As a totally blind, experienced traveller I am used to the odd mishap on a journey.
By way of explanation for my absence at yesterday's Education Committee meeting, I offer this completely authentic account of my attempt to get to Harrogate. If it makes you smile, so much the better; after all, others’ misfortunes are often amusing, to say the least!?
Once settled on the 12.12 Liverpool-Leeds Trans-Pennine Express, due to get me to the College in Harrogate with a connection at Leeds, for 2.45, I set about reading papers.
I wasn't too concerned when, at 12.22 the Conductor apologised for the "slight delay, due to a little problem with the track in the Manchester area". After all, we Liverpool people often have trouble in the Manchester area! 12.30 and, off we go. I was aware that I would almost certainly miss the 1.59 Leeds-Harrogate train so, I made my first call to College to warn that I was probably going to be late for the start of the 3 PM first meeting.
Faint alarm-bells began to sound when, in answer to my enquiry as to what time we would get to Leeds, the Conductor suggested 2.25-ish, adding that it hadn't helped that the Signalman had put a slower train in front of us? Another connection gone West (Well, North, actually! More calls to College to let them know I was going to be even later and, indeed, was unlikely to be able to keep my scheduled "date" (meeting) with a member of staff.
So far, irritating, from now on: down-hill, fast-IF ONLY! After an unexplained delay at Manchester Victoria off we go again but having to take the slower Calder Valley route because of "a problem en route to Huddersfield". "Never mind, at least we are getting there". Oh, yeah?
A few minutes out of Victoria and the fun really begins: Stopped! Make a note of the time, Four minutes past two! There's a tree on the line and a train in front of us! Another updating call to Harrogate.
The next four hours were, at times, entertaining but, generally, very frustrating: We didn't move an inch, no noticeable heating, refreshments trolley run out of hot water (One young woman, on her way to York for a dinner and night in hotel with boy-friend, took to drinking small bottles of red wine! Can't imagine what their meeting was going to be like-well, I can, actually!). During the four hours I made so many updating calls to the College in Harrogate that poor Yvonne, on reception, could well have been getting the impression that I was, at best harassing her and, at worst endeavouring to get to know her rather more intimately than I ought! The delay was, though, brightened by a number of irate passengers haranguing the wonderfully patient Conductor with all manner of solutions to the tree problem, including: "If you'd only open the doors a few of us could get out and lift it off the line", "I've seen a picture of the tree on my phone and there are a couple of branches barely touching the track", "Just let us off the train and we can go and get a taxi to Leeds", "Shouldn't your bosses be doing something instead of leaving us stuck here?" Incredible! It's funny how we can all do someone else's job when we are inconvenienced.
Trying hard to restrain myself from springing to an energetic verbal defence of the beleaguered Conductor whose hands were obviously tied by the situation, I restricted my comments to the rather feeble observation that "The Conductor would do more if he could". The man with the telephone pictures of the recalcitrant tree turned on me and asked: "Have YOU SEEN THE PICTURES?" Sorry, folks, I couldn't resist an open goal: I raised my folded-up white cane towards his face as he stood over me, tapped it a couple of times and said, very quietly, "SADLY, NO". His tone immediately changed to a low-pitched, apologetic "O, I appreciate that." I'm not sure what he appreciated but at least he left the poor Conductor alone!
IT's now ten-past six and I have been politely told by text from my Committee to turn back. Delaying only to text that this was not the first time a group of people had collectively told me to go away, I put the meeting out of my mind.
At this point we are told that the train is going to move to Woolaston Station and then we can get out and board coaches for Leeds. HURRAY! Don't you believe it! Having stood for 20 minutes, in the rain, on the somewhat rickety Woolaston platform which I don't think had supported such hoards since Woolastan won the: FA Cup, Cricket World Cup, Rugby Union World and the British Open Conker Championships all in the same year, with not a coach-wheel in sight, we were allowed back on to the train. During a 25-minute sojourn on our favourite train we were told that the fallen tree was also a landslide and that there had been an accident on the M62 delaying traffic, including the rescuing coaches.
All things come to those who wait, however, and, true enough we were advised that there was a coach to Manchester waiting "Just over the foot-bridge". "Where the hell is Over The Foot-bridge?" thought I? However, undaunted I picked up the magic white wand that had helped soothe the savage breast of the man with the picture of the fallen tree, and set off. Fortunately, one of the two delightful young ladies, Joy and Charli, who worked at York University and who had come to my rescue as I tried to follow the queue of passengers who had alighted on to the worthy, sturdy Woolastan platform, offered to show me the way. If she hadn't, I would still be trying to find that bloody foot-bridge! BLESS YOU, JOY!
So, now, I am comfortably ensconced on what seems to be a very luxurious coach with curtains and plush seats-no expense spared! Good! Manchester here I come!
NOT ON YOUR LIFE, MATE! 15 minutes later the coach-driver boards the bus to tell us that the train from which we had just escaped was, in fact, now going on to Piccadilly so we should go back to that train. A very helpful train official helped me back from the coach. The only trouble was that, perhaps being of a nervous disposition exacerbated by having a blind person hanging on to his arm, every time we came to anything resembling a step, he would stop dead and explain to me, in some detail, that there was, indeed, a series of steps in our way. Inevitably, as he stopped, so did the crocodile of passengers behind us. It was raining and rather chilly. I can almost feel the swell of vituperation welling up in the throats of the following crowd as this blind man kept stopping! Don't worry, folks, it comes with the territory!
Back on the train we discover that, rather than straight to Manchester Piccadilly, we are going to Manchester Oxford Road, no less, via: Rochdale, Salford Crescent and Manchester Victoria.
The rest of the journey was something of an anti-climax - Nothing HAPPENED, except that, at Rochdale the Northern Area Director of Trans-Pennine Express Trains spoke to us over the intercom, apologising for the huge delay and inconvenience caused us and to explain that some food had been put on the train for our benefit: sandwiches, crisps, Mars bars, Kit Kats (all good healthy stuff) which was most acceptable.
Our final change, at Oxford Road, was greatly eased by the assistance offered by Sarah, a delightful lady travelling home to Wirral. She was a Lawyer (Always useful to know) and we spent a pleasant time in easy conversation.
My feelings about the journey? Very, Very frustrating to miss what was, in its own way, a hugely important meeting, but, at least, as I should have pointed out to the man with the pictures on his phone, at least we were not in the horrifying company of terrorists intent on blowing us all to Kingdom Come! Abiding memories? The great patience and tolerance of the train staff, particularly the Conductor, James, who was polite, helpful and apologetic to everyone including one or two he might well have wanted to thump. The other extremely pleasant memory I take from the day was the company of: Joy, Charli and Sarah who were so helpful! Thank you, Ladies.
3 Ladies, note! You see, what is important is knowing whose company to keep!