Thursday was my sister’s birthday, and the plan was for me to travel from Penzance to Eastbourne, and then go to a wine bar in Lewes for the party. Even before I left home, I realised that my journey wasn’t going to be as easy as usual, since there were no trains running between Exeter and Taunton, because of the flooding, according to the news. When I arrived at the station the story was the same, with details of a bus service to cover the gap, but the train was waiting, my reserved seat was reserved, and even the power sockets were working. Tony the train manager reiterated the story, but suggested that the situation might have changed for the better by the time we reached Exeter.
It hadn’t improved by the time we reached Truro, however, and the train managed to overshoot the station by about fifty yards, apparently because the brakes hadn’t worked properly. Tony was very apologetic, but we had to wait for ‘clearance’ from the signalman before we could reverse back to the platform to let people on and off. Unlike Tony, the passengers who were late for work didn’t sound very cheerful.
Even when the passengers from Truro had got on, we couldn’t leave immediately because a woman had collapsed, and we had to wait for an ambulance to come and take her to Treliske hospital, but eventually we were underway again, running less than half an hour late. The rest of the journey to Exeter passed off smoothly, with excellent views of the roiling brown sea at Teignmouth and Dawlish.
At Exeter St David’s the train stopped, as originally predicted, and we all trooped out to the car park to catch the buses. For some reason, the Rail Replacement people seemed to think that an entire Intercity train full of people would fit on two buses, one going to Bristol and one going to Taunton. When they were both full, the remaining ninety-something percent of the passengers were told to wait, because there’d be another bus along soon. It was cold, but at least it wasn’t raining.
I was one of the lucky ones, and I was on the second of the Taunton buses. Dave’s wife wasn’t so lucky. I have no idea who Dave was, but his wife was on the second Taunton bus with me, but he wasn’t, and since the bus was full, she had to get off. For all I know, they’re both still standing outside the station in Exeter.
The queue to get on the buses at Taunton was, if anything, even longer than the queue in Exeter had been, and it was raining. Getting into the station wasn’t easy, either, because of the mass of passengers (or customers, as the rail company like to call people who aren’t actually going anywhere) trying to get out. It also transpired that because of flooding at Castle Cary, we wouldn’t be going direct to London, but via Bristol instead. It was a longer journey, but it did work, and apart from some juddering near Reading (wet leaves on the lines, apparently), we eventually arrived in Paddington, only two and a quarter hours later than we should have done. I felt sorry for the mass of customers looking bewildered at Paddington. Even if the trains were running properly, and there were one leaving directly, it would have been nine o’clock before they were in Penzance. Given my journey up, they’d be pushing it to be home by midnight.
I was more fortunate. I didn’t have time to go into Eastbourne to drop my case off, so I went to the wine bar in Lewes with it. And my sister’s train down from London was also delayed, because of a problem with the doors, but we did finally get to party together, if slightly later than planned.