Most of us are currently buggered regarding travel.
In my case I am in Wales and last week the UK government announced that anybody trying to leave the country would be fined £5000 for any unauthorised departures. I haven’t seen four of my kids in Spain and France for nearly two years. But that does not qualify. However, travelling to Europe to attend to holiday homes DOES qualify.
Of course this outrageous injustice has absolutely nothing to do with Boris Johnston’s father being busted in his holiday home in Greece during a UK lockdown. No, no, no of course not!
Mr Shakespeare sums it up quite admirably
Enough of my personal rant.
Actually I was prevaricating in front of a blank screen while wondering what to write this week in the absence of current stories. Then I remembered a store of past reminiscencies to friends and families and realised I could tap into them – hence the title of this piece.
Curiously enough my first anecdote is very relevant to a big story happening, as I write, in the Suez Canal. I refer to the stranded container ship Ever Given resulting in the complete blockage of the waterway.
2007 and I was on the Rainbow Warrior II entering the port of Bangkok in Thailand. The entrance is along an extremely well marked dredged channel and then into the Chao Phraya River and onward into the city. It was beautiful day, flat calm and really clear visibility.
Random Ramblings – We managed to change the idyll into farce.
Half way along the channel there was a miscommunication between the pilot and the helmsperson (I can’t remember the gender so I’ll uncharacteristically err on being PC). First thing we noticed was there was no water running past the ship. Now then, your intellect should tell that you when a ship proceeds through the water there is a visual sensation of movement. Ummm, there was non for us!
We were aground.
It was a very gentle grounding, no bump or crash. But stuck we were. Luckily it was mud and not rocks – that would have been disastrous.
We tried putting the engine astern and backing the sails – trying to use what little wind there was. We tried pushing with the RIBs (inflatable boats). A tug came by and offered us a tow. The tow line broke!! There was nothing for it but to wait until the tide changed.
Thank goodness that it happened at low tide otherwise we’d have had no margin to float the ship off. So we just had to wait. We sat there for 6 hours. All the traffic on the river realized our plight and made appropriate comments from there decks as they passed. Too far away to understand the words but the sentiment definitely expressed sarcasm!!
Gradually the tide changed and we drifted off and proceeded up river – with our tail between our legs! Most embarrassing.
This next arbitrary musing involves trains. Trains at Christmas.
Travelling home to near Bordeaux I Left Amsterdam on time on Christmas Eve, perfect. Arrived Brussels on time, perfect. Then we were told we would be delayed as we were waiting for a driver from Paris whose train was delayed.
Can you believe it, the whole bloody system collapses because of the want of a driver – I’m sure I could have driven the bloody thing!
The driver duly arrived but now we had to await the arrival of a train from Germany which would be connected to us – another 30 minutes wait. Finally we are off only to arrive at an impassable snow drift about 30 kms from Paris. Eventually a snow plough arrives to dig us out and we arrive in Paris 4 hours late. In the meantime everybody was in the festive mood and, apart from a few irate passengers, we got a veritable party going.
Upon arrival Paris I realized my connection was well and truly gone many hours hence! I went to the ticket desk in Gard de Nord to explore my options. “Tough shit” was the rough translation I received. I did have a ticket from Austerlitz but this would be long gone so I decided to travel across to Montparnasse and catch a TGV without a ticket on the first available train to Bordeaux.
After a frantic metro ride across Paris I crawled into Montparnasse – there are 5 escalators, 3 stairs and 1 super long travalator, upon which, of course, everybody stands on the wrong side; it takes forever, even when there is no stress! But on Christmas Eve everybody was desperate to get home for the holiday.
The station was absolute chaos and chocker block. Studying the departure board I realized the next train was direct to Bordeaux within 5 minutes – and the last one which could be of any use to me. But the train would be full and no tickets anyway. Bugger it, I’d take it anyway. Struggling through the throng of waiting passengers – difficult with my oversize bag competing with everybody else’s enlarged luggage – I just made it before the doors were locked.
I just made it on board.
Now I was completely illegal.
No ticket and no reservation, both of which are mandatory. So, go to the bar as a standing passenger and try to wing it from there. I did consider the toilet option but felt this would make me look guilty. I decided to play the stupid Brit traveler (ha, ha I hear you say: “but that’s easy for you”) with my, now useless, ticket for the other route Austerlitz via Limoges.
The controller arrived much sooner than I anticipated but looked right through me as though I did not exist! He seemed like a really nice guy. I figured that if the shit hit the fan he would deal with me fairly. I have been on the TGV before and I have seen them stop the train in the middle of nowhere and evict a guy because he was without a ticket. Admittedly he was caught in the toilet and was black – what the hell does that mean? An indictment of our perverse society! So understandably I was a little tense. After awhile the controller did a more systematic check of everybody. Just when he got to me a woman decided to have an epileptic fit. This consumed his attention and that of the bar man until the end of the journey.
She was fine but god bless her!!
So far during this melting pot of memories we’ve had boats and trains. I suppose it’s reasonably logical to have planes to finish the mix. This time travelling from the Netherlands to the USA sometime in the noughties.
I got to Schipol in plenty of time, plane to Heathrow was on time, then a leisurely transfer from terminal 5 to 3 – loads of time. Go to check in to American Airlines and there I’m told I need a visa. The ESTA visa was new. New to me that is. This was my first visit to the USA post 9/11. It only cost US$14 then and easy to get on line or your travel agent did it. I didn’t know this then and bullshitted that my travel agent had done it. “Nope” says the lady behind the desk. “So,” the lady says, “you can do it from that machine over there with your credit card” – “umm I don’t have a credit card” says I. “Well then you’re fucked” (actually she said it a little more politely than that)!
Random Ramblings – “Bugger” says I.
So some frantic phone calls to Amsterdam resulted in me just making the plane before they closed the door. Ironic, but when the news was being broken to me that I was “fucked” a guy behind me in the queue said: “ The same thing happened to me yesterday and I missed my flight” – thanks pal I thought, that’s all I needed to hear!
After take off I discovered all the video screens in my row were not working. Ah well I’ll read my book thinks I. Finished that but my next one is in the hold in my bag. I Borrowed somebody’s newspaper. Finished that. They served dinner and I asked for a nice cold beer. “That’ll be 7 dollars sir” said the flight attendant.
“What?” says I “having to pay on a transatlantic flight?” “Will I have to pay for the food too?” I jokingly quipped. “Don’t say that too loud sir they might just hear you” – Yikes. OK so then I tell him I’ll pay in cash. “Oh no sir we don’t take cash, only credit cards” arrrrrgggghhhhhhh. It was at that moment I decided to go ‘modern’, and get a credit card when I returned to Europe.