Home at last, after one of the most frustrating travel experiences ever. There were two votes last night and Bob, my ministerial driver, took me and two colleagues to Paddington immediately after the last one. However, after sitting on the Heathrow Express for five minutes at the station, an announcement informed us that the service was being suspended due to a fire somewhere or other (no-one seemed quite sure where). So in desperation, with less than an hour until my flight, I jumped on the Tube to Heathrow.
The Bakerloo line was also suspended due to a separate fire(!), so I had to catch the Circle line to Earl’s Court to change onto the Piccadilly Line. My, aren’t there an awful lot of stops on the Piccadilly Line! After a long meander through west London, we pulled up at Terminal 1 and I approached the BMI desk with some trepidation: “Any chance that there’s been a long delay to flight BD14?” I asked hopefully. Perhaps if I looked suitably fed up she might call the pilot mid-flight and tell him to turn round and come back and pick me up. Alas, no. It had departed on time. Pity that hadn’t happened last week when I actually wanted it to.
So to the Heathrow Express platform where the service had been miraculously restored. Called Scotrail to find out if there were any vacant berths on the sleeper out of Euston. Sorry, I was told. The booking system closed at seven, but if you go to Euston and speak to someone there they might be able to help. What was the alternative? To head back to my flat (via my Commons office to pick up a spare set of keys because Bob keeps my main set in the car) and start the whole experience all over again in the morning, and probably not get home until late morning at the earliest? Switching back to the Tube at Paddington, I headed towards Euston, where the station manager advised me that Scotrail staff would be here in about 30 minutes. Time for a bite at Harry Ramsden’s.
Now here’s a thing I only realised last night: late at night, after the staff at WH Smith have removed all that day’s newspapers, there’s very little choice in the way of appropriate reading material to accompany your fish and chips. Unless you’re a devotee of Nuts or The New Yorker. Which I’m not. Either of them. So with a copy of The Economist and a large self-pity sized bar of Cadbury’s, I headed to Harry’s to eat, drink, read and update the family on my latest travails and travels.
Forty minutes later, and with another 30 minutes before I could actually board the train, I reserved a berth with the help of some very friendly Scotrail staff. Maybe I looked suitably pathetic and hang-dog by then. (And no, I did not pull the “Do you know who I am?” routine, partly because that would have been inconsistent with the standards expected of a Minister of the Crown, but mainly because the answer would almost certainly have been “no”).
I actually have the priceless ability to sleep anywhere – on a train, at the cinema, on the front bench, in the theatre during any Andrew Lloyd Webber production – so the sleeper’s not a problem. I actually enjoy the experience.
And so I’m home, and writing this in the living room while waiting for the rest of the family to stir. Not exactly “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”, I’ll admit, but exhausting and a wee bit inconvenient. They probably won’t make a film out of it. But I’m open to offers.