Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Blustery Day

Now I don’t want to come across too flippant, because Thursday 18th December will go down as a black day in Britain’s meteorological history, the day when several people were affected by tragedy up and down the UK arising from the storms and strong winds. But in such extreme circumstances, it is often forgotten that ordinary life goes on pretty much as normal for a lot of people, and given that the subject of the blog is commuting, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention exactly what happened to me that day.

I could tell it was windy as I made my way to the station. Even though I couldn’t feel it, the route down Walsworth Road to the station being sheltered by flats and houses, I glanced up at the flagpole outside the building site as I turned into the station and it was standing to attention.

There were no real problems with the trains on the way in, as I recall, and I got to the office wondering what all the fuss was about – it was a bit blowy, to be sure, but what happened to the Doomsday storms the forecasters had predicted?

Now this is where working in a basement can be a bit surreal – our office building, you see, has 4 floors, of which we occupy the bottom two – the ground floor and the basement. The ground floor is our reception area and meeting rooms, while the engine room is downstairs – with no windows, no fresh air, no contact with the outside world at all. And as a result, we are maintained in a state of blissful ignorance as to what is going on above us, and if you don’t go upstairs much, as I didn’t that particular day, you remain so. A few of my colleagues wandered out at lunchtime and came back muttering about how windy it was, but I was trying to write a particularly troublesome presentation about whisky and I did not pay them much heed.

My first hint that I might have trouble getting home came with one of those friendly text messages that I have mentioned before in this blog – First Capital Connect's innovative way of keeping in touch with their customers. On this occasion, I got about four in half an hour, excessive by the standards of a teenager, let alone a faceless monolithic corporation, if I can call them that. The first one informed me that there might be some delays, or even short notice cancellations. Well, that I had been expecting for some days, so I did not let it bother me and returned to my work. The second one spoke again of short notice cancellations, whilst the third concerned the other branch of the line which my colleague uses, so I was able to pass the bad news on to him as well (with the inevitable mixture of sympathy and ill-disguised glee). The fourth in this gradually-escalating series of gloomy missives delivered the coup de grace – there were, now, no trains at all running on the GN route. Bugger.

Well, I had work to do, and, with my professional hat on (yes I do have one – it’s from a shop in Welwyn), there were more pressing concerns for the company, such as the large group of clients sat upstairs in reception waiting for my colleagues, who were stuck on the other side of London due to inclement weather, to give them a presentation. The only one who was still with us asked me to come and sit in the meeting with him to take minutes (something I’m not very good at, having a slight tendency to let my mind wander, although at least I’m not a doodler), so I put the railways out of my mind and went boldly into battle for the greater good.

When the rest of the team eventually returned I made my way back downstairs, checked with my family and other London-based friends that all was well, and then considered my options. Once previously when I’d had problems getting home, I’d stayed at the Battersea residence of my beloved sister (as mentioned in a previous post), but I was going away the following day, so I really needed to get home to pack. I decided to wait it out and hope that the trains would get up and running again – I had plenty to get on with anyway.

Half-past seven came and went, and then, sure enough, I got another text from FCC saying that some trains were indeed now running on the GN line. Gathering up my things, I made my exit and stepped bravely out into the unknown. I figured (correctly if the packed buses I saw on my way down TCR were anything to go by) that public transport would be heaving and unpleasant, and of course subject to delays, so I thought I may as well walk to KC – a 25 minute stroll through the ravaged capital, no doubt watching out for falling debris and dodging toppling trees. As it turned out, my walk was very tranquil - there were a few trees down in Tavistock Sqaure, but hardly a catastrophe, but when I reached KC, the departure boards delivered a unanimous verdict - cancelled, cancelled, cancelled, everything was cancelled.

There were a number of people milling about looking lost - not exactly a crowd by Kings Cross standards, but more than company - and I joined them, adopting what I hoped ws the appropriate expression of bewildered bemusement. There was a GNER information desk, but the body of people trying to get to it had long since ceased to be a queue and had become a mob, so I steered clear. There was an announcement over the tannoy which helpfully pointed out that there were hotels in London should people not wish to sleep rough, and that no trains would be running until morning. I phoned The Wife to tell her not to wait up, and then, lo and behold, a train appeared on platform number 1 (I strained to see if it was 1 and three quarters but, no, there was nothing magical going on). Expecting the kind of dog-eat-dog rush one normally expects in these situations (in Rush Hour, basically), I was surprised to note that everything stayed pretty calm. It seems that most of the poor sods stuck at Kings Cross that night were from up North, and doomed to spend the night much further from home than would have been the case for me if that train hadn't appeared. Anyway, I clambered on, took a seat, called The Wife (again) and said, anticipating a slow journey, that I'd probably be an hour or so. In the event, it took two and a half hours, much of that spent stationary at Finsbury Park waiting, apparently, for a signal crew to turn up and change a signal. Bizarre.

I did my packing on Friday morning, and went in a bit late - the trains were still up the spout until mid-morning anyway.

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