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Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Days Like These: British Rail Included

I'm very much of the mindset that things happen for a reason. Call it fate, call it what you will, but when something unexpected happens to interrupt my day I try to look past it (however difficult that is) and look at the situation from a distance. More often than not, something else occurs during the day that I hadn't anticipated. Whether it came from 'fate' or whether something at the back of my mind ground into action because of the delay and reminded me of something in particular, I don't know. I've just come to let my anger and irritation wash over me as best I can when something goes wrong.

However, today completely baffled me.

I was due to attend a group meeting in Sheffield at half-past nine, the official start to my Ph.D. To be cautious I decided to get a very early train because I wasn't certain where I was going. All fine so far. But as we trundled to a stop before Sheffield I began to feel this wasn't going to be so easy. Sure enough, there was a blanket signal breakdown - no trains going north or south. Not to panic, I sat patiently on the floor (this was a British train after all and whoever heard of getting a seat?) and read Wilkie Collins. The guard then announced we were being allowed into the nearest station where we could switch to a tram to get into Sheffield itself.

Fine. I jumped at the chance. At first the tram was a little crammed with all the passengers from the train but we got comfortable and moved along. Then at the next stop we were packed in like sardines. Suddenly I had five people intruding on my personal space while my left arm gripped tightly at a bar just out of easy reach. When we finally reached the city centre I was forced to spill off the tram with everyone else. Then came the next problem: I had no idea where I was.

At least I had some idea of geography from the train station to the university. As it was, I stood in the middle of town squinting and checking my watch. I had to get moving and just began walking upwards through the shopping precincts. I was exhausted, hungry (having intended to grab breakfast while I meandered up to the uni at my own leisurely pace) and extremely nervous. Of course, I had no choice: I had to keep going and to do that I had to keep focused on my goal. Luckily for me, Sheffield has maps dotted around so with a bit of logic first thing in the morning I made my way to the university. (As an aside, if I ever learn the name of the idiot who decided to build it on a huge hill I'll scrawl all over their portrait in black marker pen.)

I made it in time. I even managed to look human while I sat panting in the enormous lecture hall. Once the speeches kicked in on what to expect I was ready to tune in and I suppose I was relatively calm. Having thrown all my efforts into getting there I hadn't had a chance to do my usual work-myself-up-into-a-nervous-frenzy trick.

So was that the point? Was there a point? A while ago I blogged about the coincidence of meeting familiar people in unfamiliar locations. The more I think about it the more I believe some things just are meant to be. As both a human being and a writer that's a worrying thought.

Still, I haven't grasped the point of my other adventure today. Three pharmacies didn't have my prescription, forcing me to walk about like a zombie waiting to be placed delicately back in the grave. What was the point of that one?

I just have to take comfort in the fact that days like today can provide the backdrop for a story. At least, that's what I was thinking when I began chuckling aloud on the packed tram... much to the concern of the other commuters.

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