The journey to and through Paris was like a dream. We were positively sauntering along with out brand new shiny 4 wheeled luggage, barely needing to nudge them along whilst trying not to exude too much smugness as we waltzed past bent backed be-rucksacked voyagers. I know we were garnering envious glances as that used to be me. Oh yes the 4 wheeled case green eyes monster has been long a part of my psyche. But not any more. A combination of the ‘pickle incident’ on our last trip and worrisome back has made the purchase of 4 wheelers not just a luxury, but a necessity. So here we were using fingertip control to manoeuver our cases and running ahead of schedule. I even had time to run the gauntlet of beggars at Gare du Nord and get a coffee.We had to wait for our train. Yes wait, I know.
The Eurostar pulled away on schedule and the journey passed without incident. We were in a small sectioned off part of the carriage with 11 chaps on the way back from a pre-Christmas work jolly, sorry i mean a very important conference of course- and they were all very …. pleasant. No really it was all going so well. As we emerged from the tunnel onto the shores of Blighty, I contemplated a leisurely stroll around the shops at St Pancras , restocking my purse with sterling, picking up our tickets at kings cross then a smooth ride up to the North East of England enjoying the many delights offered by the Grand Central buffet car.
Ha ha ha haha ha ha. Yeah ok.
The train glided to a smooth halt at Ashford in Kent for it’s first stop. Hang on this one doesn’t stop at Ashford. No really it doesn’t. Except for today when EVERYTHING was stopping at Ashford. Stopping and staying.
The conference delegates snapped into business mode and demanded an explanation from the steward. They came back and explained that there was a gas leak on the fast line and no trains were going to pass that way until it was fixed at some point later in the day. We were duly asked to leave the train where we would be instructed on how to continue our journey.
But it was fine, we had at least 2 hours to do this. No problem.
There was not so much instruction as herding taking place as the 400 or so extra travelers flooded the station as they all tried to find the first train to St Pancras. Except there weren’t any. The only options available now the fast track was impassable were Victoria, Waterloo or Charing Cross. Stations. None of which were ideal. We were all directed to take the lift, (which was of order,) and then walk upstairs. Except upstairs was the Eurostar departures area, and none of course were. We were then re directed back down stairs and round the corner, then down the non working escalator to the domestic trains. 4 wheels count for naught against the might of concrete steps.
Then we stopped. The sheer volume of people had rendered the domestic platforms too dangerous and the rest of us where to be kept in a ‘holding area’ until space was available.
It was around 30 minutes since we had left the Eurostar train and by the grumbles of the ever more restless crowd, it seemed it would be an awful lot longer before we were going anywhere. Having resigned myself to missing my connection and ascertained that there would be no issue taking any other train North without extra cost I abandoned any rancor and simply waited. Several people were getting very cross. I understand how it goes, I really do, but I make it a point to try not to get cross about anything that is outwith my control. It’s just a lot of hot air and misdirected fury in the end. There were alliances being formed within the mob and the words ‘ taxi sharing’ and ‘hire car’ lured the like minded and significantly more well off to abandon the rest of us to our fate.
A large group were filtered through the gates and marshaled by the harassed station staff to appropriate platforms to take the hour and a half all stops service to where they didn’t want to be. As we had ended up near the back of the group we didn’t make it through that time and were corralled once more. I don’t know if you have ever been corralled with a group made up of angry English and indignant French people. It’s not something I would recommend as a fun afternoon activity. The ‘other’ nationalities seemed to be taking it rather more in stride and behaving in a much more pleasant manner. I decided that as a native Scot I was definitely allied with ‘the others’.
When the news filtered through that the gas leak had been contained and the fast track was now operational once more instead of happiness and thankful noises there was outrage and vitriol being poured onto the poor steward at the decision to take us off the Eurostar train in the first place, and demands to be put back on it. Of course this could not be done, and I am astounded that it was not only suggested, but demanded. Once again i felt somewhat disappointed by people in general.
As we were finally waved through the barriers I wished the steward a cheery Merry Christmas and he almost fell over with shock. He did a double take and asked where we needed to get to. I told him kings cross and he pointed me to platform 5 and the now almost obligatory non functioning lift. I looked glumly at the stairs only to be pulled a side with a furtive grin as he fished in his pocket and withdrew the magic key for the staff lift. On the very short journey up I was told exactly where to stand should I wish to be at the head of the train and therefore nearest the exit on arrival in London. Like I always say, it’s the little things.
By my rough calculations we would have about 15 minutes to get our pre-ordered tickets and find our platform. Easy.
Easy-ish. The ticket collection machines had an attack of amnesia and failed to recognise my card so off the the ticket office, a mercifully short queue, and a friendly machine which greeted my plastic like a long lost friend. Off we set for platform 3 and boarded the train with 3 minutes to spare. Ages by our standards.
We settled in for the last leg and began to relax once more and my thoughts drifted to the buffet car and the miracle that is caffeine. My thoughts then drifted to the fact that my plans for my leisurely 2 and a half hours at Kings Cross had involved a visit to the cash machine to obtain some local currency.
I made my way with some trepidation along the train the aroma of coffee filling my nostrils and clouding my brain. “do you take plastic?” ” yes we do, but there is a minimum spend of £6?” replied the voice of an angel.
Now had we been still on the Eurostar a coffee and a bun would have more than adequately fulfilled that stipulation, but with little to tempt my appetite and a bag of crisps for small person I still fell short. Then my eyes lit up as they fell upon the perfect solution.
I returned to my seat, drained my coffee and spent the last half hour toasting the conclusion of another successful international crossing with an ice cold G&T. Perfect.