t r a i n c h a o s

[ 14:13 sunday 7 october – first capital connect train, streatham to luton airport ]

my elaborate web of connections across italy, spain and morocco went off without a hitch. today’s journey from london to budapest has made up for all that. my flight departed from gatwick an hour ago and i was not on board. i arrived at london bridge station three hours ago with plenty of time in hand for my train. but the moment i set foot on the platform a twenty minute delay was announced. then ten minutes later the train was cancelled. this was irritating but the next train would still get me to the airport in time. however after twenty minutes this service too was cancelled. at this point i started to feel at little anxious. a rumour went round that someone had committed suicide at purley and services across south london were in chaos. there were no announcements about the situation but it wasn’t looking promising.

together with three other passengers i set off in a taxi for gatwick. but driving from london bridge to gatwick takes half an hour longer than the train and speaking to the driver as we sped south it became clear the likelihood of me getting there in time was slim. i called kaz and rebecca who generously interrupted their sundays to assist me. in minutes rebecca had booked a flight from luton to budapest which departs at five o’clock. yipee! i asked the driver to drop me off and bid farewell to the other passengers. the cab dropped me in front of streatham hill station but that had no useful services so i walked the half mile to streatham, studied the routings and decided my best bet was to take this train. it follows an improbable route from here heading south then westward through tooting and wimbledon, then north and eastward through bermondsey to london bridge before turning north-west through king’s cross thameslink and continuing to luton. the train is half an hour late but it’s running and i expect to reach luton airport with plenty of time to spare for my flight.

i’m going to budapest for three days for the etre conference, a gathering of influential venture capitalists and technology moguls. i’m due to give a talk tomorrow afternoon. as soon i’ve checked into my hotel and found some supper i ought to start working on my presentation. rebecca mailed the briefing notes to my house so they were there to pick up when i arrived last night.

looking back to the last forty-eight hours, the thirteen-hour bus journey from ouazazate to tangier was far less arduous than i feared, largely because it was half empty. andrew, cristina and i arrived in tangier at eleven, fantasising about coffee and pastries, only to discover that all the cafes were shut for ramadan. so we got straight into a taxi for the two-hour journey along the coast to the spanish colony of ceuta where we were finally able to satisfy our cravings. after that we went for a swim and spent the afternoon vegetating blissfully on the beach. to enter ceuta from morocco one passes through a proper old-fashioned frontier with border guards, check- points, barbed wire and a stretch of no-man’s-land in the middle. it projects a powerful sense of crossing from one world into another. in the evening we united with some of cristina’s journalist friends. after an orientational stroll around the town we dined on intriguing spanish-moroccan hybrid tapas then moved to an irish pub which seems to be the hub of the ceutan journalism community. i didn’t miss alcohol during the week in morocco but the first cold beer did taste good (as did the second, third..).

the spanish coast is clearly visible across the mediterranean sea from ceuta and the next day i said goodbye to andrew and cristina after our journey together and got on a ship for the hour-long trip to algeciras on the other side. from there i took a bus round the bay to la linea then walked over the frontier into gibralter. the contrast was much less dramatic than the morocco/ceuto border but it was surreal suddenly to enter a domain peppered with british symbols like gilbert scott’s red telephone boxes and double decker buses. gibralter felt simultaneously nostalgic and a tiny bit seedy, an echo of a world where such impositions were common-place. after checking in at the airport (the first i’ve encountered where a main road crosses the middle of the runway) i picked my way behind a row of sheds and found a dirtly little beach facing algericas and the afternoon sun. a couple of english families were set up, with the children playing in the shallows. i propped a broken chair against a concrete wall and sat there sunbathing for a last luxurious half- hour. then i walked back to the terminal and got on my way. the flight back from gibralter was uneventful. next stop budapest.

: c :

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