As I sit sipping a cup of instant coffee, in my grubby little boarding house in Shepperton, it is not so easy to cast a neutral eye over the past 24 hours.
Last October I was invited to a wedding by a very dear friend. He asked me if I’d be willing to make a speech at said nuptials. My chest puffed with pride and I replied with fake nervousness ‘Who me?’ The reality of course is slightly different. I’m a bit of a show pony. Give me an audience staring in rapt attention at me, and I blossom. I eagerly agreed.
The wedding was on the first of March – today. A spring marriage. How wonderful. The birds will be tweeting. The daffodils will be blossoming. The perfect time of year to celebrate a commitment of love and companionship.
Then with the most impeccable of timing Siberia decided to take its revenge on Ireland and Britain. The Beast from the East – a Russian cold snap, coincided with Storm Emma – an Atlantic hurricane. It’s fulcrum was these islands, on the day of the wedding.
My Ryanair flight was at midday on Wednesday. As I peeled myself from my pit at 9am my phone beeped. Due to adverse weather conditions my flight was cancelled. No need to panic. I went online and booked myself on the next flight at 4pm. No point in needlessly stressing. I pottered about, grateful for the extra few hours during which I could swill tea.
At midday my phone buzzed again. My rescheduled flight had also been cancelled – as were all flights from Dublin to London for the rest of the day. This was now slightly problematic. The wedding was in Surrey at 11.30am on Thursday morning. It was most probable that the flights the next day would also be cancelled – the weather was deteriorating.
What was I to do? Cancellation was not even to be contemplated. Mother Nature can go do one if she thinks a tiny little hurricane is going to keep me from my audience – er, the wedding I mean.
A quarter of a century earlier, on my very first trip out of Ireland I had taken the bus and ferry to London Victoria Bus Station. Was that an option I wondered? A quick search revealed that a bus was leaving the coach station in Dublin at 8pm that night. Feverishly I booked a place. Then just to cover my bases I booked an additional ferry crossing at 2.15am, and a 6.35am Ryanair flight.
Next in my cunning plan I texted a friend and asked if he could print my tickets – he was at work close by, and had access to a printer. He agreed. For the first time that day I ventured outdoors. The wind and snow felt like shattered glass on my face. Biting and vicious. Having collected the tickets I made my way home. There was no food in the house. The weather curfew in place for the next day was not going to have any impact on me. I would not need food supplies.
At 7pm I made my way to BusAras – the coach station. It was locked up. Services to and from the station were fully suspended. According to the Irish Ferries website, the 8.55pm sailing was proceeding as planned though. There were a number of other lost souls hanging around like an unwanted rash, at the station. I inquired if they were going to London on the bus. They confirmed that they were. Although no-one actually knew when or if the bus would arrive.
At 7.30pm the Eurolines coach pulled up – like a gleaming, snow-encrusted chariot. The Greek driver shrugged at us and said he did not know if he could continue, as he had insufficient water for his windscreen wipers. I shot him a look of venom and bit my tongue. It would not have been appropriate for me to offer to pee in his tank. I understood this. With some assistance from other passengers he managed to reload his tank. Off we went.
En route to Dublin port I received a text to tell me that the Stena crossing at 2.15am later, had been cancelled due to inclement weather. I refused to think about this. We were on our way.
We boarded the boat, and the wait began. When the captain announced that he was waiting for the all clear to depart, my heart sank. This ship was the last chance saloon. I had no doubt but that the next day’s flight would also be cancelled – as it subsequently was. Then suddenly the engines roared. Like a Celine Dion video, the boat lurched, and began to move. We were on the way.
The crossing was torturous. Gale force winds on the Irish Sea meant that this massive liner was bobbing like a rubber dinghy. I did not partake of any food or beverages during the voyage. There would have been no point – I’d have merely regurgitated it immediately.
All the while, I was keeping the sister of one of the grooms informed of my whereabouts. Even if we landed safely in Holyhead, there was still an eight hour bus journey to London, followed by a ninety minute trek to Surrey. In the middle of a code red weather alert. I was on a wing and a prayer.
The scheduled docking was at 12.50am. Thanks to tornado style conditions in Holyhead harbour we only moored at 2.45am. This was worrying. It eliminated any cushion time between my arrival in London and departure for Surrey.
After disembarking from the bus, in Arctic conditions in Holyhead for customs clearance, we reboarded. Cleverly I had pretended to be asleep and snoring when I had boarded the bus in Ireland. To discourage people from sitting beside me. A wise decision as it gave me a more comfortable doze. At 6.30am we arrived in Birmingham where the driver told us to get off. He had been driving longer than was legally permissible in the preceding 24 hours. So we were to be granted an unrequested thirty minute break in the Baltic Birmingham Coach Station. I had not a red cent of sterling on me, so could not even avail of a plastic cup of putrid instant coffee.
The three hour trip to London Victoria was the stuff of what nightmares are made of. A foul stench of halitosis permeated the air, and the Polish gentleman behind me engaged in a domestic argument, at the top of his voice. on the phone for two hours. It almost broke my spirit.
At 10am we reached the bus station. Like a whirling dervish I braved the swirling snow, and sub zero temperatures, and sprinted to the train station. Feeling slightly delirious I couldn’t figure out how to get to my final destination of Walton-on-Thames. What was not in doubt however was the fact that over 50% of trains were cancelled.
Never fear. Trains to my connecting station of Clapham Junction were running on time. From Clapham to Walton was another story. One by one they were postponed. I approached the guard and asked him. He told me that the 20 minute journey to Walton would depart at 11.19 from platform 9. Arrival at 11.39am. Like a miracle it appeared on time.
The wedding was at 11.30am.
I had previously been in touch with the groom – from the dying embers of my phone battery – at 8am. He had told me he would check if they could delay the ceremony slightly. I had no idea if he had been successful.
By the time I reached Walton I was running on auto-pilot – barely conscious of my surroundings.
‘To the registry office, my good man,’ I shrieked at the taxi driver. I arrived at 11.50.
It hadn’t yet begun. I grabbed the registrar and asked her where I could get changed into my lovely suit. The Gents was occupied, so she pointed me in the direction of the Ladies, where in record time I got myself suited and booted.
In the nick of time, by the very skin of my teeth I had made it.
I was the witness at the wedding and delivered my speech at the lunch.
Now I want curl up in a ball and sleep.