To Chichester yesterday for a Ruster awayday in the cause of viewing of some early 20th Century British artist’s work and then a breezy alcoholic lunch at an establishment not far from the famous Festival Theatre.
I had teamed up with Ivan Conway for the trip – a mucker from my university days whom I first got to know well when we spent a term in Italy together on some academic jaunt that in reality was spent primarily on the razzle – and Francesca Shawn, the organ’s arts supremo, whom previously I has only met remotely courtesy of a couple of phone calls.
I’m not going to dwell upon the unfortunate ‘Ticketgate’ incident at Chichester station, save to mention that in my opinion the arrival of a Network Rail SQUAT team to deal with Ivan’s issues with the ticket barrier was a slight case of overkill.
The sight of my old mate being tazered and then held face-down on the floor by five members of the local constabulary was frankly unedifying and, whilst it might make the front page of this week’s Chichester Observer, it hardly ranks alongside the infamous arrest of Mick Jagger and Keith Richard over the (Marianne Faithfull ‘Mars bar’) drugs raid of the 1960s, despite Ivan’s insistence afterwards that I take a selfie of him standing on the steps of the local Crown Court building to celebrate his connection with the incident.
After finding the Pallant House Gallery shut and our stroll up North Street to open lunch proceedings with a round of large gin & tonics (mine made with a very acceptable ‘Brighton’ artisan-produced version of the clear liquid), we settled down for a wide-ranging session during which we put the world generally to rights – and then some.
From there it was back to the station and in my case the 3.09pm to London Victoria – happily advertised as not requiring a change at Barnham on its way to Clapham Junction, where I was always due to change again on my route to domestic bliss.
It was not long after I had set off that thing began to go awry.
Everything to that point was going smoothly. I had found a seat by a window in my carriage, checked my emails and texts on my smartphone and then brought out my so-far unread copy of The Times to pass the time.
As it happens, it was as we passed through the flat, marshy, uninteresting landscape shy of Barnham that we gradually came to a halt. And sat there for seven or eight minutes with nothing happening – not that at the time any of those on board were particularly concerned.
And then an announcement from the driver (or was it guard – do trains still have them these days?).
Apparently our stop had been caused by ‘the train in front’ having suffered a breakdown. He helpfully added that, this being a railway, we plainly couldn’t go around said stationary obstacle and therefore the halt would continue for as long as it took to repair or remove the offending object.
In total 25 minutes passed before we resumed our journey – by which time I was becoming a little concerned about being able to make my pre-arranged 5.30pm drink in a pub a quarter of a mile from Chez Ingolby on time.
Our train pulled in in unremarkable fashion, the doors opened, the intended passengers duly alighted …. and then we sat there for three or four minutes with the doors open.
Suddenly then came an announcement that passenger supposedly bound for London should now also get off the train and go to another platform. Consternation, shuffling of bags, newspapers and families before we all trooped out.
It was at this point that it was announced that we were now going to be boarding a Southern Railways service. This got my alarm bells ringing because – via both general reputation and the testimony of acquaintances who should know – Southern is regarded as the worst operator in the entire railway system.
Three Bridges. East Croydon, where (slightly worryingly) the on-board ‘ticker-tape’ information system began repeating an opening line “Good morning! Southern Trains welcomes you on board …” [“Good morning!”?!? It was about 4.24pm …].
Finally – at about 5.20pm, just ten minutes before my pub drink ‘date’ was supposed to begin, we arrived at Clapham Junction – my ‘get off and change’ point.
As I reached sad platform the announcement boards were signalling there was about twenty minutes to the next train going my way. The crush on Platforms 5 ands 6 was by now very great – and it was already 5.45pm, past my ‘drink date’ time.
Then came another announcement over the tannoy.
“Due to an incident at Twickenham … [later discovered, either by official news and/or speculation, to be one in which someone had fallen under a train] … all trains between Twickenham and Barnes will be affected until at least 8.00pm …”
Shortly afterwards a succession of “trains cancelled” announcements began and then suggestions that people take alternative routes home (“Your train tickets will be accepted on buses”).
Forty minutes later – having (1) wasted time waiting to see if trains would resume, in vain; (2) then found a station exit; (3) then walked a quarter of a mile in search of a bus stop; (4) then watched as the first three buses that came by did not stop because they were already rammed full with passengers … I was left wondering just how I might get home – and thus avoid a seven or eight mile walk.
In the end – from Chez Ingolby – an Uber taxi was sent to pick me up.
It arrived within ten minutes, drove me home in some degree of style and efficiency and I reached my sanctuary at exactly 6.48pm. (That compares with the approximately 4.50pm that I had been expecting as an arrival time, i.e. with enough leeway for me to drop off my stuff, freshen up and still make my local pub by 5.30m).
One way and another, quite a day. I slept like a log overnight!