Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Vegas to London: the final leg

**This was written on Eurostar on Monday 18 April - posted later**

Why am I not surprised?
Of course, the Eurostar part of Brussels Midi is swamped. Mostly with people trying to buy tickets which they will not be able to do. Long, long queues. Crying, crying children and the depressing, rattling ostinato of those bloody bags on wheels that, apparently, even able-bodied grown men drag around behind them without the slightest embarrassment.
There are two ticket collection machines. Both are en panne - of course - but there is a mending man grovelling in the innards of one of them. I ask him if it will be working in a moment and he says it will.
He is sort of right. He presses some buttons and sucks through his teeth and pulls and pushes paper into slots and the screen comes alive and pretends to work. He moves onto the next machine.
We are so, so close now. I key in my code. My reservation comes up on the screen. It asks me to confirm my identity with the card I used to buy the ticket. A tense moment - let's hope RBS haven't been as dozy as Egg or that at least they have read the papers and know something is up.
It is fine.
'We are printing your ticket' the screen says. For a long time. A very long time. Until it changes to say: 'There has been an error in printing your ticket. Refer to information desk' - or something like that - and then shuts down.
That scream is mine. The mending man looks up from the bowels of the other machine. Perhaps it is the hyperventilation that alarms him enough to come and have another go at the machine in front of me. Again, buttons, lights, paper, slots. And the screen comes on.
I key in my code again but of course the machine now thinks it's issued the ticket and tells me it can't issue another, before shutting down again.
It is own-a-Eurostar-employee time. There is one to hand. She tries to brush me off and tells me I have to join the long queue of crying people in the ticket office but this will not do and I tell her she must find someone to print the ticket for me. There is a stand off so I do something that surprises even me. I say: 'OK' and begin to walk through check-in towards passports and security. This causes a kerfuffle but fortunately they do not shoot me and instead another woman breaks off from whatever she was doing on her computer and prints me a boarding pass.
As it happens, the long queue of people who were standing behind me waiting to use the en panne ticket printing machines have followed me and now stand queueing at her desk demanding she print their boarding passes which she really cannot refuse.
It is a small triumph and it appeals to my vindictive side.

It is almost time to be relieved but I will not be until we actually leave Brussels. For the first time in days, I have lunch. In the sunny square by Midi station and go back to Eurostar at two - as instructed.
They have managed to manufacture a small riot.
There are no tickets now until Wednesday - they say ... but then, they said in Milan there were no tickets north from there until Tuesday - and so all the supplicants have been thrown out.
So, bizarrely, have all the passengers who have tickets and were waiting to check in for the 1429 or 1459 trains. Perhaps it was for the sake of neatness.
There are two burly but unfrightening bouncers on the door and a non-burly but extremely frightening woman barking instructions in three languages to anyone who tries to get into the office or passenger lounge.
Only 1429ers are let through and they have to join a long queue since both passport and security controls have been stepped up. It is half past two before we 1459ers are allowed in and there are still over a hundred 1429ers being critically examined for bombs and surly expressions.
It is a shambles and impossible to guess why the 1429ers weren't checked in hours ago. Don't they know there's a crisis???
Odd how irritating half an hour delay has become when, in Rome I was happy that a delay was only five hours and in Milan I was prepared to hang around for 30 hours.

We leave half an hour late. And there are empty seats. Lots of them.

1 comment:

Janey said...

I am glad to hear you have made it home , Kevin.
I found your blog most interesting . I found it while Googling to see what I might expect when I travel tomorrow from Rotterdam to Ashford via Brussels Midi. I have to admit to owning a return ticket booked at least 6 weeks ago as I am going to attend a friend's memorial service in Kent. This , at least means I shall not have to contend with wayward ticket-issuing machines at Brussels ,at least I hope not.
What the rest entails remains to be seen .

Janey in The Netherlands