In which our plans go astray

· life ·

Mr. Bsag and I planned to go to London for the day yesterday. He had some prints in the Annual Open Exhibition at the Society of Graphic Fine Art, and was awarded a Highly Commended for one of them (yay!). He had to go and take down his work at the end of the show, so it was my last chance to see his work and the other exhibits in situ. Our plan was to get a cheap train to London on the Chiltern line, have a leisurely wander around the exhibition, get a few printing supplies from Intaglio, perhaps have a nice walk by the Thames, and top it off by having a cosy pint somewhere before coming home. It didn't quite go according to plan.

Impediment 1: We thought we'd be able to get a cheap walk-up fare which would allow us to leave any time on a Saturday as we've done before, but Chiltern have changed their rules, so we had to book a ticket on line. Chiltern's own booking page and showed completely different timetables. According to Chiltern, there were no cheap fares available, but thetrainline showed a few, leaving fairly late in the morning. Since we didn't have much choice, we went for the later, cheaper train.

Impediment 2: We had to pick the tickets up from the station, but we'd had problems before with the dreaded self-service ticket machines which you're supposed to use. However, it's a little-known fact that even though the instructions say you can only pick up your tickets at one of a handful of stations with self-service machines, you can actually ask almost any ticket office to print the tickets for you if you give them the booking reference. So we'd timed our walk the local station to leave enough time to pick the tickets up there, get a train into the city, then walk to Moor Street Station in time to catch our train. Unfortunately, when we got to the local station, the ticket office was inexplicably closed. With a train approaching, we realised that we'd have to get the first train to leave enough time to pick up our tickets at Moor Street. The ticket machine had a long queue of similarly irritated passengers, of course, so we had to get a permit to travel and leap on the train.

Impediment 3: If you pick up your ticket to London from the local station, they include the cost of the local train journey in the price, so you don't have to pay separately. But in our hurry to get the tickets booked, I'd forgotten to set the starting station as our local one. So when we came to join another long queue to exchange our permits to travel for tickets so we would be allowed to leave New Street Station, the dour railway official stubbornly pointed to the fact that our booking receipt said that the departure station was Moor Street, and we had to pay for two single tickets to New Street.

Impediment 4: With all this queuing and faffing about, we were getting rather close to the departure of our train. My heart sank as we ran into Moor Street Station and I saw the length of the queues at the only open ticket counter. I waited in line there for a minute or so, then decided to cut my losses and brave the self-service machines which had a shorter queue. When I got to the front, I inserted my debit card and entered the handy 20 digit booking reference (or so it seemed) on the touchscreen, whereupon the display announced smugly that it couldn't read my card. I tried again, hoping that sliding the card in and out of the slot slowly might allow the idiot, mouth-breathing software time to read all the ones and zeros on the magnetic strip. It didn't. I joined the queue for the other machine, fidgeting impatiently and looking at my watch. When I got to the front, I went through the whole procedure again, but this time, my card was recognised. Several geological eras later, our tickets had all been dispensed into the hopper, and I snatched them up and pelted across the concourse following Mr. B. We hared up the stairs, along the bridge and down the stairs, to see our train pulling out.

Impediment 5: The next train was 20 minutes later, but it was a stopping train and so would arrive 40 minutes or so after the one we'd planned to get, eating further into our already compressed day. Worse still, it was stopping at Wembley Stadium, where thousands of football fans were going to watch England play Kazakhstan. A large proportion of those fans seemed to be travelling from Moor Street. By some miracle, we both got a seat, and even though the fans collectively drank several lakes of Carling Black label, they were good-natured and no fights broke out. Still, we got slightly drunk on the lager fumes.

Impediment 6: London Marylebone Street! We got on the Bakerloo line southbound, and settled back thinking that the worst was over. At Oxford Circus, the train started making the ominous, escaping air sounds of a busted hydraulic system. Harried engineers bustled through the carriages with the hope that they might be able to plug something back in or slap some gaffer tape on something, but it was clear that the train was going nowhere, which meant that the Bakerloo line was going to be blocked. We jumped off the train, hurriedly consulted a tube map and decided to try our luck on the Victoria line to Stockwell, then change to the Northern line to get to Borough. It was a much longer journey, and there was a lot of running through corridors and up escalators, but we got there.

By this time, we had just 20 minutes or so to see the exhibition before the artists started taking down. We divided our efforts, and Mr. Bsag went to Intaglio to get his supplies, while I swept around the Menier Gallery. It was an excellent exhibition, so I was glad to have seen it, but it was a pretty lightning visit. Mr. Bsag joined me and we got busy with the bubblewrap and tape to pack up his prints to take home. It was a lovely evening, and it would have been really nice to wander along the river for a bit, but now we were convinced that we wanted to get a train before the final whistle at Wembley. We had a quick but very pleasant drink at a pub, then walked back to Borough tube station.

Impediment 7: As we got to the station, we could see that the shutters were closed. The lifts had stopped working, so they'd closed the station. We'd have to trek to London Bridge to get on the Northern Line. We stared. Mr. Bsag said, "You've got to be kidding", though he added a few more words of a four-letter nature. Off we ran again, this time encumbered by three large, framed prints.

In the end we made it back to Marylebone in time for our train, and the rest of the journey went smoothly, but we ended up only having about two hours in London, and countless hours travelling.

On those occasions when my best laid plans gang aglae, my mood tends to go in one of two directions: I either get incredibly irritated and snappy or I see the whole situation as increasingly hilarious. I went in the latter direction this time, so in a rather perverse way, I quite enjoyed it. It was almost like finding yourself in a very bad film, subject to the whims of a poor writer who doesn't know how to construct a believable plot. After each impediment I started to look forward to what this idiot would try to pass off as a plot twist next. "Broken-down tube train? Come on, at least throw some zombies in, then it would be funny, and you could go for the RomZomCom angle, even though it's already been done by Edgar Wright."

Mr. Bsag, it has to be said, was not of the same frame of mind, and regarded my amused, Buddha-like detachment with frank amazement, convinced that I'd finally gone off my rocker. My outlook might have had something to do with the fact that if I hadn't gone to London, I would have been finishing off submitting a grant -- something that I did this morning instead. It's all relative, you see: it might have been a catalogue of mishaps, but it wasn't wrestling with font sizes and page limits, and it at least gave me a good story to tell.