From Belgium to London: A vignette of spring break travel, part 2

Soon enough, we docked at Dover, but the foot passenger exit still took a while to open. Chomping at the bit, I was the first out of the gate when the exit had been opened. This was a pointless exercise, as all the foot passengers were taken on the same shuttle from the ferry to the terminal, thereby reducing my hasty efforts to naught. The staff leaving the ferry were in no particular rush, which precipitated a delay as one of the ferry’s staff collected her knitting.

At this point, it was 4:40 UK time. The train I needed to be on to get to London at approximately 6:20 was the 4:50 from Dover. With not a moment to lose from when the shuttle let the foot passengers off, I was off. Racing past the other passengers, I made it into the first taxi at hand and directed it to the station, only to be stopped by a fellow foot passenger who was also going to the station and wondered if I wouldn’t mind splitting. Not one to deny someone else a hand, even though I was in a rush, I agreed and soon enough a further three foot passengers did the same, bringing the total of our rather unhappy band up to 5. I had told the driver I was in a touch of a hurry (something he didn’t question upon seeing how I was dressed), and thusly we were off to the train station.

I missed the 4:50 train by no more than 3 minutes. Having had one of my long-suffering friends text me the timetable, I knew that the next quickest option was to take the 5 o’clock to Charing Cross and change at Ashford International. I did so, and made it to Ashford International without much event, although my sanity was on tenterhooks. I jumped out at Ashford and made it to the platform I was supposed to change at, where I was met with a high speed train, something which rather endeared it to me at the time. However, it wasn’t until I looked at my ticket more closely that I realised it wasn’t valid for travel on HS1. Upon inspection of the timetable, I also realised that the high speed train arrived at St Pancras at 6:48 p.m. — 18 minutes after I was supposed to be at the dinner. I then noticed that it was possible to get off the train at Stratford International and take the central line from there directly to Bank Station, the closest to Drapers Hall on Throgmorton St. I did just that, albeit with a spell of 15 minutes spent in the train lavatory dodging the conductor checking tickets, and ran from Stratford International to Stratford tube station. It was now 6:23 p.m.

Upon arrival at the tube station, I reached into my wallet only to discover that I had left my Oyster card in Scotland and as such, needed a ticket for the tube. I raced down the steps, queued for a machine, bought a ticket, and went down the escalator and up the platform, all in time to see the train pulling away from the station. Convinced finally that the game was up, my heart sank. But a minute later, a second train arrived and I jumped onto that. In 11 minutes I was at Bank Station; in another three I was at Drapers Hall. At 6:38 p.m., I deposited my bags at the coat check, collected my things at reception, and was pleased that, although the invitation had read 6:30 p.m. for 6:50 p.m. dinner, I had made it at 6:40pm.

As I went up the stairs, the warden directed me to Mr Fildes. At the top of the stairs, I was handed a glass of champagne. Three paces further and Mr Fildes introduced me to Admiral of the Fleet and Lord of the Cinque Ports the Lord Boyce, KG, CBE, OBE, DL. We exchanged the usual greetings and I explained my travels in a more abbreviated form than I have here – Mr Fildes was quite happy to see I had made it and thought the story delightful, while the Lord Boyce called my nearly-punctual arrival a heroic feat. Not a few minutes later, the call for dinner was sounded and I set down my second glass of champagne and headed into the great hall.


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