As I walked up the hill towards Hove Station yesterday, I had no idea what was in store for me. I was planning a quick trip to East Croydon and then on to West Croydon, to find Lidl and collect some items that were waiting for me. This trip would normally mean a half hour or so on the train and some pleasant shopping, before returning home in time for tea. Huh!
12.15. It all looked fine. The train arrived on time and I climbed aboard. Five minutes later, when the train hadn't moved, we passengers began to wonder why. There came an announcement to the effect that the train could not proceed to London and would have to go back to Littlehampton (where it came from in the first place) and then approach London on a different line, through the Arun Valley. There didn't seem to be any choice, so we sat as the train trundled towards Littlehampton. This took about half an hour, and then it sat. And sat. Then we had another announcement. "There has been a fatality on the line in the Burgess Hill area. All services will now be diverted and delayed." Shock. Relief. At least we knew what was happening. I spotted a woman who was obviously deaf, and was desperately trying to find out what was happening. (The announcements were no use to her, and the destinations on the in-train display hadn't changed.) I gathered that she was going to Gatwick, so assured her that we were all in the same boat (or train), and hoped to get there, or thereabouts, shortly. Next we had to change trains, and trundled back, past Arundel, on the other line. All this had taken about two hours so far. Our next stop was Three Bridges (unscheduled of course), where we were told that the train would now go direct to Victoria without stopping. This meant hopping off and making for the opposite side of the platform for another train which would take me to East Croydon. As I stood there, I looked back and saw that the deaf woman was still sitting, all unaware, in the previous train. I nipped back across the platform and knocked on the train window, mouthing "You Gatwick" and motioning her to get to the door. Sadly, as soon as she moved, so did the train. I didn't have a chance to get the door open, and had to watch her being carried away on the fast train to Victoria! Back on my train, which stopped at every stop, we finally reached East Croydon, where I had to catch a tram to West Croydon. Daughter had told me it was easy, but she hadn't told me what to expect in Croydon. It's HUGE, and very confusing. It's also like being in an African country - not sure which one - because there were very few white, or even white-ish faces. After I jumped on the wrong tram twice, and jumped off again, I was pointed in the right direction and managed to find West Croydon. It was now 3.15 pm and I had been travelling for three hours. It was also freezing cold and trying to snow.
At West Croydon Station, I walked into what I first thought was a Police/Terrorist scenario. There were at least six Policemen wearing what I assumed to be "Flak Jackets" ( bright yellow and padded), and they seemed to be armed! There was also what looked like a portable detector (the kind you have to go through in Airports) with flashing lights and obviously at the ready for any incident! It was rather like a weird and very different Christmas display!
I had been expecting the Lidl store to be opposite the station, but it clearly wasn't. So I approached one of the Policemen (my Mum always told me to ask a Policeman) and asked him if he knew where Lidl was. He looked rather surprised, but was very pleasant and called another young Policeman over. Between them they pointed me in the right direction - another half mile walk against a freezing wind - and there it was. The Holy Grail. Lidl. And the Ski Watches which I had been told would be waiting for me. The Manager of Lidl was lovely - very polite and kind. In fact everyone I encountered was just the same. But I did have the feeling that I was in a foreign land - not an unpleasant foreign land by any means, but nevertheless, very foreign.
I scuttled back up the freezing street with my booty, waving my Lidl bag at the two Policemen as I passed. (Which could have been a really wrong move, come to think of it.) And headed for the sanctuary of Marks and Spencer, which I had spotted on the way down. Oh Bliss. A cup of tea and a turkey sandwich before the trek back home. I phoned my Aristocratic BF from M & S (since I had embarked on this Odyssey mainly for her benefit) and giggled hysterically as I told her what had happened. Then I embarked on the return journey. I was pointed in several wrong directions, but finally found a bus going the right way, and then a train at East Croydon. On the way back the train stopped at every station again (I guess they were still trying to catch up on the day's disasters and delays). And the quickest part of my journey was the one-stop train from Brighton to Hove. Home at 7pm - just in time to cook supper for The Wee Git, Oh Joy - and after 7 hours of travelling (if you can call it that).
Actually, I'm not complaining - at least I was sitting warm and safe on a train for most of the time. And I lived to tell the tale, which sadly was not the case for one unfortunate person that day. I do wonder what happened to my deaf lady (not that she was mine, but you know what I mean), and hope she finally got to Gatwick in one piece, if rather late. It's a complete mystery, but perhaps we were all meant to be sitting on that train for three hours, in a kind of limbo! Who knows what might have befallen us otherwise?