Friday, 3 December 2010

will Santa be able to land at London Gatwick airport this Christmas?

People who live outside England can't understand our fascination for the weather. (I count myself as English - and I get away with this trick until people ask me my name.)

Anyway WE English people can't get enough of this topic.

A sunny day in Summer, a rainy day in Autumn and a snowy week in December always come as a complete surprise.

A famous writer (famous in my house  in the 1960s anyway) called George Mikes - wrote about the English and weather (and other important matters) in his  brilliantly observed  book called "How to be an Alien."

Back to the present...

When snow hit the south east of England this week (as it did last winter too  - could it  just be a coincidence?) it caused more than the usual amount of chaos for those hoping to travel around in the non virtual way using planes, trains and buses.

The official capital of England  (which is London - unlike the unofficial capital county - which is Yorkshire) overnight became completely disconnected from the seaside city of Brighton - which over 200 years ago was connected by   reliable stage coach journeys which took about one or two days.

But in December 2010 - Southern Rail and National Express were unable to replicate these achievements - with no trains or coaches running yesterday on these routes.

Usually I don't care much about what happens in the outside world  - as long as it doesn't interfere with my main web site - and being able to update it (the subject of previous blogs).

But this week - my wife Janet  - who was working in Amsterdam Wednesday discovered that the airport she was due to fly back to (which is close to us - and  called Gatwick) was close(d).

Using her Blackberry she was able to  get a  flight to another airport we sometimes use - Heathrow. What she didn't know as I was tracking her movements online - in the same way that you do a UPS parcel - is that due to the lateness of the flights it was touch and go whether she would get a train connection into London - and no chance whatsoever of getting back home - here in the once previously connected region near the ancient city of Lewes.

Apparently - before Brighton became famous - it was referred to as "Brighton near Lewes".

But  even if were near things - we seemingly couldn't get to them any more - due to 8 inches of snow - which later became more like a foot of snow in the rural area where I live.

Things turned out well. Janet got into a hotel in London just after midnight - and she was due to be working in London next day anyway.

So far so good.

But during the course of the next day (Thursday 2nd) all public transport between London and Brighton ceased. It never even got started.

During the course of the day more snow fell.

Janet carried on working - in London - while I looked at web sites which contained tantalizing information suggesting that services might be resumed any time soon. But they never did.

Meanwhile the tv news channels (BBC and Sky) were showing pictures of a closed snowed in Gatwick, travellers who had been stuck overnight in stranded trains, or in stranded lorries on the roadside.

The police in the area advised - "don't go on the roads unless it's an emergency".

Does getting home count?

In my web trawling I came across things I had heard about - but never seen before - the video feeds and traffic cameras from the main roads which linked Brighton and London. And they also showed average speeds.

There wasn't much traffic - but the speeds looked pretty good to me - in fact better than normal at busy times.

But as I know from experience with the A23 / M23 - it only takes a very small bad event for the whole road to be closed down and delayed - for hours. And hearing that some drivers had been stuck on the M25 for 8 hours - I didn't want to take that risk.

Now unlike the plane, rail and bus transport agencies - we had done some advanced planning - having spent about 6 weeks last winter skating on the frozen country lanes in this area - and on one occasion sliding backwards down a not very steep hill. It doesn't look steep in the summer. You only realize that a slope is involved wen you are trying to get your car up it when it's ground to a halt in deep snow.

So earlier this year we did our bit to boost the economy and bought a car with a "snow" button. It's a Landrover Freelander 2.

Because it's so comfortable inside (even though it just looks like a big ugly box outside) I had been doing more driving than usual this year. Driving down country lanes to reach the shops with my airconditioning on  to keep cool. (My previous car was a 2 door Renault Clio.) I hope that removes your stereotype image.

I don't know or care about cars - as long as they go.

Anyway this year I bought one with a snow button (technically it's the same setting for snow and gravel). The man in the car shop said it was the best one for snow.

We bought it after the snow at the beginning of the year had gone.

This was my first chance to test it.

Would it take me on a 30 mile cross country trip to meet up at the closed Gatwick airport - through ungritted roads with snow slush and ice - at night?

We chose Gatwick as the rendezvous - because I can find it. And Janet - on her part had to find a very nice London taxi driver who would risk going so far on the motorway. Because as far as I could see online - that should work OK.

And it did.

My car worked like a dream - and as long as I pretended I wasn't driving a 4x4 beast and stuck to my defensive  driving technique acquired from 9 years of driving my little Clio - I was OK.

There were plenty of spaces in the ground floor of Gatwick short term parking when I arrived at 7.30 pm. And it didn't take me much longer than usual  to get there - because I passed only 3 other cars moving on the way.

I forgot to look left and admire the Christmas tree lights as I drove past Wakehurst place. (I had been there the Friday before to see them switched on. They do very nice honey and nut cakes and hot chocolate in the cafe.) I was too busy looking ahead.

And Turners Hill has that name for a very good reason. It goes up and down. And it was covered in slushy ice. Would I make it? Yeah - I even stopped to let someone come the other way. (I haven't acquired the 4x4  persona yet - which pushes the other cars off the road. Inside my head I'm still a Clio driver in a very fat car  - which is surprisingly easy to park for some technical reason to do with the wheels.)

A few minutes later Janet arrived too. It took us a few minutes to find each other - because I had been chatting to a guy who was sweeping the snow off the road - and he had been there for nearly 2 days fighting a losing battle to keep the airport open.

I had a flask of hot tea in the car.

We got home safely and I cooked supper in my nearly completed kitchen (mentioned in a previous blog). Of couse getting out of the house in the first place meant I had to find some  temporary door handles - because they still need another coat of paint.

And what's the point of this story?

I learned a lot of stuff about the problems of travelling around - which make me very glad that I don't get out much.

I'll just stick to looking at web sites and typing fast.

No comments:

Post a comment