Monday, June 05, 2023
My friend is going to drive me to Luxembourg Station at 1215 to catch the 13:11 train to Brussels. I have a carry-on sized wheelie case from which I plan to hang my bigger grab bag full of (now mostly dirty) clothes. My heavy camera outfit (complete with tripod) is in a backpack and I have a laptop bag to hang on my shoulder.
I shall be quite the beast of burden today, but goodness knows this trip has taught me how much I need the exercise. My post-Wexit self-neglect did a lot of damage.
In Brussels I have an hour and twenty-nine minutes to transfer my burdens to the 15:27 Eurostar to London. I am required to be there sixty minutes before "check-in" (how pretentious – it's a choo-choo train, FFS) so that gives me an ample half-hour for haulage.
I shall then have a more or less relaxing (I'm in the cheap seats) trip of just two hours and four minutes to St Pancras for 19:00 (thanks to the time difference) and an Uber home to Chiswick. I should be home by about 20:00, deo volenti.
Fingers crossed that I finish the trip at my target percentage of just 18.75% "rescue days". At least, if one of the trains breaks down, I won't have to negotiate a recovery truck with some dodgy local!
I am no fan of public transport of any kind and rather dread the prospect of a day in the hands of unionised and probably Communist public employees, but it's nice sometimes to be irresponsible. Let's hope the train drivers don't feel the same way.
Update 1: the gods of engineering strike again.
My scheduled train to Brussels is cancelled. I catch the next one — an hour later and may well not make my connection. I have an “attestation” from Luxembourg Railways of my innocence in being late which should snag me a new ticket on a later Eurostar if necessary. I’m not calling this a rescue yet as I don’t expect public transport to work anyway.
In the meantime, lunch
Update 2: the gods of bureaucracy extort their tribute
Do I even need to say I missed my connection? The train from Luxembourg lingered at each little station en route. It was a pretty run but the thought of the grief awaiting me at Brussels Midi Station preyed on my mind. I had to rush to the check in just in case but my train had gone.
Even if it hadn't, I was sixty sweaty, miserable minutes from the waiting area for the next one. I spoke to a staff member who directed me to the desk to change my ticket. With the aid of my attestation that went well enough. I asked if I could go to the gents before I proceeded. It was too late and the next ones were at the other end of a long security pantomime. She took pity on me and put me into the fast track. God help the poor losers in the slow track!
I am old experienced enough to remember when countries only worried about the people arriving. The Brussels police took an age to decide it was ok for me to leave their country. I wish they'd put them to work fixing lethal potholes instead, but their gaff their choice.
Then the security theatre began. The bags their sister company would have left unexamined in the boot of my car (I've had three random checks in twenty years of using LeShuttle) were examined at length by people who'd done badly at school.
Then a line for British Immigration to pretend they control our borders. Hundreds of Albanian cocaine-dealers must have landed on our beaches while I submitted to this farce. The automated passport control never works for me. Sure enough the robot invited me to "seek assistance". A grumpy Belgian Eurostar lady waved me into the middle of the manual check queue.
This caused a minor international incident as a group of Chinese Communist Party members (I lived there, remember? I recognise their style) took hearty Marxist exception to the Belgian lady's attempt to cut me in. I asked politely if they were all together and waved them through. At the same time I gave a Paddington Bear hard stare to the gentleman behind them so he'd do me the same courtesy.
The family ahead of the Chinese was complicated. Each of their three kids had a different passport. Father got grumpy with the officer whose hackles visibly rose. Mother pushed him back and grovelled until bureaucratic pride was satisfied.
One further sweaty and unpleasant queue later I was on the train and deploying my luggage around the various racks. I must look a mess, but the ordeal is over. Provided the engineering gods leave this nineteenth century tech alone, I shall soon be at St Pancras looking for a ride home.
I really hate trains. And it seems I hate them more if they're run by idiots trying to pretend they're spaceships. Lighten up, Fat Belgian Controller. It's just a bloody choo choo.
It was not fun today, but – if I am spared a taxi breakdown on the way from St Pancras – I am claiming my 18.75%. Result!
Update 3: London is cheap
No, of course in general it isn't, but £36 was enough to take me – not in an Uber but in a London taxi that has to compete with Uber – 7.8 miles from St Pancras to home. In Luxembourg yesterday, it cost £65.47 to go 6 miles from the airport to my friends' house. There's the power of competition for you. In Luxembourg the government, lobbied by taxi drivers, has banned Uber. There is no legitimate reason to license service providers to rip people off, so perhaps it's best not to speculate was the actual reason was?
I had a nice chat with my London cabbie and was safely back home by 8.40pm. The trip is over – at least until I return for Speranza and use the return portion of my Eurotunnel ticket. What a ride it has been!