Escape to the Islands

The title may seem a bit strange at first, but will come quite clear as you read on. What my Wife and I thought was going to be a quiet & enjoyable trip to the Channel Islands for a fortnight didn’t start that way. It was like an escape from a prison fortress with all the obstacles that were thrown in our way.

It happened in august 91, the 25th to be precise, starting on Bexhill railway station. We had already got our tickets days ahead & after a short chat to our chauffeur who eventually said his goodbyes we had about ten minutes to wait for our train at 12-26, or so we thought. 12-26 came, & I thought a train would come as well to take us on the first part of our trip to the Channel Islands, which up to now had been perfect, but that was soon to end. 12-27 – 12-28 – 12-30 – 12-34, nothing to be seen, I thought Iv’e had a similar experience to this waiting for a Hastings & District Bus, you know how things go through your mind in times of stress, well to carry on 12-37 -12-40 1 2-42 – 1 2 -47 …. ah a small yellow speck on the horizon, 12-48 we are moving off down the track. Will we make it to our first train change in time?

The guard was optimistic, we left 22 minutes late ( no excuses about the lateness mind you ) so we should arrive ( please note the guard said should ) arrive at the next watering hole called Clapham Junction 22 minutes late. The logic of these Britsh Rail guards is simply overwhelming. Well I thought, that’s not to bad as originally we were going to have a 34 minute train change wait & now wev/e only got 1 2 mins. We considered the facts & came to the conclusion that it was not to bad, even on our two pairs of old legs we should be able to change platforms in that time. We could prove we were old because we both had our B&Q discount cards on us, heaven know why we were carrying all that extra weight.

Has the reader of the narrative ever had a day when things start going wrong and as the day progresses get steadily worse? I think they call it Murphys Law. We managed to get to Lewes without further trouble, then It started, the jinx I mean; first we had to take aboard passengers for Brighton. why I don’t know, you see we were going in the opposite direction. These poor unfortunates were being told to change at Haywards Heath to get back to Brighton. The mind does bogle at the ingenuity of British Rail. I think they do it to put the passengers in such utter confusion that they won.t know what to ask BR staff about next. Anyway this state of confusion did nothing to help us, it only caused us to lose more time et both Lewes & Haywards Heath.

Will we get to Clapham junction on time. Not on your life, The train stopped outside East Croydon & then proceeded to crawl into the platform at snails pace. One more stop! Will we make it on time?. You guessed it NO! We moved – we stopped – we jerked and rattled along the line. I thought we had gone back to the time when vehicles had to have someone up front with a red flag. Even the platelayer who was walking the track overtook us. We finally pulled into Clapham Junction at 14-51 ……34 minutes late. The twits had lost the other 12 minutes so giving us just enough time to see the Southhampton train pulling out.

I thought, that’s It, our holiday has gone now. We won’t catch the plane at Southampton Airport at 17-30 now. I was getting thoughts of spending a fortnight at the nearest Salvation Army Hostel or the Y.M.C.A. But the thought of losing my cuddle each night was more than I could or should have to bear. Wher’s a railway porter, lets strangle him, but before I do let us see if he knows what the best thing to do is. He told me! Go to Waterloo and get the’other train, the time of which he wasn’t sure. Before I could get my hands on him, a woman dragged him away and gave him a mouthful about the lack of information about the train which she couldn’t find and should have been at Clapham Junction just before the one that we had missed.

The next train for Southampton was an hour away, so we were told.  Whether you believed that information or not at this stage was irrelevant, after the saga of event and lies we had met so far. We were getting desperate. What shall we do?. The wife was muttering lethal suggestions about BR by now. She must have known some diabolical measures she could take, as her father worked for BR for forty years. Eureka ( I think that,s how you spell it). Let us telephone the air line at Southampton Airport. I do get flashes of Inspiration at times. The old memory box still functions, well occasionally and remembers I can prove my age.

The airport staff told me that Alderney, that’s where we were hoping to get to for our ’escape and rest, was covered In a mist and plane times were all awry ( I bet our one wasn’t ) but tell the train driver to wind up the elastic tighter for a punctual arrival at 17-19. I had to see the humour in it as I was just about getting ready to lay on the tracks by this time.

15-51 came and so did the train. When It pulled into the platform I had a little chuckle to myself and thought how is it that this train had not caught the late virus. To say this went fast is rather an understatement, It almost flew. Mind you after the way the previous train had got to Clapham, anything above 10 mph would have been fast by BR standards.

The unfortunate thing about this second part of our already remember able journey was that we had chosen to sit at the end of the carriage, right over the wheels and as the trains speed increased so did the vibration and in turn so did my wife and I and other passengers vibrate causing certain attachments of our anatomical structure to shake. The humour this caused amongst the passengers trying to stop ’things’ shaking all about cannot be described here for fear of this story being heavily censored.

The train got to Eastleigh with nothing else untoward happening where the train split into two parts. The front four coaches going to Southampton Parkway. It was now 17-18 – would we make it in time? One minute later we were at Southampton Parkway station. We almost fell out of the train and started running for the air terminal, the station and airport and the car park are all side by side. Halfway across the car park a young athletic employee of the airline we were booked with came running towards us shouting:

“Mr & Mrs Lawrence??” I don’t know what he would have done if we had said NO, but we answered Yes, Yes, upon which he grabbed big and overweight suitcase and told us to follow him at the double.I gave him the flight tickets on the run before we had got to the main building. Still running, through the concourse as if a couple of villains fleeing the country and everybody watching, over the scales, (I think the suit case should have been weighed), through the luggage bay and out onto the airfield – the wife was still bringing up the rear as I glanced behind, by this time we were both getting very breathless.

“Get on the plane we were told”, just like two undesirables being deported. The Trilander’s engines were almost on the point of starting when we were shoved aboard. You can see peculiar looks on the faces of the other passengers asking who are these couple of nuts?. I managed my safety belt done up as we were rolling down the runway to the holding point. I asked the wife if hers was O.K. only to be told “I cant find it”. She was sitting on it. We managed to untangle it from her clothing (Its amazing where Women can hide things ) and lock it, which is no easy task as anybody who has traveled in a Trilander will know.

By this time we had leveled off over Cowes with a fine white blanket of sea mist below us which was getting steadily thicker. Will we miss the island of Alderney?. You see a Trilander does not carry navigational aids like the bigger planes. Will we be lost forever flying until trapped by something akin to the Bermuda Triangle?. Well forty minutes later a little hole appears in the mist. The pilot banks to the left then to the right and drops through the hole in the mist – we are still over the sea – we are over the cliffs, the landing lights are straight ahead, he closes his throttles and puts it down on the runway. A piece of cake I think that’s what the RAF pilots used to say. The pilot taxis close to the terminal and we all got out. WE’VE ARRIVED!!.

The jinxes we thought ,were now behind us but in the joy of the moment these were not the right thoughts, as we soon found out from the taxi driver we had booked, through the place at which we were going to stay. “I thought we had lost you he said”. We are still wondering what he meant by that statement. Anyway, we had arrived and the only thing we could think about was food. You see we had not eaten a thing since breakfast time British Rail had made sure of that and it was now 7-0 clock in the evening. The taxi driver took us to the guest house while telling us en route that we were going to have to sleep in another room for one night and be moved up to our en suite rooms in the morning. So when we arrived at the guest house we dumped everything and took a walk down to the harbour and had the biggest plate of fish and chips we could get.

After the meal we went back to our billet very full and very tired, to a good nights sleep, only to come down next morning twenty minutes early for breakfast to be told, you can’t have it yet as they, the management, had their paper work to finish off. WHAT A FIRST 24 HOURS OF A HOLIDAY

I related the saga of events during the first twenty four hours of our holiday trip to Alderney in the Channel Islands, thinking that the minor hiccup of coming down to breakfast next morning too early and being told firmly but kindly that breakfast is at 0830 and we would have to wait 20 minutes even if we still feeling the effects of only having one big ‘nash up’ at the chippie on Alderney through ‘Murphy’s’ law somewhat upsetting our train and plane journey with the aid of British Rail trying to compete with Murphy for who could upset it the most. I think on after thought they came out about equal.

Nothing much more happened for a couple of days and then on Tuesday morning that Irish relative we have all got revisited us, Murphy I am referring to. That little gremlin and bundle of trouble that sneaks up when you least expect it and strikes where it can have the worst effect. If any Irishman called Murphy is reading this, I apologise if you are not the one that keeps trying it on and trying to prove his will is stronger that mine.

To return to the saga, I awoke early on Tuesday the 27th to the pitter patter of rain. The reader might say “So what”. Other people get rain when they are on holiday. But what the reader doesn’t know is that the ‘pitter patter’ was inside the room. You see during the night that mischievous delinquent from the Erin isle, you know the one called Murphy, must of come into our room and helped the big metal sash type window to come unlatched and slide down, and as the prevailing wind and rain was our side of the building we got it all over the window ledge inside.

Now I would like the reader to imagine the next scene. One male waking up, not exactly at his best and with not too much on, jumping out of bed, I would like to inject here that I referred to myself alone, as an Exocet missile under the bed would have little or no effect on the job of trying to awake the other half of the marriage. To proceed, I’m on my feet heading for the window, rain in my face, thinking that cold showers are most invigorating. I climb on to the window ledge and start pulling at the window.

It won’t move! What shall I do? I know, I’ll clear the window ledge for safety and try  pulling another way, and then it happened, Murphy struck again. In trying to get off the window ledge in my rather unclad state I slipped on the water that had come inside, hit the portable TV which sat to one side and out of the rain spray. That crashed against the wall in turn knocking my FT209 handheld on to the floor. You see I had had it on charge all night and forgot it was tucked round the back of the TV as I was using the TV socket to charge it. But even if I had forgot, Murphy hadn’t. Murphy had well and truly scrambled the readout. I suppose Murphy thought that as our radio club is twinned with one at Voronezh in Russia he might as well make the readout look like Russian, because that is what it looked like to me.

Even tried another battery and still it read in ‘Russian’. It then came to me, I kept it quiet as I didn’t want Murphy to know, I didn’t even mention it to the wife in case I was overheard, by the way she was conscious by now. The idea was that if I stick a pin in a small hole in the back of the hand— held it might have the same effect as when I did it on my portable scanner, and it did. The set is working again. It’s amazing what happens when you stick pins into things, you always get a reaction, where I would like to stick one in Murphy is left to the reader’s imagination.

If the reader is wondering whether the window ever got closed, the answer is yes, a lot later and with a lot more clothes on. I think we showed Murphy that we can always win. Yell at least for two days when he struck again on our trip to Cherbourg, but more about that next month.

Roy G6VLE – April/May 1991.

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