“They don’t want you to travel”
This above is a quote from a man that my mother and I encountered about 20 years ago whilst abandoned at Snow Hill train station Near Birmingham. We were on our way to the rag market and for some unknown reason the train took us to Snow Hill instead of New Street and we all had to get off at the as yet unmanned station and wait. We were left there for around an hour with no information or hope of rescue. The man had obviously reached the end of his tether and proceeded to tell anyone who would listen that it was a worldwide government conspiracy to make it so difficult to get anywhere that people would prefer to stay at home. It was all rather Kafkaesque as we nervously laughed off his diatribe.
Over the ensuing years and many thousands of miles I have covered I have come to believe that he was absolutely correct and a man ahead of his time.
There are not many times when our travel arrangements have proceeded smoothly and this weekend was to prove no exception. We were all due to travel back together on Saturday afternoon form Antwerp to Paris, from Paris to Le Mans. Sorted. Moo and I had tickets booked in advance and Hubs’ work had organised for him to go back on the same trains as us. Lovely. Then on Monday there was a terrible accident just outside of Brussels
and whilst not directly on the Thalys lines, the services were of course going to be affected. We contacted the train company and they assured us that all services would be running ‘normally’ by the weekend. By Thursday this was quite apparently not going to be the case and Hubs’ work decided to change his route home in order to avoid the delay. This of course meant we were now booked on different trains arriving at Le Mans hours apart. I had a word at Antwerp station on the way through and they assured me that changing our tickets should not be a problem and I should bring them tomorrow and all would be well.
All was however not well. The chap took one look at the tickets, cleared his throat and pronounced my fate. Ask anyone who has spent any time in Belgium and they will tell you that when a Belgian includes the word ‘normally’ in any sentence, nothing good will come of it.
He – “Normally this would not be a problem” my heart sank, “ but these tickets were issued in France, so they can only be refunded in France”
Me – “ Eh?”
He – “ You cannot get a refund in Belgium”
Me – “ But the service starts in Belgium and it will not get me to Paris in time to get my connection, so I need to change my tickets”
He – “Yes, I can see that is a problem”
Me – “Any idea what I should do to solve this problem?”
He – “Normally you should call Thalys and they will help you, but they are very busy as a lot of people have these problems at the moment.”
Me – “Do you have a phone number for them?”
He – “Yes I do, here it is”
Me – “Thank you”
He – “But that is the number for Thalys Belgium and they cannot give you a refund, you will have to call Thalys France”
Me – “Do you have a number for Thalys France?”
He – “No. Have a great day”
A few fraught phone calls later I was no further on and rapidly running out of phone credit, so I decided to head back to the hotel and tackle the problem on-line which is probably what I should have done in the first place. With a few hastily exchanged e-mails booking references were collated, websites negotiated, tickets cancelled and a refund secured. Now all I had to do was book our tickets from Lille to Le Mans. Once again we were finally all on the same train, different carriages, but at least the same train. How we were getting to Lille. I had no idea, apparently Hub’s work were sorting that bit out. And sort it out they did, with all thanks going to the wonderful Nadia from the production office.
The evening progressed with a nice meal and some champagne to celebrate the end of ‘part 1’ of the contract. In the morning we had a frantic flurry around the room to ensure that all was packed and tidied away, headed out for a leisurely coffee and returned to hotel reception to find Daniel, a company driver waiting to whisk us all to Lille. Thank you Dragone, and thank you Nadia. We boarded our train and Moo had fun running up and down to ‘visit daddy’ in the other carriage, until a kindly member of train staff saw our predicament and placed us all together at a table near the buffet car. Lovely. Time to relax, enjoy the coffee and the scenery and look forward to getting home.
‘They’ may not want us to travel, but I’m darned if I’m going to let ‘Them’ stop me!
“They don’t want you to travel”