin and John Candy. My journey home seemed like a reinactment of that!

A wonderful holiday came to an end and things started going wrong as soon as I left the transfer coach at the airport and there was a rumor of a two hour flight delay, as I got through airport security in the departure lounge I learned that the rumour was true. I decided to wait out the two hours by sitting in an outside cafe, enjoying a coke and watching the other planes take off and land. I was a bit concerned because if the delay was any longer than two hours I would have wasted the booking I'd made at a Travel Inn to stay at Gatwick before starting the long journey home to Cornwall the next day. As it was now 6:30 pm in the evening, it was far too late to cancel the reservation, even if I had had the telephone number - which I didn't - so they were going to charge me anyway.

Then there was an announcement over the intercom system of a flight back to Bristol - I suddenly had an idea, why not try switching my flight to this one? I headed back inside to see if I could find a Thomas Cook rep and suggest this to them - ok if I would have had to pay a supplement, but it would have been worth it if I could have gotten back home this evening and avoided the long haul back on the train from Gatwick. As I went back inside to search for a rep - I met up with Jayne.

Jayne was trying to make a phone call to let her husband know that the flight was going to be delayed because he was supposed to be picking her up at 12:30 at Gatwick. She couldn't get through to him at first and kept missing him and the airport payphone swallowing euros didn't help. In the end we got chatting. Jayne was worried about her husband not getting any sleep that evening because she lived in Southampton, a two hour drive away from the airport which meant that he probably wouldn't get home until about 5:30 and had to be up for work at 6:30 the next day - so I suggested that she stay in the Travel Inn room with me and get a bus or train home the next day. We got on the phone to her husband and he thought this was a sensible idea too. We still had time to kill at the airport so we had a burger king and then the airline finally gave us a boarding gate number. So everyone queued up and queued up and we ended up standing there for like half an hour. We gave up standing in the end and went and sat down and eventually they started letting people on the plane. Jayne and me weren't sitting together, I was quite fortunate to have three seats to myself so I pushed up the arm rests and tried to stretch out and have a nap.

I'm not sure if I actually got off to sleep, which was interrupted by the serving of the very unappetising in-flight meal. I had one bite, not good! so I put it to one side in disgust! I still don't know if I slept properly as I was a bit cold and there were no pillows on the aircraft!

Finally got off the plane at 2:45 am. I don't do this early hour and I was really bad tempered. Found the coach station and phoned the Travel Inn to send their courtesy bus. But the guy on the phone spoke very bad English and couldn't even spell my name right and claimed that he couldn't find my reservation. I said "well have you got rooms?" he said yes, so I said, "well send the bloody bus then"!

When we got to the Travel Inn (and it's getting on for 3:30 am by now) he still can't find the reservation - but a colleage - an english girl checked my credit card details and says, you are booked in at another Travel Lodge and have already been charged to stay there. I asked if we could just stay where we were for the night but they said that that wasn't possible either, and offered to order us a taxi to the other Lodge, so I said, hold on a minute, I've just had to pay £5 to use your so called "courtesy" bus to get here, why should I have to pay a taxi as well? In the end the bus driver agreed to drop us off at the other lodge - so we got our cases back on the bus again!

The driver dropped us off on the road at the other lodge and there was me and Jayne, dragging our cases across the grass in the dawn light at 4:00 am. We just cracked up laughing at this point. We checked into the room and basically just crashed out for a few hours. Before we went to sleep, I joked to Jayne that this was turning into "Planes, Trains and Automobiles", and told her that I didn't want to find her pants in the bathroom sink the next morning.

We both set our alarm clocks for 8:45 and went to sleep. The next morning, I woke up to the sound of dragging cases, and some woman screaming at her idiot child. I checked the clock, it was about 8:35, so I got up to use the bathroom before Jayne woke up. It was lucky that I had woken up on my own accord because neither of our alarms went off. Mine was a brand new travel clock and I don't know if I had set it correctly in my dog-tired state, and Jayne's old fasioned ticking alarm clock had just stopped.

When I came out of the bathroom, I woke Jayne up and went through to Reception to see about getting a taxi back to Gatwick so we could both get our public transport connections. I had to rush Jayne to hurry up in the end so we could get back to the airport as my train was leaving for Reading at 10:03 and I didn't know where I was going to find the station when I got to the airport.

Jayne and I swapped contact details in the back of the taxi on the way to the airport, she seemed very grateful for me to have taken her in last night. We said our goodbyes and I headed off to find the station. After a few false starts I was on the platform waiting for the train.

The journey to Reading passed without incident. I had about a 50 minute wait for the Penzance train, so I went to Subways and got a footlong sandwich (it's a long way to Penzance), there was this guy on the platform who kept staring at me, he had the most amazing pale blue eyes, and I guess he was interested in me, but after seeing me scoffing the footlong he kinda disappeared. I guess my eating habits would put anyone off! lol

Then this Israeli sat down on the bench next to me and tried to chat me up. For Chris Sakes - piss off! I sort of tried to ignore him, but the train was late. Over 20 minutes late. It eventually arrived about 12:30, and I had to walk up the platform quite a way on the guards recommendation to miss the first class section, the train arrives, and then there is the Israeli helping me put my case on the train. I guess they can't all be gun-wielding maniacs.

Once on the train the journey home should have been plain sailing, for usually once you are on the train to Penzance you are coasting all the way home, no matter how many hours it takes. BUT! The train made three unscheduled stops. The first to swap engines to the backup because the first wasn't working very well. The second time was because there was an electrical fault and the third time was at Newton Abbot Rail Depot to swap the faulty engine. They swapped the engines over... but then we are still sitting there... and finally the driver gets on the intercom and says we aren't going anywhere at the moment because the brake is stuck. At this point the entire trainful of passengers have reached the advanced stages of crack up and everyone burst out laughing!

The train eventually limped into Plymouth where it sat, and sat, until they finally decided to cancel the train completely. This very kind copper called "Bob" who was sitting opposite me for most of the journey helped me take my heavy suitcase up and down the stairs to platform 4 to catch the next train which was due in very shortly as this train was running nearly TWO HOURS LATE by this stage. Then the stationmaster put on the intercom that the next train is going to arrive at platform 6, so it's back into the lifts down to the underground tunnel between platforms and back up to platform 5 and 6 where I'd just left only to find when I got up there that that last announcement had been a mistake and it was coming in at platform 4 where I'd just been, so it was back into the lifts and the tunnel again. What a song and dance chirade this was turning out to be.

The first Penzance train that came in got deluged by people trying to get on it, so much so that it got delayed at the station for at least 20 minutes while the guards moaned at everyone for crowding. In the end it left and me and Bob managed to find a spot for my case in the hallway outside the buffet car.

Bob got off at Par (heading for Newquay) and eventually I got a seat in the quiet carriage. The good thing is that I should get my money back or some of it at the very least on the ticket price because the train was so late it qualified for compensation. In the end I arrived home at 7:30, 26 hours and fifteen minutes after I had left my hotel in Lanzarote!

What a journey home!

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