Thursday, December 02, 2010

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (and Ferrys, but actually no Planes)

So Tash and I were sat in the lounge and I received my regular email from moneysavingexpert telling me about a bargain day trip to France for £19 (incl 6 bottles of wine!) and Travelodge offering rooms for £19 a night. Bargain we thought, a day trip to France and we can spend the night before close to the port so remove any early morning shenanigans. "When's your next compressed day Tash?" Wednesday 1st December came the reply, "and I'm in London the day before so I can get the train straight down to the hotel in Margate."

This plan seemed too perfect to be true. And of course it was. Because it was the end of October when we booked this, the leaves had barely fallen from the trees and I hadn't even thought about things such as hot water bottles, thermals, or .... SNOW!

In truth I was really excited about the day. A nice family trip away and a chance to do some early Christmas shopping. Sure, it may have snowed for a few days before but roads seemed to be holding up well. This should all be OK.

So Tuesday November 30th rolls around. First things first, I have to run to see DaveRapid to sort out a MoT on Tasha's Fabia. No problem there, but it scuppered my chance of having a day in Margate with Alfie cos we didn't get home till nearly 1pm. "Thats OK" I thought, as long as we get on the road by 3pm we should be on the A2/M2 by 4pm and miss rush hour M25.

Back home, I throw everything together in double quick time and we're on the road by 2:30pm. A quick stop at Sainsburys sees us loaded with Euros and on our way. All is going well, and then I see signs saying progress is slow from J28 on the M25. I totally expected this, and when the overhead sign said 40 minute delay I was actually quite happy ... and so I joined the back of the queue shortly after 3:30pm.

At first all was good, it was very slow but we were moving. And then we stopped moving. And then the snow started. We sat through the remainder of Huw Stephens Radio1 show, and then Greg James' too. I even had to stop playing Angry Birds on my phone, figuring I might need to save the battery! Tash texts me to say she has been to Frankie & Benny's and I have Spaghetti Meatballs waiting for me ... I reply saying "I hope it makes for a good breakfast", only half in jest.

By now any hope of making good time to the hotel was well and truly out of the window, but I wasn't too despondent cos if I could get through the tunnel, I could listen to the footy for the remainder of the journey. The footy kicked off. West Ham had a goal disallowed. It didn't matter, they slammed home another four goals that were allowed and knocked Man Utd out of the Carling Cup! The footy finished. And I had barely moved! Then did traffic start moving, very stop start of course, and I realised that I was actually on the QE2 bridge! As soon as I got through the tolls it was complete standstill yet again.

Its now something like 9:30pm, I've been on the road for 7 hours already (so much for the 40 minute delay the information board had 'warned' me of!), and I'm just wanting to arrive at our hotel in Margate and see Tash so we can enjoy our day away. I felt like I'd mistakenly got caught up in some Christmas film, deperately trying to get to see family while the nations transport system fell to pieces around me.

By now its dark, temperatures are well below zero and because traffic isn't moving snow is settling on cars and the road. And I know that further afield ice will be developing. Alfie had been an angel through this, and I was grateful I had taken supplies for him ... and that Tash had left a large chocolate roll in the car!

Tony Livesey starts his Radio5Live show at 10pm, announcing "it's night like these this show was made for!". I've never really liked his show, I think it's because I love football so much I always want the football banter to continue ... but this time his show is very topical for me, so I figure I won't touch that dial, not just yet anyway. There are stories coming in about people being stuck for 2 or 3 hours, and I can't help but chuckle ... "if only you knew mate!".

Listening to weather and road reports every 15/20 minutes on his show I have a fair idea of whats going on, but I just want to get to the A2. But by now I am well aware that the M25 isn't too bad, largely due to the volume of traffic on it - its just not moving. The A2 won't have as much traffic, especially at this time of hour, and so who knows what that's going to be like!

I get a message from Tash every hour or so, she is trying to save her battery, and she doesn't want me to spend a night on the road with Aflie. There was nothing I could do though, Operation Stack was in progress so the hard shoulder was full of lorries and there was no way anyone could get to me.

We reach 10:30pm, now its been 8 hours. There are stories of people having trouble all over the UK, so I decide to turn on my phone and send a message to Tony Livesey's show.

"Left letchworth at 2:30, heading to Margate to meet my wife
at a hotel before a day trip to France tomo. Only just past
QE2 bridge! My poor 1 year old boy is with me too :(.
Thankfully he's asleep at the moment. Keefy on M25.

Knowing J2 would eventually appear, I managed to get across to the inside lane. I find myself presented with the local Dartford exit. I look on Google Maps which shows it runs down to Bluewater, and past it onto the A2.

Then the phone rings, its an unknown number. Turns out its one of the lasses on Tony Livesey's show! She kindly asks if everythings OK, and if they can speak to me on the show. I'm happy to do so, but Alfie is awake by now and I can't guarantee sound quality! He was angry, but it was really nice to speak to her, and it lifted my spirits somewhat.

Whatever it is in my mind that makes me stubborn must have snapped at that point - Alfie sounded proper p!ssed with life, and I happened to be sat next to this M25 exit. I decide enough is enough, we'll take the exit and find a hotel. Sadly it means if Radio5Live call back I won't be able to be on the Radio (my bluetooth was in the Benz), but I'm sure the show will be OK. Stopping will make Alfie happy (good), but means our day trip to France will never happen (bad). So I exit.

The local roads are bad, but not undriveable. There must be a hotel near Bluewater, right? Wrong! I tiptoe over roundabouts and past abandoned cars until I eventually find myself with the A2 in front of me! RESULT! Thoughts of stopping early go out the window ... after all what would Steve Martin have done if he was in position on that Thanksgiving eve?

Wondering what carnage I will find on the A2 I join to see a nearly empty road! Alfie has dropped off again, and I'm now on my desired road with no tailbacks. The weather is horrid, huge flurries keep coming and going, but there is just enough traffic for us all to keep moving fine. I was happy! Its madness the other way, lorries can't get up the hill and the police are about, but the sight of a gritter passing me gives me confidence I'll get to the hotel. I'm guessing road conditions will be better once the A2 becomes the M2, and the closer I get to the coast the snow must ease off.

Thankfully I was right, and after my GPS making hard work of directing me to the hotel I eventually arrived at just gone 12:30am. 120 Miles in 10 hours - an average of 12 miles an hour.
There was little opportunity to relax and prepare for the day away though, because Alfie was so happy to be out of the car, and I suspect his body was so messed up by the odd eating/sleeping experience, that he just wanted to be awake and jump around. At 4:30am Tash and I gave in, and left the hotel by 6am, just in case the local roads were bad.

The roads were good, and even with so little rest I felt pretty good. I was worried about our journey home, but for the time being we could enjoy our day away.

Or so I thought. We had a bad crossing, and lets just say Tasha's sea legs only just held out. As we passed the sea wall in Calais I really wasn't sure if she was going to make it! And she looked so chirpy as she gave Alfie his porridge!

Our time in the Cite Europe was brilliant when Alfie slept, which was for about 23 minutes - the rest of the time he cried. Wailed. Howled. He really wasn't happy. I think the journey down had taken its toll. And we still had to go back!

We left earlier than planned, and managed to board an earlier boat at around 5/6pm. Tash was happy that the return crossing was better, and even Alfie managed to cheer up a little when we found a small play area for him.

I was preying for some good roads, but once again was aware that if the worst came to the worst the Villa game would be on Radio5Live ... and we had supplies if the roads were horrendous!

After texts from Dad and Hen telling various stories about road conditions the A2/M2/A2, M25, A1 run home was pretty fine - and Alfie was out for the count! Roads were OK, and we didn't hit a single tailback - traffic volume was hugely down on the night before. Thats seems to be the transport authorities approach to winter motoring - don't expect us to keep traffic moving, instead sort it yourselves by not using your cars!

We were home by 8:30pm, Tash got Alfie down in his cot OK, and then Birmingham City rounded off my nightmare 36 hours by knocking us out of the Carling Cup.

Today I am doing nothing, just crossing my fingers England win the race to be host for the 2018 World Cup!

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