The last few hours of my trip back from Cork were a bit diabolical. All was well at the airport. I updated everything that needed updating with the assistance of the free Cork airport wifi – so much better than the Gatwick option of having to sign up and pay – and had a nice leisurely dinner before going to the gate for my plane. Then things started to unravel a bit.
The plane was a bit late getting in to Cork and was, therefore a slightly bigger bit late taking off. Like a snowball rolling down a hill, this slight delay increased exponentially.
After a pleasant enough flight (where I bought a new watch and read) we landed at Gatwick about ten minutes behind schedule. Normally this wouldn’t mean an awful lot but, as my plane load of people arrived in the customs hall, it was apparent that we had landed at the same time as ten other planes.
I have never seen so many people trying to get into the country. The queues were horrendous. Halfway down the ramp, before actually reaching the hall, we stopped behind the hordes. My heart sank, having heard all the pre-Olympic horror stories.
Once in the hall, UK and European passport holders have two choices: Join the really long queue which led to a human or join the slightly shorter queue and let the robots give you the all clear.
In the best of all possible worlds, a robot would be quicker. In this world, it’s just not the case. A scanner scans your passport photo and then a scanner scans your head. The two images are matched and you progress through, into the country. If you go through the human gates, a customs officer looks at your passport, looks at you then waves you through.
Having never tried, I decided to give the robot a go. It was all pretty harmless but it did take longer. This was pretty clear when a group of women I had seen standing in the longer queue, were waiting for a friend who had queued behind me. I’m assuming they had a bet on the result as I distinctly saw money changing hands.
So the snowball gathered a few more layers as I moved into the baggage reclaim. My luck was better than the trip out as my bag was one of the first ones off the plane. I grabbed it and headed out to the trains to find I had missed the last train to Guildford by three minutes.
A quick bit of thinking and I decided I could still make the last train to Alton by going to Clapham Junction (completely the wrong direction) and changing back to Woking. As I sat on the train heading into London I checked out the timetable for the Alton train. I could make it if I managed to get the nine minutes passed midnight train. I arrived at Clapham at eleven minutes passed midnight, just in time to see the tail lights of my train heading off towards home.
There was still an outside chance I could make the change at Woking but it meant hanging around on Clapham station for half an hour for a train that had a first stop at Woking which for some unknown reason ended up stopping at Wimbledon. This minor time extension is what finally scuppered me.
The train arrived at Woking five minutes after the Alton train had left. It was the last train to Alton. My choices had now run out. All I could do was catch the second last train to Guildford and hope for a taxi at the station.
At 1:40am I was standing on the forecourt at Guildford, my heart joyous at the long line of empty cabs waiting for late travellers and Olympic volunteers. The taxi dropped me at home at 2am, where I actually woke the poodles up rather than the other way around.
Half an hour and a shower later, I hit the pillow and was asleep…for four and a half hours.