Our epic train trip to Brighton

by | Oct 15, 2012 | Personal Memories | 0 comments

The day started badly when I awoke from a nightmare half an hour before my alarm went off at 6.00a.m. I was on the train to Brighton with four of my friends, but we had been separated from each other on the crowded train that we had arrived almost too late for, and I was having to stand outside the toilet, wedged between several portly men. I was worried whether my friends would know where to get off the train, as I had all the tickets and route information. Then I remembered I had forgotten to pick up the pre-ordered tickets from the machine at the station, in our hurry to get on the train that was standing at the platform as we walked into the station. Omg! Now what were we to do when we arrived at our destination? 

My dream rolled on, as my nightmares usually do, and I was bursting to use the loo. I opened the door to the tiny toilet and squeezed myself in, only to find that the door wouldn’t lock, and that when I lifted up the lid to the loo, it was full up to the brim with disgusting material. I’m in my regular nightmare now…………….. This is the point where I wake up, bursting to use the loo, and always half an hour before I am due to get up. So unfair! I need that extra half hour of sleep.

Anyway, in the event, we weren’t late arriving at the station, in fact we were early and I remembered to pick up the tickets at the machine, so we caught the train half an hour earlier. This would entail two changes, instead of one, but would give us extra time in Brighton. The train wasn’t full, in fact we had the carriage almost to ourselves part of the way, and had the pick of the seats. However, my premonition dream had a small relevance. My friend used the loo and said it wouldn’t flush. This would mean that by the time I was bursting to use the loo it would probably be full up! We hadn’t had time to use the station facilities before catching the train that was due in five minutes when we arrived, and early morning coffee and I usually have problems staying together.

We settled back to enjoy the 90 minute journey to East Croydon, where we were supposed to change to the train to Hove, or the one to Brighton if that one came earlier. I hadn’t studied the route and times for an earlier train. 

Unfortunately, I had picked a day to go to Brighton when there were engineering works on the line from Haywards Heath to Brighton, so there was no direct route to Brighton from Bedford, as usual. Why did I have to pick that particular day to go? Well, because the Brighton Motorbike rally was on, and I’m an ex-rocker who can’t resist the sight of Madeira Drive packed with various custom bikes and ancient bikers, that’s why!

Enjoying the scenery on a beautiful sunny day, as we approached West Hampstead, a voice came over the tannoy, to tell us that this train was not going to complete its journey to East Croydon, but was going to terminate at St Pancras after a long wait at West Hampstead, because there had been an incident. “Oh great,” thought I. This bit wasn’t in my dream! Now how were we going to get to Brighton? Maybe we should stay in London and spend time on the Embankment, and around Buck House or something. I Googled incidents at St Pancras, to find that a train had hit a person, but couldn’t find out how or what the result was. However, it did say that our tickets would be valid on other services, including the London Underground.

On our eventual arrival at St Pancras station, we could see dozens of police vehicles and ambulances in the roadway outside, but nothing obvious untoward anywhere near our platform area. We didn’t stop to ask what had happened, but made our way to use the facilities in the station, before finding out exactly how we were supposed to get to Brighton now. We had several different answers from various station staff, even at the information desk, but I plumped for the one that seemed most familiar to me from my search for tickets to Brighton: to travel from London Bridge station. I remember that was one of the scheduled train changes on one of the routes I had researched.

I hoped my companions would be able to cope with the vagaries of the London Underground, but after all, it was Sunday. It would be fairly quiet on the Northern line, wouldn’t it? Wrong! I hadn’t taken into consideration the fact that there was chaos and pandemonium on all the trains because of the St Pancras ‘incident’. As is my usual custom on a packed tube, in order to be able to gulp ‘fresh’ air at each station at least, I wedged myself near the door in the packed compartment, as my friends went deeper into the carriage. Oh dear…….was this part of my premonition dream going to come true? Did they all know where we would be getting off? No problem. Half the world was getting off at that stop, it seemed. So far, so good. We hadn’t suffocated in the jam-packed compartment, and we hadn’t lost each other…..yet.

Now my poor provincially born and raised friends had to negotiate the crowds and escalators again to the mainline station, where we would get a modicum of reasonably fresh air before continuing our journey to Brighton. We don’t walk so fast these days, and by the time we had managed to read and understand the schedules for all the different trains, we had missed the train direct to Brighton and the next one was not for another fifty-five minutes, so we made the decision to get the train to East Croydon, which was where we knew we could get a connection to Brighton. I think before I next go on a train journey, I will treat myself to a map of the whole railway system, and learn it off by heart!

A bonus was that while we were waiting for a suitable train to arrive on London Bridge station, I spotted the ‘Shard’ building right next to the station. I leaned out over the edge of the platform trying to take a photo of the building, but vertigo took over, and I decided to move a bit further down the platform where I could get a better angle at it. I prayed, ‘Please don’t let the train come before I get the photo, or I will be separated from my friends, and that won’t be much fun, as more decisions would need to be made very soon.’

Photo captured I returned to my friends and before long, a suitable train to East Croydon arrived. We were again jammed into a full carriage, but it didn’t seem so bad on a mainline and we alighted at East Croydon as planned. Where to now? This was getting to be quite an adventure. I’m not sure what happened next, as everything happened so fast after that, but I think we had to change platforms and make a rapid dash to the train waiting on the platform ready to depart to Haywards Heath. Or was that rapid dash  between platforms actually at Haywards Heath, when we had to make a mad dash to catch a train to Hove, and then on to Brighton? I get a bit confused these days, and con’t remember which action came first.

Should we have stayed on the train at East Croydon? Did it then go on to Haywards Heath and we could have saved ourselves a transfer? I’m not sure. We kept getting different information from whichever station staff we asked. Whatever! We were on our final leg of this epic journey to Brighton, and it was looking like we might get there before it was time to come home again. We sat back to enjoy the Sussex scenery. The day was still bright and sunny and I was looking forward to my fish and chips at Harry Ramsdens. I mentally cursed Network Rail, or whoever maintains our railway tracks these days, when we finally spotted the point where the engineering works were on the line where it branched to Brighton instead of Hove where our train was destined. 

After another delay in Hove, while the driver changed ends ready to drive on to Brighton, we finally arrived in Brighton half an hour or so later than we would have done if we had caught the correct train in the first place in Bedford – the 10.06., not the 9.36. Phew! It was only four hours or so, but it felt like we had been travelling for a whole day, and two of my friends were already exhausted!

But our epic journey didn’t end there though. The ladies toilets were out of order. Were we going to make it to Harry Ramsden’s before our need got desperate? We’d hop on a bus, wouldn’t we? No. One of us had forgotten her bus pass, so we walked. “It is only a fifteen minute walk,” I said. I had Googled it. Fifteen minutes it might have been if we had gone the way Google suggested, but we chose to walk directly to the sea that we could see beckoning us down the bottom of the hill, then walk, or rather saunter, along the front. Fish and chips and coffee shops abounded, tempting my lady friends, but I was determined that if I was in Brighton I would eat Harry Ramsden’s fish and chips. Finally we spotted the shop and crossed the road to look at the menu. 

Oh dear! My friends had seen the price of the fish and chips elsewhere, and were not going to pay Harry Ramsden’s prices. However, by this time they were desperate for a sit down, and a loo, so I dragged them back when I spotted the Senior bargain: a small portion of fish and chips, bread and butter pudding and a free cup of tea or coffee for £6.75. That did the trick, and we trouped in thankfully. I prayed that Harry would live up to his reputation, and that my friends weren’t going to be disappointed.

They weren’t. They all enjoyed their lunch, and I heaved a sigh of relief. Suitably refreshed and ready for some serious sunshine and sea, we crossed back to the sea front. My idea of strolling along Madeira Drive, soaking up the atmosphere amongst the motorbikes and greasy bikers was rejected by three of our party, who decided to go and sit on the beach while we two ex bikers did our own thing.

One thing about bikers, is that they know how to enjoy themselves, and soon we came across some line dancers dancing to a pretty passable Country and Western group. I wanted to join in, but we were running out of time, and I hadn’t found the custom painted bike I was looking for yet, to illustrate a story I have written. It was getting quite late by this time, and half the bikers had already gone home. The prize winning custom bike tent was nearly empty, and there were very few bikes further down the road, so we turned around and made our way back, passed the line dancers again, and suddenly I spotted some kids fancy pajamas hanging in a clothing tent. “I wish I had someone to buy them for,” I said to my companion. “How old is your granddaughter next week?” While he was busying himself choosing the right size for his granddaughter’s birthday, I spotted ‘Jack Sparrow.’ Of course, I just had to have my photo taken with him. My other two female friends would be dead jealous when they realised they had missed seeing ‘Johnny Depp’. Would they spot the difference when I showed them the photo on my little phone screen? My friend took the photo, and I put my money in Jack Sparrow’s charity collection box, I didn’t notice which charity, I was so overcome! Wow! He was gorgeous. I didn’t care that he was a fake.

Two minutes later, I got a phone call from our other male companion, to say that they were in The Lanes, and were making their way back to the station. I couldn’t believe it was nearly time to go back to the station. How time flies. We would have to come back to have a trip on the Brighton Wheel, that hadn’t been there the last time I was down there. I will have to change my story I wrote now! Now how am I going to convince my friends that they want to make that epic journey again?

My male companion and I made our way to the Royal Pavilion and took a few photos, before finding our way to the Lanes and the route to the station. My companion spotted a shop selling the finest bottles of Malt Whiskey, so we made a ten minute visit to see if there was one that satisfied his interest, and was cheap enough to buy in Brighton, rather than from our local supermarket. I well remember the time when I spent £40 in such a shop in Scotland, only to find I could have bought it from Sainsbury’s for £25 on a special offer, when I got home. My friend resisted temptation and we strode purposefully onwards, in the direction of the station. We passed our friends struggling up the hill on the other side of the road, not far from the station, and with about ten minutes to go before our scheduled train was due to depart.

When we looked at the board, the rail chaos and disruption was obviously still going on, as there was a notice saying that we would have to change at Haywards Heath for trains to Bedford. Oh dear! Here we go again! I had temporarily forgotten our nightmare journey down, but it all came flooding horribly back as we found everybody heading for that train, which was already packed with people. We ladies found seats in various places in one carriage, but our male companions had to stand, and there were still lots of people with suitcases coming on. We were jammed full again. I was sandwiched between a portly man texting away on his mobile, with a massive bag on his lap, and a young girl standing beside me with her big suitcase and another bag, she was texting faster than I can type!

At each station, more and more people crammed themselves into the carriage. But at least I had a seat, and the train was terminating at Haywards Heath, so my friends and I would find each other again when we all had to get off. Unbelievably, there was a train to London Bridge waiting for us across the platform. On we all got, and found group of six seats facing each other. There was a young chap seemingly asleep in the sixth seat, but as he ‘woke up’ at his correct station, I think he was just trying to block out our ‘old fogey’ conversation. We looked at the message sign flashing across the carriage, only to find that this train went all the way to Bedford. Wow! That was a result. It wasn’t the train that we were supposed to be on, as we were supposed to have got on one at East Croydon, and we arrived home before the correct train, so at least our day’s journeying ended well. Not bad value really for the £10 return that it had cost us, I suppose.

I was home with my dogs before I had expected to be, after eleven mini journeys, on seven different trains and four car rides, as I had driven to my friend’s house before we all travelled to Bedford in one car. I put my feet up with a well deserved single malt in my hand. I thought this day justified opening the bottle I had been saving for the right moment to open it. Impishly, I texted my male friend to let him know I had finally opened my special bottle. Now, when I knew he didn’t have any single malt in his house, that wasn’t really a very nice thing to do was it? 

I still don’t know who the person was who was hit by a train at St Pancras, or how it happened, and I can’t find any news about it, but I’m sure someone somewhere must have had a much more traumatic day than we did.