T’was the night before Christmas @ Gatwick

Gentle Reader,
Take the advice of your writer when she advises you to be nowhere in the vicinity of Gatwick Airport the day before Christmas!

The drive along the M3 from Stoford to Gatwick  to drop off the hire car was fine. Picked up some essential supplies (packet of English sausages – note that these do not comply with  EU regulations for sausages, loaf of bread, cheese and a bottle of Australian wine) just in case the shops were shut before getting to the Airbnb flat. Smugly noted the traffic exiting London was heavy.

Efficiently drop off car at 1.00pm. Still feeling smug. Tootle into Gatwick Airport Railway Station to note there was some congestion and some delays going to Victoria Station. No problem, that stop was not on the itinerary.   Then discover every rail service was either delayed or cancelled.

Spent the next six hours being misinformed by Southern Rail. Thousands of people were stranded – flights had been cancelled, but people weren’t told until hours after their flights were supposed to depart. People were charging their mobile phones at information desks in order to keep in touch. Generally travellers were remarkably patient. When someone challenged the misinformation, everyone else looked the other way because ‘he was making a scene’!

After a couple of hours standing around, a notice came over (via a fellow standing on a bulkhead hollering at everyone and consequently causing a crush at barriers) that a train was leaving for London – go to platform 2. Everyone charged for the train, bundled on and sat down. The driver gave us an update that there was a bit of a delay. Then a further update that there was a bit more of a delay owing to a landslide on the line. Then another update that buses would be coming to move everyone from Gatwick because the landslide was worse than expected. We return to the waiting area, where the fellow is still on the bulkhead hollering out misinformation. There were no buses departing from Gatwick. We had to get on a train to Three Bridges, from which buses would take us to East Croydon, and then we could board a train to Victoria Station, from where we could move on to our destinations.

We were again allowed through the barriers, in control batches of 100. There had been some thinning of the crowd – people had given up and gone home, resigning themselves to not be able to spend Christmas with their families.

At last the train pulled out of Gatwick… and it was the last train out of Gatwick. At Three Bridges, another crush of people trying to get on to the fleet of buses. And it was raining. Heavily. Awww shucks. What more could you ask for? Finally got to East Croydon only to discover that the last train to Victoria Station was pulling out, after which British Rail was closing down until 28 December. What city shuts down a major transport system for 48 hours?

The only travel option available to Catford was a cab, which cost 30 pounds!

Never imagined that English sausages, bread, cheese and Australian wine would be Christmas Eve fare.